Inside Parliament: Coal sell-off sunk by costs, Cook warns: Pits sale put down to 'vindictive prejudice' against mining - Lords ponder global 'destiny' of armed forces

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Coal privatisation is expected to lead to an increase in the operating costs of pits, according to a secret study by the Department of Trade and Industry's consultants, Boyd's.

Robin Cook, Labour's trade and industry spokesman, disclosed the contents of the study as the Coal Industry Bill completed its passage through the Commons. 'This report sinks any case for privatisation,' he said. 'How can ministers come to this House and continue to defend a privatisation proposal when they have been told that it will put up the price of coal?' Mr Cook quoted from a document dated 2 March which he said was the first of a series of cost projections being prepared on pits for privatisation and dealt with Longannet colliery in Scotland. 'Its key conclusion is: 'Overall operating costs actually increase under private ownership from pounds 1.32 per gigajoule to pounds 1.34'.' This was despite the Boyd's assumption that one in seven workers would be dismissed and redundancy fall to pounds 5,000 per man from the pounds 20,000 British Coal rate.

The extra costs arose from a new pension scheme and higher insurance premiums for a private pit. Boyd's concluded: 'This initial cost assessment will be a major disincentive to buyers who will point out cost increases despite aggressive improvements in performance during a period with declining proceeds and a limited market.'

Replying to the debate, Patrick McLoughlin, Under-Secretary for Trade and Industry, made no mention of the Boyd's report - an 'eloquent silence', according to Mr Cook.

In 'a sane world' the report by Boyd's would be the end of privatisation, the Labour spokesman said. It was no surprise, therefore, that the Bill completed its Report Stage and Third Reading and now goes to the House of Lords.

Their lordships, meanwhile, were already immersed in the world's insanities as they debated the ways in which armed forces are used in the service of the United Nations. The 3,700 British troops serving in blue berets were lauded from all sides, with Lord Brammall, a former chief of the defence staff, arguing that the professionalism and experience of UK forces fitted them for an enhanced global role.

'The challenges and opportunities are immense. We must not be petty about this. It may be that this is in some ways our destiny, in the same way as the Swiss and the Hanoverians in the 18th century,' Lord Brammall said. He and Lord Callaghan, the former Labour prime minister, saw peacekeeping as the salvation of the Gurkhas, facing 'death by a thousand cuts'.

Though Lord Holme of Cheltenham, for the Liberal Democrats, demurred at the parallel with the Swiss and Hanoverians, not wanting British troops to become the 'mercenaries' of the late 20th century, the cost of universal soldiering was raised by several peers. Britain is reimbursed through the UN for operations in Cyprus and the former Yugoslavia.

Winding up the debate, Baroness Chalker, Minister of State at the Foreign Office, warmed to a suggestion from her backbench colleague Baroness Elles that Germany and Japan should pay more towards UN peacekeeping.

'I like the idea that if countries cannot contribute troops they should contribute more in cash,' Lady Chalker said. It should be investigated.

The Germans had already suffered a mauling at a meeting of the Commons Defence Select Committee which is investigating low flying. In October 1991, the Government told the Commons it would be cut across Britain by 30 per cent over three years.

But Peter Viggers, Tory MP for Gosport, told the committee a drop had only occurred because of the withdrawal of US air-force bases - otherwise the numbers were the same.

Air Vice-Marshal Tony Bagnall, Assistant Chief of the Air Staff, said part of the reason was that RAF Harriers currently stationed in Germany had been banned from carrying out low flights there, so the crews exercised over Britain.

This caused a minor detonation from the direction of Sir Nicholas Fairbairn. 'Why are we not permitted to fly by the Germans when we are there to protect them?' he demanded.

The Air Vice-Marshal's reply that it was a matter for the German government did not seem to impress a visibly annoyed Sir Nicholas. Germany's mooted participation in the 50th VE Day celebrations had better not include a fly-past by the Luftwaffe.