Labour MPs fear interference on pits report

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Indy Politics
LABOUR members of the Commons Trade and Industry Select Committee will ensure circulation of this week's draft report on the fate of the 31 doomed pits in the event of the emergence of a heavily amended final version.

The final report, originally due for publication on Monday, will be delayed pending at least two more days of discussion between committee members next week.

Labour members believe implementation of all the solutions canvassed in the draft could help to rescue virtually all the 31 mines on the original closure list without excessive demands on domestic electricity bills or the Exchequer.

Yesterday's discussions focused on how the 20 per cent subsidy on nuclear power generation could be shared with the coal industry.

The committee's chairman, Richard Caborn, the Labour MP for Sheffield Central, has been striving to achieve a unanimous report while avoiding the sort of compromise that would risk wide public censure. While there have been no disagreements so far as members grapple with the detail of the draft, some Labour members fear Tory amendments that may be drafted over the weekend might tone it down substantially. There are also concerns that the draft may find its way into the hands of ministers.

It was made plain yesterday that in that event, the original draft would find its way into the public domain.

Other suggested lifelines for the mines on the closure list include the postponement of a freer market for coal purchase for five years, which could create demand for an additional 16 million tons, sufficient to save about 16 pits; limiting output of independent gas-fired power stations to meeting specific demand rather than running them continuously on a 'base-load' basis, and curbing imports on cheap French nuclear- generated electricity.

Meanwhile, the European Commission told British MEPs yesterday that it would not use rules prohibiting state aid to certain industries to oppose any moves by the British government to subsidise coal production.

MEPs Wayne David, Alan Donnelly and Gordon Adam, all of whom represent mining constituencies, met the EC competition commissioner Karel van Miert yesterday to clarify the EC's position. Afterwards, Mr David said: 'This confirmation puts the ball firmly in the court of the Government. The Commission has opened the door.'

Mr Donnelly said he hoped Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, would take the findings to heart. 'Mr Heseltine must stop prevaricating and put waiting families out of their misery,' he said.

A report ordered by the European Parliament has concluded that productivity gains and predicted increases in world coal prices will make some pits in Europe viable in the medium term.

Demands for miners' enhanced redundancy payments to be extended beyond a deadline of 31 March were made in the Commons yesterday by Tory and Labour MPs led by Robin Cook, the spokesman on trade and industry. Mr Heseltine said they would be dealt with in the White Paper on the pit closures.

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