Liberal Democrats want rethink of entire energy strategy

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(First Edition)

THE LIBERAL DEMOCRATS are looking for an assessment of Britain's entire energy strategy, not just the future of 31 coal mines, Malcolm Bruce told the Commons yesterday.

Mr Bruce (Gordon), said: 'If the Government is not prepared itself to look at the electricity market, it should refer the whole matter to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission to explore the situation and if necessary come forward with additional legislation that can put it right.'

He told Tory waverers that if they backed the Government in that night's vote they would 'live to regret it'. He said: 'If the Government were to be defeated today it would force a much more fundamental reappraisal of energy policy than we have yet had laid before us.'

Michael Alison (C, Selby) said it was regrettable that Michael Heseltine 'should have been subjected this afternoon . . . to a frenzy of baying, of points of order which weren't remotely constitutional, of choruses of barracking, interruptions and shouts such as to entirely belie the allegation that what they are seeking on the Labour benches is a review'.

A former Tory Secretary of State for Energy, David Howell (Guildford), said he believed the leak of the closure plans meant ministers had not had time to complete the 'major, really sensitive and elaborate programme for handling such a gigantic transformation' as they had intended. He called for the coal industry's future to be considered in the context of the British economy as a whole. Interest rate cuts were possible together with increased capital spending to safeguard jobs.

John Evans (Lab, St Helens N) said many of the closures would hit areas where there was already an unacceptable level of unemployment.

Britain had some of the richest seams of coal but they would be left in the ground, in 'collieries flooded with gas'.

The former Tory minister Sir Rhodes Boyson (Brent N) said the proposed closures had shaken everyone. It was felt the Union of Democratic Mineworkers, which kept pits going during the 1984-85 strike, had been 'stabbed in the back'.

Dr Michael Clark (C, Rochford), former chairman of the now defunct Energy Select Committee, protested that ministers had misread the mood of the country. 'If the Government wants my support tonight it must have an open, public and published review of the industry,' he warned. 'It must state its energy policy and it must commit itself to clean coal technology and treat all 31 pits alike, not putting 10 of them to one side.'

To Labour cheers, he said: 'I can't vote for the Government's amendment unless all 31 pits are in it.

'I shall be voting tonight not against my own Government, if things don't change, but for the coal industry.'

Labour's Geoff Hoon said Silverhill in his Ashfield constituency among 10 pits set for almost certain closure was profitable. 'But how will any of the 10 prove they are economic in the next 90 days if they are not allowed to work?'

Winston Churchill (C, Davyhulme) said of Mr Heseltine's announcement last week: 'In the 22 years I have been here I don't recall seeing any minister so misjudge the public mood. I opposed that decision and I shall continue to oppose that decision on social grounds, on economic grounds and on energy grounds.'

'The brutality of that announcement consigning 30,000 miners and their families to the slagheap of unemployment at a time of the highest male unemployment in this country since the 1930s is something I find wholly unacceptable and so it has proved for the nation at large and for millions in the ranks of the Tory party.'

Miners wanted jobs and a fair chance to compete, not charity, he said. The average pounds 22,000 redundancy offered would not help when they could not sell their pit village homes.