Minister outlines first steps in coal sale

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THE FIRST steps to sell British Coal are to be taken 'in the very near future', Lord Strathclyde, the trade and industry minister, said yesterday.

He was opening the Lords Second Reading on the Coal Industry Bill, the pit privatisation measure which has already cleared the Commons.

Lord Strathclyde told peers: 'The Government hopes in the very near future to take the first steps in inviting expressions of interest in the sale of BC.

'This does not pre-empt the further consideration of the Bill in Parliament and will be subject to the further scrutiny which the Bill will receive between now and Royal Assent.'

The Bill provides for the abolition of BC, with its functions transferred to a Coal Authority, which will license private pits.

Lord Strathclyde said the pits would be sold in five separate packages.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris, Labour's energy spokesman, condemned the Bill as the final chapter in the rundown of the coal industry. He said coal had been 'discriminated against at every turn' by the Government.

And Lord Ezra (Lib Dem), the former National Coal Board chairman, said the industry's difficulties 'were due in large measure to the way the system was operated by the Government'.

He added that the Bill was 'weak' in the way it dealt with safety.