Public outrage forced the Government to suspend plans for the closure of 31 pits, costing 30,000 jobs, in October. A review is now considering the fate of 21 pits, but the 10 on the hit list are due to close.
Launching a Liberal Democrat policy document, Malcom Bruce, a member of the select committee, which covers energy, said: 'We do not accept that the 10 pits on the hit list are non-viable. We don't accept this list has been fairly compiled. That is the view of the select committee as well. It looks as if four or five of the pits would have a difficult job of proving their viability - that leaves five or six which have as good a chance as any other.'
British Coal has refused to publish details of profitability, but it is understood that the viable pits are Parkside, Vane Tempest, Trentham, Cotgrave, Silverhill and Grimethorpe. Markham Main incurred only a small loss.
Arthur Scargill, president of the National Union of Mineworkers, yesterday met Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, in London and demanded pit-by-pit figures to justify the closure of the 10 collieries. He said all of them could be made profitable within 18 months.
The select committee report, expected in the new year, could revive the row which subsided when Mr Heseltine was forced to announce the review. The cross-party committee is dominated by Tory MPs, but chaired by Richard Caborn, the Labour MP for Sheffield Central. Mr Bruce said it was too soon to say how many pits it would recommend should be saved. But the report could be an embarrassment for ministers, who have been accused of manipulating the hit list, which British Coal is planning to close after 90 days' notice.
The Liberal Democrats' document questions the assumptions behind the closures.
It recommends that coal production could be held at 60 million tonnes a year, a cut of 5 million, instead of being cut to 40 million tonnes a year, as proposed by British Coal. Stockpiles at pit-heads should be sold at reduced rates to win business from the power generators, or sold on the world market. The 'dash for gas' by the power generators should be slowed down, and the pounds 1.2bn annual subsidy for nuclear power should be phased out.
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