Select committee's chairman warns Major

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THE Trade and Industry Select Committee is determined to review the 10 pits not covered by the Government's moratorium on closures, its Labour chairman emphasised to the Prime Minister in a letter yesterday.

Michael Heseltine dismayed and confused Opposition MPs and Tory rebels in the Commons yesterday when he told them British Coal was 'compelled to maintain the option of continuing with the pits - and that means they have to indulge in the appropriate care and maintenance in order to keep open that option', but that the distinction between the 10 and the 21 in the Government's consultative review was that the 10 were already losing money.

But the letter from Richard Caborn, MP for Sheffield Central, told Mr Major: 'I hope you will take note that the committee's programme is arranged to enable us to report to the House before any final decision needs to be made on the 10 pits.' The committee, which meets today to draw up terms of reference, plans to finish taking evidence by December and to publish its report by the end of January.

Mr Heseltine angered some MPs yesterday when he told them commercially sensitive material would not be published, provoking fears that the Government would have an unfair advantage over the committee. Mr Caborn's letter insists that it be given copies of all the evidence advice received in the Government's own review. Commercially sensitive evidence would be taken in camera, Mr Caborn said yesterday.

Asked whether the Government would accept the committee's recommendations, Mr Heseltine said no government could give a select committee a 'blank cheque'. Mr Caborn said the committee had a blank cheque to ask questions: 'We are responsible to the House.' The letter asks the Prime Minister to confirm that the eventual debate on the Government's review will also cover the committee's report.