Arthur Scargill, president of the National Union of Mineworkers, told a special conference of senior coal field representatives in Barnsley that the costs of the 'destruction' of coal mining would be massive and come back to haunt ministers.
There were the growing burdens of throwing people on to the dole and the debilitating impact on local economies, he said. But he also contended that there were environmental problems involved in the rundown and privatisation of British Coal.
Mr Scargill told the 40 NUM leaders from all coalfields that the 180 small private collieries were potentially more dangerous to the local environment. In the past, British Coal operated under reasonably strict regulations, but small operators were able to ignore regulations because of a rundown in the number of official inspectors. Through legislation the Government was also creating a 'deregulated' environment in which the rules were less stringent, he said.
The coal industry was being closed at a time when deep-mined coal was 30 per cent cheaper than gas and 350 per cent cheaper than nuclear power, Mr Scargill said. In 1984, at the start of the coal strike, there were 191,000 mineworkers at 170 pits; now there were 10,500 and 17 coal- producing collieries.
John Pickin, president of the NUM branch at Frickley, South Yorkshire, said open cast mining was potentially far more destructive of the environment, and its development would be encouraged by the relaxation of health and safety rules. 'Anybody will be able to dig a hole and take out whatever they want,' Mr Pickin said. The Frickley colliery, which had been kept on a 'care and maintenance' basis since it ceased production in November, was of critical importance to the area, he added. About 1,000 miners' jobs had been lost and businesses had closed in the area.
The nuclear industry had always had government protection and would continue to, Mr Pickin said, but it was far more dangerous to the environment than the coal industry.
Mr Pickin said miners had been 'sold down the river', not only by the Government, but by the TUC. 'They could have done a lot more for us,' he said.