The economy in crisis: Tory MPs to seek review of closures

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The Independent Online
LEADERS of Conservative backbench MPs will urge Michael Heseltine, the President of the Board of Trade, to review the closure of collieries to avert a government defeat in the Commons next week.

With threats of rebellion rising among Tory MPs, Sir Marcus Fox, the chairman of the 1922 Committee representing all Tory backbench MPs, yesterday told Mr Heseltine that the scale of the closures was 'unacceptable' and a review was 'imperative'.

The President of the Board of Trade will meet the executive of the 1922 Committee, probably on Monday, to discuss their demands for a rethink of the closures. He said last night that he had requested the meeting to explain the reasons behind the decision, and showed no sign of compromise.

Labour is to table a motion limited to deploring the pit closures to secure the widest support among Tory rebels. If Labour and the Liberal Democrats are at full strength, only 11 Tory MPs need to vote with the opposition parties to defeat the Government.

A defeat on Wednesday would not bring down the Government, but it could make it impossible for the pit closures to go ahead as planned. Government whips will be working hard to minimise the threat of a defeat. A number of leading rebels said they would abstain, rather than vote against.

Sir Marcus said: 'Parliament has considerable powers.' But he hinted that the 1922 executive would be seeking to delay, rather than halt the closures. He would not support 'massive subsidies' to keep loss-making pits open.

'The impact of the number of pit closures, the speed with which they are going to take place, has caused enormous concern,' he said. 'It's true to say that some colleagues are incensed. No one doubts that some closures are inevitable and do happen from time to time, but the scale of these proposals, I have to say, are unacceptable.'

The Tory MP for Davyhulme, Winston Churchill - who visited Silverhill Colliery in Nottinghamshire yesterday to support an underground sit-in by Roy Lynk, leader of the Union of Democratic Mineworkers - said that he would vote against the Government 'without hesitation' to halt the closures.

'If they have any sense they will change their mind. If you are going up a blind alley, the most sensible thing to do is to make a U- turn,' he said.

Margaret Beckett, deputy leader of the Labour Party, rejected a call by the Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown for a vote of no confidence. She said it would scare off the Tory rebels, who would unite behind the Government if it was threatened.

Yesterday, Tim Eggar, the minister for energy at the Department of Trade and Industry, was pelted with eggs by angry miners and protesters when he visited British Coal Enterprises in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, set up to help redundant miners find new work.

Sir Bernard Ingham, former press secretary to Margaret Thatcher, warned yesterday that the Government had 'stopped thinking politically'.

Sir Bernard said it was 'amazing' that the full Cabinet had not discussed the coal mine closures until after they were announced. 'The fact that ministers are making it known (that they were not consulted) suggests that there is a lot of worry about it. The Government, early in its life, has stopped thinking politically.'