Wakeham promises 'full' review of mine closures

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT responded yesterday to continuing public and Conservative pressure for a full review of pit closures by promising a 'full and open review' - but by the Government - of the programme.

The promise came from Lord Wakeham, Leader of the Lords, as John Major said in television interviews last night: 'The pits aren't closed and our minds aren't closed.'

People could make their case to the review, which will be run by Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, the Prime Minister said. The evidence would be published and 'we will then determine further policy'.

But he combined an apparent declaration of being open-minded with firm statements that the demand for coal had been declining for years, adding 'that economic reality remains the same today'. The Government, having failed to carry hearts and minds on the issue, 'hoped to do that' during the review.

His comments came moments before the Government lost by 125 to 100 votes in the House of Lords a Labour motion calling for a 'thorough independent inquiry' into coal's future before pit

closures.

That fresh embarrassment came as the promise of a review last night appeared sufficient to ensure the Government's Commons majority in tonight's coal vote. Winston Churchill, the Davyhulme MP who has headed opposition, greeted it as 'a significant change of policy'.

But it left Labour demanding Mr Heseltine's resignation as Robin Cook, his opposite number, said he had now been turned over twice in two days. 'He has climbed down so often since last Tuesday he now must climb out of the Government. He is no longer in command of his department and should no longer be left in charge.'

Lord Wakeham's statement came after a 100-minute meeting between Mr Heseltine and the executive of the 1922 Conservative backbench committee yesterday morning.

They demanded the 'full and open review' as the price for their full-hearted support in tonight's division, despite Mr Heseltine's insistence on Monday that, save at the margins, the consultation was only to 'set out the full case' for the

closures.

By contrast, Lord Wakeham held out the implication - but no firm promise - that some pits might be saved. He told peers: 'The purpose of the pause is to look again at the issues and report to Parliament as to whether the case for closures has been made, or whether ways and means can be found to increase the use of coal, and as far as possible to lessen the impact.'

He cautioned, however, that it would be 'wrong to be too optimistic about the outcome of the review, but also wrong to be too pessimistic'.

(Photograph omitted)

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