|Draft National Health Service (Wales) Bill
Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr): I am delighted at the news. Betws colliery paid for my
Column Number: 18university education, and as a result of this statement, more than 100 families in my constituency will continue to have employment. The investment aid will create the potential to expand that to between 250 and 300 jobs in the near future. I am glad that, on this occasion, the Government have listened and understood the logic of the case that Plaid Cymru and others have been putting since the beginning of the year.
I should like to raise with the Secretary of State the urgent issue of the availability of employer liability insurance in the mining sector. That matter has already resulted in the closure of one mine in the north of England and is a problem for Betws colliery, too.
Mr. Murphy: I take the hon. Gentleman's point and shall certainly relate it to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.
With regard to the hon. Gentleman's other points, he has, quite rightly, made representations on behalf of his constituents in Betws, as indeed have other hon. Members in Committee and in the Assembly. The joint effort made by all of us has obviously paid off. It is important, not just symbolically but in real terms, that there are hundreds of people who still work in the coal industry in Betws, Tower—in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd)—and elsewhere. The announcement is bound to be good news for them.
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): This news will be welcome throughout coal-mining areas, and particularly those that still exist in Wales. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales came to the launch of a book on Tower called ''Tower of Strength'' last week. We were pleased to see him there.
Tower is a viable pit. It has made a profit year in, year out, since the miners became its owners. Everyone pays tribute to its success. This scheme, which will be very much welcomed, shows the Government's commitment to continuing to support a source of energy that is indigenous to our country. Unlike the previous Government, whose main aim seemed to be to close every pit in sight, this Government are continuing to invest in those pits that have a viable future, such as that in my constituency which has a work force of 400, and might have even more if the scheme is extended. I remember going to Europe with people from Tower colliery some years ago. The Energy Minister there said that he would like to support us, but that the rules prevented him from doing so. I hope that we shall see some developments when the talks continue with the Department of Trade and Industry.
Mr. Murphy: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As well as going down the pit for 24 hours, she has played a uniquely important role to ensure that Tower colliery remained a viable proposition. In fact, it has gone from being viable to a highly successful company in its own right. She was right to remind the Committee that Tyrone O'Sullivan came to the House of Commons last week to launch his book. It is a shame that he will not be in the Welsh Assembly, but he wants to ensure that Tower colliery goes from strength to strength. The
Column Number: 19investment aid scheme may be of use to the colliery, but my hon. Friend was also right to point out that the Government believe that there is a future for mining in Wales, which is why one scheme has been extended and another has been introduced.
Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire): I, too, congratulate the Government on their success in obtaining the funding that will ensure the continuation of the coal industry in Wales and give it confidence over the years to come. It is particularly significant that that accomplishment has been gained through partnership and working together for the benefit of the people we represent, rather than through pulling things apart. Tower colliery is important to my constituents. At one time, the surrounding communities of Hirwaun and Penderyn were part of the Brecon and Radnor constituency and we still maintain links.
The hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Adam Price) referred to the difficulty that certain operations in Wales have in obtaining employer liability insurance. I do not mean only small pits and drift mines, but quarries. During the past few weeks, quarries in my constituency have had to make people redundant. They are in a state of suspended animation, wondering whether they can renew their employer liability insurance. Anything that the Government can do to assist them will be gratefully accepted.
Mr. Murphy: That point was made by the hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr and I shall certainly pass it on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. I welcome the remarks of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams). We all agree that it is appropriate for a Welsh Grand Committee still to be discussing the future of the coal industry in Wales, despite the problems that we have experienced in the past. It is important to our constituencies. We must remember our heritage and the fact that we owe a great debt to the miners of south and north Wales for what they have done over the years. If we can go some way to ensure that we repay that debt, all the better.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. He said that there have been problems in the mining industry, not only in Wales, but throughout the United Kingdom. The hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) referred to mine closures under the Conservative Administration. That has continued under the current Administration and we have heard sad news today about the closure of the Selby complex with the loss of 2,000 jobs.
Given that the European Coal and Steel Community treaty will end after a 50-year run, the statement on coal state aid is timely. It will give security to the industry. I do not suppose that the Secretary of State has the answer at his fingertips, but the announcement from Europe affects not only this country, but several other coal-producing areas of the European Union. I should be interested to know how Wales and, indeed, the whole of the United Kingdom,
Column Number: 20compares with other countries, especially Germany, to see if we are receiving a good deal. Because of the flexibility that will come about as a result of the ending of the ECSC treaty, can the right hon. Gentleman tell the Committee what action he has taken on steel, especially in light of the announcement about Allied Steel and Wire Ltd. in Cardiff going into administration? If the same pressure could be brought to bear on the steel industry—it is the same treaty—surely we could get short-term support for that industry as well.
Mr. Murphy: On steel, the big issue that has exercised the minds of Governments is the United States' tariffs. It was important for the European Union as a whole to deal with that because it has a serious impact on steel, although it did not particularly affect ASW. I take the hon. Gentleman's general points, and I shall write to him about what other European countries are doing with regard to the European Coal and Steel Community treaty.
We have negotiated the flexibility to which the hon. Gentleman referred to pay investment aid at up to 30 per cent. of the cost of viable investment projects in the new European coal state aid regime, which he rightly said replaces the current regime that expires next week. That is why there was urgency. The operating aid scheme extends to the end of the year, but the investment aid scheme is new and will be introduced in the new calendar year.
The Chairman: We now come to the main debate. I remind hon. Members that we have from now until 1 pm, and that the debate can continue from 4 pm until 6 pm.
|©Parliamentary copyright 2002||Prepared 16 July 2002|