(1 year ago)Commons Chamber
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the future of coal in the UK.
Today’s debate is not about the past, nor is it really about the great traditions and solidarity of our mining communities, nor is it about the coaling stations that stretched around the world east of Suez powering an empire. An industry employing hundreds of thousands is long gone.
Britain has been a world leader in decarbonising our electricity sector. Emissions are down over 70% since 1990, despite usage being up. Renewables have transformed the mix, and I am proud to be part of a Government who are pressing forward with a real environmental agenda. We are going to end coal-powered electricity by the mid-2020s and are playing a leading role, alongside Canada, in that effort globally.
There is much more to be done on future technology. I commend the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Jacob Young) and his all-party parliamentary group on hydrogen for what they are doing on turning theory into practice for steel manufacture, moving from coal to hydrogen. It is not there yet, and it is likely that it will take many years to come to fruition, but I welcome any further Government plans, as we have seen recently, to support technological change in this area.
While we search for the alternative to coal, we still need coal in the UK. Whether we dig it up here or someone else digs it up and ships it here, for the present and for the foreseeable future, we still need it. Although huge strides have been made in efficiency, we cannot operate blast furnaces for steel production without coking coal. Britain’s cement industry requires a massive amount, too. Both are critical to some of the large infrastructure projects that we are pushing ahead with at the moment. Even our heritage rail sector requires tens of thousands of tonnes every year.
Coal is not a trendy subject, but it is an important one. Too often in our history, coal and its production have been far too political. My fear is that the apparent drive against domestic coal production in the United Kingdom from Whitehall is unfair and unjust, and actually runs counter to reducing our carbon emissions, which we are all in favour of trying to do. Unfortunately, coal is again becoming a victim of politics. In making it so, we are making a mistake—economically, strategically and, crucially, environmentally.
Britain’s coalmining history needs a whistle-stop tour to take us up to the present. Few constituencies are more steeped in that history than mine of North West Durham and those of colleagues including the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame Morris), who sits across from me today.
Without two things, the industrial revolution that transformed the world from largely agrarian subsistence to the basis of what we see today would not have happened. Those two things were the agricultural revolution that immediately preceded it, and coal—the twin fuels for people and industry. That industrial heritage is present right across my stunning North West Durham constituency. Weardale, right up to Wearhead, had mine workings across it that stretch back to at least the 12th century, and it was ironstone and coal from other parts of the nearby north-east that initially set up Consett as an iron and steel hub.
It was the miners who formed one of the first mass unions and whose dispute in 1926 was the basis of the general strike. According to family legend, my great grandpa, who was a textile worker in Lancashire and active in his union, had been tasked with collecting the union’s funds to support the strike but, upon his return to Blackburn, was so terrified of the funds being stolen or of losing them that he had the cash, together with himself, locked up overnight in a cell in Blackburn police station.
The Bevin boys kept Britain working during the war. Wilson’s “white heat of technology” and the nuclear revolution saw a massive shift, with more pits closing than at any other time. The fantastic “A Year in the Life” of Craghead colliery, filmed from 1968 to 1969 in the constituency of the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), which neighbours mine, is a superb documentary about that time, which I recommend to anyone.
The end of mass employment in coalmining came in the two decades that followed, with politicised disputes in which all but the most fanatical ideologues would admit great fault from both union leaders and some politicians alike. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Lee Anderson) will speak about his own experiences of being a miner later in the debate.
Now on to the present. I cannot do any form of justice to the history of mining in the time I have today, but the context provided is an important basis for where we find ourselves today. I am sure that Members may wish to debate the history in much more detail at another time, but I turn to the facts of the present, and I will take them one by one: the economic, the strategic and the environmental.
On the economic, these figures come from written parliamentary questions, the Office for National Statistics and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. First, tonnage: we import between 5 million and 10 million tonnes of coal a year. Money: that represents over £1 billion in net imports to the UK on an annual basis. That is multiples of many of our agricultural exports, and it is about the net value of the amount of cheese we import every year, which I am sure my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade would agree is an absolute disgrace. The difference is in the bulk. Cheese is only 100,000 tonnes. We are talking about 10 million tonnes of coal that has to be shipped across the globe, and I will return to that point shortly.
Jobs: that is £1 billion a year that could be going into UK jobs as we look to transition from coal to other methods of fuelling industry over the next few years. I want to put that into context locally. After being sat on by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government for three years, the new planned mine at Highthorn in Northumberland was rejected. That scheme was supported by all political parties and the Planning Inspectorate locally. The decision means that 250 good, well-paid jobs will not happen. To give an idea of the impact that this will have, the salaries alone would be the equivalent of the eat out to help out scheme for the whole north-east every year for the next five years, which is how long the site was planned to last for.
That brings me on to my second point about the present, on strategy. The mine had outline contracts with Port Talbot—because this is UK-wide—which would have taken coal for steelmaking. Instead, that coal will be imported from across the world. Of our net imports, approximately 40% of our coal comes from Russia and 20% from Colombia. The blast furnaces at Port Talbot could have been burning with British coal, but now they will be burning with Russian coal. We are literally forcing one of our key strategic industries to send pounds to Putin rather than supporting good jobs as we bridge to future technologies that will see our strategic heavy industry decarbonised further.
That brings me to my third point, on the environment, and I am afraid that this is where the argument against domestic coal production collapses entirely. Britain has a proud environmental record, and our domestic coal production has some of the highest environmental standards in the world. Our open-cast mines are properly dealt with and re-landscaped afterwards. Does anyone truly believe that that is the case in Russia, Colombia or even the United States? That is before we get to the staggering quantities of CO2 emissions from shipping the bulk product halfway around the world. The Centre for Policy Studies recently estimated that transporting coal via either St Petersburg or Murmansk to the UK would emit between four and five times as much CO2 as moving it domestically within the UK. US, Colombian and Australian imports all face the same stark environmental transport costs, and this is a bulk product.
That is just in terms of CO2. One of the biggest environmental success stories of this Government has been our work to protect the world’s oceans, which I think all Conservative Members are incredibly proud of. Cargo ships shipping coal around the globe are not geared up to be the most environmentally friendly of beasts, and rusting hulks chugging oil and detritus across our oceans run totally counter to the great work that this Government have done to tackle microbeads, plastics and other pollution in our oceans. The thing about global warming is that it does not matter where CO2 is emitted from; it all goes into our atmosphere worldwide. This is not something that we should try to export, because even if we wanted to, we could not.
Finally, I turn to the future. I am very proud that the UK has been at the forefront of making real environmental changes for the better. The Prime Minister’s recent announcement that he wants to lead the world in jobs of the future and delivering sound environmental policies is incredibly welcome, particularly in my region, in Teesside and in the neighbouring counties of North Yorkshire and Durham. Levelling up has to be a big part of that, and some of that will be down to transport. At this point in my speech, I would like to reinforce my little bid to the Government Front Bench for any support the Minister can give for the Consett to the Tyne railway. On the national bus strategy, I would really like to see a pilot project in Crook and Willington in County Durham. If there is anything that can be done for cycling and walking routes, particularly for Weardale and along the Derwent Walk, I would also really appreciate that.
My constituency had the last open-cast coalmine, which stopped production just a few months ago. The decision not to allow its expansion was taken by the local council, and that is absolutely fine. However, when local councils make decisions, like Northumberland has done—or like Cumbria, as I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mark Jenkinson) will mention later—to allow planning to go through on a cross-party basis, I hope that Ministers will consider the environmental costs of it not happening, and will not get sidetracked by greenwash.
Let me turn to the impending ban on the domestic use of coal. I have asked many parliamentary questions about this issue, but it is particularly relevant to mention while we are talking about emissions. Some families in my constituency, especially in the more rural parts, do not have an option apart from some form of solid fuel heating. Their choice is between household coal and oil, which is largely imported—even more than coal at the moment. Oil emits about 25% more carbon dioxide per kilogram than coal. Furthermore, there has been a recent push against coal and wet wood for household fires. Household coal emits 8.7 grams per kilogram of PM2.5—the particulates in the atmosphere. Dry wood emits 7.2 grams per kilogram, so they are very close. Wet wood emits 28 grams per kilogram, which is at least three times as high. I cannot understand how we are banning coal but not dry wood. It is sensible to ban wet wood on the basis of emissions, but it does not make sense to ban household coal, especially when these figures only take into account combustion, not transport costs. We all know that both wet and dry wood are bulkier to transport, so it makes no sense for coal to be excluded.
It would be remiss of me not to mention some of the major issues raised with me by the president of the National Union of Mineworkers, who I spoke to recently. We have been working on these issues together, and I have asked some questions about them. The first is the concessionary fuel fund, which is very important. As we look to decarbonise that, I would like to speak to Ministers to ensure that any money saved goes back to the miners, not to the Government. The second issue is miners’ pensions. I know that there are massive ongoing conversations with Conservative Members and the Government, and we look forward very much to taking part in those.
Today’s debate is about the future of coal production. I do not want to see Britain doing stuff on the cheap, offshoring our carbon footprint elsewhere, and tainting our really fantastic record on cutting carbon emissions in the UK. I want us to be driving the global environmental agenda—an agenda that we can be proud of as a party, as a Government and as a country.
Thank you for calling me in this important debate, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is a debate that is very close to my heart, and to the hearts of many Members representing coalfield constituencies. I welcome the debate, congratulate the hon. Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden) on securing it, and thank the Backbench Business Committee for allocating the time.
My constituency of Easington has always been at the heart of UK coal, from peak coal production in the 1920s, to the role that my predecessor, Manny Shinwell, played as Minister of Fuel and Power in the post-war Labour Government, delivering the nationalisation of the industry on vesting day in January 1947 outside Murton colliery in my home village. But there was a cost to mining coal, and we suffered many tragedies; the most recent in my constituency, involving multiple fatalities, was the Easington Colliery pit disaster on 29 May 1951, when 83 men, including a number of members of the rescue team, lost their lives. I ask the hon. Member for North West Durham to reflect on the Hartley Colliery disaster in his own constituency, where 204 men and boys died. There are lessons to be learned about only having one means of egress—not just in mining terms, but more generally in how we run the economy.
The miners’ collective spirit and solidarity secured pay increases in 1972 and supported miners and their families throughout the miners’ strike of 1984-85 in a valiant battle to save jobs and communities. Sadly, the miners did not prevail in 1984. Industrial east Durham at that time had near full employment, and that is what we want to return to, but to do so we require investment in health, housing, education and employment.
This nation’s wealth was built on coal and on the toil of miners working in dark and dangerous conditions. Let us not forget that we owe a debt of honour as a nation to the miners and their communities, those men who mined the coal that fired the engines of industry in the last century that made Britain great. As coal is phased out of UK energy production, we should never forget the sacrifice in lives lost and shortened; I think of my late father, my grandfathers and a dear friend of my father’s, Jimmy Grogan, a staunch trade unionist who sadly passed away yesterday.
The legacy of coal in the UK should be a new, bright, clean and green future for former coalfield areas. We should be exploring technology by ground source heat exchange pumps that have enormous potential in former coal-mining areas. The future of coal and the debt we owe the former coal-mining communities must include settling the historic injustices that former miners in coalfield communities still encounter, 30 years after the pits closed. As we consider the future of coal in the UK, let us use this time as an opportunity to amend these historical injustices in relation to the Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme surplus, justice for Orgreave and investment in coalfield communities.
I am pleased that the Minister is familiar with this issue, and I remind him that in the general election Labour had a manifesto commitment to a 90-10 share of the surplus from the Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme, and I am hopeful that the Conservative Government will honour the commitment given by the Prime Minister to a coalfield community in Mansfield.
First, let me declare my interest as a former British Steel employee some 20 years ago and having worked in the nuclear supply chain slightly more recently.
I represent a working constituency built on coal and steel. The title of this debate is the future of coal in the UK, but perhaps we should discuss the future of the UK without coal, because, frankly, it would look quite different from not only the world we live in now, but the world we need it to be. Economic growth and growth in demand for steel are undeniably linked. Our plan for growth will necessarily bring a demand for steel, and we should place a much heavier weight on the use of UK-produced steel. The low-carbon energy technologies we will rely on in the future are, without exception, underpinned by steel, and that steel production requires coking coal or metallurgical coal for the foreseeable future.
Any increase in UK steel consumption without domestic production of steel and its process components will result in increases in both our domestic and offshore carbon footprints. While I wholly welcome the phasing out of coal in power generation in the UK, and the UK should celebrate its world-leading record on that, we must not let coal become a catch-all dirty word. We must differentiate between the burning of coal when other widespread technologies exist for the same purpose, and the industrial use of coal as a chemical element.
The UK and Europe import 16.4 million tonnes of coking coal every year, with CO2 emissions from its transport five to seven times higher than if it were produced closer to the point of use, such as at the planned Woodhouse colliery next door to my Workington constituency. It would be the UK’s first new deep coal mine in 30 years, bringing with it 500 well-paid jobs, while contributing to a reduction in our carbon footprint. It is shameful that the Opposition in this House and in local government seek to frustrate the opening of that mine, despite it having had cross-party development panel approval three times and having had a previous call-in rejected by a previous Secretary of State.
There is no commercial technology currently that can replace our reliance on coking coal. Electric arc furnaces are often portrayed as the green saviour of steel production, but the primary feedstock for electric arc furnaces is recycled steel. While crude figures suggest that the UK is almost self-sufficient in scrap steel, the EU and world markets are not. It also fails to take into account the fact that scrap steel has to have exactly the right composition to make the requisite end product, so most electric arc furnaces produce steel with a mixture of scrap steel and sponge iron. Again, sponge iron is currently reliant on natural gas or thermal coal.
Without a doubt, the Government should focus on helping every industry in the UK to develop innovative, clean technologies to solve all these issues, but it does none of us any favours to think that it can happen overnight or that it comes cheaply. Trials such as those in Sweden to use hydrogen continue, and some point to the intention to have a commercial hybrid plant running by 2026. Without touching on the feasibility in the short to near term of replacing plants with such expensive energy-intensive replacements, hybrid is only for the production of sponge iron, and the problems in the process that follows remain. Coking coal is still necessary to encourage and enhance slag forming, which protects the furnace, makes the process more energy efficient and reduces nitrogen, which makes for brittle steel.
We have a significant opportunity to level up our constituencies across the UK if we can rejuvenate our UK manufacturing base. Growing our economy and revitalising our UK manufacturing base will necessarily bring carbon emissions, and we must work harder and smarter to reduce our impact. My plea to the Minister and to anyone else who shares our aim of net zero by 2050 is not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. We cannot pat ourselves on the back for a job well done in 2050 if we have got there on the back of steel or its component parts, such as coal, imported from halfway around the world. Let us get there as the UK does best. We have our eye on the finish line: let us emerge as the clear winner but having won fairly and squarely. I urge the Minister to ensure that UK coal is used to make UK steel, which is used to help Britain build back better.
I stand here as a proud ex-coal miner from a long line of coal miners stretching back over 100 years in Ashfield, but I am not here to take a trip down memory lane. I am here to talk about the future of coal in this country.
The coal industry has got a good future. As we come out of the covid crisis, our country will look to new infrastructure projects around the UK to level up the red wall left-behind areas such as Ashfield and Eastwood, where I am from. To deliver on those projects we will need steel, and lots of it. The UK consumed 7.9 million tonnes of coal in 2019, 3 million tonnes of that was used for the steel industry, and 6.8 million tonnes was imported. That cannot be right. If we are using coal in this country to make steel, we should be mining the coal in this country and not importing it from the US, Russia and Australia. This is not a debate on the rights and wrongs of using coal, because we are already using it, and we need it. This debate is about admitting that there is a significant demand for coal in the UK, not just for the steel industry but for making cement, heritage railways and domestic heating.
Importing coal comes at a massive cost. Once all the coal-fired power stations cease in 2024, we will still need about 5 million tonnes of coal a year. Therefore, I would argue for the general economic and environmental case to obtain the coal by mining it here at home. An estimated 2 million tonnes of steel will be needed for HS2, and to produce that amount of steel we will need 1.6 million tonnes of coal. That should be British-mined coal, and it would keep up to £200 million in the UK economy as we would not be importing it, as well as retaining supply chain contracts worth an estimated £48 million to local businesses.
Mining the coal in the UK massively cuts greenhouse gases and results in the saving of significant carbon emissions, as we do not have to import from abroad. But where can we mine the coal that is needed for our steel industry? Well, we have the Woodhouse colliery in Cumbria, which—if it opens—will extract metallurgical, high-quality coking coal, which will then be used to produce high-quality steel right on our doorstep. The irony of all this is the high-quality steel produced from that coal could be used not only for infrastructure projects but to produce the equipment that green energy providers need. Fossil fuel can be used to drive forward green energy production.
The new coal mine in west Cumbria will provide about 500 new jobs for the next generation of brave British coalminers, and it could create another 1,000 jobs in the region as employees will have more disposable income, which will impact on local spending. West Cumbria needs all the investment and jobs it can muster, and a thriving coal industry working alongside the nuclear industry in the region could help provide financial security for Cumbrian families for decades to come. Thus, if we do have to use coal, it should be from this country, providing jobs for our local working-class young people, offering an immediate boost to the levelling-up agenda that the Government pride themselves on.
None of us doubts that coalmining will end in the UK, but we have an opportunity to resurrect deep mining to help us deliver on the green agenda that we have promised the UK. Let us put things right by ending deep mining on a high, with a legacy of producing British coal to make British steel to make British products while creating British jobs.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ashfield (Lee Anderson). I congratulate the hon. Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden) not just on securing the debate but on the work he does for coal and coalfield communities. I am delighted to speak in the debate as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for the coalfield communities.
It is clear that the role of coal in providing our energy in Britain has changed dramatically over the last number of decades. While it has rightly been said that coal usage is necessary in areas such as the steel industry, with coking coal for blast furnaces, coal-fired power stations now account for only 2% of our power. The country now faces the dual challenges of an escalating jobs crisis and the climate emergency, but there is an opportunity for the UK to show decisive leadership and renew its commitment to continuing to diversify energy sources, particularly as we come to next year’s United Nations climate change summit, COP26, which will be vital for driving a global movement towards cleaner fuels and industries.
The Government have announced that the remaining coal power stations will cease operations in the UK by 2025. If that is the case, we need to ensure a just transition for the sector’s workers and ensure that no community or region is ever left behind again in terms of accessing the skills and opportunities needed to thrive in clean industries. We also need to do more to end the billions of pounds in funding given to fossil fuels abroad, which damages our international credibility and makes no sense when we could produce some of them here.
There is a clear way to achieve that. Labour has called for a bold and ambitious green recovery for our country, proudly building the drivers of it right here in Britain, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs, boosting industries, making use of our rich industrial heritage and, in turn, fostering a better quality of life for our constituents. We are living through an age of industrial and economic transition and, as we rightly tackle the challenges, we must not repeat the mistakes that caused such devastation to communities like mine in St Helens and right across the north of England in the 1980s. The legacy of that is not just in economic and societal deprivation but in the illnesses that still scar our people today. Their continuing fight to access rightful support, fair pensions and compensation for former mineworkers and their families has been further compounded by the covid-19 pandemic. I pay tribute to the National Union of Mineworkers for its continuing work on that and draw the Government’s attention to issues around recording deaths during the pandemic to ensure that covid-19 does not mask existing conditions and prevent families of deceased miners receiving the compensation and recognition to which they are entitled.
The history of coal will always be entwined in this country’s industrial tapestry and remains an integral part of the identity of communities like mine in St Helens North, where the pits in Billinge, Parr, Rainford and Haydock helped fire the heavy industries of the UK. As the industry contracted in the second half of the 20th century, Parkside colliery in Newton-le-Willows in my constituency was the last pit in east Lancashire to close.
The report “The State of the Coalfields” last year presented a comprehensive evidence base on the need for ongoing Government intervention in our communities, based on the scale of the challenges that remain. It illustrated, shockingly, that if coalfield communities were a region in their own right—we make up around 5.7 million people—we would be the most deprived region in the UK. We know that life chances across the UK in relation to education, jobs, health and income have all been hit hard over the past decade, but in coalfield areas that has been amplified.
There is a historic debt to coalfield communities for the contribution and the sacrifices they made for the national economy, but also to compensate for the failure to support their post-industrial transition. We have rich histories, but also huge potential. We are proud of our past and ambitious about our future. I believe we can flourish again.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. You may know that before becoming a Member I worked in trade for nine years in Teesside’s chemical industry. As coalmining is to Durham, so our industry is to Teesside. Both my grandads worked in our steel industry and my grandad Matty actually helped in the construction of the Angel of the North. I remember he would tell us that his signature was on the left wing—I am sure there is a joke in there somewhere. My dad worked in our chemical industry, starting out as a plant cleaner for ICI—Imperial Chemical Industries—and then getting a job as a process operator. I followed in his footsteps as an apprentice and then as an operator myself.
That is not an unfamiliar story to many across Teesside and the north-east. Young lads would follow their dads into industry or down the pit. However, the decline in our industry and the closure of many of our coalmines has meant fewer and fewer people have that connection with previous generations. It is incredibly important that we have this debate on the future of coal as we embark on our green recovery, because we have an opportunity for a green industrial revolution that could mean jobs coming back to areas like mine. How we shape the transition to that and to net zero will determine whether jobs come back or whether industry will be forced overseas for good.
Redcar and Cleveland do not share the proud coalmining history of my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden). However, we do have a proud history of ironstone mining and steelmaking. Of course, coal and steel go hand in hand. The production of steel through a traditional blast furnace requires coal, specifically coking coal. Although Redcar no longer has a blast furnace, as a Government we must remain committed to the future of steel blast furnaces in the UK until electric arc furnaces can make the equivalent level of steel. I was incredibly grateful, as were my constituents who work at British Steel at Lackenby, that the Government stepped in and supported British Steel last year in the protection of its blast furnaces at Scunthorpe until a new buyer could be found. Obviously, we now face new concerns about the future of the steel industry in Wales and whether it will have blast furnaces in the long term. It is my belief, as it was in Redcar in 2015, that we should do all we can to help the industry to save our steel. Losing it will not only lead to many job losses; it would be to the detriment of our flexibility and independence. I also think it is important to have a sovereign capability in these foundation industries, were the worst to happen and we found ourselves defending our country.
As long as we have steelmaking in the UK, or rather as long as we have blast furnaces creating steel in the UK, we must have a plan for coal. That is to say nothing of glass manufacturing, cement or bricks. These crucial industries all rely on coal and we must look at ways of producing or obtaining coal with a more limited impact on the environment. In 2019, we imported 6.5 million tonnes of coal, mainly from Russia. That accounted for 73% of the UK’s supply. That proportion was already down by 36% compared to 2018. However, it is clear from what other hon. Members have said so far that there is more we can do to increase coal production in the UK. We should not shy away from that. Too much of our language focuses on eliminating the use of carbon-emitting fuels, rather than reducing their impact. The whole premise of net zero by 2050 is a journey to reduce our carbon emissions, not eliminate all carbon-emitting fuels. If we can open a new coalmine in the UK, far from being against our environmental goals it will aid them: first, through the quasi-elimination of pollution generated by transport—as I said, most of our coal currently arrives from Russia—and, secondly, through the higher environmental standards imposed on production in the UK.
That does not give us a free pass, however. As part of the transition to net zero, we must continue to phase out coal in the industries that do not depend on it. I am incredibly proud of the Government’s achievements on phasing out coal and implementing our long-lasting change to the energy industry.
I thank the hon. Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden) for bringing this debate to the House. It is very important to be having it, in view of the crisis in the economy and the wider climate emergency.
As someone whose constituency office is located within the magnificent Redhills, the miners hall in Durham, I have the enormous honour of walking past the incredible large banners in the corridor on my way in. It is constant reminder of that proud history and what we owe to coal and the people who worked in the industry. That history is not just about the buildings, or even the gala, but runs through virtually every village in my constituency. So many families have mining in their blood. Being true to that heritage also means being truthful about that history, because the way the industry was shut down left huge scars right across the north-east. Many of the communities are still feeling the impact of the destruction wrought by Margaret Thatcher’s Governments. People will talk about the closure of pits under previous Labour Governments, and of course that did happen, but it was the reasoning behind Margaret Thatcher’s closures and the way it was done that really did the damage: remember that she called the miners “the enemy within”.
So far I have talked about the history of coal in the north-east rather than its future. There are two main reasons for this: first, we cannot plan a future without first understanding the past, especially the mistakes of the past; and secondly, I have to say honestly that I do not see coal as a fundamental part of Britain’s energy future. There are some interesting and worthwhile projects being pursued all over the country and in the north-east. Even in the steel industry, alternatives exist and could be developed if the investment was forthcoming. For instance, the electric arc process has much lower carbon emissions than the blast furnace process. Under development we have carbon capture technologies, the use of hydrogen to reduce iron ore, and using biomass instead of coal. Meanwhile, I have had fascinating discussions with researchers at Durham University about geothermal technologies. I am aware that none of these are definitive solutions, but we have to continue to invest in the research.
None of this is ever said to denigrate the past that I have spoken about, when coal seemed a beautiful thing that did not just power, cities, towns and villages, but fuelled our communities and gave energy to our movement. However, in 2020 we know that the future is not in the black gold—it is in the new green technologies that will protect our planet for centuries to come. Over the past few years, the Labour party has worked hard to develop a plan for a green industrial revolution that will transform our economy and energy infrastructure into one that places the planet and the worker at its heart while creating a million green jobs in the process.
The big issue is to provide a lasting foundation for a new energy economy, and we have to learn the lessons from the past. In the north-east, the biggest lesson is that we cannot decimate our old industries without anything to replace them. As a society, we did not invest in the north-east in those dark days after the closure of the pits, and we are still paying the price in the lack of investment now. While I acknowledge that there are very short-term needs for the steel industry and coal will still be used in the interim, we must look forward to develop new technologies, and fast, unless we are to fall back into fiddling while the planet burns—and that means genuine investment, not sticking plasters. Although I welcome this debate and the opportunity to discuss these issues, that is where our minds should be focused: it is the long-term solution and hope for our generation.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden) for giving us this opportunity to discuss the future of coal in the UK.
Bassetlaw has a rich mining history, and historically Nottinghamshire was always a major supplier of coal for industry and home consumption, particularly during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Over the years, parts of Bassetlaw have suffered from the decline of the coalmining industries, including Worksop, Harworth, Bircotes, Carlton-in-Lindrick and Langold. The Harworth colliery closed as recently as 2006, bringing an end to 86 years of coalmining in Bassetlaw. Harworth coal was in great demand from railway companies such as LNER, and the Flying Scotsman locomotive, now on display in the National Railway Museum in York, was burning Harwood coal when it covered the 392 miles from London to Edinburgh in a record seven hours and 27 minutes in 1932. This is something we can be very proud of.
Today Harworth is an area truly proud of its mining history, parts of which can be found wherever you go, including the stained glass tribute at All Saints church. One of my first sporting events after becoming MP for Bassetlaw was to see Harworth Colliery football club, where I was also lucky enough to win the meat raffle at half-time. It was very refreshing that somebody was shouting “gammon” at me without it being an insult for once.
As a school teacher, I took many students to visit the National Coal Mining Museum in Wakefield. It is important that we give these generations a chance to learn about local history. While the past is important, it also gives us the chance to look towards the future. Yes, we want to move towards clean, efficient and renewable forms of energy, and the Government have set out an ambitious plan to achieve net zero by 2050. We want to see those 2 million green jobs by 2030 and be able to provide our constituents with highly skilled and well-paid forms of employment as a result. We want to be able to train our workers and help them to remain in our communities without feeling the need to move to big cities for work. We want to see a smooth transition to a new age of energy generation and realise that this cannot simply happen overnight. Keeping emissions down is key, but we must also consider the impact of importing coal when we still have the resources to supply this ourselves, as long as the proposal is environmentally acceptable or the national, local or community benefits outweigh its likely impacts.
There are other opportunities that the transition presents and legacies from the past that can form part of the solution. I have been highly encouraged by the potential of other schemes, such as exploring the possibility of geothermal energy from disused pits, which my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield has been championing, along with the mineworkers’ pension scheme and reforms. The UK will host COP26 in Glasgow in 2021 and the future holds many opportunities for us all, so let us be thankful for the role that our coal industry has played and continues to play in that.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak in the debate, Madam Deputy Speaker. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden) on securing it, and it is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Brendan Clarke-Smith). Even in the year when our attention has rightly been focused mostly elsewhere, it is important to have opportunities like today to speak on important subjects such as this. If there is one subject, as the grandson of miners, that I feel I am always compelled to speak about, it is coal: the substance that both literally and metaphorically my constituency is built upon.
I will come to our transition away from coal as a country in a moment, but before I do, I hope the House will not mind if I, like others, dwell for a moment on the transition that my community has made away from coal. For North East Derbyshire, coal was and remains a huge part of all our lives and our history. It is an industry on which a predecessor of mine, Tom Swain, said 55 years ago yesterday from a Bench somewhere here, coal is only possible
“by dint of hard work and hard thinking. It is an industry which is dependent on very strong men battling every day of their lives with nature.”—[Official Report, 2 December 1965; Vol. 721, c. 1781.]
Even today, in North East Derbyshire, we mine. Hartington opencast in Staveley is, as far as I am aware, the last and largest opencast mine in England and will continue to produce coal until early 2021, when its regeneration is complete. I visited Hartington in the summer, by the kind invitation of John Wilson, and was enthralled and fascinated by it in equal measure. For a brief second, standing on the precipice of a canyon many metres deep, surrounded by this black gold, which has shaped our lives for generations, I felt a real link to my and our community’s past. When Hartington closes, it will be the closure of final chapter in a very long, illustrious and proud history.
While we remain proud of that heritage, life moves on and my constituency does, too. That is why we now must focus on the incredible challenge we have as a country to shape our new energy future. That all starts with agreeing a pathway to tread more lightly on this earth. The Prime Minister and the Government have inherited this commitment and have made a strong start towards achieving those aims and building on the progress already made, but in the short time I have left, I want to make three points on this hugely important area of policy. I know the Government understand those points and I am keen to see the wider public debate recognise and comprehend them, too.
First, I sometimes wonder if the gravity of what we are trying to do has really been fully comprehended. We are committed to basically re-engineering four centuries of our society’s foundations in a single generation; 2050 is the most incredibly ambitious timeframe and we cannot lose sight of that, as—I do not mean to be typically partisan—the Opposition Front-Bench team did last year in the general election by just plucking dates out of thin air. We have made much progress but we must not diminish the colossal nature of this endeavour.
Secondly, we cannot solve climate change through rationing and nor should we want to. The debate on the environment veers too often towards control and compulsion—it will not work. That is why I very much welcome the Government’s commitment to jet zero and green maritime, which are actual solutions to how we live today, not seeking to reduce that. If coronavirus teaches us nothing else, it teaches us what happens when activity is constrained, even for a short time. Degrowth is a nice debate to have in academic green circles, yet it has real-life implications. We should not exchange one forced retraction of our economy as a result of a pandemic for a debate on another one done voluntarily. Climate change will be solved by innovation, not impediments.
Thirdly, we should, like so many of my colleagues, recognise that this debate is nuanced. Steel and aluminium require coal on a temporary basis, and we should never forget that. Technology will solve this problem—give it time.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate and to follow the fascinating speech from my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley). I also commend my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden) for a fantastic debate today.
In today’s debate on coal, we need to look not just at the substance itself, but at the economic and social factors that surround coal for the communities that have relied on it in the past and the potential we need to unleash as we go through this transition now. That is key to the comments we have heard today. The Black Country has a rich history of coal. At our peak, we had 441 pits, 181 blast furnaces, 189 works, 79 rolling mills and 1,500 puddling furnaces, all linked to coal. We have a proud industrial history. Our flag, designed in 2012 by Gracie Sheppard, reflects that and reflects the comments of the American diplomat Elihu Burrit that the Black Country is
“black by day and red by night”.
I am proud to wear this band here every day to remind me of the communities I was sent to here to serve and that interlink together in that history and in that fight.
Our last pit closed in 1968 and since then industrial decline has hit my communities in Wednesbury, Oldbury and Tipton the hardest. The Black Country employs about 500,00 people, but since 1970 we have lost about 200,000 jobs in heavy industry, particularly since the decline of our coal industry. We have seen an additional 95,000 jobs created, but that still leaves us with a net shortfall of some 100,000 jobs in our area. That is where the potential of the transition comes in for areas such as mine. We have a real opportunity to ensure that as we come through and start to look at transitioning to net zero and being as carbon neutral as we can be we, areas such as the Black Country and my local communities can benefit. For example, we can ensure that our output gap, which currently stands at £2.6 billion, is closed. We can make sure that the unemployment rates, skills rate and low rates of starting businesses are all bridged by utilising the opportunities presented.
I wish clearly to make this point: as we go through this, the midlands is its own area and cannot be pigeonholed into other areas. We have our own socioeconomic issues. I stand in solidarity with my colleagues from other areas, but we need to be sure that as we seize these opportunities we focus them down. Let me say: wim the Black Country, we are not Birmingham. As we take advantage of this, that needs to be understood as well, because we cannot be pigeonholed as we look at seizing these opportunities.
I was pleased that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced a £1 billion carbon capture and storage infrastructure fund, which will be crucial as we ensure that we take advantage of coal during the transition. This is about ensuring we can invest in low-carbon energy production, but, as right hon. and hon. Members have said today, that links to ensuring that the coal we still have here, which is not just going to be eradicated, is utilised. We have still got to ensure that the technology is there to be used in a way that aligns with our ambitions.
The midlands and the Black Country are ready for that challenge as we go through that transition. We have the universities in the area that specialise in green technology and green innovation. We have a fantastic Mayor in Andy Street who is passionate about ensuring that we get this right. We have companies such as Thomas Dudley in Tipton, which I know the Minister has had roundtables with, that are equally passionate about this. We have an energy waste plant in Dudley that is using exactly this type of technology to ensure that can use coal cleanly and focus on our carbon dioxide storage capability. In closing, let me say that we have the economic appetite, skills base, technology and drive. The challenge is there and the Black Country is ready to meet it.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden) on securing this debate. I let the Minister know he has my absolute full support for seeing that, where there is an opportunity for us to bring up British coal to help make British products in order to sell global Britain around the world—exactly what the 72% of people in Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke who voted for Brexit wanted to see—we must absolutely do it.
I am going to go down memory lane slightly. When the coal industry was nationalised in 1947, there were 59 collieries in Staffordshire. Now, sadly, there is none. Out of the five collieries that were operational in my constituency, the last pit to close was the mighty Chatterley Whitfield in 1977. It is a colliery equivalent to the Colosseum in Rome. When you visit, you can be under no illusion as to why this site is a scheduled ancient monument, a silent colossus—one that nature is quickly reclaiming.
Come 2040, no coal-powered stations will be left standing in this country. On the continent, wind, solar, hydro and bioenergy generated 40% of the EU’s electricity in the first half of this year, beating fossil fuels, which accounted for 34%. So is there a future for coal? I absolutely believe that there is. A site such as Chatterley Whitfield is a perfect example of how the future of coal lies within the tourism sector and the green agenda.
Working with Historic England, I hope to bring forward a vision for the county’s first national industrial heritage park at the site. Nature is reclaiming the vile structures, from ivy growing up the mine wheels to trees sprouting from the great boiler houses. The colliery offers a unique insight into how nature operates on our windustrial past. When coal mining left the Ruhr valley in Germany, the collieries were regenerated as natural parks with great success. Restored rivers and wetlands draw migratory birds, hikers and bikers to the former mining sites, along with euros for the local economy. They are once again humming, but with the sound of not mine shafts and workers, but birds and visitors.
I hope that one day the first national industrial heritage park will be based at the former Chatterley Whitfield colliery, the first colliery to produce 1 million tons within a year, in 1937, and it repeated that success in 1939. I give a special call-out to Councillor Dave Evans of Baddeley, Milton and Norton ward, who has a long history and, sadly, has family members who passed away and lost their lives during their time working as miners on that site.
In 2015, Stoke-on-Trent City Council was successful in securing £19.75 million in funding from the Government to help to deliver the infrastructure for a low-carbon district heating network, or DHN. It is a network of underground pipes to deliver heat via hot water between an energy centre and the buildings connected to the system. It harnesses heat from low-carbon sources such as deep geothermal energy, which is commonly found around former coalfields. Stoke-on-Trent and north Staffordshire is a hotbed of geothermal energy. The network also offers opportunities for young people, and Stoke-on-Trent is now home to an urban heat academy, which will be able to share the expertise we are generating in Stoke with other parts of the country. In a sense, that does bring back an element of mining. The source of hot water is more than 3 kilometres below the surface. Pipes are being mined downwards to access it. This carbon-free heat source removes the need for traditional boilers, in line with the Government’s aims to stop their installation from 2025, and has zero risk of carbon monoxide. I ask the Government to assist with this by asking Staffordshire University and Stoke-on-Trent Sixth-Form College, both located at the centre of the first phase of the network, to speed up their sign-ups to this sustainable energy source.
There may not be a future for coal mining long term, but the legacy of coal is not all bad. There are real green opportunities on offer in these former centres of mining.
I commend the hon. Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden) for securing the debate and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting the time for it.
The story of coal goes back a long way but, sadly, the future cannot continue like the past. It somewhat pains me to admit that, as I come from a coalmining community. Midlothian’s coalmining fabric is as entrenched in the community as the black strands in my Midlothian tartan tie, which I am wearing today. Dating back to the 12th century, the earliest extractions were by monks at Newbattle Abbey. The first Victorian super pit, the Lady Victoria colliery, still lives on as the National Mining Museum Scotland in Midlothian. Certainly, to anyone looking to visit, I would highly recommend Midlothian over Edinburgh, because Midlothian is clearly where the heart is.
Coal is no longer king, although realistically it will still have a limited role to play in the energy mix as we continue down the decarbonising pathway in a sensible and phased manner. It is currently still used in blast furnaces, domestic heat generation, food and drink production, chemical production and electricity generation, and 14.5 million tonnes of coal were needed to meet demand for energy generation alone in 2017. Like a veteran actor, the roles for coal are becoming fewer and fewer. Instead of frantically scraping the earth for more, it is better to gradually and graciously retire from the scene and hand the stage over to the players of the future.
Coal comprised just 2.8% of the UK’s primary energy demand in 2019, down from 16% in 2000. By comparison, we have seen more than a tenfold increase in renewable energy generation since 1998—particularly from offshore wind—driven by large, unforeseen cost reductions. That and other emerging technologies, including the potential role of hydrogen to help decarbonise heat, is where our energies should lie.
What there will not be under the Scottish SNP Government’s watch is any kind of fracking or any unabated new coal power generation. The last coal power station in Scotland closed in 2016. Should there be any new application, it would not be considered without having carbon capture and storage technology in place. Donald Trump liked to talk about trains loaded up with “beautiful clean coal”. It is a nostalgic image, and he certainly used it a lot when trying to win the votes of those in the industrial belt—understandably, those areas need optimism for future jobs—but the term is nebulous and it is unlikely his definition of clean coal included the trapping of carbon where it cannot do any harm. According to FactCheck.org, just 0.1% of American coal-fired capacity uses carbon capture technologies.
While they are not the key solution, some of the carbon capture and storage technologies could be needed to keep global warming below 1.5˚C. According to a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Scotland could have a competitive advantage. The Scottish Government’s energy strategy committed to work with the industry to assess the opportunities for existing infrastructure we already have in Scotland’s industrial clusters. Depleted gas fields have vast carbon storage potential, and projects are well under way, although progress has been hampered in the past by poor investment from the UK Government. I hope that the Prime Minister’s new-found enthusiasm for a green revolution in UK energy priorities may more closely align with the Scottish Government’s priorities and that they can work together to support the carbon capture, utilisation and storage strategy.
As we work to cut emissions, I recognise the need to support our industrial bases and focus efforts on new jobs and economic opportunities that the green industries will bring, making sure that change is inclusive and we bring people with us. This is where the Government have gone wrong in the past. The proud coalmining communities of Midlothian were devastated during Thatcher’s era, and I am sure the motivation was not to clean up the environment. Pits were run down and closed with nothing but promises of the dole queue to replace them. Long and bitter disputes during the miners’ strikes and the poverty and suffering they caused were entirely avoidable. Instead, the Government at the time were itching for a fight, and they certainly got one.
In October this year, the Scottish Government announced pardons for miners who suffered from unfair convictions during the picket line disputes of 1984 and 1985. I have called for the UK Government to do their bit to close that chapter by finally agreeing to an inquiry into what happened during the policing of the strikes. They should help heal the wounds of the past.
The future of communities such as mine may not be built on coal, but it will be built on the backs of those miners and families, and their legacy lies in the grit, determination, warmth and comradeship of the people. Midlothian was forged in coal, and it makes us a fantastic workforce for the industries of the future.
Indeed, the old mines could still have a direct role to play in powering the economy, tackling fuel poverty and heating our homes, but in less conventional ways. For example, the HotScot project, developed by the University of Glasgow, is looking to tap into geothermal energy contained in disused flooded coal mines across the country. It is believed that heat trapped in the 600 cubic kilometres of disused mines throughout Scotland’s central belt could meet up to 8% of our domestic heating demands, and extracting it could create almost 10,000 jobs while slashing household bills.
Geothermal is a project that Midlothian has a long history of looking at, having commissioned a study into it in 2004, and the Scottish Government looked into it again in 2013. Unfortunately those projects were not viable at the time, although they were then exported to Spain and Holland, where they were adopted. I would encourage anyone who gets the chance to engage with a chap called Stevie Gillespie, who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of these things.
The transition from deep mining, a high carbon activity, was economically unjust for our coal communities, closing down not only the pits but the local economies, with enormous and long-lasting negative social impacts. The move to a low carbon economy could be a just one, if we choose to harness geothermal energy from the mine water that has flooded pits such as Bilston Glen and to tackle the industrial legacy that has left the surrounding communities behind. We can tackle the food and fuel poverty of our coal communities by tapping into this rich new source of energy, by installing district heating schemes in new and existing housing and by supporting local food production using heat to grow vegetables. Along the Forth estuary and the Clyde, we can capture and convert the heat to feed our people, producing food from the river banks instead of having people go to food banks. There are challenges to overcome, but exciting projects such as these could turn abandoned mines from liabilities into economic assets that could be an integral part of the green renaissance that we seek to build. We just need the commitment to make it happen.
It is a privilege to help to sum up this debate before the Minister speaks. I thank and pay tribute to the hon. Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden) for the way he secured and introduced the debate. Coal matters. This is what we have heard from all hon. Members today. It matters not just to our heritage and history but to our industry and identity. Coal is not just a fuel. It is a social seam that runs through our communities and right throughout Britain. It runs through our families as well. My great-grandfather, Albert, was a coal miner in Allerton Bywater, as was his father, and his father before him. The darkness, the dirty air, the risk of death through explosion, flood and collapse, and the camaraderie, the solidarity and the community were hallmarks of their time down the mine. Coalfield communities are proud of their past, and they are also ambitious for their future. If we fast-forward to today, we see that as a nation we are ending the use of coal, but we must do much more to be a beacon nation and help our friends abroad to do the same. That is especially important as we get closer to COP26.
This has been a good debate, with some excellent contributions. I want to pay tribute to a number of the points that have been raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) was right to highlight the need for justice for Orgreave and the continuing tragedy of the mineworkers’ pension scheme. My hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) was right to highlight the errors of the Government in supporting fossil fuel use abroad, and the illnesses of many miners. My hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy) put it very well when she said that we must learn the lessons of the past if we are to create a new energy economy.
The speeches from Conservative Members were also good. I thank the hon. Members for Workington (Mark Jenkinson), for Bassetlaw (Brendan Clarke-Smith), for West Bromwich West (Shaun Bailey), for Ashfield (Lee Anderson) and for Redcar (Jacob Young) in particular. The hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley), despite chucking in a cheeky partisan point, which I forgive him for, offered the useful advice that we need to tread more lightly on the Earth. That has been a common theme throughout all the speeches that we have heard today.
On coal, Labour has led the way on many of the improvements that we have seen in our carbon reduction. In government, we started the closure of the coal-fired power stations and delivered much of the carbon savings that we are now seeing in the carbon budgets. Sadly, we have not seen the same heavy lifting since 2010 in decarbonising housing, transport, food production and wider energy generation. I am a 2030 kind of guy, rather than a 2050 kind of guy, but whatever date we choose, it is clear that we need to decarbonise faster, and the use of new technologies is a key part of that.
I am glad that so many hon. Members spoke about the opportunities not only around geothermal and hydrogen but around using the talent and skills of our coalfield communities that have been neglected for too long. The Government must not be lulled into a false sense of security by thinking that three-word soundbites and flashy oratory are a substitute for bold action to deliver net zero. It is clear that a yawning gap is emerging between the Government’s aspirations on net zero and their policy to deliver them. We have heard today that coalfield communities have a key part to play, and are keen to play their part, in helping the Government to meet that target.
There will be very little room for the continued mining and use of new coal in the world’s industries over the next 30 years. That has been made clear in speeches from both sides of the House.
COP26 must be a moment when, internationally, we drive down the use of coal right around the world if we are to achieve our target of keeping global warming below 1.5°. Countries abroad, though, are still largely dependent on coal for energy and they are clearly compounding a problem, but in making the case for that we must also recognise the historic legacy and responsibility that we have as a nation, because of the amount of coal and carbon that we have put into the atmosphere. We must also not be shy in bringing forward the technologies to create the green jobs of the future.
When I was a very small child at my primary school in Buckland Monachorum, just outside Plymouth, the teacher stopped our lesson and said, “Everyone look out the window now.” There was a coalman delivering coal, heaving huge bags of coal on his back. She said, “Remember that scene, because you won’t see those jobs in the future. You won’t be able to grow up and be one of those people.” That stuck with me. It is something about the just transition that we need to have. All hon. Members speaking in this debate have remarked on the need to create new jobs—good, decent, hard-working jobs—that are true to the values of those coalfield communities that we have seen.
I am pleased that, as a country, we are now driving down the use of coal in our energy production. It now accounts for around 2% of power, and between April and June this year that figure fell to just 0.6%, which is a huge and welcome achievement. We need to continue doing that. The carbon floor price of £18 per tonne for carbon gas emissions from plants and the restrictions on the emissions of CO2 per kilowatt hour that were introduced in recent energy legislation will help to achieve that and that is welcome.
When speaking about coal, we can talk about it as a fuel or as a community. Members on both sides of the House have spoken about it in terms of people, and not just of something in the ground. When it comes to coalfield regeneration, I hope that this Minister, and Ministers who follow him in this role, will stay true to their word about the long-term commitment that is necessary. The lesson from Labour’s investment in coalfield communities from our time in Government is that it is more than just a flashy headline. It needs to be sustained investment that gets to the very heart of that structural inequality that we need to look at.
The climate and ecological emergency will not go away and we need to make sure that we are handing a better world to our children than the one that we inherited from those before us. As a young man, I worked briefly in the coal health claims unit in the Department for Trade and Industry, which was many, many rebrands ago from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in which the Minister now operates. I helped to process some of the claims for vibration white finger and for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease for those former miners. It was settling a debt that our nation owed to them, but in settling that debt over their health claims, we must also now make sure that we do the same over former miners’ pensions as well. That was raised by a number of hon. Members on the Labour Benches, and, indeed, on the Government Benches as well. We must also go further and recognise that the legacy of our coal industry is not just the health impacts on those former miners, but the spoil tips that remain. My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) is fond of mentioning the unmapped coal tips. There are potentially 2,000 of them in south Wales alone. We do not have a map to identify where all of them are and we know that many of those spoil tips are unstable. We know that we have a responsibility to act and what we must all agree on in this House is that we must never ever have another Aberfan again. That is why action is so important.
As this chapter of Britain’s industrial history closes, we must make sure that the people and those communities that were so key to that industrial success—that engine that powered Britain—are not forgotten about. That means recognising their health, their pensions and the environmental responsibilities and remembering the people who went down the mines to power our country.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) on filling in for his colleague at such short notice. I thought that he gave a very succinct and clear exposition, and I welcome him to his position if it is somewhat unusual for him.
Many people spoke about the history. It is very easy to pretend that the history does not matter or that it is somehow irrelevant to our new and shiny future, but actually the history of these mining communities, the history of Great Britain, and the history of economic development in this country are things that we should think about and debate in this House. I am very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden) for bringing our attention to this issue and congratulate him on calling this debate.
I fully accept that we should not be making partisan points all the time from the Dispatch Box, but I found it very striking that, in a Backbench debate about the coal industry, we should have had eight Conservative speakers and only three Labour speakers. At any other time in the recent parliamentary history of this country, such a mismatch and such a large number of Conservatives speaking passionately and with great experience about this subject would have been extraordinary. I commend all my hon. Friends for speaking in this debate very passionately, and I also commend Opposition Members for doing so. I thought it was a very good debate.
As far as the substance is concerned, we know that we have come a very long way. I think most Members on both sides are conscious of the fact that we have really come a long way from the heady days when we mined—in 1913, which was the record year for coal production in this country—288 million tonnes of coal in a single year. That really staggers the imagination: 1 million tonnes of coal coming out every single working day. As Members on both sides have said, through family links and through representing their communities, there is still a very strong living sense of the incredible sacrifice that many workers underwent simply to keep the lights on and simply to keep economic progress flowing. Even in the 1950s—I have looked at the figures—we were mining more than 200 million tonnes of coal every year during the decade, so it is an incredible legacy. When one thinks of the lives lost, the limbs shattered and the many hours spent in very difficult and dark conditions, I think Members of this House are right to pay tribute to that legacy and to commend these great communities for the efforts and sacrifices they made.
However, we have to look forward. Acknowledging the past and recognising the huge efforts that have been made to build the communities and the life we enjoy today does not mean that we should not very much be looking forward in the future. In that vein, I am proud of what our Government are doing. I am surprised that the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport is still committed to the 2030 target, which most industry specialists feel is completely unrealistic, but I would be very happy to debate that with him. We also have to recognise, as many of us have done, that there are going to be new jobs, new industries and new challenges. The 10-point plan that the Prime Minister outlined only a couple of weeks ago really pointed the way to some of those new technologies. We have carbon capture, usage and storage, to which we are committing £1 billion. We also have hydrogen, with the possibilities of low-carbon hydrogen. I am very pleased to be leading the work within the Department on trying to come up with a hydrogen strategy and see how we can decarbonise the industry.
As many of my hon. Friends mentioned, there is still a large role for decarbonisation in industry. They made the point, I think very ably, that still in our industrial processes—particularly in steel and also in construction—there is a dependence on coking coal. We have to distinguish between the coking coal used in industrial processes and the coal used to generate electricity, but all the same, Government Members were quite right to point out that it does not make any sense for us simply to export carbon emissions to other countries. That is precisely why the United Kingdom and Canada have set up the Powering Past Coal Alliance. Only this week, I have been speaking to Polish counterparts and other counterparts in eastern Europe to find ways in which we can actually remove coal from the equation, as it were, and seek decarbonised forms of industry, and that is very much our focus. My hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham mentioned the fact that we import 5 million to 10 million tonnes of coal a year, which is a considerable amount, but we will look to decarbonise further our industrial processes. When we contrast the 5 million to 10 million tonnes that we import with the 288 million tonnes that was mined in 1913, we can see the transition that we have made. I think that coal in industry will not disappear immediately, but we have to look at new ways of decarbonising that industry, which is precisely why we are looking at hydrogen and carbon capture to drive that decarbonisation process.
Finally, the net zero target, which has shaped all our energy policy in the last year, is vital for us to meet our aspirations for the kind of community and economy that we want to see. Everyone in the House today is in agreement on that, which is particularly significant. When we consider our position with respect to net zero, we have to look at the international context as well. Britain on its own will not be able to decarbonise the planet, but we can provide leadership. Many people around the world look to the United Kingdom and to our energy policy, and they feel that we are paving the way on this.
As we enter 2021, we can look forward to two events that will help us to shape the global debate. We will host COP26 in Glasgow in November next year, where we will forge a plan and show our friends how we think net zero can be achieved. We will also enjoy the presidency of the G7. Given what has happened in the United States over the last few weeks with the election, there are huge opportunities in the G7 to drive forward this decarbonisation and net zero agenda.
I thank all Members on both sides of the House for their contributions to what has been a very good debate, and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing it to go ahead. I thank the Minister for his words. He is right that we need to be ambitious for a decarbonised future, but in order to get there, coal still has a role to play in the interim.
Many Members on both sides of the House talked about coalfield communities. My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Brendan Clarke-Smith) mentioned his colliery football club, which reminded me of Bearpark and Esh colliery band in my constituency, who are still going strong. The hon. Members for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) and for Easington (Grahame Morris) really rammed home the need to ensure that coalfield communities are looked after. The hon. Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy) made the point that this is a fundamental part of Britain’s past, but she welcomed the green industrial future, which my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Jacob Young) also touched on.
My hon. Friends the Members for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley), for West Bromwich West (Shaun Bailey) and for Ashfield (Lee Anderson) talked about the economic opportunity. That is particularly important, because as my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire said, we cannot go backwards in terms of economic growth; this has to build on something into the future. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) made a particularly good point about how we can use our industrial heritage to do all sorts of innovative things, and I wish him success in that.
The hon. Member for Midlothian (Owen Thompson) said that this was like an actor leaving the stage. I agree with him on that, but it is not quite yet—we still have a bit of a way to go. My hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mark Jenkinson) made an exceptional speech about how this is part of us not only levelling up but building back better for the future, and I wish him and his colleagues in Cumbria all the best with their application. Finally, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) said that coalfield communities are ambitious for their future. That is probably why so many of them voted Conservative this time, and hopefully more will do so in the future.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the future of coal in the United Kingdom.