Tory Energy Minister Matthew Hancock sat on his hands yesterday in the face of a fierce grilling by MPs over the future of Britain’s deep coal-mining industry.
Commons energy and climate change select committee members cornered him on government policy which has seen a £4 million “commercial” loan to bankrupt UK Coal delayed by months and left the country’s crucial coal supplies at the mercy of foreign imports.
Mr Hancock repeatedly brushed off fears that energy security could be threatened by policies which have seen £1 billion ploughed into projects to reduce carbon emissions from fossil fuel supplies but left the domestic deep-mining sector facing total closure.
He skimmed over fears raised by Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery that the plan for a £4m cash injection could trigger EU state-subsidy regulations that allow funding only as part of a closure plan.
Coal remains the biggest source of British energy — more than half of it sourced from Russia, which is the focus of a growing trade war over events in Ukraine.
But while the minister maintained that “security of supply is pre-eminent” he glibly ignored the suggestion that energy policy was over-reliant on imports, suggesting that “so long as there are enough boats” coal could be shipped in.
He added that the government could do nothing to secure domestic supplies because that was a matter for private power firms.
National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) national secretary Chris Kitchen branded Mr Hancock’s performance a “disgrace.”
“They don’t seem to be able to govern the country,” said the NUM leader.
“They leave everything to private enterprise and follow behind with their fingers crossed that things will work out.”
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