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Government Puts Coal Mine Reprieve Plan To Parliament

March 29, 1993

LONDON (AP) _ Trade Secretary Michael Heseltine defended a plan Monday to save 12 money- losing coal mines by subsidizing production.

But a handful of rebel legislators rejected the plan as inadequate and threatened to oppose it in a late-night vote in Parliament.

But when the votes were counted, the House backed the government’s plan by 319 votes to 297, a comfortable majority of 22. It threw out by 320 votes to 295 a motion by the opposition Labor Party condemning the plan.

Earlier, several thousand demonstrators, headed by miners’ union leaders rallied in London and marched to the House of Commons to protest mine closures.

But the protests, in and out of Parliament, were mild compared with the anger sparked by the Conservative government’s original plan, announced in October, to shut down swiftly more than half Britain’s coal mines.

Faced with parliamentary defeat in October, Prime Minister John Major backed down and promised to think again.

Under the new plan announced last week, 12 of the original 31 mines slated for closure will be kept open with subsidies for up to two years, costing an estimated $745 million.

A 13th mine will be expanded, six put on standby while state-owned British Coal looks for new markets, and the rest shut.

The new plan, British Coal said, meant losing 13,800 jobs, instead of 30,000.

Seeking parliamentary approval, Heseltine said the plan was his best offer, given that British Coal had found no new markets.

″I’m sick and tired of members sitting there telling me what their fathers thought, what their grandfathers thought,″ Heseltine told critics who accused him of wrecking longstanding mining communities.

″What we are concerned about is what their children will think if we don’t make this economy competitive,″ he added.

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