Back British coal industry instead of 'sending pounds to Putin', Tory MPs tell ministers

A key British industry is being forced to “send pounds to Putin” rather than support the domestic coal market, ministers have been warned.

Conservative MPs pressed the Government to use UK coal to support the country’s steel industry instead of relying on imports from Russia and elsewhere.

Richard Holden, Tory MP for North West Durham, also detailed how the UK imports between five and 10 million tonnes of coal a year – adding this represents more than £1 billion of net imports annually.

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He warned this money is not going into UK jobs as part of the transition to new methods of fuelling industry, and highlighted how steelmaking in south Wales is using coal from around the world.

The sun shines behind the headframe of a shaft mine at the National Coal Mining Museum based on the site of the former Caphouse Colliery in Overton, near Wakefield. Photo: OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)

Coal has played an increasingly small role in Britain’s power mix in recent years, with a Government target to phase it out altogether by 2024, and saw its share of generation fall to just 2% in 2019.

Leading a Commons debate, Mr Holden said: “Of our net imports, approximately 40% of our coal comes from Russia and 20% Colombia.

“The blast furnaces at Port Talbot could have been burning with British coal, but now they’re going to be burning with Russian coal.

“We are literally forcing one of our key strategic industries to send pounds to (Vladimir) Putin rather than supporting good jobs as we bridge to future technology that will see our strategic heavy industry decarbonise further.”

Mr Holden said the argument against domestic coal production “collapses entirely” when environmental factors are considered, as he questioned the standards adhered to in Russia, Colombia or the United States compared to the UK.

He added: “That’s before we get to the staggering quantities of CO2 emissions of shipping a bulk product halfway around the world.”

Mark Jenkinson, Conservative MP for Workington, issued a plea to ministers to “not let the perfect be the enemy of the good” to reach the target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

He said: “We cannot pat ourselves on the back for a job well done in 2050 if we’ve got there on the back of steel or its components parts, like coal, imported from halfway around the world.”

He added: “I urge the minister to ensure it’s UK coal used to make UK steel used to help Britain build back better.”

Former miner Lee Anderson, now Conservative MP for Ashfield, said most of the 7.9 million tonnes of coal consumed by the UK in 2019 was imported.

He said: “This cannot be right.

“If we’re using coal in this country to make steel then we should be mining the coal in this country and not importing from the US, Russia, Australia.”

Mr Anderson added there needs to be a recognition that a “significant demand” for coal remains in the UK for the steel industry, making cement, heritage railways and domestic heating – and efforts must be made to mine it here.

Labour MP Mary Kelly Foy (City of Durham) said speaking about a future without coal does not “denigrate the past”.

She added: “None of this is ever said to denigrate the past that I have spoken about, when coal seemed a beautiful thing and didn’t just power cities, towns and villages, it fuelled our communities and gave energy to our movement.

“However in 2020, we know that the future is not in the black gold, it’s in the new green technologies that will protect our plane for centuries to come.”

Replying for the Government, Business minister Kwasi Kwarteng said: “I think that coal in industry is something that will not disappear immediately, but we have to look at new ways of decarbonising that industry and that’s precisely why we’re looking at hydrogen and also carbon capture to drive that decarbonisation process.

“The net zero target, which has shaped all our energy policy in the last year, is absolutely vital for us to meet our target and also to meet our aspirations for the kind of community, the kind of economy we want to see.”