HC Deb 13 March 1950 vol 472 cc731-2
22. Mr. Rhys Davies

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether, in view of the expense, the damage to agricultural land and disturbance caused to farmers, and especially the low quality of the fuel extracted, he will consider abandoning opencast mining altogether.

Mr. Noel-Baker

The Government regret as ardently as my hon. Friend the disturbance to farmers caused by the opencast mining of coal. But unfortunately the coal is imperatively required to meet the increasing demand at home and the export programme to which we are pledged. I cannot accept the implications of my hon. Friend's Question, about the expense and quality of opencast coal.

Mr. Davies

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that in some parts of the country it requires a good fire to burn this opencast coal? Will he be good enough, too, in his new office, to pay a visit to some opencast mining operations to see things for himself?

Mr. Noel-Baker

I am glad to say that I have visited them and have seen very good quality coal being produced. My hon. Friend is quite wrong in thinking that opencast coal is always of bad quality. It varies with the seams, as does deep-mined coal.

Mr. Anthony Nutting

Will the right hon. Gentleman consult the Minister of Agriculture to see whether it is not felt by the farming community, at least, that the Government, by pursuing opencast coalmining work, are destroying more food than they are producing coal?

Mr. Noel-Baker

We have consulted the Minister of Agriculture very carefully and my right hon. Friend made a statement last July in which he said that some grain crops had been successfully grown in the first year after restoration. We regret all loss of land, whether it is for opencast coal or other mining or sand pits or anything else, but we must have the coal.

Mr. Arthur Colegate

Is the Minister aware that a very slight decrease in absenteeism in deep coal mining would obviate the necessity for this opencast work?