HC Deb 17 November 1958 vol 595 cc833-6
25. Mr. Moss

asked the Paymaster-General whether he is aware that stocks of coal, mostly for industrial use, in the West Midlands Division of the National Coal Board have reached a level of 1,700,000 tons in spite of a fall in production this year of 875,000 tons; and to what extent, in view of these facts, he intends to persist with his authorization of opencast coalmining at Polesworth in the county of Warwick.

Sir I. Horobin

Despite the present high level of stocks, my noble Friend would not be justified in refusing all proposals for new opencast sites, and the Abbey site in the Polesworth area is one which he has decided to authorise.

Mr. Moss

But why does the Minister persist in ripping out the heart of this historic village? Is he aware that the people of Polesworth, the miners and the farmers, the rector of the Abbey Church, the parish, the rural district and the county councils, are all strongly opposed to this project? Is it not a case of profit taking precedence over public interest?

Sir I. Horobin

I do not know whether that it is an accusation which is commonly levelled against the Coal Board, but the facts are that this site of about 100 acres is expected to yield very nearly 700,000 tons of coal and it has almost three times as much coal to the acre as the average of these sites. Having regard to the fact, which has been explained often to the House, that some opencast coal must still be got—although we are being much more careful in the selection of sites—this is clearly one with which it is reasonable to proceed.

Mr. Harold Davies

Does not the hon. Gentleman appreciate that the House cannot follow him in his argument that opencast coal must be got when there are large stocks available? This is neither a charge against the Coal Board nor against private enterprise. There were stocks in the private enterprise days when industry was slack and there will always be stocks, but why now should we be going for opencast when we should be keeping that maybe for a rainy strategic day?

Sir I. Horobin

I cannot debate this by way of question and answer. Whether this particular source of coal should be exploited rather than another, perhaps some deep-mined pit, is a matter of commercial judgment for the Board. There are no greater stocks produced by one type of coal, such as this opencast, than from another type of coal from a deep mine. It seems to be suggested by the hon. Gentleman and some of his hon. Friends that large stocks arise only when produced from opencast coal. Unfortunately, they sometimes arise however it is produced.

Mr. Moss

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I will raise the matter on Adjournment.

29. Mr. Neal

asked the Paymaster-General how many new opencast sites have been approved since the passing of the Opencast Coal Act.

Sir I. Horobin

None under the new Act, but 31 sites have been authorised for which application had been made under Defence Regulations before the Act came into operation.

31. Mr. Swingler

asked the Paymaster-General what applications for opencast coal mining he is considering in the Bignall End, Halmerend, and Scot Hay areas of the Newcastle-under-Lyme rural district.

Sir I. Horobin

No applications have been received for opencast coal mining in these districts.

33. Mr. Swingler

asked the Paymaster-General how many applications for authority for opencast coal mining have been received since the Opencast Coal Act, 1958, came into operation; and how many of these came from North Staffordshire.

Sir I. Horobin

None, Sir.

Mr. Swingler

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that his Department's policy now makes no sense at all to a very large number of people in coal mining areas in view of the accumulation of stocks, for example, in the West Midlands? Although in constituencies like mine old coal mines have been closed down and older men workers have been made redundant, the Department is encouraging people to continue to prospect for opencast coal, without any kind of promise that authority will be given to get it. The policy seems absolutely nonsensical in the present situation.

Sir I. Horobin

I am sorry if the policy appears nonsensical, but any pits which are closed are closed because they are hideously expensive and have become quite uneconomical. If any opencast site now manages to get authority, it is authorised only if it helps the unfortunate Coal Board to make a bit of money.

Back to