HC Deb 20 April 1959 vol 604 cc13-5
14. Mr. Mason

asked the Paymaster-General whether he has considered the proposals made to him by the National Union of Mineworkers for a national fuel policy; what are his observations; and if he will specify his reply to the request for a greater reduction of opencast mining production.

7. Mr. Osborne

asked the Paymaster-General what proposals he has received from the National Union of Mineworkers to restrict the import of oil into the United Kingdom, and/or the reduction of opencast mining; and what reply he has sent.

Mr. Maudling

On 27th February, my noble Friend received from the National Union of Mineworkers proposals for a national fuel policy. In a full reply sent on 5th March, he indicated that because of the need for an abundant, cheap and efficient supply of fuel for British industry he could not accept the proposition that oil should be taxed or otherwise restricted in order to compel a greater use of coal. He also stated that the substantial cuts in opencast production already announced for 1959 went as far as possible without breaking contracts.

Mr. Mason

Will the Minister consider issuing a directive to the National Coal Board to stock more than 22 million tons of coal in order to stop further closures of deep mines? Secondly, is it not time, especially in this era of coal stocking, that we came to a phased agreement to stop opencast mining altogether?

Mr. Maudling

I am not aware of any proposals for further closures of mines. We must leave it to the National Coal Board to decide whether it wishes to stock more or how it wishes to handle this situation.

On the second question, I have already informed the House that a steady rundown of opencast production is envisaged.

Mr. Gower

In view of the fact that this problem is affecting not only this country but many countries in Western Europe, might it not be injurious to our industry if we took only such action as that being advocated, with entire disregard of conditions overseas?

Mr. Maudling

We will certainly bear in mind our international interests in the trade in fuel.

Mr. Blyton

Is the Minister aware that for the first thirteen weeks of this year the consumption of coal was 4 million tons less than in the corresponding thirteen weeks of last year, whereas the consumption of oil has risen? If production is to meet demand, are there not bound to be further closures? Is it not time that the Government departed from its complacency and faced this serious problem?

Mr. Maudling

It is primarily a problem to be faced by the producers of coal. The Government's policy is quite clear.

Mr. Mason

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply to my Question and those of my hon. Friends, I give notice that I will raise this matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible moment.