HC Deb 30 November 1959 vol 614 cc846-9
5. Mr. McKay

asked the Minister of Power if he is aware that the stocking of 50 million tons of coal is largely due to the continuation of opencast production introduced to meet a scarcity of coal and now continued in a time of over-production thus causing unemployment in the mining community; and if he will terminate opencast production within twelve months.

Mr. George

I have nothing to add to my right hon. Friend's reply on 23rd November to a similar Question by the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. Kelley).

Mr. McKay

Can the Parliamentary Secretary say how much it would take to finish the contracts for opencast coal at the moment so that the miners would have a better opportunity of placing more coal on the market?

Mr. Nabarro

That comes under Question 16. This has nothing to do with it.

Mr. George

There is a Question on that very point later on, and perhaps the hon. Member will await the reply.

8. Mr. Fitch

asked the Minister of Power how many acres of agricultural land in Lancashire as still requisitioned for opencast coal operations.

Mr. George

Four thousand acres, of which 2,600 acres are under agricultural restoration.

Mr. Fitch

Will not the Parliamentary Secretary agree that it is almost idiotic to close down seven mines in Lancashire, due to excessive coal stocks, and at the same time churn up good agricultural land? Will he guarantee that opencast mining will cease in Lancashire, at least by the end of 1960?

Mr. George

I have no information about the reason for the closures, but I certainly do not accept that the mines are being closed because of stocks of coal on the ground. Secondly, it has been considered inadvisable and unwise to bring the opencast coal industry to an abrupt finish. The extent of opencast working is being rapidly diminished and will be only 2 million tons at the end of 1965.

Dr. Stross

Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that in the matter of extractive industries Lancashire suffers more than any part of Britain? Could not a good example be set by doing matters in reverse now and sparing land in Lancashire?

Mr. George

The hon. Member will agree that the Board is running down opencast mining as fast as it reasonably can.

Mr. Ross

The hon. Gentleman is running down the whole industry as fast as he can.

16. Mr. Nabarro

asked the Minister of Power, having regard to opencast coal output of 14 million tons in 1958, 11 million tons estimated in 1959, 7 million tons estimated in 1960, reducing to 2 million tons in 1965, and the present coal stocks of 53 million tons, distributed and undistributed, worth approximately £230 million, what steps he has taken to ascertain the cost of compensation for cancellation of all opencast contracts early in 1960, and total cessation of opencast coal mining.

Mr. George

None, Sir. It would have been quite unreasonable to bring this large industry to such an abrupt end, and the National Coal Board has not negotiated with its contractors on that basis. I would not in any case accept that distributed stocks should be brought into the picture.

Mr. Nabarro

That is an academic argument anyway but, as my hon. Friend neglected to observe that under his rundown plans for opencast coal mining—which I have been opposing in this House since my maiden speech ten years ago—he proposes in 1960 to mine by opencast methods 7 million tons of coal, practically all of which is going into stock at huge cost, I ask him again whether he would not consider outright cancellation of all opencast mining contracts, on the premise that it would be cheaper to pay compensation now rather than mine this coal—which ought to be a strategic reserve anyway—and put it all into stock? Cannot we have some realism in these matters?

Mr. George

My hon. Friend has again failed to notice the estimates for next year. He says that the 7 million tons of opencast coal to be mined in 1960 will go to stock. The estimates of production are 188 million deep-mined and 7 million opencast, making a total of 195 million. The sales are estimated at 196 million. Therefore, all the opencast coal mined next year is expected to be sold.

17. Mr. Oliver

asked the Minister of Power whether, having regard to Her Majesty's Government's declared policy on prospecting for opencast coal, the fifty-four prospecting proposals for which applications have been made to the Derbyshire County Council during 1959 will not now be pursued.

Mr. George

As my right hon. Friend explained on 23rd November, the National Coal Board has decided to make big reductions in its opencast prospecting programme. It is for the Board to work out the details of these reductions and I am asking the Chairman to write to the hon. and learned Member.

Mr. Oliver

In analysing the fifty-four prospecting sites to which I have referred in my Question, will the Parliamentary Secretary be good enough to deal with cases where sanction has been given to bore but they have not entered the site; where they have entered the site but have not commenced to bore; and sites where boring is in operation?

Mr. George

The general programme has already been given by my right hon. Friend. It would be foolish—and I think the hon. and learned Gentleman would agree—to cancel contracts and pay compensation if those contracts could be carried out with very little, if any, damage and yield valuable information.