HC Deb 15 February 1968 vol 758 cc1573-5
Q3. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Prime Minister what representations he has received concerning the need to re-examine the decision not to reopen the Michael Colliery in Fife, consequent on the proposal to establish a coal-fired power station at Invergordon as part of the aluminium smelter complex; and whether he will meet a delegation to discuss the matter.

The Prime Minister

Both my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power and I have received a number of representations about this colliery, including some from hon. Members. The future of the colliery is, of course, essentially a matter for the National Coal Board but my right hon. Friend, as the responsible Departmental Minister, is always ready to discuss this and similar matters with hon. Members. Indeed, I understand he discussed the particular colliery mentioned in the Question with my hon. Friend and others of my hon. Friends earlier this week.

Mr. Hamilton

Does my right hon. Friend realise that some of us on this side of the House have seen both the Chairman of the National Coal Board and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power, and that there seems to be some conflict of view between them on this matter? As Lord Robens has said in a letter to some of us that he wants to see at least a proportion of the coal for the project coming from Scottish coal mines, not excluding the Michael Colliery, will my right hon. Friend at least give an assurance that the decision of the Cabinet on this matter will be delayed until Lord Robens has had a look at the forward projection of costs in the Scottish coal fields?

The Prime Minister

All of us, none more than my hon. Friend, regret the tragedy which led to the situation in the Michael Colliery, which was, up to that time, a viable and extremely efficiently worked colliery. I am not aware of any misunderstanding or disagreement between my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power and Lord Robens on this matter. The future of the colliery is a matter for the National Coal Board. On the question of the colliery's relation to possible smelter projects, the whole smelter question is being considered by the Government, and a statement will be made in due course. I do not think that I can answer it now in relation to this colliery.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor

Could the Prime Minister at least assure us that Scottish coal will be used, and will he charge one Minister with the responsibility for this project, to cut through the administrative confusion stemming from there being no fewer than six Ministeries involved in this one project?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman would naturally recognise that a number of Departments are very much involved in the matter, and must be, if the problem is to be tackled as a very important problem of this kind must be. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade is in general charge of the aluminium smelter project. There is the very complicated complication about a possible coal-fired smelter, which is being examined.

Mr. Eadie

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the miners of Michael Colliery were told that it was a commercial decision not to reopen the pit? Does he agree that hon. Members on this side of the House, including himself, have said that Governments can influence market trends? Does he agree that miners are entitled to be dissatisfied because of their past support for this Government?

The Prime Minister

The question of the Michael Colliery was raised with me in very strong terms by representatives of the Scottish National Union of Mineworkers as long ago as last September at a very full meeting on the whole question of the coalmining industry. Because of the loss of production caused by the accident, the situation there has changed and the decision must be one for the National Coal Board, which is in close touch with the Government about it.

Mr. Heath

When are the Government likely to be in a position to announce their decisions about the various proposals for aluminium smelters? Will the right hon. Gentleman give the House an assurance that when they make the announcement the Government will publish details of the economics of the various forms of power involved, so that we can come to our own conclusion on how the problems have been resolved?

The Prime Minister

It will be two or three weeks yet before a decision can be announced to the House. I shall certainly consider how much detail should be given. From his own experience, the right hon. Gentleman will recall that this kind of question is of interest to our E.F.T.A. colleagues, and there have been and must be discussions with them. As between nuclear energy and coal, we shall of course want to make as full a statement as possible to the House when the decision is taken.