HC Deb 28 May 1968 vol 765 cc1523-4
6. Sir J. Eden

asked the Minister of Power what has been the net profit or loss, overall, achieved by the National Coal Board since its inception.

Mr. Gunter

The aggregates of the annual surpluses and deficits on the National Coal Board's revenue accounts at March, 1967, showed a net deficit of £115 million on a turnover of £15,156 million.

Sir J. Eden

What prospects does the right hon. Gentleman offer taxpayers before long of getting a better return on their capital invested in the coal industry?

Mr. Gunter

I think that it will be generally agreed that, despite all its major problems, the coal industry has made remarkable progress. A look at the productivity table of what is happening in the best of our pits reveals that very substantial steps have been taken.

Mr. William Hamilton

Will my right hon. Friend not agree that, if the private sector of the economy had served the nation as well as the publicly-controlled coal industry in the last 20 years, the economy would be in a much better state than it is today? With regard to the figures which he has given to the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden), can my right hon. Friend say whether they include the social advantages which have accrued from public ownership of the industry?

Mr. Gunter

I want to take this opportunity of paying tribute to the coal industry. It has faced the tremendous problem of contraction with great regard for the social problems inherent in it. Whilst difficulties remain in a contracting industry of this character, and despite all the human problems, I believe that there is a future for our coal industry.

Mr. Shinwell

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, when the Attlee Government took over the privately-owned coal industry, they took over what was practically a bankrupt affair which had been neglected for years, especially during the six years of the war, and that that is why the National Coal Board has faced financial and other difficulties?

Mr. Gunter

I agree with my right hon. Friend. The aggregated deficit that I have announced today has been caused by successive Governments who have restricted rises in the price of coal when these could have been obtained.

Mr. Emery

Would the Minister not agree that it is a serious position when one sees as great a loss on any capital employed as this? Would he not, therefore, consider what steps the present Government ought to take to ensure that it is put back into surplus as soon as possible?

Mr. Gunter

We ought to get the deficit figure into proportion. Successive Governments have interfered with coal prices when they could have been higher and private industry would have had them. I must tell the House that the closing of uneconomic mines is proceeding apace, giving rise to social problems. The mechanisation of pits proceeds, and the productivity rate of miners at present is at a figure which I do not think that hon. Gentlemen opposite would have believed possible a few years ago.

Mr. Swain

Can my right hon. Friend tell the House what has been the overall operational profit of the undertaking since vesting day? Does he agree that the high interest rates paid on money borrowed to modernise the industry has had a stranglehold on the industry since vesting day, and would he consider a further cut-back on the capital debt so that the Board can finance modernisation from its own revenue?

Mr. Gunter

It is only 2½ years since the last one. I could not give any hope for another.