HC Deb 14 May 1973 vol 856 cc1018-20
26. Mr. Edwin Wainwright

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on how many occasions, over the past two years, his Department has had discussions with the National Coal Board on the future policy on coal-fired power stations.

Mr. Tom Boardman

The Department keeps in close and constant touch with the board on this matter.

Mr. Wainwright

Did the Chairman of the National Coal Board emphasise the dangers to the supply of oil by the 1980s and a consequential increase in price? If that is so, why are the Government turning deaf ears to the cries from the National Coal Board for further encouragement to the coal industry? Is it not time that a new pit was sunk in the West Yorkshire area and that the Drax power station was ordered to be built as a coal-fired station?

Mr. Boardman

The hon. Gentleman must have a very short memory, as our further encouragement to the coal industry took the form of about £1,000 million, which went to the industry under the Coal Industry Act earlier this year. The hon. Gentleman should cast his mind back to that Act.

With regard to the further encouragement under that Act, the Central Elec-trity Generating Board has been enabled to burn some 7 million extra tons of coal above what it would otherwise burn. Indeed, the CEGB has a capacity to burn considerably more coal if coal of the right sort is available at the right price and at the right time. This is where the future success and prosperity of the industry lies.

Sir G. Nabarro

Is it not the fact that I have been pressing, with a number of other hon. Members, for specific information about the Government's intentions in regard to the coal industry, with attendant burning of coal in electrical power stations, for the last two years almost without success? It is futile to go on talking about £1,000 million under the Coal Industry Act, of which we are all well aware—I have a splendid memory —if the Minister neglects the opportunity on every occasion to give the House the precise particulars it requires. Will the Minister now attend to his duties?

Mr. Boardman

I would never challenge my hon. Friend's memory. But he will be aware, from what has been said previously, that the CEGB has a capacity to burn very substantially more coal than it is burning at present, if the relative price is right and if the coal is available and there is security of supply. These are the matters to which the industry must pay full attention, and is doing so.

Mr. Varley

I think that the Minister misunderstood—I hope not deliberately —the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Edwin Wainwright). Mr. Derek Ezra, the Chairman of the National Coal Board, is reported as having said that he is prepared to sink a new pit in the Selby district provided that Drax B is con- firmed as a coal-fired power station. Why are the Government waffling on this matter? Why do they not make a swift decision and confirm Drax B as a coal-fired station, which is something which should have been done years ago?

Mr. Boardman

Planning permission has been given for Drax B. If the Central Electricity Generating Board wishes to put in for that, it is possible for it so to do. It has to take account of the relative costs of one type of power station as compared with another. At the end of the day it is the consumer who will pay. But the point made by the Chairman of the National Coal Board has been well recognised by both the Government and the CEGB and is fully taken into account in the planning of both these bodies.

Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson

In any future discussions that my hon. Friend has with the CEGB, will he take account of the concern which is expressed about the security of oil supplies and urge it to look very hard at the extension of dual firing in these stations which they are likely to build?

Mr. Boardman

My hon. Friend is on to a very valid point, and one which is being carefully considered.