HC Deb 22 October 1973 vol 861 cc683-5
17. Mr. Cronin

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what increase he is expecting in coal production during the next six months.

Mr. Tom Boardman

On the basis of results so far, the National Coal Board expects production of coal in the year 1973–74 to be in the region of 130–135 million tons. Production in the first six months of 1973–74 was 63.4 million tons.

Mr. Cronin

As representatives of the National Union of Mineworkers are going to see the Prime Minister tomorrow to discuss their just and reasonable wage claim, may I ask the Minister to reassure the House that coal production will not be disrupted again this year by the foolish obstinacy which the Government displayed before the last coal strike? Will the hon. Gentleman also bear in mind that, with the gross inadequacy of productivity payment arrangements in the industry and the way in which the coal miners have dropped in the table of wages, any obstinacy on the part of the Government will lead to a disastrous coal strike?

Mr. Boardman

I certainly do not accept what the hon. Gentleman said. It is worth noting that in the first six months of this year productivity was 45.2 cwts. per man shift, against 44.1 in the comparable period last year. That shows full recognition of what the Government are doing to help the coal industry find a viable and strong future.

Mr. Skeet

It is a fact that the Government have done more for the coal mining industry than their predecessors did. Is it not also a fact that wages were allowed to drop back during the currency of the previous Government, and that the present Government have brought them up to date?

Mr. Boardman

My hon. Friend is right on both counts. Under the Coal Industry Act, the Government gave the industry a hope for the future which it had been denied under the previous administration. It was that which had led to an excessive contraction and undermining of morale of those engaged in the industry.

Mr. Douglas

Will the Minister accept that in the present energy situation it is essential to retain a viable mining labour force, and that stage 3 will not necessarily permit the retention of such a force? In view of the overall importance of energy supplies, will the hon. Gentleman reconsider the Government's attitude and set up a petroleum supply industry board to cater for the emergency situation in the petroleum industry?

Mr. Boardman

Petroleum is a separate matter. The hon. Gentleman will have noted what I said about the viability and future of the coal industry.

Sir T. Beamish

What are the prospects of stepping up coal production in the event of oil prices becoming excessively high, or even of oil shortages occurring?

Mr. Boardman

Following our review, which led to the Coal Industry Act and the provision of financial support, the National Coal Board has prepared a long-term plan to show the optimum level of coal production and where the coal can most effectively be produced. That is now being considered urgently so that we can make the best use of our indigenous resources and of the men employed in that industry.

Mr. Eadie

In the light of the Minister's figures for black diamonds, which he gave the House in answer to an earlier Question, does he not agree that it would be an act of sheer vandalism to convert any coal-fired power station to oil? Will the hon. Gentleman answer the question put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley)? Will he assure the House that if any coal-fired power stations are in the process of being converted to oil he will instruct the CEGB to stop the change-over immediately?

Mr. Boardman

The hon. Gentleman knows of conversions that have taken place, largely on environmental grounds, where it was impossible for the stations to continue in existence if they were coal-fired. They were fairly small stations, and in each case it was after full consultation with the unions concerned.