HC Deb 04 April 1974 vol 871 cc1442-3
Q9. Mr. Skinner

asked the Prime Minister if he is satisfied with the co-ordination between the Departments of Energy, Employment and Industry regarding evaluation of the need to keep open the nation's coal mines.

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Skinner

Is my right hon. Friend aware that we applaud his decision, which he made just before the General Election, not to repeat the mistakes of the 1960s in closing down a considerable number of coal mines? Will he, on the basis of that declaration, make it clear to the National Coal Board that where it has coal mines with vast reserves of coal, as distinct from those which have no reserves, it should make it possible to keep such mines open—including Glapwell, in my constituency?

The Prime Minister

I thought my hon. Friend had Glapwell in mind. He is right in what he said. Successive Governments in the late 1950s and the 1960s were wrong in their closure policy, as things have turned out. The policy has been changed. It is not for me to comment on what are really management responsibilities within the industry, which are subject to well understood procedures for consultation, but one of the things we are considering—and this may well come up in the tripartite inquiry into the industry—is whether there is not a case for a different attitude to pits which, even if uneconomic on a profit basis, may have something to contribute. At the moment, I cannot go further than that.

Mr. Ridley

In the interests of increasing national coal production, is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to transfer the responsibility for licensing privately-owned mines from the National Coal Board to the Government in order to give them sufficient security to be able to open up new coal mines and seams?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. I do not see that any change is necessary in this respect. I would say to the hon. Member, about whose untimely removal from office I have sympathised many times, that I seem to recall him on one occasion suggesting that we might not need a coal industry in this country because we could import coal.

Mr. Evelyn King

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that electricity produced by coal is now more expensive than electricity produced by nuclear means?

The Prime Minister

I do not know on what basis the hon. Member makes his nuclear calculations. The calculations have always been a matter of deep controversy, particularly on the question of the length of time for the write-off. I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says. It is certainly true that generation by coal is now cheaper than generation by oil.

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