HC Deb 29 April 1974 vol 872 cc753-5
10. Mr. Hurd

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will publish a consultative document on the results of his discussions with the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers.

15. Mr. Skinner

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on the progress of the tripartite talks on the future of the coal industry.

18. Mr. Woodall

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he expects to receive the report of the tripartite inquiry into the future of the coal industry which he has set up with the National Coal Board and the unions.

Mr. Varley

The tripartite examination of the future of the coal industry got off to a good start on 10th April when my colleagues and I had our first formal meeting with the National Coal Board and the unions concerned. We are meeting again tomorrow. I hope that we shall be able to produce an interim report before the end of June and a final report by the end of the summer.

Mr. Hurd

Has the Secretary of State discussed with the NUM the future wage level in the industry? If so, can he tell us something about what has happened? Given that the TUC undertaking on this subject, as I understand it, applies only to the wage round more or less recently concluded, may I ask whether he accepts that the next wage round in the coal industry will be crucial to the nation's chances of dealing with inflation?

Mr. Varley

This tripartite examination will not be examining future wage levels within the mining industry. Opposition Members will have noted the work that is being undertaken by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and the consultations he is having with the TUC.

Mr. Skinner

At the tripartite talks did my right hon. Friend tell the National Coal Board in particular that it is the Government's policy to keep open all pits which have reserves of coal, including Glapwell Colliery in my constituency, which incidentally employs some of my right hon. Friend's constituents?

Mr. Varley

I represented miners at Glapwell Colliery before my hon. Friend came into the House. I understand the problems at Glapwell very well.

Mr. Woodall

While thanking my right hon. Friend for that reply, may I ask him to what extent he is providing for the extension of the Selby coalfield? Will he grant the necessary investment to develop this vital addition to the Yorkshire coal industry?

Mr. Varley

Yes, I will. I am anxious that the National Coal Board should get ahead with the development of Selby as quickly as possible.

Mr. David Howell

The Secretary of State said that the tripartite talks would exclude wages. If that is so, how can any sensible calculations be made of the firm cost of coal vis-à-vis oil? If no sensible calculation can be made, how can the tripartite talks lead to a sensible decision on future investment in the coal industry?

Mr. Varley

The hon. Gentleman should let me read out the terms of reference of the tripartite examination. They are: to consider and advise on the contribution which coal can best make to the country's energy requirements and what steps are needed to secure that contribution. It is possible, but not likely, that the question of wages will come up in the talks. We have had only one meeting. We are having another meeting tomorrow. It is certainly my intention—and, I think, the intention of the other parties—that we should talk about the economic contribution that coal can make to overall energy resources rather than get down to detailed wage negotiations. That is not the role of this examination.

Dr. M. S. Miller

Will my right hon. Friend say whether during his talks with the National Coal Board and the NUM he discussed the question of the more efficient use of coal? Will he say whether the Government will encourage the board to carry on the kind of experimentation it is doing at the moment to produce a more effective method of using coal?

Mr. Varley

I will encourage the board along the lines suggested by my hon. Friend. My hon. Friend the Undersecretary of State for Energy has particular responsibility for this.

Mr. Evelyn King

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen—it must be relevant—the statement by the Central Electricity Generating Board that electricity can now be produced more cheaply, taking all costs into account, by nuclear means rather than by coal?

Mr. Varley

I have seen that information. We shall still need a lot of coal and other fuel for our power station policy and the generation of electricity.