HC Deb 03 May 1976 vol 910 cc824-6
13. Mr. Jim Lester

asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he expects an increase in coal exports in the year 1976; and what steps he has taken to increase such exports.

Mr. Eadie

This is primarily a matter for the National Coal Board. The board is seeking to expand exports to existing outlets and to secure new ones in anticipation of new export opportunities when economic activity picks up. But the market remains weak, and I understand that on present trends the board is unable to predict an increase in 1976.

Mr. Lester

I accept that in the first place it is a matter for the National Coal Board, but does the hon. Gentleman not agree that he, too, can be helpful in discussions with his colleagues in Europe in terms of promoting coal technology, especially the new technologies? Does he further agree that the National Coal Board and the miners themselves can make a contribution towards this important part of the coal industry's future by producing coal as competitively as possible and settling down to good productivity agreements in order to produce the coal that we need and also the rewards to miners for getting it?

Mr. Eadie

I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman on the question of aiding coal exports. We are very good at the introduction and development of coal technology. Certainly, this is a matter that must be examined. In my view, it is a question of exporting coal plus the technology alongside it, and I welcome what the hon. Gentleman said about that. As for what he said about the rôle of the miners, I am sure that he will agree that they are very conscious of the rôle that they have to play. I think that one can fairly say that there is a peace and stability within the industry now which we have not experienced for many years, and I believe that, as a consequence, we shall be able to achieve the aim which the hon. Gentleman has expressed.

Mr. Ioan Evans

Will my hon. Friend keep in mind the need not only to encourage productivity but to ensure safety? There have been a number of deaths in the South Wales coalfield recently. Secondly, will my hon. Friend direct active attention to the concern felt by miners who see coal stocks building up when they know at the same time that other nationalised industries are still importing coal from abroad? I realise that long-term contracts are involved here, but will he look at that matter again?

Mr. Eadie

I assure my hon. Friend that both my right hon. Friend and I were seriously concerned about the trend of accidents which took place, notably in the South Wales coalfield. Because of my own technical and practical experience, I personally examined the trend of these accidents. I cannot say that I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend this, since the toll was unduly high, but I should say that there is nothing specially significant about it, although, of course, we must all be distressed at what happened. I give my hon. Friend the assurance—since he asks about the getting of coal in relation to safety considerations—that safety will come first and the mining of coal second.

We are looking at the whole question of imports. My hon. Friend will know from previous answers that I have given him that the amount of coal imported will be substantially reduced this year. He will recollect that it was previously 2½ million tons, but it will be reduced. [HON. MEMBERS: "Too long."] I apologise, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson

Does the Under-Secretary recall that 30 per cent. of the coal imported into the EEC is coming from Iron Curtain countries? Will he and his right hon. Friend try to persuade our EEC partners to stop importing subsidised Polish coal at the expense of the British coal miner?

Mr. Eadie

The hon. Gentleman puts to me a concern, which has been expressed also by some of my hon. Friends, on the question of coal being imported—not only from countries behind the Iron Curtain but from elsewhere—at below the cost of production. This was not something that we envisaged happening within the EEC, and I agree that the point certainly should receive attention.

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