HC Deb 03 May 1976 vol 910 cc822-3
11. Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what are the latest estimates of United Kingdom coal production in the years 1980, 1985 and 1990.

Mr. Eadie

The National Coal Board's estimate for 1980 is 130 million to 135 million tons, and for 1985 at least 135 million tons. These figures include licensed mines and opencast coal. Production in 1990 is expected to be on a substantial scale but it is not possible to make specific forecasts at the moment.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

While recognizing the problem which the Minister has described, may I say that the figures he has mentioned are large and are encouraging? However, in spite of the good financial figures given to us by the chairman of the board last week, does not the hon. Gentleman agree that there is now a real worry about the ability of the industry to finance the capital projects which are necessary to bring the coal to the surface without additional heavy borrowing, once again crippling the industry with an unmanageable debt?

Mr. Eadie

The hon. Gentleman has to some extent underlined the terrible problem and dilemma which the Government face in their tremendous commitment to coal. As I have said before, we are attempting to do in 10 years what should have been done in 25 years. The hon. Gentleman knows from the speeches made by my right hon. Friend and myself from the Dispatch Box that we have given a firm commitment to coal, not simply from compassion but because we believe that the nation urgently needs the coal. To this extent we are trying to overcome the financial problems of the board.

Mr. Skinner

Is my hon. Friend aware that if the figure of 135 million tons is to have any realism he has to get something done about establishing markets to sell the coal that he hopes will be produced in the years mentioned in the Question? Does he not agree that one of the first things to be done is to tell our so-called partners in the Common Market that they have an obligation to assist in getting rid of the 30 million tons of coal stocked in this country, in the same way as we are expected to absorb their mountains of butter and goodness knows what and other surpluses that they keep on creating on the Continent?

Mr. Eadie

I do not underestimate in any way what my hon. Friend has said about the coal and energy requirements of the Community. This problem exists not only in this country but also within the EEC countries. My hon. Friend has expressed a view which is probably spreading throughout the House when he suggests that it would be helpful if we could export coal to Europe to the extent that we would like. I have no doubt that the market exists for coal, and the National Coal Board in particular is doing all it can to find new export outlets. My right hon. Friend is also looking into the question of additional means of coal-burning in this country.