HC Deb 13 February 1978 vol 944 cc12-3
9. Mr. Costain

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what efforts he is making to secure export markets for British coal; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Eadie

I would refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave to the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Macfarlane) on 3rd February 1978.

Mr. Costain

Is the Minister aware that the Green Paper on energy policy, which was published today, does not appear to refer to the export of coal? Is my failure to spot this subject in the report because I have not had time to read it properly, or is it that the Government do not care about it?

Mr. Eadie

If the hon. Gentleman had been aware of the debates we have had about the potential for exporting coal to Europe, he would not have made that statement. In a recent debate, one of my hon. Friends said that more than 50 million tons of coal was coming into the EEC from third countries, and he expressed the view that we should get a share of that trade. That is the Government's policy, and we should try to do as well as we can. In this respect, increased productivity will strengthen our position.

Mr. Hardy

We are grateful to the Government for their efforts so far, and we acknowledge that some modest efforts have been made by the EEC to promote the indigenous industry. Can we be sure, however, that the Government will take a further initiative this year to draw the attention of the Community to the need to maintain a viable coal industry in Western Europe?

Mr. Eadie

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. It is worth noting that we provide the cheapest coal in the EEC, and that factor should be taken into account.

Mr. Hannam

Since the Minister agrees that Europe is one of the best potential export markets for coal, does he not also agree that the belligerent attitude of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State towards the EEC has done more harm than good to our campaign for exports?

Mr. Eadie

The hon. Member is inaccurate. I have been attending meetings with my right hon. Friend, and very good meetings they have been. There has been an appreciation in the Community of the danger that unless we look into the question of a coal policy we might forget what happened in 1973–74. I believe that the House will expect the Government to keep reminding Europe that what happened at that time cannot be allowed to happen again. The coal industry is an important energy resource for Europe.