§ The Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn)
As I announced in November, the Government, National Coal Board and coal mining unions have entered into an agreement on joint planning procedures, embracing a formal planning agreement. I have informed the House of my intention of developing suitable joint planning arrangements with the other publicly-owned fuel industries.
§ Mr. Skeet
The Secretary of State must be aware that that is only one corporation of which he is in charge. Does he propose to give a specific directive to the BNOC under the terms of Section 4 of the Petroleum and Submarine Pipe-Lines Act 1975 to order it to enter into a planning agreement? Does he intend to make the granting of Government contracts and finance subject to the conclusion of planning agreements?
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson
Will the right hon. Gentleman expand on his reply? Is he aware that in Scotland there is a lot of worry about the fact that petrochemical developments are unlikely to take place because of the individual requirements of oil companies for their own refining activities? Will he enter into negotiations with BNOC so that participation oil can be used to encourage the expansion of the petrochemical industry in Scotland from Scottish oil resources if individual oil companies prove to be non-responsive?
§ Mr. Skinner
What will the planning agreement with the coal industry do? Will there be on the agenda matters such as wages, quite apart from safety? Will it go in depth into finding out how we are to sell coal over the medium and long term, bearing in mind that the Common Market countries are buying very little coal and that we have more than 30 million tons of coal at the pit head? Is the Minister aware that, if the productivity schemes work as he says they will and as the Opposition say they will, there will be even more coal to sell? What planning agreement does he have for selling coal?
§ Mr. Benn
As the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) and my hon. Friend know, the planning agreement will cover forward marketing, prospects for coal, the objectives for output and productivity, financial results with implications for prices and borrowing, investment plans, capital investment, product and process development and exports, The agreement will cover the whole area. If we look back at the record of the mining industry over the past year, with the stock support for coalburn in Scotland and Wales, the Government increase in support for the pension scheme, Drax B, early retirement and so on, it will be seen that the industry has a fine record.
§ Mr. Tom King
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, since we are given to understand by the Government that the failure to reach planning agreements in the private sector has been due to the intransigence of private sector companies, we note with interest that very little progress seems to have been made in the public sector? If it is not possible to achieve planning agreements, would it not be a good start if we had a few financial targets for some of the nationalised industries as a beginning?
§ Mr. Benn
The last Conservative Government wrecked the financial plans of every nationalised industry. I say that because it should be put on the record. There is a White Paper on financial targeting in preparation. The hon. Gentleman must know, or should know, that the relations between the Government and the nationalised industries have 7 been, bilaterally, on the same basis as a planning agreement for many years. What we are trying to do is to make them tripartite.