HC Deb 26 June 1978 vol 952 cc1028-30
11. Mr. Gwilym Roberts

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a further statement on coal exports.

20. Mr. Tim Smith

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what is the current level of exports of coal to the EEC countries.

Mr. Eadie

Exports of coal during the first four months of 1978 were 656,000 tonnes, almost the whole of which went to EEC countries.

Mr. Roberts

In view of the magnificent production effort by the miners, which means that we have an increased supply of coal for many years to come, and the disappointing attitude of some of our EEC partners towards our exports, does my hon. Friend agree that there is a need for an urgent programme aimed at refurbishing some of the older coal-generated power stations? Is there not a need to look at the possibility of developing new coal-fired stations in addition to the Drax B proposal?

Mr. Eadie

My hon. Friend is correct to say that coal is a valuable indigenous asset in that we have been able to identify coal stocks sufficient for the next 300 years. I confirm that our coal is the cheapest within the EEC. We are aware of my hon. Friend's point of view—which has been put by others too—about the refurbishing of coal-fired power stations. However, we have had no such proposals put before us. I understand that the argument is continuing. I can appreciate why my hon. Friend raises this point. It is not just a question of doing the miners a favour. I understand that the plant manufacturing industry wants the work and, hence, the wages.

Mr. Smith

What is the point of encouraging the miners to produce more coal by way of incentive schemes if the markets for that coal are not available? Would we not be a good deal better off if we were represented at Brussels by an Energy Minister who, although he may not be the senior member of the Council, might be more sensible and less hostile towards the Common Market than the right hon. Gentleman?

Mr. Eadie

The hon. Gentleman is right on the ball with his first point. There is no use investing in our own coal industry and having such a strong supply of indigenous energy for so many years, with such a skilled labour force, if we do not burn the coal. If the hon. Gentleman had listened to what my right hon. Friend has said, I believe that he would have had cause to amend some of his derogatory views. I do not believe that stationing a Minister in Brussels would solve the problem. My right hon. Friend has articulated the national interest of this country. He has put forward the British viewpoint and explained the contribution that we can make to the EEC. I believe that on reflection the hon. Gentleman will want to amend some of his remarks about my right hon. Friend.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall call one more hon. Member from either side of the House and allow extra time at the end of Question Time for the Minister of Overseas Development.

Mr. Pavitt

Will my hon. Friend take steps to inform the British public of the fantastic success of the National Coal Board by way of its exports to China, in particular the multi-purpose arrangement, which will mean millions of pounds being contributed to our economic prosperity?

Mr. Eadie

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this matter. We are aware that the market for energy exports to that continent is substantial.

Mr. Hannam

In view of the need to keep coal prices competitive, may I ask why the Secretary of State recently offered the National Union of Mineworkers the power of veto against pit closures? How would that help to keep coal competitive in our modern world?

Mr. Eadie

I do not believe that that issue is related to the Question. The hon. Gentleman will recall that there was some confusion within the country and even within the mining community about who could take the decision about a pit closure. What my right hon. Friend suggested to the NUM was by way of being a participatory agreement so that it would have a share in the responsibility for pit closures. With that responsibility for pit closures there would be a share in the responsibility for deciding upon new investment.