HC Deb 08 May 1978 vol 949 cc762-4
14. Mr. Jim Lester

asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he is yet in a position to report on the effect that productivity schemes in the coal mines have had upon production.

Mr. Eadie

The National Coal Board has reported that the effect of the local productivity schemes in the coal industry has been to produce additional output of about 1½ million tons of coal in the year 1977–78. During the first three quarters of the year, output was on a declining trend. This was reversed with the introduction of the incentive schemes, and an underlying and continuing improvement has been evident since its introduction.

Mr. Lester

I am sure that the figures will be welcomed on both sides of the House. Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that they have been achieved without any significant change in the safety record? Has it had any effect on the cost per ton extracted, either up or down?

Mr. Eadie

I should like to write to the hon. Gentleman in detail about that. My information is that the schemes have had no impact on safety and no impact on cost.

Mr. Kinnock

Has the increase in productivity had the anticipated effect on miners' pay? Is my hon. Friend in a position to say whether there is any prospect of selling British-produced and Welsh-produced coking coal to the British Steel Corporation in greater amounts than at present?

Mr. Eadie

There has been an average increase for face workers of about £20 a week, £10 a week for other categories underground and £8 a week for those on the surface. As for my hon. Friend's question about producing coking coal for the British Steel Corporation, my information is that we have coal that is more than suitable for the BSC's undertakings. If he cares to table a Question on that matter, I shall be able to give him the details.

Mr. Tim Smith

Reverting to the Minister's answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Beeston (Mr. Lester), does the hon. Gentleman recognise that the introduction of productivity schemes has had beneficial effects on production and pay and that there is considerable good sense in relating the two factors?

Mr. Eadie

Contrary to what has been going abroad, the productivity schemes are self-financing. As for making projections, I have always said that it is too early to do so. The additional money that the miners are getting is being earned on the basis of increased productivity.

Mr. Skinner

Let us get the facts straight. Does my hon. Friend confirm that in the past three months of the financial year, when the bonus scheme was introduced, the overall output in British deep mines has fallen by .2 million tons over a comparable period and that the make-up has been achieved by an increase in opencast operations? Does he accept that even in some of the high productivity pits there are payments as little as 24p a day for the so-called bonus?

Mr. Eadie

Yes, there is a variation in payments throughout the whole of the coalfield. Deep mine output in 1977–78 was 104.4 million tons, 2.2 million tons less than in the previous year. The board estimates that without the effect of the productivity scheme in the last quarter production would have been 103 million tons.

Mr. Tom King

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that we share his view that it is probably too early to judge the real effect of the scheme and that its value will be over the longer term? However, the scheme will have no real benefit unless there are markets where the increased output can be sold. That is why we attach great importance to the development of European markets for coal.

Mr. Eadie

I can only agree with the hon. Gentleman. We attach great importance to markets such as the European market. I take the view that, as a member State of the EEC, we are entitled to a share of the market of between 30 million tons and 40 million tons of coal that comes from third countries. The hon. Gentleman will be pleased when he reads the report of the working party, which I had the privilege of chairing, which deals with coal technology and other uses for coal. Other markets will be provided if we can put the terms of the report into practice.