HC Deb 09 July 1979 vol 970 cc5-6
3. Mr. Ioan Evans

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what discussions he has had with the chairman of the National Coal Board regarding the future of the coal industry in South Wales.

Mr. John Moore

I have already made clear to the chairman the Government's belief in the need for a competitive, efficient coal industry with the capacity to meet longer-term demands. The South Wales coalfield will form part of that industry.

Mr. Evans

What action does the Minister intend to take regarding the proposals made by the tripartite committee consisting of the NUM, the National Coal Board and the Government, set up by the previous Government to deal with the problems in South Wales? Specifically, what is to be done with the investment in the Phurnacite plant which produces 18 per cent. of the smokeless fuel in Britain, and the closure of the Deep Duffryn pit? Does he realise that there may be a national strike in the near future if something is not done about the latter?

Mr. Moore

There are more than one or two comments there. I would draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the tape concerning the meeting which is to take place later this week between Mr. Gormley and the NCB. Of course, the tripartite review must be seen within the context of the review of the coal industry as a whole. Equally, I would point out that the Secretary of State has initiated the first of this Government's tripartite meetings, to be held on Thursday of this week. Obviously, that will be an important occasion. On the matter of Phurnacite, since the NCB has not yet submitted its plans, it is premature for the Government to comment.

Mr. Eadie

But, surely, the Minister must be aware of the statement by the chairman of the NCB about Deep Duffryn and also of the statement by the miners at Deep Duffryn that they would have the opportunity to prove themselves if a capital sum were made available for redeveloping part of the pit. The Opposition would welcome that. He must also be aware that much work has been done in the South Wales working party to spotlight the problems of South Wales in relation to capital investment. Surely the Government will want to take up what the working party has said, whether as a Government or within the tripartite arrangements.

Mr. Moore

I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman, with his long experience in the coal industry, would want the Government to approach this matter with great care. One would like the review of the industry as a whole completed; I should have thought that that was approaching it in the right way. I would also presume that he would want us to continue the long accepted and proper tradition that colliery closures and the essential and detailed matters concerning specific closures are a matter for negotiation between the NUM and the NCB.

Mr. Edwin Wainwrights

Will the Minister take into account the fact that there is a shortage of anthracite in the United Kingdom and that we are having to import that kind of coal? Is it not true that there are reserves of anthracite coal in South Wales? Therefore, will he ensure that development will take place and that money will be provided for the development of anthracite and other seams in South Wales—and throughout the country—to ensure that this nation can supply the coal it will require in the next two or three decades?

Mr. Moore

I am sure that all those interested in the future of the coal industry would want investments made that are profitable in the long-term interests of the industry. To the extent that one is aware of the unfulfilled demand for anthracite, that is obviously an important positive, but I would ask the hon. Gentleman to let us have just a little more time to consider the report fully. It is crucial to see it in the context of the industry's whole investment programme.