HC Deb 09 July 1979 vol 970 cc10-1
6. Mr. Neubert

asked the Secretary of State for Energy how many extra tons of coal have been produced in the last year as a result of colliery incentive agreements, and whether he is satisfied with present levels of output.

Mr. John Moore

The conditions under which coal is mined are constantly changing and precise comparison of output with what it might have been without the incentive schemes is impossible. Since their introduction, however, the earlier trend of declining productivity and output has been reversed. Nevertheless, the board and the unions are far from satisfied with the present output, and I very much welcome the joint efforts that they are making to improve it.

Mr. Neubert

Do not the generally disappointing results underline how unwise it would be to impose a tax on gas, since that would strengthen the miners' monopoly on the production of coal at a time when production and productivity in the industry appear to be sagging, at increasing cost to the consumer?

Mr. Moore

The gas industry is under review. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will look more closely at productivity. Those who have more experience than I of the mining industry will be aware that the matter is more complex than the surface figures of output per manshift illustrate. I draw attention to the face output as opposed to the elsewhere below ground output. This reveals a different picture, especially as there has been a more than 10 per cent. increase in face output.

Mr. Woodall

Is the Minister aware that there is a severe shortage of trained face workers in nearly all coalfields? Does he agree that, when the average earnings of a face worker are only £109 a week, the shortage is not likely to be filled by volunteers? What are the Government planning to do about it?

Mr. Moore

In the brief time that I have held this office and from the visits that I have made to coalfields and training schemes, I have been heartened to see the large numbers of qualified young men of high standard applying for jobs in the industry. But I should be happy to pursue this, given details.

Mr. Stokes

How can increases in miners' pay be justified when there is so little increase in productivity? Will those increases not result in higher unemployment?

Mr. Moore

With respect, I must remind my hon. Friend that the industry has a pattern of long-term investment decline. Turning out of that decline and the long decline in productivity was a hard task for the industry. Neither the NUM nor the NCB is suggesting that there is cause for satisfaction in the present figures, but there seems to be more cause for hope when we concentrate on the real figures rather than on the surface figures.

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