HC Deb 14 January 1980 vol 976 cc1177-9
1. Mr. Strang

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what is his policy regarding increased investment by the National Coal Board.

The Under-Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. John Moore)

The Government believe that substantial investment in the coal industry should continue. The National Coal Board's capital expenditure on fixed assets in 1980–81 is expected to show an increase in real terms over this year.

Mr. Strang

Is the Minister aware not only that the National Coal Board's plan to extract coal from under the Forth at Musselburgh Bay will be a highly profitable investment for the nation, but that an early decision on this 60 million investment is vital to the morale of the Scottish coalfield? Will he do all that he can to expedite progress on this project?

Mr. Moore

Yes. The Government are aware of the hon. Gentleman's interest in that project. It is an investment project, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware, of £37 million for a new mine at Musselburgh. Planning permission was applied for in September 1978 and the processes for planning permission are still under way. Approval has not yet been sought as those processes must be completed first. We are conscious of the importance of the Scottish coal area to the national coal industry.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

If the Minister, the National Coal Board and the Government are convinced that coal investment in Scotland should increase, will he explain why the percentage of capital investment in the coal industry in Scotland this year will, according to the NCB, plummet to only 5 per cent.?

Mr. Moore

The hon. Gentleman should be aware that estimated capital investment in the Scottish coalfield is £49.3 million. That compares very favourably with the total investment in the whole of the United Kingdom, as it is a greater percentage than that of the coal industry as a whole.

Mr. Renton

What would my hon. Friend's attitude be to this necessary increased investment if, despite the recent vote in favour of their wage settlement, divisions within the National Coal Board were to strike in sympathy with employees of the British Steel Corporation? Would not that seriously undermine public confidence in the future of the coal industry?

Mr. Moore

Clearly we want to look at investment in the coal industry in terms of its ability to turn the industry further towards commercial profitability. Obviously, anything that undermines the importance of that progress would deter long-term optimistic investment in the industry. I do not wish to assume a hypothetical negative.

Mr. Rowlands

Does the Under-Secretary of State realise that over £50 million of successful investment was put into the South Wales coalfield during the past five or six years and that all that could become worthless as a result of the British Steel Corporation's decision to import over 40 per cent. of its coking coal requirements? Even given the Government's philosophy of not intervening, surely the Minister should bring together the chairmen of these two industries to try to knock sonic sense into them in an effort to prevent one industry from cutting the throat of the other.

Mr. Moore

The two chairmen have been and are in continuous discussion. I hope that we shall return to this point on a later question specifically relating to imports. Clearly, this debate is taking place between two nationalised industries, both of which have a stake in their long-term profitability.

Mr. Eadie

Is the Minister aware that his statement regarding the Musselburgh coalfield will be greatly welcomed in Scotland? Is he further aware that that new coalfield find underneath the Firth of Forth is equivalent to a massive North Sea oil find, such as the Forties? We certainly welcome his statement today.

Mr. Moore

I appreciate those comments very much.

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