HC Deb 21 July 1980 vol 989 cc12-4
5. Mr. Adley asked

the Secretary of State for Energy when he intends to meet the National Union of Mineworkers to discuss the future of the coal industry.

Mr. John Moore

My right hon. Friend and I met the executive committee of the National Union of Mineworkers on 27 June for a comprehensive discussion of the Coal Industry Bill, which embodies the Government's strategy for the development of the coal industry. We agreed that a further meeting could be held if it should be necessary.

Mr. Adley

Investment means jobs, and in the light of the technological advances in converting coal to oil will my hon. Friend discuss with the National Union of Mineworkers its attitude to the possibility of oil companies investing in coal mining, as appears to happen in other countries, and even perhaps taking on pits that the NCB has to close?

Mr. Moore

We should first make our coal industry profitable, which is the basis of our coal strategy. A total of £ 800 million is being invested in the coal industry this year. When we have a profitable industry, the NCB and NUM may welcome private investment, and private investors may welcome the opportunity to invest in the coal industry.

Mr. Allen McKay

When the Minister discussed the future of the industry with the NCB, did he discuss the tonnage requirements per annum up to the year 2000? Will he assure us that he will not stand by and see pits closed for economic reasons rather than because the coal is exhausted?

Mr. Moore

Targetry was not specifically raised, but there is constant debate on the matter. Decisions on pit closures are for the NCB in consultation with the mining unions, and that will continue to be the practice.

Sir Anthony Meyer

Since coal has to compete with other sources of fuel and cannot for ever be sheltered from competition, should not the National Union of Mineworkers, whatever its bargaining strength, reflect that exorbitant demands could in the end lead to scarcity of jobs in the industry?

Mr. Moore

Pay is an issue for the National Coal Board. I endorse entirely what my hon. Friend has said. The expansion of our coal industry throughout the rest of the century should be in areas where it can compete with other fuels. It is in the interests of the miners and of Britain that the coal industry is able to meet its competitors head on in price and other competitive terms.

Mr. Skinner

Is it not true that more pits were closed in Britain when miners, relative to their pay today, occupied the lowest place in the pay league? Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the argument about miners pricing themselves out of the market therefore does not hold? Will he confirm that the subsidy in Western Germany is about £ 12 a tonne, in France £ 24 a tonne and in Britain £ 1 a tonne? If that angle is considered and if we increase the amount of coal that we use, we shall help to stop the dole queue spiralling upwards towards 2 million.

Mr. Moore

Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I am addressing myself to the coal industry at present and in future. The industry does not need to fear the dole queues of the past. Unlike the coal industries of continental Europe, it plans for expansion and not stagnation or reduction in size. To that extent, it does not need the long-term subsidy structures of other industries.

Mr. Eadie

Surely the hon. Gentleman will agree that it is a matter not merely of meeting the mining unions but of listening to what they have to say. Is he aware that there is scant evidence that he listens to the mining unions when he persists in changing the format of the National Coal Board balance sheet to show that the mining industry is in deficit? Does he agree that accountants cannot produce coal? It is miners who produce coal, and if he listens to what the miners and their leaders have to say we shall get more coal.

Mr. Moore

I would never fail to listen to the unions, the NCB and other members of the coal industry. At the end of the day, the unions will find in the mining areas that the Coal Industry Bill, "Strategy for Coal" and the commitment to a genuine successful future have been greeted positively.