HC Deb 17 June 1980 vol 986 cc1479-82

Queen's Recommendation having been signified

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, for the purposes of any Act of the Present Session to increase the limit on the borrowing powers of the National Coal Board and otherwise to amend the law with respect to loans to the Board; to make new provision for grants by the Secretary of State to the Board and to provide a new limit for those grants and for grants to the Board and other persons under certain existing powers, it is expedient to authorise—

Increase of borrowing limit

1. Any payment out of the National Loans Fund or the Consolidated Fund due to increasing the limit on borrowing by the Board to £3,400 million, and to enabling that limit to be increased by order to £4,200 million.

Deficit grants

2. Grants to the Board out of money provided by Parliament, being grants—

  1. (a)for reducing or eliminating any group deficit of the Board and any of their subsidiaries for any year of the Board mentioned in paragraph 3 of this resolution ; and
  2. (b)subject to the limit in paragraph 3 of this resolution.

Sale, stocking and supply of fuel

3. Grants out of money provided by Parliament—

  1. (a) for promoting the sale of coal to electricity bodies;
  2. (b) for the cost of building up and maintaining stocks of coal and coke ; or
  3. (c) towards measures for securing supplies of coke for use by the iron and steel industry ;

being grants to the Board and to any other person carrying on in Great Britain a business which consists of or includes the production of coal or coke—

  1. (i) for or by reference to the years of the Board ending in March 1980, 1981, 1982 and 1983 ; and
  2. (ii) subject to the aggregate (together with grants authorised by paragraph 2 of this resolution) to a limit of £525 million capable of being increased by order to not more than £590 million.

Any grants made by the Secretary of State during any year of the Board mentioned above in this paragraph in exercise of his existing power under section 8 of the Coal Industry Act 1977 (regional grants) shall be taken into account for the purposes of the limit in this paragraph.

Grants in connection with pit closures

4. Grants out of money provided by Parliament to assist in the redevelopment of the manpower resources of the Board and the elimination of uneconomic colliery capacity, being grants—

  1. (a) towards expenditure for the years of the Board ending in March 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983 and 1984 ; and
  2. (b) subject in the aggregate to a limit of £170 million.

Redundant Workers

5.—(1) Payments out of money provided by Parliament to or in respect of persons who, at any time between 17 July 1967 and 1 April 1984—

  1. (a) are employed at a coal mine or at any place used for providing services or facilities ancillary to the working of one or more coal mines ; or
  2. (b) are employed by any person carrying on in Great Britain a business which consists wholly or mainly of the production of coke and are so employed either at a coking plant or at any place used for providing services or facilities ancillary to the operation of one or more coking plants ;

and who in either case become redundant.

(2) The aggregate amount of the payments authorised by this paragraph during the years of the Board ending in March 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983 and 1984 shall not exceed £220 million.

Grants towards compensation for pneumoconiosis

6. Payments out of money provided by Parliament due to increasing the limit on grants under section 1 of the Coal Industry Act 1975 from £100 million to £107 million.

Administrative expenses and receipts

7. Defrayment of administrative expenses out of moneys provided by Parliament.

8. Any payment into the Consolidated Fund or the National Loans Fund.

In this resolution 'order' means an order by the Secretary of State approved by resolution of the Commons House of Parliament.—[Mr. John Moore.]

10.13 pm
Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)

The debate on the Bill was one of the quietest that I have heard for 16 years. It was quietly and responsibly introduced by the Secretary of State, and was responsibly replied to by my right hon. and hon. Friends. The Minister showed a growing degree of enthusiasm. I should not like the Minister and his colleagues to have been lulled into a sense of security by the quietness of the debate. He may have thought that my hon. Friends and I had fallen asleep or that we were complacent. However, an hon. Member who did not speak on Second Reading has chosen to speak on the money resolution, and that may convince the Government that we are aware of all the tricks in the business and that we may well use them in Committee.

I urge the Under-Secretary to bear two points in mind. He and his right hon. Friend have talked continually about the profitability of the industry. He denied that there was any deliberate purpose in seeking pit closures. On that we seem to be agreed, but the lasting concern on these Benches is that when he and his colleagues talk about a profitable industry they are talking of an industry that is concentrated in the centre of these islands to the exclusion of the western area, the North-East and South Wales.

My second point concerns the dilemma of priorities and uncertainty about the Government's priorities. Are they concerned with production, security, maintenance and all the other things that have been mentioned today, or are they concerned with financial profitability? Those are some of the points that we shall wish to pursue in Committee.

10.16 pm
Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)

In view of the fact that the Under-Secretary did not, in replying to the Second Reading debate, address himself to what was assumed to be the central question whether the three-year straitjacket or time limit of the financial provisions is satisfactory to the industry—we shall expect much more detailed answers to such questions in Committee.

It will facilitate the business tonight if we may have an assurance that the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary will take to heart some of the detailed financial questions that are being raised about the scheme. I hope that in Committee they will be prepared to listen to argument and to demonstrate flexibility and readiness to consider revising the financial arrangements in the light of the discussions. We do not ask for an off-the-cuff commitment now to change the position, but we ask for a readiness in Committee to consider the arguments deployed from both sides.

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

On the basis of the remarks of the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) and the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), I look forward enormously to our debates in Committee. Listening to and often taking action on what one hears is a key role for any parliamentarian. Obviously anyone who is not flexible in considering intelligent suggestions should not be in this place.

Question put and agreed to.