HC Deb 23 June 1980 vol 987 cc17-8
9. Mr. Cadbury

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he intends to meet the chairman of the National Coal Board regarding investment in new productive capacity.

Mr. John Moore

I meet the chairman of the NCB frequently. I am still considering the board's capital investment programme.

Mr. Cadbury

Can my hon. Friend confirm that this new investment will be used to create a profitable and efficient mining industry, to the benefit of all those who work in it? Can he also refute a recent claim by Mr. Arthur Scargill that the National Coal Board has plans to close 130 pits?

Mr. Moore

I confirm my hon. Friend's first point. As both sides of the House will accept, the investment which has gone into our coal industry since 1974 is investment to improve capacity of a profitable kind. All that I can do is refer again to the statement which I made during our debate on the Coal Industry Bill on Tuesday of last week when I referred to the comments of Sir Derek Ezra in a broadcast that morning, in the course of which he said: Our position on the closure of pits is very clear and will not be changed by the Bill. The Bill relates to an opportunity, as does the investment in the industry, for expansion.

Mr. Edwin Wainwright

Will the Minister bear in mind that in every new area that is developed, miners have to be found to work there? Bearing in mind that miners are being drawn from surrounding collieries to make certain that we have the complement required to work at, say, Selby and Belvoir in the future, it means that there is a suspicion in the minds of the miners and their leaders that some pits may be closed. May we be assured by the NCB and by the hon. Gentleman's Department that such fears are unwarranted and have no foundation?

Mr. Moore

There are two matters which must be reiterated, and all those who have the long-term interests of the coal industry at heart will wish to reiterate them throughout the country. The first is that colliery closures are a management matter for the National Coal Board. The industry has an agreed colliery review procedure with the unions to which this Government adhere. It is very important to stress that throughout the industry. Secondly, as the hon. Gentleman will remember from our debate last Tuesday, pits and faces close and open. The great excitement since 1974 is that they have been opening. I remind the House that between 1974 and 1979, 50 pits were closed, and no supporter of the then Government would have thought for a moment that that suggested that the Government did not have a commitment to the coal industry.

Mr. Eadie

Since the hon. Gentleman is quoting at length from the speech that he made last Tuesday in the coal debate, may I remind him that he failed to answer the point put to him, which dealt with the fact that some of the problems of the National Coal Board at the moment and in the future have nothing to do with technical ability but are due to planning constraints? Is the hon. Gentleman in a position to say that neither the National Coal Board nor the miners will be penalised in production terms if there are difficulties due to planning constraints?

Mr. Moore

As I said at the beginning—and I repeat—the Government's commitment in the Coal Industry Bill is to "Plan for Coal". I acknowledge the difficulties of planning constraints which have arisen over the years. At the same time, the Government are committing £600 million plus to the investment in our great coal industry for the next four years. This should be a clear and conclusive answer.