HC Deb 19 May 1980 vol 985 cc4-5
2. Mr. Dormand

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what recent consultations he has had with the National Coal Board concerning future investment in the industry.

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

I am considering the board's capital investment programme in the normal way, but have yet to discuss it with the board.

Mr. Dormand

Do not the figures, which show output up to 109 million tonnes and productivity up almost 4 per cent. last year, justify the level of investment in the industry in recent years, despite the carping criticism of a number of Conservative Members? Are not the miners and the National Coal Board to be heartily congratulated on such a splendid performance? In those circumstances, will the Minister assure the House that when he has the discussions with the board there will be no pressure from the Government for a cutback in investment?

Mr. Moore

The Government have consistently made that clear. We have congratulated the coal industry, time and again from this Box, and I do so again with pleasure. Equally, the Government have made it clear in the announcement of their new stategy for coal, implied on First Reading of the Bill, that productive investment has been, and will be, continued and that we expect the nation to gain from that productive investment in our coal industry.

Mr. Hannam

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Government are showing great confidence in the future of a competitive coal industry by their additional finance for modernisation, redundancies and the pneumoconiosis scheme?

Mr. Moore

Absolutely. The investment that we are now talking about for the rest of the period up to 1983–84 amounts to £600 million-plus a year. It is a sizeable investment in our productive industry. If we are to gain from the markets of the future, and if we are to retain the markets that we now have, our coal industry must be competitive and profitable. Happily, that is the route that it is taking.

Mr. Edwin Wainwright

Will the Minister accept that, in addition to investment in the coalmining industry to produce coal, more money should be spent on obtaining by-products from coal? Does he agree that it is time that we started building chemical plants beside some of our large coalfields, to take advantage of those by-products? Does it not also mean that to close chemical byproducts plants without replacing them will not be to the good of the industry as a whole?

Mr. Moore

I am sure that all hon. Members will have noticed reports in the press in the last week on the world coal study discussions and seen the exciting opportunities for coal, not just in chemical feedstocks, but in SNG and liquefaction. The Government are seriously involved. I chaired the third meeting of the research and development tripartite committee last week, which considered such areas. Obviously when the next stage of decision is ready, at liquefaction, it must be viewed with the seriousness that such long-term markets will have for this country.

Mr. Forman

Is my hon. Friend aware that we welcome the strong support that he and the Secretary of State have given to the coal industry since the Government came to power? Will he go further and ensure that we do everything possible to open up a European market or markets for British coal via sensible EEC schemes?

Mr. Moore

Crucial to being able to avail ourselves of the European market is that we have a competitive and profitable coal industry. My hon. Friend will be aware of my right hon. Friend's initiative, currently on the table in Europe, for improved production capacity for our European coal industry. As the prime producer of coal in the Community, we seek to gain from that.