HC Deb 03 November 1980 vol 991 cc945-6
12. Mr. Skinner

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he expects to meet National Coal Board chiefs regarding coal stocks; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. John Moore

I keep in close touch with the NCB, but have no specific plans for a meeting on this subject.

Mr. Skinner

Is the Minister aware that the latest figures suggest that about 36 million tonnes of coal are at the pit top and that we are rapidly reaching the figure that caused the tragic pit closures in the 1950s and 1960s? Does he accept that because of the industrial recession caused by this Government we shall be back on the merry-go-round of pit closures unless more subsidies are given for stocking coal and for coal generally, similar to those given by our Continental competitors, which will put an end to coal imports, which stand at about 6 million tonnes this year? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that such measures would ensure a healthy and viable coal industry into the 1980s?

Mr. Moore

Facts are more interesting than opinions. Stocks are below the 1978 level and are not much different from the 10-year running average. There are 15.1 million tonnes at pitheads and 19.2 million tonnes at power stations, not 36 million tonnes. In relation to imports, we should remember that about 87 per cent. of the modest imports to the United Kingdom come from Australia and the United States, and not from those countries that seek to subsidise their domestic coal industries.

Mr. Hannan

Can my hon. Friend put the imports into perspective? What is the relationship between our coal imports and exports?

Mr. Moore

That is an interesting point. We export approximately 3 million tonnes of coal, compared with the expected total imports for 1980–81 of 8 million to 9 million tonnes, which is a 6 million tonnes excess of imports over exports. In the first six months of the year the three countries on the Continent that are heavily subsidising their coal industries, France, Belgium and West Germany, exported 34,000 tonnes of coal to us, whereas we exported 404,000 tonnes to them.

Mr. Eadie

When next the Minister meets the NCB, will he remember that the miners were promised that they would not become victims of a fluctuating market? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that stocks of coal can be an appreciating as well as depreciating asset?

Mr. Moore

I take the hon. Gentleman's last point. We should remember that, despite increased imports this year, which were decided on after the bad winter of 1978–79, and the accelerated coalburn decided on by the previous Government, we are still looking to 95 per cent.-plus domestic self-sufficiency, moving to between 96 and 97 per cent. over the next few years. All those interested in coal's long-term future should welcome that.