HC Deb 03 November 1980 vol 991 cc937-9
4. Mr. Skeet

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when next he proposes to meet the chairman of the National Coal Board about pit closures.

Mr. John Moore

Pit closures are matters for the National Coal Board to deal with in consultation with the unions according to the agreed procedures.

Mr. Skeet

As a result of the substantial reduction in coal sales, will my hon. Friend reconsider part of the investment programme, such as the Vale of Belvoir? Will he redeploy some of the moneys on the marketing side of the business, particularly for fluidised bed combustor? Will he ensure that the miners do not claim an unreasonable pay increase as that will lead to further pit closures?

Mr. Moore

With respect to my hon. Friend's great experience on energy issues, his questions should be addressed to the National Coal Board. It is not the Government's function to manage the industry. It is our function to set the overall financial limits, and the NCB decides how to fulfil the agreed strategy within those limits.

Mr. Ioan Evans

If the hon. Gentleman holds consultations with the chairman of the NCB, will he ensure that no pits with known reserves are closed? In addition, will he make financial arrangements with the coal board so that coal from existing stocks can be used, rather than imports?

Mr. Moore

The NCB decides such matters. I should have thought that those who want to ensure the long-term success of the coal industry would welcome the fact that, unlike many of our industries, the coal industry is more than 95 per cent. self-sufficient, even in this difficult year.

Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson

Is my hon. Friend aware that vast sums of money are being = spent on stockpiling un- sold coal? Will he hold urgent talks with the chairman of the NCB on the question of reducing coal prices, rather than raising them? Does my hon. Friend accept that that will help to stimulate electricity demand and so remove some of the unfair competition that this country faces from its competitors in the EEC and elsewhere?

Mr. Moore

Again, my hon. Friend invites me to make subjective decisions about the management of individual nationalised industries. The framework that the Government established for the coal board is robust enough to take the inevitable strains associated with short-term changes in supply and demand, and thus to stay within the Government's external financial limits, which flow annually from our four-year coal strategy.

Mr. Eadie

The Minister is responsible for the coal industry, but he has delegated responsibility for it. Will he ignore any predatory cries—from whatever quarter—for a pit closure programme? Does he agree that it would be a form of energy lunacy to contract the coal industry, when there is political uncertainty and instability in the Middle East?

Mr. Moore

I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's comments, but the coal strategy is for the long-term success of our domestic coal industry. Massive investment, in excess of £800 million a year, is being made in the industry. That is the strategy for a successful industry, not one in decline.

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