HC Deb 27 April 1981 vol 3 cc501-2
1. Mr. Stoddart

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what is the current cost of mining one tonne of deep-mined coal in the United Kingdom; and what information he has of the corresponding costs in Belgium, the Federal Republic of Germany and France.

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

Firm figures for hard-coal production costs in Community countries in 1980 are not yet available. My Department has, however, estimated on the basis of Commission documents that they may be of the following order:

Per tonne
Federal Republic of Germany £44
Belgium £61
France £45
United Kingdom £34

Mr. Stoddart

Do not those figures show that British miners are producing the cheapest deep-mined coal in Europe? Is it not true that the Federal Republic of Germany subsidises coal by £15 per tonne, Belgium by £34 per tonne and France by £18 per tonne? Does not that benefit both our competitors and consumers in EEC countries? Does the Minister intend to provide similar subsidies for British coal?

Mr. Moore

The hon. Gentleman should consider both the present and future markets for coal, rather than subsidised coal industries. French and Belgian production has been halved during the past 10 years, while consumption has risen. Surely that is not the route that the hon. Gentleman wants the British coal industry to follow. However, I acknowledge that the price of British deep-mined coal is the best in Western Europe.

Mr. Hannam

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the level of investment in Britain is more than double that in Germany and more than 20 times that in France and Belgium? Is not that evidence of the Government's commitment to the expansion of the coal industry?

Mr. Moore

Absolutely. My hon. Friend is drawing attention to the concern of all Governments about investment in the long-term development of our coal industry. Investment must be seen in the light of the competitiveness of British coal in both its present and future markets.

Mr. Tom Ellis

Will the Minister estimate the marginal costs of production if it is confined to the Midland coalfields and the profitable collieries in other coalfields?

Mr. Moore

I should be happy to ask the National Coal Board to provide specific figures for certain coal mines. As all hon. Members recognise, the NCB is a national industry, and we seek to provide national figures in these matters.

Mr. Eadie

Has not this question given the Minister an opportunity to demonstrate how much cheaper British coal is than EEC coal? He said that production had increased this year. Is it not time that the Government told us the real cash limit figure for the NCB? Does not the question afford the Minister an opportunity to stand at the Dispatch Box and say that, technologically, the British coal mining industry is among the best in the world?

Mr. Moore

I am sure that Mr. Speaker wishes me to address myself to one question only. As the hon. Gentleman said, the future of our industry depends upon its ability to continue to be competitive. To that extent, it has a future.

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