HC Deb 06 July 1981 vol 8 cc7-9
6. Dr. Edmund Marshall

asked the Secretary of State for Energy how much of the additional finance which he has made available to the National Coal Board is earmarked for capital investment in developments to increase coal mining capacity.

Mr. John Moore

It is for the board to decide how much to invest in different kinds of project.

Dr. Marshall

Is the Minister aware that the whole future of Britain's coal-mining capacity depends upon a commitment now to long-term capital investment, such as the Thorne colliery, in my constituency? Does he accept that the sinking of an additional shaft there will cost £15 million over five years? Will he help the NCB to take a decision to go ahead with that shaft as soon as possible?

Mr. Moore

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that specific projects are matters for the board. He will also be aware of the £240 million programme of extensive capital investment at Thorne which is, according to the board, on target and on schedule. Capital investment is a key criterion for the opportunities in the coal industry in the future. It has been provided by this and previous Governments.

Mr. Hannam

This year coal exports more than doubled from 4 million tonnes to over 10 million tonnes. Is that not evidence that opportunities exist for the coal industry, provided that production costs are kept under control? Will my hon. Friend take the opportunity to go to the NUM conference in Jersey, where the two Opposition spokesmen are spending their time, and spread that message to the delegates there?

Mr. Moore

I am looking forward to joining Mr. Gormley and his union colleagues later today, as his guest at the conference. The markets for coal depend upon coal being competitive and upon the industry controlling its costs. Mr. Gormley said this morning in his presidential address that it was not sufficient just to produce coal. He said: We want to teach the public that the coal industry of Britain can be a safe and secure supplier of their energy needs. That is crucial to the price control of the industry's product for future markets.

Mr. Hardy

Will the Minister make it clear that there will be no shortage of finance or consideration to ensure that the necessary development of the Belvoir coalfield goes ahead? Will he also make it clear that such financial consideration will involve modern approaches to mining, which will cause far less visual and environmental harm than many people in the area imagine?

Mr. Moore

Mining has changed radically over the past 20 or 30 years, as those involved in the industry are aware. The industry is different from the public's illusions. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said on 2 July that no decision on the Belvoir field had yet been taken. The substantial capital rightly invested in the past and the substantial present commitment show that capital will be invested in viable projects.

Mr. Rost

Does it help the coal industry to expand its market and get rid of its surpluses if it exports coal at a lower price than is charged to British consumers? Would it not be better to develop the British market by allowing that subsidised coal to be made available to the British consumer?

Mr. Moore

I shall draw my hon. Friend's comments about pricing policy for the domestic sale of coal to the attention of the marketing director and the full directors of the NCB.

Mr. Rowlands

Is it not more than likely that the mining investment programme for 1981–82 will be substantially cut in real terms as a result of the external financing limit arrangements? Has the Secretary of State for the Environment consulted the Secretary of State for Energy about the Belvoir inquiry, particularly about whether it should go ahead?

Mr. Moore

I do not think that within the £1,117 million EFL the £805 million capital investment in the coal industry this year is small. It represents a substantial amount of taxpayers' money. I explained the Government's position in relation to the Belvoir inquiry on Thursday last week.