HC Deb 02 March 1981 vol 1000 cc8-10
8. Mr. Ray Powell

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what assessment he has made of the extent to which National Coal Board colliery closure proposals will affect the number of unemployed in Wales.

Mr. Michael Roberts

The NCB has withdrawn its proposals for an accelerated programme of pit closures and will be, as I understand, looking with the unions at pits in difficulty under the normal consultative procedures.

Mr. Powell

Although I thank the hon. Gentleman for that reply and although I appreciate the humiliation and the retreat that the miners forced on the Government, will the hon. Gentleman give an assurance that there will be no reneging on the promises that were given to the miners before they withdrew the threat to strike? Will he also give a commitment that there will be no pressure to close collieries such as that put on miners to close collieries in my constituency, including that at Coegnant? What support will the Minister and his right hon. Friends give to the development of the new pit in Margam?

Mr. Roberts

I can give no information about the proposals for development at Margam. As the unions have accepted, there have been, and always will be, closures in an extractive industry. It is the pace of those closures that is at issue. The NCB and the unions are looking at the subject again in the light of discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy.

Mr. Skeet

Although I accept that there are established procedures, does not my hon. Friend agree that it is the new pits that tend to be profitable and that tend to give the mining industry a great future rather than those—there are several in Wales—that are nearly exhausted?

Mr. Roberts

My hon. Friend is quite right. The investment in the new pits will ensure the coal industry's future into the twentieth century. I make no comment on the amount of coal available in the pits in South Wales.

Mr. Ioan Evans

Will the Minister congratulate the South Wales miners on compelling the Government to have second thoughts about their mad monetarist policies, which have not been applied in the same way to the coal industry as they have to steel, textiles, manufacturing industry and the rest of Britain's industry?

Mr. Roberts

When the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) looks at that comment in Hansard tomorrow, he will not find that it has been particularly helpful to anybody, including the mining industry.

Mr. Garel-Jones

Will my hon. Friend confirm to coal miners in Wales that the Government are totally committed to"Plan for Coal" and that it holds out a brilliant future to the coal industry? Will my hon. Friend also confirm that many of the great benefits deriving from the productivity of the South Wales miners and others have not yet shown through, because the Government have not been able to proceed with some of the necessary closures?

Mr. Roberts

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy has made it perfectly clear that the Government are committed to the"Plan for Coal" and that we consider that there is a great future for the mining industry.

Mr. Alan Williams

Is it not a fact that, as regards that recent issue, the Secretary of State misled the Cabinet about the strength of feeling in the Welsh coalfields?

Is the Minister aware that there are clear yardsticks by which the sincerity of the Government's belated conversion will be judged? Will the hon. Gentleman ensure the maximum use of Welsh coal at Margam and at Llanwern, beginning with the 300,000 tonne tranche that is about to be ordered at Margam? Does the Minister realise that if he wishes to show confidence in the fact that Wales has a long-term future in coal, it is imperative to give the go-ahead to the Margam pit project?

Mr. Roberts

No, Sir. My right hon. Friend did not mislead the Cabinet. As regards the import of coal, I am aware of the importance of both the CEGB and the BSC as customers for coal, particularly in relation to the South Wales coalfields. My right hon. Friend has asked them to be as helpful as they can.