HC Deb 05 April 1982 vol 21 cc674-6
6. Mr. Ioan Evans

asked the Secretary of State for Energy, if he will arrange a meeting with the new chairman of the National Coal Board and the new president of the National Union of Mineworkers to discuss the future of the coal industry.

The Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. Nigel Lawson)

While it would be premature to talk about the new chairman of the National Coal Board, I shall be meeting the new president of the National Union of Mineworkers later this month. Meanwhile, I am sure the whole House will join me in wishing Mr. Gormley well in his retirement, which starts today, and in paying tribute to his able and effective leadership of the NUM for the past 11 years. The coal industry and its prospects have undergone major changes while he has been president of the NUM, and I am sure the whole industry and, indeed, the whole House recognise the important role he has played.

Mr. Evans

I am sure that the House sends its good wishes to Joe Gormley and Derek Ezra. When will there be a Government statement about the appointment of the new chairman? Will the right hon. Gentleman consider calling the board and the union together to try to reach tripartite agreement for the future so that this successful, publicly owned industry can continue the level of production and productivity that it has enjoyed in the past, due to the investment of the Labour Government, which has been continued by this Government?

Mr. Lawson

This Government have made available more substantial funds to the coal board for investment, and it is our intention that the coal industry, provided it plays its part, should be a success as, indeed, it can. An announcement about the new chairman of the NCB will be made in due course.

Mr. Bill Walker

When my right hon. Friend meets the new president of the NUM, will he remind him of the sterling work done by Mr. Joe Gormley and point out that, if the new president looks after the interests of the mineworkers as well and stops playing politics, that will be to the benefit of both the mineworkers and the country?

Mr. Lawson

I believe that the new president of the NUM has already received certain advice from his predecessor, upon which I do not think I could improve.

Mr. Welsh

When the right hon. Gentleman meets the new president of the NUM, Mr. Arthur Scargill—as I have already said, he is a grand lad—will he bear in mind that he was president of the Yorkshire area for 10 years and never had a strike in that area? Will he discuss both productivity and production? It is no good having productivity if we decrease production. We are discussing both an increase in production and productivity, which in turn will mean an increase in sales. Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the new president and chairman that the Government will consider other aspects of selling coal, both in this country and outside? For example, many schools could now change from gas to coal, but they do not seem to be able to. Equally, many clubs, such as working men's clubs, could change to coal, and the coal board could sell a vast amount of coal as a result. Will the right hon. Gentleman look into that possibility?

Mr. Lawson

The chairman of the coal board is well aware of the various different avenues for coal sales and is already exploring them actively, both in this country and overseas, where exports have risen substantially. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has already said, while the possibilites in this regard have improved as a result of the improved coal-fired boiler conversion scheme in this year's Budget, nevertheless the paramount need for the industry to become competitve remains.

Mr. Stanbrook

When the Secretary of State meets the next chairman of the coal board, will he persuade him to get rid of the board's assets in the private sector, especially those firms not engaged in mining activities that are competing unfairly with private businesses?

Mr. Lawson

I believe that my hon. Friend recently raised this matter in an Adjournment debate, to which the Under-Secretary replied. I have nothing to add to what he said then.

Mr. Cryer

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the president of the NUM does not need any advice from the Tory Governmet—the sworn opponent of the miners and, indeed, of all workers? If the Secretary of State is so anxious about maintaining a future coal mining industry, why is he so anxious to pour millions of pounds into the nuclear power industry and to go ahead with the PWR system? Why does he not abandon that, put the money into the coal industry and use our indigenous coal reserves rather than attacking the coal industry through the nuclear power industry?

Mr. Lawson

Like their predecessors, this Government believe that our interests will be served both by a strong and competitve coal industry and an increasing share of electricity generation supplied by nuclear power, which is cheaper than any other form of power with the exception of hydro-power, which is limited. However, the hon. Gentleman's cheap jibes reflect more on him than on the matters that we are discussing.

Mr. Eadie

Does the right hon, Gentleman not agree that it would be better for all concerned if a successor to Sir Derek Ezra were announced rapidly? Can the Secretary of State assure the Opposition that the new successor will not be a Tory Party political appointment?

Mr. Lawson

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his advice, which, of course, I shall bear in mind.