HC Deb 08 February 1982 vol 17 cc729-30
11. Mr. Skeet

asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether, in reviewing the capital investment programme of the National Coal Board, he will reassess the production targets set in the "Plan for Coal" to accord with the conditions of the market.

Mr. John Moore

The National Coal Board should aim to provide what the market wants efficiently and at fully competitive prices. It would not be sensible to base investment simply on a production target, whatever its level.

Mr. Skeet

Does my hon. Friend agree that the production targets set for 1985 and 1990 are not related to the market? Is he aware that the taxpayer is being forced to carry the entire industry? When will the National Coal Board reach a break-even point?

Mr. Moore

The question specifically addressed to me related to when we shall break even. For the future of the coal industry it is in everybody's interest that we reach a break-even point as soon possible. I should have thought that the House had sufficient time last Tuesday, in a long and excellent debate on the coal industry, to understand the Government's policy on this matter.

Mr. Eadie

Based on that answer, does the Minister agree that any contracting of "Plan for Coal" would be disastrous for our long-term energy needs? Does he further agree that, if it were even contemplated, the miners would regard it as a gross betrayal by the Government?

Mr. Moore

I think that the miners, as well as this House, would like to see an industry that is efficient, competitive and able to provide a bigger market for all its users. That is the aim of all in the industry. The sooner we break away from a policy of subsidy, the better the miners and the whole country will be pleased.

Mr. Forman

If the Government are keen to boost new markets for the coal industry, may I ask what progress has been made with the imaginative scheme, introduced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer some time ago, to boost coal use by British industry?

Mr. Moore

As I said last Tuesday in the debate on the coal industry, the application level so far has been modest. As I recall, £17 million worth of applications had been introduced up to last Tuesday. I listened to the views of the House on that matter and had already drawn them to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry, who is responsible for this scheme.

Dr. Edmund Marshall

Should not the National Coal Board concentrate more of its available capital investment on new developments, such as the one at Thorne in my constituency where the abundance of coal reserves would maximise the return in terms of coal production and job provision?

Mr. Moore

I am conscious of the hon. Gentleman's interest. He has recently visited me to press the points that he mentioned. I remind the House that individual investment analysis and development are for the coal industry to decide. However, the reality is that, although the industry has a very large investment—in excess of £800 million this year—it is limited somewhat by its inability to close uneconomic capacity at the rate planned in "Plan for Coal" at the beginning of 1974.