§ 14. Mr. Dormand
asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he next proposes to meet the chairman of the National Coal Board to discuss investment in the industry.
§ 26. Mr. Hannam
asked the Secretary of State for Energy when last he met the chairman of the National Coal Board to discuss investment in the coal industry.
§ Mr. John Moore
I meet periodically the National Coal Board and the NUM to discuss different aspects of the coal mining industry, including investment.
§ Mr. Adley
I should not like him to stay there. He is the best ally that we Tories have. When Mr. Scargill returns, will my hon. Friend inquire whether the visit was political or whether he was trying, for once, to help the British coal mining industry? For example, is Cuba a large potential market for British coal?
§ Mr. Moore
I do not have ministerial responsibility for the president of the National Union of Mineworkers. However, I am sure that, as we all know that 82 per cent. of coal is burnt in our power stations, hon. Members will be interested to know that Cuba burns only oil. Nevertheless, I am sure that the Cubans can be persuaded to do as well as we do.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I propose to call first the three other hon. Members whose questions are being answered.
§ Mr. Rost
When will the Government be able to tell the Coal Board and the NUM that it is time to fix a realistic programme for ending the subsidies and the industry's monopoly by introducing private capital in partnership, so that we can inject some competition? Does my hon. Friend agree that it is nonsensical that British companies such as BP should be forced to go abroad to mine coal and are prohibited from contributing to the economy and genuine competition in Britain?
§ Mr. Moore
It is sometimes sad and of significance to us all to remember that, in the past 15 years or so, about £26 billion has gone from the private sector into offshore oilfield development. The country has invested only £3 billion in the coal industry. I say "only", although that is obviously a sizeable amount of money. Investment in the coal industry is in all our interests. One would hope that the industry would welcome it.
§ Mr. Hannam
Does my hon. Friend agree that capital investment in the industry this year will reach nearly £900 million? Does he agree that the miners should, therefore, ignore the militant calls of Mr. Scargill and continue the expansion of their industry by opening new pits and closing old, uneconomic ones?
§ Mr. Moore
I should like the industry to carry on with its present excellent productivity and improvements. To the extent that the industry is progressing well, I trust that everyone will notice the large amounts of investment that have been made in the industry since "Plan for Coal". There has been £3½ billion of investment. That is considerably more than the £2½ billion that was expected under "Plan for Coal".
§ Mr. Barry Jones
Will the Minister do all that he can to bring on the coal liquefaction scheme at Point of Ayr? Is he aware that, in North-East Wales, in the county of Clwyd, unemployment is now 22 per cent. or more and that there is nearly 40 per cent. male unemployment in 737 Flint? Does he understand that unemployed construction workers look to the scheme to help provide them with work?
§ Mr. Moore
The hon. Gentleman will remember that I recently met representatives from Clwyd. As I said earlier, a review by the Coal Board of the plant is in process. It is vital, as with many other areas, that projects are developed economically and rationally, for the success of the coal industry in the long run.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer
Will my hon. Friend assure me that, unless the present scheme by the Coal Board for the extraction of oil from coal is shown to be completely unworkable, regard will constantly be had to Britain's need for assured supplies of oil, which will eventually run out otherwise, and that oil could be extracted from coal, of which we have almost unlimited reserves?
§ Mr. Albert Roberts
Will the Minister bear in mind that when private capital ran the mining industry it was in a deplorable condition? I hope that he will resist the proposals that have been advanced by his hon. Friends.
§ Mr. Skeet
Is my hon. Friend aware that the taxpayer is losing about £35 million as a result of not being able to import more coal? Instead of expecting the CEGB to import 4 million tonnes, as contracted, and then dumping 2 million tonnes of it in Europe, does he agree that it would be more rational to import into the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Moore
As a member of the Government, I shall indulge in self-consultation. We must make the right decisions in these matters. The right decisions require us to examine the matters carefully, thoroughly and responsibly. We are dealing both with the coal industry, which is crucial, and the future of taxpayers' money.