HC Deb 26 July 1982 vol 28 cc735-7
9. Mr. Adley

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he next intends to meet the president of the National Union of Mineworkers to discuss future investment in the coal industry.

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.

16. Mr. Rost

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he next expects 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

We all enjoy Mr. Scargill's frequent contributions to political debate. Will my hon. Friend confirm what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has just said—that Mr. Scargill has gone to Cuba?

Mr. Skeet

He should stay there.

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.

Several Hon. Members


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 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. Moore

My hon. Friend is assiduously pursuing his constituents' interests. I understand his point. He will wish to examine the thorough Coal Board review before I comment further.

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. Moore

I trust that those whom I respect and who had interests in and responsibility for the coal industry in the past will join the latter part of the twentieth century with regard to investment by reputable organisations. We are not in 1930, we are in 1982.

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

I have learnt from experience in the past few years that rationality is not the basis of every debate on the coal industry. The detailed facts that my hon. Friend suggests bear further examination.

Mr. Eadie

I am sure that the Minister agrees that investment is the key to progress in the coal industry. Will he consult the Government about oil from coal? Does he agree that it not only affects the future of the coal industry, but that British technology could be at stake?

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.

Forward to