HC Deb 15 March 1982 vol 20 cc1-3
1. Mr. Ray Powell

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what was the date of his most recent contact with the National Coal Board about the new deep mine at Margam.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Nicholas Edwards)

Within the past week in discussion with the chairman of the board.

Mr. Powell

I am glad to hear that the Secretary of State has had discussions, because we initiated a debate on this matter on 14 December. I hope that, after three months, he will now start to do something about the new mine at Margam. There are presently 200, 000 people out of work in Wales. The development of the new mine at Margam would create 1, 000 jobs. What is the Secretary of State doing? Is he taking the advice of the Prime Minister's son and sitting on his backside? I might have used a four-lettered word. Is the Secretary of State sitting on his backside—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has asked enough questions.

Mr. Edwards

The discussion that I had with the chairman of the National Coal Board in the past week was one of a number of discussions that I have had with him in recent months on this subject. The position is unchanged from the earlier statements that I have made on the matter. The chairman confirmed that this mine would involve a high capital cost and that, in the board's view, although it would produce an operating profit, it would make substantial losses after taking account of the cost of interest on the investment. The board is investigating all the options, including whether means might be found of reducing the interest cost, and it will keep the project under review in the light of the results of the investigations.

Mr. Garel-Jones

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the possibilities for investment in new mines depends to a great degree on the implementation of the closures envisaged in the "Plan for Coal"?

Mr. Edwards

There are a number of loss-making pits and important capital investment projects in existing pits of which we must take account if the board is to return to profit. The balancing of the various interests is a matter for the NCB.

Mr. John Morris

Will the Secretary of State encourage the Coal Board to proceed with this vital development? Is he aware that when I raised the matter with the previous Secretary of State for Energy, the right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell), some 18 months ago, I was told that it was a matter for the Coal Board?

Given the new confidence at the Port Talbot steel works, the market available to the steel industry generally and the prospect of lower interest rates that the Secretary of State has just mentioned, will he ensure that the Coal Board's financial ceilings are adequate for this important development in employment terms in South Wales?

Mr. Edwards

The right hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware that the NCB's investment programme is about the largest of the major European coal producers. The chairman has told me that, since the project was first considered, there has been a substantial decline in world coking coal prices and in United Kingdom coking coal demand. The board must assess whether there will be a market for the coal produced at Margam if it goes ahead with the project.

Mr. Coleman

Setting aside the closure of collieries in Watford, does the right hon. Gentleman not understand that an announcement of early investment in and development at Margam would mean a great boost to the economy and job prospects in Wales?

Mr. Edwards

I understand the importance of the project, but, as it is a very high capital cost project, it would be wrong to press the NCB to go ahead against its judgment on the viability of that project, as that might prejudice other important investment in the industry.

Back to