HC Deb 28 March 1983 vol 40 cc5-6
4. Mr. Gwilym Roberts

asked the Secretary of State for Energy how much United Kingdom coal was sold in Northern Ireland in the last year for which figures are available.

Mr. John Moore

As my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office told the hon. Member for Cannock (Mr. Roberts) on 4 February 1983, deliveries of National Coal Board coal, including smokeless fuels, into Northern Ireland during 1982 were some 1.5 million tonnes.

Mr. Roberts

Does the Minister accept that, in view of the Government's rather unhelpful policies, there is considerable alarm in the industry at the prospect of a further contraction in the coal market? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there may be a case for some sort of subsidy for the coal, because, after all, the Government's theoretical policy is to increase coal burn in the industrial and domestic sectors?

Mr. Moore

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would like to get the facts right. Burn has, of course, increased. The hon. Gentleman will obviously be aware that the Government's policy has ensured that the coal industry not only retains existing markets but wins new ones because of its price competitiveness. That is the long-term interest of further coal sales in addition to the 1.5 million tonnes that are now sold to Northern Ireland.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

Is the Minister aware that he misread the question and that there is a very large quantity of United Kingdom coal beneath the ground in Northern Ireland, as well as in Cannock? Will he suggest to his hon. Friend the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office that the time is coming when a statement of the Government's position will be necessary on the exploitation of the large deposits, which have now been proved?

Mr. Moore

With great respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I did not misread the question. The details are the concern of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, but the deposits in question are lignite, which under the Coal Industry Act are not defined as coal and are the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is considerable and growing anxiety among the consumers of British coal that the coal industry is not fulfilling its side of the bargain in "Plan for Coal", both in respect of the slow progress being made in phasing out uneconomic coal mines and in its inability to improve productivity?

Mr. Moore

My hon Friend is, of course, right. Governments of both parties have maintained the pattern of long-term investment in the coal industry. It is sad that the industry's productivity record has not been maintained in accordance with "Plan for Coal". Equally, uneconomic capacity has not decreased, contrary to what was envisaged in "Plan for Coal". Those of us who wish to see the coal industry succeed must deplore that fact and hope that it will be sorted out.