HC Deb 09 May 1983 vol 42 cc618-9
9. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what subjects he expects to discuss at his next meeting with the chairman of the National Coal Board.

Mr. John Moore

At our meetings with the chairman my right hon. Friend and I discuss all aspects of the board's business.

Mr. Canavan

Bearing in mind the uncertainty in the Scottish coal industry following the decisions to close Kinneil, Sorn and Highhouse, will the Minister give a commitment that adequate investment will be made to ensure the future of what is left of the Scottish coal industry, especially the Cardowen colliery? Failing that, will the Minister admit that if people are daft enough to vote Tory at the next election they will be voting for the closure of Cardowen and the possible annihilation of the entire Scottish coal industry?

Mr. Moore

I shall not comment on the details involved in the discussions between the unions and the National Coal Board on a specific pit such as Cardowen. The hon. Gentleman has some cheek to talk about investment in the coal industry in Scotland. In 1975–76, investment in the coal industry in real terms in Scotland was £100 million. There has been a 48.8 per cent. real increase in investment in the coal industry to £150 million. To describe a real increase in investment in the coal industry in Scotland as a tragedy, underestimates Scotland's needs.

Mr. Rost

When my hon. Friend next meets the chairman of the NCB, will he discuss with him the huge potential increased market for the sale of coal that could result from an expansion of combined heat and power, which can not only produce cheaper heat and power for industry, but can alleviate fuel poverty in many of our inner cities?

Mr. Moore

My hon. Friend is right to remind the House of the advantages of combined heat and power. The coal industry has a role to play, provided that it can keep control of its prices and guarantee supplies, and there will be a bigger market place as a result of the development of combined heat and power schemes.

Mr. Eadie

If the hon. Gentleman is proposing to meet the chairman of the NCB, will he tell Mr. MacGregor that he should be preparing himself for early retirement, because the Government will not be in office after the general election? Does the Under-Secretary agree that, bearing in mind the reserves at Cardowan colliery, it would be monstrous for the Government to suggest that the colliery should be closed because of the Government's operation of what they describe as market forces to get rid of the coal stocks? My right hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Mr. Smith) would like to have been here today, but he has been unavoidably detained in Scotland.

Mr. Moore

I know that the hon. Gentleman, with his previous experience in the coal industry, would not expect me to comment on a particular pit in terms of potential negotiations between the NCB and the unions representing the men in the industry. The hon. Gentleman would not have done that when he was in office. It is not the practice within the management of the industry. The Government have not given, and do not give, any instructions or make any comments on individual pits. That is not the way in which the Government and the coal industry work. It is a management matter for the industry. The Government have provided massive investment to the industry and it is up to the industry to decide how to use it.

Mr. Stanbrook

Will my hon. Friend tell the chairman of the NCB that at least £50 million would be available for investment if the board disposed of its holdings in private companies, which compete unfairly with other private firms in the coal industry?

Mr. Moore

My hon. Friend has raised the subject of unfair competition in the past. I thought that I had answered the point satisfactorily, but I shall draw his remarks to the attention of the chairman of the NCB.

Mr. Dormand

Is the Minister aware that, after 9 June, he will not be discussing anything with the chairman of the NCB? Will he take into account that the next Labour Secretary of State will tell the chairman that there are to be no further pit closures on the ground of economy alone?

Mr. Moore

I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman may have more chance of being re-elected in the north-east against the minor party that I gather has been scouring that area lately, but he will be part of a rump Labour party facing a re-elected Conservative Government who will be delighted to continue their regular meetings with Mr. Siddall and his successor, Mr. MacGregor.