§ 14. Mr. Home Robertson
asked the Secretary of State for Energy how many National Coal Board pits have closed in the last 12 months.
§ Mr. Giles Shaw
In the period 1 November 1982 to 31 October 1983, 13 pits closed, four pairs of pits merged and one new pit opened.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
Is Monktonhall colliery next on the hit list? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the miners there many of whom are my constituents, have returned to work today on the understanding that the Coal Board is committed to the future of the colliery? How can the colliery's high potential be realised if the NCB fails to restart the essential development programme at the pit?
§ Mr. Shaw
The House welcomes the fact that the men at Monktonhall have returned to work. I sincerely hope that that will result in a productive operation there. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the NCB has made this massive investment in Scotland on the understanding that productivity and efficiency levels will be comparable to those that can be achieved with similar levels of investment elsewhere. I hope that the miners realise that fact.
§ Mr. Tim Smith
What progress is the National Coal Board making in balancing production and demand in the industry?
§ Mr. Shaw
That is, indeed, a relevant question in view of the enormously high levels of stocks, which are the subject of a separate question on the Order Paper. I am sure my hon. Friend recognises that the only available way of balancing production and demand is to sell more coal, which means that prices must be more competitive.
§ Mr. Hardy
How many pits would be saved and how many jobs safeguarded if some of the 70 million tonnes of coal that are imported into the European Community were replaced by indigenous production? Does the Minister also agree, having referred to increasing sales, that Europe is supposed to have expressed a deep obligation to its coal industry? Will he also state that Ministers will seek to ensure that the European Community deals with the problem?
§ Mr. Shaw
I understand the hon. Gentleman's comments on the latter part of the question. We hope that greater efforts will be made within the European Community to deal with coal. Further progress was made at the Energy Council conference on 4 November.
I am sure my hon. Friend realises that we now have an extremely effective balance in favour of exports to the Community. When the Government came to office, Britain was in deficit, but exports are currently twice or three times the previous level.
§ Mr. Ashby
Does my hon. Friend recognise that my constituency of Leicestershire, North-West will be suffering unduly from the closure of a large number of pits in the Leicestershire coalfield? Does he recognise, too, that the position would be alleviated greatly by the opening of the Asfordby mine? Will my hon. Friend give a date for the commencement of work on that mine?
§ Mr. Shaw
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made clear his willingness to summon a tripartite meeting if all sections of the industry agree. I remind the right hon. Gentleman, however, that a requirement of the last tripartite meeting and "Plan for Coal" in 1974 was for a reduction in unprofitable volume and for increased productivity and output, neither of which was achieved during the relevant period.