HC Deb 30 November 1983 vol 49 cc876-8
12. Mr. Eadie

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what information he has as to the likely effects on employment as a consequence of reduced coal burn by the South of Scotland Electricity Board in 1984.

Mr. Allan Stewart

In the year from 1 November 1983 the South of Scotland Electricity Board expects total coal burn, including slurry for Scottish requirements, to rise to about 4.5 million tonnes, compared with 4.25 million tonnes in 1982–83. This excludes the effect of any net exchange of power with England and Wales, which amounted to an extra 850,000 tonnes in 1982–83. Any employment implications for the National Coal Board and the South of Scotland Electricity Boards are a matter for the respective boards to consider.

Mr. Eadie

The Minister must be aware that during yesterday's debate I presented a scenario which could mean either five pits or 4,800 jobs being at stake, or 3,000 jobs if coal burn is reduced by 1.7 million tonnes. I referred to the serious implications for the coal industry in Scotland and the Scottish economy generally and asked whether the Secretary of State would consider meeting area officials of the National Union of Mineworkers in Scotland and some hon. Members who have constituency mining interests. As the Under-Secretary of State did not respond to my intervention in the debate am Ito take it that he is not prepared to discuss the serious implications facing the industry and the economy? Is there a "No Entry" sign in front of the Secretary of State's office at St. Andrew's house?

Mr. Stewart

The Government's concern is to have a viable mining industry that can produce coal at prices that will enable it to win markets. The Government have supported the coal industry to the extent of over £3,500 million in capital investment and £1,599 million in grants since 1979. Electricity consumers should not be asked to subsidise the mining industry. I think the hon. Gentleman will recognise that I referred to his speech last night. The coal industry is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy. However, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is always prepared to meet hon. Members who represent Scottish constituencies on matters of concern to them.

Mr. Henderson

While I recognise the value of Scottish coal to the economy, may I ask my hon. Friend to ask the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) to explain why he is asking hon. Members with constituents who are anxious about the cost of fuel to increase the price of electricity to help miners who will not help themselves, and at a time when the Government are providing £10 million a week to support the National Coal Board?

Mr. Eadie

I should be very pleased to answer that supplementary question, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Stewart

The hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) may answer my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Henderson) outside the Chamber. I emphasise the point that my hon. Friend is making, which is that electricity consumers should not be asked to subsidise the mining industry.

Mr. Foulkes

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Henderson)——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall take points of order after Question Time.

Mr. Home Robertson

The hon. Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Henderson) will get his answer if he chooses to meet some of the miners in my constituency. Surely the Minister cannot shrug off the implications of the wild fluctuations in coal burn in Scotland for employment in areas such as East Lothian, which is my constituency. Will he, just for once, make a clear and simple statement of commitment to the future of the coal industry, the electricity industry and the prospects of introducing combined heat and power in the Lothian region?

Mr. Stewart

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Energy took up the issue of combined heat and power on Monday. I repeat that since 1979 the Government have provided the coal industry with over £3,500 million of capital investment and grants amounting to £1,599 million. Surely that is ample evidence of commitment.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the consequences of reduced coal burn will be a reduction in the amount of acid rain? As the substantial overcapacity of electricity generation in Scotland has been confirmed in a written answer to me, is it not absurd that we should be embarking on a new hydro-electric scheme in the north-west at Loch Maree, for example, and other commitments involving vast capital expenditure?

Mr. Stewart

My hon. Friend will be aware that the elements of cost and price are crucial for the future of an efficient electricity industry.

Mr. O'Neill

Will the Minister recognise that responsibility for the funding of the SSEB rests with his right hon. Friend? As the National Coal Board is the major supplier of the SSEB, it is essential that the future of the industry is made clear to all concerned. Will he therefore allow my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) and other colleagues to meet his right hon. Friend to discuss this matter of vital interest and importance to the Scottish economy?

Mr. Stewart

I have emphasised to the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie), and I do so again for the benefit of the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill), that my right hon. Friend is always willing to see Scottish Members of Parliament on matters that are of concern to them. I do not think that I can make that very much clearer.