HC Deb 20 February 1984 vol 54 cc554-5
11. Mr. Burt

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what was the annual level of capital investment in the coal industry during the years 1974 to 1983.

Mr. Giles Shaw

Total capital investment during the years April 1974 to March 1979 and April 1979 to March 1983 was £1,472 million and £3,138 million respectively. I have arranged for the annual breakdown of these figures to be published in the Official Report.

Mr. Burt

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the NCB's investment in the Asfordby pit is the largest since approval was given by the 1970–74 Conservative Government for the Selby project? Is this not a further reason why the good voters of Chesterfield will be knocked over in the rush of miners to be first to the polls on by-election day to vote for the Conservative candidate?

Mr. Shaw

There can be no question but that investment by Conservative Governments in the coal industry has been second to none. In the period between 1974 and 1983, £7.5 billion in real terms was invested in the coal industry. My hon. Friend is right to say that Asfordby is a powerful demonstration that the coal industry has a future, provided that it is productive, efficient and competitive in price.

Mr. Boyes

Is the Minister aware that 700 men at Herrington colliery in my constituency are interested in his opinion that the coal industry has a future? They will set that against their meeting with Mr. MacGregor last week, when they argued that the pit should be kept open. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) suggested, would it not make sense to use some of the Government's investment to keep pits open where there is still coal, rather than create longer dole queues?

Mr. Shaw

The hon. Gentleman will have to choose between exploiting reserves at prices that the market will find acceptable and regarding the coal industry from an entirely different point of view and allowing it to decline. When the Asfordby investment is completed, it will yield about 2.2 million tonnes per annum at highly competitive prices. Each coal board area must recognise these factors, and I believe that there is that recognition.

Mr. Eggar

As the National Union of Mineworkers has failed to live up to its part of "Plan for Coal", is my hon. Friend satisfied that the nation is getting a decent return on its investment in the coal industry?

Mr. Shaw

The nation has not been getting an adequate return on its investment in the coal industry for decades. It is high time that the Government, having control of the nation's economy, made strenuous efforts to ensure that that position is reversed. That is the object of my right hon. Friend's policy.

Mr. Rowlands

Does the Minister agree that some of the finest investment has been in some of the oldest pits and that that has resulted in production as well as productivity records being broken? Those engaged in the mining industry in my constituency can testify to that. We have read press reports over the weekend of Mr. MacGregor's so-called survival plan. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that it will be seen in many coalfields not as a survival plan but as a recipe for the destruction of the industry?

Mr. Shaw

I agree that there have been many instances of good returns from investment in old pits. There have also been many instances of considerable productivity improvements. However, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that an average improvement of 4 per cent. a year was achieved only last year, when it was the intention of "Plan for Coal" to achieve an annual improvement in the rate of produtivity of 4 per cent. That is the way in which the industry has to go.

Following is the information:

Total additions to fixed assets in the United Kingdom including interest and leasing:
Year Capital Investment £ million
1974–75 145 £1,472 million in five years April 1974 to March 1979
1975–76 217
1976–77 280
1977–78 350
1978–79 481
1979–80 661 £3,138 million in four years April 1979 to March 1983
1980–81 807
1981–82 812
1982–83 858
1983–84* 800