HC Deb 20 February 1984 vol 54 cc549-50
7. Mr. Rogers

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what is the current level of production subsidies to the coal industries of the United Kingdom, Belgium, France and Germany, respectively.

Mr. Peter Walker

Production benefits both from capital investment financed by the Government and from direct subsidies on coal production. The figures from the European Commission for production subsidies and investment finance in 1982 are:

£ million
United Kingdom 1,088
Federal Republic of Germany 682
France 347
Belgium 138

Mr. Rogers

Does the Secretary of State accept that in giving the figures in that way he is distorting them? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I know that the Secretary of State is an expert at realigning figures. Will he not accept that it would be far fairer to relate the answer to the total tonnage and the number of people involved, instead of distorting the picture, as he did in his answer?

Mr. Walker

I am willing to compare those figures with those for any country in western Europe. No country in western Europe currently has such a good record towards its coal industry as this Government have towards ours. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman has a good look at the record of the Socialist Government in France on the coal industry there during the past two years.

Mrs. Currie

Does my right hon. Friend agree that subsidies of £1,000 million during the past year to the British coal industry are far too high, particularly bearing in mind everything else that we have to spend money on? Does he agree that they simply put off the evil day when loss-making pits must be closed?

Mr. Walker

It is correct to invest heavily in new coal production, because that will be far more efficient and economic for the future. The coal industry has an important part to play in supplying the country's future energy resources. This year the NCB will receive more than £900 million in subsidies, which is equivalent to £90 per miner per week.

Mr. Foulkes

Is it not true that the Secretary of State has twisted the figures yet again, and that the subsidy per tonne of coal produced in Belgium, France and Germany is much higher than in the United Kingdom? Those countries are supporting their coal industries for patriotic reasons, but once Mr. MacGregor has his way, under the direction of the Secretary of State, the coal industry in Wales and Scotland will be devastated, and the social consequences of running the industry down in the peripheral areas will be disastrous. Will the right hon. Gentleman admit that compulsory redundancies in the coal industry will be inevitable?

Mr. Walker

I find that sort of nonsense from the Opposition quite remarkable. It could not be better illustrated than by the fact that their candidate at a certain by-election is the man who was the last Labour Minister responsible for the industry. In real terms, he paid the miners less, invested less in the mining industry, achieved lower productivity and gave less generous payments to redundant miners than at present.

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