HC Deb 30 January 1984 vol 53 cc8-9
7. Mr. Hal Miller

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if the miners' overtime ban has had any effect on the amount of funding from the taxpayer required by the National Coal Board.

20. Mr. Eadie

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what is the financial loss in coal production and in tonnage he has been advised the National Coal Board has suffered since the commencement of the overtime ban in the mining industry.

Mr. Peter Walker

The chairman of the NCB has said that output lost because of the overtime ban totalled about 4.2 million tonnes to 20 January and that if the ban continues until the end of the financial year it could increase the NCB's loss by £80 million. The Government will need to consider whether the effect of the ban on the board's profit and loss account requires an increased payment of deficit grant. The ban has had a favourable effect on the board's cash flow and hence on the PSBR.

Mr. Miller

Does my right hon. Friend agree that anything that adds to the board's difficulties in achieving a return to profit must be a serious matter for the long-term future of coal? Does he further agree that in the short term, however, the miners must be feeling the effects? Can he tell us the amount that they have lost in wages?

Mr. Walker

In the period to which I referred the miners lost £38 million in wages. If the overtime ban continues until the end of the financial year the NCB will have lost £80 million on its profit and loss account, but the miners will have lost more than that in wages.

Mr. Eadie

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that those figures are disputed and that it is argued that since the overtime ban began the board has lost 22 million tonnes in production and about £240 million in revenue? Does he agree that it is time that the NCB returned to the negotiating table'? Is he aware that the NCB's submission in the wages negotiations shows that it polluted the discussions by bringing in the subject of pit closures? Will he now act to bring the NCB and the unions back to the negotiating table?

Mr. Walker

It is for the NCB and the NUM to decide how to settle the dispute, but miners working underground currently receive £58 more than they did in the last week of the Labour Government and more in real terms than they earned when the present Labour candidate for Chesterfield was in charge of the coal industry.

Mr. Skeet

Is there not a credit item involved in that the cost of coal stocks is currently £6 per tonne and as the ban continues the 57 million tonnes of coal stocks in this country will gradually be reduced?

Mr. Walker

Stocks at the power stations are very substantial and higher than they were a year ago, but in view of the importance of maximum efficiency and competitiveness in the coal industry it is tragic that a dispute of this kind should continue.

Mr. Douglas

The Secretary of State commented on the revenue aspect of the overtime ban. Will he comment on the capital aspect in relation, for example, to the Solsgirth and Bogside pits on the boundaries of my constituency, where the community is worried that the NCB may use the dispute to threaten pit closures?.

Mr. Walker

As the hon. Gentleman knows better than anyone, if maintenance work is not carried out there is a considerable threat to the future of pits. I hope that careful consideration will be given to that aspect. I have no need to remind the hon. Gentleman that investment by the NCB is currently very high. As I have said before, only the investment programme in "Plan for Coal" has been adhered to.

Mr. Orme

Is it not time that the Government intervened in the dispute to bring the two sides together and indeed joined in the talks so that meaningful discussions may begin at once?

Mr. Walker

No, Sir. At present, people can examine and compare miners' wages and earnings with the past and with the rate of inflation. The National Coal Board the National Union of Mineworkers should settle the matter, and politicians should not intervene.

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