HC Deb 11 June 1984 vol 61 cc625-7
7. Mr. Cohen

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when Mr. MacGregor's term of office as chairman of the National Coal Board expires.

Mr. Peter Walker

Mr. MacGregor was appointed as chairman for a term of three years commencing on 1 September 1983.

Mr. Cohen

Will the Secretary of State give the House the full cost to the British taxpayer of Mr. MacGregor's chairmanship and explain whether he is meeting the criteria for productivity in his agreement with the Government? Is not the taxpayer having to make the biggest redundancy payment ever for someone whom this dispute has shown to be, in effect, redundant, and should he not be closed down as an expensive economic failure? His going will not solve the dispute, as he is only the Government's front man, but it will surely go a long way towards it.

Mr. Walker

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman finds a new scriptwriter, because if the actions of Mr. MacGregor in endeavouring to encourage greater conversion to coal in British industry and looking at the possibilities of world markets on a substantial scale are allowed to apply, they will prove very important to the future of the industry.

Mr. Soames

Will my right hon. Friend extend the commiserations of the House to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), whose brother suffered a humiliating defeat in the NUM elections at the weekend? Was not that result a sign that many men want to get back to work, and quickly!

Mr. Walker

I can only hope that other brothers in that family will suffer similar electoral defeats.

Mr. Welsh

Before Mr. MacGregor finishes his job as chairman of the NCB, he will wish to close uneconomic pits. Will the Secretary of State inform me of the definition of an uneconomic pit?

Mr. Walker

I would describe as uneconomic those pits that produce coal at two or three times the average price of production in this country. I would add that Mr. MacGregor is the person who applied successfully to the Government to invest £450 million in the pit at Asfordby.

Mr. Holt

While discussing Mr. MacGregor, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the excellent record that he achieved in the British Steel Corporation, which: is streamlined, efficient and competing for world markets? Investment is continuing apace and we are strong enough to compete with the rest of the world. Mr. MacGregor generated that when he was chairman of the BSC.

Mr. Walker

There is no doubt that, in the light of the rapid decline of coal industries throughout Europe, Mr. MacGregor's plan for a massive investment programme in our coal industry gives it potentially a very good future.

Mr. Douglas

With reference to scriptwriters and the current dispute, may we have an assurance from the Secretary of State that he is writing his own script for the proceedings and is not being jogged by the Prime Minister or the Minister of State, Department of Employment, who is also the chairman of the Conservative party?

Mr. Walker

Both are very close friends and I shall listen to anything that they have to say. As yet, they have not offered scriptwriting facilities.

Mr. Marlow

Will it be possible, before. Mr. MacGregor's term of office expires, for the Government to make it a criminal offence to raise paid private armies, fuelled on beer, for the purpose of confronting the police and intimidating people going about their lawful pursuits?

Mr. Walker

I hope that many unions will note the advice given by the TUC on this topic.

Mr. Nellist

While Mr. MacGregor is still employed by the NCB, can he or the Secretary of State explain this? If there were 58 million tonnes of coal in November before the overtime ban, and 8 million tonnes disappeared during the overtime ban, and 26 million tonnes have disappeared during the strike—leaving just over 20 million tonnes—and the Secretary of State for Energy in 1974 introduced a three-day week when coal stocks were 14.7 million tonnes, how can Mr. MacGregor still maintain that coal stocks are high enough to beat the miners' strike for many months to come? The figures do not add up.

Mr. Walker

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman studies the difference between temperatures in the winter and in the summer.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Orme, question No. 10.

Mr. Greenway

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Are you going to call question No. 8?

Mr. Speaker

Question No. 8 was taken with question No. 2.

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