HC Deb 15 July 1985 vol 83 cc10-1
11. Mr. Nellist

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he will next meet the chairman of the National Coal Board to discuss future investment in the industry.

Mr. Peter Walker

I meet the chairman of the National Coal Board from time to time, to discuss many issues, including future investment in the coal industry.

Mr. Nellist

Is it not a fact that 11 days ago Mr. Michael Eaton, the National Coal Board spokesman, spoke of 7,000 jobs created by new investment at Selby, at Ashford and at Coventry? When that is set alongside the 70,000 jobs, which is the real target to which MacGregor and the Tory Government wish to cut the industry, does it not show that the last 12 months' struggle of the miners was totally justified, and that any attempt to set up a bosses' union in Nottinghamshire will merely play into the hands of the Secretary of State, MacGregor and the National Coal Board, who wish to run down the coal industry?

Mr. Walker

I am delighted that during the period in office of this Government investment has been at a much higher level than it was under the Labour Government. The National Coal Board wishes to make major investment in the coal industry. I know how delighted the hon. Gentleman's constituents are at the enormous investment that the board has recently announced for his area, as they were delighted when the majority of people in the Coventry pit returned to work.

Mr. Hickmet

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a danger that the recent changes in the NUM rule book will persuade existing and potential customers not to use coal as an energy source, whether it be the CEGB, the BSC or industrial users, and that consequently the greatest danger to investment in the National Coal Board is Arthur Scargill's attempt to use the coal mining industry as an instrument of class warfare, a policy which appears to be supported by the leadership of the Labour party?

Mr. Walker

Since the dispute took place, virtually every utterance by Mr. Scargill has been to say how he intends to use industrial action to the maximum in future. The change in the rules, which gives him power to take industrial action at local level without ballots taking place and without necessarily having the agreement of the local people is again an illustration of the type of war that he wishes to conduct, all of which loses orders for the coal industry, all of which stops our programme to get people to convert to coal, and none of which is condemned by the Opposition.

Mr. Hardy

Does the Secretary of State agree that investment decisions and the investment record are matters that should and could be considered by the new colliery review procedures? Will he therefore, when he meets the chairman of the board, tell him that it is about time that acceptable procedures were introduced, remind him that the board was committed to introduce those last autumn and agree, further, that the Government were certainly also committed?

Mr. Walker

As the hon. Gentleman knows better than most, the board has circulated in great detail its proposal, which very much fits in with all the principles agreed last autumn. The sooner they are implemented, the better I shall be pleased.

Mr. Wrigglesworth

In view of the Government's clear commitment to the future of the mining industry, shown throughout the mining strike, does the Secretary of State agree that he should consult the Nottinghamshire miners, if they so wish, about the future of the industry and future investment in the industry? Does he also agree that any party that is seriously intent upon taking power in the country should be able to do that, without fear or favour?

Mr. Walker

I believe that it is true that the Nottinghamshire miners had no desire to split off from the NUM. They did, however, give due warning that, if the incredible changes of rule proposed by Mr. Scargill took place they would almost certainly have to. At no time in that period was there any attempt by the Labour party to condemn those changes of rule.

Mr. Stanbrook

Would it not assist investment in the coal industry if the National Coal Board did not have millions of pounds invested in private firms outside the industry?

Mr. Walker

I think it will be found that those investments are now very small indeed.

Mr. Orme

Will the Secretary of State now address himself to the future of the industry? Is it not a fact that an authoritative report has been published which states that 50,000 jobs and 50 pits could be in jeopardy? Will the Secretary of State answer that point?

Mr. Walker

I have already answered it once. There is no such report that forms the policy of the National Coal Board. Therefore, I have answered it no once, and I answer it no again. If the right hon. Gentleman, in the interests of the industry, would address himself to the damage that is being done by the leadership of the NUM, he might have some respect.

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