HC Deb 14 April 1986 vol 95 cc568-70
8. Mr. Robert B. Jones

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what are the latest available productivity figures for the Nottinghamshire area of the National Coal Board; and if he will make a statement.

10. Mr. Merchant

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what are the latest available productivity figures for the National Coal Board; and if he will make statement.

11. Mr. Ashby

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what are the latest available productivity figures for the south midlands area of the National Coal Board; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Peter Walker

The National Coal Board's average revenue deep-mined productivity in the week ending 22 March was 3.08 tonnes per manshift. The corresponding figures for the Nottinghamshire and south Midlands areas were 3.38 tonnes per manshift and 3.12 tonnes per manshift respectively. Continued growth in productivity is the key to providing the coal industry with a secure future.

Mr. Jones

Does my right hon. Friend agree that co-operation rather than confrontation is the answer, in the interests of consumers, miners and the board alike, and do not these figures clearly show the benefits that can be gained from such co-operation?

Mr. Walker

I do agree. These remarkable figures are far better than any that have been available since nationalisation.

Mr. Rogers

Does the Secretary of State accept that in most circumstances productivity is a function of investment? Does he agree also that if the same investment were made in the south Wales coalfield as has been made in other parts of the United Kingdom, productivity would be at the same levels? I am thinking in particular of the Margam new mine. Ian MacGregor gave a promise during the miners' strike that at the end of the strike the investment would be available for the opening of the Margam new mine. Is Ian MacGregor a liar, or will the NCB now invest in the Margam new mine?

Mr. Walker

The hon. Gentleman should study the facts. As a result of "Plan for Coal" produced by the last Labour Government, the investment took place but the productivity did not. I am pleased to say that productivity has now taken place in south Wales as well as everywhere else.

Mr. Andy Stewart

In view of my right hon. Friend's information about the productivity achieved in Nottinghamshire, largely due to the close co-operation between management and the Union of Democratic Miners, will my right hon. Friend advise the chairman of the NCB to leave Nottinghamshire with a lasting memory of him by negotiating with the UDM a permanent lower retirement age of 55?

Mr. Walker

I cannot commit the board to the details of its negotiations. That must be a matter for the board.

Mr. O'Brien

In the three comparisons that the right hon. Gentleman gave, is the gigajoule value the same in each case?

Mr. Walker

I cannot say, but I shall inform the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

Is my right hon. Friend also aware that in the western area productivity records are being broken? Will he join me in congratulating the miners in my constituency in the Lea Hall pit, as well as in the Littleton pit in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South, (Mr. Cormack)? Does he agree that security for those men can best be achieved through increased productivity?

Mr. Walker

Yes. As we saw throughout the coal dispute, many Tory Members of Parliament are now representing mining constituencies. Given the increased earnings of miners during the period of this Government, I hope that after the next election even more Tory Members of Parliament will be representing such constituencies.

Mr. Wrigglesworth

Does the Secretary of State agree that productivity in the best pits has reached 5 tonnes per shift per man? Does he also agree that the increase in productivity to which he has rightly paid tribute has largely been reached as a result of the closure of unproductive capacity? Will he ensure that productivity in the pits that remain open moves up to the best levels available?

Mr. Walker

The improvement in productivity as a result of the closure of uneconomic pits is a factor, but some pits that have been major loss-makers for years are now reaching productivity levels that mean they will be able to survive.

Mr. Eadie

The right hon. Gentleman saw fit to refer to "Plan for Coal", and he will recall that "Plan for Coal" referred to fluctuations in the market in relation to oil. Can he give an assurance that the miners who are now achieving record production will not be subject to the fluctuations in the market and that the CEGB will not be allowed to bring in massive coal imports?

Mr. Walker

The future for coal, oil, gas or any other form of energy depends on the manner in which energy for this country can be produced at competitive prices. I am delighted that the enormous improvement in productivity under this Government gives the coal industry a better chance than it would otherwise have had.