HC Deb 20 January 1986 vol 90 cc5-6
4. Mr. Coleman

asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will give details of the matters relevant to the Welsh coalfield which he discussed with the chairman of the National Coal Board at their meeting on 14 November.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

Our discussions ranged widely over the situation of the coal industry in Wales and the activities of NCB (Enterprise) Ltd.

Mr. Coleman

Will the right hon. Gentleman make it abundantly clear to the National Coal Board that in no circumstances can investment in pits in south Wales be used as a means of industrial blackmail to secure the closure of other collieries? Does he recognise that the serious position is exacerbated by the closure, announced last Friday, of the Metal Box works at Neath, which is also a coal mining area?

Mr. Edwards

Any industrial closure or reduction in employment worsens the position. However, the question refers to the coal industry, which has been losing large sums of money in Wales—more than £600 million since the Government came to office. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman welcomes the reduction in losses, the sharp improvement in productivity and performance and the fact that investments totalling £50 million have been announced this year. The National Coal Board expects to spend about £45 million on capital schemes in Wales in 1986–87.

Sir Anthony Meyer

Can my right hon. Friend estimate the number of jobs that have been lost as a result of markets that were lost during the year-long coal strike?

Mr. Edwards

The coal strike had a damaging effect on the industry and has been a factor in the acceleration of pit closures since then.

Mr. Barry Jones

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that with the closure of nine pits and the loss of 3,500 jobs in less than a year, economically the coalfield is near to breaking point? I remind him that male unemployment in Mid Glamorgan is more than 25,000, or an awesome 23 per cent. The loss of jobs at Metal Box at Neath is a development of the utmost gravity. During his term of office, Neath has lost 1,300 jobs in double-quick time. What does he propose to do about it?

Mr. Edwards

The south Wales coal industry was being broken by its many old, loss-making pits. It was making enormous losses, and there was no way in which new investment could be funded while losses were at that level. The great improvements in the performance of the coalfield means that more investment is coming forward. The hon. Gentleman will welcome the efforts of NCB (Enterprise) Ltd., which supports 13 enterprise agencies and has announced support for some 56 projects worth about £10 million. It has a further £15 million available from the original tranche that was announced for future good projects.

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