HC Deb 07 July 1986 vol 101 cc6-8
4. Mr. Leigh

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

5. Mr. Gerald Howarth

asked the Secretary or State for Energy how the latest productivity figures for the coal industry compare with those in 1978–79; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Peter Walker

British Coal's average deep-mined revenue productivity for the week ending 21 June was 3.25 tonnes, the highest weekly figure achieved so far. This compares with an average of 2.24 tonnes during the financial year 1978–79. This further growth in productivity reflects a continuing effort by all concerned to reduce costs, which provides the industry with its only sure route to a viable future.

Mr. Leigh

Will my right hon. Friend congratulate the management and work force of British Coal on achieving the best productivity figures ever? In view of the progress being made by the industry towards achieving improvements in productivity, would it not be madness for Arthur Scargill to attempt to foment further industrial action? Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be the action of a madman, such as Arthur Scargill has proved himself to be, to put so callously and pointlessly at risk the future of the industry and its work force?

Mr. Walker

Alas, it is not the actions of Mr. Scargill that concern me, but just his words. Every time he makes one of those speeches, a number of industrialists who are contemplating converting to coal decide that while such speeches are being made they cannot take the risk. That is doing real damage to the industry.

Mr. Howarth

May I add my congratulations to the management of British Coal to those of my right hon. Friend? May I invite my right hon. Friend also to congratulate the western area of British Coal, which has achieved record productivity of 3.49 million tonnes per man shift, which is 9 per cent. up on the record of the preceding month? Does my right hon. Friend agree that if such progress continues throughout British Coal we shall see it breaking even by 31 March 1988?

Mr. Walker

Yes, Sir. I should like to see that target achieved. British Coal has the added problem of lower oil prices and the competition which has resulted from that, which means that it will achieve somewhat lower revenue than it anticipated. Certainly the improvements in productivity at last show after all these years some return on the enormous investment by British taxpayers in the industry.

Mr. Hardy

In response to those impressive figures, will the Secretary of State ensure that the importation of coal from dumping countries is deterred in Europe and prevented in Britain? Also, in response to that performance within the industry, will he advise the NCB to extricate itself immediately from its international arrangements which involve the promotion of and trading in South African coal?

Mr. Walker

The action on South African coal has been agreed by the European Community, and we must see the effect of that in the negotitations that will take place in the coming months. One of the great factors of the improved productivity is that it will genuinely eradicate the potentality of coal imports.

Mr. Douglas

Will the Secretary of State reflect on the productivity of the Castlehill mine in my constituency which is in existence only because two men who have been victimised by the NCB stayed underground to save the mine? Without them the high productivity there would not exist. Further, will he reflect on the deal between the South of Scotland Electricity Board and British Coal which was concluded last week and which reduced the coalburn to 3.6 million tonnes a year at a time when the SSEB is having a high oilburn and is promoting a high nuclear content in its operations?

Mr. Walker

It is a matter for negotiation. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the obligation placed on the electricity industry by a statue introduced by a Labour Government for the nationalisation of electricity makes it clear that the boards must provide the cheapest possible electricity.

Mr. Portillo

Is my right hon. Friend not also impressed by the productivity in the private sector mines, although they must pay royalties to the NCB on their production? Has the time not come to review the procedures for licensing private sector coal mines to put them on the same footing as the NCB?

Mr. Walker

No, Sir. If the NCB is put on the same footing, which would mean that for each highly productive pit it could charge one price and for the others it could charge a higher price, that would be absurd. Obviously the licensing system is constantly reviewed, but at present it is working satisfactorily.

Mr. Rogers

Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating the miners of the south Wales coalfield on achieving all the productivity targets set for them during the past year as a result of their having, for the first time, their proper share of capital investment, especially in heavy duty face support development? In doing so, will he ask the director of the NCB in south Wales to stop moving the goal posts in setting targets over and above and beyond what they are at present achieving, which will result in even more closures, as the Secretary of State well knows?

Mr. Walker

I welcome the substantial improvement in productivity in south Wales. The problem for the NCB management is that, without its desiring it, the goal posts move because a sudden massive drop in the price of its major competitor affects it.

Mrs. Currie

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important to maintain these good productivity figures into the future? Is he yet able to make a statement about the proposed development at the Cadley Hill colliery in my constituency, which my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State visited on 20 June which, if agreed, will enable me to go on representing in the House efficient coal miners into the next century?

Mr. Walker

I know how much my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State enjoyed his visit to that coal mine, but obviously, as my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) knows, decisions on these matters are for the NCB.

Mr. Eadie

Yes, the miners deserve congratulations on their increased productivity, but is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a crisis of confidence is emerging in the mining industry? He will be aware that on Saturday the Fraser of Allender institute said that 4,000 mining jobs in Scotland would go west, with a total of 8,000 as a consequence. Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise that such stories will affect productivity and that the message in the mining industry will be that the harder one works the more pit closures and redundancies there will be?

Mr. Walker

In giving his congratulations, and with his considerable knowledge of this industry, the hon. Gentleman should reflect that under "Plan for Coal" money was poured in for 10 years but productivity agreements were never implemented. Instead of achieving 4 per cent. productivity per annum outlined in "Plan for Coal", 4 per cent. was achieved over 10 years. Thank heavens, for the future of that industry, at long last improved productivity is taking place.