HC Deb 16 February 1987 vol 110 cc641-2
3. Mr. Douglas

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on the prospects for the expansion of coal burn in power stations in Britain.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

In England and Wales the agreement with British Coal announced last June underlined the CEGB's strong commitment to the use of coal, combined with its aim of buying supplies at internationally competitive prices. Responsibility for the Scottish electricity boards rests with my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. The best prospects for the expansion of coal burn lie in production by the British coal industry at competitive prices.

Mr. Douglas

Does the Minister accept that the agreement to which he referred is of very short-term duration? Do the Minister and his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland know that in my constituency there is an under-utilised coal-fired power station at Kincardine-on-Forth that could be utilised quickly, primarily if the transmission links between the various parts of the United Kingdom were strengthened? Will the Minister give urgent attention to these matters?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I certainly take note of what the hon. Gentleman has said. I know of his interest in these matters and I shall draw them to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Mr. Michael Morris

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the problems with the CEGB seem to be, first, the decision that there should be increased capacity in the south of England and, secondly, the desire to find an almost perfect answer to coal burn? Should not my right hon. Friend be putting pressure on the CEGB for an early decision on future stations in the south of England?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

The CEGB has mentioned a number of different sites, which are known, but, as far as I know, no decision has been taken in relation to any particular site. Once the CEGB has taken a decision, no doubt it will make an application to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Benn

Will the Minister assure the House that no South African coal will be used in power stations, in view of the reports of its importation and burning in this country?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

The right hon. Gentleman keeps referring to this issue, but I am not aware of the CEGB importing any coal from South Africa.

Mr. Watts

Will my right hon. Friend look at any proposals for increasing coal burn with great care and just a little scepticism as it has yet to be established that British Coal can produce coal at a low and economic world price in the longer term, and that long-term commitments of investment to increase coal burn, when British Coal has not established that it can produce low-cost coal consistently, should be avoided?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

It is significant that since 1983–84 the output per manshift has risen from 2.43 tonnes to more than 3.5 tonnes. That is a considerable achievement. Obviously, such an achievement helps to make coal a much more competitive fuel for electricity generation. I have no doubt that the electricity industry and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will take that into account in due course. However, of course I hope that that improvement is maintained.

Mr. Eadie

Does the Minister agree that the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) about increased coal burn was made on two accounts: first, because there has been record productivity in the mining industry; and secondly, because it is well known that if we were to pursue a policy of renewing power station plant it would be good both for the mining industry and power station manufacturers. At present those industries are hungry for jobs. Does the Minister agree that that is the quickest and most expeditious way of providing jobs and more coal burn?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I hope the hon. Gentleman realises that it is only since the disruption of the coal industry that this great achievement in productivity has been made. We hope that it is maintained, It is in the best interests of the miners. — I congratulate them on what they have achieved recently — to maintain that productivity and demonstrate that it will continue. That is the best way of ensuring that the electricity industry pays full attention to coal as a source of power generation.