HC Deb 09 March 1987 vol 112 cc6-7
6. Mr. Janner

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he last discussed the development of the north-east Leicestershire coalfields with the chairman of the Coal Board.

Mr. Hunt

My right hon. Friend and I have regular meetings with the chairman of British Coal to discuss all aspects of the coal industry.

Mr. Janner

Is the Minister aware that pits in northwest Leicestershire are closing down rapidly and that it is vital that new pits are opened in north-east Leicestershire? There has been exploration and an inspector's report approving a pit additional to Asfordby. Will the new pits be opened in time to preserve the jobs and the work of the excellent Leicestershire coal miners?

Mr. Hunt

I understand that British Coal is still considering the future of the rest of the Belvoir coalfield, and it is for it to assess the relative attractions of potential investment projects. British Coal is discussing a six-day shift in south Wales and the good news is that discussions have been going on with the trade unions on mulit-shift workings at Asfordby. If the discussions reach a successful conclusion, the mine will be uprated to production of 3.5 million tonnes a year and the number of jobs available will be in excess of 1,500.

Mr. Ashby

Will my hon Friend give priority to the south Leicestershire coalfield miners, who have endured a number of job losses and worked in extremely difficult circumstances? They are known to be some of the best miners in the country. I ask my hon. Friend to recall that in the south midlands coalfield production is at a record level. The miners in this area would be a tremendous enchancement to the mining industry if they were kept on and given priority for jobs within the Leicestershire coalfield.

Mr. Hunt

Decisions on the manning of these pits must be a matter for British Coal. My hon. Friend is right to recognise the men's tremendous effort in his area— in Leicestershire and in the south midlands. These successes are being built on as we move from one productivity record to another, and that must be the best possible news for the future.

Mr. Orme

I wish to support the argument of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) for further development in this area of the mining industry. I visited it recently and it was impressed upon me that the original decision was that there should be three pits in the area. Can the Minister give an assurance that development will take place very soon in north-west Leicestershire?

Mr. Hunt

These are matters for British Coal. I am pleased to hear that Asfordby is on schedule and that the upcast shaft and the downcast shaft are now 300m and 180m down, on schedule, on cost and within budget. There is also the important development of south Warwickshire, where I understand tha discussions are proceeding on multi-shift working.

Mr. Andy Stewart

Does my hon. Friend agree that, bearing in mind the needs of the Leicestershire miners, it would make more sense to develop the Witham coalfield in Nottinghamshire, which is adjacent to the present site of West Burton power station, and will also be the site of the next coal-fired power station in Britain?

Mr. Hunt

My hon. Friend will understand that I cannot comment on the last part of his supplementary question. As for the first part, I shall pass his remarks to the chairman of British Coal—[Interruption.] I remind Opposition Members as they heckle me, that productivity measured by output per man shift fell each year under the previous Labour Government, compared with a 4 per cent. per annum improvement envisaged in "Plan for Coal". We have seen record productivity under this Government.