HC Deb 25 July 1988 vol 138 cc4-5
3. Mr. Allen McKay

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy if he has discussed recently with the chairman of British Coal the effects of privatisation of the electricity industry upon the British coal industry.

Mr. Parkinson

I meet the chairman of British Coal regularly to discuss all aspects of the coal industry.

Mr. McKay

Given that the paper sponsored by the Financial Times, "Coal on the market", says that the deep mines which could compete in 1995 will be closed in 1990 if the Government encourage a free-for-all in coal imports, given that the International Coal Development Institute has said that nuclear power is never likely to be able to compete with coal-fired power stations, and given British Coal's argument that it will need a 10-year contract after the privatisation of the electricity industry to secure the coal industry's future and the energy future of this country, will the Secretary of State stop considering his long-term political future and consider instead the long-term energy requirements of this country and give British Coal the contract?

Mr. Parkinson

Under this Government more than £9 billion has been invested in the coal industry, £6 billion of which has been in new capital equipment. The Government have shown a commitment to the industry that no previous Labour Government have matched. Our objective is to produce a modern British coal industry that is capable of beating foreign competition, not because it is protected against it, but because it outperforms it. Given our plans for the electricity industry, which envisage a substantial market for coal, and the amount of money invested in the industry to put it in a position to compete, the hon. Gentleman should begin to share my optimism that British Coal has a good future.

Mr. Dickens

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the future of the coal industry is in the hands of the workers? High productivity, flexible working, less time off work and fewer strikes will help the industry to compete with the rest of the world. Other countries are exporting coal to the United Kingdom, and I believe that the workers are beginning to realise that.

Mr. Parkinson

My hon. Friend is correct, and the point is clearly understood by many people who work in the coal industry. For example, the Scottish miners have made it quite clear that they are prepared to adopt flexible working if that is a way to secure their jobs. The Welsh miners have made it quite clear that they want Margam, and they are prepared to adopt flexible working. The only people who appear not to understand the need for better productivity in the mining industry are Opposition Members and some trade union leaders in the industry.

Mr. Eadie

Is this anti-coal Secretary of State aware that there is widespread opposition to freeing private generators to buy coal at the cheapest possible price available—his stated policy—irrespective of whether it damages the British coal industry? Will he tell the House what reply he has made to the warnings of the chairman of British Coal about the policy that the right hon. Gentleman is hell-bent on pursuing?

Mr. Parkinson

During the previous energy Question Time the hon. Gentleman said that the Scottish coal industry was about to close down and that my remark, that I felt that agreement would be reached on a sensible basis, was not true. His assertions have been exposed as completely untrue and ill-founded. His earlier assertions about my approach to the coal industry are equally ill-founded. I believe that British Coal has a future free from the sort of protection and life support systems that the hon. Gentleman appears to believe are its only means of survival