HC Deb 13 June 1988 vol 135 cc9-11
8. Mr. Knox

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy what has been the increase in labour productivity in the coal mining industry since 1983–84

Mr. Michael Spicer

For the week ended 28 May, deep mined revenue output was 4.36 tonnes per manshift, a new record. This represents a 79 per cent. increase on the average for 1983–84 of 2.43 tonnes.

Mr. Knox

Does my hon. Friend agree that that figure is very impressive? Can he give comparative productivity figures for other countries?

Mr. Spicer

I very much agree with my hon. Friend that the figure is impressive. However, in answer to the second part of his question, British Coal's productivity is still low relative to its main international competitors. In the United States of America and in Australia, underground productivity is three times as high as the British Coal average. Clearly, there is much further to go if British Coal's deep mines are to compete effectively against international coal. We are confident that, with flexible working, they will be able to do so.

Mr. Ronnie Campbell

Will the Minister tell us what the subsidy is on coal from South Africa, Columbia and Poland? Will he give us the figures of the subsidy paid by the Government to that coal industry?

Mr. Spicer

No, Sir, I do not have the figures for subsidy. As the hon. Gentleman knows, because we have had discussions privately and publicly, those figures are very difficult to get hold of, but I have no reason to believe that they are excessive.

Mr. Andy Stewart

Does my hon. Friend agree that the excellent figures that he has just reported to the House about productivity, spearheaded by the Nottinghamshire coalfied, which has reduced prices to power stations by 20 per cent. in real terms, are the way to defeat foreign imports?

Mr. Spicer

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. That is precisely the Government's strategy and objective.

Mr. Allen McKay

Should not those impressive figures lead to an expansion of deep-mined coal rather than having to import it? Is it not a fact that the number of men made redundant from the industry have helped towards that impressive output per manshift? If he believes that, will he have a word with the chairman of the Coal Board, which has owed some of my constitutents £30,000 since March and tell him to pay not only the £30,000 but the interest?

Mr. Spicer

I shall certainly pass on the hon. Gentleman's last point. I agree with him entirely about the impressiveness of what has been done, which of course is due partly to the redundancies that he mentioned, but is also very much due to the massive investment in the pits, particularly pits such as Selby, which is now striking European records, let alone British records. One seam is producing 21 tonnes per manshift. That, in very large measure, is due to the enormous investment in that pit.

Mr. McLoughlin

The figures that my hon. Friend has given to the House are impressive. However, does he agree that the fact that there are countries with greater productivity than the United Kingdom leaves us with some way to go to improve our productivity? Does he further agree that we could improve productivity by greater utilisation of machinery, rather than by adopting the Luddite approach of the National Union of Mineworkers, which is opposed to some of the huge investments with which we want to go ahead and which would allow greater utilisation of machinery?

Mr. Spicer

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to talk about the vital utilisation of machinery, particularly heavy duty machinery, in which the Government have enabled the industry to invest. I witnessed evidence of that in the United States when I saw that the same British equipment is being used in similar geological conditions far more efficiently than here.

Mr. Speaker

No. 9.

Mr. Skinner

Where is the Secretary of State?

Mr. Spicer

If the hon. Gentleman had been here at the start he would have heard my right hon. Friend the Minister of State——

Mr. Skinner

I was here.

Mr. Spicer

In that case, the hon. Gentleman has a problem with his hearing. My right hon. Friend made it clear why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is not present today.