HC Deb 26 March 1990 vol 170 cc7-8
7. Mr. Andy Stewart

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy what has been the rate of productivity growth in the Nottinghamshire coalfield.

Mr. Baldry

Productivity in the Nottinghamshire coalfield rose from 2.9 tonnes per manshift in 1985–86 to 4.64 tonnes in the first 11 months of 1989–90, an increase of 60 per cent.

Mr. Stewart

The Nottinghamshire mineworkers' productivity record is second to none. Never a week passes without one or another colliery breaking a previous record. All that is due to the skilful negotiations of the Union of Democratic Mineworkers, which has not only increased take-home pay for all miners, but secured the future of the British coal industry into the next century. Therefore, will my hon. Friend accept from me an invitation for our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy to visit Nottinghamshire and to thank our miners personally?

Mr. Baldry

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. However, it must be noted that output per man shift has to increase by 10 per cent. across the country if British Coal is to become profitable. From what I have seen of the Nottinghamshire coalfield, I am confident of the spirit and the will, and the skills and the co-operation of the UDM work force there to achieve increases such as my hon. Friend has identified. I know that my right hon. Friend hopes to visit Nottinghamshire, as soon as that can be arranged, to thank the Nottinghamshire work force for what it has achieved.

Mr. Lofthouse

When the right hon. Gentleman visits Nottingham, will he also tell the UDM and the miners the number of pits that will close over the next five years as a result of the Government's policy and the number that will close because of the new 20 per cent. non-fossil fuel obligation on the electricity generating industry? No witness who has recently given evidence to the Select Committee on Energy has been able to give an estimate of the true cost of nuclear fuel, so can the Minister give us the true cost this afternoon?

Mr. Baldry

One depressing thing about having energy questions on a Monday is having to face the serried ranks of the Jeremiahs on the Opposition Benches. I draw to the hon. Gentleman's attention the recent statement by the chairman of British Coal, that he does not agree with such gloomy forecasts and that British Coal is determined to ensure that it remains the supplier-of-choice to the new generators". The chairman recently described the new contracts as a firm rebuff for the Jeremiahs and their gloomy forecasts for the future of the coal industry. He emphasised that scare stories of a further massive contraction of the industry have been seriously over-stated. I am sorry to note that the hon. Gentleman is among the Jeremiahs who wish to do down that industry.

Mr. Ian Bruce

Does my hon. Friend agree that we need the productivity from all the other miners to keep up with that of the Nottinghamshire miners, so that the CEGB and its successors can be kept to the commitment to keep electricity prices down, because coal prices will be set at a steady rate? Might not we then be able to export electricity to France and use British coal in so doing?

Mr. Baldry

The Government have demonstrated their commitment to our coal industry, not least by the passing last week of the Coal Industry Act, which gives British Coal between £5 billion and £7 billion of taxpayers' money to help to clear its overhang of past debts. We wish to see a competitive and profitable coal industry, and that will require all the technology, investment and skills of those working in the coal industry. They have those skills, and with them can achieve further productivity gains.

Mr. Dobson

If what the Minister says about improved productivity in the Nottinghamshire coalfield is true, why are the Government proposing to stab the Nottinghamshire miners in the back by pushing for the Associated British Ports coal-importing installation at Immingham and supporting both PowerGen and National Power in building not one but two gas-fired power stations at Killingholme, so that even The Daily Telegraph says that, if these imports of coal continue, they will spell the end of the Nottinghamshire coalfield? Is not that a poor way to reward this increased productivity?

Mr. Baldry

I find it difficult to see as a stab in the back the £2 million every working day that the Government have invested in the coal industry and the between £5 billion and £7 billion that the Government gave to the coal industry at only the end of the last financial year towards its overhang and clearing past debts. It may have escaped the attention of the hon. Gentleman that British Coal has succeeded in securing with the generators coal contracts that will guarantee a stable market and income stream over the next three years.