HC Deb 25 March 1991 vol 188 c595
6. Mr. Hannam

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy how many collieries were closed (a) between 1964 and 1970, (b) between 1970 and 1979, and (c) how many have been closed since 1979.

Mr. Wakeham

According to figures available from British Coal, between 1964 and 1970 there were 263 closures; between 1970 and 1979 there were 67 closures and since 1979 there have been 132 closures. Those figures do not include colliery mergers.

Mr. Hannam

I thank my right hon. Friend for those figures, which show that under successive Governments the coal industry has been streamlining itself in order to become more competitive. Does he agree that it is vital for British Coal's future that it continues to aim to achieve the right balance between size and productivity and will he continue to support those aims?

Mr. Wakeham

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. Since 1979, the Government have approved over £7 billion of new investment and made available grant aid of about £17 billion, including the provision of over £6 billion in deficiency grant under the Coal Industry Act 1990. I say with absolute confidence that no Government have ever given more assistance to the coal industry than this Government. We have cleaned up the balance sheet and given it long-term contracts. It has every opportunity to establish itself on a long-term viable basis with the privatised British generators.

Mr. Hardy

Does the Secretary of State agree that many of the collieries that have closed since 1979 did so following substantial and often recent investment about which the Government boasted and Conservative Members supported? Does the right hon. Gentleman also agree that many of the post-1979 closures have meant the locking away of at least a century's worth of Britain's coal reserves while Conservative Members and the Government welcome, and are enthusiastic about, coal imports?

Mr. Wakeham

No one could accuse me or any of my hon. Friends of not wishing British Coal to be a competitive and successful player in the coal business of Britain—and I expect British Coal to remain so. I would not say that every investment that British Coal has made in its history has necessarily been wise. I want wise and profitable investment because I believe in a long-term future for the coal industry. Only if British Coal makes wise and sensible investments will it be able to continue to improve productivity, as it has done so remarkably well in recent years.

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