HC Deb 02 December 1992 vol 215 cc255-7
8. Mr. Bennett

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what Government assistance is currently given to United Kingdom firms that produce mining equipment.

12. Mr. Hinchliffe

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what assessment he has made of the future prospects for the British mining engineering industry.

Mr. Eggar

The size of the domestic market for the mining equipment industry is largely determined by British Coal. Prospects in export markets are reflected in the 38 per cent. rise in exports last year.

The industry is eligible for a wide range of Government assistance for exports, research and development, and new investment.

Mr. Bennett

Does the Minister agree that the mining manufacturing industry in this country has an extremely good record in terms of exports? Perhaps he could tell the House how much foreign exchange they earn. If firms such as Oldham Batteries in my constituency lose the market for their mining lamps and helmets, they will find it increasingly difficult to compete on the world stage without that home market, because they will not have the money to invest in keeping themselves at the forefront of technology. Does the Minister realise that when the Government destroy British coal mines, they also destroy an important part of our manufacturing base?

Mr. Eggar

I can confirm that the mining equipment industry has a good record. In 1991, it ran a positive trade surplus of some £46 million. It has been active in export markets.

When I was in China recently, I took the opportunity to promote British mining equipment there. There is no doubt that British mining companies have a good reputation. I am currently working with the Export Credits Guarantee Department to see whether we can support a major export drive in China with formal bank lines of credit to support its initiatives.

Mr. Hinchliffe

Is the Minister aware that since 1984 some 2,000-plus manufacturing jobs have been lost in my constituency alone? Many of those jobs were related to the export trade, and were directly earning for Britain. Does the Minister realise that when the Government destroy British pits, they also destroy the vital shop window that mining engineering companies need to display their products for the export market? What assessment have the Government made of the impact of the 13 October announcement on coal, especially as it relates to the export trade and mining engineering?

Mr. Eggar

I have had meetings with individual mining equipment companies. I had arranged another meeting with MECO a week ahead. Unfortunately, the Chairman of the Select Committee on Employment has asked me to attend that Committee, but we will be rearranging the MECO meeting. I am aware of the problem. I recognise that there is a role for the Government to play in assisting.

Mr. Luff

Will my hon. Friend confirm that representations from mining equipment manufacturers, such as MECO in my constituency of Worcester and in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown), will be taken fully into account during the review of the coal mining industry? Will he further confirm that one of the major fears of mining equipment manufacturers is that the significant subsidies enjoyed by German coal producers enable German mining manufacturers to develop a home market, which enables them to enhance their penetration of export markets?

Mr. Eggar

My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Luff) kindly sent MECO's evidence to the review. That evidence will be considered as part of the review. I have met the managing director of MECO on at least two occasions. Indeed, he accompanied me on a visit to the United States to see his and Gullick's equipment in operation in United States mines.

Mr. Robin Cook

I have visited three of the coalfields that are at risk. The more I visit pits that have spent millions of pounds in orders to the British mining engineering industry and, as a result, can cut coal at a profit and at a competitive price, the more I marvel at the decision to close them.

What would the Minister say to the men at Markham, who, as a result of that equipment and their efforts, have doubled productivity in eight years? Why should that dramatic success be met by closure? Will the Minister invite his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade to go with him down some of the pits? Will they see for themselves the orders that the pits provide to British industry? Will the Minister then answer the question for the men whose jobs are at risk?

Mr. Eggar

I imagine that the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) was referring to Markham Main. Of course, Markham Main is one of the pits that are covered by the statutory consultation period. The consultation will be genuine.

The Markham pit will be covered by the review. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that part of the review is a study by Boyds, which will be published. That study will make an independent assessment of the viability of the Markham pit.

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