HC Deb 27 January 1992 vol 202 cc692-3
9. Mr. Norman Hogg

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy if he has any plans for the expansion of the coal industry in Scotland; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

The future size of the coal industry in Scotland will depend on the success of British Coal and other mine operators, including the Monktonhall mineworkers' consortium, in producing coal at competitive prices.

Mr. Hogg

Is the Minister aware that there were more than 17,000 people employed in the Scottish coal industry in 1984, but by 1989 that figure had fallen to 3,480 and it will be even smaller now? Will the Minister commit himself and the Government to the development of the coal industry in Scotland and say more about the Government's intentions for Monktonhall, lest Yorkshire face the same problems as Scotland, as the Bishop of Durham made clear this weekend?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

There are still considerable quantities of good-quality coal in Scotland and I am confident that the industry will be able to make a success of producing coal at competitive prices. As regards Monktonhall mineworkers' consortium, it is encouraging that a group of ex-mineworkers have applied to British Coal to take over the pit, and I hope that they can make a success of it.

Mr. Hood

The Minister's enthusiasm sounds a bit hollow, especially as the Government ran away from Monktonhall and the idea of developing the Scottish coalfields. If the Government have any interest in coal, the Minister must agree to reconsider the franchise and develop the coal industry, which produces low sulphur coal and is highly efficient. The Scottish coal industry is waiting to be developed, not vandalised as the Government have vandalised the coal industry in general.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

Since 1979 the Government have given £17 billion to the British coal industry by way of grant and write-offs. In return, we require the industry to become productive and efficient so that it can win the largest possible share of the future market for electricity generation. I am confident that it will rise to that challenge, which must be faced whether the industry is in private or public hands.

Mr. John Marshall

Does my hon. Friend agree that the figures given demonstrate clearly that nationalisation has failed the Scottish coal industry and that the only hope now is that it will be privatised in the imminent future?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

The future of the industry will be best served in private ownership. That is why, after the next election, we shall introduce firm proposals for returning the industry to the private sector.