Uneconomic Mines

Oral Answers to Questions — Coal – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25th May 1965.

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Photo of Mr Patrick McNair-Wilson Mr Patrick McNair-Wilson , Lewisham West 12:00 am, 25th May 1965

asked the Minister of Power how many uneconomic coal mines are operated by the National Coal Board.

Photo of Mr Frederick Lee Mr Frederick Lee , Newton

About half the Board's output comes from profitable pits and half from pits that are making losses.

Photo of Mr Patrick McNair-Wilson Mr Patrick McNair-Wilson , Lewisham West

That information is a great shock to everyone in this House and probably in the country as a whole. Can the Minister assure us that when he brings in his forthcoming policy he intends to introduce a state of affairs to ensure that the taxpayers do not have to go on supporting an uneconomic industry which cannot compete with its rivals?

Photo of Mr Frederick Lee Mr Frederick Lee , Newton

I think that the hon. Gentleman should look a little more closely at the industry. Many of the pits which are just economic today may well be thoroughly economic in a few weeks when they have been further reorganised and capital has been put into them. It is also the case that if on a given day we closed down all the pits which were uneconomic there would be a severe shortage of energy in Great Britain the day after.

Photo of Mr Willie Hamilton Mr Willie Hamilton , Fife West

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the country is very grateful that this industry is showing a measure of social responsibility? Does he recognise that had it been under private ownership every one of the pits would have been closed and there would have been tens of thousands of men walking the streets, as there were in the 1920s and the 1930s? Will my right hon. Friend give an undertaking that when he comes to reconstruct on the capital side of the industry due regard will be had to the fact that it was geared to an annual production of 240 million tons for which the party opposite was responsible?

Photo of Mr Frederick Lee Mr Frederick Lee , Newton

I certainly will. The fact, often lost sight of, is that if we had not nationalised the coal industry when we did there would not be a coal industry at all. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."]

Photo of Mr Julian Ridsdale Mr Julian Ridsdale , Harwich

Is the Minister aware that the social costs of the Government's fuel policy were estimated in The Times on Friday at £600 million a year? Will he confirm or deny that figure? What estimate has he of the social costs?

Photo of Mr Frederick Lee Mr Frederick Lee , Newton

If the hon. Gentleman wants to ask me whether I have stopped beating my wife, I will not answer.

Mr. A. J. Williams:

Can my right hon. Friend tell me how much foreign currency would be involved in importing the coal needed to make up for the loss of output from the pits? Would not he agree that this type of very narrow accounting on a single unit basis adopted by hon. Members opposite is responsible for many of the difficulties in which we find the economy today?

Photo of Mr Frederick Lee Mr Frederick Lee , Newton

I agree. The balance of payments problem is bad enough now. Had it been left in that position I do not know where we should be.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

Is the Minister aware that, while we all recognise that these industries have social responsibilities, he would be wholly wrong, in the interests of the country as a whole, to give way to the kind of pressure indicated in an answer to an earlier supplementary question for the coal industry to become a social service? Is he aware that it has to contribute positively to the economy?

Photo of Mr Frederick Lee Mr Frederick Lee , Newton

I quite agree about its contribution to the economy. It has made a huge contribution to the economy. As a matter of fact, we are not asking for anything such as did the party opposite in finding the Lancashire cotton industry £30 million or £40 million. Nothing of that kind is being asked for.