Assistance to the Coal Industry

Part of Civil Estimates, Supplementary Estimates 1967–68 – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 22nd January 1968.

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Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Minister (Fuel and Power) 12:00 am, 22nd January 1968

Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I am not quite sure what the procedure is. As one of my hon. Friends said earlier, it is such an unusual occurrence to probe the winter Supplementary Estimates closely, and we are not sure about the exact procedure to be followed.

In the Estimate now under discussion we are concerned with a Supplementary Estimate for assistance to the coal industry. The background to this particular Estimate stems from the Coal Industry Bill, which we were discussing shortly before Christmas, which depended upon the Fuel White Paper which was allegedly undergoing further examination with regard to revised figures following upon devaluation and the worsening balance of payments position.

Therefore, it will be necessary to ask the Minister how his revisions of that White Paper are faring and what new conclusions he has reached, because it directly affects the Estimates which are before the House. I should be grateful if he could tell us what has happened to the White Paper and whether any of the figures in it have been altered. After all, if the Treasury could have a close examination of public expenditure figures and produce its calculations, I imagine that the Ministry of Power will also have had time to produce some conclusions as it was not badly affected by the cuts. That is one of the first questions arising out of the Supplementary Estimates I should like to ask him.

The second question, to which I will refer briefly, concerns prices. The present Government have constantly talked about the need to keep prices down, but in one of these Estimates we are talking about electricity where the price is artificially higher than it need be because of Government action. One has there a commodity which is supplied to the public at a higher price because of action which the Government have taken. Therefore, they are not wishing to keep down electricity prices. On the contrary, they are raising them. I refer not merely to the recent rise, but to the policy behind the supply of coal to the Central Electricity Generating Board and the Scottish Boards. We pay on the present Estimate in taxpayer's money as well.

The third background matter is that we have had an allegedly very searching review of public expenditure. If I may put it this way, the mining industry seems to be a sacred cow, because the greatly increased expenditure on the Coal Industry Bill of£133 million does not seem to have been touched; it has come through that public expenditure review virtually unscathed. Some of the expenditure which we approved in that Bill, and which is now the subject of Supplementary Estimates, is exactly the same as it was before the economic crisis.