The level of productivity has been disappointing. This is fully recognised by both sides of the industry. The National Coal Board and the mining unions are setting up a joint team to investigate the problem, and to recommend positive measures to improve productivity.
Can the Minister throw any further light on criticisms that have been made of the mechanical equipment that is now working underground? During my own visit to the South Wales coalfield during the recess, while I was watching a plough I saw it break down four times. There is now concern that this matter could be holding up productivity. Secondly, can the Minister give any idea of how one can motivate the miner, upon whom this industry depends, at a time of price and pay restraint?
I am not certain about the point raised by the hon. Gentleman at the beginning of his supplementary question. However, I shall certainly look into the matter and see whether we can get any information on that. I am told, however, that productivity is influenced to some extent by the increasing number of miners who are employed on development work. I am not hiding from the House the fact that the level of stocks may to some extent be acting as a disincentive to production. The productivity target for 1976–77 was 46·5 cwt per man-shift. In fact, that was reached in February, but productivity has slumped back since then.
I thought that it was about time. [An HON. MEMBER: "Withdraw."] Ask me to withdraw in a minute.
Does my hon. Friend also accept that there is an optimum with regard to technological advance that is bound to be reached in the mining industry, and that it could be argued that we have almost reached that point? Will he bear in mind that what he should concentrate his mind upon is the attempt to get rid of those coal stocks in order to raise morale?
My hon. Friend and I at least share the distinction of having actually worked hi a coal mine. Those who have had to work in small seams realise how difficult it is to win coal. Post-war pits in, for example, Yorkshire and the Midlands area achieved outputs per man-shift of 70 cwt. I think that our miners, given the same chances in the same pits and with the same machinery, would be able to produce just as much as anyone else.
Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that increased productivity would help consumers, through the level of prices, would help British exports, and is the clue to higher earnings in the industry? After confirming that, will he state what was the level of productivity this year, last year and the year before that?
I confirm the hon. Gentleman's earlier remarks, but what I said was that the target was to be 46·5 cwt. per man-shift. In fact, the figure reached in February was 46·3 cwt. The figure is now, I regret to say, 42·4 cwt. for the 27 weeks ended 2nd October.