National Coal Board

Oral Answers to Questions — Energy – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th June 1979.

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Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner , Bolsover 12:00 am, 11th June 1979

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he expects next to meet the chairman of the National Coal Board; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

I meet the chairman of the National Coal Board frequently. I have also met the president of the National Union of Mineworkers. As I have told both of them, a competitive and efficient coal industry has an important part to play in meeting future energy demand. I propose continuing with the tripartite machinery and to arrange a meeting soon.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner , Bolsover

Can the right hon. Gentleman guarantee that the 200 million tons of coal per annum referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) will be the target for the new Tory Government? Will he also tell Derek Ezra when he meets him next that he will allow the trade unions involved in the mining industry freely to negotiate their wage increases on the basis of the £80 a week extra that Derek Ezra got last week?

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

Pay negotiations are a matter for the NCB and the NUM. Guaranteeing targets so far ahead as suggested is hazardous at any time, but the Government believe that an efficient and competitive coal industry has an important role to play in meeting future energy demands and that the objectives planned for coal investment, which point in the direction the hon. Gentleman mentions are right and that we should work towards them.

Photo of Mr Hugh Dykes Mr Hugh Dykes , Harrow East

After his initial examination of the prospects of the industry for this year and next, can my right hon. Friend say what he foresees as the percentage increase in productivity this year and next in terms of output per man shift?

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

I think that we are looking for about 2 per cent., although we hope for more, but obviously we are monitoring the situation closely. Productivity is the key. We need the coal and we should like to see improvements and developments on this front.

Photo of Mr Mike Thomas Mr Mike Thomas , Newcastle upon Tyne East

Will the right hon. Gentleman be discussing with the chairman of the National Coal Board the future for coal in electricity generation and the future programme for coal-fired power stations? Will he say something about that now and amplify his earlier remarks on the AGRs which were so Delphic that they will cause great concern in my constituency?

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

I cannot say anything now about coal-fired power stations. I have discussed the question of coalburn with the chairman of the CEGB and the chairman of the NCB. It is our intention that the coalburn plans should head for the 70 million to 80 million tons level which the CEGB is looking for this year. That is the correct target and is part of the opportunity to cut down on oil consumption.

I am not sure what the hon. Gentleman wants me to clarify on the question of the AGRs. I said that the Government were considering this matter. I did not say that there was any decision that I could give him. But perhaps the matter does not arise on this question. If the hon. Gentleman wants clarification, perhaps he will write to me about it.