There is an excellent future for the coal industry provided that it can tackle its fundamental problems and produce coal at a competitive price. Our proven coal reserves will last 300 years at present rates of extraction.
Since we took office the taxpayer has given the industry more than £1,600 million in grants and approved more than £3,000 million in capital investment.
The Selby coalfield is expected to start production in the next few weeks and should achieve productivity levels that are five times the present national average. I also welcome my right hon. Friend's decision on Asfordby. It removes an obstacle to new investment and new jobs in the mining industry.
Does not my right hon. Friend's answer show that the Government have stuck rigidly by their obligations under "Plan for Coal"? Is it not unfortunate that Mr. Scargill and the National Union of Mineworkers have agreed to less than one third of the proposed closures in "Plan for Coal"? Is it reasonable to expect the taxpayer to go on subsidising the coal industry to that extent if the union is not prepared to honour its undertakings?
My hon. Friend is quite right. There were two parts to "Plan for Coal" which was published in 1974. One part concerned investment, which the Government have more than honoured, the other was an agreement that exhausted capacity should be closed at about the rate of 3 million tonnes a year. So far, such capacity has been closed at a rate of only 1 million tonnes a year and the productivity expectations have yet to be fulfilled.
Is the Prime Minister aware that it is suggested that there is a contractual arrangement between the National Coal Board and Mr. MacGregor by which Mr. MacGregor, in return for offering some 5,000 hours of work, will receive a payment of £1–5 million, which seems to work out at about £5 a minute? Does the Prime Minister consider that to be above or below the going rate for the job?
I have, as yet, no statement to make about Mr. MacGregor. One will be made as soon as possible. The figure that the hon. Gentleman mentioned is about the same as the losses of the Coal Board per day.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I believe that the decision takes full account of the environmental problems and the need to provide new jobs. It is the best decision under all the circumstances.
Will the Prime Minister initiate a full-scale top-level inquiry into the future of Thorne colliery in my constituency, where the recommencement of coal production would provide many jobs in an area which the right hon. Lady knows is an unemployment black spot? Is she aware that I received a letter today from the chairman of the NCB saying that the underground redevelopment of that colliery has come to a full stop and that one of the reasons for that is the constraint on capital expenditure available to the board?