Coal Industry

Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 24th March 1983.

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Photo of Mr Timothy Eggar Mr Timothy Eggar , Enfield North 12:00 am, 24th March 1983

asked the Prime Minister if she will make a statement on the future of the coal industry.

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

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.

Photo of Mr Timothy Eggar Mr Timothy Eggar , Enfield North

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?

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

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.

Photo of Mr Norman Atkinson Mr Norman Atkinson , Haringey Tottenham

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?

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

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.

Photo of Bernard Braine Bernard Braine , Essex South East

Since my right hon. Friend returned from her successful mission for our country—

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. I ought to remind the hon. Gentleman that this question is about the coal industry. It is not an open question.

Photo of Mr Michael Latham Mr Michael Latham , Melton

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Government's decision about Asfordby has been widely welcomed locally and that we must now get on to sort out environmental problems?

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

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.

Photo of Dr Edmund Marshall Dr Edmund Marshall , Goole

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?

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

Where investment goes and into which collieries is a matter for the National Coal Board. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, this Government's record in providing new investment for coal exceeds that of the Labour Government and is quite excellent.