British Coal

Oral Answers to Questions — Energy – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15th February 1988.

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Photo of Mr Jack Thompson Mr Jack Thompson , Wansbeck 12:00 am, 15th February 1988

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy when he last met the chairman of British Coal; and what issues were discussed.

Photo of Mr Cecil Parkinson Mr Cecil Parkinson , Hertsmere

I meet the chairman of British Coal at regular intervals to discuss all aspects of the coal industry.

Photo of Mr Jack Thompson Mr Jack Thompson , Wansbeck

At his next meeting with the chairman of British Coal, will the Secretary of State raise the question of the abysmal industrial relations that exist in the coal industry at present? At the moment the major miners' union, the National Union of Mineworkers, has no consultations with British Coal; the deputies union, the National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shotfirers is in dispute with British Coal; the British Association of Colliery Management, the management union in the industry, has no confidence in British Coal, and the only union that consults British Coal is the Government-sponsored Union of Democratic Mineworkers. Does the Secretary of State not feel that there is a necessity for a full discussion of the industrial relations in that industry?

Photo of Mr Cecil Parkinson Mr Cecil Parkinson , Hertsmere

I am sure that we all deplore the industrial relations record of the British coal industry, which is doing it enormous harm. The present NACODS' overtime ban is a totally mindless and senseless waste of time and money. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will tell NACODS that, in addition to putting at risk the jobs of its members, it is putting at risk the jobs of thousands of miners, and that the sooner it accepts the offer of binding arbitration, which is on the table, the sooner peace will return to the coal industry.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell , Gedling

When my right hon. Friend sees the chairman of British Coal, will he pass on his congratulations to the Nottinghamshire mineworkers, who have exceeded their previous figure for productivity per man shift three times this year? The figures is now 428 tonnes per man shift. Will he reflect that that figure would have continued to increase had it not been for the unfortunate disruption caused by NACODS in the coalfields?

Photo of Mr Cecil Parkinson Mr Cecil Parkinson , Hertsmere

The way forward for British Coal must be through greater productivity and improved performance. If it continues to achieve that its prospects are good, but if there is industrial strife it will get the reputation being an unreliable and expensive supplier, and the future will be grim.

Photo of Mr Alexander Eadie Mr Alexander Eadie , Midlothian

When the Secretary of State has discussions with the chairman of British Coal, will he find out why the South of Scotland Electricity Board decided to go for open tender for its coal supplies; in short, to invite foreign coal to come in and decimate the Scottish coal industry? Is that because the right hon. Gentleman gave the green light: that in the privatisation of the electricity industry foreign coal could be used in Britain by choice, which would mean jobs for foreign coalminers and unemployment for British coalminers? Is that his policy?

Photo of Mr Cecil Parkinson Mr Cecil Parkinson , Hertsmere

There has been no change of policy. There has always been freedom to import. I hope that British Coal and the South of Scotland Electricity Board will reach an agreement and that it will be British coal, or Scottish coal if the hon. Gentleman prefers it, that is burnt, but that is a matter for British Coal, not for me.