That is a valid point. All the cheap coal is either spot coal, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newark pointed out, or bought one year at a time, as my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) said. Electricity boards must have long-term stability and know what price they will have to pay. We are saying that the early construction of this terminal could be terminal for Nottinghamshire.
There are some interesting figures about British Coal's contributions to industry in Nottinghamshire. It is estimated, for example, that about £300 million is paid in wages and salaries, about £5·6 million in rate contributions, and about £130 million is added to purchasing power in and around our area. Conservative Members do not want to put that at risk. The dock does just that; and that is why we are arguing against it.
No one can doubt the strides that British Coal has made these past three years. The improvement in productivity has been nothing short of astonishing. It could be argued that the natural changes and improvements that should have taken place were blocked, first, by the oil crisis of 1973 and then by the first coal strike in 1974. From then on the union was appeased and a blind eye was turned to good management practices. The only thing that British Coal could do was to try to improve matters by capital spending. In a way, capital spending became a substitute for management and normal commercial decisions.
The board has a fine record these past three years. All we are asking is that hon. Members on both sides of the House should give the board the time it needs to ensure that it can compete in "free and fair competition" with the rest of the world, once normality has returned to world coal.
In discussion of world coal and subsidised prices, in this debate and the three previous ones, there has been constant harping on South African coal, as if we were debating apartheid by means of the Immingham terminal. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is a pity that the hon. Member for Mansfield has left the Chamber. At least he did us the courtesy of mentioning Colombia. My hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe mentioned it last week. I understand that Colombia has opencast mining, which is quite different—although I understand that all sorts of oddities are associated with that country's production. Australia also has mostly opencast coal, so let us not fool ourselves into thinking that we are arguing only about South African coal. The Colombians, Australians and even the Chinese have been trying to export coal for the Western hard currency that it can bring them. I agree with the hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Wall.) that this is not free and fair competition. We want enough delay in the construction of the terminal—if it is ever to be built-for British Coal to be able to get its act together.
Finally, I want to quote Sir Robert Haslam's address to the UDM conference. He said:
National productivity records have been broken four times in the opening seven weeks of 1988–9.
He also spoke of the records that were established by the Nottinghamshire coalfield in the early part of this year. Then it was announced—I think on the day of our debate last week—that the Nottinghamshire pits had, for the first
time, passed the five tonnes per man-shift barrier. [Interruption.] The people who tried to kill off the Nottinghamshire miners were on the Opposition side and the Nottinghamshire miners know that.
Sir Robert said:
National productivity is currently 16 per cent. higher than a year ago".
He added that productivity is 60 per cent. up over the past three years.
Sir Robert also made a point that concerns Leicestershire miners. He referred to the new mine at Asfordby, to which many people in Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire were looking for their future:
At present exchange rates it is difficult to justify going ahead with this project. But the Corporation are planning to do so as an act of faith".
Sir Robert Haslam is prepared to make that act of faith—