Coal Industry

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:04 pm on 26th June 1989.

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Photo of Mr Andrew Stewart Mr Andrew Stewart , Sherwood 8:04 pm, 26th June 1989

No, I shall not give way. I have too many important things left to say.

Overall, Nottinghamshire's super-miners clocked up an operating profit for British Coal in the financial year 1988–89 of £65 million, which represents half of British Coal's profits from deep mining—a record that no other coalfield area can match. British Coal's total operating profit of £500 million is the highest figure since the industry was nationalised in 1947. However, the downside to that achievement is that the industry carries an interest burden of £430 million, representing a charge of approximately £5 per tonne of coal sold. That highlights the need for restructuring British Coal's finances.

I ask my right hon. Friend urgently to consider giving British Coal the same preferential treatment as that afforded to British Steel in the early 1980s. Although British Steel's profits are similar to those of British Coal, as a consequence of restructuring, its interest charges amount to only £17 million.

We hear a lot about the past in coal industry debates. Unfortunately, we cannot turn back the clock but should use the past as a guide to the future, in meeting the challenges that face the industry after the electricity industry is privatised in 1990. National Power and PowerGen—the two successor companies to the Central Electricity Generating Board—will require coal at a price that will provide the nation with its primary source of energy at a cost that will make our industrial goods more internationally competitive, and one that will not be considered a luxury.

Competition for annual contracts of 75 million tonnes must be fair, and British Coal must not be subjected during negotiations to pressure from the new companies, with the threat of cheap, subsidised imports. If allowed, that would exacerbate the nation's already stretched balance of payments. British Coal's ability to continue as the supplier of choice rather than of necessity is well demonstrated by its progress over the past four years. Productivity is up by more than 90 per cent., while costs are down 32 per cent.