Coal Industry

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:45 pm on 26th June 1989.

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Photo of Michael Spicer Michael Spicer Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Energy) 9:45 pm, 26th June 1989

The hon. Gentleman has asked that question—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."]—and I shall answer it in my own way. The hon. Gentleman knows exactly what our position is—that it is not our policy to order any industry to do anything at the expense of another part of the community. My hon. Friend the Member for Tatton made that point when he said that we have to represent not exclusively the coal industry but the entire nation, including those who use electricity. They have the right to buy their electricity as cheaply as possible. Opposition Members are not concerned about that. We have never hidden our aim that there should be free trade in coal. I have said time and again to the House of Commons that there is no question of the Government preventing anyone from negotiating a price for the import of coal. The question, however, is which side of the House has the confidence to back the industry's ability to fight off coal imports.

The hon. Member for Sedgefield made the point, quite fairly, that the world market for steam coal is not particularly bright. British Coal is in an extraordinarily powerful position, partly because of the difficulties over importing coal, partly because of the problems in the world coal market and partly because—a point which the Opposition are never prepared to accept and concede—of the massive investment by the Government in the coal industry. The only question that Opposition Members should answer is whether those who work in the mining industry are prepared to back the massive investment, largely by the taxpayer, in the industry by adopting the manning procedures and efficient mining methods that are required if the industry is to beat off competition, something which all hon. Members hope will take place.