The average annual increase in the corporation's productivity between 1961 and 1978–79 was 2·5 per cent., and the average annual increase between 1978–79 and 1988–89 was 6·3 per cent.
Given the outstanding improvement in performance that my right hon. Friend has just described, does he agree that the single greatest constraint within which British Coal must still operate is the fact that it is in the public sector? Does he agree with the new year resolution expressed by Mr. Malcolm Edwards, commercial director of British Coal, that he will seek at the earliest opportunity the separation of the coal industry from the machinery of government so that its managers can concentrate on the interests of that industry alone?
I agree with both points. There has been a significant improvement in British Coal's productivity, for which I pay tribute to it, but that productivity must continue to improve if British Coal is to hold its own in a competitive market.
I agree that the privatisation of British Coal is a desirable objective; it is a commitment of the Government and it will be done in the next Parliament.
Does the Secretary of State agree that output per man shift depends on the number employed, and that the figure has increased only because of the number of miners who have been made redundant? As to privatisation, will the Minister assure the House and people outside it that in the unwelcome event of British Coal's being privatised, existing arrangements for concessionary fuel supplies or cash in lieu will remain in force?
It is not for me to speculate about the privatisation that will occur during the next Parliament. All obligations to employees will be a proper matter for consideration at the appropriate time.
Does the Secretary of State accept that the Government are behaving in a stupid and irresponsible manner by not having a national energy plan? There is no point in increasing production if market forces are to dictate the amount of coal that the country produces. If it is left to market forces, we shall not meet the needs of the British people.
I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman is right. The best way to meet the energy requirements of the nation and of the world is to encourage diversity of supply and that is the basis of the British plan.
Does the Secretary of State accept that any further loss of contracts between British Coal and the generators after 1993 will be viewed as a very poor reward for the miners who have increased productivity in recent years? What action are the Government taking to stop the dumping of foreign coal in Britain, in the interests of not only British Coal but the nation?
The Government have done more than any other to assist the industry by giving it financial support, and for the first time ever British Coal has long-term contracts with its customers, the generators. It therefore has the best opportunity of securing further long-term contracts, and it will do so because it has the potential to be the supplier of choice. That is the best way of securing the industry's long-term future.