I have regular consultations with the chairman of British Coal on all aspects of the coal industry, including the remarkable efforts that the corporation has been making to improve its productivity in its fight for a major share of the United Kingdom coal market over future years.
When my right hon. Friend next meets the chairman, will he join me in congratulating him and all concerned at British Coal on the astonishing performance of the mineworkers in the Selby group? They have achieved a productivity record of 12·92 tonnes per man shift—almost double the industry average. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the local generators National Power and PowerGen need look no further than the Selby coalfield for secure, long-term supplies of good quality coal at competitive prices?
I shall willingly do what my right hon. Friend suggests. Certainly, I congratulate the mineworkers at Selby. Their new weekly productivity record is, as my right hon. Friend says, over 2 tonnes higher than their previous best. Wistow in the Selby complex set a new European output record of 108,700 tonnes in a week. That demonstrates what I have said many times from this Dispatch Box—the coal industry has a great future if its productivity improvement continues in the way that my right hon. Friend describes.
When the right hon. Gentleman next meets the chairman of British Coal will he refer to the outstanding record in coal production achieved by Longannet miners who have broken British records? Does he agree that there is a substantial case for British Coal to reopen Monktonhall colliery in my constituency? I hope that he will subscribe to that.
I know the hon. Gentleman's concern about Monktonhall colliery, which we all share. British Coal plans to review the future of Monktonhall this summer. We have already written to the chairman of British Coal to ask him to take an early decision on its future. It is a matter for him, but I await with interest what he has to say.
Mr. Andy Stewart:
When my right hon. Friend meets the chairman of British Coal will he convey through him our thanks and appreciation to Merrick Spanton, the recently retired chairman of British Coal Enterprise Ltd. While he was there, he created 71,000 new job opportunities in coal mining areas. Will my right hon. Friend tell the new chairman, Mr. John Northard, how we welcome the fact that he and his team will relocate in Edwinstowe in my constituency? As a present for their arrival, will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government will continue to support the much-needed job-creating enterprise?
My hon. Friend is right to refer to those gentlemen for their distinguished service to the coal industry. He is also right that the Government will continue job-creating work in the future.
Will the right hon. Gentleman be more specific in relation to the comments about the future of Monktonhall colliery that he made to my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie)? Is he aware that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary suggested in an Adjournment debate not long ago, that it was likely that Monktonhall would be reopened? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the widespread publicity that that received and the hopes that were raised, not only by Ministers but by British Coal, about the future of employment in that part of Lothian? Will the right hon. Gentleman be more specific?
I know that the hon. Gentleman will find this disagreeable, but I prefer to wait for the report before I comment on it. I look forward to receiving it as soon as it comes.
Bearing in mind British Coal's overall responsibility for opencast mining applications, when my right hon. Friend meets the chairman of British Coal will he point out to him that an application has been made to the local council in Bury for an opencast mine in the Radcliffe area in my constituency? Will my right hon. Friend tell the chairman that that application is resolutely opposed by all local residents and that an effective committee, NORACC, has been formed to oppose it? If the application comes before the chairman, will he reject it?
As my hon. Friend has asked me, I shall certainly refer to the matter when I next see the chairman of British Coal. There is an established procedure. Any opencast applications that do not receive planning permission locally fall to be considered by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. The Government are concerned that only applications that meet the highest environmental standards are approved. We shall see that that policy is continued.