British Coal (Output)

Oral Answers to Questions — Energy – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15th July 1991.

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Photo of Mr John Marshall Mr John Marshall , Hendon South 12:00 am, 15th July 1991

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement about the change in output per man shift in British Coal since 1984.

Photo of Mr John Wakeham Mr John Wakeham , Colchester South and Maldon

In 1983–84, British Coal's putput per manshift was 2·43 tonnes. Figures just received for the year to 29 June 1991 indicate that this has more than doubled to 4·87 tonnes.

Photo of Mr John Marshall Mr John Marshall , Hendon South

Does my hon. Friend agree that those magnificent figures underline the great benefits to the country from winning the coal strike in 1984–85? Does he also agree that they underline the potential for the speedy privatisation of that industry?

Photo of Mr John Wakeham Mr John Wakeham , Colchester South and Maldon

I agree with my hon. Friend. the improvements in productivity have been remarkable, and they must continue if the industry is to have a long-term, competitive base. I remind my hon. Friend that since 1979 the Government have approved more than £7 billion of new investments and grant aid of about £17 billion, including provision of more than £6 billion in deficiency grants under last year's Coal Industry Act. Improvements in productivity, financial support and long-term contracts with the generators are all part of the improvements to the coal industry.

Photo of Mr Alexander Eadie Mr Alexander Eadie , Midlothian

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that those output figures in a publicly controlled industry far surpass the productivity rate in, for example, Germany, which has a privatised coal industry? Although the right hon. Gentleman said that he had high hopes that the coal industry would win contracts from the power companies, is he aware that a statement was made this weekend to the effect that the power companies are reluctant to give long-term contracts? Indeed, they are still hell bent on importing 50 per cent. of their coal.

Photo of Mr John Wakeham Mr John Wakeham , Colchester South and Maldon

I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not falling into the same trap as some of his colleagues who, whenever a discouraging statement is made by the electricity generators in the run up to a renegotiation, treat it as the gospel truth according to St. Neil. The renegotiation for the coal industry is extremely important and the generators will take into account all the factors to which I have referred many times from the Dispatch Box. They include security of supply and questions of exchange rate risks. It is not a question of contract based purely on price and British Coal has a great deal to offer in those contracts.