Mr John Wakeham: When the hon. Gentleman asked his question earlier this afternoon, I had no idea to what he was referring. I have since checked the Hansard report of the previous Energy questions, and I am pleased to tell the hon. Gentleman that the information that he requires will be sent to him today. There was some delay in my Department in getting the information, and I apologise to him for that.
Mr John Wakeham: No, Sir, because there are no such discussions. The Commission has made it clear that it has no proposals for guide prices on coal contracts or for Community subsidies for coal production. Its ideas on "reference prices" are aimed at reducing the amounts of aid for coal production that member states may give to their industries.
Mr John Wakeham: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that British coal is the cheapest in western Europe, but it is certainly not cheaper than coal from the United States or Australia and it is still uncompetitive in world terms. However, the next coal contracts will be at competitive rates and I believe that they will be satisfactory for British Coal.
Mr John Wakeham: I agree with my hon. Friend. I do not believe that those questions have been properly thought through. There are questions about our international obligations to GATT and to the Community. There are also implications for the steel industry and, as my hon. Friend pointed out, there are implications for electricity consumers. It is not in the long-term interests of the British coal industry not...
Mr John Wakeham: I have to say that I have no idea what the hon. Gentleman is talking about.
Mr John Wakeham: I agree with my hon. Friend. British Coal is in a position to sign long-term contracts with the generators, which will be very much in the interests of British Coal and the electricity consumers.
Mr John Wakeham: The arguments for nuclear electricity were different—[interruption.] Oh, yes. We argued, rightly, that we believed in a diversity of supply and we wanted to ensure that that diversity of supply was available. We believe that British Coal can achieve a significant share of the coal market for generation in the new contracts which begin in 1993, and we believe that it will be able to achieve...
Mr John Wakeham: In 1979, imports accounted for 4 per cent. and domestic production for 96 per cent. of United Kingdom coal consumption. The corresponding figures for 1991 were 17 per cent. for imports and 83 per cent. for domestic production.
Mr John Wakeham: No. The answer is that expensive electricity is very bad for British industry. The reason why coal imports have been increasing has been the failure of British Coal to be competitive enough. That is not through lack of support by this Government, who have put £17 billion into the coal industry since 1979. I am pleased to say that there are now signs—after the improvement in recent years...
Mr John Wakeham: Some of those questions are for the regulator. I remind my hon. Friend that the regional electricity companies have an obligation to undertake economic purchasing. If, as my hon. Friend suggests, there is cheaper electricity to be obtained from coal-fired power stations than from gas-fired power stations, I would expect them to use the electricity from coal-fired stations, in accordance with...
Mr John Wakeham: I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's analysis. The threat to coal jobs has been much more from gas than from imported coal. The only way to deal with that is to make coal a competitive source of fuel and the first choice for the generators. It is possible for British Coal to achieve those contracts and that is what I look forward to seeing.
Mr John Wakeham: The Government welcome the strong growth of competition in generation. The first project to be developed since privatisation, at Roosecote, is already supplying electricity to the grid. Four other independent generating stations are under construction and the Government are aware of about 30 other potential independent projects.
Mr John Wakeham: I welcome the introduction of gas as a fuel for power generation, but it must remain competitive with coal: that will produce the best prices for electricity consumers.
Mr John Wakeham: I have been in the House long enough to know that it is not appropriate for me to comment on evidence given to a Select Committee until that Committee has reported. However, I am prepared to confirm that in my evidence to the Select Committee I made it clear that the regional electricity companies were obliged to purchase the most economic electricity on the market. If that be coal-fired...
Mr John Wakeham: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Gas is environmentally helpful in achieving the Government's target of stabilising carbon dioxide emissions at 1990 levels by the year 2005. The Opposition policy of seeking to stabilise emissions at 1990 levels by the year 2000, while keeping the coal industry at its existing size, stopping the use of gas and phasing out nuclear electricity, is the...
Mr John Wakeham: I believe that contracts between generators and regional electricity companies are commercially confidential, and there is no reason why they should not be—
Mr John Wakeham: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. That information must be available to the regulator, and it is. Secondly, the licensing obligations of regional electricity companies apply to power that they buy from their affiliates as well as to power that they buy from other people.
Mr John Wakeham: I have had no recent meetings with the National Union of Mineworkers to discuss pit closures.
Mr John Wakeham: The hon. Gentleman put his finger on the cause of the problem—the excessive subsidies in Germany. I want those subsidies to be phased down by the Community, and I also want to encourage British coal to be exported to Germany if that is a way to deal with the problem.
Mr John Wakeham: From time to time I read about the views of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, (Mr. Dobson) but I was also interested to read over my cornflakes on Saturday morning the Labour party briefing to the effect that we were not to take the hon. Gentleman too seriously.