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Mines (Capital Investment)

Volume 529: debated on Monday 28 June 1954

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asked the Minister of Fuel and Power the total of capital investment in the coal mines since nationalisation.


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power how much capital was invested in the coal mines in each of the last three years: and how far these sums fell short of the maximum required by the National Coal Board.

The Government have placed no limit on the National Coal Board's capital expenditure, which, in the last three years, has been £26·6, £38 and £52·4 million respectively. The total since nationalisation is about £205 million up to the end of 1953.

Is the Minister satisfied with the increased production in relation to this expenditure?

One must remember—as my noble Friend well knows—that in the case of coal mining, which is an extractive industry, capital expenditure, in new sinkings or major reconstructions, for example, very often takes some seven years to become effective.

Is it not also true that for the last seven years about £250 million worth of investment has been required to keep coal production where it is?

It is true that in an extractive industry, unlike ordinary manufacturing industries, a considerable amount of extra capacity must be brought in by capital investment to take the place of that part which has gone out of production and is no longer there. I hope the House will find it satisfactory that although the Coal Board has been rather slow in getting on with this investment in recent years the figure has increased so much that it has doubled in the last three years, and I am hoping that this year, for the first time, it will be actually up to the figure given in the "Plan for Coal."

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the coal mines are now getting enough capital in proportion to the coal consuming nationalised industries, especially the electricity industry, which, until recently, has been getting about four times as much capital to spend as the coal mines?

Yes. The difficulty in the coal mining industry is that although there has been no restriction on capital it has not had enough experts to be able to spend it properly. There is a very great difference between the coal mining industry, in which between 60 per cent. and 70 per cent. of the total cost of the product is labour, and the electricity industry, where from 60 per cent, to 70 per cent. of the cost of the article comes from capital expenditure.

Is not the country now paying dearly for the coal policy pursued before 1939, the consequence of which was that everybody drifted away from the industry? Is it not true that since nationalisation one of the major jobs of the Coal Board has been to attract new engineers and planners to the industry?

What the right hon. Gentleman has said somewhat under-estimates the part played by the war. It will be remembered, as a matter of history, that the great drift away from the mines took place after 1940, when our Continental export markets were lost.

My right hon. Friend has not fully understood my supplementary question. I asked whether or not he was satisfied with the production of coal in relation to expenditure since nationalisation.

I do not think I could give a short answer to that question. Many matters have to be considered, and I would not be prepared to give an answer offhand.