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Coal Reserves

Volume 892: debated on Monday 12 May 1975

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5.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what are the amounts, in tonnage, of the known coal reserves in the United Kingdom.

The present estimate of total proved reserves of coal in the United Kingdom is about 100 thousand million tons.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Will he break down those figures into regions to let us know where the reserves actually lie? Is he aware that representatives of the NUM have asked for more new pits to be opened? What is the policy of the NCB and the Minister's Department on the opening of such pits, and where they are likely to be?

I regret that I cannot break down the figures, but I shall try to get the information for my hon. Friend if I possibly can. Regarding policy for new pit sinkings, my hon. Friend must be aware that the biggest new sinking of all happens to be in the county part of which he represents. Of course new pit sinkings are taking place, but the NCB's policy has been, as we are having the most expensive boring in history throughout the whole British coalfield, to find new reserves in existing collieries in order to sustain existing collieries and, indeed, to make them, in terms of productivity, more beneficial to the nation. That is the policy.

Will my hon. Friend convey to the mining industry and all associated with it the confidence of the Government in the industry in view of the figures he has just announced? Will he also take into account the fact that France has met very great difficulty in its nuclear power programme? Will he persuade our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State not to rush too much towards a nuclear power situation in Britain until a safe fast-breeder reactor is developed?

My hon. Friend is right that we are very very rich in fossil fuel reserves in Britain, and particularly coal. He is justified in saying that the country has a very rich asset. On the question of nuclear power, the way that successive Governments have proceeded with a view to bringing nuclear power to fruition has always been one of extreme caution. Checks and balances always exist. During the lifetime of a nuclear power station, for example, the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate is in charge of it and has jurisdiction particularly in relation to safety.