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Orders Of The Day

Volume 927: debated on Wednesday 2 March 1977

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Coal Industry Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

7.7 p.m.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

As this debate is starting late, I shall try to be brief. The Bill implements the tripartite document "Coal for the Future", which was published recently and provides a framework for the future of the industry. Judging by the recent debate on nuclear fuel, I think the whole House recognises that the energy crisis continues to dominate the thinking of all Governments, world-wide. Not only in this country but in the Community, interest in coal is now much greater than it was a few years ago.

I have asked for figures to be prepared of EEC subsidies to the coal industry. I am naturally giving very rough figures, but these show that the subsidy per ton in the United Kingdom in 1975 was about 33p. In Germany the figure was about five times as high, in France about 12 times as high and in Belgium 20 times as high. Many other countries have thought it right to support their industries. Taking the figures of support for three of those countries, in 1975 subsidies to the coal industry in the United Kingdom totalled about £29 million, in France about £92 million and in Germany about £180 million.

Although we are very rich in resources of oil and gas and have a great deal of skill in nuclear energy, and although there is an enormous amount to be gained still from conservation and some from renewable resources, coal is without doubt our surest long-term energy resource.

The problem about all energy—it applies to coal as much as to other forms—is that it involves a high capital cost, a long lead time and a measure of uncertainty. We have tried to reduce that by the tripartite report recently published. Although that report deals with the industry up to 1985, the National Coal Board brought forward at the meeting its Plan 2000, which we shall process in due course.

I shall turn first to the provisions of the Bill. It increases the borrowing limits as is obviously necessary for an industry with such a big investment programme. Secondly, it renews legislative authority for grants to the coal industry to deal with short-term fluctuations. It is not possible to contemplate a long-term plan if it is undermined or destroyed by short-term fluctuations. Thirdly, it provides for social payments, of the kind with which the industry is all too familiar, to cope with problems of exhaustion in certain areas. Fourthly, it extends the statutory powers of the National Coal Board.

The difference between this legislation and earlier legislation, which hon. Members will recall, is that very often in the past legislation was to cushion the decline of the industry. This legislation is to stimulate the extended investment of the Board.

May I raise a point of clarification? Apparently, under Clause 2 grants are to be made

"for the purpose of promoting the sale of coal to the Central Electricity Generating Board".
Can the Secretary of State explain what exactly is envisaged in the way of promotion of sales to the CEGB?

Promotion does not mean public relations in that sense: it means making long-term contracts possible. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State who will be replying to the debate, has been involved in negotiations over the past 12 months between the National Coal Board and the South of Scotland Electricity Board. They have been concerned with the question of what is necessary to provide long-term contracts for the coal industry in Scotland following the expiry of the Longannet contract. We have similar problems in Wales, and the Bill provides legislative power for this to be done.

The hon. and learned Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees) may appreciate that there is a parallel in the Community, where proposals are now before us not only for stocking, to cope with short-term problems, but also to provide some Community assistance to permit the conversion to coal of other fired power stations, in order to use the coal that is available. This is one of the instruments by which we hope to help the market for coal as the investment goes through. I should take this opportunity of the hon. and learned Gentleman's timely intervention to say that there is not much point in having a big investment programme for coal unless we are concerned to ensure that the markets for coal are also available. That applies to the export market and to the market that may develop for coal in petrochemicals. That also involves Clause 2.

Clause 1 of the Bill increases the limits under the 1976 Act from £1,100 million, rising to £1,400 million, to £2,200 million, rising to £2,600 million, subject to parliamentary approval. That should take us into the early 1980s. We have included the higher figure but we hope that the lower limit will be sufficient. This is necessary for the massive programme of investments of which perhaps the best known is Selby. The productivity increase that will flow from Selby is massive compared with that of older pits. That will certainly justify the investment. Selby alone will provide 10 million tons a year as it comes on stream. If the Vale of Belvoir—

Since the Secretary of State has quoted a peak output figure, can he tell us what the cost of generating that would be?

I shall ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to see what figures can be provided. I do not carry the figures in my mind. All I can say is that nobody disputes that the return on the Selby investment will fully justify its taking place. It is in the development of new higher productivity pits that the National Coal Board hopes to achieve its long-term production for its energy needs.

Does my right hon. Friend agree, however, that, although we cannot calculate precisely what productivity will be at the Selby complex, recent drift mines, including the most recent one, are running at about thre times the average productivity level and, therefore, we can assume that Selby would be of that ilk?

My hon. Friend is better qualified than I to give that view. It certainly confirms what I understand to be the case.

Perhaps I should say a word about Drax B, because I recall that as Minister of Technology in 1969 I arranged for a statement to be made to the House by the present Chancellor of the Duchy, who was then my Minister of State. The link between Drax and Selby is seen from the outside as a natural one. It bears on other matters, although those matters are more for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry.

There has been a great deal of public discussion about the Vale of Belvoir. There is thought to be 500 million tons of coal there and it is worth about £10 billion. Any coal industry which did not promote the recovery of that amount of national wealth would be totally failing in its national duty, although this, as other matters, will be subject to the normal planning procedures.

Can the Secretary of State say what the output per man-shift will be for the Vale of Belvoir? We already know the figure for Selby.

The hon. Gentleman is so attractive that he would tempt any Minister into making a silly statement. I cannot anticipate what the OMS will be for the Vale of Belvoir. I understand that it would be a very good coalfield to work. It will not be approved until detailed examinations have been made, and it would have to go through the normal planning stages and be cleared with me and the Treasury to establish that the investment justified it. I cannot specifically give a figure for a field which has not yet been opened up.

No, I am afraid I cannot give a figure for the Vale of Belvoir. In terms of the amounts of investment, I have already mentioned Selby and the Vale of Belvoir, but there are also extensions and improvements to about 100 other collieries. The rate of investment is now running at about £300 million to£400 million a year. The National Coal Board expects its own financial out- turn to rise towards 50 per cent. self-financing.

The costs are higher than in 1974. At that time the National Coal Board had no experience of investment programmes of this magnitude. There is also the general problem of inflation and the learning curve. But all projects are carefully appraised and, whereas in the past public money was provided to write off old debts, the new debts acquired as part of expansion will, to the extent to which I have referred, have to be paid off.

Clauses 2, 3, 4 and 8 of the Bill provide for various types of grants. These include grants for the promotion of the sale of coal to power stations and for stocking provisions. I have already referred to the relevance of Scotland in one context. Wales is particularly relevant to stocking, and my hon. Friend has been involved in the Welsh working party as well. There is also provision for assistance with coking capacity and regional grants. We recall that 70 per cent. of the work force in the mining industry work in assisted areas.

Clauses 6 and 7 provide for the redeployment of manpower resources scheme, which would not continue beyond 1978 for new cases, although existing cases would go through without renewal.

Clause 9 extends the powers of the National Coal Board, which has always been engaged in activities outside the strict business of digging and selling coal. The coke ovens, the briquette works, the tar works and the benzole works are now united into NCB (Coal Products), which includes National Smokeless Fuels. The Board has always had such activities and has had links with the British Steel Corporation and Staveley in, for example, the production of PVC. Now, however, coal must be seen as a substittue for oil, and it is necessary for the Board to gain experience of refinery work. NCB (Coal Products) and British Steel Corporation Chemicals were working on joint plans for petrochemical plant. The clause clarifies the legal position. I say "clarifies" because the Board believed itself to be empowered to engage in these activities, but in view of a statement made in the House by a Minister it was thought necessary to clarify the position by Clause 9.

Clause 10 extends the powers in another sense, allowing the Board to exploit other minerals, such as anhydrite, gypsum and aggregates which are discovered in the course of the Board's normal work. The clause gives the Board explicit power to exploit them.

Clause 11 allows the Board to do abroad what it does at home, subject to Treasury approval. In view of the reputation that the Board has acquired worldwide, and the dependence that the manufacturers of mining equipment have on the Board's success, there is much to be said for the extension of the powers in Clause 11.

Clause 12 is a technical provision harmonising the pension arrangements for subsidiaries as well as direct NCB employees. This will provide some administrative simplification.

I turn to some of the other issues of concern to the mining industry and hence to the House. My hon. Friend and I, after discussions with the NCB and the CEGB, have acted to check the flow of imports of coal when coal was already being stocked. We are also engaged, particularly in a Community context, in trying to promote the export of coal, because, despite the high subsidy on coal within the Community, a great deal of coal is coming in from Poland, South Africa and, I think, Australia. In so far as we are serious in trying to develop a sensible Community energy policy, reducing the dependence on imported energy, it would manifestly be sensible that the NCB should retain, restore and expand its existing export markets.

After much negotiation, the miners by a ballot approved a modest start to earlier retirement. I say modest "because I know that it did not go as far as some would like. But I very much welcome the fact that the negotiations took place. Here again, the Common Market parallels showed us to be at a great disadvantage.

I have referred to the discussions that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has been having about the coal burn in Scotland and Wales. He may say more about that later. I have also made a reference to the EEC dimension, because that is something we shall have to take into account. I think that the mining Indus- try will expect us to play an active part there, given that 33 per cent. of all the investment in coal in the Community is investment in the NCB.

People are perhaps not as aware as they might be that in all the energy fields Britain has a dominant position within the Community. Twenty-seven per cent. of all energy investment in the whole Community—in Germany, France, Italy and all the other countries—is British investment; 51 per cent. of the oil investment is British investment; and 33 per cent. of the coal investment is British investment. Therefore, I am fortunate when I go to the Energy Council—I am currently its President, during our general presidency—that the British voice counts for something in energy because of our contribution. We also have the International Energy Agency interests and the fluidised bed burning scheme at Grimethorpe is a product of that.

Before I finish, I should like to say something about the human resources in the mining industry. I shall not try to suggest that provisions for investment alone in an Act are sufficient to solve the problems of those who work in the industry. I do not relate this directly to the debate that has just concluded, but I must tell the House that, in my opinion, if we get this matter right it will be the most important contribution of all. The basis of the answer has been tripartism, a horrible word but one which reflects the fact that in 1974 a group of Ministers—my right hon Friend the Secretary of State for Industry, then Secretary of State for Energy, and Ministers from the Treasury and the Department of Employment—and representatives of the NCB, the NUM, NACODS and the colliery managers met together to plan the revival of the mining industry.

That first tripartite meeting was a significant event, because it provided for those who worked in the industry a direct opportunity to contribute their knowledge and skill to the development of the industry in which they worked. I should like to read some evidence submitted to the Sankey Commission in 1919, evidence which nearly 60 years ago forecast the issue that was finally brought to fruition by the tripartite scheme:
"Any administration of the mines under nationalisation must not leave the mine worker in the position of a mere wage-earner, whose sole energies are directed by the will of another. He must have a share in the management of the industry in which he is engaged, and understand all about the purpose and destination of the product he is producing; he must know both the productive and the commercial side of the industry. He must feel that the industry is being run by him in order to produce coal for the use of the community, instead of profit for a few people. He would thus feel the responsibility which would rest on him as a citizen, and direct his energies for the common good …as that knowledge which has been denied him, grows, as it will do under nationalisation, he will take his rightful place as a man. Only then will labour unrest, which is the present hope of the world, disappear. The mere granting of the 30 per cent. and the shorter hours demanded will not prevent unrest, neither will nationalisation with bureaucratic administration. Just as we are making political democracy world-wide, so must we have industrial democracy, in order that men may be free."
That remarkable passage was part of the evidence submitted by William Straker, then Secretary of the Northumberland Miners Association. In tripartism we are moving towards the conception that he had many years ago.

I believe that as the tripartite structure develops it will be strong enough to cope with the serious problems remaining in the industry. I have never felt that a Minister could be very credible when speaking about, for example, productivity. Some of my hon. Friends have at least dug many tons of coal, but it has always seemed to me that a Secretary of State telling miners to dig more coal was a most improbable figure. I have never told them that, and I do not intend to do so. The problems of productivity and all that goes with them must be tackled by those in the industry. There is no one better than the members of the tripartite group and their colleagues at area level to deal with the problems of development, productivity, manpower forecasting, investment, marketing and research and development. It may ultimately be strong enough to provide a forum for discussion about pay structure.

The Secretary of State has just mentioned productivity. Without saying any more about the disappointing trend of productivity, which the right hon. Gentleman himself has described as disappointing in his introduction to the report "Coal for the Future", does he admit not only that the figures are disappointing but that he as a Minister has some responsibility to try to get the NUM and the NCB together to get on with this aspect of the problem?

I accept my responsibility so long as I am not required to follow that by exhortation. The NUM and the NCB are well aware of the problem. They have contact and there has been a proper examination of the problem. It is not entirely unconnected with the problems of pay policy. No doubt that is a matter that will arise. That hears back on some of the things that have been said earlier today. I believe that these problems can be resolved within the present framework I shall deal later with another level.

When we consider the different fuels within the Energy Commission, which is also intended to be tripartite in character, it is clear that coal will have to make its case against the other fuels and that success will not be unconnected with success in dealing with the problems that I have described. Anyone who knows anything at all about the industry will know that simple figures of productivity may conceal problems of geological structure, problems of morale arising from high stocking and all sorts of problems that do not lend themselves—I am not suggesting for a moment that the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost) was seeking to make this suggestion—to easy resolution by leading articles written in the comfort of an editor's chair in Fleet Street.

I hope that I am not taking the right hon. Gentleman too far away from the main line of his argument, but he mentioned the Energy Commission—

Will the right hon. Gentleman say something about the representation on that Commission? Many of my hon. Friends are concerned that it should be more than just a tripartite suppliers' club of the kind he has hinted at.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman a rather pointed question? I was rather interested in his observations. Does he propose to have 50 per cent. NUM representation on the National Coal Board and 50 per cent. of the directors appointed by the Secretary of State?

As a matter of fact, I was about to come to that passage. I always feel flattered if hon. Members intervene to hurry me on to the next part of my speech, because I then know that it is relevant.

It is my hope that this tripartite structure can work in other industries. I hope that the gas industry will come along later this year, and the electricity industry also.

I now come to the moment when I hope for general support—namely, the planning agreement concept involving the management, the unions and the Government in so far as the Government in this case are the body who provide the capital investment. The planning agreement concept is the basis. I am not authorised tonight to anticipate what action might follow in the public sector from the Bullock Report—

The hon. Gentleman need not make an interjection. In fact, "Bullock "is written in my notes. I shall show the passage to the hon. Gentleman later. This is not jumping into the two-tier board recommended by the NEDC. I am sure that it will be confirmed by those in the industry that in the tripartite structure, which is slow to build up and hard to establish, very many of the gains of industrial democracy, disclosure, joint discussion and joint strategy for the industry can be achieved if confidence can be won. I believe in it strongly without prejudice to other matters that would not fall to me to announce to the House on Second Reading.

I now turn to the Energy Commission. It is not possible to consider one industry in separation from another. I go further and say that the view of one industry of the development plans of another should be highly relevant. I have one more quotation to bear me out. I quote from a critique that was written 10 years ago of the then Labour Government's attitude to oil and coal. It states:
"We believe that government policy of increasing dependence on oil is fraught with danger".
This is a criticism of the Government of which I was a member. It continues:
"We think that the assumptions relating to oil prices in the future are based on completely baseless and illogical reasoning, and certainly not related to the reality of the new developing situation in the Middle East …
Our privileged position in the Middle East has largely been obtained and retained by power, and unlike the government we think that situation is changing and will continue to change. We do not think it necessary to be political theoreticians to estimate that the people of the Middle East, who, like ourselves, are anxious to assure and improve standards of living, will in fact demand just that. This eventually can change the whole relationship of oil prices with other fuels, and long-term represents a critical economic factor in the costing of the nation's fuel."
That was written by the miners. Naturally, they have an interest in the mining industry. There is nothing to be ashamed of in that. In fact, it was written seven years before the OPEC price increase by Jack Dunn, area general secretary of the Kent area of the National Union of Mineworkers. He published that critique of energy policy under the authority of his area. It was based on a forecast that was much more accurate than that of the Government of the day.

It is important to recognise that in the planning of the whole fuel pattern we should hear, for example, what gas says about electricity, what coal says about oil and what both say about nuclear power. In the Energy Commission we hope to achieve that.

As I understand it, the confidence that the National Coal Board has in its investment programme, which I share, is based upon some estimate of what oil prices may reach in the 1980s. Is that so? If so, what estimate has it made of oil prices?

That is a difficult matter to forecast. Speaking very loosely—I cannot do more than that because no one really knows—people are talking in the world in which I move of a price of $25 a barrel in the mid–1980s. Even that estimate involves many uncertainties.

It would be a foolish Government that sought to base a long-term energy policy with a 10-year lead time on the assumption that they could forecast with any accuracy world demand, the rate of growth, the impact of conservation, the political factors in the Middle East, which could change, the time that gas will last and the acceptability of nuclear power. That sort of thing cannot be done. However, in so far as we can look forward, it is necessary to justify investment according to some criteria.

My argument is immensely simple. I contend that the best we can do is to bring all the fuel indutries together so that they may examine each other's investment programmes. The fuel industries, above all, will have an interest in seeing that another industry does not get away with too large a part of the cake. If we can get harmonious forecasting and joint examination of investment programmes, rolling that forward as the situation changes, which it often does, I submit that that is the best possible way of arriving at a reasonable energy policy.

I should like to be in the position of publishing an energy budget every year. I recognise that if I were in that position I should be in an unusual position in comparison with the Treasury and the Budget that is produced by the Chancellor, as I should have to look ahead to 10 years when producing each budget. As events have shown, 10 days is sometimes rather long for the durability of a Budget judgment.

I have been asked how we prevent the Energy Commission from becoming a producers' syndicate. That is the nub of the question. It is said that we must prevent it from becoming not only a producers' syndicate but a syndicate that leaves out of account the value of conservation and the possibilities for renewable reserves that do not have a powerful lobby behind them. These are extremely difficult matters. The reason why I have not been able to announce the membership of the tripartite group is, candidly, that I have not yet found a complete answer to the question. I do not think that we want a group of 50 people as that would make it a mini-energy conference and nothing would be done.

The chairmen of the main industries must be on the group. It must have a high level of TUC General Council membership in its representation. The CBI has a tremendous interest in it. Not only is 40 per cent. of our energy consumed by industry but the CBI consists of the major suppliers to the massive investment programme. Consumer representation must also be present.

Some fuels consume what other fuels produce. One of the major consumers of coal is electricity. The same is true of oil, which electricity consumes. There is a built-in balance. I am anxious to come to a speedy conclusion. It will be a sort of tripartite arrangement. It must include other elements but it may be that the answer today lies in ensuring that even the tripartite commission operates on public documents so that other interests can come in.

This morning I went to the NEDC. Energy was on the agenda but we did not reach it. I made available to the NEDC our current thinking on energy policy, and that is now going to its sector working parties. In effect, that document became declassified because a lot of interests, including the consumer interests and the TUC—

It is available. Publication is such a formal thing, and leakage is so illegal. I wonder whether the term "seepage" of information is more appropriate. Perhaps I should say that I hope that a process of progressive declassification of documents will take place. The term "seeping" or "declassified seepage" might ultimately get into a footnote in "Erskine May", which is the only route to immortality. Whichever it is, I am anxious that in the development of our energy policy everyone with an interest should be able to make his influence felt.

I am absolutely convinced that there is a firm and secure future for coal here and world-wide. We have the actual physical resources—the coal. If the House is kind enough to pass the Bill, we shall have the investment programme capable of winning a great deal of that coal for the nation. We also have the most highly-skilled labour force—managers, colliery overmen, deputies and miners—anywhere in the world. I invite the House, in giving the Bill a Second Reading, to express its confidence in the capacity of these people to contribute mightily to our long-term energy needs.

Order. Before I call the next hon. Member to speak, I should explain that Mr. Speaker has asked me to inform the House that a considerable number of right hon. and hon. Members are anxious to take part in the debate and that short speeches will be very much in the interests of all.

7.42 p.m.

Towards the end of the Secretary of State's speech I almost forgot that we were on the Coal Industry Bill. I do not complain about that, because the implications of coal and its interlinking with the whole spectrum of energy is a very important and complicated matter. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not think it offensive in any sense if I say that at stages of his speech I thought that he was positively communitaire. It was refreshing to hear him dealing at length with the importance of the European connection. I did not expect to hear it so soon, but the right hon. Gentleman has the presidency or chairmanship of his Council of Ministers and it is right as we in Britain have an important part to play in any European energy policy.

The right hon. Gentleman's dwelling on the tripartite approach was brave. This is the second debate today on that aspect, the first having been devoted to the virtual collapse, of the failure of the tripartite approach, of British Leyland.

The document "Coal for the Future" is an extremely useful publication for this debate, because it covers the subjects in which we are interested more usefully than "Plan for Coal" and "Coal 2000", and it is a useful summary of the current situation.

The Secretary of State was wise not to forecast anything about the price of oil. I was much impressed with Mr. Jack Dunn in the quotation that the right hon. Gentleman gave concerning the possible increase in the price of oil. I believe that it was Lord Balogh who in the 1960s said that there was the clearest possible evidence that the price of oil would never rise above $2 a barrel, and I notice that the noble Lord still holds some position of influence in the future policy on energy. I do not know whether his position is based on the quality of his previous judgments, but Mr. Dunn appears to have won that round over the noble Lord.

In referring to the alternative energy sources, and particularly to the question of conservation, which must be always put high on the list, the Secretary of State said that coal was the surest long-term energy resource for this country. We would certainly not dissent in any way from that.

It is interesting to note that today on the front page of The Times Business News there was an announcement of President Carter's proposals to set up his new Department of Energy with a substantial budget under Secretary Schlesinger. I was interested in one comment, which said
"It is clear that the department will concentrate on greatly expanding domestic coal production".
This is to be President Carter's first initiative in energy matters. Against that background it is extremely interesting to note what is happening to coal production, and the importance that the world is attaching to coal, as demonstrated by the recent OECD figures for the expansion of coal production.

The increase for the United Kingdom—and here we must wonder whether we are doing all we can in this matter—is 6·5 per cent. over the period 1975–85. The other figures, however, are worth attention. The United States of America, not by any means a small coal producer, plans an increase of 58·3 per cent. in the next 10 years. Over this 10-year period Australia and New Zealand propose figures of 58·5 per cent., and Canada 86·2 per cent. The average increase for the whole of OECD in the next 10 years is 36·9 per cent. Our figure is 6·5 per cent. One is bound to conclude that this country and Europe—where, as the Secretary of State pointed out, we have nearly half the total coal output of the Community—are lagging some way behind the targets that have been set in a number of other countries.

"The Plan for Coal", from which this Bill is developed, was drawn up in 1973, at the time of the Conservative Government. It was endorsed in 1974. There is, therefore, a considerable element of bipartisanship in the belief in the future importance of the coal industry. That does not in any way imply blanket endorsement of the proposals in the Bill, and there are a number of points that I wish to make about them. However, the general approach in terms of the importance of the coal industry is not seriously challenged in any part of the House.

We must, however, recognise that this approach involves spending substantial sums. Under the Bill the increase in the ceiling is £1,200 million. This must not be seen as a blank cheque for random capital expenditure in any spendthrift way; it should be seen as expenditure that must be very closely monitored.

It is important to say that, because clearly all those concerned with the industry—the management of the NCB, the Secretary of State and the unions—have said that progress so far has been extremely disappointing. The nation is entitled to ask where are the benefits from the substantially increased expenditure on the coal industry. That is certainly a fair question to put.

The Secretary of State glided effortlessly, as he often does, over the question of the substantial increase in the sums involved. He said that increases of this nature—I noted his words—were obviously necessary in an industry with a major investment programme of this kind. He said that the increase resulted from the effects of inflation and the learning curve. I do not know what the learning curve has cost, but I know what inflation has cost. It is a sorry commentary on the economic policies of the Government that a programme that two years ago was expected to cost £1,400 million is now, purely on the grounds of inflation—according to the figures of the Government and the NCB—to be £2,440 million. An increase of 74 per cent. is a staggering rise for that period.

The damage that has been done to the prospects of the coal industry by the mismanagement of the economy by this Socialist Government can be most clearly seen in those figures. Obviously, if inflation increases, or continues at that level, it will seriously jeopardise the ongoing investment programme for the industry.

That is the situation that confronts us when we look at the programme for coal "Coal for the Future". The first is the appalling problem of forecasting demand. The bracket of the Coal Board's own figure for the year 2000, of between 135 million and 200 million tonnes, shows the extent of the variation and some might visualise a kind of thermostat, which one can switch up or down when one gets rather closer to the figure. Yet anyone with even the most superficial knowledge of the coal industry realises that it is not an industry in which demand can be turned up and down by ministerial edict; it is something that will have to be worked and planned for with the long lead times involved.

I have looked carefully at the market forecasts given in "Coal for the Future". I am concerned about them. A number of areas, which the Secretary of State did not touch on, are crucial to the requirements for coal. Things like the efficiency of power stations, the replacement of coal-fired stations to ensure that they are efficient and competitive, and the need for coal-burning capacity in electricity generating, are obviously very important matters.

In industry, the report refers to the possible withdrawal of gas from non-premium use towards the turn of the century. There is also the importance of fluidised bed, so that coal is efficiently used, and is competitive. Nothing was said about that. That seems crucial to the industrial market, for which a wide bracket is shown in the report.

A most disappointing aspect of the present coal market is the domestic situation. I have no knowledge of any initiative or discussions about this between the Secretary of State for Energy and his right hon. Friend at the Department of the Environment. A considerable number of council houses and public buildings are being constructed in a way that ensures that they will never burn coal.

Discussions have taken place with the Department of the Environment on the very thing that the hon. Gentleman is talking about.

I am delighted to hear that. I apologise if I suggested that no talking was going on. But houses are still being built in the way that I have suggested.

The words used by the Secretary of State for Energy are "Keep your options open". That seems to be the Secretary of State's cry, and I think he is right. Yet coal is the one option effectively closed to many in the domestic market at the moment. In my own constituency, as in many others, many constituents are almost imprisoned within their sophisticated twentieth-century all-electric heating systems, which they cannot afford to use. That is obviously a matter of concern to a considerable number of MPs.

Another area to which the Secretary of State referred, and which I think is very important, is the potential for exports in the future. Clearly the potential within the Community is very great. I hope that the Secretary of State will use the opportunity, as President, to discuss, not least with the French and Germans, the issue of COMECON coal, the fact that imports are clearly coming into the Community at dumped prices, and the possibilities that may exist for greater exports from this country.

We also have the problem about markets for coal. The markets for coal will be influenced by how competitive coal is. The report refers to the need to limit costs.

In terms of competitive supplies, we know that part of the problem lies in the fact that coal is not in such a strong position that it can ignore the need to remain competitive. I have checked the figures that the Under-Secretary of State recently gave in Hansard about what has happened to coal prices. I came to the energy scene only recently, but I must admit that I was staggered to see what the figures really were. Since November 1974 the price of domestic coal has increased by 83½per cent. Clearly, that rate of progress could imperil the future competitiveness of coal.

The Secretary of State referred to the modest early retirement scheme. It is not entirely modest in cost. I understand that, as yet, this has not been included in any of the calculations put before the House tonight. The implications for the future price of coal is obviously quite a serious matter. Another problem is whether we shall have the output even if we have the markets.

The next worrying feature in "Coal for the Future" is the confirmation that last year total manpower fell by 5,000. That is particularly serious at a time of rising unemployment elsewhere when one might have expected recruitment to have improved, or certainly to have become stabilised. It increased the year before but fell last year.

The report contains the statement that the coal industry will have to look increasingly to men and boys new to the industry. Whether we shall have the manpower and the ability, in terms of numbers available, to achieve the higher range of target figures must be of real concern. After all, it is the numbers employed and their productivity that will determine their output.

Productivity is perhaps the most disappointing single feature of the present situation in the coal industry. I appreciate that there are a number of factors, to which the Secretary of State referred, that may affect the situation, but the fact remains that productivity in the past year has been the lowest this decade, for a full year's working. The output per man shift has fallen this year against last, and last year fell against the year before. This has occurred at a time when we are looking for much greater output. Deep mined coal output fell by 7 million tonnes last year. Clearly that is a serious matter.

I entirely agree with the Secretary of State that we shall not get coal by exhortation. But the Secretary of State does have a responsibility to ensure that the terms and conditions under which people are working in the mines enable incentive to exist and productivity to be achieved. I am not suggesting that the right hon. Gentleman should interfere; ideally, one would like to see this as a matter between the NCB and NUM. But the fact remains that the Secretary of State has actively interfered, in a negative sense.

The document contains an interesting sentence about productivity. It is full of pious thoughts. I do not see how we shall get round this. It states that
"We continue to believe that …a sound and effective incentive scheme could make a major contribution in raising the efficiency of production and matching performance to the industry's true potential."
No one would dissent from that.

The hon. Gentleman will no doubt have the opportunity to make his views known, but his is certainly not the opinion of the miners and the leaders of the NUM to whom I have spoken. I know there are certain members within the NUM to whom the hon. Gentleman is closer than I am, but this must be a matter for democratic decision within the NUM.

Another important sentence in the document states that
"Such a scheme has not yet been introduced and it is not possible to initiate one within the current pay policy, but we are glad to know that the NUM has set up a study group to examine the various possibilities."
I thought that that last phrase was a little unnecessary. It seemed to me pure verbiage. It is a sop to the NUM, but it is saying "You cannot actually do anything about it, because the current pay policy will prevent it".

It is not the world's greatest secret that the NUM has not yet started phase 2—or, I think, it was due to start yesterday. That phase 2 should last for a year. The question of productivity does not emerge until after that phase has elapsed. If that is so, clearly the Government are facing a very difficult situation if a productivity scheme is thought essential for those in the industry and in the national interest. We shall clearly have a different situation under the current pay policy.

The hon. Gentleman is making a responsible speech. However, it is not a fact that all those in the industry are in favour of a productivity scheme. It is being discussed. In the hon. Gentleman's quest for productivity, he should not let the price of that be a damaging fall in safety.

I am sorry. I thought that the hon. Gentleman said "savings". I entirely appreciate that point. No one who has even the most superficial contact with the NCB, the NUM or the mines could believe for a moment that those bodies would agree to a scheme that imperilled the standards of safety control and management within the mines, which are clearly of the highest order and to which all attach the greatest importance. I should have thought that that went without saying.

I am sorry if I misled the House, but I am not under any illusion that a productivity scheme is universally approved. However, my impression is that the majority are in favour.

I shall leave the hon. Gentleman to fight his own NUM battles elsewhere.

Having dealt with the very difficult question of productivity, I turn to the question of the new developments. The Secretary of State laid great stress on the potential of Selby. Obviously the whole House will hope that he is right. However, there have been some very disturbing stories. At Question Time last week, my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) raised the question whether the water table problems will present difficulties. This is not something that must be kept under a D notice, or anything like that. I hope that the Under-Secretary will comment on the matter at the end of the debate.

However, we are moving into the new developments, and the Secretary of State fairly put on record the potential importance of the Vale of Belvoir—which is not likely to be the last such development. A massive exploration programme is taking place and it is possible that further coal reserves will be found in other very attractive parts of the country, where there may occur the sort of issues that will cause great local concern, as in the Vale of Belvoir. It will be necessary to find a mechanism for resolving this sort of problem democratically, so that people do not feel that they have been steamrollered by a producers' syndicate, but feel that they have an opportunity to have a say, but we must ensure that such a mechanism is not automatically a blocking mechanism that will prevent anything from happening, and that it does not become a total shackle on the reasonable development of the coal industry. The Government must turn their minds to that serious issue.

There is a very significant comment in "Coal for the Future", which I think is absolutely right, namely, that planning approval is taking longer than expected. My forecast is that that trend will continue. We must ensure that proper democratic rights are observed, while sensible developments are able to proceed if the case is well made.

As the argument on coal is tied up so much with the national interest, is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that there should be a reduction of the planning difficulties to further the development of coal?

I am not suggesting the opposite, because I am not suggesting increasing the difficulties. I am saying that in my view it is simply not adequate to present this as a matter that is merely to be dealt with by a county council planning committee, the members of which may be local people who are very concerned about the amenities and who reject it, the matter then going to the Secretary of State and then, perhaps after an inquiry, being overthrown. The difficult issue here is the question of proving a plan, of proving the need for coal as well as the amenity aspects of a particular development.

This is a very difficult issue. One cannot inject this into the beginning of every development, be it an opencast development or any other development.

The NCB is planning for the future, and there are now a number of issued plans. There is something here—a document that could form a basis and could get the wider endorsement against which individual planning applications could be considered. However, it is no good approaching these matters, on which very strong local feelings will arise, on the basis of relying entirely on what might have been satisfactory in the past.

I turn quickly to the central details of the Bill. The main clauses, as the Secretary of State said, raise the borrowing limits—this is a particularly important part of the Bill—and will make possible further developments in the "Plan for Coal". While supporting the principle, we shall want to examine very carefully the costs involved. The increases are of a staggering nature. It would be grossly irresponsible of us, as an Opposition, if, in Committee, we did not examine very carefully exactly how those costs have been arrived at. The grants to which the Secretary of State referred renew in certain cases earlier powers, some enacted by a previous Conservative Government. We shall want to examine whether they are in fact still appropriate in all cases, and we shall look at the matter very carefully.

The more controversial aspects of the Bill arise in Clauses 9, 10 and 11. Clause 9 deals with the expansion in the activities relating to petroleum. We accept that this is sensible. Coal has a rôle to play in the future and will be an important source of petrochemicals. A good argument can be made for this. However, we see no argument for the looseness of the drafting of the Bill.

The Secretary of State referred to research, and perhaps the operation of a refinery, but the Bill would allow the NCB to go into downstream activities and even permit NCB petrol stations. It would be an act of irresponsibility if we did not look extremely closely at these provisions. While not wishing unreasonably to shackle the sensible development of coal products, must say that anyone who reads the Bill will see how loosely it is drafted and will appreciate why we want to examine it very carefully.

Clause 10, likewise, contains the core of what seems a perfectly reasonable matter, which is, that in the course of its work of exploration and extraction, if the NCB comes across other minerals it should be empowered to extract them. On the face of it—and this is the way the Secretary of State presented it—that looks harmless enough. Of course, when one comes to the legal drafting, one finds that it is very loose. It appears from the Bill that the NCB could drill anywhere and could move into salt or potash mining with very little pretext at all.

I am not suggesting that what I have mentioned is the intention, but, again, the House has a responsibility to see that these matters have been properly drafted.

Clause 11 deals with overseas activities. I think that it was a bit of an anachronism that there was formerly a restraint. We know that British Rail and the Post Office have engaged quite successfully in consultancies overseas and in certain other activities. Clearly, the NCB, which it is claimed is the largest single coal producer in the Western world and is experienced in many different fields of activity, has a considerable expertise, and it would be in the national interest if that could be exploited for the benefit and to the financial advantage of this country. We shall want to check on this matter. Again, the clause is extremely widely drawn. If it can be correctly defined the general principle is unexceptional.

If my hon. Friend looks at Clause 11 he will see that the Board can "do anything outside Great Britain", which would include petrochemicals as well. I am sure that he would agree that the board should not be allowed into that sphere of activity abroad.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That is exactly the sort of point that I made about the looseness of the drafting. I felt that this was a point that we should pursue in Committee. However, the wider exploitation of the NCB's expertise in its primary activities, where its skill is greatest, is obviously something that we would support.

We know that the development of coal mining has meant that production has increased overseas, not least in Australia. There is a possibility of the Coal Board's playing a part in that expansion. which amounts to about 58 per cent. in both Australia and New Zealand.

Coal is clearly an essential element in any energy policy. For us, with the coal reserves in this country, the strength of the coal industry and the prospects in front of it, it must play a crucial rôle. We must recognise that progress to date has been very disappointing.

Neither party has a very good record as far as the coal industry is concerned. The Labour Party presided over the biggest rundown of the industry in the disastrous years—[HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish"]. Hon. Members may like to look at the figures for the rundown under the late Labour Government. As I was saying, neither party has a clean record. This is now changed, and both parties recognise the importance and future significance of the coal industry.

Under this Bill, if it proceeds as I expect it will, the coal industry will have available resources to enable it to make considerable progress. The Bill alone will not make anything happen. I was pleased to hear the comments of the Secretary of State at the end of his speech when he said that it is now up to the industry to decide what use it makes of the funds available. The challenge so far has not been met. We must recognise that fact, and it would be fairly admitted by all in the industry. The industry has had the opportunity to progress but so far that progress has been extremely disappointing.

We all recognise that it takes time to get new developments going, but at the same time it is vital to the country that the coal industry succeeds. The Bill opens new opportunities for both the Coal Board and the workers in the industry. This will be an opportunity to show the nation that, given the support, the industry can deliver the goods.

8.13 p.m.

I was rather surprised—but really not surprised at all—by the speech of the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King). I was surprised at the way in which he criticised everything and the way in which he tried to slight everyone in the industry.

Of course he did. He was criticising all the time. He even talked about output, and he compared the mining industry in this country with that in other countries. He compared it with Australia of all countries, which has mainly opencast mines with thick seams and big, modern machines. He also talked about the United States with its large seams and the much better geological ground in which the men work. He talked about Europe as well, but when we talk about other countries and their output and make comparisons we should not forget things like wages and we should compare them with such things in those countries.

Although I was in favour of joining the EEC, and basically am still in favour of the Community, I know full well that we promised the workers in the mining industry that their wages and conditions would be comparable with those of Continental workers. Of course they are not.

Of course the hon. Member for Bridg-water is right when he says that neither Party has a clean sheet as far as the mining industry is concerned. The miners are suspicious of Governments, even of this Government today. I remember the period when Jack Dunn made the statement that has been mentioned tonight. That kind of statement was made from these Benches time and time again, but neither my party nor the Conservatives when they were in Government took the slightest bit of notice. They were warned continuously of the dangers of oil from the Middle East, but they took no notice because oil was cheap. Their attitude was "Why do we need miners?"

What about our investments? Even though I welcome the Bill, it will not assure the mining industry of tremendous investment in the future. There is a lot to be done in the pits and at the coalface to make the industry in this country more modern. There is a lot to be done on the roadways. If we do not have the where-withal to get the coal out of the pits, it is no use developing the coalface. There is still a lot to be done. When the hon. Member for Bridgwater talks about the mining industry, he should make comparisons that are fair and just.

The hon. Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) might have done me the courtesy of listening to what I said. I made no comparison of the output performance of other countries such as Australia or New Zealand. I simply used the example of the increased production that they are planning to illustrate the importance they attach to coal production. I made no use of figures to make disparaging comparisons between British miners and miners in other countries. Bearing in mind the fact that many of the mines in countries abroad are opencast, it would have been a fatuous comparison.

I agree that the hon. Member was very subtle in what he said, but the inference was there—

Of course it was.

Let us now ook at the Bill. Clause 1 makes it possible to increase the borrowing limit to a maximum of £2,600 million. Are we quite certain that that amount will be sufficient for developing the coal mining industry, taking account of when we are going to spend it and the developments that will take place? How long will it be before we can get the money? When the Secretary of State talks about a tripartite agreement, I aways think that he is talking about an agreement between his Department, the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mine-workers. Of course, there is another Department which has its hands on the money—the Treasury. That must be taken into account, and my right hon. Friend knows from experience that we cannot always drag money out of the Treasury when we would like to do so. We shall watch very keenly to make sure that the Treasury does not hold back.

I look forward to the day when I shall lend the Treasury money. I shall lay down very strict terms that will be very different from the ones that apply now.

We would all welcome that.

Clause 3 refers to grants for the building up of stocks of coal and coke. I think that we must be very careful here. There is always a fear in the mines because often pits close when stocks of coal have been built up. We should talk about exporting coal when we have plenty of stocks, and I believe that more should be done in this respect.

We have had various objections from Chairmen of the Central Electricity Generating Board about being compelled to use coal. We hope that we shall be able to convince the chairman that in future we shall not be using oil as much as we use it today. We should make certain that coal will be used to supply the fuel for our power stations. We must not waste oil because it may be in short supply, despite the discoveries in the North Sea. I believe that there will be a greatly increased demand for oil in coming years throughout the world.

I turn to Clause 6, and I shall have a few words to say about pit closures. That very phrase frightens me to death. It certainly puts fears into the miners that the Government are talking about pit closures. It is not easy for us to convince the miners that the Government do not mean that there shall be unnecessary pit closures.

I recall what happened in the 1960s when there was great displeasure in the mining community at the situation at that time. It reminds me of what was once said by an ex-Cabinet Minister. He said "When I attended a debate on coal mining, I could not understand why the mining Members still wanted to have a debate at 2 o'clock in the morning" However, that ex-Cabinet Minister added "One could never doubt the support of those mining Members of Parliament. They always supported a Labour Government no matter what they were putting forward. Even on pit closures they still supported the Government" That politician certainly never doubted their loyalty, but he could not understand why they allowed the Government to take such a course.

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the loyalty of mining Members of Parliament to Labour Governments, but he will recall one occasion when a Labour Government published a White Paper forecasting energy needs, a forecast with which the mining industry violently disagreed. He will remember that meetings then took place and that that set of proposals never reached the Floor of the House.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding me of that situation. However, I remember occasions when pit closures took place time after time.

Clause 7 of the Bill deals with redundancy payments. A not too marvellous scheme was introduced not very many year ago, but at the age of 55 in many cases men were made redundant. A man of 55 who is made redundant is allowed three years' pay at nine-tenths of his wages but at the age of 58, if he was made redundant, he had to say goodbye to payments. He is told that he is now on the scrapheap and he loses almost everything. At the time the scheme was introduced, the National Coal Board and the Government were keen for it to come into operation and they would not listen to hon. Members who wanted to extend the period during which payments are given beyond three years. We even argued for the age of 60 so that the period should be five years. But nobody would listen, and the scheme was introduced. We still have the same redundancy scheme.

How can we expect to encourage young people to come into the mining industry when we treat in that way people who have been in the industry for 40 years or more? I hope that the Government will in future be more forthcoming and helpful and sometimes make offers to the NCB and the NUM that are greater than anything for which the industry has asked. That is the only way that we will be able to attract manpower into the pits. We must be certain that miners will not be thrown on the scrapheap at the age of 58. The Government should act in the same way over pensions.

Everybody to whom I speak to about this, no matter what industry he may work in, whether professional or labouring, says "I would not have that job at any price. I would not go down the pit" When we asked for pensions to be given at the age of 60, why had the Government to be parsimonious and mean? They said that it could not be afforded and that pensions would be given at 62. The Government do not even offer a bonus to those who continue to work until the age of 62. How can we expect the mining industry to have a great amount of faith in the Government when the Government at no time make any offers greater than what has been asked for by the NUM?

On the matter of pensions for miners at an earlier age, is it not a disgrace that the Government should expect someone who works from boyhood to the age of 55 to continue to the normal retirement age? Surely my hon. Friend will agree that the time has come when every miner who has worked for 25 years should be retired at the age of 50 or 55.

I did not expect anyone from the Opposition side to agree with me, but I thought that someone from this side might say that. I am trying to reduce the retirement age as much as I can, and 60 would be a good starting point, but I hope that it will be 55 in the future.

When we develop new coalfields, there will be an outflow of miners from the other collieries. That might result in collieries having to close due to lack of manpower. What will the Government do to make certain that other jobs will be provided in those areas, or are we going to allow such areas to run down? Have the Government given any thought to regional grants or something that would be available not just for developing new coalfields but for looking after the old areas as miners leave them? New jobs must be found for those who remain behind. Many of them will be men who have given 30 to 40 years of their lives to the industry and who have no hope of employment in any other area. We hope that the Government will do something about that.

I should like to say a few words about Clause 9. It gives powers to the National Coal Board to develop the manufacture and sale of petroleum, but not petrol stations. What a ridiculous suggestion by the hon. Member.

We ought to develop the chemical division of the National Coal Board. It is a profitable section and in the future it will be more so. There is an old chemical plant in my area—I am rather narrow-minded in this matter—that is to be replaced. I should like the Minister to take that into account because there is high unemployment in the Mexborough area and this chemical plant is polluting the district heavily. It has almost been condemned in a sense. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will do everything he can to ensure that the new chemical plant is built within the next few years. I should be most grateful for that.

I promised that I would not speak for long, but I want to make the point that we are still finding new coalfields. A new one has just come on stream in the Doncaster and Trent area. We are told that it is an extraordinarily good one. As new pits are brought into being, however, we shall want young people to come into the mines. Unfortunately, they are not coming in because we do not make facilities available for them and we do not encourage them. We do not give them any strong belief that they can make mining a career, and this must be done. Coal will be an important part of the energy of this country, and over the next two decades it will be more important than ever.

The matter of supplies of smokeless fuel has been raised with me. Although we have coal in stock, we have not the suitable coal that is required for grates and domestic heating. Anthracite is in short supply, and we are importing it. That is looked on by some of the work-force in the mining industry as something that we should not do because the men do not understand that anthracite is in short supply and that, therefore, smokeless fuel is badly needed Will the Minister say something about the supply of anthracite and other smokeless fuels? There has been a shortage in South Yorkshire and other parts of the country, and many people, particularly the elderly, have been going short of fuel.

The Bill can be readily welcomed. The advantage that will be taken of it will depend on how it is implemented. I hope that the NCB and the NUM will get together with the Government to make sure that this industry, which is so vital to our economy, gets the necessary increases in productivity, but not at the cost of safety. I worked in the mines when safety was not thought to matter so much, and I should not want to go back to that sort of system.

I hope that we can increase productivity and make the industry more viable so that we can give the men the better benefits to which they are due and make their conditions at least comparable to those of miners in other parts of the world.

8.33 p.m.

I cannot claim the direct expertise of the hon. Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) in coal mining, but I have a number of pits in my constituency, including two or three traditional pits, a large opencast operation, and a big chunk of the Selby coalfield.

I wish to draw attention to what I fear may be a blind spot in the attitude of the NCB and the Department towards the very large sums provided for in the Bill. It provides a borrowing power of almost £2,000 million. Clauses 7, 8 and 9 take powers for quite a lot of interesting diversification in other areas, including petroleum, exploring for other kinds of minerals, international activities, and so on. When the industry is concerned with the exploration of natural resources, particularly fuels, it is an easy, but inadequate, philosophy in coal mining for the management and the Minister to take the view that their business is simply to cut coal and nothing else.

We hear this attitude expressed in connection with the Selby field. The expert, likeable and impressive managerial personnel in the North Yorkshire division of the NCB are enthusiastic coal cutters. That is what they are in business for. However, in this philosophy it is fatally easy to overlook the fact that we cannot adopt the attitude that we need think about nothing more than the immediate industrial activity in which we are engaged.

Perhaps private business could have done this once, but it cannot do so any more. Vast private corporations no longer take the old-fashioned nineteeeth century view that business is business, and nothing else counts. If they are to survive, they must consider the environmental repercussions of the investment and industrial activities in which they engage.

Paradoxically, it is easier for public corporations to ignore the environmental and indirectly-connected spin-offs of their activities than it is for some private companies. Public corporations do not have a particularly good record in attending to the environmental consequences of what they do. We saw this in the disaster at Aberfan. Public corporations are not necessarily the leaders in worrying about the implications and repercussions of what they are engaged in.

Surely the hon. Gentleman realises that environmental considerations did not matter much to the old mine owners? They made sure that they lived in a nice little spot while dirt and coal were raked out of the ground. The NCB has done a marvellous job and has spent a great deal to level the dirt tips.

The NCB is having consultations now on how to get the coal from Selby with the least possible environmental disturbance. I believe that it will do that. It is something of a red herring for the hon. Gentleman to talk about environmental disturbance.

The hon. Gentleman and I both represent Yorkshire constituencies and as we drive up the Great North Road and the motorways we see that there has been a great deal of environmental improvement, including grassing, but in general the public corporations have not been a magic wand for environmental and industrial dereliction. Latterly, much more money has been spent on such projects, but they are largely an attempt to mop up pockets of unemployment and it is not a universal effort.

When starting a big new development such as Selby, let us ensure that we do not repeat the past mistakes of private business and public corporations. Let us have an environmental dimension to the planning from the outset.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would wish to make it clear that Aberfan was the result of an inheritance of 100 years of private ownership of the mines in that area.

No doubt the tip grew over many decades, but it was in public ownership for many years before the disaster occurred, and during that time little or nothing was done about the environmental problems. I do not blame any individual for the hidden flaws in that pit but it is surprising that it was not levelled off or landscaped before the disaster occurred. Public ownership is not necessarily a guarantee that the business that occurs immediately outside the direct business of an industry will attract a lot of attention.

Does the hon. Member know how many coal hills there are in Great Britain? There are hundreds that are left over from private ownership. They would cost millions of pounds to shift. When the coalfield at Selby is in operation I can assure the House that there will be no coal hills.

That is a fair point. I am not saying that the Coal Board can be expected to wave a magic wand and clear the tips overnight. I was saying that it does not come naturally or automatically to a public corporation management, any more than it does to private management, to think beyond the business in which it is immediately engaged.

The management in North Yorkshire are enthusiasts, as is the Minister, for coal cutting. It must think seriously about the environmental responsibilities that it will have in the development of the Selby coalfield.

The hon. Member knows that the National Coal Board has conducted the most massive public relations exercise that has ever been undertaken by any body in the country. A special officer, to whom the hon. Member has paid tribute, was appointed to deal with the public in the area after the inquiry and up to the day when the findings of that inquiry were made known. Pure coal will be extracted from the Selby coalfield. There will be no spoil on the surface. The only likely effect is a lowering of the land and possible flooding. The National Coal Board is taking steps to deal with those problems.

I agree that a huge PR operation took place, but one must see that it is followed up by action. The test of the pudding is in what happens when the machinery starts to roll.

The housing situation in the Selby coalfield area will not be dramatic or problematical in terms of numbers. Even when the mine is working at its maximum, in about 1985, and producing about 10 million tons a year, only 4,000 miners will be involved. Compared with the scale of manpower that we are used to, that is a trifling number.

A three-quarter hour journey to work is not unreasonable, and many miners will want to continue to live in York, Leeds or Garforth. The NCB planning proposal mentions York as an area from which it wishes to recruit. York is within travelling distance of the new coalfield. The Selby coalfield planning application also mentioned York. Workers will travel to work from Leeds and Garforth.

In my pit communities many men to whom I have spoken have expressed opinions on this matter that at first sight seem to be contradictory. They say that if they have to be transferred to the Selby coalfield—and most of them would prefer to stay where they are—they would like to live in their present community. However, they say that if they have to move to another town they do not want to live in a pit village. It is understandable that they do not want to go into miners' ghettos.

I hope, therefore, that the Secretary of State will take on board the point that, for some at least of the 4,000 miners who will be required in the Selby coalfield by 1985, housing provision will be needed. I hope that he will think seriously about what the NCB could and should do about it, although it is not directly linked to the cutting of coal, and he will probably find local management and perhaps his own Department reluctant to get involved in the provision of housing, because that really is not the business of the Board. Nevertheless, housing represents a real local need.

The Selby District Council has decided in its wisdom that
"they are not prepared to consider the provision of houses for the Board if by doing so any cost whatever would fall on the Selby ratepayers, either directly, or indirectly, through the operation of rent pooling, or that the situation of applicants on the Council's waiting list would thereby be prejudiced."
The council is reluctant to put on the shoulders of local ratepayers the extra cost arising from subsidised rents payable as a result of the Government's insisting upon the local authority providing houses for the miners. The NCB must help in the provision of housing in the Selby area.

One point made by a union representative at one pit is that miners would like the Board to help with mortgages to miners to buy their own houses. Why should it not do so? Most industrialists have taken steps to help provide housing for the workers that they have had to bring in to green field sites. There is no reason why the NCB should not think seriously about helping miners to buy their own houses if they do not want to go on living in the traditional kind of mining community. The Government should not put the whole burden on the local pool of subsidised council accommodation, which is very limited, which Selby District Council disposes of. It has not got a lot of houses, and there is a big waiting list.

The average earnings of the lower-paid manual workers in Selby range between £50 and £70 a week, which is well below what the miners will be getting. If they are to compete for cheap subsidised rented accommodation with highly-subsidised miners, it will not be fair to them. I hope, therefore, that the Secretary of State will think seriously about the proposition that the NCB should either provide houses itself or provide mortgages for incoming miners.

My mention of York produced guffaws from miners' representatives on the Government Benches. But one of the environmental features in the area is the A19 main trunk road from York to Selby. It straddles the whole of the coalfield and is one of the principal arteries of communication in that part of the country, but it has upon it the ludicrous and notorious Selby toll bridge. Many miners travelling to the new coalfield will use that road. I believe that some will be coming from York, since the NCB is trying to recruit in all areas within travel-to-work distance.

The Selby toll bridge is an eighteenth century wooden swing bridge, straddling one of the principal trunk roads of the country. It has room for only one large articulated wagon to get across at a time. As far as I know, the Government have no intention of providing extra resources to build a bypass round the bottleneck. The Minister should already be drafting a memorandum urging that if we are to spend £400 million on developing the Selby coalfield and provide borrowing powers for up to £1,800 million for the coal industry in future, we should also provide, in what will be the most modern coalfield in Europe, access that will not require the crossing of a privately-owned wooden toll swing bridge. The Minister should put that priority at the top of his list, so that the Selby coalfield will have its own communications. The NCB has a responsibility both for communications and housing in the context of this massive development, and I hope that the Secretary of State will think seriously about it.

8.49 p.m.

I have been listening closely to the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison), whose constituency includes part of the Selby coalfield. I may be wrong, but I got the impression that what he was trying to say to the House, roughly, was "My majority is not all that big" and that if my hon. Friend the Minister could find ways, through all the various channels open to him, of ensuring that the miners did not go to Selby or Barkston Ash, he would be very pleased. But if the miners did get to Barkston Ash I think he was trying to say "If we turn them into owner-occupiers they may vote Tory". That just about sums up his attitude.

However, I agree with some of what the hon. Gentleman said about the problems of mining the Selby coalfield and the Vale of Belvoir, if that comes onstream. I do not think there is any doubt that with the drift of miners and others from manufacturing and wealth-producing industries over the past few decades, the Coal Board will have extreme difficulty in finding miners in that area or attracting miners from York, whether or not they are stewards of the local working-men's club, as one of my hon. Friends has put it.

If alternative occupations are available, younger people will not go willy-nilly into the coal mines, even though conditions are much better than they were several decades ago. One can argue that safety conditions are slightly better, but not that much better.

It all hinges on wages. The Opposition spokesman commented this evening that manpower had dropped by 5,000 in the last calendar year. We must reflect on the reason why this has happened. Those of my hon. Friends who know this industry extremely well could readily tell me that manpower went up, for the first time in many years, in the periods after the 1972 and 1974 strikes and the consequent wage increases.

Those strikes were not merely caused by the desire to get miners on top of the wages league; the miners were demonstrating to the nation that if we want coal—and it is clear that we need it—wages must be commensurate with the importance attached to getting that coal. That is precisely what happened in 1972 and 1974. For the first time in perhaps two decades manpower started to rise marginally, even taking into account the wastage of labour in those years.

Now, since market forces still play a prominent part in this jungle, manpower is beginning to fall. One of the reasons for this, but not the only one, is that miners' wages are less attractive when compared with other industries and—it must be said—not so attractive when compared with the floor level of some of those who receive Welfare State benefits.

I do not want to exaggerate this point. It happens only in extremely rare circumstances. I am not saying that those who receive welfare benefits get too much. What has happened is that because of successive incomes policies the gap has been narrowed. This is not because those people who have been mercilessly thrown on the dole are receiving less than they should; it is because the differences between the two groups have been narrowed, because of the effect of incomes policy on miners.

If we want coalfields at Selby and the Vale of Belvoir, and the massive coal-field that stretches right across Lincoln-shire, something really dramatic must be done about wages in the mining industry.

For the benefit of those who read Hansard and those who are not conversant with this subject, I should point out that the top wages in the industry are £67·50. Take-home pay, based on a man's family, but in many instances after other deductions, is about £40. Only those who manage to work excess over-time can take home a hefty wage packet.

There are many industries in which wages are much higher than in mining, even on the basic rates. This is the Catch 22 problem that not necessarily the Government, but, more importantly, the industry, must solve.

Can the problem be solved in the context of an incentive scheme? The idea that miners, as a result of this carrot-and-stick method, could suddenly get three strips off a coalface whereas previously they got only two, sounds beautiful, but it does not work like that. Many pits have, on average, been worked for 85 years. There are some pits, older than average, where geological conditions are crucial and men have to work in seams less than 2 ft. thick. Miners working in such conditions cannot work the faces for perhaps more than three days out of five in any given week. These fellows can be knocking themselves about physically day in, day out, for almost every hour of the day, yet never produce coal at a level commensurate with any productivity scheme that can be devised. The current idea is to have a pit-by-pit productivity scheme, but I warn that it will create serious divisions in the coalfields.

If hon. Members want to reflect upon industrial disputes, I suggest that they recall the days prior to 1966 and examine the industrial disputes which occurred at Hemsworth and in South Yorkshire—areas represented by my hon. Friends the Members for Hemsworth (Mr. Woodall) and Dearne Valley (Mr. Wainwright). Industrial disputes were continually taking place not only in the Yorkshire coalfields, but in other areas. They were based on arguments about wage levels at different pits. The blueprint looks good, but it will be extremely difficult to work, and I do not wish to be associated with it.

We have had a productivity scheme based on a national average and that has not worked. The House should consider why it has not worked. I can understand some hon. Members getting the impression that miners may not be working as hard as they used to work. But that is only in the context of mechanisation. Miners now have the ability to do the work in a different fashion. But it is not easy work. It is just as difficult in many ways, because the dust problem created by the machines is greater than it was previously.

The greatest increase and upsurge in productivity in mining between 1950 and 1970 was almost directly the result of two factors. One was the mechanisation that took place after the end of the war and following nationalisation, which went ahead on a scale that was great by any standards throughout the world. The other factor, unpleasant as it was, was the closing of uneconomic pits.

I do not know whether anyone believes that we can now re-mechanise on as great a scale as we did in the period between 1950 and 1965. I do not know what we should do with it. We have already cut down the numbers of surface workers through mechanisation. We have got rid of many of the outby jobs through mechanisation. We have mechanised coalfaces from beginning to end. We have even got mechanised gates, tailgates and main gates. There is a very small margin for this to be done. It can be done on a big scale only in the new coalfields, and, as I have tried to explain, there is a problem in manning them without high wages.

The Notts branch of the NUM, a moderate coalfield, passed a resolution calling for £135 a week for miners, and it was supported by 30 branches out of 33. They know that that is the only way to keep miners in the industry. Arthur Scargill—or, more accurately, the Yorkshire miners—have passed similar resolutions in the knowledge that this is the only way to reverse the rundown.

We should start from the premise that North Sea oil should be used only to offset Middle East imports and not to replace coal. I think that my right hon. Friend accepts that premise. Then we will be able to do something about retaining the manpower.

I think that hon. Members in the Miners Group agree with me that it must not be assumed that the "loyalty of the miners" will be available for all time to a Labour Government. Without a shadow of a doubt, they are on the side of the Labour Government, the Labour Party and the Labour movement. But this smaller number of men—there are now only 200,000 miners, compared with 700,000 only a couple of decades ago—know that security and a job for life depend on making the industry a sound one. That will not happen by their becoming collaborators, co-ordinators or industrial democratisers. It will come if they fight for what they believe in and if the Government to whom they are akin are loyal to them. I think that my right hon. Friend understands that.

Two points arise from our recent meeting. My right hon. Friend is dealing with one—the amount of money demanded from the National Coal Board for the rating of hereditaments on colliery premises. I am told that a paper going around the Departments suggests an increase from £5 million to £11 million. It is not too long ago that the NCB was relieved of £13 million through its Conoco involvement in the North Sea. That has now ended. It used to be in the NCB accounts and it used to be possible to base some arguments for money on it.

I want my right hon. Friend to tell the Department of the Environment two things. First, that Department should instruct local authorities to build houses with chimneys. Then we might sell more coal. I have raised the second matter several times before. It relates to the coke stocks referred to in the Bill. I hope that the Minister will say what that reference means in real terms.

I end on the question of what happens to North Sea oil. The mining industry could grow, but not to a great extent, during the next two decades. The figure of 6·5 per cent. is not one that people should get too concerned about. I cannot visualise our having sufficient miners to bring about a total increase in production of a greater amount than that.

The question of North Sea oil concerns me. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, by being at the helm of this industry, has been able to ensure, in verbal ways at least, that North Sea oil will be used in such a way that it will not replace coal in power stations, and so on. We must never allow the situation that occurred in the period when pit closures took place to develop on the scale to which my right hon. Friend referred, but it could. If North Sea oil is left to the free play of market forces—whatever we may think about the Government's economic policies—we need to ensure for our own narrow self-interest and the interest of the miners that those in charge of North Sea oil in the immediate and medium-term future are those who will insist on planning where that oil goes and what happens to it. We have to ensure that North Sea oil does not flood into the pits, as a result of which we not only throw away our indigenous resources but put thousands and thousands of miners' jobs at risk.

9.7 p.m.

In view of the exhortations from the Chair to keep our speeches short, I shall leave the arguments about the Bill to experts and to my colleagues who know a good deal more about the industry than I do. I shall turn straight to the part of the Bill which interests me—the Selby coalfield half of which is in my constituency and half of which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison).

About £400 million of these many hundreds of millions of pounds which we are discussing in this debate will be spent on the Selby coalfield. I am satisfied that that coal mine will be a showpiece. It will be the pride of the NCB and of the men who work in the mine. The Secretary of State is perfectly justified in his optimism about its future. But I am less satisfied with the progress that is now being made to prepare for the reception of the incoming miners and their families.

We have been told far too little about the plans for housing, schools and all the other necessary amenities. When I say that, I sense a note of impatience from those in the industry. I am told that there is no need to worry and that the NCB has great experience of moving miners around the country—indeed it has —but we who come from or are concerned with the Selby area are not reassured, for the following reason.

The nearest example to us is the Kellingley pit, one of the newer pits, which is only a dozen miles away from Selby. An article in The Guardian in the autumn described what happened at Kellingley in the early stages, when hundreds of miners and their families were moved to the new pit from Scotland and other parts of the country. The article said:
"The vicar of Knottingley, the Rev. Stuart Pearson, says bluntly: 'The local authority and the NCB made a mess of it. It was a shambolic exercise in twentieth-century planning. When the miners came, there were houses but the social work and welfare side of things just had not happened at all. On the estate where the miners live, there were no services, few shops, no clinics, no pubs. The age of the men had not been considered—they were all having children and yet there weren't enough schools.'"
That is perhaps a layman's view.

Let me now quote what is probably a more professional view, that of Mr. Brian Callaghan, Head of Manpower for the North Yorkshire area. In the same article we read:
"Brian Callaghan admits that other factors contributed to the dissatisfaction. 'We had modern houses, first-time tenanted, to offer, but that was the only plus we had. The housing estate was not imaginative or well planned: for example, some roads were not wide enough for buses. There were houses, but no amenities at all. They came later.
'What we have learned is that it is not enough to welcome a man, put coal in his bunker, and show him where his locker is at the pit. We've realised that his home life is our problem, too; the environment the miners go into is also our concern. There needs to be closer liaison with the local authority when building houses. A better quality of social life is necessary.'…He is determined to avoid Kellingley's snags when the new Selby coalfield is manned."
We very much hope that those lessons will be learned, but on the strength of that experience we can be forgiven for requiring strong evidence that they have been.

My area is rather different from that dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash. It is much more countrified, much more rural, than Barkston Ash. The miners and their families will be coming to a community which is settled, relatively prosperous, happy and reasonably well housed. We realise that there must be changes but we see no reason why they should be for the worse, either for the miner or for us.

The main worry is housing. The article in The Guardian said:
"The key factor in moving miners is housing. The practice now is to give the local authorities incentives which take the form of cash and sometimes land. Discussions take place, if possible, long before the houses are needed. The NCB feels now that at Kellingley— opened in 1965—too many miners are concentrated on one estate. It hopes that there will be greater integration at Selby. And they are now thinking more in terms of owner-occupation."
Despite those good intentions, I see from a National Coal Board letter of 26th February that the first 100 houses will be required for renting in 1979, only two years hence, yet, unbelievably, it has not yet been decided how those houses will be paid for.

This is no fault of the Selby District Council, which has been absolutely exemplary in its eagerness to oblige and to co-operate with the Coal Board and the Department of the Environment. Finally, almost in despair, on 1st February the council's policy and resources committee passed the following resolution:
"That this Committee supports the resolution of the Selby Coalfield Committee recommending a total suspension of all further negotiations with the National Coal Board and or the National Government until firm financial proposals are offered to the Council for consideration."
That is very much to be regretted. I believe that the council has made tremendous efforts to try to secure co-operation. It is a serious matter.

To underline the utterly reasonable attitude of the Selby District Council, let me tell the House that the committee had already passed a resolution which expresses my point:
"That this Council accepts a duty to protect the interests of the residents of the Selby District and acknowledges that some expenses will be incurred in performance of such duty. In respect of such necessary expenditure:
(a) the Council reaffirms its existing policy and that the provision of housing required for employees of the National Coal Board arising from the working of the Selby Coal-field is the responsibility of the Coal Board and/or the National Government, but that this Council is prepared to co-operate in the provision of such housing if acceptable offers are made by the responsible party or or parties".
In other words, the council's attitude is entirely friendly to the incoming miners. But it is entirely responsible in its view that it must look after the existing population.

At this late stage we still do not know who is to pay for several thousand new houses or how they are to be paid for. This is a major worry. All the conversations so far seem to assume that 90 per cent. of the housing provided for the miners will be subsidised council housing. Surely that must be wrong. According to the tentative figures submitted to the National Coal Board by the treasurer, I see that the inclusive capital cost of a council house will be £11,200. Loan charges, repair contributions, supervision and management add up to another £1,522. The economic weekly rent of such a house is £31·70. From that sum can be deducted a Government subsidy of £19·74 and a further reduction of £5·92 under the pooling scheme, leaving a rent of £6 to be paid by the tenant.

Whatever figure I give will undoubtedly be queried, but I inquired of the National Coal Board about the wages at Kellingley and it appears that the highest wage paid to face workers two weeks ago was £83 net, so that the gross wage must be getting on for £100. I am not quarrelling about the rate of wages. I am all for miners getting well paid. I am merely bringing out the great contrast that there will be between miners' wages and the wages of others in an area such as my constituency.

All I wish to point out is that a miner will come into the area with a subsidy of £25 a week. If the community is to offer those who are earning a reasonable wage £25 a week to live in a council house, who will buy a house? It is only natural that there will be very few who choose to do so.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has said, the hon. Gentleman misreads the position of the average miner. Some years ago a new pit was opened in my constituency. The local authority offered miners 100 per cent. mortgages but for financial reasons only a very small number were able to take up the offer. As long as the earnings of miners remain as they are, there can be only the type of housing that the hon. Gentleman is talking about.

I do not want to go into that sort of detail. I shall argue the matter at some other time. The case I am putting forward is that the wages that will be earned in such a magnificent mine will be markedly higher than other wages in the area, which on the whole is a farming community.

In such a community it seems not only ludicrous but unjust that such provision should be made. Nearly £6 of the subsidy comes from the system of pooling the rents of all the houses, both old and new. That is acceptable when the new high rent additions to the housing stock are a small fraction of the total, but when, as in Selby, the miners' houses are likely to number about 2,000, which would be one-third of the total housing stock of the district, the arrangement would be unfair to those who already live in the area. I hope that the Minister will consider how disturbing this general situation will be to the general population.

I am serious about this matter. In the area of the Selby District Council four out of five of the population either own their own houses or rent them from private landlords. In other words they pay for their own housing, but in a country area such as this their average wage would certainly be below that of the miners. In spite of that, the miners will be housed in brand-new accommodation and will be paid a subsidy to live in it. How can this lead to harmony? This is happening in Kellingley. Perhaps I may quote an article which says that
"the feeling of 'them and us' persists, aggravated by the resentment of some locals whose houses are delapidated while the newcomers received brand new accommodation."

Does the hon. Member agree that the difficulties arising between newcomers and those already there were one of the problems referred to in respect of Maplin and Stansted, and that this applies to any situation in which a major industry comes into an area? He should not forget that the local council has the power to veto any proposed development. Over the last 10 years the National Coal Board has been trying to get rid of its housing stock to local authorities. Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that, in addition, new industry coming in makes a substantial contribution to the local authority? It is not all give. It is give and take.

I agree with that. I hope the hon. Member will concede that I am trying to forestall aggravation of this sort. A major effort should be made to give the miners the chance to own their own houses, difficult though that may be. Attractive schemes could be prepared. I would have no objection to their being offered houses at less than the cost. It would be cheaper for the State to offer houses at two-thirds of their price than to pay subsidies of £25 a week for the next 60 years.

From the quotation which I gave earlier concerning the situation at Kellingley, it could be seen that one of the great complaints was the delay in establishing schools until the children were already in the area. It would be reassuring to my constituents to know that plans are being made now to enlarge our schools. It would be folly not to plan ahead. We must avoid the situation in which the children arrive there before the schools are ready. I believe that great efforts have been made in the public relations exercise, but we must see that people are more informed about vital issues such as housing and schools.

There is a strong feeling in the area that on the construction of the mine money will be no object. Whatever cuts there may be in public expenditure, the mine will certainly not suffer, and that is almost certainly right. In contrast, there seems to be no thought of spending money on what might be called the infrastructure of the mine.

I must refer again to the ludicrous bridge. Does the Minister realise that, as present plans stand, most of the work force at the mine will live south of the river, so that several thousand miners will have to cross the Selby toll bridge every day to get to work? It is a rickety old structure built in 1792. It is a period piece, not a bridge. We have been waiting for a bypass for 70 years. Now this bridge is to be the gateway to the most modern mine in the world. We are to spend £400 million on the mine, but we will not spend £1 million on the vital bridge.

The Minister will have his nose rubbed in this problem during the building of the mine; thousands of heavy lorries will have to cross the bridge during construction of the shafts, and many will be stuck on the bridge. The queue is often up to a mile long, and the lorries will be seriously hindered in their work.

Similar arguments may be advanced concerning the Riccall bypass. This was high on the list of priorities. It was about to be commissioned when we were told that because of the coalfield its priority had dropped and the whole situation had to be reconsidered. Of course, the opposite should have taken place.

Obviously, a matter of great interest is where the work force will be recruited from. I understand that there is an actual shortage of labour in the existing Yorkshire coalfield, which, presumably, will be accentuated by the early retirement plan. I hear from the Coal Board that, in conjunction with the Manpower Services Commission, a labour market survey on the area from Selby to Hull has been carried out and that the results show a potential maximum annual recruitment for the mining industry of 800. That figure includes potential recruits from the Hull area who could either travel daily to work or come and live near the mine. This, of course, is very good news, especially for Hull, which has a very high unemployment rate.

I am also concerned about compensation—not for subsidence, but for people's houses which may be damaged by the use of small country roads by hundreds of heavy lorries during the construction period. I speak from the experience that I had during the construction of the M62 motorway through my constituency. I can best illustrate my point by a single example. A constituent, Mr. C. W. Cottingham, has his house on a small country road called Sandhome Lane, Gilberdyke. This road, as its name implies, is a narrow country road quite unsuited to heavy traffic. Nevertheless, in the course of the construction of the M62 it became a highway for hundreds of very heavy lorries. Each passing vehicle administered a minor earthquake to Mr. Cottingham's house and, not surprisingly, it was seriously damaged.

No compensation was available from the contractors, and the answer to my letter of protest to the Minister on this subject reads as follows:
"If the damage to the property had been caused by actual impact of vehicles, then your constituent would have a clear legal remedy against the owner or the driver of the vehicle concerned. However I am advised that, if the damage is caused by vibration from traffic lawfully using the public highway, the Highway Authority is not responsible for any adverse effects on road side property. Much as I sympathise with your constituent it would not seem that there are grounds for a claim for compensation."
Whether or not my constituent had a claim under the law as it now stands, he most certainly had a very genuine grievance against a society in which a Minister is able to condone the violation of what one might call the natural rights of an individual. I should like to know that that sort of thing will not happen during the construction of the mine.

I foresee a repetition of incidents of that sort during the construction of the mine shafts at the villages of Riccall, North Duffield, Stillingfleet and Escrick. Each of these villages is served by minor country roads. All these roads have houses constructed sufficiently near the highway to be liable to damage by vibration. A continuous stream of heavy lorries is bound to use these roads during the construction period. I should like a reassurance from the Minister about this.

The public relations people at Selby have tried very hard indeed; but none of the lessons of Kellingley seems to have been learned. We still do not know the plans for housing, and we are therefore worried. We do not know the plans for schools, and we are therefore worried. We do not know what is going to happen about the roads, and we are therefore worried. It is time that we knew about these things.

9.30 p.m.

I am very glad indeed to be called to speak following the speech of the hon. Member for How-den (Sir P. Bryan), if only for one reason. This is one of the infrequent opportunities that we have to discuss some of the vital affairs of the National Coal Board and of the coal mining industry.

I wholeheartedly support the purpose of the Bill. It is imperative that we should do so in order to accomplish its usefulness by assisting the NCB to extract itself from its present trying position.

This is the sort of subject about which many of us have been anything but happy for a long time, especially in terms of how the coal industry has been allowed to deteriorate. But we are now a little more impressed to note some of the prospect of the industry that are now emerging.

It would be quite wrong to ignore that aspect, as it is in that sense that we regard the Bill as essential to step up the drive for industrial production. I also believe that the Bill should be seen against a background of unmitigated confusion and frustrations, which should never be allowed to be repeated.

I shall not recapitulate all the details of the circumstances when coal production was needed to meet an almost insatiable demand. We rightly believed it to be the foundation of the country's prosperity. But instead of the kind of security that we imagined would be a feature of the industry under State control and ownership—for anyone with so long an association with that industry—many times we were alarmed to think of its consequent uncertainty.

Even though sentiments have from time to time been expressed as to the contribution made by the Board and the miners to the economy of the country, and the risks that were taken to achieve it, the industry was nevertheless thrown into perplexity by the effects of the changing pattern of fuel consumption. It was well foreseen. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned all the fuel industries. But I think that it would be more accurate to say that as we have a nationalised coal mining industry, a nationalised gas industry and a nationalised electricity industry, all operating in the energy market, the fact of the matter is that the NCB has had to face a deliberate and calculated contraction of the industry.

However, that may be, it is an unquestioned fact that out of the past and throughout the last 12 years or so, it has been forced to swim against the current, and a very strong current indeed, in commercial warfare. That is the top and bottom of it. Therefore, it comes unbidden to my mind that the Bill before us, by reason of its intrinsic importance, should command general approval.

I also think that it is fair to say that it is not an absolute issue for the NCB to become virtually supreme in the energy field, crushing out all rivalry and opposition. Nevertheless, the measures proposed in the Bill should assist the Board in its major task of strengthening its economic fabric and enable it to play a more important rôle in the energy field, which must be won by efficient effort that will best serve the life and interests of the nation.

I cannot fail to welcome the Bill, because I believe that there is nothing that can offer any parallel to future energy requirements. Any unwarranted assumption would be an error, but one of the most critical questions facing the world is how are we to increase energy supplies? They can properly enough be termed worldly.

With that in mind the Secretary of State has given the House this afternoon a detailed explanation of what the Bill is about. He has demonstrated that he has a true grasp of the need for and the meaning of progress in the energy field as a necessity from which we cannot escape.

One of the most common reasons why I join forces with my right hon. Friend in showing a more graceful imagination in the broad wide-ranging responsibilities of the Coal Board is on account of what has happened in the past. We are entitled to defend our integrity, as throughout the years many of us on both sides of the House who participated in coal debates have tried to impress on Ministers responsible—both Labour and Tory—that a too rapid rundown of the coal industry would result in the slaughter of employment in a whirlwind of pit closures. Naturally we could never conceal our deep concern on that alone but also on the cutting back of valuable coal production.

I hope that the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) is not laughing at that. If he is, I will tell him that on looking back on the conduct and standards that we have tried to set in this House, with great respect to you, Mr. Speaker, we might as well have got down on our bended knees and talked to the cows in the field, for what notice anyone took of our pleas. Many times we tried to reach a common agreement and understanding. I often approach other Members, both inside and outside the House, only to be told "Sorry, Robert, old chap; you must understand the trend of market forces" Of course we knew what was meant by the trend of market forces. We knew the claims of different kinds of fuel. We knew the pressures from the oil lobby and we knew what they were getting at, as to a considerable extent it was the effectiveness that cheap oil would be obtainable ad infinitum.

But it does not take a college education for anyone to realise that turbulent events since then have proved that that kind of speculation and image of an abiding monument of cheap fuel will never any longer carry a monopoly of such guarantee. The proof, as everyone knows, is that high-priced oil imports are an intolerable burden.

We never claimed to have a close-knit knowledge of all the economic mechanisms, but we tried conscientiously enough by studying the extraordinary state of affairs and by pursuing the objectives of proper exploitation and development of such a valuable mineral resource.

But having to cope with the present and to evaluate the future presupposes an understanding of the past. With that in mind, it is instructive to look on the premise that there will be a large market for coal within the next decade and that investment in that direction, in expansion, is required now.

The measures in the Bill are directed to that end—and, for the removal of any doubts, I wish to draw attention to the editorial in The Times of 9th February, which commented on this issue as follows:
"Britain has technically recoverable reserves of coal amounting to some 45,000 million tons, enough for over 300 years at current rates of output. It is reasonable that this should be exploited in a more planned way after the post-war experience of decline, culminating in bitter and unprecedented industrial disputes, and the salutary reminders from OPEC of the economic vulnerability of industrialised nations with heavy dependence on imported oil."
The only thing that I would say in commenting on that judgment is that it has taken a long time to admit it. It seems that former opinions on such economic vitality are dissolving like a dream. But we have the right to say, having been furnished with internal political observation and experience, the intensity of which we were capable of comprehending, and notwithstanding any shortcomings, that it so happened that those in the higher seats of learning—those who are possessed of dry-as-dust economic knowledge, with a fine old tradition in marshalling affairs— classified and predicted what was best for the country as the years were to roll on.

I never envy anyone who knows more than myself, but while it is reckoned to be interesting to go behind the scenes at a circus, it was through dealing with the principal factors and the practical affairs of the industry that I came to the conclusion that our brains must have been made of mutton fat compared with the doctrine propounded by eminent experts who have got us into such a mess.

As I understand the main purposes of the Bill, they seek to give the National Coal Board sufficient borrowing powers to implement the long-term development of the coal industry, as set out in the recent publication "Coal for the Future", mentioned earlier by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry.

Now that we have been presented with that report, we see that it envisages the need for primary fuel in the United Kingdom amounting to a figure between 500 million and 600 million tons of coal equivalent. Whatever public money is required to be spent should not be regarded as extravagant, because we cannot ignore the fuelling of the country's industrial recovery with as much home-produced energy as possible. That should be regarded as an important task in the Coal Board's requirements, aided by borrowing powers.

In view of the contents of the Bill and the report entitled "Coal for the Future", with all that it involves, we cannot refrain from thinking that they can afford endless time for discussion. I would not go so far as to describe all that as "the philosopher's stone" if it did not bring wealth, but they are involved in the interlaced which I have referred, is that it is well known that all the geological evidence suggests that the country is lavishly endowed with vast resources of coal for the production of wealth.

I should, however, agree that the production and consumption of energy involves a complex network of systems—but they are involved in the interlaced structure of the Coal Board in trying to secure its share in the energy market. The Coal Board's policies should have support and should be receptive to all ideas to meet the challenge of any energy crisis with the responsibility to do so.

I want to conclude on this note. The House may think it rather odd, in a debate of this character, when I say that it is many years since I read the life of the late right hon. Joseph Chamberlain, even though he was a hard-boiled Tory. I learned the motto that ruled his life, which he declared in his own words:
"No work is ever worth doing badly and he who puts his best into every task that comes to him will surely outstrip the man who waits for an opportunity before he condescends to exert himself."
Having revealed that to the House for the benefit of the members of the "get rid of Tony Benn" brigade, the significance of that little pearl of epistemology is precisely what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is trying to live up to, with his penetration and distinctive application of knowledge on such a subject, in introducing the Bill.

It is by endeavouring to give shape to the Coal Board in accordance with the tidal wave of changes that surround us—and will continue to trouble us deeply—that the measures in the Bill should serve as a means of future confidence to the Coal Board and the industry. Fortified by all the mutual interests and responsibility, it should be geared to stand four-square against all the winds that blow rather than, just like a ball of clay in the potter's hand, be moulded and shaped into an insignificant industrial asset.

Order. I make an appeal to the House. The debate is due to finish at about 1 o'clock. I fully realise the importance of the debate and the strength of feeling—I need not remind the House that I am a miner's son and therefore I am interested in the debate—but I shall not be able to call everybody in the time allowed unless hon. Members are able to discipline themselves a little more.

9.49 p.m.

I take heed of what you have said, Mr. Speaker. I shall just say this about the speech of the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Woof). It was sincere. Although I disagreed with much of what he said, he expressed a view that ought to be put in the House.

I want to relate my brief remarks about the borrowing powers of the NCB under Clause 1 to the future need for coal, obviously in the context of the Vale of Belvoir—although I shall not talk much about that. I will simply say this about it. We must first decide whether it is really necessary to mine that coal in the foreseeable future. The energy case must be made out. If an overwhelming national need were proved, which could not be met acceptably in any other way, my constituents and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) would reluctantly accept the project and would concentrate on minimising the environmental damage that it would inevitably cause to the beautiful and agriculturally-productive area involved.

The form of the inquiry into the scheme and how the energy case will be examined is crucial to the whole issue. As I have said to the Secretaries of State for Energy and Environment, the normal planning inquiry procedure will not be sufficient. I suspect that that is increasingly accepted on all sides. Both right hon. Gentlemen have always been most helpful and courteous to me, and I shall be writing to the Secretary of State who opened our debate when I have some reaction from the Council on Tribunals to questions that I have put to them about inquiries. I disagree with many of the right hon. Gentleman's policies, but his method of open government, with full publication of so much information, is greatly to his credit and has lifted the level of the energy debate and public discussion of it.

I turn to future need for coal and the financial resources for it. The "Plan for Coal" does not effect the Vale of Belvoir, because no one thinks that it will be on stream by 1985. "Coal for the Future" effectively admits that when it says that only 10 million tons of new capacity is expected by 1985. Eight million tons will come from Selby and the rest from Royston or Betwys, or both.

We must increasingly re-examine the "Plan for Coal" assumptions, let alone those in "Coal for the Future". "Plan for Coal" was drawn up following the Yom Kippur war and the coal strike, when the energy situation was very different. We must also take seriously an important article by the Reader in Geo- graphy at University College, London, Mr. G. Manners, entitled
"The Changing Energy Situation in Britain".
In the article, which, to my knowledge, has not been seriously disputed, Mr. Manners shows that because of the enormous potential wattage of the oil and nuclear power stations under construction, the electricity system will reduce its dependence on coal from 64 per cent. in 1974–75 to less than 53 per cent. of output capacity in 1979–80. He also argues that far from the 135 million tons target in "Plan for Coal" being realistic, the domestic market for coal in Britain in 1984–1986 is unlikely to exceed 125 million tons a year, and there is no serious export potential. How, then, is the 135 million tons to be marketed, to whom, and at what price?

There are two crucial assumptions about "Plan for Coal" that were reasonable in 1974 but that look much less good now. As "Coal for the Future" admits, the total energy scene "now looks somewhat different" and "smaller". The report says that the NCB considers it vital to maintain a market for coal of 125 million to 135 million tons a year. Of course it does: that is its job. It wants "temporary support"—that is a subsidy— to achieve this. We know the Board's view, but we do not know from the document whether the Government agree.

One aspect of this "somewhat different" energy scene is the assumption of "Plan for Coal" that it would become more competitive with oil because of price increases. The CEGB has made clear that recent price increases in coal and railway transport costs have eroded coal's advantage over oil and, as Mr. Manners put last year:
"it is questionable whether coal in fact retains even in 1976 any real economic advantage over oil in many parts of the country."
That article was written in 1976, and even in 1975–76 the advantage was very narrow. In an answer to me on 6th August, the Secretary of State said that, expressed as pence per kilowatt hour, electricity generating costs for coal-fired power stations were 0·97, for oil 1·09, but for nuclear power 0·67.

The second assumption of "Plan for Coal" that has proved doubtful lies in its targets. The January edition of Energy Trends shows that the total production of coal fell by 3·8 per cent. in 1976 and by 6·1 per cent. for deep-mined output. Consumption was virtually unchanged, stocks at power stations and elsewhere remained higher than in any year since before 1971, the manpower in the mines fell by 4,000—I agree with the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) about the difficulty of recruiting miners in future—and electricity consumption increased only marginally.

Against that specific picture up to 1985, the NCB is asking us to look at the position in the year 2000. The basis for its case for further expansion in "Plan 2000"—sensibly the Government have not accepted it but have merely said that they will consider it—is that there will be an energy gap in the 1990s or, as it is discreetly put in " Coal for the Future ", there will be
"Global pressure on energy resources ".
Since it is doubtful that the 135 million tons of coal target for 1985 is either marketable or likely to be achieved, I am even more sceptical about the "Plan 2000" range from 135 million tons to 200 million tons, of which 60 million tons from 30 new mines should be new capacity. I find those targets difficult to accept.

Let us consider the evidence for an energy gap. Both the Gas Corporation and Mr. Frank Chapple of the EEPTU have expressed scepticism—which I share—about whether it will happen at all. The Secretary of State in evidence to the steam generating heavy water reactor inquiry last August, before the General Sub-Committee, felt unable to say more than:
"There has got to be agreement, at any rate about broad forecasts within certain parameters, so that we know exactly what the gap is, when it will come and how we might fill it."
Even the NCB in "Plan 2000" does not say more than
"By the end of the century North Sea oil and gas could have passed their peak."
The House would do well to mark the wise words of the previous chairman of British Gas, Sir Arthur Hetherington, at the National Energy Conference last year, when he said:
"Forecasting energy demand 25 years hence is a chancy business indeed. Many very eminent and wholly disinterested people have tried their hand at this in the past and have proved dismally wrong. Only nine years ago the 1967 White Paper got the UK energy demand in 1975 wrong by an over-estimate of 9 per cent. … Any forecast which assumes a constant relationship between GNP and energy demand must be suspect.…Because we cannot speak with even reasonable certainty about energy demand in the year 2000, a rational procedure is to establish the lead times of the various projects which may he necessary and to take each decision as late as possible. It is vital not to take today, on the basis of a speculation, decisions which could cripple the country industrially over the next few years."
The "Plan 2000" figures are based on four main assumptions, which should be questioned in the House. One major assumption is that oil-fired plant would be converted to coal. The CEGB has specifically rejected this solution, which it has said will increase the price of electricity, reduce its consumption and depress coal production still further.

A second assumption in "Plan 2000" is that coal sales to industry, in preference to oil or gas, could be increased from the present 11 million tons to between 30 million and 50 million tons. The best that the NCB can say to justify that is that "there is no reason" why it should not happen. But there is no reason why it should happen either. Since no reason is seriously offered, we cannot plan on that basis.

The third assumption is that there is a predicted increase of up to 10 million tons in additional coal sales—including totally uncosted and unquantified SNG conversions—to the domestic and commercial market for central heating. Such a proposal is against all consumer preference and experience, and it is hard to believe.

"Plan 2000" talked of the possibility of coal exports to the EEC. It gave no figures, which was just as well, since it would be difficult to take them seriously. "Coal for the Future" does not try to predict any real export potential. If there is any export to the EEC, I suspect that it will come from Poland.

There is also the cost—the horrific cost. The original March 1974 "Plan for Coal" figures have risen to £2,440 million at March 1976 levels, or £3,150 million if the revisions are taken into account. That was March 1976. What are the figures now? What will they be in 1985? What about Selby, which will not start producing until the early 1980s and which was scheduled to cost £400 million at March 1976 prices? What will it cost in the 1980s? As for Belvoir, if it is even mined, I cannot see it costing less than £1,000 million in real money as opposed to "phoney" constant price forecasts. The House will be continually considering coal Bills every year if that is the reality.

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Business Of The House


That the Returning Officers (Scotland) Bill may be proceeded with at this day's sitting, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. Harper.]

Coal Industry Bill

Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The National Coal Board says "Ah, but it will be investment" Certainly it will be investment, but whether the confident predictions in "Coal for the Future" that it will be profitable investment we in this House must at least seriously consider.

Again, as Sir Arthur Hawkins, Chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board, said at the Church House discussion 12 months ago, in a statement that was regarded as being almost heresy at the time but should be on record—
"There is no advantage in capital investment just to keep people happy if it brings no real benefit to them, whether they be miners or electricity supply workers. There is no point in capital investment; it is costly, it puts the ultimate price up, and it reduces still further the demand for the product, so if we are going to keep electricity competitive we must restrict our capital investment as the Government are pressing us to do, as part of the private sector."
No one, least of all myself, disputes that coal has an important part to play in a four-fuel economy, but as guardians of the wider economic interest we in this House must also try to see the broader picture. I hope that I have asked enough questions to suggest that we have much to do as a country before we can even consider making a decision on "Coal for the Future". The Secretary of State's Energy Commission will, I hope, as well as representatives of both management and unions of the energy producers, also include strong representation from sceptics who will ask pointed questions as to how much energy we will really need and who will pay for it. Only then can this House discharge its rôle to the people of carrying out a national financial energy audit. That process has hardly yet begun.

10.3 p.m.

The hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) looked far into the future at Britain's needs and requirements for energy. While I disagree with much of his comments, I agree that we should all be extremely sceptical about forecasting which industry will be required to provide what amount of energy and at what price. Every such forecast that I have heard over the last 12 years about our future energy needs has been proved wrong.

However, I recall one forecast which came true—and it is perhaps a personal matter between the hon. Gentleman and myself. He and I were opponents in Liverpool, West Derby in 1966.

It seems longer ago. The Opposition Benches are becoming full of Members who did not win Liverpool, West Derby. I look forward to seeing many more of them. On that occasion, I forecast, after our confrontation, that the hon. Gentleman would move on to become an extremely good Conservative Member for an extremely good Conservative seat. That forecast at least has been proved accurate.

I made another forecast only a couple of hours ago. At the top of the notes from which I intended to speak, after hearing my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State make a quiet and responsible introduction of the Bill, followed by the ritual complaints about Socialist mismanagement but an equally responsible speech from the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), I wrote "This has been a quiet and responsible debate". But the debate then erupted in speeches from my hon. Friend the Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) and others. Nevertheless, I think that it has been a responsible debate.

So far, no hon. Member has declared an interest. I presume that that is because everyone in the debate has known who has interests to declare. Those of us on this side of the House who are members of the National Union of Mineworkers, as I am, have declared their interest on countless occasions, as I have done, and that they are sponsored by the union, as I am. All this is known already to the House. My views on the Bill would be exactly the same if I had no interest at all to declare. It is noticeable that, whereas in the past there was no great opposition to any important support for coal, in this debate we are all pro-coal.

I confess that, while I and my hon. Friends have done our best in the past 12 years to persuade the Government of the importance of coal, the oil-producing countries did more to persuade the Government to my point of view than anything that the NUM and its members did. If ever an honour were to be placed on the OPEC countries, we ought to award them honorary membership of the NUM.

I support the provisions of the Bill. To put the Bill into context, it is different from past Bills in one respect. In the past we have been concerned with where we could get the coal to burn, while before that it was a question of how we could burn the coal that we had. Now we are talking about support for an industry in a difficult period.

Every Department of Government now has severe limitations on its expenditure. We should all be aware that these financial restrictions must continue and even be increased during the next two or three years at least. It is not simply a case of having financial restrictions this year and then taking the lid off. The restrictions must continue.

Therefore, we should ask not merely whether the expenditure entailed by the Bill is justified. We have to justify this amount of expenditure in these circumstances. I confess that in the last few years, in spite of what I have just said, I have taken a number of deputations to various Ministers asking for investment in a particular industry or a particular area. I have no shame about that. But I was aware that when I approached any Department there was an invisible sign on the door saying "Please do not ask for credit as a refusal may offend" Where the Minister sat there was another invisible sign, "The bank is closed."

The Minister has to justify not only the Bill, but the Bill in these circumstances. I think that he did so to the reasonable satisfaction of both sides of the House—not an easy task and certainly to my satisfaction.

There are three reasons for supporting the Bill. Government aid for investment to industry is moving from the geographical basis of assisted areas, which are arbitrary geographical areas, so that instead of having assisted, intermediate and special development areas the trend is to move towards direct investment in a particular industry. The Bill fits in with that exactly. Clauses 2, 3, 4 and 5 deal with grants for promoting the sale of coal to electricity boards, grants for the stocking of coal or coke, grants in respect of coking coal, and regional aid.

The Bill recognises the responsibility of the NCB for security of supply. One thing that the hon. Member for Melton did not include in his calculations was security of supply, which must be considered in addition to cost and availability. He may have mentioned this point, but not to any great extent. The NCB has more than the normal obligations of a private industry. Clauses 6, 7, 8 and 12 of the Bill are concerned with pit closures, redundant workers, regional grants and pensions. Again, the Government recognise that the NCB has rather more social obligations than most private enterprise industries.

One point that I wish to put directly to the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) is that I hope the Scottish National Members, two of whom have been present during the debate, and the Welsh nationalists, of whom I have not seen any during the debate, will realise that Clause 6 is particularly important for the Scottish and Welsh coalfields. One of my hon. Friends had an Adjournment debate a week or so ago about the difficulties of the Scottish coalfields. The Bill applies to the whole of the United Kingdom and is important to every part of the United Kingdom. The aid is available to every coalfield in the United Kingdom. I hope that if the hon. Gentleman catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, he will be generous enough to recognise that fact.

Clauses 9, 10 and 11 of the Bill are perhaps more controversial. Indeed, they might become even more controversial if the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) is successful in catching your eye, Mr. Speaker. If it is right for private industry to diversify, it cannot be denied to a national enterprise. I agree that there should be equal opportunity. The NCB in these operations would not be in a monopoly situation, so competition would apply.

I wish to put two specific questions to the Minister. I hope he will be able to reply to both of them. If not, I know that it is his good custom and practice to write to individual Members with the information, and that is appreciated.

The coal industry, which includes both public and private interests, believes that there are major coal deposits under the North Sea. Members from the North-East Coast know that coal has been taken from under the North Sea for many decades. In the main, seams have not gone out further than two or three miles from the coastline. Now we are told that there are high hopes, great expectations, of major coal deposits being found far out under the North Sea. Some attempts have been made to discover how those deposits might be extracted and used.

The normal convention in mining of sinking a shaft or a drift and bring up the coal in bulk will not be possible in the North Sea. Is it possible for the Department of Energy to support research and development by the NCB, which cannot in any way be helpful in the short term but might make a substantial contribution in the long term, directed towards undersea burning, gasification and so on? Is it possible to have research and development contracts for the long term? Too often in this place we look at the next three years, not at the next 20 to 25 years.

The second question, which has not so far been mentioned, relates to Drax. If I simply say "Drax", Members and the Minister will know what all the other questions are about. I do not expect my hon. Friend to make a statement about the Government's intentions regarding Drax in this debate. However, that is a way of assuring him of the continuing in- terest of Members, particularly Members of the miners' group. Perhaps he will indicate when a statement is likely to be made. "Drax" is my shorthand way of putting the question, and I think that all hon. Members will understand it.

Finally, I should like to mention productivity and costs. Coal miners are not capstan lathes. Most hon. Members understand that. Coal mines are not machine tools. Coal mines work 24 hours a day, so it is not a question of putting on another shift. We cannot really compare productivity and progress one with the other of coal mines in England, Scotland and Wales. It certainly was a disservice by the hon. Member for Bridgwater to say that it was proposed that our coal production should increase by about 6 per cent. whereas the Americans were making plans to increase their production by about 135 per cent.

I am sorry. There was mention of about 135 per cent. somewhere along the line.

Perhaps I may help the hon. Gentleman. If I remember correctly, the figures are as follows: Australia and New Zealand, 58·3 per cent; the United States, 58·5 per cent; Canada, 86 per cent; and the average for the whole of the OECD, 36 per cent.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that helpful intervention. I must have been adding the figures for Canada and America to reach about 135 per cent. However, as the hon. Gentleman eventually recognised, taking brown coal out of America and hard coal out of Britain arc two very different things. It is not a matter of making a machine to go faster, speeding up a belt and so on. Essentially, real productivity in British coal mines has been increasing, though that is not shown in the output per man-shift. It is more difficult to get coal from a British pit now than it was five years ago. The older the pit, the more difficult it is. We run faster in order to stay still. My only hope for major increases in productivity which will help to hold down costs is the finding and working of new seams and pits. It is a fact of life that any major increase in productivity must come from new pits and new seams.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. To put the record straight, since there still seems to be some misunderstanding, my purpose in mentioning the OECD figures was to show the importance that all those countries now attach to coal production. None of this coal would be won without substantially increased capacity. It is an indication that all those other countries are recognising the significance and importance of their coal industries.

I am grateful: the hon. Gentleman and I have come by different paths to the same point.

As I was saying, the only hope of major increases in productivity lies in the new pits. Almost all the investment in the industry in the next three years will have to be directly aimed at production, but a great deal of time has been spent tonight on the environmental aspects. That is absolutely right. Whether at Aberfan, Barkston Ash, Selby, Belvoir or the new one, we must not repeat the mistakes which the industry, private and public, has made over the past 100 or 200 years.

I ask only that after the next year or two some of the resources being made available for the new pits should be devoted to the old pits. Some resources, no matter how limited, should be spent on improving their environment.

The Bill provides large amounts of taxpayers' money for direct investment in an industry which is vital to our future. There has been more agreement tonight than in any other debate on this subject. I do not want to incite the hon. Member for Bedford or any SNP Members, but I believe that the underlying tone of this debate has been a recognition that this is a major British industry which both sides want to assist because of its vital importance to the economy.

10.17 p.m.

The hon. Member for West Derby (Mr. Ogden) has made a thoughtful contribution to an interesting debate. There has been great concord between the two sides about the future of this important industry. In a spirited speech, the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Woof) indulged in a little name-dropping. I should like to do the same by referring first to the person that he mentioned—the President of the NUM, Mr. Joe Gormley. In a discussion that I had with Mr. Gormley a year or so ago at a joint industry meeting, he stated very firmly what has also been expressed by the hon. Member for Blaydon, West Derby that a bipartisan approach was desperately important if we were to obtain the fullest benefits from our massive energy resources. He has developed that theme, of course, on other occasions.

Therefore, in my approach to the Bill, with all its implications, both financial and otherwise, I retain my fundamental belief that our coal reserves are our most important asset. North Sea oil and gas, vital though they seem in our present dire economic straits, are of limited duration. With all the alternative sources of energy—tidal, solar and wind power and even nuclear energy—coal, if produced economically and used wisely, will increasingly play an important rôle in our industrial processes. I am therefore pleased that once again the House can deliberate constructively on a major Coal Industry Bill.

Having said that, and declared my unequivocal position as a supporter of the coal industry, I must express, as other hon. Members have done, some concern at the present state of affairs. I know that there is tonight a feeling of unease among some hon. Members and Ministers, shown in the thread which has run through most speeches about the decline in productivity in the mines.

Writing in the Colliery Guardian in May last year, the Secretary of State said:
"What is needed is a viable industry to get the coal out of the ground. And to get it out at competitive prices."
With coal prices rising by nearly 100 per cent. in the last three years, there is general anxiety that for reasons people do not undestand vast amounts of their money, the spending of which we are approving, are being poured into the coal industry without achieving anything. There are many reasons why, some of which have been explained tonight. We have heard detailed explanations why we are not obtaining the increases in productivity which successive Ministers when presenting successive Coal Bills have proclaimed would be a direct result of their measures.

The hon. Gentleman draws attention to a distressing fact, that productivity has been falling, but has he noticed that at the new mine in Royston productivity has risen from 2¼tons per man-shift to 8 tons per man-shift? If this is to be the pattern of the new mines being sunk in Yorkshire and elsewhere, that is encouraging.

I agree completely. I want later to develop the reasons why I think it is not the miners' performances at the face but other factors which determine the drop in productivity, and which will determine the increase in productivity which we shall achieve in the years to come.

I have sat on three Coal Bills. Each time we have discussed the whole question of the non-realisation of the hopes expressed in the deliberations on the previous Act. Each time we have had Ministers expressing their determination to come up with a new and acceptable productivity deal so that these new targets could be reached.

The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) gave the reasons why he feels pessimistic about any new productivity arrangement. Unfortunately, I believe that all the portents are unfavourable, and I agree with the Iron Gentleman in that respect. But it is still necessary for us to indulge in some plain speaking so that we may restore confidence to people and Parliament that we are nut just pouring money into an industry without any idea of what that industry is trying to achieve.

There is no dispute, or there should not be, about the rôle of coal. With coal-generated electricity increasing from 67·8 per cent. of all electricity to 77·8 per cent. last year, the miners should not feel that there is some gigantic conspiracy, on the part of the CEGB or anyone else, to prevent the fullest possible exploitation of our massive coal resources.

I do not share the fears of the hon. Member for Bolsover that more oil will be used for generating electricity at the expense of coal. But there is, and there should be, concern on the part of workers and management in the industry about the fall in demand for coal. The Secretary of State is right to stress the need for a viable, competitive industry. But what indication has he given today that the frighteningly large increase in prices of the last year or two will not be added to substantially by a lack of productivity, inflation and other factors, such as bringing forward Drax B, early retirement—the costs of which will have to be added to the price of coal—and a miners' pay claim which could be far in excess of the present voluntary limit?

As my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) pointed out, miners are just reaching the end of their phase 1 pay agreement. They still have to go through the whole of phase 2 at a time of frighteningly large increases in the cost of living. We are entitled to an assurance from the Government that there will be a satisfactory pay settlement later this year which will relate somehow or other to productivity.

The overall decline in OMS has not been consistent. I disagree with the hon. Member for West Derby, who implied that we were facing a continual problem of trying to catch up with the year before, because there has in fact been an up-and-down situation for some years. Productivity has gone up for one or two years and then down. It is a worrying situation, because we should be expecting productivity to increase, especially if we are considering investment in new equipment and new mines.

Various reasons are advanced for the decline in productivity. Unless it is reversed, the Selby field, the first to be developed in Britain for 70 years, may finish up producing very expensive coal. The strategy in the 1974 "Plan for Coal", drawn up by the last Conservative Government, aimed at halting the decline in output. We have seen a decline from 184 million tons in 1960 to 120 million last year. The sum of £1,400 million envisaged in 1974 for major improvements has had to be revised upwards dramatically, by over 100 per cent.

I support many of the objectives and figures being put forward in the Bill, the increased funds for coal research, the gasification programmes already taking place, fluidised-bed combustion and the coal-into-oil processes. But the revised expenditures are vast, and if they are not backed up by increased production and the competitiveness which the Secretary of State has insisted is required they are not entitled to receive our unqualified support.

The reports of severe flooding problems at Selby are disturbing, because we base our hopes for productivity upon such new fields producing about 60 per cent. more. The overall 4 per cent. a year increase envisaged in the "Plan for Coal" was based on that kind of premise. Therefore, it is crucial to the debate that the Government give us a clear indication of plans to boost production per man-shift.

I hope that Labour Members will shoot me down if I am wrong, but I suggest that our present shift system of one or two shifts a day, certainly in the newer pits, is not as effective as the Europeans' three-shift system. That is not because the German miner works harder at the face than the British miner. It has been conclusively proved that he does not. But the system there allows for a far better use of the machinery and equipment.

There is also the question of the reliability and design of our coal extraction equipment. It has been reported that we have only a quarter of the length of service compared with European equipment. We suffer long delays, and, therefore, long weekends are used for the servicing of such equipment. I put this forward as an alternative explanation for falling productivity rather than the general assumption that for some reason the British miner is not working as hard as he has done in the past.

I have visited old and new pits. I recall a visit to the new Daw Mill colliery, with faces of 250 yards and wonderful new equipment producing vast amounts of coal by mechanical means. But I also clearly recall my impression of the mine's dependence upon the reliability of those machines. When I talk of poor productivity, I am not implying poor effort by the miners. But I accept the problem of the older pits—

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that with a three-shift system of the type he was talking about there are greatly increased maintenance problems with some of the machines at the face? Some of the experts who have compared one or two Staffordshire pits with German pits found that total productivity in the Staffordshire pits that they examined was higher, purely because the machines ran better and there was better maintenance.

That is a crucial point. That is why I related the matter particularly to the need for more reliable equipment and machinery. It appears that the improved productivity in German pits is not a result of producing more in the working time at the face per man-shift but comes about because the Germans are getting longer and better use out of the equipment. I think that the Germans have shown that by using a three-shift system, with better and more reliable equipment, they can achieve a much higher level of productivity, but it is a matter that must be very carefully examined.

The hon. Gentleman is now comparing the German coal mining industry with the British industry. I do not know whether he has seen the deep, thick seams of brown coal in Germany where they are outcropping seams that are 30 ft. thick. They are doing so 8ft. at a time. If Britain had seams like that, it would be a wonderful asset to the British fuel industry. When the hon. Gentleman is comparing the German coal industry with the British industry he should take such matters into account.

I accept that we must be careful not to liken unlike with like—in other words, using pits from one areas as examples when they are totally different from others. I have seen reports and evidence where those investigating the problem have tried to take equivalent pits in Poland, Germany and other coun- tries when comparing them with others. I am suggesting that productivity does not necessarily lie only with the working of the miner at the face. There are many other factors involved. I accept the hon. Gentleman's point.

Another matter that is connected with productivity is the whole question of incentives and labour attitudes. Surely labour attitudes could be better within the industry. It is important to ensure that we have the right shift system that gets the best use of equipment and machinery and that the equipment and machinery is reliable and long-lasting. If the miners can see positive financial rewards from the increased use of available machinery, if they can see a 4 per cent. increase in production per year as originally laid out in the 1974 "Plan for Coal", they will themselves generate greater confidence in the future along with better industrial relations and much higher wages.

It is not only a matter of financial rewards. If we talk of exports of coal, increased electricity generation and increased domestic and industrial consumption, those increases will not be obtained just by the measures that we have heard proposed by the Secretary of State at Question Time. The premature bringing forward of Drax B, the adding of that generating station to our already under-used generating capacity, will add £150 million to the cost of electricity generation. That will mean a 3 per cent. or 4 per cent. increase in charges, as admitted in answers that have been given in the House, plus the increase of 15 per cent. that we are liable to see added to coal prices, plus the cost of early retirement proposals and the cost of any new wage agreement, and all this will further stifle coal demand.

We have to be extremely careful not to be led up one alleyway only to find that we defeat our objectives in another. I want to see new and more reliable machinery, earlier retirement to create a younger work force and new fields at Selby and elsewhere bringing about the production that we seek, combined with a forward-looking incentive scheme for the miners. If that could be achieved we could put our industry on the right path, but without it we shall continue to lag behind our competitors and fail to seize the opportunities open to us.

The best exposition of the case that I am making came from the Secretary of State in the article he wrote in the Colliery Guardian of May 1976. He referred to the opportunities for exports, which it is important that we bear in mind. He wrote:
"As the European Community includes among its energy objectives, in addition to stabilising coal production at current levels, a potential increase in coal imports from non-Community countries, this offers the United Kingdom some prospect of increasing its trade in coal within the EEC. By 1985 the Commission estimates 'imports' will have to increase by about 20 million tonnes. If the United Kingdom can achieve a surplus of coal at competitive prices, some of this trade may well come to us."
Clause 11 enables the NCB to operate extensively abroad, and I should want to examine the powers very carefully as they could lead to the opposite of what the Secretary of State was saying. They could lead to competitive coal extraction in other countries. I have no objection, to NCB expertise being used and sold abroad in joint ventures, as is being done with the Queensland coking coal development, but some of these projects could lead to NCB imports coming into this country from developments of coal elsewhere and competing with our own production. We need a clear and detailed case made out for the clause by the Government if these overseas developments are to take place.

If these overseas developments are to be slanted towards the new developments of oil from coal or other energy techniques I should favour them provided the closest scrutiny is maintained in order to avoid the possibility of huge loss-making ventures being embarked upon. I need cast my mind back only as far as the groundnuts scheme to realise how we can find ourselves not restraining ventures of the sort which take place abroad.

Clause 9 proposes an extension of the NCB powers to enable it to engage in petro-chemical activities, I know that my hon. Friends will deal extensively with this. The Department's Press notice gave the impression that this clause would not empower the NCB to go downstream with petroleum refining and marketing. The general interpretation of this provision by experts outside the House is that it seems certain that these powers would be given.

In spite of the qualification which is supposedly included in subsection (1), the clause is so loosely worded that I suspect that a deal has been struck with the Government to compensate the NCB for the arbitrary removal of its North Sea oil activities. I imagine that there is still a group of oil experts in the NCB who would like to retain these oil activities, and, therefore, I suspect that a deal has been struck.

There must, therefore, be a conflict between the NCB and the oil companies. How are these powers necessary for helping the board to establish long-term outlets for coal, which is supposed to be the object of the Bill?

I support the Bill since I believe that from the 1990s onwards coal and nuclear power will provide the ever-increasing bulk of our energy. The oil era will end much sooner than expected, and alternative sources of energy—solar, wind and tidal power—will only just enable use to keep pace with demand.

The latest figures from the Oil and Gus Journal paint a worrying picture of declining proven world oil reserves, with a 9 per cent. decline in 1976. If no further additions to reserves were to be found there would be only sufficient oil at the depressed 1976 level of world production to last for the next 29 years.

Taking into account new discoveries made, and balancing them with the increased consumption which will result from the pick-up of world demand, we can see that we are coming to the end of these oil supplies.

We must, therefore, ignore the cynics and look a few decades ahead to a period of nuclear and coal power. The nuclear debate is well tinder way in the House, but coal will be the great source of energy in the 1990s, and not necessarily in the forms we now know. We shall have the new techniques of fluidised-bed combustion, gasification of underground and undersea coal strata, liquefaction and "gas from coal", and "coal-plexes" for petro-chemical processes as already exist in South Africa and elsewhere. These are the coal uses for the future, and it is right to provide for the NCB to carry out research and development on these matters.

I want all this to take place, and I want our embattled coal industry lifted out of any rut of partisan politics that it may be in. I want an end to industrial confrontation, because of the great future that there is for coal. The Government have not convinced me that they have their priorities firmly in view, but I hope that in Committee all of us can assist them to get these priorities right for the future.

10.40 p.m.

As promised, I shall try to confine my remarks to about 10 minutes to allow some of my colleagues to enter the debate.

I would first make reference to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy. I am pleased that the Bill has been brought forward. If the debate has been wide-ranging, it is simply because in the past we used to have an annual debate on the National Coal Board report. This practice has lapsed during the past few years, and, as a result, we are taking the opportunity to go rather wider than the Bill and discuss other matters which are very important.

On going through the Bill, I feel that my right hon. Friend's comments were very fair. But he must realise that at the end of the day we must face realities. It is an important Bill. I have listened to many coal debates in this House during the last 25 years, and we always seem to get a wide measure of agreement. I cocked my ears when my right hon. Friend made reference to Jack Dunn and the pamphlet concerning oil and energy. That kind of thing has been said in this Chamber for many years and successive Governments have failed to take note of what has been said on these issues.

Without doubt, the Secretary of State for Energy has one of the most important posts in the Government. Without energy we would have no social services, or education, or civilisation. I was pleased when my right hon. Friend mentioned that he was striving to bring all the energy industries under one umbrella. We have argued for this many times in the past but we have never actually succeeded in bringing it about. However, I am now convinced that my right hon. Friend is making a serious endeavour to bring it about.

I smiled slightly when my right hon. Friend referred to the Sankey Commission. I wondered whether anyone in the Chamber knew who Lord Sankey was. When I was a young boy in 1920, I remember that he used to come to the miners. Lord Sankey was a friend to the miners. His speeches on mining and the mining industry are still remembered by many of us. He was appreciated, and we fully understand that he was dealing with a very human problem.

In spite of mechanisation, the mining industry is still fighting nature with bare hands. I have been down about 50 pits and I have also seen opencast mining in Australia and Germany. It is difficult to make comparisons with regard to output per man. But we must look back in retrospect to see where we have gone wrong. As I have already said, this subject always evokes an exciting debate. I am sure that after the debate is finished it will take at least two hours for the coal dust to settle.

This is an industry which needs serious attention. We have to realize that it takes two tonnes of coal to produce as much energy as one tonne of oil. We know that coal is still a reserve, but we must realise that the reserves in Great Britain will last only 200 years. Not many hon. Members realise that there is coal under Reading which is 12,000 ft deep. The time will come when this will be exploited.

The coal industry in Great Britain is one of the best in the world. We have some of the best mine workers. Having said that, we must take into consideration that we have a responsibility to society. That is why I say to my right hon. Friend that if we proceed with the Bill, and with the loan, we must have increased productivity.

I am a sponsored Member of the NUM. I say to both the NUM and the NCB that something has got to be done. Members of the mining group come to the House and support the NUM through thick and thin. We make our speeches in this Chamber, and on many occasions we have been supported by hon. Members on the Opposition Benches. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) said, we must realise that if we do not get increased production it will be difficult for us to start applying the fringe benefits that we should like to give to those in the mining industry. We should like to do far more than we are doing in that respect.

It is difficult to encourage recruits into the industry. Throughout generations there have been problems in the mining industry and people have made sacrifices to go into it. As an industry producing coal, 100 years ago we were exporting more than half of all fuel entering world trade. Today we can still become the powerhouse of the EEC, and we should do that. Now that we have this Bill, it is up to all of us to see that we play our part, particularly in Western Europe, because if we do there will be a great future for those in the mining industry. There is no reason at all why we should not stimulate confidence within the industry so that we can get the right kind of recruitment.

At present we are obtaining about 15 million tons per opencast mine. The hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) was waxing eloquent about Selby and the proposed mime there and how some of his people will suffer. I was born in my constituency and I have continued to live there. We have been ravaged by opencast mining since 1941. There is now a proposal to start a new mine in close proximity to 300 hours. I shall oppose that if at all possible. However, we have experienced this problem. It may be fair for the hon. Member to make a constituency speech concerning what may happen at Selby, but I hope that he will realise that we have had the spoil banks and have made the sacrifices.

I have always claimed that Yorkshire, with its agriculture, coal and steel, is probably the most important county in Great Britain. But we have made an enormous sacrifice. I have said to my people, "Opencast mining is justified. The coal is cheaper to win than the coal in a deep mine." This coal must be got out at some time.

:The hon. Gentleman is a neighbour of mine in Yorkshire. He knows that I have the same problem of the opencast site that spreads dust all over my constituency as it does over his. It is not merely Selby about which I have been talking. We also have the opencast problem in that part of my dividion.

Of course, that is so, However, I hope that my hon. Friends who come from areas that are far away from mining areas will realise what we must put up with, although we know the national need and that we must probably tolerate some of these things.

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the problems in that part of Yorkshire in which we live is the shortage of tipping space that is now being experienced with some of the long-established pits? That will never be a problem at all in Selby.

Yes, and I accept that that is so concerning Selby. But what has been brought out is what may happen in the Selby area. I have a good amount of sympathy with some of the points that have been made, but people in my area have experienced these problems for generations. I do not mind these points being raised as a constituency matter. I have referred to certain opencasting in my constituency. It will continue for 30 or 40 years. That is what worries me tremendously.

I do not believe that enough has been done, or that sufficient money has been spent, on research. When we talk about oil resources being exhausted within two generations, we should remember that there is a possibility of obtaining oil from coal. It could be done now, but it is a very expensive process. Far more attention should be paid to research. The Bill opens up great possibilities, but I would like to see the whole process stepped up a bit. Whatever we may say about fossil fuels, the fossil fuel that we must bear in mind most is coal. My hon. Friend who is winding up the debate tonight has as much experience of the industry as anyone in this House, but I would like to hear him say that a little more could be done on research.

I am pleased to say that the blackened panoramas in some of the coal fields have disappeared. This is a tribute to those who have subscribed towards the removal of the tips. In parts of my constituency now one can actually see cattle grazing. I very much appreciate this rural scene.

The House debates a measure like this with a good deal of agreement, although some hon. Members do bring up the past a little. If we do not get the kind of agreement we are all seeking, it will be difficult for everyone. Our economy depends on it, and our direct and indirect services depend on it.

I want to see full co-operation between the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers. To a large extent it will help if we can produce more coal. If people are paying £52 a ton for coal, that is a lot of money. I remember the days when I got my ton of coal for 3s. 6d. I do not believe in cheap coal, because I do not believe in cheap miners. We have had cheap miners for generations, and now we must ensure that they are adequately compensated and have suitable hours. I believe that 25 years is long enough for anyone to work in a pit.

I shall quote from the conclusions of a Government committee under the chairmanship of Sir John Forster which examined the question of juvenile recruitment to the mines in July 1942. It said:
"The industry has a black record as regards unemployment, and especially since the end of the last war there have been certain districts in which the incidence of unemployment and part-time working has been particularly severe. During that period coal-mining has been subject to a series of shocks which have done serious damage to the prospects of those whose well-being has been dependent on the industry. The memory of these shocks still remains and has operated as a deterrent to recruitment. The wages level, both for boys and adults, does not compare well with other industries, especially taking account of the time lost from sickness, accidents, and short-time working.
The type of underground work is uncongenial, and will continue so unless improvements in living and working conditions keep pace with those in other industries."
That was in 1942, and it is still true today. We must achieve unanimity on energy policy. If we can retain confidence in the industry, I believe that there can be a good future.

The future for the coal industry is exciting. If I were a young man embarking on a career today, I should have no hesitation in choosing coalmining. I welcome the Bill and hope that it will be fairly treated in Committee.

:I must remind the House that this is not an open-ended debate. It must finish at one o'clock, and the Front Bench speeches will begin at 12.20 a.m. We have only 85 minutes to accommodate the contributions of 11 hon. Members. Therefore, I appeal for brevity and hope that hon. Members will keep their speeches within a compass of seven or eight minutes. I shall then be able to call all those hon. Members who have sat through the debate.

10.57 p.m.

I see this Bill as part of a wider vision in the new approach to the energy gap, but the energy gap will grow wider sooner rather than later.

The future of coal is dependent on two particulars: first, price, and, second, productivity. The subject of productivity has been ventilated a great deal this evening, and it plays an important part in considering whether there will be a demand for coal in the market. As oil and gas go into shorter supply, the price of those products will rise. If the price of those commodities rises, coal will become more and more competitive.

We are now dealing with a partly transitional situation in which coal—which in the 1950s and 1960s was in competition with cheap oil—is now much more competitive than it was because of the policies adopted in the OPEC and the increase in world oil prices. But we still have not reached the situation when coal has come back into its own—to the time when it is regarded as it used to be, as "King Coal".

This Bill is important in two ways. First, it will provide finance for the development of industry, and I shall return to that matter a little later. The other aspect of the Bill involves the development of chemical products from coal, and it is right that research should be conducted into that situation.

I hope that the Minister will be able to answer one or two questions about the coal industry in Scotland. I appreciate that a large part of the finances will go to development of the Selby coalfield, if not to others. That is a commercial matter. But what rate of investment is the Minister proposing for the Scottish coalfields? The rate of investment in recent years has been too low, and I shall be interested to hear what sort of investment programme is in mind in view of the increased lending limits proposed in the Bill.

Will the Minister give some idea when the reserves at Musselburgh, so recently discovered, are likely to be developed? Is not the coal agreement with the South of Scotland Electricity Board almost at an end'? Since Clause 2 relates to assistance in the purchase of coal by electricity boards, will the Minister say something about the Scottish situation? Will he give a little more information on what is happening at the Fallin colliery?

I leave that aside and go on to the matter of petro-chemical developments. Clause 9 contains a most interesting proposal. It gives power to the National Coal Board or, at least, if I can paraphrase what the Minister said, it extends the powers that we are told the Board already has, to go into the petroleum business. My view at the time of the formation of the BNOC was that the NCB had had a raw deal at the hands of the Government. The substantial assets that it had discovered as a result of its own enterprise in exploration, in partnership with the oil companies, were transferred to the BNOC without any compensation other than the refunding of the exploration and other costs that had been associated with the deal. Those oil resources have gone to the BNOC.

I should like to put a suggestion to the Minister. When the NCB becomes involved with petro-chemical activities and research. it should consider doing so in partnership with existing organisations. We already have two successful examples of this—the experimentation that has been carried out on a joint basis into the gasification of coal and the matter of fluidised-bed combustion. This has been done through a wholly-owned NCB subsidiary, NCB (IEA Services) Ltd., which was the operating agent. The finance has come from the USA, West Germany and the United Kingdom under an International Energy Agency agreement. I suggest that this goes on in other parts of the world. Companies that were not obviously linked with the coal industry—some of them are oil companies—have seen emerging a pattern of fuel in energy development and they have been going more and more into coal. It may be that some of the research work that is required and will be necessary before the costs of refining of coal to produce petroleum products is carried out has been done already. It would be desirable if the experimental costs could be shared inter- nationally through governmental action or even by the NCB in co-operation with companies.

I remember hearing from the Continental Oil Company that was a partner of the NCB. It said that it had a good relationship with the NCB because they were both in the extraction industry. They were both involved in mining and interested each other's ways of thinking. So, although there are the NCB on the one hand and the big oil companies on the other, it may be that for certain specific purposes, particularly in research, there might be some possibilities of co-operation. We must look into the petro-chemical possibilities of coal much more in the future than we do now.

If we are heading into a situation in which oil will progressively become scarcer or the further supplies that are discovered are in deeper water and, therefore more expensive to take out, coal will gradually come into its own. In that situation there will be a transition from an oil-based economy to coal. But we must start now. I was impressed by the letter I recently received from Mr. Grainger, who is the member for science on the Board, in relation to the atmospheric fluidised-bed combustion system, the commercial exploitation of which is imminent in the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom has a clear lead as a result of the NCB's pioneering work. The most useful demonstration example is the modified boiler at the Renfrew works of Babcock and Wilcox. It is hoped that overseas sales of plant based on this model will grow rapidly. Opportunities for commercial development may come from the experimentation that may be finance and encouraged under the Bill.

I am bearing in mind your injunction to be brief, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have said as briefly as I can all that I intended to say in relation to the Bill without going into a critical or analytical examination of the industry as a whole. Having, said that, I shall resume my seat.

Order. I am most grateful to the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson). He took exactly eight minutes, and that was very helpful

11.5 p.m.

I thank my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Leader of the House for bringing forward this Second Reading. I asked during business questions three weeks ago that it should be brought forward because I was concerned about further investment in the coal industry, not just at the national level but also at the local level at Polmaise in my constituency.

I hope that the increase in the borrowing powers of the National Coal Board from £1,100 million to £1,800 million, with the possibility of a further extension to £2,600 million, will make possible an increase in the investment in collieries such as Polmaise, which employs 600 men and is one of the largest industrial employers in my constituency. There were once many pits in Stirlingshire, but Polmaise is now the only one left.

On 1st February the Board announced a proposal to close the colliery, despite the fact that, according to reliable information that I have been given, there are enough resources for 15 to 20 years' work. The pit was being closed not because the seams had been exhausted but because of low production. This has arisen not because the miners there do not work as hard as miners elsewhere but because Polmaise is traditionally a difficult pit to work. The miners work very hard, but it is virtually impossible for them to reach the same output per man-ship as men in other pits which are easier to work.

Geological and technical difficulties have existed for some time, and this is not the first time that the pit's future has been raised in the House. I raised this matter during the last coal industry debate'about a year ago. The hon. Members for Clackmannan and East Stirling-shire (Mr. Reid) and Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) claimed then that the closure of Polmaise was imminent. The Under-Secretary rightly said that this was mere scaremongering by the SNP, whose declared policy is to set up a separate Scottish coal board, which would have resulted in pits such as Polmaise being closed years ago. I was grateful to the Minister for his assurance at that time, because it is the height of irresponsibility for the SNP to spread fear and alarm about people's job security when it has no constructive realistic alternative proposals of its own.

The NUM has taken a strong line against the proposed closure. On 4th February, a mass meeting, attended by union officials and myself, decided unanimously to oppose the closure and came up with a constructive alternative—a 16-point plan designed to increase productivity.

I hope that hon. Members opposite who do not believe in industrial democracy or workers' control will note that the unions deserve to be congratulated in this case because the 16-point plan has been implemented and I am informed that production at the pit has recently increased. This was a union plan, not an NCB scheme.

Last Friday there was a further meeting at the pit with the NCB and there is now a possibility of a reprieve. At least the pit will not be closed in the meantime. But there is still a need for a long-term development of the colliery because the reserves are there. At the time of the closure of the Manor Powis and Cowie collieries, the mining communities in the area received an assurance that Polmaise would be used for access to the seams at the two other collieries.

Speaking of long-term development brings us back to the need for investment. The Bill will help with its provision for increased borrowing powers. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) made a slip of the tongue when he referred to the possible application of Clause 6 as being of particularly great benefit to Scotland. That clause refers to pit closure grants. I hope that he meant to refer to Clause 8, which deals with special grants for assisted areas to enable further development to take place.

On this point, could the Under-Secretary of State answer the following question: Why is it that in the green booklet produced by the Department, "Coal for the Future", the Government's regional grant assistance to the coal industry in 1974–75 was 07·8 million whereas in 1975–76 nothing at all was given by way of regional grants to the industry?

The trade unions at Polmaise are opposed not just to closure but to any compulsory redundancies. The socio-economic consequences of closure would be disastrous and the consequences of mass redundancies would also be damaging in an area where the male unemployment rate is already at 9·3 per cent. and there is not much alternative employment.

The nearest large town to Polmaise is Stirling. Stirling has been ruled for many years by a Right-wing alliance—latterly a Tory/SNP coalition, that has been traditionally hostile to industry. Even going back to the days before public ownership of the mining industry there were byelaws forbidding miners coming home from work with dirty faces from walking through the town. They were forced to get off the bus at the burgh boundary and walk round the perimeter of the town. The squalor and degradation of the housing conditions in villages such as Fallin and Cowie at that time had to be seen to be believed and, although housing conditions and working conditions have improved a lot since that time, it is worth remembering that there are still men living who were fined 10s.— a princely sum in those days—for having the audacity to walk through the streets of Stirling with an honest day's dirt on their faces. The authorities are more enlightened now but there is still not enough industry or alternative employment in the Stirling district, despite my efforts to get the Scottish Development Agency to set up a new industrial estate.

Just as decline in manpower can be disastrous for a man and his family, so would it be shortsighted of the NCB to shed manpower, because there will be a build-up of the coal industry in years to come.

The NCB's "Plan for Coal" states that by 1985 it is hoping for an output of 120 million tons of deep-mined coal and 15 million tons of opencast coal. By the year 2000 it hopes for ouputs of 150 million and 20 million tons respectively. Those targets suggest the need for a buildup of manpower, not a rundown. It would be very shortsighted to shed manpower now.

There is another aspect of the Bill which could help Polmaise—aid for the increased use of coal for electricity generation. Polmaise is very much linked with Kincardine power station. Can the Minister say something to reassure the miners of Polmaise and other miners throughout Scotland about coal-burn agreements with the electricity boards for Scottish power stations?

I hope that the Bill will help to keep the industry alive, not only for the sake of the miners of Polmaise and those who work in other pits but because they can play a useful part in providing the energy requirements of the nation.

11.13 p.m.

I hope that the Bill will have the results suggested by the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan). However, I believe that the coal industry is experiencing a grave crisis; indeed, the gravest crisis that it has faced since 1965, when it was substantially reduced in size as a result of a deliberate plan of action. I make that grim prediction because the coal industry, for whatever reason, is not able to produce sufficient coal for it to take advantage of the real opportunities that now exist. We would be being unfair to our friends in the industry if we did not underline that and try to say how we can solve the problem.

Next year there will probably be less than 100 million tons of deep-mined coal in the country. The National Coal Board needs 2½million tons of coal a week to break even. It is not getting it, and it is not going to get it. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) put his finger right on the problem when he said that we are now faced with a cash crisis. Until it is resolved, we shall not get productivity up.

Various reasons have been given in the debate why productivity has fallen off. I am prepared to stake my life on the fact that until we get improved cash incentives in this industry, productivity will continue to fall, and as it falls, so the industry will have to face two problems. First, it will be unable to make a profit, so that it will be unable to generate funds for its own investment; secondly, and perhaps even more worrying, it will be unable to satisfy its traditional markets.

It has to satisfy the electricity market and the iron-making market and, one hopes, the resurgent industrial market when we get out of our present recession. It also, so the Bill hopes, will be producing new coal for chemicals, liquefaction and other dreams that we have been discussing since I became concerned with the problem.

The fact is that we shall not be able to meet these market demands if we do not get productivity to a higher figure. We are this year 4 million tons short of what we were this time last year, and it is no good for us to try to blind ourselves with the belief that some coal faces are doing better than others and that it will be all right. Unfortunately, the output per manshift is lower than it was in 1973. There may be dozens of reasons for that, but my view is that the key reason is cash.

We have heard in the debate about the problem which faces British coal in export markets. The Secretary of State told us that we had to define the markets and then we would have this great future. We could not satisfy the export markets even if we found them now. That is our situation. We could not export the coal even if we could find the markets to sell it in, because we have not got it. We are now competing with coal at such a low price coming into Europe that we shall never get level with it. Do hon. Members realise that South African coal is being landed in Europe at £8 a ton cheaper than one can get it in South Wales?

To try to compete with such figures makes one realise the terrible gulf which has opened at the feet of our coal industry. We are like an exhausted swimmer. We can see the beaches of Selby and Belvoir in the distance but falling production is carrying us out to sea. Selby will not be coming on full stream for another 10 years; it is already five years behind schedule, and I believe it will slip still further behind. I have disturbing reports of what is happening there which I will not weary the House with at this hour.

If the mineworkers ask to be given a free hand in wage bargaining, we cannot possibly say that they have not been patient in the past. If they asked for 30 per cent. more, it would not be unreasonable in the light of the 15 per cent. inflation rate which has so eroded their standard of living in the last two years. These are the problems that the Government should be worrying about instead of worrying about going into petroleum refining and trading overseas and all the other exciting things that the Bill has to offer.

We face a situation where not only is our demand not going to be satisfied but the prices of coal are rising in such a way as to stifle demand. The Minister knows that one-quarter of the domestic fuel market is in concessionary coal, and the 15 per cent. price increase announced last week will destroy the remainder of the domestic market. There are those in the industry who are happy to sell it go, who say "It is a nuisance getting the right size of coal for the domestic market, so we had better let it go" But let us not have the hypocrisy of talking about building council houses with chimneys when the domestic market is doomed unless something can be done to keep prices steady.

Since 1973 this industry has had a wonderful and unique opportunity, unlike anything it has seen before, certainly since the war. We have failed to take up the full benefit from that opportunity.

We have seen the foreign car take away our traditional markets. We now see Polish and South African coal stealing our export markets in the North German power stations.

We in this House spend hours predicting what will happen in 10, 15 or 20 years. We can see this wonderful vision of how marvellous and successful we shall be. I suggest that, rather than worry too much about the "Plan for 2000", we should worry about the plan for next week. That is the problem facing us. It is an immediate problem, and it requires an immediate solution.

11.21 p.m.

I welcome the Bill. It is another vital step to securing the future not only of the coal industry but of Britain.

As I see it, there are three targets in the development of the coal industry. I am not talking in chronological terms.

The first target—here I find myself in considerable harmony with the hon. Member for the New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson)—must be to increase coal production. As has been indicated, that is a complex problem. Almost everyone who has contributed to the debate has dealt with the manpower aspects of the problem. I notice that in a recent article in The Sunday Times there is a quotation from Peter Tregelles, who is in charge of the National Coal Board's research establishment at Doncaster. He is quoted as having said that although
"incentives and labour attitudes are significant… new systems and machinery already nearly developed will soon give answer to the productivity problem".
Therefore, it is a question not simply of manpower but—I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)—of the money being paid to miners. Frankly, talk such as we have had from one or two hon. Members about miners being affluent is rubbish.

Recently I met a face worker in my constituency—he is a local councillor—who had attended a meeting the previous day to select a local government employee. He said "Until I went to that meeting and discovered what was to be paid for a very low level job in local government, I did not realise how poor miners were" Miners now genuinely and rightly feel that they are badly paid. This is not a question of productivity agreements or any simple solution of that kind. There must be a new pay deal for miners generally.

As has been said, when the industry found itself in an advantageous wages position compared with other industries men came into it. We have now reached the desperate situation where manpower is again falling. The answer is not merely some kind of agreement, but a new pay deal for miners generally.

The problem in the short term is to produce more coal. The medium-term problem may not be the same as we move into the era of the oil bonanza. But in that period there is the danger, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover said, that we may lose sight of the need for the long-term development of coal because we shall have a flood of oil. That could well happen.

There must be no contraction in the proportion of electricity generation supplied by coal. If electricity generation is expanded, more of it should be supplied by coal. We must also consider petro-chemical developments in this period. I hope that the oil lobby will not raise its head again as it has done in the past to destroy coal's vital role in this area.

Also in the medium term, we must consider the development of coal exports and possibly the idea, which is being studied by the CEGB, of exporting electricity by wire to the Continent.

In the longer term we shall rely almost entirely on coal for our energy. Nuclear energy will have a rôle to play, but other forms of energy are now very uncertain. One certainty is that we shall have coal resources for a long time; they must be developed to the uttermost. I hope that the NCB will regard the NCB will as a go-ahead for its development plans.

I do not want to be hostile in a friendly debate, but I was a little concerned at the rather fussy planning answers that the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) gave to a question of mine earlier. Coal is now so important that environmental considerations should not be allowed to obstruct its development. We should all make our position clear on that.

There has been a great deal of discussion of the major developments at Selby and Belvoir. I hope that we shall go ahead quickly with the proposal to develop Park Colliery near my constituency in Staffordshire. It could supply 300 million tons of coal; already 100 million tons are developable. With a production of about 2 million tons a year it will have an effective life of 50 years. That is a vital development in a constituency where coal is still the lifeblood.

The Bill is particularly important because it deals with so many different aspects of the industry—both its problems and its potential contributions. I welcome it. I hope that it will be regarded not only by Ministers but by the NCB, the CEGB and all other bodies concerned as the green light for developing this vital resource.

The last four speakers took eight minutes, nine minutes, seven minutes and nine minutes respectively. We are doing very well.

11.30 p.m.

I shall be equally brief, I shall make my points in Committee in due course, but there are several observations I should like to make at this stage.

I deal first with productivity. Under Lord Robens, output rose from 27 cwt per man-shift in 1961 to 44 cwt in 1971. It then stayed on a plateau, remaining at that level ever since. Lord Robens was a distinguished Chairman of the National Coal Board, probably the best Chairman of the Board.

The redistribution of investment over a number of existing pits will not prove such a profitable use of national resources as the development of new mines, producing at a much higher rate of return in terms of OMS.

The redistribution of tonnage from existing pits is set out on page 9 of "Coal for the Future". The 1974 plan was 63 million tons from existing pits and major projects. In the revised estimates the figure is 89 million, down-grading the new mines from 20 million to 10 million by 1985.

I am surprised that the Secretary of State did not know the OMS figure for Selby, which is 250 cwt., with wages and salaries representing only 15 per cent. of total costs compared with the present 52 per cent. For Royston in Yorkshire the figure is 158 cwt.; for Silverdale, in North Staffordshire, it is 120 cwt.; and for Bettws, in Wales, it is 115 cwt. Although there is a problem with water in the Vale of Belvoir, when that field is developed its OMS figure will probably be equal to Selby's.

It is probably unfair to say that, while the average OMS today is 43 cwt. to 44 cwt., in North Nottinghamshire and certain better fields it is as high as 57·4 cwt. My point is that Lord Robens provided the spur that increased productivity to a certain level, and now there will be a new surge with the new mines, and a considerable reduction in costs.

I turn to a matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr King), the market for coal. In 1975–76. when total production was 122 million tons, power stations took 61·4 per cent., the British Steel Corporation 14·8 per cent., and other inland markets 23·9 per cent. I have considerable anxiety that not all the coal that the NCB hopes to produce will find a market.

The Secretary of State will have to take three factors into account. First, coal's forward projections will not be met if the nuclear programme is to go ahead. I doubt whether the Government have a nuclear policy, and their fuel policy is not based on low-cost electricity.

Secondly, indigenous oil from the North Sea will provide stiff competition for coal unless depletion is introduced, and I cannot see that that would be in the national interest.

Thirdly, strong competition from natural gas will adversely affect the market for coal, particularly in the industrial and domestic heating sectors. The total domestic market for coal in 1965 was 28·4 million tons, of which the miners' concessionary coal accounted for 4·2 million tons. By 1975 this had slumped to 11·5 million, and in 1976 it was 10·66 million. It had fallen by 168 per cent.

I deduce that the Board is left with two major markets. One is the power stations, a market which is liable to be upset over the years by nuclear power. The other is the BSC, which is likely to be upset by fresh technology and the direct reduction of iron ore by natural gas and other technological developments. What is known as the rest of the inland market is liable to be overthrown by the force of natural gas from the North Sea and indigenous oil.

I conclude by referring to one or two miscellaneous matters. On the question of the Vale of Belvoir, I want to make one request of the Secretary of State. It would be wrong to sterilise the 500 million tons of coal lying beneath this area, vast as it is, in Leicestershire, but the public and the conservationists should have an opportunity of stating their case at length. I recommend that an application be made, under Section 47 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, for a planning inquiry commission so that all factors are taken into account—not merely the issue of this site but issues that arise in all the other locations in the country.

I am fully in favour of technological change in the industry, such as fluidised-bed combustion and SNG—which process will have to await the rundown of North Sea gas surpluses—but I cannot agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) that it will run out as early as he supposes. Liquefaction will have to await the perfection of the processes and also the rundown of North Sea oil.

I shall lump together the diversification clauses—Nos. 9, 10 and 11—but shall refer to only one—Clause 10, in which I have an interest. According to the wording of the clause, if the National Coal Board, in the course of searching for coal, looks for it in Bedfordshire and, even if there is no coal underneath, it finds other minerals, it will be in a position to exploit them. I do not think that that could have been intended, and I hope that that provision will be removed in Committee.

Also under Clause 10 it will be able to exploit gas. I do not think that that was intended, either.

In overseas activities the Board can do anything. I would mention to my hon. Friend that that would include engaging in the petro-chemicals field. It would be disadvantageous for it to attempt this, because certain markets would be closed to it. It would not go to Rhodesia, where coal is cheap. It would not go to South Africa, because that would not be in accordance with the philosophy of the Government. It would not go far into Australia, because it would have to compete with other oil companies which have got in ahead of it, and it is doubtful whether it would go to the United States, because there most of the coal has been pre-empted by the oil companies and other large mining companies.

In any event, if the National Coal Board is not to cut its monopoly position in the United Kingdom there is no reason why it should receive special dispensation in the United States.

As for the Board's oil activities, I am well aware that it produces its own chemicals. It was rather interesting to learn from the Secretary of State in answer to a Question of mine today that to produce ethylene from coal would involve doubling the price of oil; in other words, it would have to go up to roughly $25 a barrel before ethylene could be derived from coal at a profit.

Therefore, the Board is driven straight to petroleum. Why go to petroleum? Simply because it is working in conjunction with Conoco over PVC and with Dutch State Mines over caprolactam. The Secretary of State indicated that he wanted further experience, but he will not require further experience until about the end of the century, when coal liquefica- tion becomes commercial in the United Kingdom. If the BNOC is to operate in the petro-chemical field, why is the National Coal Board coming in? Or is it that the right hon. Gentleman envisages a later Act to cut BNOC out of this sector and let the Coal Board operate in it? There are prospects, too, of a possible link between the British Gas Corporation, or the National Coal Board, and the BNOC, but these are all matters that will have to be unravelled.

I hope that the Minister will explain the meaning of the words that appear in Clause 9 between lines 20 and 25 that seem to place a restriction on the operations of the National Coal Board. I refer to the words
"which may lead to new or improved uses of coal or products of coal."
Do they enable the Coal Products Division to go ahead and make additional profits by going into petroleum chemicals? Perhaps the answers will be satisfactory if my questions are answered in their entirety.

I fully support money going into the mines but I am saying that too much is going in that direction. I think that production will be too high. We should aim for 120 million tons a year, not the 135 million tons that is envisaged.

11.41 p.m.

I welcome the opportunity to make a brief contribution to the debate. It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) but I trust that he will forgive me if on this occasion I do not take up any of his arguments. I could argue with him at length about the merits or demerits of Lord Robens but I shall do so on another occasion. I want to talk about something that is more important.

I want to talk about not what is in the Bill but, alas, what is not in the Bill. Nowhere within the Bill is there mention of the human element of producing coal. We have clauses on borrowing powers, grants for promoting sales, grants for stocking coal and grants for pit closures, but nowhere in the Bill is there anything about the human element.

I hope that between now and Committee, or Report, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will consider the certain shortfall in the pneumoconiosis compensation scheme fund. Although we all welcomed the Government's contribution of £100 million to the scheme in 1974, I think that there will be a shortfall. I am sorry that there is no mention of that in the Bill.

I am sure that every Member who represents a mining area will know of men who have given years of service to the industry and now, unfortunately, cannot work any more as a result of pneumoconiosis or other respiratory diseases. I mention in particular chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

Although nothing of that nature is mentioned in the Bill, I have a report that was presented to the Council of European Communities on 1st June 1976. It is the third medical research programme on chronic respiratory diseases. It is set out on the cover that the programme will involve the expenditure of up to 5 million European units of account, whatever they may be. I do not know whether they are pounds, deutsch-marks, francs or lire, but over the next four years 5 million of them will be made available for the programme.

What attracts me to the report is that there is a list of research centres and institutes that could be called upon to take part in the programme. When I read the list at the back of the report I find that there are 10 institutions in Germany that could be called upon, five in Belgium and six in France. But when it comes to Great Britain I am disappointed at the listing. I find that there are four gentlemen who work at the Institute of Occupational Medicine in Edinburgh, one gentleman who works at the University of Edinburgh City Hospital, a gentleman who works for the NCB in London, a gentleman who works at the School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in London, a gentleman working at the Hammersmith Hospital and another gentleman working at the Brompton Hospital, both in London, and another gentleman working at the Medical Research Council, Pneumoconiosis Department, at Llandough Hospital, Penarth, Glamorgan. That makes a total of seven people, four of them all in one institute in Edinburgh. There is none in Yorkshire and none in any of the other coalfields. The report shows that there are five institutes in Italy and others else-where in Europe.

This is a good report, and it intends well, but I suggest that my hon. Friend should be pressing the presenters of the report, and particularly pressing our representatives in Europe, to see that far more research is done in this country to try not only to establish the causes of chronic bronchitis and emphysema but to find out the relationship between these diseases and this industry.

I wish to deal briefly with the question of the Selby coalfield. I am glad that the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) has returned to the Chamber, and I am sorry that the hon. Member for Howden (Sir P. Bryan) has not. There are some people in Selby who are trying to brainwash the residents there against the miners in spite of all that has been said and the fine words about how they will welcome the development and how they have co-operated. There is a bit of double talk here in view of certain attitudes that they have adopted against the development.

It seems that the people of Selby welcome the miners every Monday to their open market day. Selby market opens every Monday except if Christmas Day falls on a Monday. It is open on Easter Monday and Whit Monday as well as all the other Mondays of the year. The people of Selby welcome us on those days when we spend our money, but they appear to think that miners today are the same as the old miners of the past. They think that miners wear knotted neckerchiefs, train running dogs and keep pigeons. They think, it seems, that miners go out every Saturday night, get roaring drunk and knock hell out of their wives and children. They have not heard the truth about the male voice choirs, the silver bands and so on. These people should see the exhibitions of arts and crafts produced by miners and their wives. The miners have a lot to contribute, not only through their efforts underground digging coal but through their cultural activities. The people of Selby will find that the miners are the salt of the earth when they get to know them. They will welcome them with open arms, not only on Monday mornings at the market.

The hon. Member is being rather sweeping in his allegations about the people of Selby. The stallholders in Selby market for the most part come not from Selby but from outside, and it is not fair to accuse the people of Selby, in what is almost a slander, of saying that they will not welcome the miners. Many of the stallholders do not come from Selby.

A lot of them come from Selby. I have some inside knowledge of these matters since a small part of my constituency is in the Selby district. I know Selby well and I have several friends in Selby, including former miners and ex-members of the old Selby town council. The Selby people have no need to be frightened of the miners or of the coalfield development. As sure as eggs' are eggs, the NCB will be transporting most of the men who work in the coalfield, and they will not be seeking the Selby district council or anyone else to provide them with houses.

I referred earlier to the problem of soil disposal in the traditional Yorkshire coalfield. The problem exists, or will exist, in many of the established pits. They have a very dicey future unless land can be made available for additional tipping, space. But this problem will not affect Selby. All that will be extracted from Selby will be pure solid coal—no dirt. The people of Selby will not have the environmental problems that I and my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. Roberts) and others have had.

With regard to the miners themselves, I can tell hon. Members that they will see far more soccer violence in one match at Old Trafford, or at any London football ground, than they will ever see at Featherstone Rovers, or Castleford, or Doncaster Rovers. Miners are responsible to their families, their job and their country—

Order. I shall have to blow the whistle at this point. We cannot go into details of that sort.

Does my hon. Friend not agree that when the miners take a majority decision they stick to it? It is a different kettle of fish entirely from the car workers.

Yes, I accept that. As my hon. Friend knows, in the ballots that have been conducted in the coalfields there is always bound to be a vote against the point in the ballot. But in the end the majority decision has always been accepted. That is the extent of the loyalty of the miners.

11.52 p.m.

The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Woodall) need not emphasise to me the virtues of the mining community since I have the privilege to have the East Kent coalfield in my constituency. I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not go into the questions of pneumoconiosis and emphysema, which I recognise to be important problems. If I do not do so it is only because I shall try to adhere to Mr. Deputy Speaker's invitation to hon. Members to make brief interventions.

I come at once to the situation in the industry itself, as did the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. Roberts), whose contribution I appreciated. But I was surprised that the Secretary of State, when opening the debate, did not touch at all on the accounts of the NCB. I should have thought those were the only touchstone by which to judge the financial position of the Board and, indeed, possibly of its future prospects.

As we are being asked to debate the Bill it is surprising that we only have the 1975/76 accounts in front of us. We all know that the NCB's financial year ends next month. It is a pity that the debate could not have been deferred a little so that we could have seen exactly how the Board has fared in the current financial year. However, I do not blame the Government for that.

Doing the best that we can with the accounts in front of us, we must inevitably ask some questions of the Government Front Bench. We read that manpower, capital employed and costs are all up, yet output is down. In the time available to me I want to deal briefly with the financial aspects of the NCB. I want to put one or two specific questions to the Under-Secretary which I hope he will be able to deal with.

It will have become apparent to all hon. Members that during 1974 the NCB borrowed very heavily from abroad—about £183 million. I know that there is a Treasury guarantee in respect of some of these loans, particularly foreign exchange loans, but are we to understand that, with the prevailing state of the pound, the taxpayer in one way or another will meet the increased liabilities resulting from the decline in our financial position?

My second point does not arise so much from the accounts as from the Bill itself. I must confess that I was entirely dissatisfied with the answer that the Secretary of State gave me on the extraordinary provision which permits the Government to make grants to support the promotion of sales to a range of other nationalised undertakings. The Secretary of State brushed this aside and said it did not mean sales promotion in the crudest sense. In what sense is promotion used?

Are we to understand—I put this to the Under-Secretary of State—that sales promotion includes sales at subsidised prices to the CEGB, for example? The House needs a clearer explanation about this provision.

I now come to the fundamental financial question. Assuming that costs go up, either because wages go up or because of early retirement—I fully recognise the need for that—this has to be reflected somewhere. Are those increases to be passed on immediately to the consumer or will they be taken up, either directly or indirectly, through the provisions in the Bill?

I come now to the question of productivity and costs. Again, of course, the pattern is plain for all to see if they will take the trouble to read the accounts of the NCB. I am particularly interested in the explanation that is offered on page 5. It says:
"Overall productivity declined marginally on the previous year. This resulted from an increase in manshifts per day underground away from the coal face, on development, transport and engineering services. Mechanised face productivity and surface productivity were both at new record levels."
I was interested in that because I listened to the contribution of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and was interested to note that he is sometimes pervious to market forces. But that seems to demonstrate that there is scope for increased productivity through mechanisation. I may have drawn the wrong conclusion. I hope that the Under-Secretary will deal with the matter.

I am not persuaded that further recruitment is the answer to this problem. I read in the East Kent newspaper that they are advertising for 100 extra jobs in the East Kent coalfield. At one jobcentre recently I was told that most of the people who have left the industry in East Kent have now returned, and that it is even drawing in people without pit experience. But I am wondering whether it is just a question of manpower, and whether it is a question of more imaginative mechanisation.

I was impressed by the contributions from the Opposition side of the House. We may not have the same experience as some Labour Members of working at the pitface, but we are entitled to have a view and to apply our minds, because we represent producers and consumers. I was impressed by the theme of my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam). Perhaps we now have to think of new means of extracting power from our coal reserves, which may not be just a question of cutting coal in the same way.

It was particularly interested by the speech of the hon. Member for Bolsover. He and I have often clashed on many other issues. I know his direct experience. I wonder, again, whether it is a simple question of increasing wages. Of course, one recognises that the miner must feel that, compared with people in comparable occupations, he is reasonable adequately and properly remunerated, and that he is concerned about his standard of living, self-respect and all the various factors that any working man takes into account in any profession or job. But if it is still a question of forcing wages up and up, the logic of the hon. Gentleman's position, or the position to which he will ultimately be driven, is that more and more marginal pits will be driven out of production and ultimately production will be concentrated in the big fields, such as Selby.

I would be worried about the East Kent coalfield if that were the crude approach of the NUM to the problem. It makes a special contribution because it produces a special kind of coking coal. On another occasion—there is no time tonight—I should like to ask the Under-Secretary whether he feels that the pricing policy has been right for that kind of coal, because over the past 10 years the East Kent coalfield has been in a profitable position in only one year. I am not blaming that on the men, but I wonder whether the pricing policy is right.

Ultimately we must come back to looking at productivity schemes. I was particularly impressed by the Chairman's statement in this respect. He says:
"We regret that the national production bonus scheme agreed in March 1975 must be judged to have failed and we consider that the poor results achieved with a scheme based on total national output indicate that an effective incentive scheme needs to be based on standards of performance close to the point of production."
That seems to be the key point. I see the Under-Secretary smiling. I hope that he will have something important and helpful to give us on that matter. Beyond that, on another occasion, when we have more time, I want to hear the Government's views on the structure of the industry itself.

Regretfully, I must draw my remarks to a close by saying that of course we have coal, and of course we have skilled workers, but I wish that more tributes had been paid to the management and more thought given to its differentials. Management carries considerable responsibility, and at the moment it is not adequately recompensed.

I wonder whether we, as taxpayers, will get good results from pouring capital into the industry. Can we truthfully tell the young men going into the industry that they have an assured career on the present basis? I suspect that at the end of the day the Secretary of State will have to show a little more flexibility and imagination—both qualities he possesses— and a good deal more realism. Therefore, my welcome for the Bill must be a guarded one.

12.2 a.m.

The whole essence of the Bill will depend for its success on the price that coal manages to obtain in the overall energy market in the United Kingdom in the next 25 years. It is all very well to say that coal should be the principal fuel that we use, but that determination will be very hard to maintain in the face of oil prices or gas prices that are very much lower.

The Secretary of State pointed out that the various industries involved in energy had certain matters that affected one or the other. That is particularly true with pricing. We are in danger of having an artificial price structure which will harm coal. Natural gas is way under-priced, especially when compared with any other form of energy.

The hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) said that natural gas was a competitor of coal in the domestic and commercial markets. It is even more so in the petro-chemical market, where coal is in competition with naphtha and North Sea gas at an effective price of 32 cents a cubic foot. There is no possible comparison.

Not only can a low price cause damage to the overall energy and pricing policy, it is actually disadvantageous to the development of natural gas itself. We are now finding natural gas in deeper waters of the North Sea, and we cannot exploit it at a price of 32 cents a cubic foot. The international price is now about $1 to $1·20 cents in certain areas, and where PRT legislation will operate for new gas discoveries at this price, it means that many gas discoveries that could be exploited in the North Sea will not be exploited.

We are facing a two-edged disadvantage because we arc precluding the development of some gas discoveries and harming the overall price structure on which the whole of the Bill depends. Without a competitive price for coal in relation to other forms of energy the Bill cannot succeed. We have held gas prices artificially low. I know that it would give no joy to any Secretary of State to lift the price of this prime source of energy in order to increase the overall energy economy, but if we do not face up to this we shall see severe damage done to the economy.

Clauses 9, 10 and 11 of the Bill please me very much. I was a member of the Labour Party study group that proposed what is now the BNOC, and we made the point that it should be allowed to operate internationally. This is a welcome conversion of my own Front Bench, and the Conservative Front Bench. I am also delighted that the National Coal Board is diversifying. I would be happier if I thought that all the nationalised industries would be allowed to diversify where this was logically possible.

I see no reason why the NCB should not mine potash if potash is required for the greater good of the community. I believe that we restrict our nationalised industries much too much. We take the view that the nationalised industries are supposed to operate in one industry, and in that industry alone. On the other hand, we ask them to operate commercially, whereas any commercial company would be expected to diversify and we would applaud it for doing so.

I welcome that aspect of the Bill, and I hope that it will be extended to other nationalised industries. On the question of operating overseas, why cannot the NCB operate in America, Australia and Europe? We are always likely to have relatively high-cost coal, and there are areas in which the Board could operate as part of the international energy spectrum where there is a great need for coal.

I remember many years ago working in Venezuela and drilling in an area near Maracaibo. The coal formation in which we were interested was several hundred feet thick and there were 30 or 50 coal seams, some as thick as 70 feet. It was high-grade lignite rather than first-class coal, but it represented an enormous supply of energy. There is no reason why in future years the NCB should not branch out into such countries. I see no reason why it should not enter into such activities.

Since the logic of the situation is leading every major international company to examine reserves of coal which they will subsequently exploit. I see no reason why the world's largest and best developed coal industry should not do precisely the same thing. I welcome that aspect of the Bill.

12.07 a.m.

It is a measure of the interest in the coal industry that so many hon. Members have tried to speak in this debate—and, unfortunately, not all potential contributors will be able to take part. I appreciate the fact that the 5,500 miners in my constituency want me to contribute to this debate and generally welcome the Bill because it deals with essential matters of importance to the coal industry.

I wish to welcome Clause 11. It seems to me to be nonsense that one should not make it possible for the NCB to sell and develop overseas. The Board has considerable expertise in deep mining which only Poland can match in terms of technology. Export opportunities are opening up throughout the world, and particularly in the United States. There are great opportunities for us to export technology—and, indeed, we already export much of our technology. A great deal of the equipment manufactured in the mining industry is British. It is very satisfying when one visits mines throughout the world and notes that so much of the equipment is British manufactured. I hope to see the export of deep-mining equipment spread still further throughout the world.

I know that the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost) knows a great deal about the fluidised-bed combustion process. I should like to see us adopting a more positive approach to the export of deep-mining equipment, particularly in terms of fluidised-bed combustion. It was interesting to hear the representative of the SNP, the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson), speak of the great technological lead that we possess in fluidised-bed combustion and the way in which it can be developed. We must also think of the European dimension in this context. It is difficult for any of us to say what will develop in this respect in European terms, there must be a real commitment to work together so as to benefit industry in this country as well as in Europe.

The second, and most important point that I want to make is about men and manpower. Much has been said in the debate about productivity, and much needs to be said. I am lucky. The pit in my constituency produces double the national average—not merely output of 40 cwt. per man-shift but output of 80 cwt. and more. It does that year after year. But when one visits the pit one has real reason for concern because the mood is far from happy. One accepts this as part of the general malaise throughout the whole work force of the country because of the reduction in standards that people have suffered over the last two years—and that goes from management all the way down. But it is even deeper than that, and here I take issue with the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner).

Anyone who is familiar with mining knows that miners prefer to extract coal. Mines are designed for that, and that is the easiest work in a pit if it is on seam. One of the reasons for the productivity drop is the present national scheme that does not give any incentive to men in the times of difficulty that every pit goes through—when one runs into geological faults or seam dropping. There is far less satisfaction for a miner and far harder work when there are problems, such as going into geological fault, than when the mine is running steadily and miners are extracting coal full-time with high productivity. The down times are an important factor in productivity.

I am convinced that we need a productivity scheme based on the human dimension. Nobody can visualise a scheme involving the whole industry. It would not be thought of in any other industry. One could not say that all the car factories in the United Kingdom should have a productivity scheme based on production at all factories. It is impossible. I accept what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), that the scheme has an absolute regard for safety. No one is remotely interested in any attempt to reintroduce the face-against-face, man-against-man system of the past. We need a new scheme. The area for it can be open to negotiation whether it is a pit system based on an agreed level of production, taking into account the pit faces and seams, agreed by the NUM and management, or whether it should be an area dimension. But it must be a scheme that people can recognise and work to. That is the only way that we can restore productivity to its previous level.

If a regional scheme, as opposed to the national scheme, had gone through, miners today would clearly have a higher established real income, and this might help to alleviate some of the current feeling of discontent.

It is the impact of inflation, taxes and pension contributions that concerns men at the coal-face. It is the wide disparity between gross earnings and take-home pay that is destroying morale and causing, even in Nottingham—most moderate of areas—the destruction of the social contract.

I agree with the hon. Member for Bolsover that we shall not succeed unless we have a radical look at the basis of Government policies in the mining industry and the basis for recruitment. We need to look ahead at the age structure, particularly when one considers the present age structure. The introduction of early retirement is essential, but it will quickly eat into the existing work force. Essentially, we need to be able to offer an attractive and well-paid career. New techniques have been mentioned and they are vitally important, but no technique can be developed that will not require the detailed knowledge and skill of the miner below ground.

Manpower will be the most critical factor in the 1980s. There will be mechanised muscle, surely, but more men will be required. We must look critically at the rate of wastage, that there is from existing recruitment. For some areas recruitment is good, but after basic training too many young men are leaving the pits. It is the prospect of 40 or 42 years stretching ahead underground that leads them, as soon as they are trained, to go into another industry. We should consider mining in the same sense as the Armed Forces and the police. We should look at the period of recruitment and consider the possibility of a man "signing on" for, say, 10 or 12 years with certain pension rights at the end of that time. If he wished, he could re-sign for a second or third term. This would be better than recruits having to face 40 years in the pits stretching before them.

We must get right the investment, which we can look at and control, the marketing, which we can control to some extent in the development of new coal burning power stations and, above all, the manpower. Without enough men, the two other elements are not likely to work. Fair words and good intentions in this place cannot do it.

Order. If the two hon. Gentlemen who still wish to speak will take only two or three minutes each, we shall be able to squeeze them in, and then everybody who wished to speak will have done so.

12.16 a.m.

I shall try to obey your injunction, Mr. Deputy Speaker, though I am not sure that I shall be able to finish my speech in two minutes.

I wish to develop only one theme, but it is critical. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) argued passionately that we should not place our faith in productivity agreements as a means of producing a prosperous coal industry. I want to argue the opposite.

I do not see how the National Coal Board can survive as a prosperous industry unless it meets the challenge of productivity schemes. I know what is in the mind of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover. He is thinking back to the time when he and I were in the pits. Some people got all the disadvantages of the old piecework system while a select group, of which I was one, reaped the fruits of our labour—but we needed the fruits of other people's labour.

No one wants to go back to that system. My hon. Friend mentioned the Nottingham coalfield. I can tell the House that the third resolution that the Notts miners would put to the NUM annual conference would be a call for a productivity scheme. The NUM leaders, including Joe Gormley and Lawrence Daly, have met the challenge and admit that they will be driven to such schemes anyway, and it is, therefore, far better to embrace them and have as much time as possible to prepare them.

I have sent details of a scheme to the union. It was suggested by a friend who worked in the pits with me and at the face. I believe that it is practicable and could provide the foundation for a scheme.

No one should suggest that we could have the electricity generating industry made the captive of a high-price coal industry. No Government would take that. The public would not stand for it and it would not be sound economics.

Whether we have a productivity scheme or not, I want to see miners become better paid. They are not given enough. They are going elsewhere because they can get paid more for wrapping Mars bars. They need more money. We shall have such a gap in our manpower requirements that we shall have to give miners more.

Anomalies can be removed from past schemes to give more incentive and provide a sound and prosperous industry whose fruits can be shared by all.

12.20 a.m.

I should like to make two or three brief points in the short time that is available. I am only a layman in these matters but I should like to ask the Minister whether there is some way in the future, when dealing with these important Bills on energy, in which the House can look at an overall energy Bill so that it may consider energy in its totality. I have just served on a Bill dealing with the nuclear industry. When these individual Bills come forward it is difficult for hon Members to consider them adequately and to fit them into the overall energy picture. We need to look at this Bill in the context of a wider energy policy.

I suggest that our overall energy policy needs to fulfil several criteria. First, there must be security of supply. There is no doubt that coal has a great future from that point of view with 45 million tons of coal at our disposal lasting us for 300 years. Second, there must be competitively priced sources of supply. Our coal industry must strive to achieve that by increased productivity and new technology as that becomes proven. Third, there must be diversity of supply without excessive reliance upon any single source. That is important whether it is based partly on coal or partly on nuclear energy, but preferably it should be based on a combination of a number of sources of supply.

Fourth, there should be a favourable impact on the balance of payments. Our coal can certainly achieve that and perhaps do even better if the high target of 170 million tons by the year 2000 can be reached and we can exploit export opportunities within the EEC.

Fifth, there must be environmental acceptability. Coal should be able to satisfy that criterion especially with the new technologies of underground gasification and fluidised bed combustion.

Sixth, there should be public acceptability by both workers and energy consumers in general. There must be a question mark here over the future of recruitment into the mining industry.

Seventh, there must be an energy policy which is wholly related to the best estimates of future demand that we can make and which seeks to match future supplies to future demand. We must achieve a more rational use of supply.

If the Bill can be fitted into that framework I shall be happy to support it.

12.24 a.m.

Despite our having reached such a late hour and having started so late, there have been 22 contributions to the debate. That shows the interest and enthusiasm that the coal industry commands in the House. I join my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) in giving the Bill a welcome in principle. There is no doubt that if most of the Government's other legislation was as uncontroversial as this there would be little cause for long debates. Nevertheless, even in this Bill there are many points that we shall wish to probe in Committee.

This is the first occasion on which I have had the privilege of winding up a coal debate. I have listened with interest to the contributions that have been made from both sides of the House. Hon. Members on this side respect the practical experience of the industry that has been revealed in many of the speeches from the Government side. But the objective attitude of my hon. Friends who have gained their business experience in other industries is equally constructive in a Second Reading debate of this type.

Ultimately, our aim is to improve the achievements of the coal industry and the prospects of those who work in it, and to this end I am sure that we have much in common. The main purpose of the Bill is to give the National Coal Board sufficient borrowing powers to implement its long-term strategy. It is heartening for those employed in the industry to know that, once again, coal is in demand as a major source of energy. I am sure that no one would be more delighted with that statement than the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Woof), who, as he so often does in these coal debates, gave us a very great insight into his knowledge of the subject.

Gone are the sad days of the mid and late 1960s, when the Coal Industry Act 1965 set out provisions for the closing of many areas of coal mining. The target at that time was 200 million tons per annum. By 1973 this had been reduced to 120 million tons. By 1975 the actual output from deep mines had dropped to little more than 114 million tons, while last year the deep-mine production was down to 112·4 million tons. There was, however, 10·2 million tons more from opencast works, which showed an increase of more than 1 million tons on the previous year.

Nevertheless, the production from our pits is a continual worry and challenge to those connected with the industry, and it is in this area that an improvement is imperative. Productivity, however, is already 24 per cent higher at the pits where investment is taking place, and, indeed, it is estimated by the Board that, with further investment, this improvement could be as high as 60 per cent. Nevertheless, productivity agreements on a pit-by-pit or area-by-area basis must surely merit further consideration.

The speech by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has been referred to by several of my hon. Friends. I found myself in much greater sympathy with what he had to say than I usually do. I wish that we could more often hear him in the frame of mind in which he spoke tonight, and in the constructive approach in which we found him.

My hon. Friend the Member for the New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) sounded a warning for the industry. It is one that we cannot ignore. There is a very real danger that if we do not pay particular attention to the whole question of productivity the industry will not only suffer but will lose that public sympathy from which it benefits at present. No matter what part of the country one visits, or from which part of the country one is sent here, there is a basic sympathy for the miners. Even at times when criticisms may be made, there is little doubt that the miners enjoy that kind of sympathy.

Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill provide for the increase in the borrowing powers and for grants for the promotion of sales to the electricity boards. In the former case, the estimate is raised by £400 million stages to £2,600 million, and some of my hon. Friends have raised the point that there could be doubt whether this sort of investment is justified. My hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) questioned the necessity for such investment and also spoke of the environmental problems, while my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam), who made a highly informed contribution, also expressed public concern about this kind of investment. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees) raised the question of the Board's accounts and, quite fairly, mentioned that this was one aspect with which the Secretary of State did not deal.

It would be possible to use Clauses 2, 3, 4 and 8 to iron out short-term fluctuations which could damage the industry Indeed, these clauses could be of use in Scotland and Wales, where the NCB's costs are particularly high.

I hope that in his reply the Minister will take up the points made by the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) about future investment in Scotland with particular reference to Musselburgh.

Clauses 3 and 4 deal with stocks of coke and coal and supplies of coke in blast furnaces where aid is designed to enable production levels to be maintained. We shall be more involved with those clauses in Committee.

Pit closure grants and payments to redundant mineworkers, together with grants for assisted areas, are contained in Clauses 6 to 8. We shall look more closely at those in Committee.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) raised the important questions of the environment and of recruiting. Other hon. Members also mentioned the question of recruiting. That is a serious problem. Obviously, with a development such as Selby, where there is a lack of suitable labour in the area, people will have to be brought in. Therefore, it is important that housing and the necessary infrastructure are provided before they arrive. Those of us who represent seats in Scotland, particularly in oil-production areas, are well aware of the problems which sudden development in an area can create. We had considerably less time for preparation than those who are to work at Selby will have.

Clause 9 is probably the most controversial clause in the Bill. We shall wish to examine its implications in detail. The NCB has been engaged in chemicals for a long time through the NCB (Coal Products) Ltd. and NCB (Ancillaries) Ltd., which are involved in subsidiaries with both the British Steel Corporation and Conoco. These subsidiaries are self-financing and have recourse to the market for capital. The 1946 Act was sufficiently loosely worded to enable the NCB to engage in these activities. Therefore, why is Clause 9 necessary? If the NCB has power to engage in these activities, why is it necessary specifically to spell it all out again in Clause 9?

The NCB, through its subsidiary NCB (Exploration) Ltd., has access to 4 million tonnes of oil per year to be disposed of by NCB (Hydrocarbons) Ltd. The NCB already has a close connection with Conoco, which has interests in coal and owns mines in the United States of America. We understand from the National Coal Board that refining would be undertaken only in partnership with that company or with one of equivalent experience. If the NCB is to venture down that path, it will not take risks on its own as it will have the experience of a company such as Conoco to guide it.

We have to decide whether this opportunity to enter the sphere of refining and marketing is necessary for the NCB at this time and what its relationship with the British National Oil Corporation is likely to be. As drafted, the clause would enable the NCB to become involved in oil-based activities in a significant way—possibly even as an integrated oil and petroleum company—and that leads to a number of questions. I do not expect answers to all of them tonight, but they will be on the record and we shall want to pursue them further in Committee.

Are there any effective limitations on the NCB's powers in this regard? We should like some more explanation of the wide drafting of lines 20 to 25. Will the NCB be encouraged to engage in the conventional downstream activities of the oil industry? Have any discussions taken place between the NCB and the BNOC on the subject? The Chairman of the latter, Lord Kearton, has said that it has no intention of moving downstream. It seems strange that the NCB should try to outgun it in this respect.

The BNOC effectively requires the approval of the Secretary of State to engage to any substantial extent in any new activity. That is contained in Section 3(2) of the Petroleum and Submarine Pipe-lines Act. Why will not the BNOC be similarly constrained?

Are the National Coal Board's financial resources for activities under Clause 9 limited by Clause 1? In view of the great demands to be placed on the NCB under "Plan for Coal", particularly in regard to managerial, technical and financial resources, is it possible or, indeed, desirable to divert more of this capacity to oil refining and petrochemicals, bearing in mind the capital investment necessary for a modern refinery or petrochemical plant?

What estimate has been made of the likely cost of such a venture? The £2,600 million provided in the Bill is for a variety of purposes. If the NCB decides to become heavily involved in a refinery or a petro-chemical plant, it could use up a great deal of that money. Will that prevent the basic function of the NCB from possibly developing in other ways?

There has been much talk tonight of productivity. As one of my hon. Friends said, it is very difficult to explain to people in an old pit which is being gradually run down that if they increase their productivity they will probably work themselves out of a job. The same problem has arisen in the oil industry. Troubles have occurred in platform yards when men have seen the result of their efforts about to be floated out but no orders following. It is difficult to convince people that by producing on time they are doing the best for the future of their yard. That should not be passed over lightly, and I hope that the Minister will consider it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) made a number of useful points about Clause 10. He stated his intention of dealing with the matter at greater depth in Committee. At present the NCB may exploit those minerals which are produced in conjunction with the mining of coal, but the clause extends those powers to minerals discovered in the search for coal, even if no coal is subsequently produced. The hon. Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Phipps) reckoned that that would be justified.

Quite by chance recently I was talking to a former mine owner. I said that some of us had reservations about some of these provisions. His reaction was "If I were still in the mining business I should want to do exactly what the National Coal Board is doing. I should want to be able to diversify" That, among other things, is why we do not rule the Bill out completely, why we have decided not to vote again it, but why we want to pursue certain points in Committee, perhaps at some length. There is a great deal of material for discussion, and we shall want to discuss it in detail.

There were some other points that I wanted to make, but the Minister kindly agreed to give some of his time so that our hon. Friends could take part in the debate. Therefore, I conclude by saying that I look forward to a constructive Committee stage.

12.41 a.m.

I appreciate the way in which the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) wound up, and the understanding way in which he approached the subject, realising that in the time available I could not reply to all the points he raised.

This has probably been one of the best debates on the coal industry for a number of years. The House has been well attended and speeches have been based on experience and ideas as well as prejudices. I missed only one speech, and I regret missing it, because I understand that it was very good, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gave me some notes on it. There was only one sour note in the whole debate. Every speaker but the hon. Member who introduced that note was in favour of the coal industry, but that hon. Gentleman had great doubts about it.

A number of useful points have been made, but there have also been a number of red herrings, probably the biggest being the shortsighted tendency to judge the Bill and what it tries to do by reference to some of the difficulties faced by the industry. Many of those difficulties stem from the fact that much of our present coal industry is old, a fact that is illustrated by the average age of our pits. Over half the pits in this country are over 70 years old. Many of them are still good pits, with good coal in them, but almost all of them need a face-lift.

When people attack the coal industry for its low productivity they should remember that coal is an extractive industry. As a pit extends its workings, the further the miners have to travel underground. This acts inexorably against the improvement of productivity, just as increasing difficulties of working—such as narrower seams and geological faulting—do.

When people attack the coal industry for its price increases, they must remember the many years when coal prices were squeezed by cheap oil, and appreciate that coal prices now must bear some of the cost of re-equipping the industry. I have said before and I think that the Opposition Front Bench have endorsed it, that we have been trying to do in 10 years what should have been done in 25.

There is another red herring that is probably in line with the argument about the energy gap. Various views have been expressed about whether and when indigenous supplies of energy may decline to the point where expensive fuel imports have a drastic effect on our balance of payments. The question has been raised in various debates in this House, before Select Committee, and, on a wider stage, at the Energy Conference last June. I shall not enter into this argument now. There may be an energy gap, and there may not. Whether there is or not depends on what we do in the meantime. Because of our great resources in coal under the ground, and oil and gas under the North Sea, we have more time to make our financial dispositions to develop a total answer. To some extent that is an answer to the hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham).

But we cannot just stop and think. We cannot let any of our fuel industries run down while we make up our minds. That would be a mad approach. We have to keep our options open while we develop our fuel policy for the future.

The National Coal Board has estimates that possible annual demand for coal in the year 2000 may range between 135 million tons and 200 million tons. That allows for an enormous range of decisions. The point that we are concerned about today is that we shall have nothing like that 135 million tons' capacity unless we follow through with "Plan for Coal".

Let me repeat; coal is an extractive industry. The "Plan for Coal" target is 135 million tons' capacity by 1985. If there is no further investment, losses by exhaustion could reduce that capacity to about 100 million tons a year by the end of the century. If we do not proceed with "Plan for Coal", capacity will be very much less.

As we see it now, the "Plan for Coal" target that this Bill underwrites is a modest one when set against our energy needs at the end of the century. It certainly does not pre-empt further decisions on the fuel mix that we wish for the end of the century. I hope that that disposes of what I have called the two main red herrings that we should avoid in considering the Bill.

I want now to spend a few moments discussing other points that have arisen, before coming to the points to which I wish to give closer attention.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) raised a very important point, which I shall couple with others concerning Scotland. I shall come then to the question of the Park project.

If I have time I want to deal with the question of manpower in the industry. I can understand the anxiety of my hon. Friend. He said that the Bill is pertinent to the future prospects of the coal mines. I assure him that I appreciate that fact. The up-to-date opinion I have is that the Board's proposal to close the Polmaise colliery has been considered in the usual way, that the NUM has presented its case against closure, backed by a report from its technical adviser. I know that my hon. Friend is aware of this. This was considered at a meeting held on 25th February, when it was agreed that the pit should not close immediately, although it was proposed that there should be some reduction in manpower. A further meeting between the Board and the union has been arranged for today. My hon. Friend can take some heart from the fact that he has played a role for which he cannot criticise himself in any way. I know that he has played a substantial rôle in the efforts that have been made to ensure that the pit remains open.

I visit pits throughout Britain. I am now on my second time round the whole of Britain. My hon. Friend has said that the miners in his area are determined that the pit will not close. Perhaps he can take heart from what I was told during my visit to Bentley colliery in Yorkshire some two or three weeks ago. The men told me that the undertakers were at the pits a year or two ago and that it was said that it had to close. This is the very nature of mining. This is why my hon. Friends and I resent the impetuous and sometimes uninformed calls for closure from Conservative Members. This is why we resent their ill-informed criticism. The nature of the industry is such that pits can go through bad times because of geological problems.

The men at Bentley colliery told me that the undertakers were in but that the pit was reorganised and new investment was introduced. They told me that this year the pit will probably make a profit of about El. million. My hon. Friend can take heart from the fact that the situation can change. He is correct when he says that the men in conjunction with their union have made an effort and that productivity has improved. I hope that, with the co-operation of the men, the union and the NCB, he will be successful in ensuring the continued working of the pit.

Some scepticism has been expressed about the future of Selby. Flooding has been mentioned. I have endeavoured to answer these matters by writing to hon. Members who have written me. I believe that the situation has been exaggerated. Since work started at Selby there has been some problem with water. There have been examples of flooding after the initial drainage but they have not been serious. Questions have been asked recently about flooding at Naburn and Stillingfleet to the north of Selby but they are areas that are regularly subject to flooding. Those occurrences do not indicate that the public inquiry was inadequate in this respect. I can give the House the assurance that this is not a serious matter.

No, I shall not give way.

My hon. Friend the Member for Can-nock (Mr. Roberts) referred to the Park project. He led a deputation to my right hon. Friend on the matter. We had a useful meeting. A joint working party has been set up and the matter is receiving a great deal of consideration. In the Park area it is estimated that there is probably 100 million tons of coal. It might well be described as a miniature North Sea oil find. It is a find of considerable value and, therefore, the whole problem is being examined. [Interruption.] There may be laughs and giggles from Conservative Members but we are talking about work and wages. I know that there is a serious problem in my hon. Friend's area. It is not something to giggle about. Job prospects are at stake. We certainly attached a great deal of importance to seeing the deputation. We are trying to do all that we can to assist in the matter.

The question of Musselburgh was raised by the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) and my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire. The project is going ahead to the extent that consultant engineers have been brought in. As for new sinkings, both Mussel-burgh and Solsgirth are being considered, and other new projects are on line. Investment since the Government took office in 1974 is running at an all-time high. Apart from Musselburgh, where the reserves are about 50 million tons, investment is running at £27 million.

My hon. Friend and the hon. Gentleman raised two important and all-embracing points. They asked about the prospects of coal-burn for electricity generation. We expect very shortly to announce that a decision has been taken on coal-burn by the South of Scotland Electricity Board. We expect a decision to be announced also about Aberthaw and the burning of coal from South Wales. I can go no further on that point tonight.

Research and development is an important part of the Bill. We said in the first coal industry examination report that three subjects needed clarification. These were coal liquefaction, pyrolysis and fluidised-bed combustion. We attach much importance to research and development, particularly with fluidised-bed combustion, but it is far better to try to get international collaboration in carrying out these expensive schemes. The report said that it would be wrong to go ahead alone on these matters. I refer particularly to the fluidised-bed combustion scheme at Grimethorpe and the scheme at Babcock and Wilcox. The chief scientist of the NCB said that we had a lead in this respect.

I regret that I do not have time to go on. I give the House an assurance that I shall write to hon. Members who have raised other very important points with me. I hope that during the course of the Committee stage we shall be able to get down to some of these details.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 ( Committal of Bills.)

Coal Industry Money

Queen's Recommendation having been signified—

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to increase the limit on the borrowing powers of the National Coal Board and to provide for grants by the Secretary of State to the Board and other persons it is expedient to authorise—

Increase of borrowing limit

1. Payments out of public funds due to increasing the limit on borrowing by the Board to £1,800 million, and to enabling that amount to be increased by order by two further amounts each of £400 million.

Sale, stocking and supply of fuel

2. Grants out of money provided by Parliament—
  • (a) for promoting the sale of coal to electricity bodies,
  • (b) for the cost of building up and maintaining stocks of coal and coke, or
  • (c) towards measures for securing supplies of coke for use by the iron and steel industry,
  • being grants to the Board and to any other person carrying on in Great Britain a business which consists of or includes the production of coal or coke—
  • (i) for or by reference to the years of the Board ending in March 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981 and 1982, and
  • (ii) subject in the aggregate to a limit of £100 million capable of being increased by order to not more than £175 million.
  • Pit closures

    3. Grants out of money provided by Parliament to assist in the re-deployment of the manpower resources of the Board and the elimination of uneconomic colliery capacity, being grants—
  • (a) towards expenditure for the years of the Board ending in March 1979, 1980 and 1981 subject to a limit of £60 million, or
  • (b) if so provided by order, towards expenditure for the years of the Board ending in March 1979, 1980, 1981 and 1982 subject to a limit of £80 million.
  • Redundant workers

    4.—(1) Payments out of money provided by Parliament to or in respect of persons who, at any time between 17th July 1967 and the final date—
  • (a) are employed at a coal mine, or at any place used for providing services or facilities ancillary to the working of one or more coal mines, and
  • (b) become redundant.
  • The final date is 29th March 1981 or if so provided by order 28th March 1982.
    (2) The payments shall be subject to the following limits:

    Payments in the period below


    1. Years ending in March 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977 and 1978£100 million.
    2. Years ending in March 1979, 1980 and 1981£90 million
    3. Years ending in March 1979, 1980, 1981 and 1982£120 million
    The payments covered by the first limit include payments in the specified period under section 3 of the Coal Industry Act 1967, the second limit applies if the final date is in 1981 and the third limit applies if it is 1982.

    Regional grants

    5.—(1) Grants out of money provided by Parliament to assist or enable the Board to pay due regard to the needs of the assisted areas as defined in the Industry Act 1972 when planning and carrying out colliery activities, being grants in the years of the Board ending in March 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981 and 1982.
    (2) The grants shall not exceed £75 million, but that limit may be increased by order, but not to a sum exceeding £100 million.

    Administrative expenses and receipts

    6. Defrayment of administrative expenses out of money provided by Parliament.
    7. Any payment into the Consolidated Fund or the National Loans Fund.
    In this resolution order' means an order by the Secretary of State approved by resolution of the Commons House of Parliament.—[Mr. Harper.]

    1.1 a.m.

    Warm though my personal regard is for the Under-Secretary of State, and compelling though his charm is, he never chooses to exercise that charm on the Opposition Benches during the course of debate. A number of very direct questions were put to the hon. Gentleman during the course of the debate. I fully appreciate that with enough time at his disposal—

    Order. We are now on the Money Resolution.

    I am coming to the points that I wish to make arising out of the Money Resolution. If permitted, I wish to make some points touching on the financial provisions of the Bill. With his habitual courtesy, the Under-Secretary of State said that he would write to hon. Members, but that was not a very satisfactory way of dealing with a very important Bill involving considerable sums of public money.

    I now come to the Money Resolution. It will not have escaped the attention of hon. Members that the National Coal Board is to be permitted to increase its borrowing to about £1,800 million. By any stretch of the imagination that cannot be regarded as a small sum. If we are to authorise this sum of money, I hope that I shall be within the rules of Order if I direct one or two sharp and pointed questions to the Under-Secretary or the Financial Secretary. I am not sure who is dealing with this Money Resolution. Perhaps the Secretary of State will wish to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

    The first question I should like to ask concerns paragraph 1 of the Money Resolution, which ties in with Clause 1 of the Bill. Clause 1 increases the borrowing of the NCB by Statutory Instrument while subsequent financial provisions are to be made by affirmative resolution.

    On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is a Treasury matter. Is there a Treasury Minister present to reply to the debate?

    The hon. Gentleman is well aware that that is not a matter for the Chair.

    None the less, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it always assists an experienced debater like myself to know exactly who will reply to the points that I am endeavouring to raise so maladroitly. The considerable increases in the NCB's borrowing powers are to be made by Statutory Instrument rather than affirmative resolution.

    The next point I wish to raise concerns the grant that may be made for promoting the sale of coal to the CEGB, the South of Scotland Electricity Board and the Northern Ireland Electricity Service. I addressed certain questions to the Under-Secretary earlier in my brief intervention which, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in an attempt to adhere to your predecessor's injunction, I compressed into eight minutes.

    On that occasion I asked what promotion the NCB had in mind. Does it mean that we are being asked to authorise considerable sums of money so that the coal may be sold at subsidised rates? "Promotion" is obviously a word of wide import, and before these considerable sums of public money are made available, we should know a little more about this.

    I asked a question—I am sure that you will agree that this is well within the rules of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker—about sums of money, amounting to about £183 million, borrowed abroad during 1974 by the NCB. I wanted to know what the consequences of that borrowing would be, because we all appreciate that the pound has dropped heavily, from about $2·40 to about $1·70. I did not look at the closing figures today. Who will be picking up the check? Will it be the Treasury, or are the sums to be voted under the Money Resolution to be absorbed to meet these considerable sums that will have to be repaid over the next decade or so?

    Beyond that, as I have said, considerable sums of money are at stake. We should like to know a little more from the Under-Secretary as to his views about the accounts. This was one of the central points that I made in my Second Reading speech. Instead of devoting himself to question about the future of Mussel-burgh and Polmaise—constituency matters which I know agitate the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) and the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan), who is not now in the Chamber—the hon. Gentleman should have addressed himself to the question which should agitate the whole House, which is how any future increases in the costs of extracting coal are to be met.

    Let us assume that Mr. Scargill presses a claim that face workers should be paid £135 a week. I am not expressing any views on the merits of such a claim, but it must be within the knowledge of the House that that is the kind of figure that is being bandied about. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Luton, West (Mr. Sedgemore), who represents that constituency a little inelegantly and who has great knowledge of financial affairs and contributes very directly, we understand, to Private Eye—whether he still does so in his present honorific position I do not know—should not intervene from a sedentary position, because he may expose his flanks to the maladroit remarks that Opposition Members can throw at him. I hope that he will catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and make one of his notable contributions on his feet.

    I want to know, as I expect other hon. Members will want to know, whether, if the costs of extracting coal increase over the next year or two, those increases will be passed directly to the consumer by way of price increases, or whether the sums that we are being asked to vote tonight are to be absorbed for that purpose. These are matters on which neither the Secretary of State nor the Under-Secretary condescended to enlighten the House.

    If we are to have a meaningful debate on very important matters—and the one point on which the House was united was that this was a very important debate on a very important subject and a very important industry—we ought not to be fobbed off. I hate to say this, because I have a great personal regard for the Under-Secretary—although he is not, apparently taking in anything that I am saying at present. He does not condescend to address himself to this very important subject but is more concerned to turn his left shoulder towards the Chair to curry favour with his hon. Friends. We know that the favours of the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) are well worth currying. However, if we are to have a meaningful debate, the Under-Secretary should take some account of the views of Opposition Members. After all, some of us have the privileges of representing mining constituencies, and all of us have the privilege of representing consumers and taxpayers.

    From some of the remarks of Labour Members it seems that the interests of taxpayers are apparently very rarely in their minds. I know that the hon. Member for Luton, West is deeply concerned about these matters. I have had the privilege of debating with him on Finance Bills, including such matters as the inquiry branch special offices, rates of tax, and so on. They are always in his mind.

    The Under-Secretary has signally failed to reassure me, or the taxpayers I represent, that he has really applied his mind to these important financial considerations. I hope that he will now attempt to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, and deal with these matters.

    1.11 a.m.

    Each of the payments under the Act is subject to the approval of the Treasury. The foreign borrowing is authorised by existing practice. Any Statutory Instrument increasing the amount will be laid in draft before the House.

    Will the Secretary of State answer the question about foreign borrowings? Who actually pays the loss incurred by foreign borrowings resulting from the depreciation of the pound? Is it the National Coal Board or the Treasury?

    1.13 a.m.

    The Secretary of State may think that these are frivolous questions, but they are perfectly serious. If he does not know the answers, it would be courteous of him to say so. The sums of money involved could be of the order of £70 million. It is a measure of the inflation that we have in the Bill and of the scale of the activities that nobody on the Treasury Bench has the slightest idea what has happened to £70 million and that we get these facile answers.

    The reason why my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees) felt provoked to speak on the Money Resolution after an otherwise perfectly good-humoured debate was the total inadequacy of the Government reply. The Government think that they can get up and make extremely facile and abrupt replies and treat my hon. and learned Friend's remarks with contempt. But in his earlier contribution my hon. and learned Friend pointed out that the Secretary of State had introduced this Bill asking for a further £1,200 million without making a single comment on the current financial situation or performance of the National Coal Board.

    That is an incredible situation, and it is hardly surprising that my hon. and learned Friend feels that some slight element of financial discipline might have crept into the debate when such substantial sums were involved. He is entitled to ask a few pertinent questions, and even at this late hour he is entitled to a reply. The late hour is the Government's choosing, not ours, for the Government are in charge of the business. We are entitled to answers to our questions and the Government should provide them.

    I made no complaint about the questions and I answered each of them. I said that every order would be laid in draft and that the Bill does not alter the provisions for foreign borrowings. If the hon. and learned Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees) is asking about existing practice that is not affected by the Bill, I shall see that he gets a proper answer. But it would be out of order for me to deal with past practice under existing legislation on this Money Resolution.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Returning Officers (Scotland) Bill

    As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.