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Coal Production Targets

Volume 929: debated on Monday 28 March 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he expects the targets for productivity set out in "Plan for Coal" to be achieved.


asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he expects the targets for productivity set out in "Plan for Coal" to be achieved.

We can expect productivity to improve as the investment programme comes to fruition.

Does the Minister appreciate that the energy policy review indicates that by 1985 the target might fall short of requirements by 10 million tons? Is he also aware that the Tom Boardman settlement remains to be implemented by the miners' union and that if it were implemented he might be able to reach his target? Will he look into these matters?

We are debating these issues in the Standing Committee considering the Coal Industry Bill, and the hon. Gentleman has posed these questions there. As for the agreement on productivity with the miners' union, the hon. Gentleman knows—indeed, I have answered Questions about this—that a working party comprising the National Coal Board and the unions is looking at the question of productivity and incentives.

As for progress with new investment, the hon. Gentleman is aware, of course, that Royston has come into production. The outlook is good—three times as much as the national average—so the new investment is beginning to pay off.

At the inauguration of the Selby coal complex, the President of the National Union of Mineworkers expressed concern about the performance of machinery underground. Can the Under-Secretary tell us whether he is satisfied that this lack of performance is sufficient to hold back the output per man-shift in the industry?

One can never be satisfied with the performance of machinery. Certainly there have been instances where one could expect a better performance from machinery. As the hon. Gentleman realises, however, sometimes this is in itself related to the techniques of mining, and if one could indulge in more retreat mining one could probably have better progress from mining machinery. No one is complacent about this, of course, and it is something to which we shall be addressing ourselves. Certainly the performance of machinery compared with other parts of the world is satisfactory, but we are not complacent about it.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that in the European coalfields, including West Germany, productivity has fallen during the past several years? Will he also agree that productivity is closely allied to mechanisation and geological conditions? Will he also confirm that after 1966, when the productivity system in the pits was abolished, there was one of the greatest spurts in productivity in British coalfields, from one end to the other?

My hon. Friend has put three questions. Yes, there have been disappointing performances in relation to productivity. Yes, the whole of the world is looking at the possibility of trying to increase productivity. On the third question, about the boost that we received in relation to productivity, I believe my hon. Friend will agree that that was as a result of the power supports coming more and more into being. Indeed, what we really had at that particular time was a new technological breakthrough.

There is much discussion going on in the industry about whether we are on the verge of another technological breakthrough, but I do not think we can expect the same increases as those we expected in the 1960s, because that really was a massive technological breakthrough in productivity and mechanisation.

Does not the Minister understand that there is wide public concern that, leaving aside the question of improved productivity from miners, after what is already a very substantial investment programme, so far from there being an increase in output, output this year will fall against last year and his Department's own forecast is that output next year will be even lower than this year? One must ask exactly what is happening to the capital investment and the benefits that should flow from it.

The hon. Gentleman may say that there is a great deal of public concern. But there is no complacency in the Department of Energy, nor is there complacency amongst the miners. I explained earlier that the question of incentive and productivity had been occupying jointly the minds of the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers.

Yes, there is more to it. For example, the stockpiling of coal may have had some effect on the morale of miners. The question of certain types of manpower in relation to development work in the mines may have had an effect on the morale of miners.

I can back up with facts what I am trying to say to the hon. Gentleman. Where new investment has come into-being, such as at Royston, there have been substantial increases in productivity. As more and more of this new investment comes into being, we will get successes. The Government are trying to do in 10 years what should have been done in 25 years in the mining industry, and I wish that the Opposition would bear this in mind. The industry was starved of investment, and this Government are now putting investment into it.