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Coal Industry

Volume 972: debated on Monday 29 October 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Energy what has been the increase in labour productivity in the coal mining industry over the most recent 12-month period for which figures are available.

Productivity measured in terms of overall output per man shift was 2·27 tonnes in September 1979 compared with 2·18 tonnes in September 1978, an increase of 4 per cent.

Does my hon. Friend expect productivity in the coal industry to continue to increase in the next 12 months? If so, will he give an estimate of by how much?

It is difficult to give figures for the next 12 months. I am happy to say that over the past 13 weeks, for the period ending 13 October, overall output per man shift increased by 3 per cent. The industry should be commended for that increase. Beyond that I should draw a distinction between face and overall output per man shift productivity. Face productivity over the past full year increased excellently—by 7·8 per cent.

Does the Minister agree that if there is to be increased productivity there must be increased investment in the industry? Is it not true that Britain is lagging behind France, Belgium and West Germany? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that West Germany is investing over £1 billion in privately owned industry in Germany, whereas we have invested only £100 million by way of subsidy?

I agree entirely with the proposition that the coal industry needs a great amount of long-term capital investment. I am delighted to say that that has occurred in the past. We expect it to occur in future. I take issue with the contention that our industry is under-invested compared with the industries of other European countries. The British industry is unique in enjoying a commitment on both sides of the House, and from previous Governments and the present Government, to long-term expansion and investment.

As productivity is allied to safety, and as the hon. Gentleman is the sponsoring Minister for the coal industry, may I ask what representations have been made to him about the Golborne disaster inquiry report? Is he aware that the inquiry was handled in such a way that the men became so incensed that the colliery suffered a complete stoppage for one day? Further, is the hon. Gentleman aware that Sid Vincent, the general Secretary of the North-Western area, has sent a letter of protest to the chairman of the Health and Safety Executive? Why was a press conference held two days before the coroner's inquest and — [Interruption.] This is a question of safety, and it is extremely important. Will the hon. Gentleman carry out an investigation? A proud record of union co-operation and safety has been damaged by apparent bureaucracy.

I share the hon. Gentleman's legitimate concern with safety, which is associated with long-term productivity in the industry. I take note of what he says and, as the sponsoring Minister, I shall be more than happy to investigate it.