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Volume 972: debated on Monday 29 October 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he will consider an overall strategy for reducing energy imports.

The Government's review of overall energy strategy will include the question of the optimum balance between imports and indigenous energy supplies.

What action is proposed on the NCB's request for investment in the phurnacite plants in Aberamon in Aberdare to produce smokeless fuels for the Ancid process? Would it not be ridiculous to import smokeless fuel when we can produce it ourselves? Has the Secretary of State received representations from the NUM in South Wales about the large imports of coking coal into South Wales, where 15,000 to 17,000 tons are being stockpiled each week?

I am satisfied that the NCB has submitted a report to my Department. That is being studied. I cannot say more at the moment. I recognise the concern on coking coal. The British Steel Corporation and the NCB have been asked to engage in close discussion about their mutual requirements, and this they are now doing. They are reaching a view which I hope will be to the benefit and interest of both industries. When they have reached that view they will put it to the Government. We shall look with open minds at the needs that arise from their proposals.

Can the Secretary of State say why, when Britain has the most developed coal industry in Western Europe, we are having to import coal to sell to the Central Electricity Generating Board? Is it true that productivity is being damaged by the fact that machine time underground is reduced by 30 per cent. because of mechanical failure?

On the last point, that is not entirely so. Face productivity is up sharply—I think by 8 per cent.—on the year. There were some component shortages arising from the engineering strike last month, but I think that the picture that my hon. Friend paints is not entirely fair. On the question of overall imports, we have had a very cold winter, and we need all the coal that we can get—all the coal mined in Britain. There is also bound to be a need for some imports. We had a cold winter, and we are bound to need all the coal that is available.

Will the Secretary of State bear in mind that the output from British mines is higher than ever before, considering the number of men working in them? Output per manshift is increasing. We have never produced so much coal as we are doing at present, taking into consideration the manpower level. Will the Secretary of State consider the ridiculous situation that he mentioned, namely, that British Steel is importing subsidised coking coal into this country, to the detriment of the mining industry? Does he not consider that we should subsidise our coking coal, as the Europeans are doing?

I have explained the position on coking coal to the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friend. I do not think that I have anything to add. With regard to the overall performance of the industry, we want to see a new coal industry built out of the old. That is our need for the future. It must, however, be on a competitive basis, as I am sure everyone in the industry recognises.