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Coal Industry

Volume 978: debated on Monday 11 February 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will take steps to increase the resources available for investment by the coal industry.

The NCB's capital expenditure this financial year will be about £610 million compared with £464 million in 1978–79. I expect a further increase in 1980–81.

Does the Minister accept that it is important to go ahead with vital projects such as the Park colliery in South Stafford shire? Does he agree that there must be a public inquiry as soon as possible about that type of pit if mining skills and the continuity of jobs at short-life collieries such as West Cannock are to be maintained?

I fully understand the problems and worries of that case, but it is for the Department of the Environment, in conjunction with the parties involved, to decide the timing of the inquiry. I shall ensure that that Department is made aware of the hon. Gentleman's point.

Will my hon. Friend comment on the £22 million deal between the National Coal Board and the BSC to stop coking coal imports? Will he also indicate the impact on investment?

If the stories in the press are accurate, the Government will be delighted that the two nationalised industries have been able to come to a commercial arrangement. Such an arrangement will offset the transitional difficulties caused in South Wales and other parts of our coking coal industry by the possibility of further imports. If those reports are accurate, they are to be welcomed.

The Minister should be more forthcoming. He must know whether there has been an arrangement between the National Coal Board and a nationalised industry about coking coal. We are discussing jobs and employment. As regards Park, I hope that the Minister realises that we are talking about an area that employs highly skilled manpower. Pits do not last for ever. Will the Minister do everything that he can to expedite the Park project, in order to retain that manpower?

The Government are aware of the concern about Park. Where it is in the power of the Department of Energy to do so, we shall ensure that those points get across. I have just been informed that a press release has been issued by the National Coal Board and the British Steel Corporation. Obviously, we welcome their arrangement.