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Coal Industry

Volume 13: debated on Monday 23 November 1981

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asked the Secretary of State for Energy when last he discussed the investment in the coal industry with the chairman of the National Coal Board; and if he will make a statement.

I meet the chairman frequently to discuss this and other aspects of the board's business.

Does that mean that the hon. Gentleman is satisfied that the NCB and the NUM are happy about future investment in the coal industry? When he next meets the chairman of the NCB will he bear in mind that the fluidised bed system seems to be a winner if it is further developed? Will he also take into account the combined heat and power stations that are being erected where power stations are closing down?

While obeying your injunction, Mr. Speaker, I hope that you will not mind my saying that we shall miss the hon. Gentleman's contributions to coal industry debates after the next election. In terms of investment, £805 million is not an insignificant sum. I shall open a new fluidised bed development at Amey Roadstone in the Shrewsbury area on Wednesday. That is a key area of development for the coal industry.

Is my hon. Friend aware that in order to generate more home-grown investment in the industry, sales must improve? Is he satisfied with the scheme that was announced to encourage conversion from oil to coal? Will he now seek urgent talks with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry to see whether the scheme can be extended to include conversion from gas to coal?

Detailed matters concerning the scheme are subject to the wishes of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry. To that extent, I shall draw my right hon. Friend's attention to it. All of us who wish to see a longer term increase in coal burn would like further developments in that scheme, if they are viable.

Is the Minister aware that the trailers on investment that are now beginning to appear regarding the privatisation of the coal industry are having an unsettling effect on the management and the miners? Will he undertake to publish the coal Bill as quickly as possible so that the people in the industry will know what is happening?

When I study the excellent productivity pattern and the first-class morale in the industry, I find it difficult to recognise the hon. Gentleman's statement. However, the sooner that the new coal Bill is published, the more I shall be delighted, although the matter is not in my hands.