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.
National Coal Board productivity last year, as measured by overall revenue output per manshift, was 3·4 per cent. higher than in 1980–81.
Does my hon. Friend agree that this is a satisfactory situation and a great tribute to the miners and all those connected with the mining industry? Does he expect productivity to continue to rise in the current year?
My hon. Friend is right. I took the opportunity at the British Association of Colliery Management conference on Friday to congratulate mining management and the miners on the excellent increase in productivity. We trust that it will continue, as we need such productivity improvements to make up for the sad lack of productivity improvements in past years. That will help the mining industry to retain its markets and obtain new ones.
Will the Minister join me in expressing regret that only one Conservative Member has risen with a supplementary question on this issue, since over the past 10 years Conservative Members have consistently demanded better attendance in the pits? Is it not clear that attendance in the pits is a good deal better than that normally seen on the Conservative Benches?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not want a head count to illustrate the consistent number of hon. Members on the Conservative Benches during Energy Questions. Absenteeism in the pits is down. The hon. Gentleman knows that attendance is the best for 40 years. However, that significant improvement should not mask the fact that between 1974–75 and 1978–79 output per manshift declined.
The figures announced by my hon. Friend are no doubt encouraging, but would they not have been better if the uneconomic pits had been closed in accordance with "Plan for Coal"?
Clearly we are in a period of over-supply, and the inability of the industry to close all of its uneconomic pits has added to the problems of over-supply and made the costing much more difficult for the industry in seeking new markets.
Is the Minister aware that, in communities such as mine, where miners have been breaking production records every week in the past year or two, it is not only their efforts but the capital investment in those pits that has made the difference? It was capital investment derived from "Plan for Coal", established in 1974 and 1979, that got things going. Is it not worrying that there has been a large-scale cut in capital investment in places such as South Wales?
The hon. Gentleman is inaccurate. There has not been a massive cut. Capital investment for this year will be about £886 million. Capital investment totalling £3 billion has been put into the industry since 1974–75. Beyond investment, good management and excellent work by the workers are the important changes in the productivity payment scheme since 1978. Those are crucial factors in improving productivity in the industry.