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Coal Industry (Subsidies)

Volume 78: debated on Monday 29 April 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Energy what response he has made, or intends to make, to the recent proposals of the EEC Commission contained in the draft communication DG XVII to the Council on the phasing out of all subsidies to the coal industry.

I have seen the document. Does the Secretary of State agree that were these proposals to be implemented they would be an extremely serious threat to the future of our coal industry? Is he aware of estimates that between 150,000 to 200,000 jobs in Europe would be lost as a consequence of implementation? What are his views on the matter? Has he had any consultations? If not, when does he propose to have them?

Funnily enough, I had a consultation this morning when I had a discussion with the Commissioner responsible for energy. That was arranged some time ago. The Commissioner assures me that there are no definite Commission proposals as yet, and he very much wanted to hear our views. In general, in the light of the French Government's proposals substantially to reduce the coal industry in France, only two countries in Europe will have major coal industries. We both have a range of different opportunities and problems. Whatever the Commission does, it must understand that we know best how to tackle those problems.

When the right hon. Gentleman receives the Commission's report, will he bear in mind that when the Heads of State met about three years ago, with the Prime Minister in attendance, they recommended that EEC coal mining production should be doubled? Does that not mean that the Commission's report will fly in the face of the wishes of the Heads of State?

When almost any organisation or body, including Governments, gets into the game of making predictions, it is normally wrong.

We very much welcome what the Secretary of State said. We hope that he will keep the House fully informed of developments and report on discussions that he may have with the Commissioner and the EEC. Is he aware that when I visited the Nottingham coalfield last week great concern was expressed about these proposals, and that that concern must be allayed?

As I have said, no proposals have been received by the United Kingdom Government. I had a useful discussion with the Commissioner this morning. There will also be discussions in the Council of Ministers, which, from memory, I think will meet on 20 June. As I stated, there are in reality two countries with major coal interests, and those interests must be looked at.