asked the Secretary of State for Energy how much coal he anticipates will be drawn from opencast workings in the next five years.
The level of opencast output is determined primarily by market demand. I am not in a position to forecast what that demand might be in the next five years.
Does my hon. Friend realise that opencast working is a most profitable investment and would produce a much better return for the money which the Government are to pour into the mining industry? Should we not lift opencast production from 12 or 15 million tonnes to perhaps 20 million tonnes?
I agree with my hon. Friend's comment about the opencast industry. The future is very good indeed.
It is all very well for Conservative Members to advocate the expansion of opencast working. However, is the Minister aware of the possible environmental consequences of an expansion of opencast working. Do not our communities have as much right to a good environment as those in Finchley, Reigate or the Wirral?
I agree. I do not think that there is any difference of opinion between the hon. Gentleman and myself on that point. There is always the question—sometimes a very difficult one—of marrying the disadvantages to the environment with the great advantages to the country.