Skip to main content

British Coal Productivity

Volume 113: debated on Monday 30 March 1987

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.


asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement about the latest available productivity figures for British Coal.

I am pleased to say that for the week ending 20 March average deep-mined revenue output per man shift was at the record level of 3·72 tonnes, compared with the provisional figure of 3·70 tonnes. Clearly this underlines the potential of our great coal industry.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the constantly improving productivity record of British Coal is a vindication of the Government's policy of investment in the industry and of the miners' attitude in accepting responsible and flexible working practices to justify that investment? Does he further agree that the single greatest obstacle to the continued progress of the industry is the attitude and actions of the president of the National Union of Mineworkers, currently evidenced by his attacks on his members in south Wales?

I agree with a great deal of what my hon. Friend said. The Government are providing the investment needed to secure future productivity growth. I am pleased to say that we are now beginning a £2 billion further investment programme over the next three years, which is an important expression of confidence in the industry's ability to improve its productivity still further. As I have said previously, the only power left to the president of the NUM is control over the Opposition's energy policy.

Does the Minister accept that productivity is calculated in many ways, including loss of manpower, and that the loss of 70,000 men has contributed to increased production? Is it not a fact that if he does not keep track of imports of coal and plans carefully, increasing productivity, the possibility of increased shift time and increased investment could lead to colliery closures?

The hon. Gentleman, too, is expressing a pessimistic view that flies in the face of the facts. Although manpower has been reduced in the coal industry, output has not, and that is a remarkable tribute to the achievements of the men. Productivity is measured by output per man shift, and that measurement showed that productivity fell each year between 1974 and 1979 under the Government whom he supported.

Can my hon. Friend relate productivity to capital investment? That is a measure of efficiency, without which a false impression may be gathered.

The evidence is that a great deal of the increase in productivity is due to investment, particularly in heavy duty machinery for new coal faces. Of course I shall give my hon. Friend the information that he seeks.

As south Wales had its highest ever level of productivity last week, will the Minister confirm that, if the Margam project were operational, £41 million would be saved in coking coal imports and £15 million in domestic coal imports? Therefore, will he give every encouragement to the Margam project and make sure that the necessary grants and loans are made available as soon as possible?

I join the hon. Lady in congratulating south Wales miners on achieving an output per man shift of 3·29 tonnes. It is a remarkable achievement. Indeed, south Wales has demonstrated its confidence in the future by entering into discussions and agreeing six-day working at Margam. The line taken by the Leader of the Opposition in welcoming that decision is again in stark contrast to the line taken by the president of the NUM.