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Coal Industry (Productivity And Investment)

Volume 113: debated on Monday 30 March 1987

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14.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will arrange to meet leaders of the National Union of Mineworkers to discuss productivity and investment in the coal industry; and if he will make a statement

I am always happy to meet the representatives of unions in the coal industry to discuss matters of mutual interest.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. In view of the widespread welcome that there appears to be on both sides of the House for the decision in south Wales, would it not be appropriate for my right hon. Friend to meet the NUM and to remind it of the fruits that can be available to it if it accepts new working practices? Does my right hon. Friend agree that no other Government could possibly have achieved the present situation unless the rule of terror practised by Mr. Arthur Scargill had been broken by the Government's persistence?

It is remarkable that the great majority of south Wales miners are in favour of the new project for a six-day week. The Leader of the Opposition has come out in support of them, the Welsh TUC also supports them, and seemingly the one great opponent is the president of the National Union of Mineworkers. I hope that the members of the NUM will put appropriate pressure on him.

There is always support for new jobs, but is the Minister aware of the genuine fear that the high productivity now being achieved will mean no jobs for school leavers in coal mining areas, and that the continuing increase in output, plus nuclear power stations, the high price of electricity and giving pensioners only a £5 heating bonus means that ultimately there will be an energy mountain and mass unemployment, in the same way as there is a butter mountain—except that farmers get the subsidy?

Earlier, in relation to a question about whether a power station would be built in his constituency, the hon. Gentleman seemingly rejoiced at the jobs that would be created. He now suggests that we go back to colossal overmanning in the coal industry, which will make it totally non-competitive for such power stations.

Is my right hon. Friend concerned about the recent report, not only about the cost of British coal for producing energy and thereby the cost to industry, but about overmanning in the electricity supply industry?

It is not in the interests of any industry to continue with the practice of overmanning. The coal industry is a perfect example of where we have cut uneconomic pits and replaced them; and so far British Coal Enterprise Ltd., has provided 15,000 new jobs in expanding industries.