Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Complete list of 8,000+ Thatcher statements & texts of many of them

1967 Nov 7 Tu
Margaret Thatcher

HC PQ [Coal]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: House of Commons PQs
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [753/820-30]
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: MT spoke at c821.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 3611
Themes: -
[column 820]

COAL

Power Stations

3. Sir C. Osborne

asked the Minister of Power why nuclear power stations have been built at a cost of £500 million more than comparable coal-fired power stations would have cost; and what reply he has sent to the representations made [column 821]to him by the Chairman of the National Coal Board on this matter.

Mr. Marsh

I am aware that the Chairman of the National Coal Board has quoted a figure of £500 million as the extra cost of the first nuclear power programme compared with a similar capacity of conventional stations, but this figure does not take into account the considerable savings in running costs once the stations have been built.

Sir C. Osborne

But is not the Minister aware that miners throughout the country feel that they are having a raw deal and have legitimate complaints on this issue? What is the right hon. Gentleman doing to meet the legitimate fears of these men?

Mr. Marsh

I think that the hon. Gentleman is completely right. The miners have a justifiable complaint about the effect of the first nuclear power programme, which was completely irresponsible and was introduced by his own party.

Sir C. Osborne

The right hon. Gentleman is carrying it on.

Mr. Shinwell

Does my right hon. Friend realise that this constant dispute between himself on behalf of the Ministry over which he presides and the Chairman of the National Coal Board is causing a lot of confusion, particularly in mining circles? How is it possible to resolve the dispute? He retains the Chairman of the Coal Board in his position and yet, at the same time, he never seems to agree with him.

Mr. Marsh

There are two separate issues. The hon. Member for Louth (Sir C. Osborne) raised the question of the first nuclear power programme, which I personally think was too big, but none the less it is there. There is room for legitimate debate about the nuclear costs of the stations which are to follow. There is no reason why the Chairman of the Coal Board should not express views which he holds very strongly.

Mrs. Thatcher

Would not the Minister agree that had it not been for the first nuclear power programme we should not be in a position in which we could get nuclear power as cheaply, if not more cheaply, than coal power?

[column 822]

Mr. Marsh

It is always possible to rationalise these things after the event. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman should contain himself, otherwise he will burst something. I cannot believe that anybody would today say that that programme was not too big.

Mr. Edwin Wainwright

In so far as the first phasing of nuclear power proved very expensive, and since building five nuclear power stations of the a.g.r. type might be expensive, has my right hon. Friend considered building three instead of five stations so that we can obtain sufficient knowhow on nuclear power?

Mr. Marsh

There is a great deal of discussion going on into the question of the load forecast in order to work out exactly how many stations we should build and when. But I do not think that there can be any argument that, with the future nuclear power stations, the costs of generation will be low compared with other fuels.

Output

5. Sir G. Nabarro

asked the Minister of Power what estimate he has now made for output of coal in 1967; what effect delayed put closures recently announced by the Government will have on total 1967 output; and what further decline in coal output he has planned for 1968.

Mr. Marsh

Total coal output in the first 43 weeks of this year was 139 million tons, 3 million less than last year; I expect this declining trend to continue for the rest of the year and in 1968. The additional output in 1967 at the pits whose closure is deferred may be about 400,000 tons.

Sir G. Nabarro

When the mineworkers marched on Westminster yesterday and at the conclusion of their deliberations, did the Minister observe that

“Mr. Will Paynter, secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, warned the Government that there was ‘a breaking point in the tolerance and loyalty of everybody’.” ?

I quote from The Times this morning. When does the Minister propose to publish his much-vaunted, long-awaited and very dilatorily handled fuel policy?

Mr. Marsh

There is a Question on the Order Paper which will give the answer which the hon. Member requires.

Pit Closures

[column 823]

6. Mr. Biffen

asked the Minister of Power the estimated additional coal output arising from the recently announced curtailment of pit closures; the estimated loss arising from this decision; and for how long these closures have been postponed.

Mr. Marsh

The amount of additional output and the costs arising from the deferment of the 16 colliery closures will depend upon their eventual dates of closure. These will be decided by the National Coal Board following discussions with the chairmen of regional planning councils.

Mr. Biffen

Does not this incident confirm that what purports to be economic planing is sheer arbitrary political interference? Could not the Minister best minimise the hard which has been done by this decision by informing the House at the earliest possible date when these closures will be confirmed?

Mr. Marsh

Of course, the House will be kept informed of the programme. This was not interference. It was something which was agreed between the Government and the National Coal Board and discussed with the miners as well.

Mining Industry

7. Mr. Woof

asked the Minister of Power what estimate he has made of the number of persons and their dependants whose livelihood depends on the coal industry, including both workers and their dependants providing goods and services in the coalfields, and workers and their dependants in industries supplying equipment to the mining industry.

Mr. Freeson

The total number of persons employed by the National Coal Board at 31st March, 1967, was 492,400. In addition there were about 5,000 employed in the private sector of the coal industry. Figures are not available of the total number of dependants of people employed in coal mining, nor of workers and dependants providing goods and services in the coalfields or engaged in the manufacture of mining equipment; but clearly the total would be considerable.

[column 824]

Mr. Woof

Would not my hon. Friend recognise that there are nearly 3 million people involved in the various categories of that employment? Would he not agree that from the national standpoint something like one out of every 16 men, women and children are directly or indirectly affected by the prosperity of the coal industry? Is not this a serious matter for the Government to consider when framing details of their fuel policy?

Mr. Freeson

As I have indicated, I cannot confirm the figures which my hon. Friend has quoted, although, as I have indicated also, we accept that the figures will undoubtedly be considerable. In reply to the second part of his question, I know that this is a difficult matter, but, as on previous occasions, we assure my hon. Friend, as we assure other hon. Members and people outside the House, that we take very careful account of the effects on the coal industry of changes in the economy and social changes as well.

14. Mr. Eadie

asked the Minister of Power what representation he has had from the National Union of Mineworkers on the future of the mining industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Mr. Marsh

In arriving at the policy set out in the forthcoming White Paper of Fuel Policy, I have had regard to the views of the National Union of Mineworkers, and the union has been kept informed of the Government's thinking on these matters. The N.U.M.s Economic Committee had a meeting with me only yesterday.

Mr. Eadie

Is my right hon. Friend not were that yesterday's lobby by the miners was one of the biggest ever held in the country? Is he further aware that unless his Ministry changes its point of view radically there will be a revolt in this Parliament against the Government?

Hon. Members

Oh.

Mr. Marsh

No doubt my hon. Friend will take note of his supporters on the other side of the House. The important point to have quite clear is that the Government are not running down the coal mining industry. In the 1965 White Paper, the estimate for coal consumption by 1970 ranged between 170 million and 180 million tons. Today, by 1967, [column 825]it is down to something like 165 million tons, with coal stocks of over 27 million tons.

Sir C. Osborne

Why should not coal miners enjoy the benefit of the Government's guarantee of full employment to all workers?

Mr. Marsh

This is a serious problem and, for coal miners, it is a very tragic one. One of the great pities is that we did not look at the contraction of this industry in other fields five or six years ago. [Interruption.] It is not something which has happened overnight. The position at the moment is that coal sales are contracting, and the problem which we face is that we cannot sell coal at these prices on this level of production. As far as I am concerned, I am not prepared to publish figures of coal burnt in which I do not believe.

Mr. William Hamilton

Can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that, when and as the industry contracts, the Government will undertake completely the social costs of the distortion of economies in mining areas and not merely the social costs in terms of £ s. d., but ensure that there are jobs available and on time for the men who will be thrown out of work as a result?

Mr. Marsh

The question of alternative work is one for others of my right hon. Friends. On my hon. Friend's first point, in the very near future I shall come to the House with a new Coal Bill which will contain radical provisions for increased Government assistance to the coal mining industry.

Mr. Hooley

Will my right hon. Friend agree that the future of our mining communities, like the future of the rest of us, depends on the exploitation of advanced scientific and technological techniques, and not on clinging to 19th century industries?

Mr. Marsh

To be fair, it ought to be said that there is no union in the country which has co-operated with the advance of technology better than the National Union of Mineworkers.

Sir G. Nabarro

Does the Minister not realise that the National Union of Mineworkers is completely out of step with him in its views on future productivity from the mines? Is it not the fact that [column 826]Mr. Paynter stated yesterday his interpretation as 120 million tons in 1970 and not 170 million tons, as the Minister has just said?

Mr. Marsh

I do not think that Mr. Paynter said 120 million tons in 1970. I find the hon. Gentleman's rôle of leader of the Worcestershire mineworkers rather a novel one. It is true that we have disagreements with the National Union of Mineworkers, but, on the whole, they are quite reasonable ones. I do not think that there would be much doubt in the minds of its members which lot they would support if it came to it.

Seaton Carew Power Station

8. Mr. Woof

asked the Minister of Power which Durham collieries that would otherwise be working in the 1970s will have to close if the Seaton Carew power station is based on nuclear power rather than coal; and how many men will be redundant as a result.

34 and 35. Mr. Shinwell

asked the Minister of Power (1) what estimate has been made of closure of pits in the area covered by the Eastington Parliamentary Division in the event of the Seaton Carew power station being based on nuclear energy;

(2) what estimate has been made of the number of mineworkers and other work-people in ancillary industries who would be employed in the county of Durham if the proposed Seaton Carew power station was based on coal.

Mr. Marsh

These and other issues are being taken into account in studies now proceeding in connection with the C.E.G.B.'s application for my consent to build a nuclear station. We cannot know the load factor of such a station at this stage and hon. Members will appreciate the difficulties of forecasting for many years ahead the position of individual collieries.

Mr. Woof

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it has been estimated that there would be an annual saving of only about £2 million if a nuclear power station were built at Seaton Carew? Is he further aware that this would be more than offset by the cost to the country of about £6 million as the price to pay to support those who are thrown out of work? If [column 827]that concept is not correct, is my right hon. Friend prepared to swear on a stack of Bibles that there is a bright future for the Durham coalfield?

Mr. Marsh

That last request is an unreasonable one to any Minister. In reply to the first point, whatever station were built in Durham could not be in full operation until 1975. There is an argument about its cost. The Central Electricity Generating Board argues that it would have an increased operational cost of about £6 million per annum. All these factors, however, are being taken into account, and a decision will be made only after full study of them.

Mr. Shinwell

Does not my right hon. Friend begin to realise that, without furnishing an estimate of some kind, he is only aggravating the insecurity that exists among the miners? If he represented, as I do, a mining constituency, he would appreciate that the men do not know what their future is to be. It is important that we should have a firm estimate. Would it not be advisable for the Government to issue their White Paper on a national fuel and power policy as early as possible, certainly before we rise for the Christmas Recess, so that we can debate the matter and give the Government some instructions?

Mr. Marsh

I would hope that the White Paper would be out next week. It is simply not possible to give an estimate of the number of miners who will be employed at a certain colliery in six or seven years' time when one does not even know what would be the load factor of a power station which might exist at that time. This is not a question of withholding information. The information does not exist.

Mr. Swain

When this long-awaited fuel policy White Paper is produced, will there be an opportunity to debate it in the House at the earliest possible moment between the issue of the White Paper and the presentation of the Coal Bill to the House in December?

Mr. Marsh

That is not a matter for me.

Sir G. Nabarro

Is not the Minister being utterly disingenuous in this matter? Seaton Carew is a base-load power station. Does not every base-load power station [column 828]in Britain operate on an 80 per cent. basis? Cannot the Minister make his calculation on all recent history of modern power stations?

Mr. Marsh

The problem here is that one is asked to give an estimate of the number of people who would be affected by a power station which would not be in full operation until something like 1975. Not having a specific power station, it is not possible to say exactly what that power station will do, what size it will be or the effects that far ahead. The important thing is that all these factors are being considered. Whatever power station were built at Seaton Carew or the Hartlepool would immediately begin to provide an average of about 900 jobs a year for people in the area.

Mr. David Watkins

Since there is a continuously growing demand for electricity, is there not room for the development of both coal and nuclear power stations? Is not the Seaton Carew power station singularly well situated for coal firing?

Mr. Marsh

Again, that could be open to argument. If one decides to site a nuclear power station on a site which meets the requirements of the Nuclear Installations Act, it does not necessarily follow that if we were to build a coalfired station we would build it at the same place.

Mr. Manuel

Will my right hon. Friend recognise the great concern and dependency which is being created in the coalfields throughout Britain, because he is giving fairly definite figures for run-down in the industry and the number of men employed while there remain such unknown factors as the price of North Sea gas and of nuclear energy? If my right hon. Friend cannot guess those things, why is he so definite on the manpower position?

Mr. Marsh

As the White Paper will show, the cost of nuclear energy can be given. One assumes that North Sea gas is worth buying only at a price at which it is of value to the system. The rate of build-up is already established at something like 2,000 million cu. ft. a day by 1970. These figures exist. The corollary is the effect on the coal mining industry.

[column 829]

Private Railway Lines

[column 829]

27. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Minister of Power if he will issue a general direction to the National Coal Board to publish details of payments still being made by the Board to owners of private railway lines which serve collieries, indicating in each case how much has been paid out since nationalisation of the coal industry.

Mr. Freeson

I have asked the Chairman of the National Coal Board to write to my hon. Friend giving him the details.

Mr. Hamilton

Is my hon. Friend aware that I have written to the Coal Board and that it has refused to give the details? Has his attention been drawn to the ridiculous situation in Fife, where the railway, serving four or five collieries, is half publicly-owned and half privately-owned by a gentleman, Captain Wemyss? Why is he leaving this situation as it is, and why does he not take the privately-owned part into public ownership?

Mr. Freeson

I cannot answer my hon. Friend's latter point, except to say that I am aware of the fifty/fifty ownership. I was not aware that there had been any refusal of information. Before a reply could be given to the question, I understand that consultation with about 17 areas would be involved. We are asking for the information to be supplied.

Former Colliery Owners (Payments)

30. Mr. Clifford Williams

asked the Minister of Power what is the full total of interest money paid to the former colliery owners to the end of this year.

Mr. Freeson

Total gross interest paid under the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act, 1946, for the period from vesting date until compensation was fully satisfied amounted to about £63 million. Subsequently, the holders of Government stock issued in satisfaction of compensation received interest at 3½ per cent. per annum. It is impossible to say how much of this interest, which up to June 1967 amounted to £134 million, has been paid to former colliery owners, since the stock freely changed hands on the market after being issued.

[column 830]

Mr. Williams

I am rather disappointed with that reply, because I had expected that the Minister would have been able to say precisely how much interest had been paid to the former colliery owners. [Hon. Members: “Question.” ] Will my hon. Friend take some steps, if he can, some time in the future to recover some of this money, so that it may be used to help repair the damage caused by the former colliery owners by subsidence and the tipping of pit rubbish in former mining areas?

Mr. Freeson

It is impossible to get this information, because the stock was freely available on the market. It is not possible for us to seek to claw back this money, since those people have not got it any more. The stock has been sold on the market.