HC Deb 20 December 1966 vol 738 cc1173-5
30. Mr. Urwin

asked the Minister of Power (1) whether, in view of the continual decline in coal production, he will issue a general direction to the National Coal Board to suspend all planned pit closures in the national interest;

(2) whether he will issue a general direction to the National Coal Board, in the public interest, to postpone planned pit closures until alternative employment opportunities are provided for ultimately redundant miners.

Mr. Marsh

The best method of ensuring sufficient supplies of coal is to concentrate mining manpower at the highly productive pits, where it is most needed. The National Coal Board can offer jobs to all able-bodied miners affected by colliery closures who are willing to transfer to other pits.

Mr. Urwin

Would my right hon. Friend agree that extensive migration from the mining industry, often precipitated by the threat of impending closures, substantially adds to the already existing social problems attached to closures? In those circumstances, does he not consider that, in order to get the coal production required and to keep these men in the industry, it would be in the national interest to retain these uneconomic pits?

On my second Question as regards pit closure, does my right hon. Friend also agree that the new industries are not keeping pace with the amount of wastage from the coal industry? Can we have greater liaison between them?

Mr. Marsh

I would accept my hon. Friend's suggestion that this programme and this method raises real social problems. It would be unfair not to recognise that. None the less, I must ask him to believe that the future of the coal mining industry, which is a good and long term one, must be based on the ability of the industry, which is a good and long-term enable it to compete with other fuels. If it does not do that, the future of coal mining is doubtful.

Mr. Varley

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to the speculation that in the near future, because of falling production in this country, it is probable that we shall have to import coal from America? In view of our balance of payments position, would it not be quite disgraceful if that situation arose?

Mr. Marsh

There are no proposals for importing coal from America at present. I emphasise that the manpower position within the coal mining industry has been transformed in the last couple of months or so.

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