§ 11. Mr. Chisholm
To ask the President of the Board of Trade what estimate he has made of the effect of the pit closure programme on the balance of payments deficit.
§ Mr. Chisholm
Is the Minister aware that we already import 20 million tonnes of foreign coal, some mined by child labour in Colombia, and that the position will get worse if we go ahead with pit closures? Is he further aware that all independent experts—and the Minister's Department in Energy Paper 59—suggest that there will be massive imports of gas if the dash for gas continues? Is he aware that that will have a devastating effect on an already appalling balance of payments deficit which is a brake on growth and the development of full employment?
§ Mr. Eggar
The hon. Gentleman is wrong on almost all counts. No coal mined by child labour is imported to the United Kingdom. We have had a categorical assurance from the Colombian authorities to that effect. It shows a complete misunderstanding about coal production methods in Colombia even to assert that coal is mined by child labour. The hon. Gentleman went on to predict increased imports of gas into the United Kingdom. He seems to be unaware that the share of imports has fallen in the past five years and is predicted to fall further in the next five years. The issues of coal production and generation of electricity by gas are, of course, matters for the comprehensive review which is currently being undertaken.
§ Sir Teddy Taylor
Can my hon. Friend explain why, in a free-trade Europe, it is not possible for us to export coal produced at £40 a tonne to countries such as Germany, which produce lots of coal at £86 a tonne, and could even send us some specialist coal? Has the European Community allowed the Germans a system of huge subsidies for their coal while making it clear that if Britain applied for subsidies for our coal, the answer would be no?
§ Mr. Eggar
The whole future of the EC coal subsidy regime is still to be discussed in the forthcoming years. We cannot export coal because the production costs of British coal are a long way above world coal prices. It is about twice as expensive to produce British deep-mined coal and to get it to the top as to import coal to power stations. One 279 of the challenges that faces British Coal—it will be the subject of the comprehensive review—is to find ways of reducing the costs associated with the production of British deep-mined coal.
Does not the Minister appreciate that there is great anger and frustration among British electricity consumers because of the purchasing of nuclear power from France, power which attracts subsidy under the nuclear levy? Will he terminate the contract in 1993 when it comes up for renewal and thus enable 5 million tonnes of British coal to be used to generate the electricity that would otherwise come from France in the form of nuclear power?