§ 7. Mr. John Grogan (Selby)
If she will make a statement on the future of the coal industry. 
§ The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Ms Patricia Hewitt)
Coal continues to play an important part in the UK's energy mix. Since December 2000, the Government have spent £141 million on the coal operating aid scheme to help the UK coal industry deal with depressed world prices and compete successfully with imports in meeting demand.
§ Mr. Grogan
On the day that my right hon. Friend meets the chief executive of UK Coal and two weeks before coalfield Members meet the Prime Minister to discuss the future of the coal industry, will she assure me that the British Government will support in discussions in the European Union the concept of investment aid for the 1039 coal industry, which would for the first time allow aid to be used to access reserves or new faces, rather than largely being restricted to funding losses?
§ Ms Hewitt
As my hon. Friend implied, it is not possible at the moment, either under the coal subsidy scheme or under regional selective assistance, for the Government to support investment in the coal industry. We are currently in negotiations in Brussels, as part of the discussion about the new coal state aid framework, to see whether it will be possible to provide investment aid for those mines for which it would be appropriate. We do not know what the outcome of those discussions will be, but we are pressing that case.
§ Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)
As the right hon. Lady knows, the European Coal and Steel Community treaty is due to expire in July. She also knows that Spain, France and Germany have said that they will continue with the aid, pending the new treaty in January. I urge on her the need to extend the aid until the new treaty is in place. The colliery manager at Bettws Ammanford rang my hon. Friend the Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Adam Price) to say that he had regrettably been forced to open redundancy negotiations with his work force, so I urge the Secretary of State to rethink the issue and make an early announcement. The energy Minister visited Longannet recently, but he could do nothing to save that pit. Will she please intervene and save Bettws Ammanford while it is possible to do so?
§ Ms Hewitt
Of course all of us bitterly regretted what happened at Longannet. We are just thankful that nobody was in the pit at the time and that we avoided the casualties that would otherwise have occurred. I will draw the situation at Bettws to the attention of my hon. Friend the energy Minister and I am sure that he will wish to talk to managers and workers there. When the current scheme runs out, we would prefer to see an immediate transition to a new operating framework, but I stress to the hon. Gentleman that conditions that justified the establishment of an operating aid scheme in 2000—in particular, the very depressed world price for coal—do not really apply now. The substantial amounts of aid that have been given to the industry under the existing operating aid scheme were given on the understanding that the various mines would be economically viable by July this year. We are considering the matter carefully, but it will not be easy to solve.
§ Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)
The Secretary of State referred to the importance of coal in the energy mix. Can she confirm that her energy policies are destroying other Government policies? In particular, the workings of the new electricity trading arrangements are destroying the possibility of reaching targets for combined heat and power and renewable energy by 2010. Is she aware that the NETA have led to a 60 per cent. reduction in CHP production and to some wind farms being closed down because they are no longer productive?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The question is out of order. It is beyond the scope of the original question and the Minister will not answer it.