South Wales Coalfield (Hansard, 3 December 1990)
HC Deb 03 December 1990 vol 182 cc9-10
12. Mr. Alan W. Williams

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will give the number of jobs involved in (a) deep mining and (b) opencast mining in the south Wales coalfield.

Mr. David Hunt

A total of 3,200 in deep mining and 1,500 on opencast coal mining operations conducted by the British Coal opencast executive.

Mr. Williams

I noted the Secretary of State's comments to my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) about his personal concern about jobs in coal mining. We in south Wales know only too well what that means. In the anthracite coalfield, from which we come, 3,000 jobs have been lost in the past five years, leaving just 100 jobs at Betws. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that British Coal's policy in our area of Dyfed seems to be very much for opencast coal mining, which is causing ever more environmental damage, and the sites of which are getting ever closer to large villages and communities? Will he ask British Coal to review its policy for the development of our high-quality, low-sulphur antracite resources?

Mr. Hunt

On the first point about deep coal mining, having been underground several times in south Wales, I know the geological problems—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Do not let us underestimate the geological problems that face south Wales miners, which have, in many ways, made their task supremely difficult. The question of opencast mining is very much a matter of reaching the right balance between environmental considerations on the one hand and the economic justification for that opencast coal on the other.

Mr. Coleman

I join my right hon. and hon. Friends in their condemnation of the National Coal Board in respect of the deep mining of anthracite. Can the Secretary of State put a figure on the profitability of opencast mining in south Wales over the past three years? Can he also put a figure on the amount of money, in terms of social benefits, that has been put into the communities that are afflicted with opencast mining?

Mr. Hunt

I shall readily supply the figures about the profitability of individual opencast or collective opencast operations, if the hon. Gentleman lets me have his detailed questions. British Coal and I should be glad to supply the figures. However, the important point is that while, on the one hand, there is an economic justification for opencast coal—often it is needed to be blended with deep-mined coal to make the coal acceptable to power stations—on the other hand, serious environmental implications must be taken into account. It is important to get the balance right.