HC Deb 16 February 1920 vol 125 cc480-2
Colonel Sir J. REMNANT (by Private Notice)

asked the Leader of the House if he is aware that exports of coal from the United Kingdom in January last exceeded the exports in any month since August last; and if it is the policy of the Government to permit exports of coal even though the inland requirements of the industry, public utility works and households are not being fully met?


The answer to the first part is in the affirmative, and to the second in the negative. It must be remembered that the question is not one of coal so much as it is one of transport coastwise and by rail, and for this reason: While the ouput of coal has been steadily improving it is yet much short of the pre-War rate and except in the export districts there are general shortages for home requirements.

Priority of supply has been given in the following order:

  1. (a) Household and domestic supplies.
  2. (b) Public utility undertakings.
  3. (c) Rail ways.
  4. (d) Industries.
Efforts, at the same time, have been made to transfer supplies from the districts where the surpluses exist to districts where the output is insufficient to meet home needs. Only the balance, after such transfer has been made, so far as transport has permitted, has been allowed for export. The difficulties of transport have not, however, made it possible so far to meet the necessary inland requirements, and it has become clear that more drastic steps are necessary to secure the movement of coal to areas which have a deficiency. It has, therefore, been decided to give to coastwise and railway movement of coal such priority as is necessary to secure that home demands are met as fully as possible. It will happen in cases that this priority wilt involve delays to other traffic, but if home demands in respect of coal are to be met this is clearly inevitable.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there are instances where towns are situated within a mile of coal pits and the inhabitants are suffering from a coal famine and have to see thousands of tons of coal taken by rail to outside parts of the country, and is he further aware that Kilmarnock is one of these, and that nothing whatever is being done?


Mo, I was not aware of that and I have not heard anything special from Kilmarnock.


Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that this country depends for its existence upon our export trade and that one of the principal lines of export is coal, and that the remedy for the present state of affairs is greater output?


I think that statement can only be received with qualifications. The largest amount of export possible ought to be maintained, but we cannot allow either householders or industries to suffer.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if some of the ships which are at present taking coal abroad were employed in coastwise traffic the extraordinary amount of congestion due to taking coal by rail to coast towns would be obviated and trucks would be available for inland traffic?


No. The hon. Member is mistaken. I was present at a conference where the whole question was gone into on Saturday. His remedy would only lead to further congestion at the ports where loading and discharging is now impossible.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that iron and steel works on the coast are standing idle although trucks are being used to ship coal from the collieries to the very ports at which these works are standing idle, and therefore it cannot be lack of trans port which accounts for the shortage of coal?


I do not think that quite follows because the arrangement of transport is very complicated, depending on the number of trains which can be passed over a particular line, very often a bottle neck. That is the very point which is now being gone into in complete detail by all the Departments concerned.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many more trains might be carried if they were worked at night?


The hon. Member may be assured that, so far as the power of the Ministry of Transport is concerned, that is being done. It is a question, to some extent, of labour.