HC Deb 12 March 1940 vol 358 cc991-5
32. Mr. James Hall

asked the Secretary for Mines whether he is aware of the continued plight of the residents of Stepney because of their inability to obtain coal; and whether he is prepared to take steps to increase the supplies of domestic coal, as although the present deliveries of coal to the Stepney district is much below requirements, over 50 per cent. of the supplies reaching the railway depots there are consigned to industrial undertakings?

Mr. Lloyd

Yes, Sir; I am aware that supplies of house coal to Stepney as elsewhere were adversely affected by the exceptionally severe weather of a few weeks ago and have not yet fully recovered. As regards the second part of the Question, the maintenance of some supplies to industry is essential to avoid unemployment, and I would remind the hon. Member that a considerable quantity of industrial coal is consigned to public utility undertakings whose services are just as important to the householder as the supply of domestic coal.

Mr. Hall

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that every week the position in Stepney gets worse, that the reports of the local fuel overseer prove that last week was worse than the week before, and so on progressively, and that because of this shortage poor people are having to pay from £3 to £4 per ton for coal? Cannot something be done to remedy this state of affairs?

Mr. Lloyd

My information is that the situation is improving. I shall be glad to go into any question of price.

Mr. Attlee

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the report of the local coal controller fully bears out the statement of my hon. Friend that the position in Stepney is steadily getting worse, and will he look into the position of the small consumer who has to buy his supply from barrows?

Mr. Lloyd

Yes, Sir. With regard to price, I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that it is definitely controlled.

Mr. Hall

Is the Minister not aware that where coal is sold in 28-lb. bags, they are permitted to charge 1s., which is £4 a ton?

Mr. Lloyd

If the hon. Gentleman will give me details, I will certainly look into them.

33. Major Sir Jocelyn Lucas

asked the Secretary for Mines whether, to obviate a repetition of the chaos in the coal trade, and dislocation of railway traffic resulting from the recent severe weather and other causes, the Government will either store large supplies of coal in all important towns during the coming summer, to be held as a reserve available to merchants in time of severe weather conditions or enemy action, or arrange credits for merchants who are prepared to undertake this themselves?

35. Mr. E. Smith

asked the Secretary for Mines what action he has taken or intends to take to improve the organisation of the distribution of coal and to avoid a repetition of the last few weeks in any circumstances?

Mr. Lloyd

I would refer my hon. and gallant Friend and the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave on 6th February to the hon. Members for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith), Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), and Govan (Mr. Maclean).

Sir J. Lucas

Is my hon. Friend aware that this is a matter of extreme urgency, and that while people may forgive a mistake once, they will not do so twice?

Mr. Shinwell

Has there been no change since 6th February? When will the hon. Gentleman be in a position to inform the House what steps he proposes to take in order to prevent a recurrence of the recent trouble?

Mr. Lloyd

In the answer to which I have referred, I stated that it is the Government's policy to build up stocks. As a result of the action of the Mines Department, stocks were exceptionally high, both at the beginning of the war and at the beginning of the cold spell. The House will appreciate that it is important to get back to supplying the ordinary current demands before we can carry into effect the arrangements for increasing stocks?

Mr. Holdsworth

Can the hon. Gentleman give the House a guarantee that no similar mistake as was made with rationing will be made again?

Mr. E. Smith

In view of the unsatisfactory reply—[Laughter.] If hon. Members knew the state of this business, they would not be so ready to smile. Steel works have been closed down because of the coal shortage. I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment at the first available opportunity.

40. Mr. Lipson

asked the Secretary for Mines whether he is aware that the coal shortage in Cheltenham, previously acute, has grown worse; and will he take immediate steps to remedy this?

Mr. Lloyd

I am aware that shortages have occurred from time to time, and special steps were taken to deal with them. I understand that arrangements are in hand for supplementary supplies.

Mr. Lipson

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that the population of Cheltenham has increased by several thousands since the war, and will he see that these steps are really effective?

Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore

Will my hon. Friend remember that the population of London is also increasing?

Mr. De la Bère

Is my hon. Friend aware that the population of Pershore is suffering from an acute shortage of coal?

Mr. Kirkwood

Where is all the coal going to?

Sir Cooper Rawson

asked the Secretary for Mines whether he is aware that the Brighton Equitable Co-operative Society have been allowed a special train of coal for the exclusive use of their regular customers and that 12 similar special trains have been or are being sent to various parts of the country; will he undertake to put a stop at once to this discrimination; is he aware that the Brighton Equitable Co-operative Society declined, on 4th March, to handle the train allotted to them; and will instructions be given at once, in view of the present shortage, to allow the train to be released to other coal merchants in the borough of Brighton and Hove, who possess facilities for handling coal for its immediate delivery to customers?

Mr. Lloyd

The purpose of these special train loads is to give the widest possible relief to the districts to which they are consigned, and it is within the competence of local fuel overseers to arrange the distribution of the coal among merchants in the locality. The consignees are selected in the light of this consideration, and no preference has been given to co-operative societies as such. The refusal of the Brighton society to handle the train load in question was due to a local misunderstanding which was immediately rectified.

Sir C. Rawson

Will the misunderstanding not occur again?

Mr. Lloyd

I am not responsible for it.

Sir C. Rawson

Is my hon. Friend aware that the second train consisted of only 40 trucks, which arrived this morning? How much more shall we get next week?

Mr. Lloyd

Two more special trains next week.

Mr. A. V. Alexander

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there was, in fact, no refusal by the Brighton Co-operative Society to handle the train as soon as application was made to the manager of the society, and that up till last night they had not received the train?

Sir C. Rawson

As aspersions have been cast on my veracity by the right hon. Member can I have an opportunity of explaining the truth?

44. Mr. Thorne

asked the Secretary for Mines how much of the 250,000 tons of coal each week, that was promised 12 days ago, is coming to Greater London?

Mr. Lloyd

I have been unable to trace any reference to the figure quoted by the hon. Member, but the programme announced by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport has been working to schedule.

Mr. Thorne

But is the Minister aware that either he or the Minister of Transport quoted this figure as to the number of tons of coal, and will he be good enough to find out when the coal is loaded into trucks at the pithead or sidings and how long it takes it to get to its destination?

Mr. Lloyd

The figure mentioned by my right hon. Friend was 70,000 tons, and these trains have been dealt with very quickly.

Mr. Thorne

Is the Minister aware that, if he does not get a move on, although we do not want to move a Vote of Censure upon him, that will have to be done?

Mr. Lawson

As the Prime Minister is not here, may I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he is aware that this question with which the Secretary for Mines is wrestling is related to transportation and other matters and is a matter for the Cabinet rather than for the Minister?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir John Simon)

I think that question is necessarily one for the Prime Minister, and I know that the Prime Minister is fully aware of the circumstances.

Mr. Lawson

But could not the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether this matter is being treated as a matter of policy and man-power, because it is a much bigger question than any Minister outside the Cabinet can deal with?