HC Deb 29 July 1941 vol 373 cc1223-6
1. Mr. Levy

asked the Secretary for Mines whether he is aware that a notification has been sent to the Elland Dyeing Company, Limited, stating that they will not receive any further supply of coal for the next eight weeks, and as they have not sufficient stocks to last for that period, they will have to close their works, although engaged on Government work and a protected firm; and what action he proposes to take to prevent this situation occurring?

The Secretary for Mines (Mr. David Grenfell)

In order to provide coal urgently needed for public utility undertakings certain collieries were instructed to reduce for a time deliveries to consumers of lower priority. In the particular case in question these instructions were wrongly interpreted to mean complete suspension but the mistake has already been corrected.

Mr. Levy

Does the Minister realise the seriousness of this situation? No in- formation has been received by this company that the notification was wrongly interpreted. Does the Minister realise that the chaotic situation is casting a very grave reflection upon the Government as as whole, apart from that which is cast upon his Department, which is utterly incompetent?

Mr. Grenfell

I do not know that I am required to argue the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question. No doubt the company have had a substantial quantity of coal in stock, and now they will receive coal according to the full measure of their requirements.

Mr. Levy

Have the company been informed that the notification was wrongly interpreted and that they will receive coal, in order to prevent anxiety among their men? Otherwise, the company may have to close down.

Mr. Grenfell

Full supplies are going forward.

8. Mr. Culverwell

asked the Secretary for Mines whether he is satisfied that all public utility undertakings will have enough coal with which to carry on during the next six weeks?

Mr. Grenfell

I cannot give an absolute guarantee that all public utility undertakings can be supplied with coal enough for the next six weeks. The average amount of coal in stock by public utility undertakings, gas, electricity and water, runs to about six weeks' supply at the summer rate of consumption, but these stocks are not evenly distributed and there are a number of them which do not hold a fortnight's stock at the present time. There has been a marked increase in the rate of stocking by public utilities—notably gas works—in the past few weeks.

Mr. Culverwell

Is not the Minister aware that some of these public utilities have only a few days' supply, and will he not take drastic action to save them from having to close down?

Mr. Grenfell

This situation has, unfortunately, been in existence for many months throughout last winter, but no undertaking of any kind has stopped for want of coal since the beginning of the war.

Mr. Shinwell

If the supply of coal is not evenly distributed as my hon. Friend has said, who is responsible for the present situation?

Mr. Grenfell

It was found impossible to convey coal in the desired quantities to the various parts of the country. We are now trying to make good in those places where the stocks are lowest, and I hope to be able to report very shortly that places with only a few weeks' stocks have been raised to a level commensurate with other parts of the country.

10. Sir William Davison

asked the Secretary for Mines whether he has considered a communication from the town clerk of Chelsea pointing out the likelihood of a serious shortage of coal in Chelsea during the coming winter months by reason of the failure of his Department to supply any coal during recent months, notwithstanding the fact that, at the request of the Ministry, ample storage accommodation approved by them was provided so that coal might be available during the coming winter for persons who had no facilities for storing it themselves; and whether immediate steps will be taken to supply the coal reserve promised to Chelsea over five months ago?

Mr. Grenfell

I am sending the hon. Member a copy of the reply to the letter from the town clerk of Chelsea. The delay in increasing stocks in this and other localities is of course due to the general shortage of supplies. A site has been acquired at St. Mark's College, Chelsea, and I hope it will be possible before long to provide coal for it.

Sir W. Davison

Is my hon. Friend aware that the facts as stated in the Question are vouched for by the town clerk in a recent report, and is he aware that the persons for whom the coal is required are persons who have no storage accommodation in their homes?

Mr. Grenfell

It is because I am so anxious about the people who have no storage accommodation in their homes that I. have made provision for the stocking of 3,000,000 tons on Government account. There are now about one and one-third million tons on Government account, particularly for the people who have no stocking accommodation of their own.

Sir W. Davison

Will some of this come to Chelsea?

Mr. Grenfell

I hope so.

11. Major-General Sir Alfred Knox

asked the Secretary for Mines when a sufficient supply of house coal will be made available in the Easthampstead and Wokingham rural districts of the county of Berkshire?

Mr. Grenfell

From the information in my possession, I can assure the hon. and gallant Member that during recent months Berkshire has not suffered unduly as a result of the reduction in available supplies of house coal. The tonnage held in stock by the merchants in May compares favourably with the corresponding figures for previous months this year, and disposals during the past three months have exceeded the figures for the corresponding period of last year. So far as I am aware, sufficient coal has been available in the Easthampstead and Wokingham districts to meet current requirements. The future position will naturally depend on the results of our continuing efforts to increase production.

Sir A. Knox

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that while the coal now being supplied is sufficient for current requirements in the summer months, no reserve is being built up for the winter, which will be infinitely more difficult than last winter, because people who want a lot of coal and have not been able to acquire stocks will then come into the market?

Mr. Grenfell

There are stocks, equal to—and in some cases better than—those of a year ago. We are not, however, satisfied; we want more coal in stock, and if we can get more production, stocks will be correspondingly raised.

Sir John Mellor

Were not these districts formerly supplied by the Tamworth Colliery, and should not "my hon. Friend be now considering the reopening of that colliery?

Mr. Speaker

That does not arise on this Question.