HC Deb 24 February 1947 vol 433 cc1704-10
The Prime Minister

I propose, with Mr. Speaker's permission, to make a further statement on the fuel position.

The weather is still the dominating factor in the situation; since my last statement there has been a renewal of the blizzard which so severely dislocated transport a fortnight or so ago and today there is the danger of widespread fog. Intense efforts have been made by the transport workers on land and sea to keep the coal moving and I am glad to report that so far there have been no serious interruptions in the flow of coal from the coalfields to the power stations. As a result, the position has continued to improve and the stocks at power stations are gradually being built up to the minimum level of two weeks' consumption. But that level will suffice only if consumption of electricity by domestic and non-industrial users is reduced as much as possible. Although the initial response to the Government's appeal was excellent, there has lately been an increase in consumption which gives rise to some anxiety. On the first day that the restrictions on domestic and non-industrial use of electricity were extended over the remaining areas of the country, the saving of coal at power stations in those areas was 6,100 tons; the average daily saving last week was only 4,790 tons. Similarly, the savings achieved in the first weekend of the restrictions totalled 49,810 tons over the whole country, but this weekend only 40,690 tons were saved. The early restoration of power for industry in the two remaining areas will only be possible if domestic and non-industrial consumers throughout the country economise to the utmost in the use of electricity for all purposes.

In the North-West area the position continues to improve, and by last night the average level of stocks had reached about 15½ days' consumption; but out of the 33 generating stations in this area, stocks at eight stations had not reached the minimum level by midnight yesterday. After a very careful review of the position, however, the Government are satisfied that most of the deficiency should be made up this week and they, therefore, propose to allow a general resumption of the use at power by industry in the North-West area from Monday next, 3rd March.

As regards coal supplies for industry in the North-West area, the Chairman of the Regional Board for Industry is in consultation with the members of the Regional Fuel Allocation Committee and with the Coal Supplies officers of the Ministry of Fuel and Power with a view to making in the fortnight following resumption the best arrangements possible for the use of coal expected to he available and to announcing those arrangements to the industries concerned in the region.

In the South-East area, the average level of stocks had reached 15 days' consumption by last night, but difficulty is still being experienced in building up the stocks at the large London power stations which had only reached 13 days' consumption In all, 15 of the 27 generating stations in this area have stocks of below two weeks' consumption.

Supplies to this area, which is furthest from the coalfields, are more liable to interruption from bad weather than those to the other areas, and the Government feel that it is still too soon to form an estimate of the date at which power can be restored to industry The position is being watched daily, and the House can rest assured that the restrictions on industry will be lifted as soon as it is considered safe to do so.

The gas position is under daily review in the light of the weather and the transport situation. The utmost economy is necessary if we are to avoid having to impose similar restrictions to those applied to domestic and non-industrial use of electricity.

A comprehensive count of insured persons registered as unemployed was taken on 22nd February. This showed that in the regions where the use of electricity for industrial purposes has been restricted, 1,643,500 insured persons were unemployed. In addition, it was estimated that there were 479,000 persons unemployed who were not claiming unemployment insurance benefit.

Mr. Eden

Can the right hon. Gentleman give us any information about the allocation of solid fuel to the North-Western area? He will remember that an indication was given in respect of the Central area, and that without some such indication the importance of this restoration is, to a considerable extent, nullified.

The Prime Minister

I cannot give that today.

Mr. Eden

Can the right hon. Gentleman give us any indication about a resumption in the Metropolitan area, in the light of the statement made by the Minister of Fuel and Power a fortnight ago?

The Prime Minister

I have stated that we are not satisfied that it is safe to do so. Conditions are very difficult, particularly owing to the danger of fog as we have to depend on seaborne coal. I will make a statement as soon as possible, but I cannot do it today.

Mr. Stokes

In view of the statement which my right hon. Friend has just made about the position of power stations in South-East England, is it not possible for South-East England, particularly East-Anglia to be considered independently of London?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir, I do not think so. It is included in the London area.

Mr. Clement Davies

Are the Government. considering the question of rationing the domestic and non-industrial use A electricity and gas?

The Prime Minister

We are looking into that question but it is extremely complicated and very difficult.

Sir Hugh O'Neill

Can the right hon. Gentleman say anything about the coke situation? Not long ago it was easier for householders to get coke than coal, but I am not sure that that is so now.

The Prime Minister

I have not that information with me, but I will look it up and let the right hon. Gentleman know.

Mr. Blackburn

On the allocation of coal, will the Government consider issuing a general instruction designed to ensure, other things being equal, that those factories which were the first to close will not be the last to reopen? Will the Government consider giving guidance to workers who received their final notice, as they want to know what the Government want them to do, whether there is to be alternative employment for them or not?

The Prime Minister

I will look into my hon. Friend's second point. I do not think that anything like the first in, first out business will he useful on this occasion.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

In regard to the supply of gas, which the right hon. Gentleman said was causing concern, can he give an undertaking that before further statements on this matter are issued the industrialists concerned, for example, the Gas Council, will be consulted so that the country may be sure that everybody's counsel is taken into account before reaching a decision?

The Prime Minister

I understand that the Chairman of the Gas Council was present when the notification was issued to the Press. It was thought necessary to give it at once, in view of certain difficulties that appeared to be likely owing to the hold up of shipping during the week end. The Ministry had the full information, and I do not think that industrialists in the gas industry necessarily had, at that moment, the same information with regard to the sailing of ships and the weather as was known by the Ministry.

Miss Jennie Lee

Is the Prime Minister aware that there was a very wonderful Dunkirk spirit among the Midland miners who wished to work on Sunday to help; and the regional board, instead of telling the men the facts and explaining that there were pits where Sunday work would be useful and pits where it would not be useful because of transport difficulties, allowed the men to be regarded as if they were scroungers, seeking to work on Sunday for double pay?

The Prime Minister

I think that the hon. Lady had better put that question to the Minister of Fuel and Power.

Mr. R. S. Hudson

Can the right hon. Gentleman make clear the figures which he gave about the unemployed? Do they cover England, Scotland and Wales, or are they limited to particular areas?

The Prime Minister

In the regions where the use of electricity for industrial purposes has been restricted, 1,643,500 insured persons are unemployed; that is in the regions where there are restrictions.

Mr. Eden

Do those figures include Scotland?

The Prime Minister


Mr. Eden

Would the right hon. Gentleman consider giving the complete figures?

The Prime Minister

On my next statement, I will give the full figures, and, if possible, divide them among the regions.

Mr. Wilson Harris

With regard to the disappointing response of domestic consumers, cannot the Government find someone to make more imaginative appeals on the wireless day by day to bring home the responsibility to individuals and show what saving by them will do in terms of industrial production?

The Prime Minister

I will consider that.

Mr. Tiffany

Is the Prime Minister aware that for the majority of requirements, Peterborough is in the North Midlands region, but for the purpose of these electrical cuts it is placed in the South-East region; and will he look into this matter?

Mr. W. Fletcher

In view of the fact that the Government control the movement of coal, and can either reach or not reach the datum line; and that in the North-West area there have been diversions of coal intended for that area to the Midlands, and movements of coal out of that area, will he make careful investigations, so that local apprehensions in the North-West area that there has been delay in reopening due to these causes may be allayed?

The Prime Minister

As tat as I can make out, there is no basis for suggesting that coal was sent at the expense of the North-West area to another area. There have been movements between industries and electricity stations within the area I will look into that, and I hope that the statement which I have made with regard to the North-West will comfort the hon. Member

Mr. House

Can the right hon. Gentleman say if consideration has been given to the practicability of allowing an easement to occupiers of large blocks of buildings whose only source of light, heating and cooking is electric current?

The Prime Minister

It is extremely difficult to distinguish between various groups, but I will look into that point.

Mr. Bossom

In view of the disappointing report which the Prime Minister has given about the South-Eastern area and electricity, can he give the House an assurance that there will be no limitation of gas in that area?

The Prime Minister

I cannot at the moment. In existing circumstances, I am not prepared to give an undertaking, until there is more certainty than there is at present with regard to the weather.

Mr. John Lewis

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the Government have decided that it will be safer to have more than two weeks' supply? In view of the fact that he has announced that there are 13 days' supply in certain areas, are we to understand that it is going to take a whole week before one day's stocks are made up, and in view of the fact that there is widespread distress on account of unemployment, does he think that it may be possible for him to make a statement tomorrow or the next day?

The Prime Minister

I shall make a statement as soon as possible. Averages do not help us very much when there are major power stations in short supply.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

We cannot go on unduly.