HC Deb 05 May 1952 vol 500 cc9-11
16 and 17. Mr. Nabarro

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power (1) whether his attention has been drawn to the statement issued by the National Coal Board on 29th April, 1952, to the effect that stocks can be built up for next winter to a level which should enable the country for the first time for many years to face the winter without the fear of crisis; and whether he will state the target of his Department for coal stocks at the commencement of next coal winter, 1st November, 1952;

(2) whether he is aware that the summer prices plan for household coal stocking is vitiated by the announcement of the National Coal Board on 29th April, 1952, that there will no coal crisis next winter; and if he will now make a statement calling for redoubled energy in summer stocking of domestic coal and stressing the paramount national need to maintain a high rate of coal production and increase exports above the estimated level of 10 million tons in 1952.

Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd

The hopes expressed by the National Coal Board of avoiding coal difficulties next winter depend primarily upon getting a high output during the rest of the year. In that event end summer stocks should be at a satisfactory level, apart from the stocks of house coal.

As I said last Monday, and as the Coal Board mentioned, house coal stocks are a special problem because of the shortage of large coal. On present prospects house coal stocks will, I am afraid, be low. The Government therefore consider that householders and other consumers should stock up as much as possible during the summer and that coal production should be increased by every possible means to meet these requirements and those of the export trade.

Mr. Nabarro

Is my right hon. Friend aware that considerable publicity in all the national and provincial newspapers was given last Tuesday to a statement of the National Coal Board which read: There will be no coal crisis next winter. Is not a statement of this sort vitiating to the utmost degree the Minister's exhortations—properly based on need, of couse—that householders should go in for stocking coal as much as possible between now and next September?

Sir Waldron Smithers

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in 1913 we produced 287 million tons of coal and exported 94 million tons and that unless we can get back to something like that this country is faced with disaster? Is he aware that the whole reason for this difficulty is the nationalisation of the coat industry?

Mr. Lloyd

While I can understand the point of view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), I think perhaps it is the fact that the public as well were so surprised by the suggestion that it would be possible to get through the winter without a coal crisis that they overlooked, or did not pay sufficient attention to, the qualifying phrase used by the National Coal Board, that it all depended on a satisfactory level of output.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker

Since coal stocks are several million tons higher now than in peacetime previously, is it not reasonable to hope that we shall get a high level of stocks? Is it not also vital to keep a high level of production and, above all, to persuade industrialists that they should make a more economical use of the coal they get?

Mr. Lloyd

I quite agree but, as the right hon. Gentleman knows full well, our principal difficulty is the shortage of house coal due to the continuing smaller proportion of large coal produced by machine mining.

Colonel C. G. Lancaster

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, if the East Midlands contribution is subtracted from both years, up to April this year the rest of Great Britain produced something like -a quarter of a million tons less than last year with something like 10,000 more men on the colliery books, while Belgium, France, Westphalia, the Ruhr and Silesia have all shown an advance in production on the previous period?

Mr. Lloyd

I would not quite accept the disadvantageous comparison with other countries, but it is a fact that at the moment the East Midlands are leading the increase.

Mr. Noel-Baker

On the question of house coal, will the right hon. Gentleman take the kind of measures which succeeded so well last year, not only for summer stocking but for the diversion of small industrial coal, building larger stocks for the armed forces, where they can be taken, and securing better supplies of manufactured fuels?

Mr. Lloyd

Yes, Sir. In fact we are taking steps to supply a certain proportion of the smaller coals for the house coal programme.