HC Deb 06 July 1953 vol 517 cc844-8
15. Mr. McLeavy

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he has considered the statement issued by the Yorkshire Federation of Coal Merchants Associations, a copy of which has been sent to him, concerning the quantity of supplies of coal allocated to them; and if he will make a statement upon the position in Bradford and the surrounding districts.

19. Dr. Stross

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he will give the figure of coal stocks at present available in the country and a comparable figure for 1952; and how far the stocks of household coal will be sufficient to maintain the ration next winter.

21. Mr. Gibson

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he will assure the House that the stock of domestic coal in London will be maintained at a high enough level, during the coming winter, to ensure a full ration for every household in the London area.

28. Mr. Parker

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what steps are being taken to stock adequate supplies of coal in Dagenham for use during the winter.

33. Mr. Nabarro

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he will now make a full statement upon prospects for house coal supplies next winter; and what special steps he proposes to take to assure adequacy, in view of the currently low stocks.

35. Major Anstruther-Gray

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he will give figures to show the present stocks of household coal in Scotland compared with last year; and how far he estimates that these are sufficient to assure an adequate supply throughout the winter.

Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd

On 20th June stocks of house coal were 464,000 tons, that is, some 300,000 tons below last year's level. The slow rate of stock increase during the past few weeks is a matter of particular concern to the Government. As I explained last week, there is this year a special holiday loss of nearly 5 million tons concentrated in the summer months.

In view of the special importance of house coal, I have asked the National Coal Board to ensure that supplies are available to build up the stocks held by merchants to an adequate level, appropriately distributed between north and south, and London and other towns. This could not be done on the basis of the highest qualities alone, and it is, therefore, important that all the qualities in the house coal range should be taken by the merchants and the public in the summer as well as the winter.

I have been advised by the National Coal Board and the merchants that the prices of the different grades are at present not properly related to each other. I have, therefore, agreed to a reduction in the price of the lower grades on 8th July and an increase in the price of the better qualities.

Mr. McLeavy

While thanking the Minister for that reply, may I ask whether he can say, in view of the statement made by the Yorkshire Federation, whether he has had discussions with the Coal Board about not only to the quantity but the quality of coal which, I understand, is diminishing in supply in the Bradford area?

Mr. Lloyd

Yes, Sir. One of the difficulties which the country faces at present is the gradual but almost continual fall in the proportion of large coal contained in the total output of coal. It is, therefore, most important, if we are ever to get away from the coal restrictions which are now in force, that consumers of coal, not only of house coal but of every type of coal, should install appropriate appliances to enable themselves satisfactorily to consume the smaller sizes of coal.

Mr. Nabarro

Can my right hon. Friend respond to two points? First, in view of the critical house coal position developing next winter, is there no prospect of removing coke from the ration, as there are evidently plentiful supplies at the moment? Secondly, can he say whether all the briquette plants in the country which can use up so much of this low grade material and turn it into good household solid fuel, are at present working to full capacity?

Mr. Lloyd

I could not give that undertaking, and one of the reasons is that the public have not been readily absorbing the briquettes which my hon. Friend mentions, although it would be very helpful if they would do so.

It is important to realise that all householders are entitled to a ration of coke as well as of coal. It would be most helpful if they adopted my hon. Friend's suggestion and were ready to take some of it at this time to prepare for the winter. I could not at the moment contemplate derestricting coke supplies because, as the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker) knows from his own experience, it is one of the most temperamental of all fuels from the point of view of the rise and fall in stocks.

I am sorry to be so long answering, but among the measures that I have taken in order to be able to deal with house coal problems in the forthcoming winter, I have asked the gas works to use a maximum of petroleum in enriching the supply of gas, which will save half a million tons of coal during the summer; but, of course, this consumes coke.

Mr. Gibson

How does the Minister expect people to stock up in the summer if the stocks in the merchants' yards are down? Is he aware that a day or two ago an official of the Society of Coal Merchants, representing over 300 merchants in London, said that their stocks are negligible, so that there will be very great difficulty in stocking even at summer prices? Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether there is any prospect of an increase in stocks of any kind of coal in the London area?

Mr. Lloyd

The principal trouble has been that there has been a run on the highest qualities of coal, and the consumer is not, or has not been, prepared to take the less good qualities. We are hoping to assist the merchants by this re-arrangement of price.

Major Anstruther-Gray

My right hon. Friend has not given any separate figures for Scotland. Is the position, in general, better there than in the rest of the country, and can he say whether stocks are readily interchangeable between Scotland and England?

Mr. Lloyd

I cannot say that I have provided myself with the figures for Scotland, but I would have said that they are similar to those for England. I do not think that a special problem arises there at the moment.

Mr. Noel-Baker

How much coal has been taken up for stocking in Scotland under the summer prices scheme? Further, has the right hon. Gentleman had an assurance from the merchants that they will press the sale of smaller coal on those who have the necessary fuel efficiency appliances?

Mr. Lloyd

The amount of coal so far taken by householders is roughly comparable to that taken in the same period last year. I am confident that the merchants are doing their best, in their very difficult position between the Coal Board on the one side and the public on the other, to press the sale of the less good qualities of coal, but they will be much assisted by the announcement on prices which I have made today.

Mr. Noel-Baker

The point is that the smaller coal is equally good in the efficient appliances. The merchants know who have the efficient appliances. The question is: are the merchants really pressing that coal on those who have those appliances?

Mr. Lloyd

I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has clarified that point, because it is most important that when there is so much talk about bad coal—and there is unquestionably a good deal of bad coal about—the public should not confuse that bad coal with coal of the smaller sizes which, although different from the traditional coal in use in the past, may often be of a higher quality.

16 and 17. Sir I. Fraser

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power (1) the present stock position of coal as compared with a year ago and the forecast as regards next winter;

(2) what the prospects are for coal exports for the remainder of the year.

Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd

On 20th June, total coal stocks at 16.50 million tons were, broadly, the same as a year ago. Within this total, however, distributed stocks were about 1.3 million tons down and undistributed about 1.1 million tons up on last year's level. We have so far exported about 6.3 million tons, that is, about 1.3 million tons more than in the comparable period last year. I do not feel able at present to forecast the figures for the whole of the year.

Sir I. Fraser

Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that, judging from early reports, the speech which has just been made by Sir William Lawther is a statesmanlike contribution to this difficulty, and will he join me in expressing the hope that the miners will help us out of this difficulty in this coming winter?

Mr. Lloyd

I am not quite sure to which speech my hon. Friend is referring, but it is the fact, and it should be appreciated, that the miners' leaders are playing a most helpful and vigorous part, with the National Coal Board, in the campaign for increased output.

Mr. Shurmer

As statements have been made that there is to be a shortage of coal this winter, will the Minister see that the poorer quarters of the City of Birmingham—where the inferior qualities are taken—are well stocked, instead of the better-off districts?

Mr. Lloyd

That is the precise purpose of the announcement I have made this afternoon.