HC Deb 13 July 1953 vol 517 cc1689-92
5. Mr. Fenner Brockway

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he is aware that stocks of coal in Slough are at the lowest level for many years; and what steps he proposes to take to ensure that supplies are adequate during the winter months.

11. Major Anstruther-Gray

asked the Minister Fuel and Power if he will give figures to show the present position of household coal stocks in Scotland compared with last year.

14. Mr. Awbery

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what quantity of domestic coal is in stock in Bristol; how this compares with last year; and what steps he is taking to ensure an adequate supply to householders during the coming winter.

15. Mr. Anthony Greenwood

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he is aware of the present unsatisfactory housecoal situation in the Rossendale Valley, where stocks are non-existent and where merchants were unable to deliver more than 7 cwt. in the 13 weeks period; and what steps he is taking to increase supplies.

Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd

As I told the House last week, stocks of large coal, particularly for domestic purposes, are inadequate. The Chairman of the National Coal Board has warned the Miners' Conference of the extra efforts required to supplement the coal production drive. The Government have reviewed the position and decided that if we are to avoid a serious risk of household coal going short next winter further steps must be taken over and above those announced last week. We must insure against this risk and deal with the stock position now.

One course would be to cut our exports of large coal, but this course the Government are not prepared to adopt. These exports are not only valuable in themselves, but they also carry with them exports of still greater quantities of small coal which is fairly plentiful. Moreover, to cut our exports of coal would make it more difficult for us to come back into the market later with a consequent further loss of earnings of foreign exchange.

In these circumstances, the Government have decided that the right course is to maintain our exports and at the same time increase supplies of large coal by some importation. Serious though this course is, they have therefore authorised the National Coal Board to import large coal from Western Europe where there is some surplus.

Mr. Brockway

In relation to the position in Slough, with which my Question deals, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Co-operative Society generally at this time of the year have 1,400 tons of coal in stock but that this year they have no stocks at all, that allocations generally to the merchants have been cut down 20 per cent., and that people are not able to take supplies in the summer months to cover them in the winter period? If this is the case with other places as well as Slough, will the right hon. Gentleman take the most urgent steps in this matter?

Mr. Lloyd

I have examined the position at Slough and it appears that rather less coal proportionately has gone there than to other places. Steps are being taken to correct that.

Major Anstruther-Gray

While it is bad enough to have to import coal, is not this action taking steps in time instead of waiting to the last minute and, therefore, to be welcomed?

Mr. Noel-Baker

Would it not be more to the national advantage if the Government spent a little money in encouraging efficient solid fuel appliances in the home instead of importing coal from abroad? After all, that is a very costly expedient.

Mr. Lloyd

I think the right hon. Gentleman is the last person who ought to present those two alternatives as being in conflict. It is desirable to encourage fuel efficiency, but it is also desirable to face up to a difficult prospect now in regard to domestic coal and not wait until the winter.

Mr. Noel-Baker

Yes, Sir, and so I always did, including imports when required for industrial needs. But what have the Government done to encourage efficient solid fuel appliances in the home? The Minister last week gave us figures of what we did and the results, but what has he done?

Mr. Lloyd

We have constantly extended the campaign of the Coal Utilisation Council, and if the question is to be argued as to when imports of coal took place, the importation of the Labour Government was announced on 20th November.

Mr. Nabarro

First, is it not a fact that this transaction does not involve any loss of hard currency and is essentially a soft currency transaction and, secondly, that it will not dislocate the North Atlantic freight markets? Is it not really an exchange of small coals for very scarce large coals?

Mr. Lloyd

Yes, Sir, this is a soft currency transaction. It is true, of course, that by maintaining our traditional markets and particularly selling our small coal, which is in reasonable supply, and getting some large coal from the same countries, it will, in fact, be a case of exchange with the Continent of Europe.

Mr. Robens

Will the right hon. Gentleman say how much coal he proposes to import and from what countries he proposes to import it?

Mr. Lloyd

No, Sir. I should like to be excused from stating that, so as to place the National Coal Board in the best possible position for carrying out this transaction.