HC Deb 29 June 1953 vol 517 cc10-4
22. Mr. Dodds

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he will make a statement on the coal situation, in view of the decline in production and the substantial increase in consumption this year, compared with a similar period in 1952.

23. Mr. T. Reid

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what steps he is taking to prevent a fuel shortage in Swindon next winter, in view of the fact that though the coal merchants there are taking their permitted quantities of coal, they can only meet current needs and cannot stock up appreciably for the winter.

24 and 25. Brigadier Medlicott

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power (1) if he is aware that coal merchants in Norfolk are concerned about the coal situation in the county; that present stocks are un-precedentedly low; that the supplies now arriving at the depots are less than are needed; and if he will make a statement;

(2) if his attention has been drawn to the fact that although 240,000 new homes have been built in Great Britain during the past year, the amount of the house coal programme for this summer is 500,000 tons less than the amount for the summer of 1952; and if he will make a statement as to what measures are being taken to meet this situation.

26. Mr. Gower

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what steps he is taking to ensure adequate coal supplies for industrial and domestic consumers in South Wales next winter.

Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd

As a result of the Coronation we have lost about 1¼ million tons of coal and it is estimated that the second week's holiday which workers in most other industries already enjoy and which the miners are taking for the first time this year will lose a further 3½ million tons.

This is the crux of our coal difficulties this year and the main question is whether production can be increased sufficiently to offset it. During the first three months of this year production was bad and up to Easter was only about 20,000 tons a week more than last year, despite an extra 10,000 men in the industry. Nowhere was the seriousness of this appreciated more clearly than in the industry itself, and following the joint production campaign in the spring, production during the last two months, after making allowance for the extra holidays, has been higher by about 100,000 tons a week than the year before. Thanks to this improvement we have already gone some way to make up for the losses resulting from the extra holidays. This is most welcome but the whole of the industry recognise that more is needed, especially in view of the rising trend of consumption.

I have been in constant touch with the National Coal Board and the merchants and I assure the House that concerted efforts will continue to be made by all concerned to raise stocks to the highest possible level before the winter.

Mr. Dodds

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that for a long time now there has been a lot of uneasiness and feeling that the Minister has been too complacent and has not been putting before the public the position as he knows it? Is he aware that on Saturday the President of the Coal Merchants' Federation stated that the position was worse now than ever it was even during the war and that the householders will have to take 5 per cent. less coal in the next 12 months than in the last 12 months? Is this not serious?

Mr. Lloyd

The essential point of the speech of the President of the Coal Merchants' Federation was that both the public and the merchants during this summer should be prepared to accept not merely the highest qualities of coal but also other kinds of coal which can be offered by the Coal Board to the merchants. That statement was made after a meeting between him, myself and the chairman of the Board.

Mr. Gower

Has the Minister any particular remarks to make on the situation in Wales, and, secondly does he propose to take any extraordinary action such as arranging for imported coal as did his predecessor in the previous Government?

Mr. Lloyd

No, Sir, I have no special statement to make about South Wales, but I will keep the House informed of any progress in this important matter.

Sir H. Williams

The miners will have to work harder.

Mr. Reid

In view of the right hon. Gentleman's pessimistic report, can he hold out no hope whatever of preventing a coal shortage this winter?

Mr. Lloyd

No, Sir. The situation, admittedly, is difficult, but I think we can get through if we get full co-operation between the Coal Board, the merchants and the public.

Mr. Manuel

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that all informed sources in Scotland as well as in England agree that there will be a shortage this year, especially of consumer coal? What is he doing to safeguard the position?

Mr. Lloyd

I am very glad that there is anxiety at the present time about the coal situation because it is justified and it is very much better that we should be thoroughly anxious now than that we should be taken by surprise when the winter comes. Everybody in the industry is working very hard in connection with this matter.

Mr. Noel-Baker

Is it not a fact that in the first three months of this year there was a heavy incidence of influenza, and that but for the extra holidays there would have been 1½ million tons more of coal produced in the five months of this year than in the corresponding period of last year? Is not the most important single factor that the Government should encourage the use of efficient modern appliances by housholders so that they can take the smaller coal which is now being produced in adequate quantities?

Mr. Lloyd

Yes, I think there was a good deal of influenza among the miners during the early part of the year and that that did affect production. It is very gratifying to see that the rate of production, after allowing for holidays, is much higher now. It is also true that the improved appliances which enable householders to burn other than large coal are an exceedingly important contributing factor to a better position in this matter, and it is very much to be desired that those who have these appliances will realise that they can burn the smaller sizes of coal to the great benefit of the coal situation.

Mr. Glanville

In view of the interjection made by the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), who never did a day's work in his life, is the Minister aware that the miners are paid by production and that if they produce nothing they get nothing? That may be a bit of information for the hon. Member.