HC Deb 08 February 1954 vol 523 cc814-6
20. Mr. Nabarro

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he will make a statement upon the availability of household coal and coke supplies during the recent exceptionally cold weather; and what is the present stocks position in merchants yards and at collieries.

Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd

Undistributed stocks at collieries are 1,100,000 tons. Merchants' coal stocks are high for the end of January at 1,446,000 tons and coke stocks at gas works and coke ovens are at the record level of 1,800,000 tons.

Mr. Nabarro

While congratulating my right hon. Friend upon the improvement in house coal supplies, may I ask him whether he will bear in mind that there is still far too much dirt, rock and incombustible matter in house coal, and whether he will encourage the Coal Board to increase its capital investment in washeries at the pitheads?

Mr. W. R. Williams

If the situation is as good as the Minister says it is, why does it take between one month and six weeks for merchants to deliver supplies even in the state of emergency such as at present?

Mr. Lloyd

The answer is that on the second day of the cold spell roughly half the domestic consumers in the United Kingdom placed orders with their coal merchants for coal and coke. The merchants have good stocks of fuel, and the gas works in particular have good stocks of coke, but their difficulty was in getting it out quickly enough to all the people who asked for it at the same time. My reports this morning are that the merchants have made very good progress with their deliveries.

Commander Donaldson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that whereas stocks generally may be high, they are not considered to be high by the merchants in the south-east of Scotland? Will he see that they are augmented?

Mr. H. Morrison

Is the Minister aware that, notwithstanding his statement that supplies are plentiful, my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) is right? When one asks for Coalite the answer is that there is indefinite delay. No undertaking can be given as to when it can be delivered, so this must be a question of supplies available and not of deliveries.

Mr. Lloyd

I am sorry. I was dealing with what I thought the hon. Gentleman was primarily concerned, namely, coal and coke. There are high stocks throughout the country of both coal and coke and the only difficulty has been the speed at which merchants can get supplies out to consumers. The question of Coalite is quite different, because only a very small amount is produced. It may well be that the demand at a particular place was greater than the supply.

Mr. Robson Brown

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that his decision to derestrict coke will be the best possible means of ensuring that coke stocks will move much more rapidly from coke ovens and gas works to depots and the general public? The control has been a firm barrier to its movement.

Mr. Lloyd

Yes, Sir, and I hope that the form of derestriction which I have chosen will assist in directing the minds of all producers and those dealing with coke to the question of supplying the best quality to the consumer.

Mr. Slater

We are not complaining about the tributes that have been paid to the Minister by his hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) about the build-up of stocks, but would not it be as well to bring home to his hon. Friend the fact that these stocks have been built up only as a result of the voluntary working of Saturday shifts in the mining industry?

Mr. Lloyd

That is a fundamental truth which I am sure the House would not wish me to repeat every time we refer to coal supplies.

Mr. Nabarro

Very satisfactory, for all that.