HC Deb 14 March 1955 vol 538 cc942-4
38. Sir I. Horobin

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he is aware of the shortage of domestic coal and coke supplies in the Oldham area; and what steps he is taking immediately to remedy the matter.

44. Mr. Jay

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he is aware that hardship is being caused to consumers in the London area by the shortage of coke and coal; and whether he will take steps to remedy this.

Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd

House coal stocks throughout the country are at about their normal level for this time of the year, and in London they are higher than they have been for six years. For many weeks the merchants have been making special efforts to deliver coal at the maximum rate but orders from householders inevitably accumulate after a long spell of cold weather. I know that the merchants will do their best to deal with these arrears as quickly as possible and for this purpose I have arranged for them to receive additional supplies during the next few weeks.

Sir I. Horobin

Is it not a fact that responsibility for the grave discomfort of the ordinary consumer has nothing to do with merchants but is owing to the fact that the terrible monopoly of the Coal Board is quite unable to provide us with coal? How much longer does the Minister intend to allow himself to be terrorised by it?

Mr. Lloyd

It is the fact that one of the greatest difficulties is that when the demand for coal is very high throughout the country, when, for example, merchants receive 10 times as many orders at this time of year as they do in the summer, with the present conditions of very full employment, merchants cannot add to their staffs.

Mr. Jay

Although obviously the main cause of this difficulty is the exceptional weather, in view of what the Minister says, can he assure my constituents that they will get deliveries of coal and coke in the next few days?

Mr. Lloyd

I would not say in the next few days, but the merchants are doing their best and additional supplies' are being made available.

Mr. Nabarro

Is it not a fact that the majority of these difficulties would be circumvented if only householders would have regard to the advice given, summer after summer, to buy winter coal stocks in advance instead of waiting for many months of snow and ice before they begin to complain?

Mr. Lloyd

My hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) has given me an opportunity of making this matter plain. A great many people in this country, of course, are not in a position to store coal, as my hon. Friend is fully aware. That is what makes it even more important that everyone who can store coal in the summer should do so. The only reason I have refrained from making this point myself, until I was invited in a very constructive way by my hon. Friend, is because, although I have stated what is the fact, I did not myself want to take the initiative when people are in difficulties of saying that they should have done something about it in the summer. But the fact is that people who can store coal in the summer can help their less fortunate brethren in the winter if they do so.

Mr. Chapman

Will the Minister say what he is doing in his constituency in Birmingham, where, despite his promise to solve the coal distribution problem, it is now reported that old-age pensioners are chopping up and burning their furniture in order to keep warm?

Mr. Lloyd

There may be a slight element of exaggeration in what the hon. Member has said. It is the fact that I have made inquiries of the fuel overseers, and they are in a position to deal with any question of cases of hardship.

Mr. Alport

Speaking for those who did stock coal in the summer but who are now out of coal, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether, when he speaks of coal stocks being as high now as normally, he refers to distributed stocks or to coal stocks at pitheads?

Mr. Lloyd

I was referring to distributed stocks of coal, but what my hon. Friend has said gives me the opportunity of saying something which, I think, is important. A long, cold winter like this one shows that the house coal ration, which has been in existence ever since the war, is not in all cases adequate in a long, cold winter. I cannot, of course, alter the ration at this time, but I can say this. As we are approaching the spring—we hope—I should like the merchants to know that theremust be a certain amount of common sense latitude in dealing with individual cases in the remaining few weeks of the winter, and I have instructed the officers of my Department in that sense.

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