HC Deb 21 March 1955 vol 538 cc1737-40
42. Mr. Dodds

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he will make a statement giving the latest details of the coal situation.

50. Mr. Nabarro

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power by how much coal consumption in Great Britain exceeded coalmining output during the first 11 weeks in 1955, excluding exports and imports of coal; and by how much coal output in Great Britain declined during that period of 11 weeks compared with the equivalent period in 1954.

52. Mr. G. M. Thomson

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he will make a statement on the supply of domestic fuel in the city of Dundee.

54. Mr. Gibson

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he is aware that a shortage of coal is developing in the London area; what are the present stocks of coal in London depots; and what steps he is taking to ensure that Londoners will have sufficient coal supplies during the next few weeks.

55. Mr. Moyle

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he is aware of the hardship caused to domestic users in the Oldbury and Halesowen constituency by the shortage of coal; and what action he is taking in the matter.

57. Mr. W. Wells

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what arrangements he will make to expedite the delivery of coal to suppliers in Walsall.

58. Mr. Langford-Holt

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he will make a full statement on the past and present coal supply position in Shrewsbury.

The Minister of Fuel and Power (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd)

London house coal stocks are still well above the average for this time of year and the additional supplies that I mentioned in the House last week have improved the position in the country generally. Industrial stocks are generally sufficient, and special action has been taken to help gas works in two or three towns. Power station stocks are at a safe level and there have been no power cuts. Output of our own coal increased last year until the winter, when it started to decline. In the first 10 weeks of 1955 it was 1.1 million tons less than in the corresponding period of 1954 and 3.5 million tons less than current inland consumption. It was, therefore, fortunate that last summer we made arrangements for large imports to come in throughout the winter months; and the House will see that these imports have played an essential part in maintaining our fuel supplies during this long winter.

Mr. Dodds

In view of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, how can he explain the fact that of the 390 coal distributing depots in London a large percentage are completely without coal; the remainder have only a few tons left, and the official statement is that they are very much worse off now than they were at this time last year?

Mr. Lloyd

I cannot agree with that. At this time of year it is normal for merchants to rely primarily upon current supplies.

Mr. Nabarro

In consideration of the fact that production has declined so far this year, and notwithstanding our importing 4 million tons this year, is it not the fact that in order to sustain an increasing level of general industrial production during the next 12 months we may have to import as much as 10 million tons? In those circumstances would it not be propitious for my right hon. Friend to renew his efforts to impress upon the whole of British industry the urgent need for using coal with much greater efficiency?

Mr. Lloyd

I very much agree with the concluding remarks of my hon. Friend, without necessarily following the detailed calculations which he made earlier on. With regard to production, it is necessary to be scrupulously fair. Forty per cent. of the decrease in production this year has been in respect of opencast and not deep-mined coal, and almost half the reduction in output from deep mines has been due to a difference in the onset of holidays, especially in Scotland. Nevertheless, it is true that output has been disappointing, and I am very glad that the last two weeks have shown a pronounced upward improvement.

Mr. Gibson

Will the Minister now reply to that part of my Question— included in his general answer—which asked what are the stocks of coal in London? My information is the same as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dodds), namely, that there is a very great shortage. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in respect of Coalite, for instance, there is a waiting period of over eight weeks; that one cannot now get coke in London; that coal is in very short supply, and that a number of people in South-West London have cellars completely empty of coal, coke or Coalite? That being so, how can he be so complacent about the position?

Mr. Lloyd

The question of Coalite is an entirely special one. It is a special fuel, and there are only relatively small supplies of it. The main difficulty in London is that of distributing both coal and coke, and, as I explained last week, that is a difficulty which always arises at the end of a long cold spell. Merchants not only in London but in all parts of the country have been working during this last weekend to make up the arrears.

Mr. Gaitskell

May I ask two questions of the Minister? First, can he give the House some idea of the volume of distributed stocks which he expects to exist at the end of the coal winter, that is, at the end of April? Secondly, in view of the large scale on which imports of coal have been taking place, is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that it is wise to continue to export so much despite the fact that it involves importing coal at a high price?

Mr. Lloyd

I could not give the House the exact figure of what I expect distributed stocks to be at the end of April. Stocks are 2 million tons lower than at this time last year, but, of course, they are considerably higher than during most of the years when the last Government were in office. Regarding the question of exports, while I recognise the point made by the right hon. Gentleman, he must also be aware of the desirability of keeping a foot, so to speak, in our traditional export markets in the interests of the industry.

Mr. J. Eden

Would not the Minister agree that many of our fuel problems would be solved if only we could get more coal from our own mines?

Mr. Hamilton

Sign him on.

Mr. Gaitskell

Is the Minister aware that under the Labour Government we did not import 4 million tons of coal—

Mr. Nabarro

What about 1947?

Mr. Gaitskell

We did not import 4 million tons of coal. [Interruption.] Is the Minister aware that had the Labour Government at that time imported 4 million tons of coal the hon. Gentleman would perhaps have been in a more excitable mood than he is today? May I press the Minister further on this question of exports; would he give some idea of the net loss per ton sustained by having to export while importing so much?

Mr. Lloyd

Normally the Coal Board loses £2 per ton on coal imports.

Mr. Wells

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Minister did not answer my Question No. 57.

Mr. Langford-Holt

Do I understand that my right hon. Friend answered my Question? I listened carefully to his answer but I did not hear the name of Shrewsbury mentioned.

Mr. G. M. Thomson

Do I understand that Question No. 52 was answered with the others? I did not hear Dundee mentioned.

Mr. Speaker

It was included in the general reply.

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