HC Deb 15 February 1960 vol 617 cc931-3
7. Mr. Dodds

asked the Minister of Power if he is aware of the rapidly deteriorating position with regard to the availability of household coal; and if he will make a statement upon the situation and the prospects for the next two months.

9. Mr. Darling

asked the Minister of Power if he will make a statement on the present general difficulty in obtaining household coal and the prospects of its alleviation.

12. Mr. Owen

asked the Minister of Power if he is aware that retail organisations are experiencing difficulty in getting supplies of household coal; what is the cause of this difficulty; and whether he will make a statement.

Mr. Wood

There is no general shortage of house coal, but transport difficulties may cause certain local difficulties.

Mr. Dodds

I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman has said, but does he not appreciate the widespread feeling of anger in homes in the London area because they cannot get coal? Is he further aware that this morning coal merchants told me that coal which had left Midland collieries on 4th December had not yet been delivered in south-east London? Cannot something be done about this? Otherwise there will be a terrible shortage in the next week or two.

Mr. Wood

I am told that merchants' stocks at this moment are just about normal; they are just about the same as they were in other years.

Mr. Dodds

indicated dissent.

Mr. Wood

The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but I have the figures and they are higher than they were two years ago and a little bit lower than they were last year. The problem of distribution below that is not a matter for me. It is a matter for the National Coal Board, which deals with the local distribution of coal. If the hon. Gentleman has difficulties, I hope he will get in touch with the Board.

Mr. Darling

Is the Minister correct in saying that this is a problem for the National Coal Board? Would he not agree that part of the trouble at least arises from the fact that merchants are still using old-fashioned methods of shovelling coal out of coal trucks? At present there are coal trucks in sidings which have been standing for days on end while this archaic method is being employed. Surely the time has come to get a proper system of distribution at the merchant's end, which is primarily the cause of the trouble.

Mr. Wood

I maintain the position that those are matters for the National Coal Board and not for me. I hope that the remarks of the hon. Gentleman will be drawn to the attention of the Board.

Mr. Owen

Is the Minister aware that this is not a question of coal production but primarily one of coal distribution? Is he also aware that consumers are now waiting four or five weeks for supplies? Does he not recognise that this has now reached the point where there is a real bottleneck? Will he not take this matter up with his colleague to see whether it can be resolved speedily?

Mr. Wood

I will certainly speak to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport about the transport side of this difficulty, but in fact the National Coal Board and the British Transport Commission are in close touch with each other. The real difficulty is that there is a shortage of suitable operating staff I or the wagons that are available.

Mr. Finch

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether it is the intention of the Government to implement some of the proposals in the Robson Committee's Report for improving efficiency in coal distribution? That Report has been available for some time and we have heard nothing about whether the Government intend to implement some of its proposals.

Mr. Wood

I will certainly answer a question about the implementation of the Report, but I would like a Question to be put on the Order Paper.

Mr. Speaker


Dame Irene Ward

On a point of order. May we have a supplementary question from this side of the House, Mr. Speaker?

Mr. Speaker

If the hon. Lady wants to know something, perhaps she will put down a Question. I am under pressure from the House to get on with Questions.