HC Deb 21 November 1960 vol 630 cc743-6
13. Mr. Dodds

asked the Minister of Power what action has been taken to ensure that a satisfactory flow of household coal is maintained to south-east London and north-west Kent during the winter months, in view of the unsatisfactory situation experienced last winter when coal which left Midland collieries early in December was not received by the merchants until February.

15 and 16. Mr. Owen

asked the Minister of Power (1) what discussions he has had with the British Transport Commission concerning the conveyance of adequate supplies of domestic coal; and whether he will make a statement;

(2) what steps are being taken to ensure that adequate supplies of coal are distributed to meet the needs of consumers; and whether he will make a statement.

Mr. Wood

The British Transport Commission and the National Coal Board are making special arrangements, and diverting some traffic to the roads, in order to deal with the winter coal demand. The two industries are in constant touch, and I understand that British Railways are now moving about 200,000 tons of coal a week more than last year.

Mr. Dodds

Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that it is enough, bearing in mind that coal left the Midlands on 4th December last year but did not get into south-east London until the first week of February? Does he appreciate that we must have a much better performance this year, because the Parliamentary Secretary said on Thursday that coal stocks were lower because of the high buying during the summer? Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that everything is being done?

Mr. Wood

I am aware of the difficulties of last year to which the hon. Member has drawn attention, but British Railways are moving a great deal more coal this year. Deliveries to the Metropolis in October last made possible a very large increase in the amount of coal delivered to consumers, and at the same time allowed coal merchants to add to their stocks. Lastly, arrangements have been reached between the British Transport Commission and the National Coal Board to enable quite a lot of coal to be moved by road to the power stations, thus freeing facilities for the movement of other coal.

Mr. Stonehouse

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that coal merchants in the Metropolis are very short of supplies, particularly of certain grades of fuel for smokeless zones? In the event of a cold snap, a number of households will be completely out of supplies. Will he consider an emergency plan for the transport of coal in special circumstances?

Mr. Wood

The British Transport Commission and the National Coal Board are holding weekly meetings to review the position. There is consultation not only at headquarters but also at divisional level. All these consultations are being held to meet the kind of difficulties which the hon. Gentleman has in mind.

Mr. John Hall

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I am already receiving complaints from constituents about the difficulty of getting coal supplies and that they find it difficult to understand this in view of the National Coal Board's experiences in getting rid of its stocks? Can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that the arrangements to which he has referred are working?

Mr. Wood

The position is as I have stated it. If merchants in my hon. Friend's constituency are having difficulty, he will no doubt take the opportunity of putting them in touch with the National Coal Board.

Mr. Dugdale

If there should be a shortage of smokeless fuel, what arrangements will be made to see that people in smokeless zones will be able to use other fuels?

Mr. Wood

A smokeless zone is not approved unless it is clear that there is an adequate stock of smokeless fuel to enable it to exist. I hope, therefore, that the position which the right hon. Gentleman suggests will not arise.

18. Mr. P. Browne

asked the Minister of Power if he will give a general direction to the National Coal Board to ensure an adequate supply of domestic house coal of the right size and quality during the coming winter.

Mr. Wood

I would refer my hon. Friend to the reply given to the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. R. Edwards) on 17th November.

Mr. Browne

I have not that answer here. Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is not merely a question of transport? One of the reasons for the shortage of large house coal is the fact that it is not being mined. Does not he think it rather ridiculous that we as a nation are contracting this industry because it is producing too much of an unwanted commodity and not enough of a commodity which is required?

Mr. Wood

My hon. Friend is aware of some of the difficulties. The National Coal Board is taking steps to increase the percentage of large coal produced at present. But I do not think I should leave the House in doubt that the house coal position, because of the increase in mechanisation, will be more difficult this year than in previous years.

Mr. Lee

I fully follow what the right hon. Gentleman said about greater mechanisation resulting in more small coal, but when I was in Coventry the other night I found people furious because a pit in the area which had a good record and was not mechanised and was producing plenty of large household coal was being threatened with closure. Will the right hon. Gentleman look into that?

Mr. Wood

I will draw the attention of the National Coal Board to the hon. Member's remarks.

19. Mr. Sydney Irving

asked the Minister of Power what steps he is taking to ensure adequate supplies of boiler fuel for domestic purposes during the winter.

Mr. Wood

Total stocks of boiler fuel for domestic purposes are at about the same level as this time last year. Although there may be shortages of some types, such as anthracite, from time to time in particular places, there are abundant supplies of coke, which is the most important boiler fuel, and I do not think any special steps are called for.

Mr. Irving

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that much of this coke is of an inferior quality and not acceptable to householders? Will he, therefore, take steps to improve not only quantity but quality?

Mr. Wood

It is not for me to improve quality. The Question asks about taking steps to ensure adequate supplies, but I do not know the type of coal to which the hon. Member is referring. If he will write to me, I will make inquiries on his behalf.

Mr. Lipton

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that some smokeless fuel is being sold at a rate of 22s. a cwt., which seems a little excessive?

Mr. Wood

I do not think that that is covered by the Question.

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