HC Deb 21 December 1964 vol 704 cc861-3
Mr. Shinwell

(by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Power what difficulties are being experienced in obtaining facilities to transport coal stocked at pits and if he will give an assurance that in the event of severe weather the need for coal supplies can be met.

The Minister of Power (Mr. Frederick Lee)

I am in continuous touch with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and with the Chairman of the Coal Board. Stocks are good and there is no crisis of supplies. Lord Robens has informed me that over the week-end British Railways have largely eliminated the blockage.

Mr. Shinwell

I am obliged to my right hon. Friend for that reassuring reply, but as it is impossible to predict the nature of the weather for the next four or five weeks, can we be assured that my right hon. Friend will maintain the closest contact with both the Coal Board and his right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport to ensure that coal demands can be met? Would my right hon. Friend say whether the situation at present is not similar to the situation 18 years ago, in 1947, when 900,000 tons of coal remained at the sidings and at the pits and it was impossible to move them when the so-called fuel crisis occurred? In view of the present situation, is not this a complete vindication of what happened on that occasion?

Mr. Lee

I can assure my right hon. Friend that I am in the closest touch with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and with Lord Robens. I can assure him that pithead stocks are at least as high as they were this time last year and distributed stocks are a little better than at the same time last year. I agree with my right hon. Friend that in 1947 the Opposition rather sought to blame the Government for the weather.

Mr. Peyton

Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that while the mild weather and comparatively low sales have been responsible for a situation which does not immediately give rise to anxiety, it is very necessary to watch the liaison between these two nationalised industries? Is he aware that the question asked by his right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), casting the mind of the House back to 1947, fills us on this side with the deepest degree of despondency?

Mr. Lee

I would remind the hon. Gentleman that he is discussing an industry which, during the last two or three years, has increased its productivity at a higher rate than any other industry in Britain.

Mr. Shepherd

Will the right hon. Gentleman say why this situation which, presumably, has been cleared over the weekend, as he says, has not been dealt with before?

Hon. Members


Mr. Popplewell

While he is taking steps to discuss this matter with the Minister of Transport, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that this shortage, while greatly worrying, is a question of moving coal and is indicative of the very bad policy which the previous Administration imposed on the Railways Board in the excessive rundown of wagons? Is not this likely to occur not only with coal supplies but with passenger services, in the event of exceptional demand, and is not this excessive rundown imposed on the Railways Board the direct responsibility of right hon. and hon. Members opposite?

Mr. Speaker

Order. Passenger services have no relation to this Question, nor are they the responsibility of this Minister.

Mr. Lee

My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell) can be assured that, as one who has recently had a great wagon works closed down in his constituency, I very much agree with the sentiments which he has expressed.

Dame Irene Ward

Is the Minister aware that within recent weeks merchants have found it quite impossible to get supplies of coal to householders and that householders felt that it was owing to the price of coal going up that there was no delivery to the merchants, making things very hard for householders? Can he explain that?

Mr. Lee

I understand from Lord Robens that there is no shortage of any of these types of coal.

I am sure that if the hon. Lady will get in touch with the Coal Board she will receive an adequate reply to detailed questions about supplies in any part of the country.