HC Deb 09 November 1970 vol 806 cc7-10
4. Mr. Blaker

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether he will make a statement about his review of the position regarding the supply of solid smokeless fuels for the coming winter.

7. Mr. Emery

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether he will estimate the amounts of solid smokeless fuel that are now available; and what shortage of supply he estimates for the winter months.

38. Mr. Pavitt

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on the availability of smokeless fuel in clean air designated areas.

Mr. John Davies

The current unofficial strike has increased the chance of local shortages, and I am watching the situation closely in consultation with producers and distributors.

Mr. Blaker

Quite apart from the current strikes, is my right hon. Friend aware that since the likely shortage of coke was revealed last spring the Blackpool Corporation has substantially reduced its requirements for coke for the coming winter but can still get a guarantee of no more than two-fifths of its minimum requirements? Is he also aware that the Chairman of the National Coal Board, in spite of having had a letter from me on the matter, for nearly two months has not given me a substantive reply?

Mr. Davies

I am aware that in many areas there is great concern, and there will undoubtedly be shortages. My hon. Friend refers to economies in the use of smokeless fuels made by certain local authorities. These and other authorities have been extensive in the help they have given. I take note of what my hon. Friend says about the Chairman of the National Coal Board: I was not aware that he had failed to answer my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Emery

Can my right hon. Friend say whether advice is still being given to local authorities and other bodies to convert from solid smokeless fuel to other fuels? If so, what is the extra cost involved? I believe that with certain local authorities the extra cost is quite considerable.

Mr. Davies

There may be an additional cost. But what is involved is primarily a question of anticipating changes that would in any case have had to be made in due course, so at some stage the cost would have had to be incurred.

Mr. Pavitt

Is the Minister aware that in the light of the submissions made by his right hon. Friends and the facts we have all known for the last twelve months, it would look very cheap if he sought to ride off on the excuse of the miners' strike as the cause of shortage this winter? Would he urge his right hon. Friends in the Government to take action to ensure that, on health and other grounds, we do not have the threatened shortage?

Mr. Davies

I am afraid that the shortage as such will not be avoided. I am not seeking to shrug off the situation on to the miners' strike. I simply said that the present unofficial strike action was likely still further to worsen the situation.

Mr. Michael Foot

As the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned the strike situation, can he say what steps will be taken by himself or other members of the Government to try to secure a settlement of the dispute, or whether the Government propose to repeat the triumph they have had in the sewage crisis?

Mr. Davies

That is another matter. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will put down a Question on the subject.

27. Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what action he has taken to co-ordinate the actions of all the organisations concerned so as to secure that adequate supplies of smokeless fuels are available at reasonable prices to all householders whose houses are located in smokeless zones.

Mr. John Davies

Local shortages of solid smokeless fuels are inevitable especially in view of current unofficial strikes. The problems now facing the distributive trade can only be handled effectively by the trade itself; and, as my right hon. Friend knows, all local authorities have been asked to check the probable supply position in their area. I am not responsible for retail prices.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Does my right hon. Friend accept that many homes in these areas are equipped with apparatus which will use only these fuels, and were so equipped in the faith that Govern ments would secure a supply of these fuels; and, in those circumstances, while accepting that he has no responsibility for the distributive side, will he ensure that the producers of these fuels will get together to secure adequate supplies?

Mr. Davies

I am in constant consultation with the producers of the fuels concerned, and they with one another. They are doing, and have done, as much as they can, and will continue to do so. The fact is, however, that there will be shortages. I am informed that any endeavour to overcome shortages in certain areas by moving materials away from other areas would be virtually impossible.

Mr. Orme

As the right hon. Gentleman keeps referring to the miners' unofficial dispute at the moment, would he recommend to his right hon. Friends that they ask Sir Jack Scamp to act as an arbiter in the current wage claim, because the miners happen to be low-paid workers, the same as the local government employees?

Mr. Davies

Sir Jack Scamp was not requested by the Government to act as an arbitrator in the former case.

Mr. Edwin Wainwright

In this free-for-all which is suggested by the Government, and which seems to be in operation, would the right hon. Gentleman have an inquiry? What is the price at base for these smokeless fuels, and what is the delivery price? Would the right hon. Gentleman make certain, because of the shortage, that the price increase does not go sky high?

Mr. Davies

I will certainly look into that question and communicate to the hon. Member the results of my inquiry.