HC Deb 04 February 1974 vol 868 cc868-71
16. Mr. Whitehead

asked the Minister for Energy what is the current level of coal and oil stocks held in the United Kingdom; and what were the comparable figures for 4th February 1973.

6. Mr. R. C. Mitchell

asked the Minister for Energy what is his estimate of the number of days' reserve stocks of oil and coal currently held; and how it compares with the figures for 1st February 1971, 1972 and 1973.

11. Mr. Skinner

asked the Minister for Energy what is the current level of coal stocks, distributed and undistributed; and what are the comparable figures for 1973.

17. Mr. Meacher

asked the Minister for Energy what is the present level of coal and oil stocks at Central Generating Electricity Board and South of Scotland Electricity Board power stations.

Mr. Emery

The latest estimates of coal and oil stocks were published last Thursday. Oil stocks are lower than in the last three years. Coal stocks are higher than in February 1971 but lower than in February 1973. In 1972 figures could not be collected due to the miners' strike. With permission, I will publish the detailed figures in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Whitehead

Does the Minister agree that the figures, though perhaps lower, are not so significantly lower as to justify the premature imposition of the three-day week? Are the Government now prepared to agree that the three-day week was imposed prematurely in an attempt to coerce the miners? Does the hon. Gentleman now admit, too, that a four-day week, with perhaps other savings of energy thrown in, would produce a far better climate for the negotiations which the Government must now have with the mine workers after the emphatic ballot about which we have heard today?

Mr. Emery

I most definitely reject the suggestion that the three-day electricity working week was unnecessary. I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider the facts. In the eight weeks before the regulations were introduced, coal stocks fell by 4.1 million tons, compared with 02 million tons the previous year. If stocks had continued to be depleted at 900,000 tons a week, which is the amount by which they were being depleted two weeks before the regulations were introduced, by now we should be very nearly at a critical level.

Mr. Rost

Is it not totally irresponsible for Opposition Members to criticise the Government for having taken the prudent measure of conserving coal and oil resources at this critical time? Would it not be more realistic for the Opposition to co-operate with the TUC in trying to get a settlement?

Mr. Emery

I sometimes wonder whether Opposition Members want a settlement and to see the industry back in order.

Mr. Meacher

Is the Minister aware that if a miners' strike takes place now, given that the three-day week has reduced power station coal consumption by less than 500,000 tons a week, the 6 million tons critical level will still be reached as early as the last week of March? Even if we had a two-and-a-half-day week, that critical stage would be reached four days later than that. Why waste another £1 billion or £2 billion in lost production before being obliged to give the miners another £20 million or £30 million, anyway?

Mr. Emery

The hon. Gentleman's figuring entirely ignores the amount of fuel oil that the electricity generating stations may be able to use. That factor is entirely a matter of endurance. Any Government should have full contingency plans to protect the electricity supply of the country against whatever might arise.

Mr. Biffen

Do the figures available to the Minister bear out the assessment that has been made by Dr. Finniston as to the available supplies of coking coal, with the sombre implication that they would enable the steel industry to proceed for only about eight weeks?

Mr. Emery

Questions about the position of the steel industry should be put to my right hon. Friend. None the less, the iron and steel industry is still the responsibility of the Department of Trade and Industry. Let it be clearly understood that the problems of obtaining coking coal are serious and are a major problem in the supply of steel to the country as a whole.

Mr. Eadie

The hon. Gentleman is aware that the House can sympathise with him to some extent, for hon. Members understand that there has been a change of jerseys in the Department since the decision that he has been discussing with the House was first taken. Surely the hon. Gentleman will want to give the assurance that there is a new mood in the Government to settle the miners' dispute, and that the Government will not want to defer that settlement in order to justify a decision that is now discredited in the eyes of the whole country, namely, that the whole country should go on a three-day week.

Mr. Emery

I reject immediately the suggestion that the need for going on a three-day week is discredited. Newspaper support for this move is universal. Regarding the second part of the question, I am certain that the hon. Gentleman would want to do nothing that would do other than assist—as I think he is trying to—the discussions that will take place at Downing Street later today.

Following is the information:

6th February 1971 5th February 1972 3rd February 1973 26th January 1974
NCB stocks (million tons) 6.4 Strike 11.2 9.8
Stocks at main power stations (million tons):
CEGB 11.9
SSEB 1.7
All main power stations 7.8 7.7 15.1 13.6
1st February 1971 1st February 1972 1st February 1973 26th January 1974
Stocks held by oil companies:
Days' supply 66 67 60 56
Million tons 19.9 21.5 19.2 18.8
Stocks at main power stations (million tons):
CEGB 0.71
SSEB 0.06
All main power stations 0.34 0. 54 0.60 0.80
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