HC Deb 25 November 1974 vol 882 cc16-8
13. Mr. Rost

asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he is satisfied that there will be no shortage of coal this winter; and if he will give the latest estimate of production, consumption and stocks.

4. Mr. Churchill

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what is his estimated tonnage of coal and coke that the United Kingdom will have to import to maintain adequate supplies to industry and the domestic consumer up to 31st March 1975.

25. Mr. Tugendhat

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what are the latest estimates of distributed and undistributed coal stocks in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Eadie

Stocks held by the NCB on 9th November amounted to just over 6 million tons and total recorded distributed stocks 15.5 million tons. Coal production for 1974–75 will reach about 125 million tons at current rates of working in the pits or 132 million tons if the industry is successful in reaching its target. Consumption depends on weather and other variables, but I am satisfied that demand this winter should be met if there is no serious interruption or reduction of supplies and subject to possible difficulties of handling and moving coal in exceptionally severe weather. Significant quantities of coal for import are not available because there is a world shortage.

Mr. Rost

Is not that answer appallingly complacent? Why does not the Minister tell us that stocks are now substantially lower than they were in each of the past three years? What is he doing to preserve coal supplies to ensure that there will not be severe power cuts?

Mr. Eadie

I regret that the hon. Gentleman was dissatisfied by the fact that there will not be power cuts this winter if it is a normal winter. To some extent his chagrin should not be put before the House. My right hon. Friend and I have already taken initiatives in this matter. We have met the national executive committee of the National Union of Mineworkers and received its unanimous consent that it would work to increase production. On 19th November the NUM passed a resolution which means not only that it will exhort miners to increase production but that its members will go into the coalfields in order to assist in that.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one cannot burn NUM resolutions in a grate? Does he not agree that stocks are now 12½ million tons below what they were in the corresponding period last year? Does he not agree that there is no margin whatever for contingencies? Bearing in mind that the industry is likely to be faced with a major wage claim far in excess of anything that is possibly justified in the social contract, does he not appreciate that his complacency is extremely dangerous?

Mr. Eadie

One certainly cannot burn resolutions in the grate, but the right hon. Gentleman cannot hide his disappointment that there will be no coal crisis this winter as a whole. I hope he will be very pleased and satisfied to learn that the average output per manshift has been about 47 cwt. in the last four weeks, which is higher than it has been at any time since June 1973. I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would be satisfied with that. The miners have said that they will dig the coal. I have no doubt that the miners will not let the nation down.

Mr. Ioan Evans

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the reason why stocks are so low is that the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin), the Opposition spokesman on energy, was in charge of energy matters and brought about the dispute at the beginning of the year? If that dispute had not occurred, the stocks would be far higher than they are at present. Will my hon. Friend reject the view put forward by the right hon. Gentleman in the campaign earlier this year that we should clean our teeth in the dark, because some miners are suggesting that the right hon. Gentleman should perhaps have shaved in the dark?

Mr. Eadie

I do not want to correct my hon. Friend, but he did not quite give the precise quotation, although he is on the ball nevertheless. One can have very large stocks, as we have learned in the past, but if one has industrial dislocation one's large stocks may be of no use. My hon. Friend was perfectly correct. The miners have given a pledge, and I think that they will keep it.

Mr. Pardoe

I do not dispute the integrity and good faith of the NUM in wishing to meet the target of 132 million tons, but what are the Government offering, either to the union or to the NCB, as an incentive to persuade individual miners on and under the ground to produce this extra coal? For instance, are the Government prepared to offer a tax concession to miners to persuade them to produce it?

Mr. Eadie

The hon. Gentleman knows that an incentive scheme has already been put before the miners, who have rejected it.

Mr. Pardoe

Some have.

Mr. Eadie

It is for the Government to introduce a new initiative. My right hon. Friend and I have introduced a new initiative. We have met the miners and we shall do so again. I have no doubt that they will respond.

Sir John Rodgers

How much coal is now being bought abroad? What plans are in hand for the purchase of coal from abroad to provide supplies?

Mr. Eadie

I regret that the hon. Gentleman did not listen to the end of a previous answer, when I pointed out that there was a world shortage of coal and that it was very difficult to get any coal at all.