§ 6.20 p.m.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
My Lords, before the House adjourns may I ask the noble Viscount the Leader of the House whether he has any statement to make upon the fuel position?
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
My Lords, the Prime Minister, in another place, has made this statement, which I am sure your Lordships would wish me to make here.
The position has improved. In spite of the weather 3,747,700 tons of deep-mined and opencast coal was produced last week, which is 119,600 tons more than in the corresponding week a year ago. This reflects great credit on the 832 miners. It is being moved by rail, sea and road, and stocks at power stations are slowly but steadily being built up. Those engaged in transport by rail, road and sea did very fine work, especially over the week-end in moving a very large tonnage of coal under very hard conditions.
As I stated previously, it is the object of the Government to restore power for industrial production in each of the areas where it is now restricted at the earliest possible date. But the Government do not regard it as safe to do so until two weeks' stocks have been built up at the power stations in each area. The weather is still icy, and the getting, loading and movement of coal is still difficult. The thaw, when it comes, may bring flood and fog.
If present restrictions on domestic and non-industrial use of electricity are rigidly maintained over the whole country, it is estimated that the consumption of coal at power stations controlled by the Central Electricity Board could be kept down to an average of 580,000 tons a week for the rest of the winter. At this level of consumption the Government expect that in the Central England area, that is to say, the Midlands, it will be possible to provide all stations except three with two weeks stocks by to-morrow. At the three stations there will be a minor deficiency which can be made up during the week ending March 1.
This position having been reached in the central area, the Government feel justified in allowing a general resumption of the use of power by industry in that area as from Monday next. I am not yet in a position to make a statement about the other two areas, but the position is under daily review, and I will inform the House as soon as I can announce the dates for the resumption of the supply of electricity for industry in either of those areas. I must repeat that the resumption of industry depends on fully maintaining the present restrictions on the use of electricity by domestic and nonindustrial consumers.
Industrial undertakings in the central area will need information as to the expected deliveries of solid fuel in order to make production plans for the immediate future. They may expect to 833 receive during the first two weeks after resumption 30 per cent. of the allocations of solid fuel which were in force prior to January 20. Those undertakings which immediately before the electricity cuts were receiving assistance from the regional pool may expect to receive supplies on the scale then arranged. In individual cases, where there are exceptional stock levels, adjustment will be made on this account. In order to avoid a recurrence of the frequent and unpredictable load shedding necessitated by the national shortage of generating plant capacity, it is desirable to spread the industrial load as much as possible by staggering the hours of work. This may raise difficult problems and my right honourable friend the Minister of Labour and National Service has arranged to meet representatives of the two sides of the National Joint Advisory Council later this afternoon to discuss these questions with them.
The increase in unemployment over the figures in the regions where the use of electricity for industrial purposes has been restricted is estimated at about 310,000. There has been a net decrease of 230,000 in those unemployed who are not claiming unemployment insurance benefit. A comprehensive count of the insured persons registered as being unemployed is being taken to-day.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
My Lords, we are obliged to the noble Viscount the Leader of the House for making that statement. We all rejoice to know that industries will be able to open up on Monday in the central area, and I hope that it will not be too long before that happens in the other two areas as well.