HC Deb 22 July 1970 vol 804 cc156-8W
Mr. Gardner

asked the Minister of Technology if he will now make a further statement on the steps he is taking to avert a shortage of solid fuel especially in the North-West; and what restrictions he will impose on the export of hard coke to the Continent in order to ensure that the home market is adequately supplied during the coming winter.

Mr. Peter Rees

asked the Minister of Technology if he will make a further statement about supplies of solid smokeless fuel.

Mr. Pendry

asked the Minister of Technology if he will make a further statement on availability of adequate supplies of smokeless fuel this coming winter, with particular reference to the North-West.

Mr. Ron Lewis

asked the Minister of Technology if he is aware of the difficulties being experienced by householders in rural areas in obtaining supplies of coke and other kinds of solid fuels; and what steps he intends to take to relieve the situation.

Sir J. Eden

Last winter there were local shortages of solid smokeless fuel, and for some time it has been clear to most people that there are also likely to be difficulties this coming winter.

It is not possible to give precise estimates of the size of any shortfall as this depends upon a number of factors, such as the degree to which consumers turn to other fuels, and the weather conditions.

On the basis of the forecasts of the National Coal Board and other producers, supplies to the non-industrial market are unlikely to exceed 10 million tons. The trade believe that demand will exceed this figure.

To deal with this situation and to have fullest regard to a progressive clear air policy, the Government have taken the following steps:

  1. (i) Government Departments are converting as many as possible of their coke-burning appliances to other smokeless fuels;
  2. (ii) Local authorities, hospital boards and other public bodies have been asked to do the same.
  3. These two measures combined should reduce demand by up to 500,000 tons;
  4. (iii) All producers have been urged to keep their plant working to maximum capacity;
  5. (iv) The N.C.B. have made arrangements to import up to 75,000 tons of briquettes from Frances;
  6. (v) I understand from the producers they are restricting exports of fuel suitable for non-industrial use to the minimum consistent with contractual obligations;
  7. (vi) the trade have assured me that they will distribute available supplies as helpfully as possible;
  8. (vii) the gas industry have undertaken to produce from uneconomic plant 170,000 tons more coke than they would have done. The cost of this will be met in part by a price increase from 1st August not exceed-£3 per ton. The balance will be financed as to one-third by the gas boards concerned and two-thirds by the Government. The cost to public funds is estimated to be £300,000 and will be related to production in 1970–71 only. A supplementary estimate will be submitted to the House in due course. If expenditure becomes necessary before the supplementary estimate has been approved by Parliament, recourse will be made to the Civil Contingencies' Fund.

At this late stage, there is little prospect of further increasing supplies for this winter and we must therefore be prepared for local shortages.

In view of this my right hon. Friends the Minister of Housing and Local Government and the Secretary of State for Wales are issuing a circular asking local authorities with smoke control areas to check immediately the probable supply position of solid smokeless fuels in their areas. My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Scotland is considering whether a similar circular is required in Scotland. Where supplies cannot be assured, the Minister will grant temporary suspension of smoke control orders.

The Government greatly regret the necessity for these precautionary measures, but they are necessary to reduce hardship this coming winter. Provided plans to increase output come to fruition, the situation should get progressively easier by 1971–72 and subsequent years. The Government are determined to resume progress towards cleaner air as soon as possible.