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Volume 526: debated on Monday 5 April 1954

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asked the Minister of Fuel and Power the latest position with regard to stocks of coal and coke, respectively, in the United Kingdom.

On 20th March distributed stocks of coal were 13·2 million tons and stocks of coke at gasworks and coke ovens were 1·35 million tons.

Would my right hon. Friend not agree that in spite of the cold weather some of the gloomy forecasts of his critics that there would be a drastic coal shortage this year have been unfounded? Will my right hon. Friend further say that it is to be his policy to continue asking the leaders of the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mine-workers to stimulate further increased output this year?

Certainly, Sir, but the crucial decision in avoiding difficulties in the house coal market this February was really taken last July, when the Government decided to import some coal.

Can the right hon. Gentleman give the separate figures for Scotland? Is he aware that the public in Scotland have been increasingly anxious about the stock position in the last month or two?

In view of the fact that coal stocks at 1st April were the highest for many years past, due no doubt, in part, to sound administration, will my right hon. Friend now consider a policy of increasing still further the exports of coal from the United Kingdom?

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that the estimates and stocks were knocked into a cocked hat by the ready response and energy of the miners?

The country's fuel position depends, of course, fundamentally on the production of the miners. It is very desirable to export as much as possible; at the same time, if we export too much in relation to production at any given time we shall cause a fuel crisis in the succeeding winter. That is what happened many times under the Administration of the Labour Party.

Does not that answer make nonsense of the supplementary question of the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro)?

I do not think so, because stocks at the end of this winter amounted to 13·2 million tons. At the end of the winter for which the right hon. Gentleman was so notoriously responsible—1946–47—there were only 5·2 million tons.

The right hon. Gentleman has seen fit to indulge in criticism which he knows, if he searches the records of his own Department, are quite unfounded. He has just stated, in reply to a supplementary question, that the production of coal depends primarily and, indeed, almost exclusively on the miners, and at the time of which the right hon. Gentleman speaks there were many fewer miners than there are today.

That may be, but it does not excuse a Minister who takes the view that everything is going to be all right when he has totally inadequate stocks to meet requirements.

I propose—this is quite unusual for me—to take the first opportunity of raising this matter on the Adjournment.