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Volume 529: debated on Monday 21 June 1954

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asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he has yet approved the import of coal to meet the needs of next winter; the approximate amount; and the countries of origin.


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power by how many tons United Kingdom coal consumption in the first 23 weeks of 1954 exceeded consumption for the first 23 weeks of 1953; whether stocks, or exports, or both are being depleted to meet the increased consumption, in view of static production, comparing 1954 with 1953; and what steps he now proposes to take to deal with the coal position.


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power to make a statement giving the present coal stocks and the comparable figures for 1952 as well as the prospects for the coming winter.

Compared with last year. consumption so far has been greater by 3 million tons and production by 1 million tons. Exports and bunkers have remained the same and total distributed and undistributed stocks are now 1½ million tons less.

For some time the Government have been carefully considering the prospects for next winter, and I have already authorised further imports.

Has the Minister information that this is likely to meet all the contingencies next winter, particularly in a spell of bad weather?

Has the attention of my right hon. Friend been drawn to the statement recently made by Mr. Arthur Horner, General Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, to the effect that the coal situation now is the most dangerous since 1946? Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that his measures in importing additional coal will meet the situation without cutting down still further our vital exports of coal?

The House will remember that earlier in the year the National Union of Mineworkers assured the Coal Board that it would regard a 2½ per cent. increase of output this year as the minimum standard for which to aim. So far, there has not been any increase in output, save for the extra 1 million tons which results from there being no Coronation special holiday this year. Recently, the miners' leaders reaffirmed their determination to ask for what they had suggested earlier in the year, and they have been making helpful speeches in the coalfields to help in that matter. This was one of those speeches.

The Minister said he had authorised the importation of coal. Will he tell the House how much can be imported? Is there a ceiling or an open licence?

No, there is not an open licence. I should not wish to inform the House about the quantity or source of supply as I wish to give the Coal Board the best commercial opportunities to get the coal as cheaply as possible.

Is it not a fact that last February, when a substantial increase in miners' wages was negotiated, it was on the express understanding that the cost of the increase would be compensated for by a 2½ per cent. increase in production? As that increase has not yet materialised, what further action does the Coal Board now propose to take?

As it is a Government decision to increase the imports of coal, will the Government foot the bill, or the Coal Board?

No, as in all recent cases of importation, of which, unhappily, there have had to be many examples since the war, we must face the fact that it is the consumer who foots the bill.


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he is aware that domestic consumers are unable to obtain grades 1, 2 and 3 house coal before the increase in price in June, owing to the fact that supplies are not made available by the National Coal Board; and the present stocks of these grades of house coal in the country at the latest convenient date.

I can assure my hon. Friend that the Board is not withholding supplies of the better grades of coal it needs to dispose of its whole available production in order to meet weekly allocations to the merchants. Total stocks in merchants' yards at 5th June were 408,500 tons, but quantities of the different grades are not separately recorded.

Does my right hon. Friend consider that the very extensive and expensive advertising which took place for this campaign in the middle of June was really justified in view of the fact that the Coal Board has, apparently, not got the coal to deliver?

The Board has not got as much coal of the best quality as the public want. The public naturally, in many cases, want the better qualities, even more so in summer, when they require large quantities for stocking up.