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Coal

Volume 645: debated on Monday 24 July 1961

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Small Mines

1.

asked the Minister of Power if, in view of the manpower shortages existing in areas of deep mines, lie will give a general direction to the National Coal Board to increase the number of licences to open or extend work at small mines, many of which are situated in areas where there is substantial or potential unemployment.

No, Sir. The licensing of small mines is the statutory responsibility of the National Coal Board. My right hon. Friend understands that though the Board's main concern must be the need for the output from a proposed mine, it is ready to take the local employment situation into account in considering applications.

Does my hon. Friend realise that that is a very unsatisfactory reply, that the situation is most absurd because the Minister is continually worried about the manpower situation in the mines, and yet here in the hill villages of Northumberland and Cumberland the miners are denied the right to work because the Coal Board will not issue these licences? Could my hon. Friend consult with his right hon. Friend and ask the Chairman of the National Coal Board to look into this question again, particularly in these special areas?

Section 36 of the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act gives the Board, and not the Minister, power to license coal mines. I have already said that the Board is ready to consider the local employment situation when deciding whether or not a licence should be issued. I am certain that if my hon. Friend has a special case in mind the Chairman of the National Coal Board will be very glad to discuss it with him.

Manpower, Scotland

2.

asked the Minister of Power to what extent there is now a shortage of manpower in the coal mines of Scotland; and what success has been achieved in recruitment of young workers to the mining industry in Scotland.

Individual pits may occasionally be short, particularly of skilled craftsmen. In the first 27 weeks of the year, the National Coal Board recruited 1,055 juveniles, compared with 878 in the same period last year.

Can the Minister tell us whether there is still a shortage and whether he proposes to carry on a similar recruiting drive to attract young men into the mines as the Secretary of State for War is doing to attract them into the Army?

There is a shortage, as I have said in my answer, but I do not think the hon. Gentleman need yet be unduly depressed by the slow results flowing from his recruitment campaign at Eton College last February. There may be results in time.

In all areas the position of craftsmen is difficult, and Scotland is no exception, but frankly the manpower situation in Scotland causes me rather less anxiety than the manpower position in other parts of the country.

Can the Minister say to what extent craftsmen are leaving the mining industry?

I could not without notice. If the hon. Gentleman will put down a Question I will do my best to answer it, but the craftsman position is causing anxiety.

Steel Company Of Wales (Coal Supplies)

3.

asked the Minister of Power what is the result of his conversations with the chairman of the National Coal Board with regard to the supply of appropriate Welsh coking coals to the Steel Company of Wales at prices competitive with United States Virginian coals offered, in order to obviate the issue of an import licence; and whether he will make a statement.

I have been having general conversations with the chairman. The President of the Board of Trade hopes to make an announcement about the application by the Steel Company of Wales before the Summer Recess.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, having regard to the grave balance of payments difficulties and similar troubles of present circumstances, it would be incalculable folly to bring in American coal when, by a little intelligent manipulation, on commercial standards, of the present price structure of the Board adequate coking coal could be available from opencast and from deep pits in South Wales to meet the somewhat diminished demands of the Steel Company of Wales? Will he advise the President of the Board of Trade accordingly, giving support, of course, to the views I have put to him this afternoon?

My hon. Friend will realise that this is a wide subject and that he has raised one aspect of it. I assure him that the matters he has raised have been very much in the mind of my right hon. Friend for quite a few weeks.

Will the Minister, in consultation with the President of the Board of Trade, realise that, if by any chance the Government gave this permission, it would have a serious effect upon the view which the men take about the future of the industry in South Wales and aggravate an already serious manpower position?

In view of the fact that the Government will probably say "No" to this request of the Steel Company of Wales, why have they taken such a long time to make up their mind on such a simple matter?

It is not a simple matter at all. In fact, there are a great many considerations which have to be balanced. I shall not anticipate my right hon. Friend's statement, which, as I say, will be made in the next week or two.

Does not the Minister consider, seeing that the steel industry had the benefit when we were importing coal from America and selling it at the inland price, that it is rather impudent and unpatriotic now for it to seek to obtain cheap American coal at the expense of British industry?

I seem to remember most of these considerations being brought to my attention about a month ago.

Stocks

7 and 8.

asked the Minister of Power (1) what are the present stocks of coal and manufactured fuels suitable for domestic use; and whether he is satisfied that the supply of such coal and fuel is sufficient to ensure that there will be no shortage in the coming winter, both in smokeless zones and elsewhere;

(2) what are the present stocks of boiler fuel in England; and whether he is satisfied that the supply of such fuel is sufficient to ensure that there will be no shortage in the coming winter.

On 8th July, merchants' and producers' stocks were 1·8 million tons house coal, and over 8 million tons coke, anthracite and boiler fuel, and 200,000 tons other manufactured fuels. Notwithstanding these stocks, there is always the possibility of local delays or shortages through winter delivery difficulties, and I advise consumers who can do so to stock now.

Does my hon. Friend expect that those stocks will be sufficient to tide us over a winter, which, for all we know, may be a very cold one?

Stocks at the moment stand comparison with stocks at this time last year. What will happen between now and winter is problematical. I have said that those who can afford to buy stocks should do so now.

9.

asked the Minister of Power whether he is satisfied with the steps being taken to encourage the public to stock solid fuel this summer so as to avoid delivery delays next winter; and if he will make a statement.

Both the National Coal Board and other producers of domestic fuels have announced special price reductions for the summer period in order to encourage stocking. It is most important that merchants and consumers should take full advantage of these reductions and stock as much fuel as they can. Good stocks in merchants' yards and consumers' cellars are the best safeguard against delivery delays next winter.

Will my right hon. Friend consider in publicity such a matter as "gimmick" advertising which has been so successful in the gas industry and which might help to put the thing across, quite apart from any summer price incentives?

I shall not do any advertising myself, but I shall bring my hon. Friend's ideas to the attention of the Coal Board.

Anthracite Grains

10.

asked the Minister of Power if he is aware of the shortage of anthracite grains 1A, a smokeless fuel, in central Norfolk; and what action he is taking to remedy the shortage.

There is a strong demand for this quality of grain and the National Coal Board is having difficulty in meeting all demands quickly. Where there are difficulties, the Board does its best to offer a satisfactory alternative.

Is my hon. Friend aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Collard)—who unfortunately cannot be here as he is convalescing after an illness—has received many bitter complaints about this problem? Does he recall that my hon. Friend wrote to him last year about it, and can he do any more to speed up delivery of this type of fuel?

The Board can offer lower grades of anthracite grain. Heavy capital expenditure has been incurred in South Wales in providing for future increases of output. That capital expenditure is now making a small contribution to output, and the contribution should steadily increase.

Miners

12.

asked the Minister of Power if, in view of the number of miners leaving the mining industry, he will give a general direction to the National Coal Board to offer a bonus payment to encourage miners to stay in the mines similar to that which is proposed to be paid to soldiers to retain them in the Army.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Secretary of State for War is offering £200 to retain the services of young men in the Army? Does not he think that from the point of view of the national interest it is just as important to keep young men in the mines as it is in the Army?

After the study which the hon. Gentleman has made of the Army and the mining industry, I am sure that he will have noticed certain differences between the two organisations. This is not, in fact, a matter for me. One difference is that perhaps the discipline attached to the recent bounty award might appear irksome to some people working in the mining industry.