Defence (Coal Supplies)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18th September 1950.

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Photo of Mr Alfred Robens Mr Alfred Robens , Blyth 12:00 am, 18th September 1950

No, he said they were being built up. If the hon. Lady will have patience and allow me to give one or two figures, I will show how these stocks are building up. When I have said that, however, I shall not say that we are happy or satisfied about the position.

The country must have 16,500,000 tons of coal in stock before the onset of winter. That is not necessarily tied to a given date such as the end of October, because weather plays a part in it; but we generally begin to lift stocks towards the end of the year, and therefore there is not much of a breathing space beyond the end of October to get the 16,500,000 tons in distributed stocks. On 9th September, which is the latest figure I have, the total distributed stocks amounted to 13.4 million tons, which does show an improvement, carrying out what the Minister said in answer to the Question this afternoon, an improvement in the stock position. At the same time, the gap between 13.4 million tons and 16,500,000 tons which is absolutely essential as a minimum is far too wide for any of us to be complacent about it.

There has been a big increase in production, of course. In 1949 there were 5.7 million tons more produced than in 1948, but the fact is that internal consumption has gone ahead. In 1945 the inland consumption was 179 million tons and in 1949 it was 195,500,000 tons. That is an increase in internal consumption of 16,500,000 tons in four years. One cannot expect to get big increases in productivity in all sorts of industry without having raw coal burned to provide that increased productivity, because we are all well aware that it is horsepower at the elbow of the worker that gives increased productivity, and that means coal and fuel of all kinds, whether in the form of gas or electricity.

That internal consumption increase has continued during 1950, and in the 35 weeks to 2nd September inland consumption was 133.2 million tons. In the corresponding period of last year it was 129.5 million tons, so we have an increase over last year in 35 weeks of 3.7 million tons. This is where we strike a great difficulty, because during the same period of 35 weeks production has only increased by 1.8 million tons. In other words, we are losing ground to the tune of nearly two million tons already this year.

Stocks for industry naturally give any Government cause for great concern, because this country could not tolerate an approach to a fuel crisis such as we had some years ago and we cannot reckon upon reasonable temperatures for winter. That is why it is so essential that stocks should be at the level I have indicated. The other day I took the chair at the Emergency Committee of the National Production Advisory Council for Industry, which, as the House knows, is representative of industry generally, and of the regional boards for industry. We discussed this very important matter of industrial stocks.

We have agreed to get industrial stocks up to a level of about four and a half weeks, which is a good safety margin, by about the middle of December. In that connection industrialists will require during those weeks to take what coal is offered to them. I do not think it is any use at all industrialists refusing to take coal which may have to come from another coalfield which is not their usual source of supply. If they are to get up their stocks, they will have to take the coal which is offered to them.