Coal Shortage

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1st February 1951.

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Photo of Mr Alfred Robens Mr Alfred Robens , Blyth 12:00 am, 1st February 1951

I repeat that what the right hon. Gentleman said shows that private enterprise was exploiting this situation. I say that that is really a condemnation of private enterprise. The right hon. Gentleman finished with this time-honoured line that the price of coal had increased considerably since nationalisation. He said that the price had increased by 9s. 2d. a ton. At the same time he ought also to have told the House and the country that, since nationalisation, the National Coal Board had incurred expenses to the tune of £100 million on better wages and conditions for the miners, and that if in fact money had not been spent in that direction, the man-power position in the industry today would have been completely hopeless. That shows that if hon. Gentlemen opposite had been in power and dealing with this industry, apparently they would not have increased the price of coal; they would not have given greater benefits to the miners; and the point is that we should have had a fuel crisis years ago, and British productivity would not have reached the height at which it is now.

Other hon. Members will expect me to say something about their speeches, but before I do that, I think that the House, and especially those hon. Members who had the opportunity of listening to the hon. Member for Abertillery (Rev. L. Williams), will join with me in congratulating him upon a very good-humoured, delightful, well-delivered maiden speech. We shall look forward to listening to him on many future occasions.

The hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen), speaking on behalf of his party, asked a number of questions, and was concerned about the building up of stocks in the summer months. Why, he asked, were not stocks built up in the summer months? Quite clearly—and I have said something like this before in the House—the first demand upon coal production must be for industry and the public utilities providing the power for industry. The supply for the domestic market is already too low, and consequently we cannot expect to save any coal in that direction.

Therefore, the only way in which we could save more coal to build up stocks was to take it from the export market. What, in fact, happened? Exports were constantly under review throughout the summer and were reduced from time to time by the insistence of the Government, having regard to the vital need to keep exports as high as possible. How can it be said that the Government took no action in the summer, as some hon. Members have suggested, when the position is shown quite clearly in the Trade Accounts and in the Monthly Digest of Statistics?

From May to July, we reduced our average weekly cargo exports by between 15,000 tons and 20,000 tons below the average level of the preceding four months. During August and September, there was a still further decline, and in October and November exports were brought down by 70,000 tons a week below the July level to about 220,000 tons a week. Since then they have been further reduced to 100,000 tons per week.