Oral Answers to Questions — Smokeless Fuels

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th April 1970.

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Photo of Mr Arthur Palmer Mr Arthur Palmer , Bristol Central 12:00 am, 27th April 1970

asked the Minister of Technology if he will make a statement on the latest position regarding the shortage of smokeless fuel and the arrangements made for the distribution of available supplies.

Photo of Mr David Lane Mr David Lane , Cambridge

asked the Minister of Technology whether he will make a further statement on the latest prospects for solid smokeless fuel supplies next winter.

Photo of Mr Frank Allaun Mr Frank Allaun , Salford East

asked the Minister of Technology if he will make a further statement on the smokeless fuel situation and the arrangements for distribution of supplies.

Photo of Mr Harold Lever Mr Harold Lever , Manchester Cheetham

With permission, I will answer this Question and Nos. 37 and 76 together.

In general, I have nothing to add to the statement I made in the debate on 9th April.

We are reviewing with the producers all possible steps to improve solid smokeless fuel supplies and are also asking public authorities if they can reduce their call on the available supplies by stepping up the conversion of public buildings to other fuels.—[Vol. 799, c. 760–880.]

Photo of Mr Arthur Palmer Mr Arthur Palmer , Bristol Central

Will my right hon. Friend say something to remove the impression, probably mistaken, in the public mind that there is a certain attitude of complacency by the Department to this question, and probably also on the part of the National Coal Board?

Photo of Mr Harold Lever Mr Harold Lever , Manchester Cheetham

I am not able to judge what the public reaction is to the exaggerated and little-founded predictions about what will happen next winter. I can only say that, far from the Government being complacent, they are taking every possible step open to them, both on the supply side and on the demand side, to deal with any danger of more than a tight situation next winter.

Photo of Mr David Lane Mr David Lane , Cambridge

Does not all this amount to a shocking failure of forward planning and co-ordination by the Department? What estimate has the right hon. Gentleman made of the cost of the crash changeovers which are being forced on public authorities and others as a result of this failure?

Photo of Mr Harold Lever Mr Harold Lever , Manchester Cheetham

The crash changeover to which the hon. Member refers is no more than a hastening of what would have been inevitable if we were to cease the antiquated process of carbonising coal to produce gas. The elimination of coke for that reason would, in any event, have compelled a changeover, and many may think that this changeover has been neglected by some of the authorities concerned.

Photo of Mr John Eden Mr John Eden , Bournemouth West

Is it not a fact that we have had to drag from the Minister the admission that there is a serious gap? What is his estimate of the developing situation for next year? Will he answer the question put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Lane): what is the cost of this total operation, and who is to pay for it?

Photo of Mr Harold Lever Mr Harold Lever , Manchester Cheetham

The hon. Member should not flatter himself in claiming to have dragged from me that there will be a serious gap. As far as my recollection goes, he has not yet had that success, nor do I think that he is likely to have it. There may well be a tight situation next winter, and no more. Its extent will depend upon the weather, the amount of conversion that takes place and many other factors relating to the supply situa tion. I could not possibly give the cost of conversions until they had been completed. All I can say is that it is no good the hon. Gentleman and his friends seeking to capitalise on the necessary changeover from burning coke, which will not be available in any event if we are to have a modern gas system, to burning smokeless fuel.

Photo of Mr Frank Allaun Mr Frank Allaun , Salford East

Will my right hon. Friend now temporarily reprieve further gasworks beyond the three already announced? Would not this provide the coke needed for next winter, even if at additional cost to the Gas Council?

Photo of Mr Harold Lever Mr Harold Lever , Manchester Cheetham

I have already asked the Gas Council to review its programme and a modest contribution may be expected from the slowing-up of the closure of gasworks.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Mr. John Osborn, Question No. 28.

Photo of Dr Michael Winstanley Dr Michael Winstanley , Cheadle

On a point of order. In answering the last Question, No. 27, from his hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer), the Minister grouped with it Question No. 76 from his hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun). As you will see from the Order Paper, Mr. Speaker, I have put down a similar Question, No. 47, and there are other hon. Members whose Questions on the same subject come earlier than No. 76.

My point of order is to ask whether it is in order for the right hon. Gentleman to select the Questions which he wishes to group together in such a way as to ensure that supplementary questions come rather from his own side of the House than from the Opposition side.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

I have on earlier occasions expressed the hope that points of order on Questions will be raised at the end of Question Time. The grouping of Questions is a matter for the Minister and not for me.

Photo of Mr Robert Elliott Mr Robert Elliott , Newcastle upon Tyne North

Further to the point of order. May I point out, Mr. Speaker, that my Question No. 75 also clearly relates to the same topic? We are in a state of great chaos concerning smokeless fuel in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Could not my Question have been answered also?

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Whether it could or could not have been answered is a matter for the Minister and not for me.

Photo of Mr James Scott-Hopkins Mr James Scott-Hopkins , West Derbyshire

Further to the point of order. My Question No. 48 deals with exactly the same point as the Minister has answered. It is monstrous that he should group Questions in such a way as to avoid supplementary questions being asked from this side of the House. I ask for your protection in this malpractice, Mr. Speaker.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Mr. Speaker protects both sides of the House. I repeat that the raising of points of order during Question Time can cost other hon. Members their Questions.

Photo of Sir Arthur Harvey Sir Arthur Harvey , Macclesfield

May I say with great respect, Mr. Speaker, that although you have given a Ruling on this matter, the situation is still rather vague? If you rule in favour of the point made by my hon. Friends, will you allow their Questions to be taken at the end of Question Time?

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

I have ruled that the grouping of Questions is a matter for the Minister and not for Mr. Speaker.

Photo of Mr Harold Lever Mr Harold Lever , Manchester Cheetham

Further to the point of order. Will you permit me briefly to say, Mr. Speaker, that I never see the grouping of Questions until the very last moment? [HON. MEMBERS: " You should."] The suggestion that this is engineered is complete balderdash.

Photo of Mr John Eden Mr John Eden , Bournemouth West

Further to the point of order. Is it not clear from a study of the Questions on the Order Paper that those which have been selected for grouping together and others dealing with the same subject are identical, and that they could easily all have been taken in a single group, but that the Minister seems to have picked only those tabled by his hon. Friends? [HON. MEMBERS: " That is not true."] May I give notice, Mr. Speaker, that we shall pursue this matter at the end of Questions, as you suggest?

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

There is nothing to prevent the hon. Member pursuing the matter then. This, however, is not a matter for the Chair, and Question Time is being wasted.

Photo of Mr Frederick Corfield Mr Frederick Corfield , Gloucestershire South

Further to the point of order. With respect, Mr. Speaker, is not the fair answer to allow supplementary questions to be put by hon. Members who have put down identical Questions?

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

The Chair has moved on to the next Question. Mr. John Osborn, No. 28.

Photo of Mr James Scott-Hopkins Mr James Scott-Hopkins , West Derbyshire

Further to the point of order. Have you not ruled, Mr. Speaker, that Questions put down late on the Order Paper would not be called by you in favour of Questions which are put down earlier? In this case, there seems to have been a change in the priorities which you have laid down.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. The Chair goes from side to side. I have said on earlier occasions that late Questions are not automatically called for answer. This one happened to be so.

Photo of Sir Charles Taylor Sir Charles Taylor , Eastbourne

On a point of order. In view of the very unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I wish to give notice that I will raise this matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible moment.

Photo of Mr Stephen Hastings Mr Stephen Hastings , Mid Bedfordshire

As I understood him, Mr. Speaker, the Minister said at the Dispatch Box that he was not responsible for the grouping of Question and had not seen them. If he is not responsible, may we know who is?

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. Again, that is not a point of order for the Chair. By raising points of order at this stage, hon. Members are preventing other hon. Members from being given Answers to their Questions which they put down a long time ago.