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Summer Fuel Restrictions (Government Plan)

Volume 436: debated on Thursday 24 April 1947

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asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he will issue an order permitting the use of domestic electric irons during the restricted periods for use of electricity.


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he is now in a position to state when the present restrictions on domestic users of electricity will be removed.


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he will now relax the restrictions at present imposed on the use of lifts in offices and blocks of flats owing to the delay and inconvenience they cause to the business community and the additional burden they impose upon elderly persons, invalids and mothers with young children.


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether the consultations between His Majesty's Government, gas and electricity undertakings, and consumers are now completed, and if he will make a statement regarding the restrictions to be imposed on domestic users of gas and electricity.

I propose, with Mr. Speaker's permission, to make a statement at the end of Questions.


My right hon. Friend, the Prime Minister, in his statement on 27th March drew attention of the House to the grave shortage of coal, with which the country will continue to be faced during the coming summer, and estimated that the gap between estimated coal production and the amount required for consumption and for stock-building might amount to as much as 10 million tons during the summer. The Prime Minister went on to say that in the Government's view domestic and non-industrial consumers should be called upon to make their contribution towards closing this gap by saving, if possible, 2½ million tons of coal through reductions in gas and electricity consumption during the summer. After examining the possibilities of various rationing schemes, the Government came to the conclusion that other methods should be adopted, and details of the proposed scheme were promised at an early date.

During the course of the Debate on the Motion for the Adjournment on 2nd April, I explained the reasons for the Government's rejection of the various rationing proposals, and, as regards the new plan, explained that we were having further consultations with the supply industries, and were also meeting various classes of consumers, in particular the women's organisations, and would announce our plan as soon as possible. Although these consultations have not yet been completed, I am now in a position to announce the general framework of our plan.

To begin with, I must make it clear that the situation with which we are faced, as indicated by the Prime Minister, is one of such gravity that it can only be met by a great united effort on the part of the whole nation, fuel producers and fuel consumers alike. Any plan to secure savings in the consumption of fuel and to meet the difficulties arising from shortage of generating plant must involve sacrifice by all. Industry has already suffered and the output of our industries is vital to our national recovery; so that there is a limit to the savings which industry can be expected to make. But there is one kind of fuel saving which we think that all consumers can and should make during the summer months, and that is in the sphere of space-heating—in other words, the warming of rooms and other internal parts of buildings.

The first part of our summer plan, therefore, is to impose a complete statutory prohibition on the use of space heating of any kind both in industrial and commercial premises from 5th May, when the new Order will come into force, until the end of October. There are already in force Orders to this effect in the case of non-industrial or commercial group of premises, and these Orders will be revoked and their provisions merged in the new Order. The prohibition in the case of factories and other industrial premises is new. We have consulted representatives of the two sides in industry, through the National Production Advisory Council for Industry, and secured their general support to this measure, on the understanding—and this is clearly of great importance—that due provision is made in the Order to prevent any interference with the supply of heat necessary for those premises in which certain types of process-work are carried out. Provision will also be made for the heating of premises in which night work is being done in May, September and October.

Finally, the new Order will also impose a ban upon the use of gas and electricity for space heating purposes in residential premises until the end of September, subject to relaxation only where a medical certificate is given. This means that gas and electric fires must not be used during this period. We are not imposing any statutory restriction upon the use of solid fuel in residential premises, because such fuel is already limited by supply restrictions; and unless people observe equal restraint in its use for purely space heating purposes in the summer, they will only have to pay for it later on.

This first part of our summer plan, therefore, imposes parallel statutory restrictions upon all the three classes of fuel consumer. Not only is this equality of sacrifice fair, but it is certain to result in very substantial coal savings. It is impossible to give any precise estimate of such savings, but I am advised that they should be substantial. I realise that if the British summer runs true to type, the absence of artificial heating may well result in a good deal of inconvenience and even discomfort. But the savings to be gained are such, and the need is so urgent, that we are satisfied that this measure is essential.

So much for the general statutory ban on space heating, and, in passing, I should make it clear that with the coming of the new Consolidating Order on 5th May the old Order disappears. By the old Order, I mean, of course, the present Order prohibiting the consumption of electricity in residential premises during certain specified hours, morning and afternoon: all that goes and is replaced, so far as residential premises are concerned, by the simple statutory ban on gas and electric space heating during the summer. And may I add here that in order to enable broadcast receiving, particularly school broadcasts, to begin again quickly, I am giving a general permit under the present Order to take effect on 28th April.

To pass on from statutory restrictions to the other part of our plans for securing summer savings in the consumption of gas and electricity in domestic premises, we have most carefully considered the question of a savings target and, as I have said, we have had full consultations with the supply industries and with women's organisations. As a result, the Government have come to the conclusion that the only type of target that is sufficiently simple for the purpose of immediate application, without the necessity for a long and elaborate educational campaign, is that of a percentage saving on previous consumption. We have, therefore, decided to ask all domestic consumers of gas and electricity to aim at saving 25 per cent., or one quarter, of the amounts they consumed during the comparable period last year—this figure, of course, to include the savings made by the discontinuance of the use of gas and electric fires.

I am well aware of the obvious objections to a percentage cut. It appears, for example, to favour the extravagant at the expense of the careful. But a complete ban on the use of gas and electric fires largely neutralises this objection. It is the use of these that has in the main been responsible for unduly high consumption. I know, also, that there are many cases, in particular those of very small households, and of people living by themselves in flatlets and the like, whose consumption has been so restricted already that even its reduction by as much as a quarter is impracticable.

But over the domestic field as a whole there is still room for substantial saving, and we do not think that a general target of 25 per cent. is an unreasonable one in the light of the sacrifices which are being asked for from industry and commerce, and in the light of the most urgent national need. One thing is certain, and that is that the target must be simple and easily understandable to everyone, for time is the essence of the contract.

We intend, of course, to support this appeal by a full publicity campaign which will include guidance as to meter reading and as to the use of various gas and electricity appliances, and their respective consumption rates. Whilst we have not been able to meet their views in all respects, we have been promised the fullest co-operation by the gas and electricity industries, and by the women's organisations, and we shall avail ourselves to the utmost of those offers, which I much appreciate.

Finally, there are the non-industrial and commercial group of consumers, the shops, offices, places of entertainment, catering establishments, and so on. In this very wide field, there are the widest possible variations in the ways in which, and the times at which, gas and electricity are used. The Government are satisfied that a single target figure for the whole of this group would be inequitable and impracticable. We expect them to make savings to the utmost extent possible, however, and we are holding a series of discussions with the various groups for the purposes of arriving at the percentages of saving appropriate in each case. We rely on their making sacrifices at least equal to those asked for from domestic consumers.

In conclusion, I would simply say this. No one, I think, will question the urgent need for the most intense fuel saving this summer by all classes of consumer. Industry and commerce have already made and must still make great sacrifices. As regards domestic consumers, any plan that could be devised is open to objections. 'But the only plan that can have a real chance of success is a simple plan. We are satisfied that, on the balance, the plan I have described is the one best calculated to bring us the savings we so badly need to enable us to build up our coal stocks for next winter.

I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that the statement which he has just made is one of the utmost seriousness, especially for the domestic consumer in this country. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Debate of 2nd April, which will be fresh in the minds of hon. Members, and while we on this side of the House are gratified that he is not imposing a rationing scheme, such as we then advised strongly against, it remains true that he would agree that the cuts imposed upon the domestic consumer will create very great hardship in many cases. I would therefore ask the right hon. Gentleman, or the acting Leader of the House, whether it would be possible to make early arrangements for a Debate on this subject. I do not consider that a Supply Day would be a suitable occasion. If I understood the right hon. Gentleman correctly, there is to be an Order to give effect to these proposals, and I would suggest that the Leader of the House might consider whether that Order ought not to be taken next week so that it might be discussed by this House before it comes into force.

; There is to be a Supply Day next week, as I shall announce presently, and if arrangements could be made—not necessarily on the Supply Vote itself—I should say that Thursday might perhaps be a suitable day. I am quite sure that my right hon. Friend does not wish to delay the discussion.

We feel that the Debate should take place next week, and we should like it to take place on the Order, but we do not think it reasonable—as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will agree—that we should be expected to sacrifice one of our Supply Days for the purpose.

I understand from my right hon. Friend that in a day or two the Order will be ready and published, arid that should give the House ample time before next Thursday.

Will my right hon. Friend say whether space heating will be allowed in cases of sickness?

Will the Minister say whether it is intended that the restrictions on space heating shall apply to all Government and local government premises with the possible exception of hospitals?

Yes, if they come under the category of industrial and non-industrial and commercial premises.

Has my right hon. Friend taken into account the much colder climate in Scotland than in other parts of the United Kingdom, and is there to be any relaxation in that respect?

My hon. Friend must understand that the ban on space heating, which is a statutory prohibition, applies only from 5th May to the end of September in the case of domestic premises. These are ordinarily reasonably warm months. The ban on space heating for industrial and non-industrial and commercial premises will apply until the end of October by agreement with the organisations concerned. As regards the climatic variations between the South and the North, they are not as great as my hon. Friend appears to think.

In framing the Order will the right hon. Gentleman consider a relaxation of the ban on domestic space heating in homes where there are very small children—say, under two years of age?

I have had that in mind and I think such cases might come within the category of the relaxation which is to be based on the production of a medical certificate.

Is my right hon. Friend taking into consideration the very special circumstances of those people in our large towns and blitzed cities who are condemned to live in semi-basement and basement flats into which the sun never shines, and will he give some special consideration to these people?

There may be special cases of that kind which require to be considered, but if we are to have wholesale relaxations of the Order I am afraid we shall not effect the substantial savings we are anxious to secure.

Will the right hon. Gentleman relate the domestic saving percentage to the year 1939 rather than to last year so that those who have obeyed the Government's exhortations to save during the war are not penalised?

I am afraid that would be impracticable. We must take a more recent period than 1939.

Is the Minister aware that there are a number of houses that have neither gas nor coal but are heated by electricity, and will any consideration be given to people who have to use one room during the period concerned?

As I have said, if we are to make these relaxations we cannot secure the savings we want, and I am afraid that, as I said in my statement, some inconvenience will be suffered. I fear that we shall have to endure it if we are to come to the assistance of industry by supplying the fuel.

The Government must, presumably, have received some estimate as to the amount of fuel which may be saved. In view of the hardship which will undoubtedly be suffered by the public, will the right hon. Gentleman give an estimate of tonnage he will save as a result of these restrictions?

All I can do is to give an estimate, but we cannot be certain about its accuracy, because it depends on whether the prohibition is enforced, and that depends on the co-operation of the public; it will be remembered also that the 25 per cent, cut is only obligatory as regards space heating, and that as for the rest we are relying on voluntary cooperation. Therefore, we cannot say what the actual amount of saving may be, but it may be between 2 million and 2½ million tons.

While welcoming this drastic but in my view necessary restriction, may I ask the Minister if he can assure the House that the Government still adhere to the target of 15 million tons of coal stocks on 1st November, which was given by the President of the Board of Trade?

That does not strictly arise from my statement, but we stand by that target.

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether, before arriving at this decision, the Government considered the effect it would have on the various agreements known as two-part tariff or flat-rate agreements, made between the supply companies and the consumers, and if so, what is now the legal position in regard to them?

As I am advised, the special arrangements entered into between the electricity undertakings and consumers will not be affected; at any rate, the electricity undertakings have been consulted, and, generally speaking, they accept the arrangement.

May I press the right hon. Gentleman on this? I can well understand the electricity undertakings having no objections to this arrangement, because they are going to supply less current to the consumers who have these agreements. Did the Government consider the position of the domestic consumers as a result of this?

The electricity undertakings are hardly likely to be satisfied with a reduction of current, which may affect their revenue, unless they raise their prices, which is not likely to occur. Sc far as I am advised, the two-part tariff arrangements will not be affected adversely for consumers, but it is a matter into which further inquiries might be necessary, and I shall certainly make them.

I think I heard the Minister say that he was consulting and conferring with various women's organisations. Will he give the House an assurance that under no circumstances will he include among those organisations the bogus anti-British Housewives League?

We have, in fact, consulted with 17 women's organisations, all of them reputable organisations.

In view of the heavy sacrifice the Minister's statement calls for from the people of the country, will he give the House and the country any guarantee that there will be a reduction in deliberate absenteeism in the mines?

I think that we are now getting all over the shop, and that we had better get on with the next business.