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Quality (Complaints, Birmingham)

Volume 466: debated on Monday 4 July 1949

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asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he is aware that a 10-ton truck of coal, unloaded in Birmingham last week, contained two-thirds waste and slack; that there is a general complaint from coal merchants in that city regarding the quality of coal distributed there; and what action he intends to take.

No, Sir. Soon after Press reports of this incident appeared, one of my regional coal officers inspected the contents of this truck of opencast coal. Some of the coal had already been sold; the remainder consisted of a small heap of good clean slack, and several tons of hard coal of reasonable calorific value with a negligible proportion of dirt. This hard coal, however, does not look attractive and is unpopular with some domestic consumers.

With regard to the second part of the Question, no general complaint has been made to my Department by Birmingham coal merchants about the quality of coal delivered to them recently. Since the Press report appeared about this truck, however, I have received representations from two merchants, one of whom is the consignee of the truck. As regards the last part of the Question, I would refer to the answer I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd), on 31st March. I would add, however, that if the opencast coal which forms about 6 per cent. of the total allocation of this region were withdrawn, I could hold out no hope of replacing it by other coal.

Is the Minister aware that I hold in my hand a photograph of the two-thirds of slack from the wagon, and that since my Question was put down, I have received a letter from a large firm in Birmingham which refused to handle seven truck loads of coal because of the rubbish it contained, and returned it? Can my right hon. Friend say what is to happen to the people in Birmingham who must go short of the coal? We are getting short enough in Birmingham as it is.

I have already answered the original Question very fully and shown that we have had a complete inspection of this allocation. There is a recognised channel for complaints. If the merchant is dissatisfied, he should get in touch at once with the area marketing officer of the National Coal Board and discuss the matter with him. This has been agreed between the merchants, the Board and my Ministry.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a considerable portion, or, at any rate, a proportion, of opencast coal is quite unsaleable by his Department?

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that seriously—that all the opencast coal which is mined is being sold? That is contrary to the information which I have.

During the past winter there was a considerable fall in the stocks of opencast coal. There has been a very slight rise since the beginning of the summer, but that is a normal seasonal occurrence.

Is a photograph of a truck the best possible means of assessing the quality of coal?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Railway Executive is very dissatisfied with the quality of coal being provided for the locomotives—

That supplementary question is too wide. The Question does not relate to the provision of coal generally.