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Coal Industry

Volume 480: debated on Monday 13 November 1950

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Exports, Argentina


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power the average price of coal being exported to the Argentine; and the corresponding figure for the same quality for 1938.

The average f.o.b. value of coal exported to the Argentine in the first eight months of 1950 was 82s. 8d. per ton. Taking those grades of coal which were exported in both 1938 and 1950 and for which average f.o.b. values are available, the average in 1938 was 20s. 11d.

Does that answer mean that the price of our coal to the Argentine has gone up by about four times since before the war, and is that greater than the increase which they are asking us to pay for their meat?

The prices of agricultural products which we have had have certainly risen largely. I should not like to say what is the exact proportion.

Miners (Redundancy)


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power how many miners have been dismissed during the first nine months of 1950 for other causes than the closing down of pits and redundancy; what was the figure for 1949 and what were the chief causes of their dismissal.

The number for the first nine months of 1950 is 4,600; for the corresponding months last year it was 7,300. The chief reason for the dismissals was persistent absenteeism.

In view of these alarming figures, has the Minister taken any fresh steps to try to cure this important problem?

The most effective step is good recruitment. Dismissals are about one half of 1 per cent. of the labour force per annum—that is about all. It is, I admit, a problem, but the hon. Member will recognise that we cannot send simply anybody down the mines. Lots of men are unsuitable for the work. Miners must be courageous, intelligent and strong.

Have those men any chance again of earning a living in the mining industry?

On whether it was judged that they would be good miners when taken back. They can always get other employment nowadays; it is not like the old days.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the percentage of absenteeism on the Opposition benches last week was greater than the figures which he has just mentioned?

Home And Export Supplies


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he will make a statement on the subject of the supply of coal during the next six months to the home market and to the export market respectively.


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether adequate supplies of coal will be available to industrial and domestic consumers during the winter months.


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he is satisfied that the nation's requirements for coal can be met by home production during the next 12 months.

As I have often said, we need more coal than we are getting, not only for export, but also for the domestic consumer and for other needs at home. The Government will make the essential requirements of the home market the first charge upon our resources. We shall certainly have some coal for export, although, as a result of the present levels of home consumption and output, the tonnage will be substantially less than it was a year ago.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise the difficulty, especially to industrialists, in the uncertain state of fuel and power position, of carrying out the Government's request for increased exports and increased production for rearmament when, at present, very few industrialists can be certain that in any one week they will get the power for their present designed output?

I am in constant touch with industrialists on the subject and perhaps the hon. Member will draw my attention to any cases of failure.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind particularly the needs of domestic consumers, especially in crowded urban areas, who have not had any opportunity of laying in stocks because they have no storage facilities?

Could the right hon. Gentleman say what is the stocking position now?

The latest figure I have is for 28th October, when the distributed stocks were 15.4 million tons. To that we think we are entitled to add about 400,000 tons which have been distributed to domestic consumers under the summer prices scheme.

Does the original answer of the right hon. Gentleman mean that, owing to inadequate production by the coal industry, the Government are having to sacrifice the export trade and our foreign exchange requirements to home consumption?

No, Sir. What it means is that internal consumption has increased so greatly, owing to full employment, that we are having to postpone some exports.


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he is satisfied that the National Coal Board will be able to maintain during the winter the export of coal at the same level as last year.

I would refer the hon. Member to the answer which I have just given to Questions Nos. 17, 19 and 26.

In view of the importance of our balance of trade and the export of coal, in view of what the right hon Gentleman. said about declining manpower, and in view of the stock position, will he do everything he can to see that the export position is not entirely jeopardised?



asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what steps he is taking in view of the anticipated increase in demand for coal to recruit additional labour for the coal mines.

It is of urgent importance that the present decline in manpower in the mines should be checked and that the number of miners should, if possible, also be increased. The National Coal Board have this year recruited more newcomers to the industry than they did a year ago. But, in conditions of full employment, more men have also left the mines for other work, and since July some thousands of miners have joined the Armed Forces of the Crown.

The Coal Board and the Government view with particular concern the fall in the manpower at the face. They are now urgently considering what steps can be taken to check the present wastage, to induce more ex-miners to return to the pits, and to improve general recruitment. I am also asking the National Union of Mineworkers to consider how we can most effectively bring home to every miner the nation's urgent need for more coal during the corning winter months.

Has the Minister considered the possibility of recruiting labour, which can be done on terms by agreement with the National Union of Mineworkers, which would protect the home worker while securing, at any rate for a period of years, labour which would be only too glad to come and help us in this task?

That matter is under consideration by the Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers.

In view of the acute manpower situation in the coal mines, will my right hon. Friend consult with the Minister of Defence to make sure that no further coal face or underground workers are called to the Forces?

Have the Coal Board conducted a scientific inquiry into the reasons why men are leaving the pits?

Summer Prices Scheme


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he will make a statement of the results of the summer prices scheme for house coal.

The purpose of the summer prices scheme was to encourage domestic users to stock more coal during the summer months, and thus to lighten the burden of distribution during the winter, when the weather is hard. Since the scheme came into force on 25th May, the merchants and the cooperative societies have sold about one million tons more coal than they did a year ago. Their spokesmen assure me that, in spite of the weather, a substantial proportion of this coal is still in housholders' cellars and they think that their chances of avoiding a breakdown in winter distribution have been much improved.

It was a condition of the scheme that merchants should give priority in winter to householders who were unable to buy for stock in summer, because they had no space. I hope that householders who have bought in summer will help themselves and others by conserving their coal as carefully as they can.

Domestic Supplies (Quality)


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what has been the result of his review with the National Coal Board of the problems of supply of coal which he undertook as a matter of urgent importance on 20th March, 1950.

The Coal Board have made a redoubled drive for cleaner coal during the past six months. They have taken measures in all divisions to ensure the cleaner filling of coal and better picking. They have arranged for the discussion of the question in all colliery consultative committees, and. with the co-operation of the National Union of Mine workers, they have taken many other steps to make all their workers "clean coal conscious." After discussion with the distributive trade, the Board have withdrawn some coals which are inherently unsuitable for the domestic market.

The Board report, and the distributive trade agree, that there has been an improvement in the condition in which household coal now reaches merchants. The Board will not be satisfied until they have greatly increased their mechanical cleaning plant, and until the total output of coal permits them to supply the householders in each region of the country with the kinds and grades of coal, which they respectively desire.

While appreciating that there has been some improvement in quality, may I ask if the Minister will assure the House that the Coal Board will refrain from forcing on consumers types of coal not suitable and, if evidence of this kind is brought to him, will he give attention to it?

Certainly, Sir. I will give attention to any evidence, but it is certain that some kinds of coal will have to be sent to districts which do not gladly receive it. Leicestershire coal is readily burned in grates in Leicester, but nowhere else, because people do not know how to use it. Merchants are trying to teach people how to use unfamiliar coals.

When the right hon. Gentleman said "redoubled" did he really mean redoubled, multiplied by four?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of the clear coal seams, particularly in Lancashire, are worked out and that we have to resort to winning seams which bear a great percentage of foreign matter? Is he further aware that the screening plants in Lancashire are only 42 per cent. equal to dealing with the correct screening of the coal?

Yes, Sir. I have masses of statistics which support exactly what my hon. Friend has said.

Production And Consumption


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he will give a forecast of the total production of coal and also inland consumption of coal over each of the next two years.

I regret that I am unable at present to make the forecast for which the hon. Member asks.

No, Sir. Every year, in the Economic Survey, we make an estimate of the consumption and output for the year. I do not want to anticipate that.

When are we to reach the same production of deep-mined coal as we had before the war?

Can my right hon. Friend say whether there has been an increase in coal production this year compared with last year?

Yes, Sir. There certainly has been—more than two million tons more.

Are there not estimates for two years ahead? As the normal planning is for five years ahead, why cannot the House have these figures?

There are estimates but they are not in a condition in which I would like to publish them now.

In view of the deplorable remarks of the Minister, I beg to give notice that I will raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Horticultural Fuel (Prices)


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he can give the precise prices which have to be paid by purchasers of horticultural fuel, including the grades and prices of anthracite coal, in the various regions throughout the country.

I assume my hon. Friend is referring to the maximum retail prices of fuel which are fixed by my Department. These are settled by areas of which there are some hundreds. There are thousands of prices, which vary according to the quality of the coal, the distance of the consumer from the source of supply, the expenses of local distribution and so on. If my hon. Friend would specify the district, and, if possible, the type of fuel in which he is interested, I will endeavour to supply him with the information about price which he desires.