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Fuel And Power

Volume 527: debated on Monday 17 May 1954

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Trolley Buses, London (Replacement)


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what estimate he has formed of the additional fuel oil consumption that will be entailed in a full year consequent upon the decision to replace approximately 1,800 London electric trolley buses by diesel-powered vehicles, and of the effect upon the load-factor of power-houses in the Greater London area following diminution of the road traction electricity demand, notably at off-peak hours.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power
(Mr. L. W. Joynson-Hicks)

About 28,000 tons of diesel oil, with negligible effect on the electricity load factor in Greater London.

In view of the fuel aspect of this matter, and in view of my right hon. Friend's responsibilities under Section 1 of the Ministry of Fuel and Power Act, 1945, does my hon. Friend consider it judicious to swing over from low-grade indigenous fuel burnt at power houses to imported fuel? In view of our very large investment at the present time in electric power houses, is not this decision by a nationalised authority inimical to the national interest?

No, I do not think it is at all inimical to the national interest.

Is not the overriding factor the easing of the flow of London traffic? If the experts take the view that by switching over in this way the traffic of London will be to some extent relieved, that should be the overriding consideration.

I would not say that that was the sole factor, but it certainly is an important factor.

Does my hon. Friend realise that whatever is done in London is likely also to have a considerable influence on the provinces? Is he aware that in Brighton, for instance, discussions are at present taking place because of what is happening in London? Will my hon. Friend bear this in mind with regard to the possible increase in fuel used over the whole country?

Yes, Sir, certainly. The situation in London is different from anywhere else in the country, because nearly 50 per cent, of the trolley bus electricity is drawn from the London Transport Executive's power houses. It is for that reason, owing to the demand on those generating plants for electricity for railway traction, that the load factor is actually improved by the removal of the trolley buses.

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of this decision by a nationalised authority, I give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Oil (Industrial Power)


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power to what extent refining capacity for oil and oil producers has increased in the United Kingdom since 1945, expressed percentum and in tons per annum; to what extent fuel oil has increasingly, or otherwise, been employed since 1945 to date as a substitute for coal in furnishing the sources of industrial power; and what the policy of Her Majesty's Government is in relation to substitution of oil for coal, in the future.

Elevenfold, from 2½ million tons in 1945 to about 28 million today. The extent to which fuel oil has replaced coal for industrial purposes cannot be firmly estimated but total inland deliveries of fuel oil have increased from 0·2 to 3·8 million tons during the period and it may be assumed that this represents a current annual saving of about 6 million tons of coal. Her Majesty's Government offer loans to industrialists who can make worthwhile savings by changing from coal to oil burning.

What about domestic consumers? Can my hon. Friend undertake to give guidance to a large number of householders and commercial concerns who urgently want to know, in present circumstances and in view of the low quality of much of the coal that is available to them, whether it is likely to be successful for them to switch over to oil? Will he give an undertaking to investigate this aspect of the matter?

My right hon. Friend's fuel efficiency branch is always out to be helpful.

Does the Minister realise that the public need no help from the Government on this? They have already made up their minds and are burning oil just as fast as they can get the mechanism.

Coal Imports


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power how much coal was imported in the year to 30th April, 1954, and at what total cost; what were the countries of origin; how much of the coal imports came from East or West Germany or Poland; and how much more coal he proposes to import, or has already consented to import, during the period 1st May, 1954, to 30th April, 1955.

Approximately 792,000 tons at a landed cost of about £5 million, the main sources being Belgium, France and Western Germany. None came from Eastern Germany, 67,000 tons came from Western Germany and 2,300 tons from Poland. Under present arrangements approximately 200,000 tons have yet to come in. My right hon. Friend has not yet announced any future import programme.

In view of the fact that the whole of this imported coal is being sold by the National Coal Board at a substantial loss, can my hon. Friend say to what extent the losses, either already incurred or envisaged, have been taken into account by the Coal Board in its recent and latest increase in the price of domestic coal?

The losses on imported coal are part of the items which make up the budget which has recently been dealt with by the National Coal Board's rise in prices.

Is my hon. Friend really satisfied that the importation of this coal is necessary?

Yes, Sir. It is in pursuance of the policy announced by my right hon. Friend on 13th July.

Domestic Coal (Delivery Notes)


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether, in order to safeguard the interests of consumers, he will take steps to ensure that retail merchants of domestic fuel supply with each delivery of fuel a receipt showing clearly the grade and price per hundredweight.

Retail merchants are already required to supply delivery notes specifying the price and the grade of the coal when deliveries exceed 2 cwts.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that some retailers are not doing that and that if the consumer has a grievance about the quality, price or quantity it will be difficult to get redress? Will he therefore inform retailers that it its an offence not to give a receipt?

As the hon. Gentleman has said, it is an offence not to supply delivery notes in those circumstances, and I have no doubt that his Question and my answer will call attention to the fact if it is not being carried out at present.

Polish Coal


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he is aware that 250,000 tons of coal are being imported from Poland; and if, in view of the effect of this on our trade balance and the fact that there is unlimited coal in Britain, ne will in future refuse to give his authority for such imports.


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power how much Polish coal is being imported this year; what is the total cost of such coal and by whom is it borne; and what proportion of those imports has to date been carried in British ships.

The National Coal Board have contracted to buy 100,000 tons of Polish coal. About 4,800 tons have so far arrived carried in two Polish ships. I am not prepared to state the terms of the contract, which was based on commercial considerations. My right hon. Friend considers applications for such imports in the light of the circumstances at the time.

Will the Minister inaugurate an educational campaign among miners to tell them that Britain is the one country that cannot become self-supporting, that our survival depends on our ability to export goods and services at competitive prices, of which coal could be a major factor, and that unless we can do that there will be no wages for the miner or anybody else?

I think the leaders of the National Union of Mineworkers have already made the general sense of that observation quite plain throughout the coalfields.

Is the Minister aware that the miners need no education from hon. Members opposite? Would the hon. Gentleman indicate why, since it is a Government decision to import this coal, the National Coal Board should have to make good the loss, and that that should be used as an argument against further wage increases for the miners? Further, might I ask him why this coal is not being carried in British ships?

The reason why it is not being carried in British ships is because the quotations for these two shiploads were lower than any others, but I am happy to say that further charters have been entered into at competitive prices with some British ships.

My hon. Friend said in his reply that he could not state the terms, which were based on commercial reasons. Will he say what are the commercial reasons?

What I actually said was that the terms of the contract were based on commercial considerations. The contract has not yet been completed, and I do not think it would be desirable to make the terms public as yet.

Can the Minister state the difference in freightage charges operating now and those when coal was imported into this country under the late Administration?

Coal Prices (Transport Costs And Profits)


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power by how much the retail cost of domestic coal at Southampton, Plymouth and Brighton is due to transport charges;and by how much to retailers' profit margins.

Forty shillings and elevenpence, 42s. 7d. and 39s. 7d. per ton, respectively, for transport costs and 2s. 3d. in each case for profit margin.