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Quality And Prices (Complaints)

Volume 529: debated on Monday 21 June 1954

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asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what procedure a merchant or his customer should follow in seeking redress for wrong quality coal and incorrect pricing; and what recourse is available in the event of the complaint not being admitted.

If anyone thinks he has been overcharged for the quality of coal supplied, he should complain to his supplier. If he cannot get satisfaction he may report the facts to the local fuel overseer or the regional coal officer of my Ministry.

Would my right hon. Friend be good enough to answer the last part of the Question. What recourse is available in the event of the complaint not being admitted? As I understand the position, the Coal Board is the final arbiter? I should be glad if my right hon. Friend would deny that.

If the complaint is brought to the attention of the local fuel overseer, and thus to the officers of my Ministry, in the case where there has been a wrongful upgrading of coal my Department will bring a prosecution.


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if, in view of the national concern, he will give an assurance that, in cases where householders have complained to their respective merchants of the presence of stone, bricks and dirt in their house-coal ration and have failed to obtain redress, his Department will initiate action under the Merchandise Marks Act.


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power how many prosecutions he has initiated under the Merchandise Marks Acts.


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power, in view of public disquiet at the inability of the National Coal Board to eliminate stone and bricks from household coal, what action he proposes to take to protect consumers' interests in this matter by proceedings under the Merchandise Marks Act.

I myself have no power to take proceedings under the Merchandise Marks Acts. There is a recognised procedure whereby a householder may seek redress from his merchant for any stone, bricks or dirt supplied to him, and the merchant may seek redress from the National Coal Board.

Yes, but as this method of seeking redress is not working, can my right hon. Friend say why the Coal Board should be inviolate under the Merchandise Marks Acts, whereas if a private enterprise undertaking perpetrated similar frauds it would immediately be prosecuted? Why should there be one law for a nationalised undertaking and another for a private enterprise undertaking?

Would the Minister confirm that the Coal Board will admit a claim when a merchant receives 2 per cent. stone and dirt? How can he square that with the fact that merchants will not admit claims of their customers who receive as much as 50 per cent. dirt?

I cannot confirm the exact percentages, but the fact is that the merchants advise me that the machinery for reclaiming from the Coal Board is working satisfactory from their point of view.

In view of the fact that the President of the Board of Trade is entitled to prosecute a private enterprise firm under the Merchandise Marks Act, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend will take steps to enable him to prosecute the Coal Board? It is a public scandal that it should be allowed to perpetuate frauds against the consumer.

There is no difference formally between the position regarding coal and other commodities under the Merchandise Marks Act. I think that my hon. Friend may have in mind some difficulties which have arisen recently in her area. I believe that may be the source of a number of complaints which we have had recently. Everyone knows that the household coal, which has to go into a certain number of grades, has to be supplied from about 1,000 collieries, and there are often changes in the quality from different coalfields and seams. I believe that the machinery for re-allocating some of that coal into different grades has not been working at a satisfactory speed and I am taking up that matter with the Chairman of the Coal Board.

Is the Minister aware that there is need for an inquiry into the whole question of coal distribution, particularly into costs?