Skip to main content


Volume 529: debated on Monday 28 June 1954

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Efficient Use


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what recent steps have been taken or are intended by his Department to save coal, improve its use and prevent air pollution.


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power, in view of the coal situation, what action he is taking to reduce waste by industrial users and to avert any undue hardship among the public or dislocation in industrial production during the forthcoming winter.

The National Industrial Fuel Efficiency Service has been set up at my request. Under the new Government loan scheme I have approved 51 schemes amounting to £339,000. I have approved substantial capital investment by the fuel industries which will enable them to save further large tonnages of coal.

While welcoming the steps taken by the Minister, may I ask whether, in view of our economic difficulties, the time has not come for him to put a great drive behind the saving in the use of coal in the national interest? In view of the contribution being made by the miners and by the Coal Board, does not the right hon. Gentleman think that it is his duty to initiate this great drive in order to forestall the difficulties that may arise?

The hon. Gentleman will, perhaps, bear in mind that very massive savings are made every year by the fuel and power industries and by great private industries, such as the steel industry. With regard to industrial fuel efficiency, that is more a matter of proceeding in detail, and it was for that very purpose that this Fuel Efficiency Service was set up.

Can the Minister say what will be the anticipated saving on the schemes which he has so far approved?

The right hon. Gentleman has said that he has authorised over 300 schemes. Is he able to say how much fuel he anticipates will be saved?

Is the Minister aware that according to the Anglo-American Productivity Team it is estimated that the efforts of 10,000 miners in the industry are going to waste through lack of proper organisation, and so on? Does he not think that this is having a retarding effect on the industry?

Industrial And Domestic Supplies


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power how much of the proposed coal imports will be destined for the domestic market to alleviate the house-coal shortage.

To save a long supplementary, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he and, indeed, everybody would read the leading article on page 6 of yesterday's "Sunday Times"? It would do them all good.


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he will now make a statement upon house-coal supply prospects for next winter, in view of increased coal imports.


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what further steps he is taking to expedite summer stocking of coal, in view of the threatened shortage of house coal in the coming winter.


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he will make a general statement about the coal and fuel prospects for next winter; and what particular steps industry and householders should take in preparation for the winter months.


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what advice he is giving to industry, particularly the textile industry, about stocking coal for the forthcoming winter

Consumers generally should buy and stock as much coal as they can during the rest of the summer. So far, I am glad to say that distributed stocks are somewhat higher than last year. But the purpose of my answers last week was to emphasise the danger that will arise in the winter if consumption continues to rise as at present and production remains broadly static. The Government and the coal industry as a whole fully appreciate the gravity of this prospect.

As I announced last week, the Government have already decided to import more coal, but the fundamental need is for greater production, and this has been stressed by the N.C.B. and in the recent report of the Executive of the National Union of Mineworkers.

Can my right hon. Friend give an asurance that the Coal Board, in the course of the next nine months, will deliver to merchants all over the country a total quantity of coal which will enable the merchants to honour their obligations in supplying the maximum allocation to householders, namely, 34 cwt. in the South of England and 50 cwt. in the North of England?

It depends upon the level of production which Members in all quarters of the House and, indeed, people throughout the country wish to see increased.

Does the Minister anticipate that all the steps that he has now planned will be as effective as the precautions which he took in the middle of last summer?

That is the reason why the Government have taken their decision with regard to importation, and it is because of the gravity of the prospects for the winter that we hope that these steps will result in our getting through next winter with the same success that we had last winter.

Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that domestic consumers are stocking up in the summer as they should?

So far, they have taken about 300,000 tons more than in the same period last summer.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the difficulty of certain people in stocking up in the summer? Will he do what he can to see that people who cannot stock up in the summer can get their coal in the winter?

Yes. That is one of the reasons for encouraging those who can get it now to do so. We recognise that not all people can stock up in the summer, but it eases the problem of serving those who cannot stock up in the summer if those who can stock up in the summer do so.

Is the Minister aware that in view of the difficulties which we are likely to face this coming winter, the N.U.M. are doing all they can to get the men to work on Saturdays during the summer months to meet the situation?

Yes, and I think that this House and the country appreciate the firm and frank leadership of the leaders of the National Union of Mineworkers. It is a fact that, no doubt following the lead that has been given, some districts and some coalfields have decided to work every Saturday this year.

Could the Minister give an estimate of the amount of coal which he expects to import this summer?

No, Sir. I would not like to give such an estimate. As I explained last week, it is undesirable to do so because it might prejudice the best buying of the coal at the best price by the Coal Board.


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power his plans to ensure adequate supplies of coal and coke for industrial and domestic users in Wales and Monmouthshire next winter.


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he is aware of the concern that is felt in Exeter, and other parts of the West Country, at the possibility of a breakdown in the supplies of coal next winter; and if he will ensure that adequate reserves in the area are built up to prevent this.


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he will give an assurance that there will be adequate stocks of fuel available in Heston and Isleworth this coming winter.


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he will take steps to ensure that coal merchants in the London area receive enough house coal to enable them to meet in full demands for the full ration of 34 cwt. for the year which includes the winter months.

The National Coal Board assures me that steps will be taken, in co-operation with the organisations representing the merchants, to ensure that all districts receive their fair share of the total supplies available next winter.

May I ask the Minister whether the problem in South Wales is very different, in scale or severity, from what it is in other parts of the country and, secondly, whether South Wales ports will have an opportunity of importing some of the coal which he proposes to buy from abroad?



asked the Minister of Fuel and Power how many grades of coal are recognised by his Department; and on what criteria grading is determined.

Seven, for house coal. The main criteria are size, ash content, rate of burning and calorific value.

Is the category of any coal at any given colliery determined by a committee, or how exactly is it arranged?

It is determined by the Coal Board, in consultation with the merchants, with whom they have special arrangements.



asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what contribution he expects can be made by domestic coke supplies to the anticipated shortage of house coal next winter; and if he will give an assurance that coke will continue unrationed at least until 31st March, 1955.


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what steps he is now taking to encourage sales of coke for domestic use, in view of the risk of a shortage of house coal next winter.

As the House is aware, I have removed restrictions on the sale of coke and do not contemplate their re-imposition. So far, this summer sales of gas coke to the smaller consumer show an increase of 17 per cent. over last year, and coke supplies should materially assist the fuel position next winter.

Will my right hon. Friend make it clear that many millions of modern solid fuel-burning appliances which have been installed in the last five years were designed to burn smokeless fuel, notably coke, and that many of these appliances are still being used to burn inferior grades of coal? Will he make it clear that he has removed all the restrictions on coke to encourage the use of smokeless fuel and to economise overall by the best use of these appliances?

Yes. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me yet another opportunity to point out that these improved appliances reach their maximum efficiency when burning coke and that coke is the best of the smokeless fuels now freely available to the public.

Is the Minister aware that the best way of encouraging domestic consumers to stock coke during the summer is to have a price concession similar to that for house coal? Is my right hon. Friend also aware that anything he can do to encourage the Gas Council and other distributors to give such a concession and thus relieve the pressure on their own storage space during the summer will be most helpful?

Why does the Minister put up with this fuss every year about the shortage of coal and other fuels? Now that the Government have got rid of food rationing, why not allow the free importation of coal in the same way as we buy anything else abroad when there is a shortage?

Until more progress is made in our economic affairs, we cannot lightly consider a considerable importation of coal in view of the demand for foreign exchange.

Miners (Absenteeism)


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power the current rate of total absenteeism in the mines compared with 1938.

12·40 per cent.; the figure of 6·44 per cent. for 1938 is not strictly comparable.

Has the Minister's attention been called to a report issued at the end of last week by the National Union of Mineworkers, pointing out the dangers to its own members and to our economy if present conditions are not changed, and that the only solution is to increase the production of coal without increasing production costs if the country is to survive? To import coal is sheer lunacy.

Would it not be fairer to break down that figure into voluntary and involuntary absenteeism?

There are several views upon that matter. Some of the best judges take the view that it would be unwise to make that distinction.

Will the Minister try to arrange a system of pairing between the absentee miners and the would-be absentees behind him?



asked the Minister of Fuel and Power how many times, and by how much, he has authorised increases in tae price of house coal since nationalisation; and the aggregate of such increases per ton, average.

Since nationalisation there have been 11 national increases, which together with adjustments for local distribution costs amount to some 44s. a ton on average.

Is it not clear to the Minister that all these Questions and answers today prove the disastrous effects of nationalisation?

Is the Minister aware that one of the largest increases which took place was on account of the miners having a two weeks' holiday, which has been due to them for many years and which they have only just received?


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power under what conditions coal merchants in the South of England are prepared to meet orders placed between 3rd May and 31st August at the price ruling at the date of order; and whether he will seek to secure the operation of a similar scheme in other parts of the United Kingdom.

The trade's conditions are that householders should not make special stipulations about date of delivery or precise quality, and that the coal is delivered by 31st October. There is no need for such arrangements in the North, where the same summer prices apply to all deliveries made between 3rd May and 31st October.

Mines (Capital Investment)


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power the total of capital investment in the coal mines since nationalisation.


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power how much capital was invested in the coal mines in each of the last three years: and how far these sums fell short of the maximum required by the National Coal Board.

The Government have placed no limit on the National Coal Board's capital expenditure, which, in the last three years, has been £26·6, £38 and £52·4 million respectively. The total since nationalisation is about £205 million up to the end of 1953.

Is the Minister satisfied with the increased production in relation to this expenditure?

One must remember—as my noble Friend well knows—that in the case of coal mining, which is an extractive industry, capital expenditure, in new sinkings or major reconstructions, for example, very often takes some seven years to become effective.

Is it not also true that for the last seven years about £250 million worth of investment has been required to keep coal production where it is?

It is true that in an extractive industry, unlike ordinary manufacturing industries, a considerable amount of extra capacity must be brought in by capital investment to take the place of that part which has gone out of production and is no longer there. I hope the House will find it satisfactory that although the Coal Board has been rather slow in getting on with this investment in recent years the figure has increased so much that it has doubled in the last three years, and I am hoping that this year, for the first time, it will be actually up to the figure given in the "Plan for Coal."

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the coal mines are now getting enough capital in proportion to the coal consuming nationalised industries, especially the electricity industry, which, until recently, has been getting about four times as much capital to spend as the coal mines?

Yes. The difficulty in the coal mining industry is that although there has been no restriction on capital it has not had enough experts to be able to spend it properly. There is a very great difference between the coal mining industry, in which between 60 per cent. and 70 per cent. of the total cost of the product is labour, and the electricity industry, where from 60 per cent, to 70 per cent. of the cost of the article comes from capital expenditure.

Is not the country now paying dearly for the coal policy pursued before 1939, the consequence of which was that everybody drifted away from the industry? Is it not true that since nationalisation one of the major jobs of the Coal Board has been to attract new engineers and planners to the industry?

What the right hon. Gentleman has said somewhat under-estimates the part played by the war. It will be remembered, as a matter of history, that the great drift away from the mines took place after 1940, when our Continental export markets were lost.

My right hon. Friend has not fully understood my supplementary question. I asked whether or not he was satisfied with the production of coal in relation to expenditure since nationalisation.

I do not think I could give a short answer to that question. Many matters have to be considered, and I would not be prepared to give an answer offhand.

Miners' Concessionary Supplies


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power the total of miners' free and concessionary coal distributed in the 12 months ending at the latest convenient date; and what percentage of it comprised, respectively, first, second and third grades of house-coal.

Is the Minister aware that there have been complaints from members of the mining industry themselves about the quality of concessionary coal? Does not this underline the fact that the type of coal now being mined, and the figures of improved coal production, are not as satisfactory as they appear on paper?

It is obvious that we should all like an improvement, but the amount and quality of this coal varies according to an infinite number of agreements, which are part of wage and service agreements in the industry. I know that there have been complaints.

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that many of the best mines in our coalfields are now worked out, because of which we have to accept an inferior quality of coal? Is he further aware that the screening plants in the coal industry are capable of dealing with only 40 per cent. of the coal which is now produced? Will he speed up capital investment, including that in relation to screening plants, in order to get better quality coal?

I agree that many of the best mines have been worked out and that there has been a very considerable increase in the amount of screening done.

Purchases (Permitted Quantities)


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power the maximum permitted quantity of coal which a householder may purchase in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and Truro, in a year; and how much it would cost each such householder, assuming both purchases were of group four coal of the same quality.

50 and 34 cwts. respectively; 242s. 1d. and 242s. 11d. respectively, assuming that full advantage of summer prices was taken in each case.

Do I understand that the total cost is about the same at both places although the cost per ton at Newcastle is less?

Exports And Imports


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power to what extent exports of British coal are to be restricted this year, in view of his decision to increase imports of coal.

21 and 22.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power (1) how much coal is expected to be exported from this country over the next 12 months; and its expected price per ton;

(2) how much coal is expected to be imported over the next 12 months; and at what price per ton.


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power how the coal exports this year compare with the anticipated coal imports.

Coal exports so far this year amount approximately to 6½ million tons, at an average f.o.b. price of about £4 9s. a ton, and imports to about 400,000 tons. I expect that in 1954 exports will be about 14 million tons as in 1953. About imports, I have nothing to add to the replies I gave on 21st June.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a price system which enables coal mined in this country to be sold in this country at an average price that is probably too low, enables it to be sold abroad at a different price, and results in the necessity of importing coal at a still higher price is not really very satisfactory?

I could not follow my hon. Friend's supplementary question in every detail, but I would say that it is by no means only the price policy which is the reason why we are having to import coal this year.

Does the right hon. Gentleman not think it is time that the Coal Board got off average costing and on to marginal costing, and that until a step in that direction is taken there will be no solution of the fuel problem in this country?

One would have to face that that would mean a very considerable increase in the price of coal in this country.

Merchants, Southern England (Supplies)


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power how much of the household coal ration was, in fact, supplied to merchants in the South of England during the last coal winter; to what extent this was less than the ration per head; and what was the cause of the deficiency.

14·8 cwt. per registered customer. The maximum quantity consumers were allowed to purchase varied between 10 and 24 cwt. according to the amount taken during the previous summer.

Open-Cast Production


asked the Minister of Fuel and Power how much open-cast coal is going to the domestic market.

How much of this coal is washed before delivery? If a large proportion is unwashed may that not be the reason for the increasing dissatisfaction of householders with the quality of the product they are sold as coal?

I could not say what proportion is washed, but it is true that it does appear in the three lowest groups of house coal.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the figure he has given amounts to 1,560,000 tons of open-cast coal going to domestic consumers this year, and as a very high percentage of this coal is unwashed is it not a little unfair to blame the pits for the amount of stone in the household coal, which is largely due to this wretched open-cast method of working?

I agree that it is very unfortunate that we have to resort to open-cast production, but there is no doubt that it makes a great contribution to our fuel supplies. It is more important, of course, for industrial than for household supplies, and we are bound to continue it for many years.

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider the advisability of reducing the percentage of open-cast coal being mixed with the deep-mined coal? Because of the increased percentage of open-cast mixed with deep-mined coal the miners are being brought into disrepute, as people blame them for the stone and slate in their coal, which really comes from the open-cast working.

If we could get a substantial increase of production of deep-mined coal no doubt we could make arrangements of that kind.

Would my right hon. Friend say what the policy of open-cast production costs in ruination of good agricultural land?