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Coal

Volume 531: debated on Monday 26 July 1954

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Supplies, Slough

28.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he will take steps to improve the supply of coal to Slough.

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

If the hon. Member would let me have particulars of any supply difficulties, I will gladly make inquiries.

While thanking the hon. Gentleman for that reply, may I ask him whether he is aware that there is a two-month delay in deliveries in Slough; that delivery men are having to take up another job; that orders for summer supplies cannot be met; and what are to be the prospects for the winter?

I am not aware of these facts. If the hon. Member will let me have particulars, I will gladly look into them.

Industrial Supplies

29.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power to what extent industry is obtaining coal below the cost of production.

The costs of production vary between different pits and coalfields but, taken as a whole, the prices charged by the National Coal Board for industrial and other coals are designed to cover the average costs of production.

Can my hon. Friend give us any idea, if necessary, in general terms, whether British industry is obtaining its coal cheaper than its foreign competitors are doing?

Is it not true that some pits are selling coal to industrial undertakings at actually below the cost of production?

I should think that that is very likely, but it is not within the competence of the Ministry to inquire into the internal workings of the National Coal Board.

If industry can obtain coal at cost price, is it not possible to establish, in the centre of each of the great cities, a place where the poor and the pensioned can obtain coal at cost price?

The Parliamentary Secretary said that it was not within the power of the Minister to ascertain the facts that were put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell). Surely the Minister can ask questions of the Coal Board. Have we reached a stage when the Minister cannot even ask for information from the Coal Board?

My right hon. Friend can certainly ascertain the facts. I said that it was not within his competence to intervene in this matter.

Imports

30.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power how much coal has been imported since the end of the last coal winter to the latest convenient date; how much of these imports have been house-coal; how much more imported house-coal he expects to arrive before 31st December, 1954; and whether he is satisfied that all these imports when added to indigenous supplies will be sufficient to avert a shortage during the forthcoming winter.

A quarter of a million tons, all of which, apart from screening losses, represents a direct or indirect addition to house coal supplies. I cannot say how much more will arrive this year, but the object of the steps being taken by my right hon. Friend is to safeguard supplies for next winter.

Does that reply mean that the winter prospects for house coal are now a good deal brighter than when the rather guarded statement was made six weeks ago?

Price Increases (Protest)

31.

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what representations he has received protesting against the inequitable price increases applied to house coal, as compared with the then current prices for industrial coal at the time of the last increases in house coal prices; and what factors he had regard to when sanctioning the last house coal price increase in the spring of 1954.

A protest was lodged by the Domestic Coal Consumers' Council. The basic factor in the price of a particular coal is its quality but the increases on 3rd May took account of other factors, including the relative scarcity of large coals. There was no discrimination against house coals for which the average price increases were about the same as those for comparable supplies to industrial and other consumers.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the complaint is now widespread from domestic consumers and their organisations that a disproportionately large amount was added to the cost of house coal, and that industrial coal did not so suffer? To allay these anxieties, will my hon. Friend undertake to publish a schedule of comparative statistics showing that the increases in the price of coal were, indeed, equitably distributed between industry and domestic consumers?

I think I can reassure my hon. Friend, so long as he is dealing with comparable coals. In the case of the main users of large coal the price for household coal was raised by 4s. 4d., for railways by 4s. 4½d. a ton and for coastal and trawler bunkers by 4s. 8d. a ton.