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Open And Coke Fires

Volume 130: debated on Monday 28 March 1988

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To ask the Secretary of State for Energy how many households are estimated to have open coal or coke fires; and if he will make a statement.

I understand from British Coal that an estimated 2·9 million households are using coal or solid smokeless fuels on open fires.

How does that figure compare with the previous known figure? Has there been a decline, or an increase? Labour Members call for cheaper fuel for poorer people, so will such people be able to burn imported cheap fuel on their open fires rather than more expensive home-produced fuel?

The available figure shows a slight decrease on the previous year, but that is hardly surprising given the mild winter.

As to my hon. Friend's second point, if British Coal produces coal competitively, more households will be likely to buy.

Is the Minister aware that many coal fires are going out because—[Laughter.] I thought that that was rather good. This is happening because smokeless zones have been introduced. Therefore, people have been left with only one fire, so they cannot properly heat their homes. Could British Coal offer grants to such people when an area is made smokeless, so that they can afford to put in central heating, or will he ask the Secretary of State for the Environment to allow local authorities to give such grants?

I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the polite way in which he posed that question. There will be agreement on both sides of the House that the benefits of smokeless zones are substantial.

With regard to the hon. Gentleman's proposition, British Coal's time is already taken up in seeking to increase productivity. That is the most important aim and ambition of its production.

Does my hon. Friend agree that part of the death of coal as a heating product is due to the fact that local authorities do not build chimney breasts into houses? There has been a saving from clean-air zones, but does my hon. Friend agree that part of the price that the mining industry has had to pay is that fewer people burn coal and now use other forms of energy?

I agree with my hon. Friend that there are no doubt many reasons why households decide not to use coal and use instead oil, gas or electricity. I should have thought that the primary reason is cost. That is why it is crucial that British Coal and its labour force should seek ways to improve productivity.