HC Deb 24 November 1919 vol 121 cc1418-20

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he was in a position to state if any reduction was to be made in the price of coal; and, if so, the amount?


The Government have reviewed the whole question of the price of coal in the light of all the information available.

The salient facts are:

The actual obtained output from July to date is less than the rate of 217,000,000 tons per annum, though the output in recent weeks has shown a marked improvement.

The prices ruling for export coal are, however, unprecedentedly high, and the fall which was regarded as inevitable is certainly postponed by events in the United States of America.

The prices for coastwise and foreigngoing bunkers are so high that, in conjunction with other charges, there is danger of the average level of freights rising unless some corrective is applied.

It is from these sources, export and bunkers, that profits are now being made. Coal used for inland purposes is being sold at a loss—that is, the average price is below the average cost of production. This is a very unsatisfactory and very dangerous position for the coal industry. Industrial coal, at any rate, must as much as possible be sold on an economic basis.

In the light of these facts it is desirable at an early date to modify profoundly the present system of coal control, which is, in my opinion, now that more coal is becoming available, unnecessarily hampering.

We propose, therefore, gradually to transform the coal control machinery until it consists of three parts only:

  1. 1. A limitation on the amount of coal allowed to be exported;
  2. 2. A limitation on the owners' profits;
  3. 3. A special limitation on the price of coal supplied for domestic purposes.
Steps to secure these modifications will be taken as rapidly as circumstances permit.

As a direct aid to the cost of living in these exceptional and abnormal times we propose to fix the price of domestic and household coal at a level 10s. per ton below the present price, thus letting the general householder share in some measure in a privilege which the workers in the industry have for long enjoyed and receive some benefit from the present high value of this national asset. We also propose to reduce the price for coastwise bunkers to the industrial level. This will also be effective from Monday next. We are further exploring the position with regard to foreign-going bunkers, but I am not in a position at present to make any announcement on this point

I desire to warn most seriously all householders not to postpone the purchase of necessary coal because of the reduction of price which will become effective next week. If they do and if they expect on next Monday to get unlimited supplies of coal at the now price they will be disappointed. This change can only be made without confusion if we secure the cooperation of all concerned.

The necessary orders and instructions to give effect to these decisions with regard to price will be issued in the course of this week.


Will this involve the Exchequer in any financial loss?


No. We estimate that, approximately, these reductions, with certain other changes contemplated in the near future, will leave the account about square.

Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY

Will coastwise traffic include deep-sea fishing vessels?


All non-foreign-going.


Is it the intention of the right hon. Gentleman to lay before the House some figures relating to the industry upon which these results are based?


That has already been announced, and an undertaking given to that effect. We are having them prepared.


Can the right hon. Gentleman give any idea as to when they will be ready?


It is very difficult to say, as it is a long job.


Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise the vital necessity of increasing the quantity of our export coal from the financial point of view?


Yes, from the financial point of view, but I also realise the vital necessity of having enough coal in this country.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir S. HOARE

Do I understand that whilst the price of domestic coal is to be limited, the amount to be allowed to private consumers is not to be limited?


I said nothing about the amount being free at the present moment. I spoke of the direction in which we were moving with regard to coal control, and when we reach the goal of having only the three-parts of coal control to which I referred, then rations will be off, but in the meantime we shall continue them.


Will those who give orders this week participate in the reduction coming into force next week?


Not if they get the coal this week.


Will there be a reduction in the price of domestic coke corresponding with the price of coal?


We will work out the necessary figures and give the necessary instructions as to the corresponding reduction in the price of coal purchased by gas and electric undertakings, so that allowances may be made in respect of the amount of coal used in producing gas and electric energy for light and power supplied for domestic and household use.