HC Deb 19 April 1920 vol 128 cc1-6

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that the question of re-registration of coal consumers in Glasgow has been under consideration by the Board of Trade for the past six months; and whether he will state when it is proposed to come to a decision in the matter?

The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Sir R. Home)

Yes, Sir. But, as stated in the reply given to the hon. and gallant Member on the 29th March, the question of decontrol of internal distribution is under consideration, and until this is settled it is not considered desirable to proceed further with re-registration. A decision on this matter will be made as soon as possible after consultation with the interests concerned.

2. Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY

asked the President of the Board of Trade why the allocation of household coal to merchants in Hull is based on the amount supplied to coal merchants in the years 1917 and 1918; whether he is aware that this bears hardly on men in the coal trade who were fighting abroad during 1917 and 1918; and why the allocation cannot be made pro rata on the coal supplied to merchants in 1913 and 1914?


The supplies of household coal to merchants in Hull are based on the quantities supplied to the coal merchants in 1917, in accordance with the arrangements obtaining generally throughout the country. When it became necessary to impose rationing in 1918, conditions were so abnormal that it was impossible to base supplies on 1913 quantities. The flow of coal had also been altered by the Transport Reorganisation Scheme, and it was necessary to maintain the flow in its new channels. It is not proposed to make any alteration at present, especially as steps are being taken which it is hoped will result in decontrol of household coal shortly.

Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY

Will the right hon. Gentleman, without altering the whole basis of rationing, which I appreciate, see that men who were broad fighting during 1917 and have now come back and wish to set up in business receive some ration of coal?


Every effort is made to suit those cases of possible applicants for coal. I am hoping, as I have already said in answer to my hon. and gallant Friend's question, to have this matter dealt with on a new basis very shortly.

3. Mr. SITCH

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he is aware of the alarm and apprehension prevailing amongst responsible authorities in the Midland Division, owing to the fact that supplies under the Fuel and Lighting Order during the first 11 weeks of 1920 were less by 7,250 tons per week than during the corresponding period of 1919, when they were barely adequate for private and public needs; whether, as a result of this shortage, there are practically little or no reserves of fuel throughout the division, some towns having none at all; whether he is aware of the consequences that would ensue in the event of cessations of work on the part of those engaged in furnishing supplies; whether he is aware that 36,000 tons of household coal are diverted from the Midland producing area to other districts every week, much of it going to London; if he will say whether supplies to the Metropolis are now 12,000 tons per week above the quantity there delivered at the corresponding date last year; and whether he will order an immediate inquiry into the whole matter with a view of affording speedy relief by augmenting the supplies, and thereby removing any risk of jeopardy either to householders or business undertakings in the Midland Division concerned?


The supplies to the Midland Division have already engaged the special attention of the Coal Mines Department; 3,000 tons per week of industrial coal in the division has been diverted to household purposes, and a further 1,500 tons per week diverted from another area. In addition, all collieries are being pressed to maintain full supplies. The Staffordshire and Warwickshire coalfields have always contributed to the London supplies. The Metropolitan position, both as regards supplies and requirements, has been so difficult that additional coal has had to be found. This has not been diverted from the Midland producing area, but has been provided from the Northumberland and Durham coalfields and conveyed both by rail and sea.

7. Colonel BURN

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he is aware that some works in the North have been closed down owing to lack of coal, and will he forbid the export of any more coal until our own needs are supplied?


I am not aware of any works in the North having had to close as a result of the diversion of coal for export. Coal from the Northumberland and Durham area is being absorbed inland to the full extent to which it can be dealt with by railways and by coastwise shipping. Export is only permitted where either the coal is unsuitable for home use or where it cannot be transported to a destination in the United Kingdom.

Colonel BURN

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that some of the gas companies have only one week's supply of coal in hand?


I regret to say that that is not an unusual condition for gas works in the United Kingdom, and I think that the cases in which my hon. and gallant Friend is interested are not more remarkable than others.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that several works are actually closed down owing to shortage of coal?


I am not aware that any have been closed down.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a great shortage of coal in Oxfordshire, and that several villages have not had a supply for seven or eight weeks, and will he undertake to look into the question of the coal supply for Oxfordshire?


I will be very glad to get particulars of the cases to which my hon. and gallant Friend refers I am not aware of the condition which he describes.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that very large number of letters about the shortage of coal and the closing down of works is sent to the Coal Controller, and do those letters come under the personal observation of the right hon. Gentleman?.


If all the letters sent to the Board of Trade were to come under my personal observation I should never be able to attend in this House.


That shows the emergency of the case


The Coal Controller deals expeditiously with every application that comes before him.


Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that the export of coal is of vital importance to this country, and that the shortage of home consumption is due to the reduced output of the mines, and is he aware that the output last year was 20,000,000 tons less than the output of the year before the War, though the number of men employed is larger than in 1913?


Is it not a fact that we are consuming more coal inland to-day than we ever did at any period of our history?


Both hon. Members have raised very interesting questions which cannot be dealt with in replies to questions. It is perfectly true that a very large amount of coal is being consumed at home to-day owing to prosperity of trade. It is equally true that the more coal you have to export the more benefit you confer on the country, and it is obvious from both those facts that the more coal you produce the better the country finds itself.


asked the President of the Board of Trade if he is aware that prior to the War the difference in the price of coal at Grimsby and Yarmouth was 5s. per ton, whilst at the present time the difference is 19s. per ton on rail-borne coal, and to add to the difficulties of the Yarmouth fishing fleet the Coal Controller has issued an order compelling the fleet to use 50 per cent. of sea-borne coal, which increases the price to 28s. a ton in favour of Grimsby; and what steps he proposes to take to do away with this hardship, which must ruin Yarmouth as a trawling port if it continues?


The pre-War difference in the price of coal at Grimsby and Yarmouth is correctly stated at 5s. per ton. The present difference on rail-borne coal is not 19s., but 6s. 5d. The extra cost entailed by the use of sea-borne coal is approximately as stated by the hon. Member. The reduction in the quantity of rail-borne coal permitted to be supplied for use as bunkers by the Yarmouth fishing fleet was necessitated by the heavy unsatisfied demand upon the Midlands coalfield for household purposes. It was therefore necessary to supplement the bunker requirements of the ports by sea-borne coal. The hardship thereby occasioned to the port of Yarmouth is recognised, and the Coal Controller hopes shortly to be able to permit the resumption of rail-borne supplies with the expected summer slackening of the household demand.


While this new arrangement with regard to coal is being made, will the right hon. Gentleman do something to get over the difficulty?


The difficulty is being borne in mind.