HC Deb 09 November 1939 vol 353 cc417-9
Mr. Georģe Hall

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary for Mines whether he can make a statement about coal rationing.

The Secretary for Mines (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd)

Yes, Sir. The reasons for rationing coal used for domestic and similar purposes were first, to conserve stocks of coal already distributed throughout the country against the possible dislocation of sea and rail communications by enemy action; secondly, to make more coal available for export as a means of securing foreign exchange. There is at present no difficulty in providing for export the amount of coal which the available shipping can lift, and the important point remaining, therefore, is the state of stocks and present consumption in the large consuming areas, which, as I told the House last week, were the subject of survey. The stocks in most of the consuming areas are now satisfactory, and the need for drastic economy is, in view of existing circumstances, no longer so great as it was. The House will, however, appreciate that owing to enemy action these circumstances may change rapidly, and it might prove essential at very short notice to secure strict economy in the use of coal either generally or locally.

Meanwhile, as the' position is satisfactory, the Government feel that, relying upon the public to exercise economy, they can make a relaxation in regard to coal rationing. They have, therefore, decided to raise the percentage under the coal rationing scheme from 75 to 100 per cent. of last year's consumption.

Mr. Hall

Arising out of that reply, which will give great satisfaction generally and to the mining community particularly, may I ask whether it is the intention to keep the coal rationing organisation in existence, either wholly or in part?

Mr. Lloyd

Yes, Sir. To enable a reduced percentage under the rationing scheme to be made effective at short notice, should it prove necessary, the registration and the fixing of the basic quantities of the consumers of coal, gas, and electricity will need to be completed. This work, I hope, will be completed in a few weeks, and it will then be possible, if the position remains as at present, to close many of the local fuel offices and retain only a skeleton staff.

Mr. T. Smith

While appreciating the speed with which the hon. Gentleman has tackled this problem, might I ask him whether some collieries that have large quantities of domestic coal in stock can be assured that they will have sufficient wagons to deal with it; and will he also deal with the short-time work which is now taking place at some collieries owing to the dislocation of transport?

Mr. Lloyd

I am in consultation with my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Transport, and also with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Shipping, in regard to these matters, and I know that they are doing everything possible to deal with them.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir A, Lambert Ward

Does the Minister's statement apply to coal only, or does it include coke and other forms of domestic fuel?

Mr. Lloyd

Yes, Sir, it 'does include coke and other forms of domestic fuel.

Mr. Garro Jones

Is the Minister aware that the system is based upon the allocation of hard fuel by weight rather than by heating capacity and that, therefore, a person who can afford to buy anthracite has very much more fuel than a person who buys coke, and will he rationalise the system by taking that into consideration?

Mr. Lloyd

While I cannot reply without notice to technical points, I can say that this scheme was worked out in consultation with the coal merchants, and I believe it to be a practical scheme dealing with the realities of the case.