HC Deb 29 April 1948 vol 450 cc592-4
22 and 28. Mr. Hugh Fraser

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power (1) what he proposes to do to avert the critical situation now arising in the small licensed coalmines, owing to their inability to dispose of their product; and is he aware that notably in North Staffordshire and South Wales notices ending employment are being served on miners;

(2) why the National Coal Board proposes to terminate the agreements by which it arranges for the marketing of coal raised from small licensed pits in the South Staffordshire, Cannock, Lancashire, Shropshire and Forest of Dean areas as from June, 1948.

Mr. Gaitskell

This is a matter between the National Coal Board and the licencees, but I am informed that the proposed termination of the present interim arrangements, of which six months' notice is necessary, is connected with the forthcoming revision of the coal price structure and its application to the coal produced by the licencees. I understand that the whole matter is to be discussed shortly between the Board and the licensees.

Mr. Fraser

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the coal produced by the small mines is the only coal produced in this country without subventions from the taxpayer; and that since nearly half the workers in small mines are in danger of unemployment, nearly 500,000 tons of coal a year will be lost? Further, surely action of a quicker nature can be taken in view of the fact that the Federation of Small Mines has been writing for an interview with the National Coal Board for over six weeks?

Mr. Gaitskell

No deep-mined coal is produced with subventions from the taxpayer but only opencast coal. The trouble is that this coal is of such poor quality that it cannot be sold in the ordinary local markets.

Colonel Clarke

Does the Minister remember that (luring the passage of the Coal Nationalisation Act his predecessor gave an assurance that there need be no apprehension about these small businesses so long as they complied with the general conditions laid down for the industry, and are we to understand that those assurances no longer hold good?

Mr. Gaitskell

No, Sir. The question is whether commercially these people can continue to carry on or not, but the whole matter is being discussed between the National Coal Board and the licensees.

Major Guy Lloyd

Is not the statement that no coal is produced at the expense of the taxpayer somewhat misleading, seeing that the taxpayer is already bearing heavy losses in the production of coal?

Mr. Gaitskell

The losses are not paid by the taxpayer.

Hon. Members

They are.

Mr. Fernyhough

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that 176 of the workers at the small collieries have had notice to finish this weekend and that most of the men working in those collieries are receiving compensation and are no longer fit for deep mining work? If the owners cannot sell their coal to the factories, will the right hon. Gentleman allow the local domestic consumers to buy it in order to provide an occupation for these men who have no alternative source of employment?

Mr. Gaitskell

There is no question of preventing these people from selling their coal. The difficulty is to find a market for it.

Mr. Fraser

Is the Minister aware that much of this coal is definitely superior to that produced by opencast mining and that many small pits produce very high grade coal? Is he aware that the National Coal Board have refused export licences to certain small pits with the result that production has dropped from 3,500 tons a week to something like 1,800 tons a week in one area in Scotland.

Mr. Gaitskell

I cannot accept the view that this coal is of the same quality as that which is apparently sold without difficulty. As regards the point about export licences, if the hon. Member will let me have details I will look into it.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

Arising out of the right hon. Gentleman's answer to a supplementary question, if the losses of the National Coal Board are not paid by the taxpayer, will he say by whom they are paid?

Mr. Speaker

That is outside the Question on the Order Paper.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

I said that this is quite outside the particular Question on the Order Paper.

Commander Noble

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker, if a Minister makes a statement in reply to a Question, is it not in Order to ask a supplementary question about that statement?

Mr. Speaker

We cannot range over the whole subject. We must stick to the Question more or less as it was put on the Order Paper.

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