HC Deb 20 March 1950 vol 472 cc1528-33
3. Mr. Hugh Fraser

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he is aware of the short-fall in coal deliveries to coal merchants in Stafford over the winter months; to what extent this applies also to other areas in the West Midlands; and what steps he proposes to take to remedy these deficiencies.

8. Mr. Perkins

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he is aware of the present shortage of coal in the Stroud district; and whether he has yet taken any steps to relieve the position.

9. Mr. Yates

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he is aware of the difficulty experienced by a large number of residents in the Ladywood Division of Birmingham in obtaining satisfactory supplies of coal; and if he will take the necessary steps to improve distribution.

11. Mr. Manningham-Buller

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he is aware that allocations of house coal to Towcester and district have fallen short of the consumer's needs; and what steps he is taking to ensure that this area and other areas in South Northamptonshire obtain their proper share of house coal.

14. Mr. Nabarro

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he is aware of the deteriorating supply of household coal, in the Kidderminster, Stourport and Bewdley areas, during the last few months; and what steps he proposes to take to alleviate the position.

19. Sir Ronald Ross

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he is aware that much of the coal supplied to Northern Ireland, both for industrial and private use, is of inferior quality and contains a high proportion of slate and other non-combustible matter; and what steps he is taking to remedy this.

Mr. Noel-Baker

As the hon. Members are well aware, there is unfortunately a shortage of the good coal required for household use, and the National Coal Board are, therefore, unable to meet the full demands which merchants have made. The main difficulty is in the quality of the coal available; much large coal is needed for the railways and for the export trade. For that reason, we have been obliged to allocate to merchants some coal of grades which would not be put to household use, if there were adequate supplies of better coal. These are general difficulties not confined to the districts mentioned in the Questions put to me by hon. Members. Therefore, as I am saying in answer to another Question today, I am taking up the problems of supply and quality with the National Coal Board as a matter of urgent importance.

Mr. Fraser

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in a town like Stafford only 70 per cent. of the coal was delivered and will he see that something is quickly done about it?

Mr. Noel-Baker

I have looked into a good many cases, but I have never found the percentage of delivery against allocation as low as that.

Sir R. Ross

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it was possible for a constituent, paying£4 18s. 0d. a ton for coal, to send me about nine pounds of slate and rock which came out of one single fire, and to make suggestions as to how I should use it?

Mr. Noel-Baker

I should first like to know the size of the fire, and also the name of the merchant.

Mr. Nabarro

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the shortage of household coal referred to in Question No. 14 is a direct result of the peremptory decision of the National Coal Board to shut the Bayton Colliery, and that has led in the last few weeks to widespread distress for household consumers and a great deal of inconvenience for the colliers formerly employed in the pit?

Mr. Noel-Baker

I always regret inconvenience to householders, and still more what might be hardship to miners, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that no pit is closed unless there are overwhelming reasons in favour of doing so.

Mr. Oliver Stanley

While not asking for anything as revolutionary as that consumers should not be asked to pay for slate and stone, could the right hon. Gentleman ensure that perhaps they do not pay the same price as is paid for top-quality coal?

Mr. Noel-Baker

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman is not aware that coal is graded in price as well as in quality.

Mr. Stanley

I am talking about slate and stone, not coal.

Mr. Noel-Baker

The right hon. Gentleman asked me about the price of coal. [HON. MEMBERS: "Slate."] I recognise the difficulty about slate, but if he will wait for an answer which I am going to give a little later on, he will have further information.

Mr. Yates

Does my right hon. Friend realise that in the City of Birmingham large numbers of people have to queue with barrows and other receptacles and are only allowed a quarter to half a hundredweight at a time? Surely this is a situation which is very much worse than it was some time ago, and would my right hon. Friend make a serious investigation into it?

Mr. Noel-Baker

I have said that there is much in the situation with which I am not content. That is why I am taking the matter up with the National Coal Board.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a good many householders in South Northamptonshire have had no coal at all for some weeks, not even slate, and what hope can he hold out that they will get some coal?

Mr. Noel-Baker

I should like full details of that. I have heard many assertions of that kind made, and nearly always I have found that coal is available when it is really required.

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

16. MR. PETER ROBERTS—TO ask the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he will make a statement as to the general directions he will give to the National Coal Board to provide reasonably clean coal to the domestic consumers of this country.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. You may recollect that some supplementary questions were not put because the Minister stated that he would give his answer to Question 16. Can we have that answer either now or at the end of Questions?

Mr. Speaker

There have been plenty of supplementary questions today—a great number I think. I was trying to get on with Questions.

Mr. Noel-Baker

I should be glad to give the answer to Question 16 at the end of Questions if Mr. Speaker allowed me to do so, but I am in his hands.

At the end of Questions:

Mr. Stanley

On a point of Order. The Minister of Fuel and Power said that he would answer Question 16 after Question time. He volunteered to do so.

Mr. Noel-Baker

I said that I very much wanted to answer the Question but the hon. Member who put down the Question had not taken the trouble to be in his place to ask it. That being so, I said that I would place myself in Mr. Speaker's hands.

Mr. Stanley

Further to that point of Order. I have an exact recollection of what the right hon. Gentleman said, which was that provided that you, Mr. Speaker, allowed him, he would be only too glad to answer the Question. In view of that, perhaps you will allow him and accord him that gratification.

Mr. Speaker

It is not within my province to allow or not to allow a Question to be answered. It is entirely a matter for the Minister concerned.

Mr. Noel-Baker

The answer is as follows. If adequate supplies of good coat for household consumption could be ensured by the issuing of ministerial directions to the National Coal Board, I should be more than glad to give the hon. Member the fullest satisfaction. Owing to the deplorable condition of the industry when it was taken over, the Board now unfortunately have formidable difficulties to overcome. We are not yet producing sufficient coal of the grades required to meet our needs for domestic use, for the production of gas, for general industry and for transport, and to fulfil our commitments to export abroad. There is also a great shortage of plant to wash and prepare the coal for which the Board are in no way to blame. But I recognise the gravity of the question and I am asking the National Coal Board to review the problems of supply and quality with me as a matter of urgent importance.

Mr. Martin Lindsay

If the conditions. in the industry were so deplorable before it was nationalised, how was it that it managed to meet all its requirements. before the war?

Mr. Noel-Baker

Unfortunately, we had mass unemployment.

Sir R. Ross

Is not the Minister aware that the coal with which we are being supplied in Northern Ireland is getting worse than it was when the industry was under private enterprise?

Mr. Noel-Baker

I have no evidence of that. I have already answered many questions about it.

Mr. S. Silverman

Does my right hon. Friend realise that if we had not nationalised the coal industry, no one in this. House would have been able to answer the public's questions about this matter?

Mr. Keeling

Is the Minister not aware that those of us who were in the House before the war are now receiving far more complaints about the quality of coal than we were then?

Sir H. Williams

With regard to the Minister's statement about mass unemployment before the war, is he aware that there are fewer people employed in coal mining now than there were in 1939?

Mr. Noel-Baker

Of course, that is one of the difficulties. The conditions in the industry under private enterprise were such that miners would not allow their sons to go into it.

Mr. John E. Haire

Will my right hon. Friend make it clear that there was dirt and slate in coal before the National Coal Board took over?