HC Deb 23 May 1950 vol 475 cc1988-2018

10.2 p.m.

Mr. Raikes (Liverpool, Garston)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying that the Direction, dated 20th April, 1950, entitled the Coal Distribution (Restriction) Direction, 1950 (S. I., 1950, No. 644), a copy of which was laid before this House on 22nd April, be annulled. The object of this Prayer is to call attention to the unhappy lot of the domestic consumer of coal at the present time. It looks to me as if the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power is going to reply to the Prayer, and for that, I confess, I am a little sorry, although not out of any discourtesy to him; but the Parliamentary Secretary has of late taken to the unfortunate habit of always saying "No" to any proposal that is made from this side of the House. It has just flashed across my mind how lucky it is that the Parliamentary Secretary is not a girl. If he were he would lead a miserable wallflower existence, because nobody would ever invite him out if he knew that his proposals would be refused whatever they might be. I hope tonight, however, that we may get a little more favour than we have been accustomed to getting from him of late.

This direction is under the Coal Distribution Order, 1943. In 1943 the Coal Distribution Order was put into operation to put a ceiling upon the amount of coal which domestic consumers might receive, so that stocks of coal could be prepared in connection with the war in Europe. That was the reason for it. Since 1943, every year we have had a direction continuing to place a ceiling upon what the domestic consumer is permitted to receive. It is quite true that until this year this direction has always passed without being prayed against by my hon. and right hon. Friends on this side of the House, and the reason for that is quite a simple one.

At the end of the war there was still a shortage of coal; we were anxious that the National Coal Board should have every possible opportunity after nationalisation to get into its stride, and therefore until now the direction has been unchallenged. But we are now reaching rather a farcical state of affairs. The maximum amount of coal permitted to the domestic consumer today under this direction is no more than it was at the end of the war, in spite of all the wonderful new schemes and all the advantages, or so-called advantages, of nationalisation. The domestic consumer is still held down to the war position for quantity; and, as I shall show in a moment or two, he has also suffered gravely in regard to the quality of the coal he receives as compared with only a few years ago.

First, I want to say a word or two about quantity. A number of my hon. Friends who will speak in this important Debate—and we are indeed lucky that the hour is still comparatively early, so that we shall have every opportunity to discuss a matter which is of great importance to the ordinary consumer of coal—will be able to point out how, not only is the "ceiling" for what a domestic consumer may receive the same as it was at the end of the war, but in many areas the consumer fails to get the maximum allocation permitted even under this general direction.

It is bad enough to have a ceiling—and a low ceiling—and it is bad enough to have a deteriorating quality, but it is still worse if even what can be allocated under the general direction is not always allocated to anything like that figure. That is borne out by the general consumption figures for domestic coal in the course of the past few years. For 1949, we have the lowest consumption of coal for domestic purposes ever known in modern history; it was only 30.8 million tons—the lowest on record; nearly eight million tons less than domestic consumers received in 1943, the first year of the Order, when we were building up stocks for the invasion of Europe, and about 14 million tons less than the domestic consumers consumed just prior to the outbreak of war.

It may be suggested—I do not know; I never know what the Parliamentary Secretary will say—that the domestic consumer does not now need the coal that he needed in the past because of the increase in the consumption of gas and electricity. If that view is to be put forward, I would remind the House of the report issued in June last year by the Domestic Coal Consumers' Council, who made two points. They said, first: The coal fire is still preferred by the majority of householders for heating the main living room"— and do not we know it? Secondly they said that The principal limit of domestic consumption is the statutory restriction. If that is so—and presumably that Council, which was, after all, set up by the Government under the nationalisation Act, knew their own job—it stands to reason that domestic consumers would be consuming more if they had the opportunity to do so, and consumption has not merely fallen because they have been driven, in many cases, to electricity and gas—incidentally at ever-rising prices since those two industries have been nationalised.

I want now to say a little about quality. The deterioration in the quality of coal in recent years——

Mr. Mitchison (Kettering)

On a point of order, Sir Charles. [HON. MEMBERS: "Mr. Deputy-Speaker."] Is there any question about the quality of coal in this Order?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)

No, I think it is mostly quantity.

Mr. Mitchison

I apologise for inadvertently referring to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, as the Chairman.

Mr. Brendan Bracken (Bournemouth, East, and Christchurch)

On that point of order, I hope that hon. Gentlemen will treat the Chair with proper respect. It is quite impossible to separate quantity from quality in coal today. The Government's excuse is always, "We have to reduce in quantity and what you get by way of slates, etc., you must put up with because later on we are turning to quality." I hold that quantity and quality at present are inseparable. I am no mining engineer, but I think that my hon. Friend is entitled to plead for quantity and quality because they are inseparable.

Mr. Raikes

I should like to make it quite plain that when I am referring to quality, I am only doing so in order to point out that if we have worse quality we need greater quantity. That is where the two are married. If I may, I will give one example to bear out this particular point. So far as industrial coal is concerned, it is generally admitted that whatever the deterioration in quantity may be, the industrial consumer gets better coal than the domestic consumer. That is the Government's policy.

I ventured in an earlier Debate dealing with coal to quote the position of the baths department of the Liverpool Corporation, and I said that whereas before the war 162 tons of coal a week was sufficient for the heating of the baths, as a result of the inferior quality of coal since the war they now need 212 tons to give the same degree of heat to the baths in which the public wash themselves. If that is so, and if it means in fact that 25 per cent. more coal is needed by an industrial concern now for an industrial purpose, surely I am entitled to point out that if the domestic consumer is getting coal of an even worse quality than the industrial consumer, the figures of quantity as compared with pre-war mean absolutely nothing, unless we bear in mind the difference in quality, which means that a greater amount is needed to give the heat that is required.

I should have thought that the hon. and learned Gentleman who raised that point of order, and who, I know, has considerable knowledge of these matters, would fully appreciate that in bringing in quality I am merely trying to argue about the position of the domestic consumer today with worse coal and the same ceiling in regard to supplies as he had as far back as 1943. I do not propose to go in for a lot of quotations, but I want to give one—and I am quoting the National Coal Board because it is always nice to be able to quote the National Coal Board. Mr. Thomas, who is a deputy director of the commercial marketing side of the National Coal Board, when speaking of the domestic consumer in June of last year, said: We are driven to send to the domestic consumer qualities we should never dream of sending and indeed would never get accepted in normal times. I am sure that the Minister would not query anything that was said by the National Coal Board, and by a leading member of it. Therefore, here is our domestic consumer getting only 67 per cent. of the amount of coal which he consumed in 1938 and the combustible quality of which—I am being very conservative —is 30 per cent. below pre-war. I am being very moderate in suggesting that the figure is only 30 per cent. below pre-war. I always like to understate my case, unlike the Minister of Health. I am always very charming to the Parliamentary Secretary. It is only his negative qualities which sometimes rather depress me. But joking apart, it is a grave indictment both of the Government and of the National Coal Board that the consumer should be in this position.

Mr. Mitchison

Perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to remind him that pre-nationalisation coal was described by the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) as only fit to make crazy paving in the garden. When the hon. Member makes comparisons, perhaps he will let us have comparisons a little more recently.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

This Order does not refer to the quality of coal but to quantity.

Mr. Mitchison

With respect, I entirely accept your rebuke, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and trust it will also be conveyed to the hon. Member opposite, who has been talking about quality for the last 10 minutes.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre (New Forest)

As I understand it, we are talking about the quantity of coal allowed to consumers. If we are not allowed to talk about quality, how can we say whether the quantity is satisfactory or not?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I do not know how the hon. Member can say it, but he can only talk about what is in the Order.

Mr. Raikes

I fully appreciate that it is always difficult to work in questions of quality and quantity when quantity is so much affected by the deterioration of quality. You have permitted me, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, with your usual fairness, to deal with quality only to the extent that I desired to deal with it fairly to show that deterioration in quality means that the domestic consumer requires a greater quantity than he would require if the quality had not deteriorated. Having made that point, I will pass on to one or two other observations.

I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will not ride off the criticism of the lack of domestic coal, whether in quantity or quality, with the old song of the wickedness of the coal owners during the war years. There is one thing that is certain, and that is that the coal industry has never been under closer scrutiny by the Government than it was between 1939 and 1945. We had then, for the first time in our history, an ex-miner as Secretary for Mines, appointed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) in 1940—the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell). During his period of office, the control of the coal mines came into operation, and when he departed in June, 1941, and Major Lloyd George was made Minister of Fuel and Power——

Mr. Mitchison

Would the hon. Member like me to correct his history?

Mr. Raikes

The hon. and learned Member might at least let me finish my sentence. I was going to add that when Major Lloyd George became Minister of Fuel and Power, he had as his Parliamentary Secretary, Mr. Tom Smith, another miner. Thus, during the war period the coal industry was watched by those who had a very close interest indeed in it. It is a remarkable thing that the only time of which I know when ex-miners were associated with the Ministry of Fuel and Power was when my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) was Prime Minister. We came to the end of the war, and the Government never suggested, when nationalisation was being advocated, that there was any serious danger that the supply of coal for the domestic consumer would be lacking either in quantity or in quality.

I want to make only two points, and they are points which are worth making, because they explode the sort of policy which is so often produced in bursts of oratory from the benches opposite. When nationalisation took place, the Government believed, with the whole knowledge of the coal industry before them—if they had not got it before them in 1946 they must have been blind—that they could produce by 1950 no less than 220 million tons of coal under the Marshall Aid allocation. If they were producing 220 million tons of deep-mined coal today, there would be no question of this Order restricting domestic consumers. Instead of 220 million tons for 1950, however, on present figures we shall be lucky if we reach 205 million tons. The fact remains that if the Government were right in their Marshall Aid allocation and in their knowledge of the coal industry, there would have been no need for this direction.

Mr. Fernyhough (Jarrow)

That figure includes opencast coal.

Mr. Raikes

The figure I have given does not include opencast coal. That was raised earlier and I had the opportunity of putting the Minister himself right. As I said at the time, he was new to the job and must have been given the wrong figures by his Parliamentary Secretary. Those figures are deep-mined coal figures and are apart from opencast coal. If I do know one thing, I know figures when I quote them.

We were also told at the time when the coal industry was nationalised in 1945 than in another 12 to 18 months the cleaning plants, screening and so forth would be all right. That was what the Minister said when producing his Bill in 1946. In spite of all this, we still see that the amount of coal which the unfortunate domestic consumer receives is not good in any shape or form. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will give us one or two assurances—either that he can agree to the withdrawal of this direction now and replace it with a higher maximum amount, or, if he cannot do that, that he will be able to tell us that, with the drive and vigour which we were told we were going to see from the Minister himself, within a short time we shall see this direction withdrawn altogether.

If we cannot have that assurance, it is a terrible condemnation not only of the Coal Board, but of the Ministry itself. It would bear out that heartrending cry of Lord Hindley himself in the "News of the World" only a short time ago, when he said: Either we get more coal or the whole basis of British life may be threatened. Things cannot go on like this. I doubt if the country realises the gravity of the position. If that is so, it does not mean that nationalisation cannot work; it means that the present method of running nationalisation is faulty and that the whole system needs a drastic overhaul. It is on those grounds, not only in the interests of the domestic consumer but in order to call attention to the grave errors which have led to the present plight, that I move this Prayer.

10.25 p.m.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre (New Forest)

I beg to second the Motion.

I am disappointed that the Minister has not seen fit to be here himself. This is a matter in which many people are interested, and we should have been grateful if the Minister could have attended. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary a question about the Explanatory Note. Paragraph 2 says: The maximum quantities remain the same as for the preceding 12 months; but, in the southern regions, 24 cwt. of house coal (including coalite) may now be furnished or acquired during the summer period instead of 20 cwt. as previously. It is clear from the Order that all this means is that people in the southern region may have 4 cwt. more in the summer and 4 cwt. less in the winter. I do not think it is at all clear from the wording, and if it is possible to alter it I hope something will be put there which will save hon. Members on all sides of the House a great deal of unnecessary correspondence.

My hon. Friend talked about quantity and quality, and made the point that the amount of coal allowed under this Order has to be viewed in regard to its efficiency and whether it meets the needs of the people. It is not only a question of weight but what happens to the coal when we put it into a fireplace. If it does not burn, we could give people 5 cwt. a month and it would not meet their needs. The British thermal units in the coal supplied have fallen very much. My hon. Friend says that this is known in industry, but it is equally well known to private consumers. In the time that the Minister has been at the Ministry, I have no doubt he has become accustomed to receiving ill-done-up packages containing pieces of slate sent to him for inspection, together with comments upon what the National Coal Board have delivered. The president of the Coal Merchants' Federation said earlier this year: There are too many consumers in the country who are fed up with coal and who are sick of being down-graded from what they ought to have to the very worst that has been foisted upon them. Could the Parliamentary Secretary tell us, when he makes an allocation of coal to the domestic consumer, how much of it is deep-mined and how much is opencast? That matter has a considerable bearing on the problem. It is known that opencast mining, whatever its eventual cost, produces more bad-quality coal than deep-mining. Therefore, if opencast coal for the most part is allocated to meet the ration, it follows that the quantity of the coal available under the Order will be insufficient to meet the needs of the average domestic consumer. From reading the statements of Sir John Charrington and others I shall have to mention later, one can only feel that there is evidence to show that the coal which is sent to meet the requirements under the Order is of the lowest possible class.

I quarrel with my hon. Friend when he quotes figures of the percentage of consumption; I do not think they tell the true story. In order to make a true comparison between what the Government are doing now and what was done before the war, figures must be based on British thermal units. Unless they are based on something like that, it is impossible for the House to judge the value of the concessions made to domestic consumers by the Government under this Order.

We have been told on so many occasions that the nationalisation of coal benefits all sections of the community—not only the miners, but the domestic consumers—that perhaps I might remind the House of what is said in Section 1 of the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act. It lays down that one of the duties of the National Coal Board is making supplies of coal available, of such qualities and sizes, in such quantities and at such prices, as may seem to them best calculated to further the public interest in all respects. When the Government produce an Order of this nature, I think they have to justify it by these tests. From what my hon. Friend has said in moving this Prayer, it is clear there are no grounds for believing they have met any of these tests. There is certainly not more coal than was provided before; there is certainly not better coal, and certainly not cheaper coal. In the last week in my own division, the price of the delivery of coal has gone up by 5s. a ton. One cannot say that under any of the main headings which should govern the methods of the Minister in applying the Act, he has succeeded.

What is even more important is what members of the Coal Board themselves have to say on this problem. I find in them an arrogance—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Certainly, when I have made the quotations, I hope hon. Members opposite will agree. This is what is said by the Chairman of the Scottish Division: What are their rights? What do they hope for? What do they expect from the Board in the years lying ahead? I dare say that if any chairman of a private company dared so to heckle his shareholders, he would be in for trouble. When we have Section 1 of the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act setting out clearly what they have to produce and then get this sort of statement, it shows a wide difference. Again referring to my hon. Friend's remarks, I think that all classes of consumer have the right to expect, indeed, the right to demand, that the standard of coal delivered to them shall be at least as good as before the war.

Mr. Mitchison

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I was rebuked by your predecessor in the Chair a few minutes ago for pointing out that the quality of coal before nationalisation had been described by the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) as fit only for crazy paving in the garden. If I was rebuked for that, how can these two speeches be in order? They are about the quality of coal, and the duties of the National Coal Board as defined by Section 1 of the Act, which matters are not mentioned in the Order, and do not, in my respectful submission, arise out of it.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

I am obliged to the hon. and learned Gentleman. The question is certainly one of quantity and not quality.

Mr. Bracken

Further to that point of order. We have twice had to listen to the ravings of the hon. and learned Gentleman——

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That is too strong an expression about another hon. Member and the right hon. Gentleman must withdraw it.

Mr. Bracken

Of course. [HON. MEMBERS: "Do you withdraw?"] Most willingly; but it is the second time we have heard the hon. Gentleman speaking, and your predecessor ruled he was out of order in quoting from some speech made by the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan). Whether it was accurate or not we do not know, but it is disturbing for the hon. and learned Member to go on repeating these things. Surely it is better for my hon. Friend to be allowed to go on with his quotations.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The matter is really perfectly clear. The Order refers to the maximum aggregate quantities, not to quality.

Miss Jennie Lee (Cannock)

Further to the point of order. We have now listened to two speeches from the opposite benches which have dealt with quality and not quantities. I ask your guidance, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, whether any of us on this side who may be successful enough to catch your eye will be able to reply to the points already made by hon. Members opposite?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

We must wait and see. In my view, any discussion on the Order must restrict itself to quantities and not to quality, and I hope the hon. acid gallant Gentleman the Member for New Forest (Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre) will observe that Ruling.

Mr. Butcher (Holland with Boston)

Surely we are entitled, in bringing to the attention of the House and the Minister the quantities of coal allocated to our constituents and discussing whether they are sufficient, to bring to mind the quality of such coal as is allocated. The adequacy of the coal so allocated must depend on quality as well as quantity.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I am sorry I cannot accept that argument.

Mr. Mitchison

I am sorry, but the right hon. Gentleman accused me of what he described as ravings. While I am not prepared to accept his judgment on the question of sanity, I understood you to rule that that phrase was out of order, and I am still waiting for the right hon. Gentleman to withdraw, as it is only decent that he should do so.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I understood that the right hon. Gentleman had withdrawn, though not very graciously.

Mr. Bracken

I would never like it to be said that under guidance of the Chair, I was not gracious. I do not think the words, as I interpret them, are insulting, but in deference to your judgment, Sir, I most certainly withdraw them. I would, however, ask the hon. and learned Gentleman to look at the Oxford Dictionary tomorrow, and it will please him to find that there is a less offensive definition of ravings than so far his readings have allowed.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

May I go on to quote further from the speech of the Chairman of the Scottish Division of the National Coal Board? As my hon. Friend has said, and I support him, this is probably coming chiefly from opencast mining and will be of the worst possible quality.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. and gallant Member is now disregarding my Ruling. He must not do so.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

I understood—and if I am wrong I hope I may be forgiven—that it was in order to point out that the quantities, because of the quality of the coal, may not be sufficient. If that is out of order, I accept your Ruling, if that is your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That is my Ruling. This is a reference to the quality of a particular class of coal which does not appear to have any relevance to the Order. I hope the House will permit the hon. Member to continue, and will not continually raise points of order. The matter is perfectly clear and quite simple.

Mr. Hopkin Morris (Carmarthen)

Further to the point of order. On the question of quantity there is difficulty. There are some places in the country where the quantity is not supplied because the quality of the coal is too low. Thus the quantity of the ration cannot be supplied. Therefore, I submit that quality is relevant to the determination of the quantity.

Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd (Birmingham, King's Norton)

Earlier today your predecessor in the Chair, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, while ruling as you have done, that the question of quality itself was out of order, nevertheless permitted the discussion of quality in so far as it had a very direct bearing on quantity. [HON. MEMBERS: "He did not."] I am within the recollection of the House. I should like to put the point that quality might be considered by you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, as relevant strictly in relation to its bearing on the quality of the different types of coal.

Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

Hon. Members on this side of the House are concerned about how wide the Debate is going. If it is the case that quality can be discussed in relation to usefulness, I submit that the conditions of the miners are the direct cause of the amount of coal which can be put up in centres.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The point is really a narrow one. Passing reference to quality as it affects quantity may be in order, but it is not in order to go into the detail upon which I suspected that the hon. and gallant Gentleman was about to enter.

Mr. G. B. Craddock (Spelthorne)

May I give an illustration? Supposing 100 pounds of coal were delivered, and that coal only had a British thermal unit value of 8,000 calories. Is that not much worse, even from the point of view of quantity, than if the coal had 12,000 British thermal units value, which would be much better?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That is a hypothetical and technical question with which I cannot be expected to deal. Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

If, before going on, I may just finish that passage, I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether he will give us the figures of the amount of opencast coal which is included in the domestic ration.

I will now go on to something to which I do not think any hon. Member will object, that is, a reference by the Chairman of the Scottish Division of the National Coal Board in which he says, talking about consumers, that they should have the right to purchase as much coal as they need, and especially that there should no longer be a limit to the quantity supplied to domestic consumers. I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether that represents the views of the Ministry and, if it does, why has the Ministry not acted upon it? Here is the chairman of one of the Divisions of the Board suggesting something which we on this side support, but which has not been accepted by the Minister himself. What, I would ask, is the factor which has made him unable to accede to this statement of one of his own senior officials?

Another question which I should like to put to the Parliamentary Secretary is this. Under this Order, although the total quantity of coal which any domestic consumer may have is not increased, that consumer may buy 4 cwt. more in the summer if he forgoes 4 cwt. in the winter. The Order stipulates that, whether he takes the coal in the summer or the winter, he pays the same price. Hon. Members will remember that before the industry was nationalised, one of the chief objects of the coal merchants calling on domestic consumers was to try to get them to take more coal in the summer months so as to encourage smooth distribution throughout the year. With stocks being accumulated in domestic cellars in the summer, there were not abnormal calls on the distributive trade in the winter when, over the majority of the country, distribution of coal might be more difficult.

Can the Parliamentary Secretary tell us why this arrangement is not incorporated in this Order? Why is it not possible for this extra coal to be taken in the summer months, and so reduce the calls which are made on the trade in the winter? I am told that the Minister may, of course, say that if people have an extra allowance in the summer months at a cheaper rate, they will burn this coal and not have it in the winter. That, surely, is a most illogical argument which no hon. Member will support.

In conclusion, I would say that here we have an Order which depends for its validity upon the fact that the quantity set out is sufficient to meet the domestic consumer's needs. When the Parliamentary Secretary comes to confirm that this quantity is sufficient, can we also be assured that taking all these questions of opencast coal, and so on, into account, the quality is also sufficient to meet the domestic needs; and, what is perhaps most important of all, can we be told why it is not possible to revert to the position which obtained before the industry was nationalised when coal was sold more cheaply during the summer months, so that we evened out the flow for the trade? There is another point in this connection. This arrangement would avoid the sort of sudden crisis which, alas, we have known in the not-distant past, when coal could not be distributed during the bitter months of winter when supplies were most urgently needed. We all recall what happened a few winters ago. For all these reasons, I hope that the Minister will withdraw the General Direction—that is all he can do—and provide something which is more in keeping with that to which the National Coal Board is pledged, and for which the consumer asks.

10.49 p.m.

Miss Jennie Lee (Cannock)

We have heard from right hon. and hon. Members opposite a nostalgic cri de coeur for the wonderful days before the war when the production of coal was in the hands of the private owners and when the domestic consumers could have their needs met in a way which is impossible today. That. I think, is a fair enough summary. Are hon. Members opposite unaware of some of the factors in this situation? I believe that they are, or that they are failing, deliberately, to disclose their knowledge. There are many thousands of domestic consumers in Great Britain today who are better pleased with the quality, as well as the quantity, of the coal—[Interruption]. The reaction of hon. Members opposite is the complete give-away. Earlier today, they have been talking as the defenders of the miners and as being concerned about the interests of the ordinary consumers. By their reaction now, they have obviously disclosed that they do not know what I am now going to tell them.

There are thousands of domestic coal consumers in Great Britain today who are better satisfied with both the quality and the quantity of the coal they have been getting than ever before in their lives, and it would have done some hon. Members opposite good if they had been at an open conference in the heart of the Chase coalfields the other week when on the platform there were a representative mine manager, a working miner, a representative of a consultative committee, and the production departments were represented. In other words, there was a highly-skilled and knowledgeable platform.

The audience could ask any questions they chose, but they had to ask them in the presence of members of the community who really knew what they were talking about both from the coal-getting side and the coal-consuming side. I found that in that audience there was unanimous agreement that the householders were getting better coal today than they were getting in the old days. [Interruption.] The Chase is a very good place to begin. I am making my first point, that in my own constituency my constituents have got up—and not all them men of the pits—and said that they are getting better coal today than they got before. That is in the Chase.

I remember the Fife coalfields, and I can remember when my father was entitled, not to free coal—that was not the practice in the Fife coalfields—but to a 16 cwt. load at a reduced price. In those days that coal was so bad that my mother chose to pay top price for bag coal because she wanted what every housewife wanted then and now. She did not want to have to carry dirt into the house and out again, and therefore found it paid her to buy this top-quality coal. Let me say that in Fife in those old days there were thousands and thousands of families who could not buy even modest supplies of that top-quality coal. They had to carry the dirt in and out of the house. They are far better supplied today.

There are hon. Friends sitting beside me who know better about conditions in those old days. I have hon. Friends representing Lanarkshire, Ayrshire, and Yorkshire sitting beside me, and if one asks people who are not pretending that they are talking for every consumer in this country but who are talking for many thousands of consumers—and not only for the homes of the men who work underground—one finds today that there are many families getting better coal than before. I have a suggestion to make about how we might ease this situation.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

On a point of order. I have been ruled out of order twice by you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for talking about quality. The hon. Member has now been talking for five minutes about quality. May I ask for your guidance and whether the situation has changed?.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I hope the hon. and gallant Member will be good enough to leave the matter to me.

Miss Lee

I was just going to make a suggestion which would increase the quantity of coal that would be available to consumers. I was going to suggest that if the men who bring coal to the surface could be given the dirt to burn at home and we got back to the good old days when some families were rationed by poverty to such an extent that they could buy less coal than even the present ration, maybe that would please hon. Members opposite. If we could get back to the conditions when not only poor people but colliers were getting dirt to burn, there would be more for other people.

The serious point I am trying to make is that it is rather hard for some of us to bear it when hon. Members opposite masquerade as friends of the housewife and the collier. When we turn back the records of the House of Commons and go back decade after decade, I challenge hon. Members opposite to point to a single Question, far less a single speech, from their benches in which there was even a word of protest when colliers' wives were getting dirty coal—[HON. MEMBERS: "Quantity."]—I am talking of quantity—or of protest that poor folk were not getting enough. There is common agreement on both sides of the House that we want both in industry——

Mr. Bracken


Mr. Deputy-Speaker

No question of order arises.

Miss Lee

I was saying there was common agreement on all sides of the House that we want for industry, for export, and for domestic consumers the best possible grading of coal. No one in his senses will encourage practices whereby a single bit of unnecessary stone or unnecessary dirt is contained in the coal, and, therefore, so far as hon. Members opposite address themselves seriously to the technical problems of cleaning coal——

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. I have indicated quite clearly that in my view the question here is one of quantity. The matter of quality may perhaps be mentioned in passing, but the hon. Lady is now dealing almost solely with quality, which is out of order.

Miss Lee

I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I will conclude by saying that if hon. Members opposite, when arguing for an increase in allocations for the housewife and when they want higher quantities of coal, address themselves seriously to the technical problems involved and the technical difficulties already overcome by the Coal Board and the human problems which are also involved, they will have a more patient hearing from this side of the House. Above all, let them be a little humble in some of the things they say, when they must know in their heart of hearts that they never talked as they do now when it was merely poor folks' coal which was at issue.

10.54 p.m.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)

I wish to support the Motion on grounds which, although they do not conflict with the grounds which have been urged by my hon. Friends, are different from them. My main objection to this General Direction is that in reality it is a mystification and a farce. It lays down maximum permitted quantities; but the public inevitably regard those maximum permitted quantities laid down in this General Direction and in its predecessors as a ration.

How natural it is that the public should so regard them has been illustrated by this Debate already. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for New Forest (Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre) referred to the difficulty of "meeting the ration" when speaking loosely and offhand about this General Direction. My good neighbour the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) also referred to the maximum permitted quantity as a "ration." I mention this because the fact that two hon. Members so well acquainted with the facts of the situation should instinctively refer to this quantity as a "ration" illustrates how natural and indeed inevitable that conception is to the general public.

The consequences of a General Direction which lays down what the public regards as a ration are very serious. As I shall show in a moment, the maximum quantity has not within living memory been reached or anywhere near reached. Now, to the public at large a ration is not only the maximum quantity they are allowed to buy, but also the quantity which they are able to buy. Therefore, when they find that they cannot be supplied with the quantities laid down in this General Direction, there is a great deal of bitterness and misunderstanding, and that bitterness and misunderstanding is directed to the wrong quarters.

These General Directions are in fact a device whereby the Government and the National Coal Board shuffle off from their shoulders on to the innocent shoulders of the coal merchants the natural indignation of the public on discovering that they are not able to receive even those amounts which my hon. Friends have shown to be in themselves deficient. These General Directions are, I repeat, a mystification whereby the Government and the National Coal Board are using the coal trade as a lightning conductor.

On 3rd April the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power was good enough to provide me, in a written answer, with some facts about the amount of coal which has actually been made available in contrast to the maximum permitted quantity. During the last two or three years, in the Midland Region, where the constituencies which I and the hon. Member for Cannock represent are situated, we find that in the year 1948–49 the actual quantity made available was not 50 cwt. but 46.1 cwt. In the following 12 months that amount declined to 44.9 cwt. This deficiency below the maximum permitted quantity of 10.2 per cent. is something very perceptible, when one realises that the deficiency or short-fall is not spread equably over the whole 12-month or six-month period, but occurs in concentrated periods of recurrent shortage.

We say, therefore, that not only has this maximum permitted quantity not been reached in the past, but also that the gap between what is supplied to the public and the maximum permitted quantity is in fact widening. When we take further into account the fact that, as the Minister himself said on 20th March, in order to reach these amounts there were included in the allocations types of coal which are not really domestic, we realise that the position is actually deteriorating.

I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary when he replies to tell the House whether he has the slightest expectation that in the year 1950–51 he will get anywhere near these maximum permitted quantities which the public are encouraged to regard as their ration, their right and their entitlement, because unless there is some very radical change and some alteration of the trend we have seen in the preceding months he is not going to get within 5 or 10 cwt. of these maximum permitted quantities. Therefore, I support the Motion of my hon. Friends. These maximum permitted quantities are a swindle and a cheat. The Government ought to go before the country and tell the people honestly how much coal they may reasonably expect, instead of deceiving them.

11.5 p.m.

Mr. Profumo (Stratford)

I want to speak on this Prayer tonight for two reasons. First, I think this General Direction is too restrictive, and secondly, in common with my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), I think it is most misleading. Had I made a plea for lessening restrictions in the last Parliament, I would not have expected to get much support from hon. Members opposite, but in view of the new spring fashion in Socialism where restrictions are coming off like old buttons, perhaps the whole House will now agree that restrictions, where they are not really necessary, should be dropped.

I believe it is high time that the restriction in this Order which limits the amount of coal for domestic use can be delivered during the summer months should cease. The principle in this matter should surely be one of telling the public the true facts and of trusting the local officials on the spot. We are constantly urging the Government on this principle. I am in no way attacking the local officials. The local fuel overseers and the house coal officers are doing a very good job in extremely difficult circumstances, but I think that the Minister is not giving them the scope or the latitude they deserve.

We are told that the reason they are allowed to have more coal during the summer months in the Southern Region as compared with the Midlands and Northern Regions is because it is hotter in the southern areas, and that there is therefore not the same danger that the domestic coal user will burn his whole ration during the summer months. That is splitting hairs and is a farcical argument. Why should it be hotter in Pinner than in Stratford-on-Avon during the summer? I see that the Parliamentary Secretary is smiling, but it is only a notional barrier—purely an arbitrary decision which permits the consumer to take 24 cwt. during the summer months in the South, and only 20 cwt. in the Midlands or the North. I can assure the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister that, if they like to come to Warwickshire during the summer, they will be assured of a hot reception.

There is a very good argument indeed for domestic consumers being allowed to take the whole of their ration during the summer if they want to do so. I believe that the Minister himself would like to make that concession. The arguments in favour are plain, particularly in regard to sparsely-populated rural areas, because it takes a great deal of petrol and manpower to deliver in small quantities, as well as making it more difficult for coal merchants who are doing a most difficult job. Therefore, I believe that it would be most advantageous if this part of the Direction were cancelled. The Minister need not be frightened of abuse, that people would try to hoard coal, or buy it merely to hold a stock of it. Certainly not. Coal is much too expensive these days for people to buy it merely to have a stock. The price is the restricting factor in domestic consumption today. The Minister should trust his own judgment and take this step and not be over-influenced by his Department on this matter.

There can be only two reasons for the maintenance of this Direction. The first is that the Minister is not happy about the stocks he has in hand or about the estimated production he is expecting in future. The other day, while making in quiries locally, I was told that the reason for the shortage of coal in South Warwickshire was twofold—first, because of the exports of coal, and secondly because 3,000 people had left the mines since the abolition of the direction of labour. I am told that is the reason that has been given by the Ministry of Fuel and Power. If this is so, it is most serious, and we would like to hear from the hon. Gentleman whether that is the case. If it is not the case, there can be only one other reason for this restriction on delivery, and that is that if every domestic consumer took up the total amount to which he is entitled under this Direction there would not be enough coal to go round. This argument is borne out by a Written Answer given by the Minister of Fuel and Power on 27th March, in which he said: … to allow some consumers to stock during the summer the full quantity permitted for the whole year, would imperil the principle of fair shares for all."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th March, 1950; Vol. 473, c. 13.] That leads me to the second point of my argument, that this Direction as it stands is most misleading. I do not believe there is enough relation between the notional entitlement and actual deliveries. It is all very fine to talk about an allowance of 50 cwt. of domestic coal per annum, but it does not mean anything if you are not going to get it. There are many parts of the country where people are not getting anything like their entitlement and it is causing much hardship and a great deal of misunderstanding. By way of example, may I read part of a letter I have received from a lady in the little village of Fenny Compton? She writes that her mother is aged 82, and is a chronic invalid, and she goes on: The stuff now being sold under the name of coal is poor enough in all conscience. If only one could ascertain the exact quantity which is supposed to be our ration and if only we could be sure that coal dealers receive their full amount to meet the ration, it would be much better for us all. I believe the whole village has been very short of coal since Christmas. That is only one case. I am sure hon. Members could give many more similar cases. What people do not understand is that this is an all-embracing notional entitlement and not what they can necessarily get. No wonder people are muddled. The point is made doubly plain by a letter which a coal merchant in my constituency received from the Ministry of Fuel and Power, dated 3rd April It says: You will no doubt be aware that the average amount of coal available for domestic consumers has in recent years been appreciably less than the permitted quantities. What is the good of having an entitlement when people do not manage to get anything like the total which is supposed to be their right? I do not believe the people are getting a true picture at all. The picture in South Warwickshire, I know, is one of shortage. We have a shortage everywhere in my constituency and this shortage persists. We are getting letters and complaints from all over the place. At Long Compton, the vicar had to write to the Member of Parliament. [Laughter.] It is all very well to laugh because it happens to be a small village, but it is representative of many other villages all over the country. And, after all, the vicar is supposed to look after spiritual fuel and not household fuel. Hon. Members opposite say "He should not"—he would not need to if the right hon. Gentleman the Minister was doing his job properly. The vicar wrote: There are many people in this village who have been without any coal for the last month or so. Hon. Gentlemen opposite sit there and laugh. It seems to my hon. Friends on this side that where hon. Gentlemen opposite come up against the real views of poor people, all they can do is sit back and laugh. So much for Dorking talking: this is humanity speaking. I will quote only one more case. It is right that we should rub this in. We are seeking to have this General Direction annulled because we believe it to be wrong. This letter was written to me on 11th May by the clerk of the Alcester Rural District Council. He writes: I have received more complaints during the last three months than I have received during the last whole three years about coal shortages. Under the Government's present arrangements, when there is a deficiency in the delivery of the coal quota to merchants at the end of any quarterly period, that deficiency is written off altogether, instead of being carried over to the next quarter as it should be. What would happen if a private company were to say, "We are sorry, but we cannot deliver your order for motorcars this month and therefore we are not going to carry it over to the next month"? What will happen if the steel industry is nationalised and comes under the control of the Government and takes the same view on delivery deficiencies? As a consequence of this system they are about 30 or 40 per cent. deficient of the deliveries of coal in the Stratford area, which the people should get but which they will never get. What we want is less regulation and more relation between coal entitlement and coal deliveries. That is why I support this Prayer.

11.21 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power (Mr. Robens)

Again we have the spectacle of the Tories making a great show for those whom they regard as the common people. Yet the natural consequence of their action tonight in trying to carry this Motion, if they succeeded, would be to take the lid off and allow what coal there was to go to the people who could afford to pay for it and leave the poor people whom they are trying to support to go without.

The hon. Member for Garston (Mr. Raikes) who opened this Debate, would not, I know, willingly or knowingly mislead the House: but he did say that this Direction had not been debated before. It was. On that occasion it was a political stunt. It was at the time we were discussing the Gas Bill and were occupied for hours on end in the Committee stage. The Tories were running around looking for all kinds of Orders and things to keep the Minister and myself in this House while they were running upstairs to the Committee stage of that Bill—[Interruption.] Mind your own business, I will deal with this in my own way and make my own speech.

Mr. Eden (Warwick and Leamington)

Was the hon. Gentleman addressing me?

Mr. Robens

No, I was speaking to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Buchan-Hepburn), who is about to resume his seat. He told me to "pipe down." If he wants me to pipe down, let him stand on his feet and say so in the House.

Mr. Buchan-Hepburn (Beckenham)

All right. Pipe down.

Mr. Robens

And my answer to the hon. Gentleman, which was perfectly audible, was for him to mind his own business, and I will make my own speech and deal with this matter in my own way.

Again, I say it was a Tory stunt on the occasion of the Gas Bill. What was the reason given then? The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor)—I am sorry he is not in his place—said "The Government are hoping to accumulate coal so that they can release larger quantities and increase the allowance at the time the next General Election approaches." I am sorry the hon. Member is not here to have those words thrown back into his teeth. It shows once again that, instead of debating this Prayer on the basis of the public interest and the common good, it was done deliberately as a purely political stunt.

What is the purpose of this Direction? It is to parcel out the meagre allowance of coal—if hon. Gentlemen like that term—that is available for the domestic market. There has never been on any occasion any suggestion that the maximum permitted quantity was in fact available to all consumers. Indeed, the only reason for having the maximum permitted quantity is to prevent those who can take a lot from taking more and thereby depriving other people of their supply. What we have always tried to do is to make up the amount. [HON. MEMBERS: "What rot."] The hon. Gentlemen say, "What rot." That shows the standard of intelligence one has to deal with in this House. We have tried to provide as much coal as is possible for the domestic market, and to that extent I agree that the maximum permitted quantity has never been reached. To reach it, if everybody took the full amount, would require another seven million tons for the domestic market.

You, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, would properly, I suppose, rule me out of order if I were to follow the hon. Gentleman and and talk of production, though I would be willing to discuss Marshall Aid figures with him or with anyone else, if that were permissible; but at least I can say that in 1949 the total deep-mined production was 202.7 million tons. Open cast production was 12.4 million tons. So there was a total disposable production of 215.1 million tons. How did we allocate it? I hope hon. Members will say precisely where they would make the cut of seven million tons to provide the maximum permitted quantity to every domestic consumer.

Air-Commodore Harvey (Macclesfield)

May I make one suggestion, since the hon. Gentleman asks for suggestions? Would it not be more fair, in the first place, if the National Coal Board, as retail agents, received the same amount of coal for distribution as the ordinary merchant?

Mr. Robens

The hon. and gallant Gentleman is making an assertion which I am not prepared to accept, namely, that the National Coal Board, on its retail side, is favoured in comparison with the ordinary retail merchant. But I do not want to be sidetracked on to small matters of that kind, because if one takes the whole of the retail trade of the National Coal Board it will not amount to an ounce of coal for the rest of the domestic consumers. I must follow this matter before I sit down. We have shown that there were 215.1 million tons of coal in 1949. The gas industry took 25.3 million tons; the electricity industry took 30 million tons; the railways, 14.7 million tons; the coke ovens, 22.5 million tons; the iron and steel industry, 8.4 million tons; other industries, 34.5 million tons; domestic consumers, 30.8 million tons; miscellaneous consumers, 29.1 million tons; exports and bunkers, 19.3 million tons.

The internal consumption of this country is rising rapidly, and that is the measure of the full employment policy which the Government have brought into being. We could have plenty of coal for the domestic market if coke ovens were taking millions of tons less; if the gas and iron and steel industries were taking millions of tons less. The hon. Gentleman keeps bleating about producing more. But one must deal with facts. One cannot hand out coal which is not produced. But we are not debating coal production tonight. We are debating the amount to be allocated to domestic consumers out of the coal which is produced. There have been plenty of opportunities, in the coal Debates and on Supply days, to discuss coal, we have discussed it many times; but tonight we are not dealing with production. I should be quite willing to talk about it if it were within the bounds of order.

I am showing the House that out of 215.1 million tons of coal, we have used 195–3 million tons internally because we have full employment. That is a matter of fact which ought to be remembered. If we face up to 19.3 million tons of coal for exports and bunkers, all we have left for the domestic market is 30.8 million tons. With that amount available for the home market, what does the Opposition want to do? They say we should take the lid off and let people have a free fight for what they can get. If you were well in with the coal industry you would be all right, and if you had plenty of money and storage accommodation, you would be all right——

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

Who said that?

Mr. Robens

The hon. and gallant Member asks who said that. The very fact that the Opposition have put down a Motion to annul the Direction—[Interruption.] Annul the Direction in the Division lobbies, and the lid is taken off. That is the natural consequence of this Motion. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, it is. The Tory party are very loud-voiced about this so-called protection for the people at large, but in fact they are not concerned about the people at large. They are concerned with being as popular as they can, with an eye on a few votes, at any impending General Election. No one more than His Majesty's Government would like to increase the domestic coal ration, so that we could supply what we know much more about than hon. Members opposite, and that is the real needs of the ordinary people living in ordinary working-class homes. These people, whom we represent, are largely the people who are burning coal in old-fashioned grates; not the friends of hon. Members opposite. [Interruption.] Oh, yes; hon. Gentlemen know that is true.

Now I will turn to the outlook for this year. I say at once that I very much regret that there seems no possibility of a large increase for the domestic market. We have explained in the Economic Survey for 1950 that the supply will be between 218 million and 223 million tons, including coal from opencast workings. Let me explain, in passing, that only five per cent. of the domestic coal allocation is composed of opencast production. Domestic consumption is about 600,000 tons a week, and only about 30,000 tons are opencast coal. As production is going, it looks as though we shall be at the lower level of 218 million tons, or slightly above that figure. Even when one gets extra supplies from the pits, we have also to remember that the large coal out of the increased production is only about one-third of the increased supply. So, for 1950, the likely increase in production from the pits will not produce for the domestic consumer, the 7 million tons of large coal which would be required for the maximum permitted quantities to be supplied in full.

So hon. Members opposite have to cut industrial users, steel plants, gas, electricity, or the railways, or they have to do as we suggest, and keep the maximum permitted quantity where it is, and then do one's best from month to month to supply as much as one possibly can to the domestic market. We, on this side, fully realise the difficulties which housewives, and other people in ordinary homes, suffer as a result of the shortage of coal; but we dare not increase the domestic supply if we have as a result to cut supplies to one of the vital industries which I have mentioned. That, in its wake, would bring unemployment; and for that, and the other reasons I have given, I ask the House to reject this Motion.

Mr. Bracken

The violent verbiage which we have had from the Parliamentary Secretary is no answer to the very carefully considered argument put forward by my hon. Friends. I dare say that hon. Members opposite, once again, will jeer at this side of the House when we maintain that the future of Britain today very largely rests on the coal industry. Britain rose to her greatness through the coal industry, and through that industry and its by-products prosperity will once again, we hope, be restored to Britain.

When we put down this Prayer, we hoped that we would have a serious answer from the Minister. We have had admissions. For instance, the Minister told us—I wrote down his words—that the consumer has not received the quantity of coal nor the quality that he required.

Mr. Robens

I never mentioned quality.

Mr. Bracken

All right—the quantity. My hon. Friends put down this Prayer on the basis that the consumer did not receive the quantity. The Government have admitted that, and the Minister showed quite clearly how right we were to put down this Prayer. Furthermore, we must rest our case for the time being on these submissions and I must remind the Minister, who has from time to time quoted the National Coal Board, that its Chairman, Lord Hyndley, recently declared that our whole economic position was imperilled because we are not producing the amount of coal that the country needs both for its home and its export trade.

Mr. Robens

This has nothing to do with this Prayer.

Mr. Bracken

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, who certainly has not been at his best tonight, is not going to repudiate Lord Hyndley.

Mr. John Cooper (Deptford)

The right hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Bracken) has not been very good.

Mr. Bracken

But the Minister also gave us an invitation. He said that we can choose at any time to have a full Debate on coal. Well, we accept that invitation. In my judgment, the coal situation, on both the production side and the distribution side, is one of the most serious menaces to our recovery. Therefore, on behalf of my hon. Friends, I accept the Minister's invitation. We shall ask at the first possible opportunity for a Debate on coal. We shall base ourselves on the admissions made by the Government's nominee, Lord Hyndley, and we hope to go very thoroughly into this. But we do not want to do it in any partisan sense. [Laughter.] Hon. Members are very hilarious. They obviously care very little for what is the most vital industry in this country, but we do, and I must say that rarely have I seen a Minister approach an industry of the importance of coal with such levity as the hon. Gentleman did tonight.

I say to my hon. Friends—and I know they are extremely irritated and must be forgiven because of the really provocative speech made by the Minister—wait until we can get a full day to discuss coal—[HON. MEMBERS: "Vote, vote."] I was hoping to comment without interruption, but I was asked by hon. Members opposite to "vote, vote"; and then I read of them going round the country saying, "Our poor party is so strained by the weaker Tories; our Whips are in hospital, and it is very unfair to force votes from time to time." They can choose for themselves. If they want a lot of voting, they can have it. In my judgment, the coal industry ought to be above politics, and we hope to have an opportunity, and indeed we shall provide an opportunity, for the House to discuss the coal industry in a full Debate.

11.40 p.m.

Air-Commodore Harvey (Macclesfield)

I only wish to detain the House for a few minutes because in recent weeks I have been balloting for an Adjournment Motion to deal with the question of distribution of coal and, if I can have the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary, this will save a Debate on an Adjournment Motion later.

The hon. Gentleman said that the coal retailed by the National Coal Board would amount to only a few ounces over the whole country. I quite agree that that is so if it were distributed over the whole country, but in the borough of Congleton, in my constituency, it would amount to a considerable proportion. Recently, nine coal merchants came to see me. On two occasions they had had 50 and 10 per cent. cuts, on two occasions they had had 15 per cent. cuts, on two occasions 25 per cent. cuts, and on seven occasions they have had 8 per cent. cuts in their ration. It does seem—if I could have the attention of the hon. Gentleman——

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Ede)

He is taking notes.

Air-Commodore Harvey

I am much obliged. I thought he was talking to the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn, East (Mrs. Castle) behind him.

Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)

Why should he not?

Air-Commodore Harvey

If these cuts are to be made, why cannot the National Coal Board advertise in the local newspapers, so that people will know that cuts are being made? I put that forward as a suggestion, trying to make a better feeling when coal is not available, so that people can understand.

In the Borough of Congleton the National Coal Board have, at the Land Sales Wharf, a depot where coal is unloaded and distributed by their own retailers and coal merchants. The National Coal Board retailers have first choice of coal out of the truck and local merchants second choice. The Home Secretary sniggers at that, but I see nothing funny about it. My constituents are very sore about it. They see the customers of the National Coal Board getting their full ration but the local merchants are cut week after week during the whole of the winter, and I say this is deliberately done to squeeze the small merchant completely out of business. While I do not agree with what the merchants suggest—they feel it better for the Coal Board to pay them out and finish with them—I think it would be far better to distribute coal equitably among the National Coal Board retailers and local merchants, so that what is available is fairly distributed.

11.44 p.m.

Mr. Raikes

When I moved this Prayer, I stated that I moved it in the hope that I would get from the other side of the House a statement to show that either now or at a slightly later stage-the Government would be in a position to increase the ceiling. From the Parliamentary Secretary's speech, it is quite obvious that under the present set-up we have not got the coal to increase the ceiling, either at present or this year. In view, however, of the hon. Gentleman's offer to have a full Debate on coal, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Hon. Members


Question put, and negatived.