HC Deb 04 July 1955 vol 543 cc757-9
30. Mr. Nabarro

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what changes he proposes to authorise in the domestic coal price structure, as a result of losses of £2 per ton that the National Coal Board will incur on all the imports of 12 million tons of coal this year.

Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd

The National Coal Board consider their price structure as a whole and consult the consumers' councils when material changes are proposed. Proposals will shortly be considered by the councils and I would not authorise any changes in domestic prices before considering their views.

Mr. Nabarro

In view of the fact that the deficit of the National Coal Board is now rising at the rate of approximately £750,000 per week, and has been for some months past, on account of coal imports and other factors, would not my right hon. Friend consider expediting the announcement of the new prices, notably in connection with households?

Mr. Lloyd

That is primarily a matter for the National Coal Board, but I can say that the councils are considering the matter this week.

33. Mr. Holt

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether he will give a general direction to the National Coal Board to sell its coal in future in the United Kingdom at world prices.

34 and 35. Mr. Warbey

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power (1) whether he will give a general direction to the National Coal Board that, pending other arrangements for the financing of coal imports, losses on imported coal shall not be taken into account in the exercise of the Board's duty under Section 1 (4) (c) of the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act, 1946, to meet outgoings out of revenue on an average of good and bad years;

(2) whether he will take over responsibility for coal imports, after consultation with the National Coal Board, regarding the quantity required to meet deficiencies in internal supply and the prices at which the coal shall be offered for sale.

Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd

It is the policy of the National Coal Board to base their prices on the average costs incurred in making supplies available in accordance with the first section of the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act, 1946. I believe this to be in accordance with the national interest at the present time, and I therefore do not propose to give general directions as the hon. Members suggest, nor to alter the arrangements under which coal is imported.

Mr. Holt

In view particularly of the right hon. Gentleman's answer to the previous Question, is that not an extraordinary statement to make? How can the right hon. Gentleman expect us to have a sane national fuel policy if one of the fuels is artificially kept below world prices; and, as industrialists and even householders daily have to make decisions upon which type of fuel burning appliance they will install, how can they do this sensibly if one of the fuels is at an uneconomic price?

Mr. Lloyd

I do not think that is quite true. I would like to draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that since it is the policy of the National Coal Board to average coal prices, it also follows, and, indeed, is the fact that there are some million tons or so of coal production in this country which show a loss as big as the loss on imported coal.

Mr. Warbey

Does the Minister's reply to my Question mean that the enormous loss on imported coal is to be borne by the mine workers, or is it to be borne by the domestic coal consumers, or both? As the Minister is answering two of my Questions, may I also ask whether this should not be accepted as a matter of national responsibility to be borne on central taxation?

Mr. Lloyd

This amount will inevitably be borne in the end by the coal consumers of the country, and certainly not by the mine workers. I think it would be wrong that the taxpayer should subsidise the coal industry.

Mr. Jay

Is it not about time that the National Coal Board should charge to the industry the full economic price for industrial coal? Is not the practice of selling coal below the world price and below the cost of production the main cause of the present trouble in the coal industry?

Mr. Lloyd

That is an argument for higher prices of coal.

Mr. Gaitskell

Could the right hon. Gentleman say what is the difference between the price charged for coal exported and the home price?

Mr. Lloyd

I could not state the exact difference, but the National Coal Board loses about £2 a ton on coal imported and gains about £1 a ton on coal exported.

Mr. Jay

Does not the Minister think there is a case for higher prices for industrial coal? Why should the Coal Board sell coal below the economic price?

Mr. Lloyd

The Coal Board is basing its prices, in the case of both the steel industry and the British Electricity Authority, on exactly the same principles.

Mr. Burden

In view of the very keen competition in world markets, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the absolute necessity of keeping down the cost of coal to industrial users?

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