HC Deb 16 July 1964 vol 698 cc1409-10
16. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Minister of Power if he will introduce legislation to enable him to control the retail price of coal.

Mr. Peyton

No, Sir.

Mr. Allaun

Will the hon. Gentleman find a way of dealing with the particular point that in many towns coal in 28 1b. parcels is being sold in paper bags at 3s. 5d., which works out at £13 13s. 4d. per ton? As it is the poorest people who have to buy their coal in such small quantities, could not the hon. Gentleman take some action to control coal margins to bring the price down?

Mr. Peyton

On the general question of the price of coal, I do not think that there is anybody more anxious than the National Coal Board to keep it competitive. That is quite clear, and I am satisfied about it. On the second point, I remind the hon. Gentleman that the bagging and packaging of coal is very expensive. Each bag costs 6d., and this materially adds to the price.

Mr. W. Hamilton

Is not the hon. Gentleman concerned a great deal about the enormous difference between pithead prices and the price to the housewife? What are the Government doing to bring some rationalisation into the retail distribution of coal, where most housewives believe the difficulties arise?

Mr. Peyton

Here is this awful word again. I suspect that "rationalisation" covers a multitude of sins, and that if we had it, we should regret it very soon.

Mr. Ridley

Will my hon. Friend resist this ridiculous suggestion? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Would he not agree that it entails interfering with the commercial freedom of the nationalised industry, that it entails operating the National Coal Board as a welfare service, and that it also entails the presumption that the gentleman in Whitehall knows best?

Mr. Peyton

I see no reason to differ from what my hon. Friend has said. In fact, I accept it.