HC Deb 11 June 1964 vol 696 cc608-10
6. Mr. John Hall

asked the Minister of Power what action he is taking to ensure that there are adequate supplies of smokeless fuel to meet the increasing demand created by the development of smokeless zones.

14. Dr. A. Thompson

asked the Minister of Power whether he will make a statement on the adequacy of supplies of smokeless fuels for the forthcoming winter.

Mr. Peyton

I do not expect any general shortage of solid smokeless fuels next winter. On the other points, I refer the hon. Members to the White Paper on Domestic Fuel Supplies and Clean Air Policy.

Mr. Hall

Is the Minister aware that I find his reply somewhat astonishing? Is he aware that the price mechanism is operating to iron out the differences in supplies? For example, coke has not reaped the benefit of the summer decrease in price and is likely to cost another £1 in the winter. Is he aware that grave concern has been felt because people are being encouraged to use dirty coal, for which there has been a reduction in price, while smokeless fuels urgently needed on grounds of public health are becoming unobtainable in some areas?

Mr. Peyton

I do not think that my hon. Friend, on reflection, would wish to suggest that these fuels should bear any price other than one which reflects the cost of production.

Mr. Rankin

What has that to do with it?

Dr. A. Thompson

Is the Minister aware that in the coming winter 30,000 British people will the of bronchitis, frequently as a result of smog, and that this number could be reduced by an effective clean air policy? Is he also aware that his Ministry occupies a central position in this matter by being able to provide smokeless fuels in appropriate quantities at reasonable prices? Is he aware that while we cannot prevent some diseases—for instance, we have no certain cure for every kind of cancer—we can control bronchitis by environmental health measures? Would he treat this matter as one of real national urgency?

Mr. Peyton

The question of clean air is treated by my Department as a matter of grave urgency and we do everything we can to help. I realise that the hon. Gentleman is concerned about this matter, but I stress to him that it would be quite wrong to carry out a clean air policy on the basis of premises which are no longer valid.

Mr. Hocking

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is considerable concern in the West Midlands area about the provision of smokeless fuels? Can he say what steps are being taken to make sure that those areas already designated as smokeless zones will get adequate supplies before there is a further extension of the policy?

Mr. Peyton

Again I am in the happy position of being able to say that yesterday I was talking to the chairman of one of the boards, and he assured me that the supplies of coke were plentiful. If my hon. Friend has any particular area in mind, I hope that he will let me know and I will check the matter with the chairman of the appropriate board.

Mr. Holt

May I ask whether the Minister is aware that there is also concern in my constituency about the price of coke fuel? He said that the cost must reflect the cost of production, but would not he agree that coke is a by-product of another process and that the cost is an arbitrary figure? Is he aware that a while ago, when coke was not wanted, it was very cheap indeed? Is the Minister aware of any reason why the price of coke should not be reduced?

Mr. Peyton

I hope the hon. Gentleman will recall that the main function of the gas industry is to produce gas at an economic and competitive price.

9. Mr. J. Robertson

asked the Minister of Power if he is aware that householders in smokeless zones who are obliged to use smokeless fuels are not enjoying the full benefit of summer coal price reductions; and if he will now take steps to ensure that they will enjoy parity of treatment with householders in other parts of the country.

Mr. Peyton

Summer/winter price differentials apply to all domestic consumers of solid smokeless fuels. Their effects have been offset by recent increases in the basic prices of coke.

Mr. Robertson

Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that in my constituency old-age pensioners living in smokeless zones have been asked to pay up to 17s. 6d. a cwt. for these fuels which is greatly in excess of the price, even the winter price, of coal? Would not he agree that a substantial summer reduction or even a greater reduction in the price of coal used for these smokeless fuels would encourage continuity of production in the industry and ensure adequate supplies next winter?

Mr. Peyton

I do not think that I can usefully add anything to the Answer which I gave, namely, that the price for these fuels must reflect the cost of their production.

Mr. Rankin

But surely not 17s. 6d. a cwt.?

Mr. John Hall

Is my hon. Friend aware that recently a National Coal Board spokesman said that the reason there was no reduction in the price of coke had nothing to do with the economic price of production—it was that there was a shortage of smokeless fuels?

Mr. Peyton

I have not seen that report. The price of Sunbrite, which has not been reduced for this summer period, had got out of line with the price of gas coke. There was a fairly heavy run on stocks last year and in order to increase economic production an increase in price has been necessary.