HC Deb 13 December 1966 vol 738 cc239-40
27 and 28. Mr. Eadie

asked the Minister of Power (1) what response he has received from coal merchants as a result of his drawing to their attention the report on retail coal distribution costs;

(2) what co-operation he has had as a result of his approach to the interests concerned on the question of reorganisation in the coal distribution trade.

Dr. Bray

We are awaiting the views of the trade on reorganisation, but I am assured that they are making good progress in their necessarily detailed consideration of the Board's recommendations. Inquiries suggest a generally encouraging response to my right hon. Friend's request to the trade to contain prices.

Mr. Eadie

Is my hon. Friend aware that the National Coal Board is responsible for about 3 per cent. to 4 per cent. of the retail trade in this country, that the co-ops are responsible for about 14 per cent. and that the rest is made up of about 12,000 private traders? Will he not consider these facts and, as I have questioned him on this matter before, will he not rouse himself from his slumber and do something in the interests of the consumer?

Dr. Bray

I think my hon. Friend is very well aware that we are not getting much slumber nowadays. The question of the organisation of the distributive industry is being actively discussed in the different regions and considerable thought is being given to it within the trade. My Department is in consultation with the trade on this matter.

Mr. Lubbock

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is widespread contravention of the Government's policy on prices and incomes by the solid fuel merchants, various cases of which I have drawn to his attention? Will he announce to the merchants that if they do not fall in line with the Government's policy an Order will be introduced under the Prices and Incomes Act?

Dr. Bray

No, Sir. I am not aware that there is widespread infringement. We are dealing with every inquiry that we get. In the overwhelming majority of cases, we are finding that the trade is observing the prices and incomes policy.

Mr. David Griffiths

Will my hon. Friend see that action is taken, rather than this matter merely being seriously looked into? Is he aware that these distributors and coal merchants are taking the bulk of profits that should be going to the National Coal Board?

Dr. Bray

As my hon. Friend will know from reading the Report of the Prices and Incomes Board, the main source of economies lies in the concentration of the overhead expenditure of the distributors. It is by the amalgamation and rationalisation of the distributors who carry on business throughout an area that the principal economies can probably be made.

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