HC Deb 06 February 1968 vol 758 cc221-2
16. Mr. Edward M. Taylor

asked the Minister of Power what is the policy of Her Majesty's Government with regard to the National Coal Board's practice of charging regional prices reflecting the price of winning coal.

Mr. Freeson

The Board's policy is that the prices of coal should broadly reflect the costs of production in the individual coalfields. This policy is supported by the Government and was endorsed by the National Board for Prices and Incomes in their 1966 Report on Coal Prices (Cmnd. 2919).

Mr. Taylor

Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that this policy imposes an intolerable burden on areas like Scotland, where prices are so high, and where the position is becoming worse in smokeless areas? Smokeless fuel in Glasgow costs 18s. 3d. a bag, 3d. more than in the North of England.

Mr. Freeson

There is no question of unfair discrimination in this industry against Scottish coalfields. The fact is that here, as anywhere else in the country, it is not possible to sustain a price level which allows for continuing huge losses in particular collieries.

Mr. Lawson

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that industry in Scotland is prohibited from importing cheaper coal, if it can get it? It is one thing to charge regional prices. It is another to uphold them with the power of the State.

Mr. Freeson

I am not aware that there is any restriction on the N.C.B. bringing in coal from other parts of the country should it be necessary to do so as part of its commercial negotiations with industry.

Mr. Ridley

Would the hon. Gentleman agree that it is at least an essential part of public accountability that these regional prices should be published, so that the world knows what they are?

Mr. Freeson

I am not aware that any part of industry is short of information on the price which it is being charged for coal.

20. Mr. R. W. Elliott

asked the Minister of Power if he will take steps to prevent the National Coal Board from entering into contracts to supply coal at a price which would increase the annual deficit of the Board.

Mr. Freeson

My right hon. Friend is not prepared to base policy guidance of the Board upon the premise that the industry should incur continuing deficits. Its agreed financial objective is to make a profit of £10 million a year.

Mr. Elliott

Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that that is a very welcome Answer? However, will he also realise that the low price offered to Alcan must mean either that other consumers will pay more or that the deficit will increase? Will he continue with a policy of honesty in this regard?

Mr. Freeson

I do not accept either of the two points in the hon. Gentleman's supplementary.

Mrs. Thatcher

As the hon. Gentleman said in a previous debate that he expected that the deficit of the National Coal Board this year would be £10 million, does he still stick by that estimate?

Mr. Freeson

That estimate has no connection with the supplementary question, which asked whether this specific proposal meant an increase in the deficit of the Coal Board. When it comes into operation—should it come into operation—it will not be until the 1970s.

Mr. Speaker:

Mr. Concannon.

Mr. Concannon

Is my hon. Friend aware that there are already mines mining coal at a price of 2.3d.—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I called the hon. Gentleman to ask Question No. 24.