HC Deb 21 February 1977 vol 926 cc1022-3
13. Mr. Skeet

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what is his estimate of the extent that the market for coal has been reduced by the increased use of gas.

Mr. Eadie

Coal's share of the overall fuel market has been affected to some extent by the increased use of gas. But it is not possible to say by how much since so many factors affect fuel usage.

Mr. Skeet

Is the Minister aware that the tonnage of coal used in the domestic market has dropped from 28 million tons to 10½ million tons? Is it the policy of the Government to let that trend continue and to let natural gas roar ahead, or have the Government any suggestions for dealing with the matter?

Mr. Eadie

The hon. Gentleman's statistics are certainly questionable. He gives the impression that that has happened in one year. It is a fact that the domestic market has been eroded, and as increased supplies of gas come on to the market they will have an effect on the energy market. The hon. Gentleman will be pleased when I tell him that when there is increasing demand in the energy market there is a bigger take for each of the various energy industries. He will also be pleased to know that this year an extra 5 million tons of coal will probably be burned in power stations.

Mr. Kelley

Does the Minister agree that there would be a possibility of improving domestic sales of gas, electricity and coal for domestic heating if there were established in various urban centres—where these three organisations now operate independently—domestic heating centres where trained people could advise those requiring domestic heating on the best form to suit their requirements?

Mr. Eadie

My hon. Friend answered the point about the amalgamation of various services earlier. My hon. Friend the Member for Don Volley (Mr. Kelley) is very knowledgeable in these matters, and he will know that the National Coal Board is always trying to push the use of coal in the domestic market. One of the significant factors is the many new appliances coming on to the market. I note what my hon. Friend said about the marketing of coal.

Mr. Hannam

Will the Minister confirm that the supply of free and concessionary coal to miners represents nearly one-quarter of all domestic coal supplies? How does he reconcile that with the Government's general attitude towards perks in other industries?

Mr. Eadie

That is not related to the original Question. The supply of concessionary coal to miners is a separate question associated with the industry, and acting on it would not solve the problem of the erosion of the domestic market for coal.

Mr. Gwilym Roberts

Does my hon. Friend agree that the key to maintaining a balance between the fuels is a drastic reduction in the amount of electricity generation based on oil and an increased proportion of electricity generation attributable to coal and nuclear fuels?

Mr. Eadie

I get the implication of my hon. Friend's question, but I do not believe that the drastic reduction for which he calls is possible. The consumption of oil in power stations has already been drastically reduced, and it is doubtful whether it could be reduced much further.

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