HL Deb 15 July 1959 vol 218 cc54-70

5.54 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, in the thoughtful and constructive speech which he made, received the consideration, and to some extent the sympathy, of noble Lords opposite. I think he will agree with me—and probably the Minister will agree also—that the debate has been well worth while. If one takes some of the references to this subject which have appeared in the Press, the spirit and temper of this debate to-day, must be a great surprise to those who write the things that we have seen in the Press recently on this subject. But, of course, there has been one significant statement made in one great journal, The Times Review of Industry, in dealing with the coal industry, which said this: To the unbiased reader it becomes obvious that the thought and energy which are being expended on the achievement of efficiency will one day"— that is a reference to the Coal Board— earn the nation's thanks and that criticism of temporary features is often uninformed and childish. The Coal Board had a task to perform which very few men responsible for an organisation have ever had to undertake in this country. It is forty years ago since the Commission upon which Lord Sankey sat as Chairman, exposed the industry in a way in which very few industrialists ever have been exposed in this country. It was quite clear that the old pick and shovel era had passed and that the time had come for new methods involving great cost.

There has been a reference to the cost of the Coal Board. As a matter of fact, the cost of fitting up the mining industry in Great Britain with machines alone—colossal machines in many cases—must have been fabulous. But of course there was much more to it than that. All of us who knew the mines knew that the small company—the family company, very often—and the little bits and pieces here and there had not been able to work a mine as it should have been worked. Sometimes, away in remote parts, when the coal had been taken out the mine was in a very sorry condition. It had a terrible effect upon the lives of the workers in the mines.

I remember that for long years before I read the Ministry of Labour Gazette I used to read the Board of Trade Gazette (of course, there were nearly one million men and boys working then) and I used to notice that when it came to the third quarter, if the number of men and boys killed had not reached 900 I had a bet with myself that it would just as certainly reach its regular average of 1,200 at the end of the year. That was the regular situation, and with that in mind I had some statistics taken out the other day. I cannot give the whole of them, but they are in themselves an indication of what the position was in the old days and give a lesson in a way that not even an old miner like myself could. In 1941, for instance, there were 692,000 men and boys employed in the mines of this country, and the deaths were 925. In 1942 there were 704,000 employed and the deaths were 877. That is roughly the story right down to the period when the pits were taken over.

From 1946 the picture begins to change: 693,000 men employed, 543 killed—a considerable reduction. Indeed, if you take the comparison of 1941 and last year you will find that there were 7,000 more men and boys working in the mines last year than there were in 1941, but instead of 925 men and boys being killed there were 326. They have reduced the death rate, by careful attention to the working of the mine, to one-third of what it was. Some of us know this feeling in great areas where you took a great space out of the pit and you had what was called the waste; sometimes there came a mighty fall; it would reverse the air; you would feel as though you were lifted up and suspended in mid-air, and then the gas followed. I read once, I remember, a report and evidence of no fewer than 100 explosions from 1842 to 1942. They were going about for fifty years looking for the light that started the explosions, when all the scientific opinion was to the effect that the explosions were the result of spontaneous combustion through great falls in the mine.

The Coal Board have done a splendid job. They had to do certain things that every well-conducted factory has to do. Men used to come up out of the pit black. Sometimes they had to go miles in that condition. Nobody could say that they were not entitled to baths, for instance, and canteens. I think the Coal Board has done a splendid job in the establishment of baths and canteens, which has all added, of course, to the cost. So far as the Board is concerned, I agree with the statement in The Times, that the time will come when this country realises the job that has been done to put the whole industry on a proper footing.

Now we are up against this problem of the oil, and I should like to warn the Minister and the Government of being too free with the oil from the Middle East. The Middle East has not exactly been a happy hunting ground for the Government, has it?—particularly the Conservative Government. I should say that the least dependable area in the world on which to rely for your supplies is the Middle East. Maybe the Minister will tell us that we have taken steps to get lots of supplies in this country, but it is not a very reliable thing to fall back upon for a great country holding the place that we hold in the world. It is unthinkable that the coal industry should be undermined in any way. If it is, the result will be as pointed out by the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley; you will again have the terrible state of things that we once knew. Lord Ridley did great work along with others; he was generally one of the two or three leaders in the establishment of new industry in the North in those terrible days. If anybody—the Minister included—had ever seen that state of things he would not take a single step to repeat it and would not omit to-take the proper steps that might avoid a repetition.

I used to go home and find queues at the front door and queues at the back door, good men, men of great intelligence, proud of their craft, who once thought that in any circumstances they would get work, it did not matter what happened. But there they were at the door, asking for some old clothes or something like that. No one who has had that kind of experience would omit to take the necessary steps to avoid it in the future. I hope that the Minister to-night is going to give us a statement which will hearten us, a statement of policy which expresses what has been expressed by Members in every part of this House, and not least by Members on the opposite side of the House. If he gives us a statement that expresses the policy as set forth by the various speakers in this House tonight, we shall be satisfied.

There are many more things I should have liked to say upon this question, because I have watched the work of the Coal Board, living in the middle of a coalfield, living in a street among the miners. One of the most delightful things I have ever experienced was to see those boys come into the industry and be trained. We used not to be trained. We used to walk into the mine and be there two or three days. I was in for a week and then was told to get a pit pony, and I had ten hours with him. The boys now get their dress and their cap. You can see that the boys are proud of their craft. It would be a most dangerous thing to take any step which would interfere with the evolution of a movement like that. The boys are not being taken in on the scale that they were hitherto. But I am hoping that the Minister will give us to-night a statement expressive of the spirit of your Lordships' House, which will enhearten those people in the coal fields and, I am sure, give some consolation to a great mass of the public of this country who regard seriously the state of things that has been brought about by the coming of oil.

6.11 p.m.


My Lords, on January 21 last we had a most interesting and instructive debate on fuel and power, initiated by the noble Viscount, Lord Hall. To-day, he has given us the privilege of taking part in another debate, which again I have found most interesting and which will, I am sure, be most helpful to me. The noble Viscount brings an unrivalled experience in matters affecting the coal industry; but he has also a lively sympathy for those whose lives are in the industry. Moreover, he brings to any discussion, if I may say so, a sense of moderation and balance.

I welcome this debate and the valuable contributions which have been made to it because it gives me an opportunity of setting at rest doubts which have been expressed by several of your Lordships. I keep ever before me that it is my job to see that this nation has cheap and abundant fuel supplies, and I also keep before me that in carrying out that policy there are certain national considerations and social obligations which have to be met. The noble Viscount said that we are faced with a grim situation. There I must join issue with him. We are not faced with a grim situation; we are faced with an anxious situation, and I am sure we all share the anxieties felt in the coal fields for the future of coal. This Government has done a great deal to help coal, and will go on helping coal in every proper way. It has extended financial support in the vast capital expenditures which have rightly been poured into the mines, and it has not hesitated to extend financial help for the financing of stocks which were the alternative to unemployment in the mines.

Here I should like to say that the National Coal Board have dealt with the problems in front of them with every regard to the coal industry and the men who work in it. They had a Plan for Coal in 1950. They revised that plan and brought out Investing in Coal in 1955. But each of those plans envisaged a production of coal by 1965 of 240 million tons. The production in 1956 was 218 million tons, and in 1958 it was 203 million tons. The Coal Board have been working very hard on a plan to give the nation their view of what can be expected in the next six years up to 1965. What is the base of their plan? The base of their plan is the result of discussion between my Ministry and the Coal Board as to what are likely to be the demands for coal over those years. So that any implication that the Government have no views and have no policy is quite unfounded.

Let us just consider for a moment the question of pit closures, which has been mentioned to-day. As the noble Viscount knows well, pit closures take place every year. In fact for some years the number has averaged 20 pits a year—closed because of exhaustion. In respect of 1959, the Coal Board announced that in addition to those closures they intended to close 36 greatly uneconomic pits which they were really not justified in trying to carry on; and 29 have been dealt with so far. The net unemployment out of those pits—I regret any unemployment—is 1,300 people. As your Lordships know, the Coal Board pay compensation to allow for a time of rearrangement. That is paid in addition to the unemployment insurance benefit.

I should now like to give your Lordships some figures, because I think it would be useful to reflect that we are getting value for the vast investments that are going on in the mines. What the Coal Board are trying to do is to arrange for a still more efficient industry, streamlined as may be necessary; to arrange for that in an orderly fashion, and to collaborate with the Government in seeing that the minimum dislocation results. The peak employment that I could find in the mines was in 1920, when 1,200,000 men were employed and the production was 229 million tons—not much more than it has been since. In the post-war peak, which was in 1948, there were 720,000 men employed and the production was 198 million tons. To-day there are 668,000 men, and the production is something just over 200 million tons. Recruitment has been going down. Last year it was 39,350. But I want to say, quite specifically, that in my view, and in the view of the National Coal Board, there are no prospects of the great pools of local unemployment such as we knew in the 1930s; and that is why I say the position is not grave, though it is anxious.

The noble Viscount and my noble friend Lord Merrivale referred to the question of stocks. The June figures—the May figures also were quoted in your Lordships' House, but the correct June figures are: distributed stocks, 15.3 million; undistributed, 28.7 million—a total of 44 million. That, as I have said, is financed by the Exchequer and appears to me to be well worth while——


My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether the whole of the cost is financed by the Exchequer? Is any of the cost borne by the Coal Board?


My Lords, it is financed by the Exchequer in this sense; that the Coal Board have to increase their borrowings because of these stocks.


And pay interest upon it?


I was saying that I believe that the existence of these stocks is preferable to unemployment at a greater rate than it can be taken care of. I announced in January that it had been decided this year to cut down opencast production by 3 million tons; to arrange for these closures to which I have just referred to the extent of another 3 million tons; and to stock 3 million. The production is going better than was anticipated, but I think it is fair to say that consumption is not going so well as was anticipated. For one thing, we have had rather warmer weather than we are used to, and the result is that 8 million tons this year may have to be stocked. The Coal Board are prepared to do this and not to alter their plans in relation to closures.

I said that the Coal Board were engaged on a revised plan, and perhaps we could have had an even more useful debate if we had had that revised plan before us to-day. But it is being prepared with great care, very thoroughly. The plan will in due course, when it is ready, be discussed with the National Union of Mineworkers and with my officers and myself. I expect that that will probably be some time next month, but it would have been helpful if we could have had it to-day to assist in our debate.

Great play has been made—and naturally made—on the progress being made by oil. But that progress is not altogether a bad thing for this country. I was most interested to read the debates which took place in 1946 and 1948, when, as my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard pointed out, people were being urged to change over from coal to oil because of the shortage of coal—and that was by Socialist Ministers. The only trouble is that they had imperfect plans. They could not be sure that the oil was available. The noble Viscount, Lord Hall, mentioned the removal of tax on fuel oil as being in 1957. I am sure he was mistaken.


It was 1947.


It was 1947. And I believe that in 1946 a subsidy was paid to all those who were willing to convert from coal to oil—and I shall be talking later about the move in 1955 in relation to the power stations. But for all these years people were being urged to turn over to oil. Is it any wonder, therefore, that many did, that their experiences were passed round and that we have the picture that we see to-day? Let us look at that picture, because I should like to get things into perspective. In 1948 the production of the United Kingdom refineries was 1.4 million tons. In 1958, ten years liter, it was 12.6 million tons. The imports in 1948 were 5.2 million; in 1958 5 million.


My Lords, will the noble Lord excuse me? Is that all fuel oil?


My Lords, yes, that is fuel oil. The inland deliveries in 1948 were 2.7 million, and in 1958 10.6 million; exports were only 0.1 million in 1948, and 3.3 million in 1958; and bunkers accounted for 1.5 million in 1948 and 2.9 million in 1958.

Let us look at the total oil position with regard to Europe, because that has been mentioned. In 1958 we imported £40 million worth of oil from Europe, but we exported to Europe £80 million worth of oil in that same year. Let us look at the refineries. To-day we are refining 42 million tons, and after the United States we are the largest refiners of oil in the world. And that is all regardless of the great refineries which are owned by British companies in other parts of the world. I call that a success story and I think we have every reason to be proud of our oil industry.

It has been suggested that there is dumping into this country. I do not think that in general there is any truth in that suggestion. The U.S. Gulf prices determine the price of fuel oil. It has been suggested that there is dumping because the price of fuel oil is less than the price of crude oil, but the price of fuel oil has always been less than the price of crude oil, because of the other valuable products, or more valuable products, which are produced by refining. I can give your Lordships an illustration: the price of wheat is £25 a ton; the price of bran, which comes from it, is £20 a ton. That may not be a very apt illustration, but there it is.

Then I should like to say a few words on the gas industry, because I was a little concerned at the implication that the gas industry and the coal industry are not working together. I do not think that that is a fair allegation. The gas industry was founded on the carbonisation process, and carbonisation gives rise to the production of coke. The gas industry has had to face two problems. First of all, it has been told at various times that there is a limit to the amount of carbonisation of coal that it can get. Then, the gas industry used to sell its coke at a nominal price. Noble Lords can probably remember when one could buy coke at 10s. a ton. Now, because of the price it pays for its raw material, the gas industry has to charge an adequate price for coke. The result is that coke stocks have been growing, too, and are not being sold. Therefore the gas industry, also, has had to turn its mind to other things. I should like to put that into perspective. Of the raw materials used in the gas industry to-day, coal accounts for 88 per cent., coke for 8 per cent., and oil for 4 per cent.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will forgive my interrupting again, may I say that the gas industry is the second largest user of coal. I think that in 1957 it used 27 million tons of coal; by the end of this year it is going down to about 22 million tons of coal; and, so far as I can see from what has been said by the Paymaster General in another place, it is likely to go very much lower than that.


The Paymaster General, if I recollect rightly—and it was mentioned in your Lordships' House this afternoon—said that by 1965 there was expected to be a rise of 5 per cent. in gas, and he expected that a rise in other materials would take that up, or words to that effect.


But not coal. He said there would not be any increase in coal used.


That is right; but gas production has been going down at present. At any rate, the fact remains that coal is 88 per cent. of the raw materials of the gas industry to-day, and gas is having a hard job to sell its product because of the price of its raw materials. In view of that, I think if. is quite right to do certain things, because it is no use burning coal to make coke which you cannot sell. Therefore it has been using a certain amount of oil; as I say, at present it is 4 per cent. of its raw materials. The industry has also dealt with refinery gases and oil gasification residues, and is making intensive experiments, which have been mentioned this afternoon, to gasify poor-quality coal—first at Westfield in Scotland, and, later, deep-mined coal at Coleshill in Warwickshire. If the industry does not expand with the general expansion, it will contract; and, unless it can compete it will buy less coal, and that is a thing we do not want to see happen. That is why the Gas Council are making these experiments and hope, by that way, to reduce their overall costs. But coal will still remain the great raw material in the production of gas.

I should like at this stage to refer to liquid methane and to give the figures of that experiment, for which the noble Viscount asked. There have actually been two shiploads here now. The cost to the Gas Council of that experiment will be £1½ million, because it involved making arrangements for the reception of the material and for a share in a ship to bring it over.

Reference was made to the Clean Air Act and to the question of smokeless fuels. Now I think that that is very important. I am sure we all want to see the Clean Air Act implemented as quickly as possible, because we all sense the value of clean air. But the smokeless fuels, in the main, will be based on coal, or derived from coal. Coke, of course, is a very important one; but there are the fuels like Coalite and Cleanglow, Phurnacite, and now the new fuel of the Coal Board, Warmglow, the production of which, as has already been said, I think by the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, will be increased to 500,000 tons this winter. Great attention has been paid to this question of smokeless fuel, and I have every reason to hope that the supply will keep pace with the demand. Because the demand is not only in clean air zones or smokeless zones: people are beginning to see the benefits of burning it themselves, and that must again be one of the new or revised outlets for coal.

I said that I would say a word about oil for electricity generation. In 1955, the electricity authorities were informed that coal was not available in sufficient quantities for their plans, and there was reason for that. In 1956, for example, as I think I have previously quoted, the home demand went up by 3,200,000 tons, and production went down by 300,000 tons. So certain long-term contracts were entered into in order to fuel the power stations which were being built remote from the coalfields. As the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, was good enough to acknowledge, we have been successful in getting certain cancellations which have increased the demand for coal, and I can assure him that we will not relax our efforts to get as much coal into those power stations as we can.


My Lords, could the noble Lord give an indication of what is going to happen to the four generating stations which were to be turned over to oil? Are they going to be allowed to remain on coal generation?


In reply to that, may I say that we postponed two stations for a year, which saved one million tons of coal, and we cancelled the conversion of two stations, which will have the effect of increasing the demand for coal by 4 million tons; and, as I have indicated, we are still pursuing the matter to see what further we can do. I regret that I cannot give the noble Viscount any further information than that.

I should like to say a word about opencast production. That will be reduced from 14 million tons last year to 11 million tons this year, and next year it is hoped to get it down to 7 million tons and then reduce it still further as contracts run out. I am not approving or confirming any compulsory rights orders which were envisaged under the Opencast Coal Act, 1958. I think we are doing what we reasonably can to deal with that problem.

Then I was urged to consider the question of delaying the nuclear power programme. I am sorry to hear that raised again. I think that on a previous occasion I said that we ought to be proud of our ability to carry out our nuclear power programme. I said then that I did not think that we could chop and change. We still lead the world in nuclear power. We have five groups of firms, who have able scientific and technical staffs and who are improving and improving the methods and the designs of these stations. The programme is to have 15 per cent. of our production capacity nuclear by 1966, and it may be that 25 per cent. of our output may come from that 15 per cent. capacity; but we shall see. But there is a steady flow of nuclear power work being done, which is essential to the existence of our nuclear power industry, and any revising would be prejudicial to the development of that industry, of which we should be proud.

The noble Viscount, Lord Hall, referred to statements that had been made by Sir John Cockcroft and Mr. McKinney. I do not intend to go into those, except to say that they were talking about nuclear power in the world, and that there are countries which have cheaper sources of fuel and power than we have. I believe that in certain countries it may be a long time off before they can get cheaper power from nuclear energy than they can produce from their indigenous fuel. I think that that is true in America, but it is not true in this country. The surmise of our experts is that within the next decade the nuclear power cost line will cross that of conventional fuel, and this is something for which we can hope and which we can expect.

We must not forget that the price of power station coal has increased more than 70 per cent. in the last decade; and while I hope and trust that efficiency will keep the price of coal down, it is something that has to be taken into account, whereas although the initial cost of nuclear power is high, over the life of a station to-day it is about one-quarter of the cost of conventional fuel and is likely to fall.

A great deal has been said about co-ordination. I thoroughly believe in co-ordination but I am not sure that I use the word in the same sense as noble Lords opposite. If I have understood them correctly, they mean by co- ordination that the amount of coal which would be used is fixed, and after that everything is done to see that the other fuel industries do not impinge on that picture. The Ministry of Fuel and Power Act, 1945, laid down that the Minister had the responsibility …of securing the effective and co-ordinated development of coal, petroleum and other minerals and sources of fuel and power in Great Britain,…and of promoting economy and efficiency in the supply, distribution, use and consumption of fuel and power, whether produced in Great Britain or not. I would explain to noble Lords that my Ministry is organised into divisions—coal, oil, electricity, gas, et cetera—and that there is an official co-ordinating committee to co-ordinate the facts and figures and make recommendations. In turn, I, as Minister, discuss any questions with the Boards, and I can draw on my own co-ordinating committee whenever I think it necessary. The co-ordinating machinery is there. It may be that some noble Lords think that it does not function correctly and does not produce the results they want, but the machinery is there.

Noble Lords had something to say about prices, and took the opportunity of criticising the distribution costs. Well, the problem of selling is, of course, a vastly important one; and coal has now got to the position where no one is begging for it and it has to be sold. Therefore, the methods of selling it, the margins, all count. Your Lordships may remember that the Robson Committee found that there was nothing excessive in merchants' margins. Roughly, so far as house coal in the South of England is concerned—perhaps I can use that to illustrate the position—the pit proceeds are about 50 per cent.; transport, 30 per cent.; and the merchants' margin, out of which he has to distribute, is 20 per cent. So his rate of profit is a very low one on the coal he sells.

But I have been so impressed with the necessity of selling coal that I have on more than one occasion addressed hundreds of merchants and told them that their problem is to sell coal and to give the service which consumers of coal deserve and which in many respects they get from oil distributors. I hope that, as time goes on, and as people get out of their system that there is not a job of selling to do so far as coal is concerned, the old "take it or leave it" attitude will go and that there will be a real service in relation to coal in order to get the utmost out of the industry.


The figures I gave in the course of my speech are rather different from the figures given by the Minister. I took mine from the Annual Report of the Coal Board last year, when they said the average cost of conveyance, from pithead to the merchants, and from the merchants to the retailers, was something like 59s. per ton of coal. That was the average.


My figures, too, were average, and if the noble Viscount likes to look at Hansard to-morrow he will see that these figures were in respect of house coal in the South. I shall be only too happy to compare figures with the noble Lord to see if we can get a common ground.

I should just like to say a word about what has been done in regard to fuel efficiency, burning coal efficiently. A great deal has been done. I have seen a lot done since I became Minister, but schemes were in existence when I came. There is the British Coal Utilisation Research Association; there is the Coal Utilisation Council, which looks after the domestic side, and there is the National Industrial Fuel Efficiency Service. These are all supported not only by the Coal Board—largely by the Coal Board, but not only—but by the other fuel industries for which I am responsible, including oil. There is an example of co-ordination and co-operation to bring about benefits to the country, and I am sure noble Lords opposite will not quarrel with the idea that we should not waste our coal, even though at the moment it is in surplus.

Then the question of research was mentioned. I attach very great importance to that matter. Coal does contain valuable products and it is too easy just to burn it. It is a difficult job to get these products economically and to use them. But we established a special Project Section, and money is being spent freely on the development of the complete gasification of coal. That work is being done in co-operation with the Gas Council, the British Coal Utilisation Research Association and the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. The noble Viscount mentioned the question of coal in South Africa. It is true, as one noble Lord said, that the price of coal in South Africa is considerably lower. That does not mean that we are not in touch with what is going on in South Africa and Australia. We have representatives there and are discussing the whole problem with them and seeing what they are doing.

On the question of research and development of hydrogenation and obtaining high-quality gas from small coal, there is research into further derivatives; and, as the noble Lords, Lord Wolverton and Lord Merrivale, have said I have got this Committee, under Mr. A. H. Wilson, composed of first-class scientific technical brains, to examine everything we are doing. I hope in due course to present a report to your Lordships' House about it. I was asked when. The Committee was appointed in April or May, and I said that I expected a report in nine months, so I hope that that answers the question.

The important question of off-peak tariffs was mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Ferrier and Lord Brocket. I can say that the Boards are keenly alive to the desirability of low off-peak tariffs, and try to progress to this very desirable end. At the present time, as was mentioned, there is a difference of about 25 per cent. It may be that that is not enough. But there are certain technical problems to be overcome. Industrial users can use this re-equipment and already have a strong incentive to use as much as possible off-peak and so reduce the maximum demand charge. In the commercial field, good progress is being made there in heating. The difficulty in the domestic field is that there are not yet sufficient off-peak appliances available. I have taken note of the matter raised by Lord Ferrier, and the Exchequer are already aware of it.

One question I was asked concerned the increase in fuel oil deliveries. Of course they are distorted by the amount going to power stations, but the figures are that in 1958 they were up 53 per cent. and in the first four months of 1959, 37 per cent.; excluding the power stations, the figures were 27 per cent. and 16 per cent. The statistics in regard to coal are that consumption in 1954 was 213.8 million tons, and in 1958, 202.9 million tons; and of fuel oil, 4.4 million tons and 10.6 million tons.

The noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven, mentioned the question of bituminous coal burnt in mechanical stokers. My right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government is about to make an Order that will exempt from the Clean Air Act those appliances if they are modern and efficient.


They are coal-using, are they?


Yes, coal-using. I was also asked a question about strikes. I do not propose to go into any reasons—there are many, of course—but I will give the figures, which are that in the first 27 weeks of 1958 they meant a loss of 872,000 tons of coal, and in the first 27 weeks of 1959 a loss of 572,000 tons. I am happy to see that improvement. I think I have dealt with most of the points that have been raised, but if I find that I have missed any, I will write to the noble Lords concerned.

I should like to say a word about the Labour Party's fuel and power policy, because I want to correct something that I said. I said that I had read it, which was true.


I can tell the noble Lord that I have not yet had the pleasure of seeing it.


Perhaps my information is a little quicker than that of the noble Viscount. However, I said that I might have written it. What I meant to say was that I might have written the last three paragraphs. The first part of the paper is an attack on the Tory Party, which perhaps one might expect, though it is quite unjustifiable, because the results of the Tory Government's policy are plain for anyone who has eyes to see. If, after the information I have given to your Lordships' House, noble Lords opposite still maintain that the way these matters have been handled is wrong, I would ask them to state specifically what they would do. Would they restrict the consumer's use and choice of fuel and, therefore, curtail maybe their efficiency and productivity? Would they maintain the existing level from uneconomic pits and ignore the price and the competitive power of coal? Would they raise the price of fuel oil by the imposition of tariffs? Would they really mutilate the nuclear energy programme, with all that it means to our national aspirations in that field? Or have they some other policies in mind which are not in this Party leaflet and of which I have not yet heard? I would close on a happy note by again thanking the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, for what has been to me, and I hope to others, a most useful and instructive debate.


Do I take it from the noble Lord that the only message he has to this House after the speeches he has heard is that he is going to repeat the depressed areas once more? That is all I can make out of his message.


If the noble Lord had listened to what I had to say he would have heard me say quite specifically that I saw no reason to anticipate that there would be any more depressed areas in the coalfields.


You are doing it, though.

7.7 p.m.


My Lords, I am not going to delay the House by attempting to reply to the questions put by the noble Lord; they may provide the basis for a further debate on fuel at some future time. There are many points which I should like to take up with the noble Lord and discuss with him but, as I say, I will not take up time by so doing. I thank the noble Lord for his reply, and I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I think it has been a well worth-while debate, and that it may do some little good. The country can observe what is taking place in connection with the fuel policy, and I may say that many people are interested in it. I will leave it there and beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.