§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
asked the Secretary for Mines whether he is in a position to report any further progress in his investigations into the prices, etc., of coal sold to householders?
§ Mr. SHINWELL
In view of the general interest that seems to be taken in this matter, I should like to take this opportunity of making a rather full statement. In consequence of numerous complaints from all parts of the country about the price and quality of household coal, I took the matter up with the Coal Merchants' Federation. The results of that investigation have been communicated to the House in a White Paper. They are obviously unsatisfactory. The wide difference between retail and pithead prices clearly justifies aprima facie presumption that either the methods of merchanting coal are inefficient or the profits are excessive. The six London merchants representing the Coal Merchants' Federation who saw me on the 18th March offered to make a full and frank disclosure of the facts and figures, and I was encouraged by this to address a series of questions to them in the hope of elucidating the truth. If the presumption to which I have referred is incorrect, this gave them the opportunity of rebutting it. But they proved unwilling to answer those questions that were most material to this point. They have since 1167W stated in the Press that the profits of their firms over a period ended some 12 months ago averaged about 9d. a ton. But this statement by itself does not carry us much further. I have no power to extract information from the merchants that they are unwilling to give, and it would therefore serve no useful purpose to continue along this line of investigation. I have arranged to meet representatives of the co-operative societies this week in the hope of obtaining from them information similar to that for which I asked the merchants. I shall then consider whether anything can be done, by legislative or administrative action, to mitigate the grievances of the domestic consumer of coal, which, so far as my investigations have gone, seem to me well-founded. Numerous suggestions have been made to me, as, for instance, the appointment of a Royal Commission, the regulation of the trade by a system of licensing or registration, the systematic grading of different qualities of coal, the extension of co-operative distribution, or the legalisation of municipal trading in coal. I am examining all these, but I cannot make any definite statement at present.