HC Deb 23 November 1943 vol 393 cc1468-70W

Following the postponement in June, 1942, of the fuel rationing scheme set out in the Annex to the White Paper (Cmd. 6364) steps were taken to implement the alternative measures proposed in the White Paper for the restriction of fuel consumption and to extend and strengthen the system of restrictions then in force in order to ensure fair and equitable distribution between consumers. From these measures the present system of control has been evolved and at all stages of the evolution my Department has been in close consultation with the Merchants' Consultative Committee and the Consumers' Sub-Committee of the National Coal Board. The distribution of house coal is controlled in two ways: firstly, by allocating supplies to merchants in proportion to the estimated requirements of their customers, and secondly, by the imposition of restrictions on the amount which may be supplied by merchants to individual premises.

Allocation of Supplies to Merchants.

The global quantity of coal allocated to merchants is distributed almost entirely to premises which are controlled premises under the Coal Distribution Order, 1943, i.e., all non-industrial premises and small industrial premises consuming less than 100 tons of solid fuel per annum. Taking the total number of such premises in the whole country the amount of house coal allocated to merchants from November onwards represents, on an average, 89 cwts. per premises per week. This average figure, however, is misleading in several respects. In the first place it is applicable only to the whole country and not to individual districts. For example, in some areas, where there is a wide range of small industrial undertakings, the allocation is almost 1½ times the average for the whole country, whereas in London it is about half. Moreover, the allocation varies from district to district within a region according to the incidence of the requirements of the premises in each district. Secondly, the allocation figure represents the programme of current supplies to merchants from the collieries, and does not necessarily represent the total quantity available for distribution by merchants since in addition to their current receipts, they are able to withdraw from reserve stocks, which they have accumulated during the summer. Finally, the tonnage available to a merchant when expressed in terms of an average weekly amount per premises, bears no relation to the quantity which may be supplied to any individual premises, since the latter quantity is influenced very largely by the restrictions on deliveries imposed from time to time by my Department.

Restrictions on Supplies to Consumers.

The effect of these restrictions is two-fold. They limit the quantity of coal which may be supplied to any premises during a given period; and they superimpose on that limitation a further requirement that the stock held by any individual premises shall not be raised above a certain figure. It should be mentioned that many consumers go off the market during the summer, owing to lack of storage space or for other reasons; as there are fewer purchasers the permitted maximum can be higher than in the winter, and consumers who have storage space can lay in coal within prescribed limits for their winter needs. During the winter, the stock limit is lowered to keep off the market those who have accumulated reserves. It therefore follows that in any particular period and especially during the winter, there will be some premises which, by virtue of the delivery restrictions, are precluded from obtaining any supplies at all, while other premises will require very much less than one cwt. of coal per week, either because they can only have enough to raise their stocks to the current limit, or because their actual requirements are less than one cwt. a week, e.g., when they have gas or electricity available, or use any appreciable proportion of coke,

This means that within the quantities permitted under the delivery restrictions a number of individual households will be able to obtain more than the average allocation from their registered merchant. This will apply particularly in the case of working-class houses with no gas or electricity and with insufficient storage accommodation to build up a winter stock during the summer. This class of consumer, which my hon. Friend has particularly in mind, has received special consideration, and arrangements have been made to put into force, at every depot, schemes to ensure that these consumers receive priority of coal deliveries during the winter. There will always be some premises for which the quantity of coal permitted under the current delivery restrictions will not cover the full fuel requirements and occupiers of such premises should augment their coal purchases by acquiring alternative solid fuels, particularly coke, which is free from any restriction as to quantity. Where this is not practicable, they can apply to the Local Fuel Overseer for a licence to acquire more coal than the current restrictions allow. It will be seen that the delivery restrictions in themselves do not provide any specific apportionment of coal as between premises provided with gas and electricity and those which are not so provided. While such a distinction would be useful, I am afraid it is impracticable since the administration of the restrictions depends to a large extent on their regular observance by coal distributors, who cannot be expected to know to what extent their customers are provided with gas and electricity for cooking and heating. In conclusion, I am satisfied that in general the existing arrangements have resulted over the past two years in a fair and equitable distribution of coal between all classes of consumers: but I would again emphasise that consumers should exercise full economy in the use of all fuels (including gas and electricity) and should make the maximum use of alternative solid fuels such as coke. This will not only result in overall economy, but will materially assist in ensuring equitable distribution of the limited coal supplies available.