I have no intention of delaying the passage of the Order, because I realise that it is necessary, but there are one or two questions I would like to ask concerning that part of it which deals with the coal mines pit timber levy. As far back as July, 1940, we imposed a levy of 4d. a ton on all coal produced in order to deal with the difference between the price of the timber supplied, I believe by the Control, and the cost of importing it. Since last November that levy of 4d has been reduced to ½d. a ton. I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary what is the reason for the reduction from 4d. to ½d. Was it done with the consent of those engaged in the industry, and if ½d. a ton is sufficient now to meet the cost, why was 4d. a ton imposed in the first instance? Last Autumn I was told by some coalowners that they had so much money in the pit timber levy pool that they did not know what to do with it. I should like to have some explanation of the change. In addition to this, I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether the supply of suitable imported pit timber is being kept up. Of course, this has a direct bearing on coal mining, because in our experience we have always found that the imported harder pit timber was much more safe for use inside the pits than home-grown timber. Those of us who are keenly interested in the safety of mining would like an assurance that there is a plentiful supply of that timber.
May I also ask whether any inquiry was made as to why so many standards of good thick timber were lost on the East Coast some time ago? I raised this question in the House, and pointed out that many standards of timber were lost in Hull and district, which could have been saved for the industry if half as much speed had been made in getting that timber outside the port before a certain date, as was made a week later. I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether any inquiry was ever made. I can tell the House that 12 months before that date I was consulted on the question of finding a safe place to deposit this timber, and I drew attention to two or three places, but no action was taken. Colliery companies in Yorkshire, some of which are in my constituency, lost a good deal of pit timber which could have been saved with a little foresight.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) says, this Order merely consolidates a number of existing Orders. For convenience we are consolidating five Orders into a single Order, and making a few minor drafting Amendments. With regard to the question of the change in connection with the National Coal Mining Timber Charge, as my hon. Friend says quite rightly, the original charge of 4d. a ton was imposed for the purpose of meeting the difference between the cost of importing the timber by the Control and its delivery to the pit. That charge was reduced in October, 1941, from 4d. to ½d. My hon. Friend will appreciate that since it was a reduction, it was not necessary to come to the House—that is necessary only when a charge is imposed. The reason for the reduction was that there was collected in the Fund a sufficient sum to meet the existing balance between the cost of importation and delivery. It is anticipated that the Fund will be sufficient, after the reduction, until perhaps the middle of this year. Therefore, in view of certain other considerations which my hon. Friend and I both regard as very important, we thought it a good opportunity to take off this amount and prevent an increase in the price of coal which would otherwise have ensued. What will happen later it is difficult to say, but the structure of this charge is kept in being by this nominal amount of a ½d. In another six months we will see how the situation stands.
As to the other questions asked by him they, of course, are not germane to this Order, and I am afraid I shall not be able to give the full answer which I could have given if I had had notice that they were to be raised. With regard to the question of dispersal and loss, he and I know these are difficult matters. We try to make provision, but there is always argument and counter-argument as to dispersal, against loss of time and the saving of transport. Perhaps mistakes were made, but I think that the hon. Member can rely on the Department, and, while thanking him for the hint, I will look into the matter again to make sure that any mistakes which may have been made will not be repeated, and that the provision which is made balances danger on the one hand and speed and rapidity of movement on the other. With regard to the general supply of imported pit-props, I can only say that no supplies are satisfactory, and that it is the job of my noble Friend to try to bring them to an increased state of satisfaction.