Will my hon. Friend bear in mind the problem in places like Southwark, where the trolleyman comes round with coal and sells it to people at one end of the street, leaving the people at the other end of the street without a supply, and would not a rationing system be very desirable?
Arrangements for the creation of reserve stocks of domestic coal in addition to those held by merchants and consumers have now been in operation for nearly two years. The financial responsibility for these reserve stocks rests with my Department, but I have received and continue to receive invaluable assistance from local authorities who were asked in July, 1940, for their help in acquiring sites and making arrangements for stacking. In certain areas these reserve dumps are now being drawn upon, and where necessary local authorities have also been able to assist my Department in this connection.
Yes, Sir, but my hon. Friend should know that there are still stocks of coal available. The coal situation to-day is rendered very serious because of transport difficulties; it does not arise solely from the question of supplies.
asked the Secretary for Mines whether he has been informed of the shortage of coal in the Metropolitan borough of Southwark, and that such shortage leads to exploitation of persons able to purchase only in small quantities; that there are dumps of coal in that borough under Government control; in what circumstances these reserves can be made available for distribution; and whether the borough council coal controller has any direct authority in this matter?
I am advised that there has not been such a shortage of coal in the Borough of Southwark as to necessitate the opening of the Government dumps in the district. They will, however, be opened at the discretion of the Divisional Coal Officer for London, should the need arise. The local fuel overseer has no direct authority in the matter, but is in a position at any time to advise the divisional coal officer. I am not sure what my hon. Friend has in mind in referring to possible exploitation since the retail prices of coal are controlled by my Department. If he has any evidence of prices being charged in excess of those authorised in the Retail Prices Schedules, I shall be glad if he will let me have particulars.
Is my hon. Friend aware that this exploitation takes the form of unauthorised persons buying coal at a regular price and hawking it round the streets; that in this borough there is an abnormal number of damaged houses which cannot be made weatherproof owing to extensive bombing, and that the occupants require coal; and can he say why the borough coal controller was refused access to those dumps when there was a serious shortage of coal in the district?
There is a Divisional Coal Officer for London, and he has the last word in these matters. I have no information on the details supplied by my hon. Friend, and I did not know that a black market existed in coal, but it is a thing to be condemned, and I shall attend to the matter.
If I give my hon. Friend particulars of the situation in regard to coal in Southwark, will he find out why the Divisional Coal Officer refused the use of those dumps?