Domestic Boiler Full

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 23rd May 1947.

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Photo of Mr Frederick Skinnard Mr Frederick Skinnard , Harrow East 12:00 am, 23rd May 1947

I am very sorry to have to raise, at so late an hour, an entirely different subject, and to detain the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power when I know he has a most important public engagement in Southampton and ought to leave the House, at the latest, by quarter-past four. Therefore, I assure him I do not expect a long reply to any of the points I may raise, because I am sure he will give them due consideration, and will enlighten me as to any steps he may take at some later date.

At the beginning of this month the House will recollect that there were two important Debates on the fuel situation, which took place in succession on the same day. The first was on a Motion to annul the Control of Fuel (Restriction of Heating) Order, and the second was of a more general character, on the Motion for the Adjournment. I listened with very great attention right throughout the day to practically all the speeches made, and I came away very disappointed, because so little attention was paid to the practical everyday problems of the housewife on whose efforts, equally with those of the miner, will depend the success or failure of the campaign to avoid a repetition of last winter's fuel crisis. Much was said about the target at which she was to aim. an overall saving of 25 per cent. on her fuel consumption, including the prohibition of space heating, and there were many rather gloomy prophecies made about the domestic circumstances which would force her to ignore the Order. There was even mention of the short-sighted few people who might attempt to sabotage the saving campaign, such as one lady I met, who boasted that in order to embarrass the Government she had turned on every gas tap and every electric switch in her house. As a matter of fact, I do not think that such bad citizens are very numerous, in fact I am sure they are not, because when she actually made that statement she was taken to task not by myself—I did not get the chance—but by her fellow housewives around her who told her off in no uncertain fashion Her husband informed me that he had also suggested to her that she should defray the quarterly bills from her dress allowance, as he did not propose to pa them. Such bad citizens are, fortunately, rare; women on whom we rely to co-operate with the miners in the difficult task of fuel conservation are mostly co-operative and understandings They are fertile in domestic expedient, economy is second nature to them—and they take a pride in passing on to their neighbours any useful experiences they may have gained. I am proud, for instance, that in my own district of Harrow it is mainly from the housewives that has come the plan for a "Fellowship of Hearth and Mine," to equate a fuel saving target in each non-mining district to the coal production target in whichever mining area wilt be the partner in this experiment. The housewives backing this Fellowship scheme, which has had, I am glad to notice, the blessing of the Minister and of the chief officials of the mine workers' union, have come to me with certain difficulties which they find over achieving their target for the summer period. Like so many of the new suburbs and periphery towns which have developed between the wars, Harrow has literally thousands of small modern house; in which very little gas or electricity is normally consumed during the months of May to September. The small boiler of the "Ideal" or "Redfyre" type installed in the kitchenette, or the slow combustion fireplace of the "Esse" type which is very popular in my area in the dining room, is relied upon to heat water for baths, to do the family wash, to air the clothes and to burn the rubbish from the garden as well as from the household, and to mitigate in one room at least the occasional rigours of the English summer. Those units are most economical, as the Minister well knows, the more so because there is a general rule only to use them at the weekend. They are normally lit on Friday nights and let out at the latest on Monday, and nowadays, with so many mothers going out to work, they are even let oat on Sunday. Most of them can be kept going all day on one morning stoking and a raking out and making up at night, if suitable coke or, better still, processed boiler fuel such as anthracite, anthracite nuts or phurnod is available.

The housewife, aware of the gravity of the position, would be able, by exercising unusual caution and by keeping a careful watch on the household, to achieve the 25 per cent. overall saving, but she cannot, in view of the present chaotic position with regard to fuel for this modern type of house. There is no very great difficulty in getting coal delivered in small quantities, but it is almost impossible to obtain slow combustion fuel. On 10th May—I have carefully checked this—there was in the whole of Harrow, the largest urban district in this country, at six depots to serve some 50,000 householders, only 340 tons of boiler fuel, including very poor quality coke.