Coal Shortage

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1st February 1951.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames 12:00 am, 1st February 1951

But if the hon. Member is satisfied by Lord Hyndley's explanations, then he is very easily satisfied indeed.

There is one aspect of the state of affairs into which we have got as a result of the conduct of this industry upon which the House is entitled to a good deal further information, and that is the purchase of American coal. The right hon. Gentleman referred to certain quantities, but he did not tell us the price at which this coal has been purchased, nor the price at which it will be purchased; nor did he tell us the freight charges or how many precious dollars have had to be expended.

As this is a matter on which the right hon. Gentleman has accepted responsibility—I think his words were that he "instructed" the National Coal Board to proceed with the purchases—the least the House is entitled to demand is a statement of the price being paid for this coal and the amount of dollars that have been expended. It is impossible for us to estimate accurately the degree of disaster which this coal crisis has brought on this country unless we can be told what we have had to pay and in particular the amount of our immensely valuable dollar resources which we have been forced by the failure of the coal industry to divert to the purchase of coal. It is a very curious thing that after four years of nationalisation, the old tag about bringing coals to Newcastle has been demonstrated as the latest triumph of Socialist planning.

I desire to follow up a little of the right hon. Gentleman's statement in the concluding part of his speech, because there were several things that he said which interested me a great deal. I am glad to see him in his place, and he will correct me if I misunderstood what he had to say. He said that the sales of gas and electrical appliances were being reduced so far as the nationalised industries were concerned, and I think he went on to suggest that sales were now mainly on private account. I do not know how long that state of affairs has been in effect, because I am sure the right hon. Gentleman has studied with proper attention the second Report and Statement of Accounts of the British Electricity Authority for the year ending 31st March, 1950. It is stated on page 99 that in the year 1948–49 the percentage of equipment sold on hire purchase was 10.2 per cent., with cash sales 89.8, the two items being in round figures £14 million and £1½ million. In 1949–50 the position had entirely changed, with 24.8 per cent. hire purchase sales against 75.2 per cent. of direct cash sales. The tendency by this nationalised industry has been to stimulate hire purchase, which it has done with remarkable success in the course of one year.

One of my hon. Friends, the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Redmayne), on 29th January asked the right hon. Gentleman what he was doing about it. I quote the question and the reply. My hon. Friend asked the Minister if he will make a statement as to the directions he has given to the British Electricity Authority to cause them to observe the Government policy of limiting hire-purchase facilities in the same way as the banks have been directed. The right hon. Gentleman replied: I have given no direction to the British Electricity Authority regarding the limitation of hire-purchase facilities."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th January, 1951; Vol. 483, c. 70.] We know that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has sought the co-operation of the banks to discourage hire purchase generally. Here, where it is much more important to discourage hire purchase of these appliances which consume fuel, the right hon. Gentleman, although it is within his power to give a direction under the Electricity Act, has, in fact, not bothered to exercise his powers. It is a little hard when the right hon. Gentleman comes to that Box and says that the hire-purchase arrangements are mainly by private firms, the implication being to put the blame against them when he has not exercised the power vested in him by Parliament in respect of the great nationalised monopolies.

Then the right hon. Gentleman says that advertising is to be used to discourage consumption. That is a very welcome change. The right hon. Gentleman will recollect an answer to a Parliamentary Question by one of my hon. Friends below the Gangway some time ago. He was asked whether he thought the display of pictures of power stations was designed or calculated to increase or diminish the consumption of electricity. The right hon. Gentleman will recollect that he said that he did not think it would have either effect. In other words, advertising on a highly expensive stale—how expensive he has never dared to tell the House of Commons—he has refused to do so—is being used to have no effect at all upon the consumption of electricity.

So far as the gas monopoly are concerned, they are not guilty of any such impartiality. I have in my hands programmes from two London theatres sent to me by a constituent who attended them in the last few weeks. As I pointed out to the right hon. Gentleman when he was good enough to give way to me during his speech, they contain advertisements by the North Thames Gas Board. One entire page includes two tramcars originally designated "Triumph" and "Desire." With no apparent relevance to the tramcars, there appear these words underneath: Wherever they go the new gas cookers are a triumph. White, spotless, easy to use and clean, neat as a new pin—they transform the kitchen. Why not see them at the gas showrooms? A few pence a day buys one. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not."] Hon. Members should really direct their question to the Minister. If they had paid to the Minister's speech the attention which, because of his official capacity, it deserves, they would have appreciated that he indicated that he is now taking steps to use advertising on behalf of these monopolies to diminish the use of these appliances. It is a very material point to put to him that up to a few weeks ago, when, indeed, this fuel crisis was obvious to everyone except the right hon. Gentleman, these monopolies, which he controls, were acting in precisely a contrary sense.