My noble Friend is anxious to end rationing as soon as possible, but before he can do so he must be satisfied that adequate supplies of coal suitable for domestic use are available from home sources. At present, stocks of such coal are no higher than last year, even though total stocks of coal of all kinds are much higher. The household allocation to take effect from 1st May, if rationing continues, will be announced shortly. There are no restrictions on coke.
In view of the fact that the National Coal Board has stopped recruiting miners and that there are reports of very large stocks of coal, surely the hon. Gentleman can give an approximate date?
I thought I had made it plain in my Answer that the two things are not really relevant. The large stocks are almost entirely of coal that cannot be burned in domestic use, so the two things have no relation one with the other.
Will my hon. Friend consider and, if thought fit, recommend to his right hon. Friend the Chancellor that it would pay the nation to apply the principle of the investment allowance to industry, and even to private persons in their dwellings, so as to encourage the purchase of closed stoves which will burn with great efficiency the fuel which is available in such large quantities?
There are a number of measures being taken along those lines, but I do not think that it would be useful at this time of year to pursue suggestions as to what might or might not be included in my right hon. Friend's Budget statement.
Why does the Parliamentary Secretary again equivocate on the ending of rationing? Is he aware that there is considerable anxiety in the country, particularly among the miners and the officials of the National Coal Board, about the present high stocks of coal? He must be aware that there are 24 million tons of coal and a considerable amount of coke and smokeless fuel in stock. If rationing is continued, will it not intensify the stock muddle?
The hon. Gentleman is, I know, an expert in proving that black is white, but we do not propose to have black derationing of coal to follow the confusion of the white de-rationing of sugar.
Referring to the wording of Question No. 31, may I ask whether my hon. Friend is aware that if he had been in Arbroath last week-end he would have realised that winter was not at an end? There is no domestic coal in the town, so will he see that some is sent there very quickly?
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Neal) has caused considerable offence inside the House and will do so out of it? Is it not the case that the Parliamentary Secretary could recommend to his right hon. Friend that, whilst the allocations of domestic coal should remain as they are, the rest of the coal supplies should be absolutely free, so that rationing could be done away with if people are prepared to take lower grades of fuel?
There is a certain amount of truth in that, but Her Majesty's Government have already said, and I have stated it myself, that we propose as soon as it is humanly possible to end this last relic of the Socialist rationing system; and we propose to do so when it can be Bona in an orderly fashion, and not before.
Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that coal that is dumped deteriorates rapidly with the weather and that its value, therefore, is not so high after being dumped as when it was first put down? Furthermore, the cost to the National Coal Board of first putting it down and then picking it up later, after it has deteriorated, would be obviated if he adopted the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens).
We are talking about domestic coal, and whatever happens to coal when it is put on the ground, it does not grow bigger; and the reason why this coal cannot be burnt in domestic appliances is because it is small.
Will the Parliamentary Secretary advise his right hon. Friend that a vast amount of what is called small coal is not, as the hon. Gentleman says, at present available for domestic use but could be converted into briquettes and into ovoids which could then be sold for domestic use? Is he aware of that? Incidentally, would it not be desirable for the hon. Gentleman to acquire a little knowledge of his subject before he comments on it?
Again, the right hon. Gentleman is partly correct in what he says. We hope that in due course this small coal will be made into suitable fuel by briquetting. The National Coal Board is, in fact, urgently considering that and actually has plant under development at this moment for that purpose. But what we are considering now is whether we can deration in the next few months, and that particular piece of machinery, and that particular development—which I share the right hon. Gentleman's anxiety to see carried on—whatever else it does, will not affect the use of these small coals in the next few months, or even in the next year.
Taking the present stocks of domestic coal, has any calculation been made of what the price ranges would be in order to use price rather than administrative rationing to control the distribution of coal; and what are the increases that would be likely?
That would be a very difficult exercise, and I think it is almost impossible to be sure of the result. The National Coal Board is at present in very difficult financial circumstances and cannot afford a further overall loss. Already, in agreement with my noble Friend, it has, as the House knows, made some adjustments in that sense which, I think, have commended themselves to informed opinion all over the country. But, of course, if the Board is not to be a net loser, if it reduces the price of some coal it must put up the price of some other. That, unfortunately, would not be particularly popular, and, indeed, it would probably not be in the public interest.
Whilst recognising that, with increased mechanisation the proportion of small coal to total output is bound to increase and that the remedy is, as the Minister suggests, that there should be briquetting, may I ask if the Board will be given full freedom to invest in building the plant to extend briquetting?
With respect, the right hon. Gentleman is not quite accurate in that. The National Coal Board is busily engaged—and, I am glad to say, with considerable success—in stopping the fall in the percentage of large coal. As regards the capital investment programme, the White Paper will be published very shortly, and I do not think that this is the occasion for me to enter into that topic.
How does the hon. Gentleman reconcile the stopping of the recruiting of miners to produce large coal and the continuance of the rationing of domestic coal? Is he aware that in Canada the railways use briquettes, whereas I understand that in this country the railways have refused to use them.
I think that the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's question is really a matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation. As to the National Coal Board's stoppage of certain recruitment, I think that that raises very wide issues which I could not enter into in replying to a supplementary question.
If the hon. Gentleman is not prepared to deration household coal for the reasons which he has stated, would he be prepared to permit the domestic use of unlimited amounts of categories of coal which are not regarded as household coal and leave the domestic user to determine whether he can usefully use this coal which is in greater supply?
A fundamental change in the rationing system might be very difficult if one is hoping to bring the whole rationing system to an end at a comparatively early date, but I will certainly look into the suggestion which the right hon. Gentleman has made. Perhaps he will put a Question down, or I will write to him on the subject.