Open and Coke Fires

Oral Answers to Questions — Energy – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28th March 1988.

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Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North 12:00 am, 28th March 1988

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy how many households are estimated to have open coal or coke fires; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Hon. Peter Morrison Hon. Peter Morrison , City of Chester

I understand from British Coal that an estimated 2·9 million households are using coal or solid smokeless fuels on open fires.

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North

How does that figure compare with the previous known figure? Has there been a decline, or an increase? Labour Members call for cheaper fuel for poorer people, so will such people be able to burn imported cheap fuel on their open fires rather than more expensive home-produced fuel?

Photo of Hon. Peter Morrison Hon. Peter Morrison , City of Chester

The available figure shows a slight decrease on the previous year, but that is hardly surprising given the mild winter.

As to my hon. Friend's second point, if British Coal produces coal competitively, more households will be likely to buy.

Photo of Mr Michael Welsh Mr Michael Welsh , Doncaster North

Is the Minister aware that many coal fires are going out because—[Laughter.] I thought that that was rather good. This is happening because smokeless zones have been introduced. Therefore, people have been left with only one fire, so they cannot properly heat their homes. Could British Coal offer grants to such people when an area is made smokeless, so that they can afford to put in central heating, or will he ask the Secretary of State for the Environment to allow local authorities to give such grants?

Photo of Hon. Peter Morrison Hon. Peter Morrison , City of Chester

I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the polite way in which he posed that question. There will be agreement on both sides of the House that the benefits of smokeless zones are substantial.

With regard to the hon. Gentleman's proposition, British Coal's time is already taken up in seeking to increase productivity. That is the most important aim and ambition of its production.

Photo of Mr Irvine Patnick Mr Irvine Patnick , Sheffield, Hallam

Does my hon. Friend agree that part of the death of coal as a heating product is due to the fact that local authorities do not build chimney breasts into houses? There has been a saving from clean-air zones, but does my hon. Friend agree that part of the price that the mining industry has had to pay is that fewer people burn coal and now use other forms of energy?

Photo of Hon. Peter Morrison Hon. Peter Morrison , City of Chester

I agree with my hon. Friend that there are no doubt many reasons why households decide not to use coal and use instead oil, gas or electricity. I should have thought that the primary reason is cost. That is why it is crucial that British Coal and its labour force should seek ways to improve productivity.