Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Complete list of 8,000+ Thatcher statements & texts of many of them

1967 Dec 12 Tu
Margaret Thatcher

HC PQ [Coal]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: House of Commons PQs
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [756/179-95]
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: MT spoke at cc183 and 190.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 5813
Themes: -
[column 179]

COAL

Coal Mines (Employees)

1. Mr. David Griffiths

asked the Minister of Power what was the number of men and boys employed underground each year from 1963 to the most recent date, and the number of persons engaged in an official capacity from area general managers down to deputies and shotfirers.

[column 180]

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power (Mr. Reginald Freeson)

With permission I will circulate the figures in the Official Report.

Mr. Griffiths

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is great indignation about the number of miners being lost to the industry, while at the same time there is an overwhelming preponderance of area general managers? Miners in the coalfields are disturbed about this, and I hope that the figures given by my hon. Friend will be satisfactory. I doubt it.

Mr. Freeson

I think my hon. Friend will find that the figures show a drop in the number of persons to whom he has referred, as well as underground workers. The figures range from 34,900 in 1963, to 29,700 early this year, but further details will appear.

The following is the information:

Mineral Rights (Compensation Payments)

2. Mr. David Griffiths

asked the Minister of Power what has been the total amount paid to date to the former coal owners for the mineral rights of the various coalfields.

Mr. Freeson

The total amount paid in respect of the mineral rights transferred to the Coal Commission under the Coal Act, 1938, was about £68½ million. This includes interest less Income Tax from 1st July, 1942, the vesting date, until the compensation was fully satisfied.

Mr. Griffiths

This is another instance of there being no question of public indignation about the amount of compensation for mineral rights which has been given to these people.

[column 181]

Industry (Coke Supplies)

13. Dr. David Kerr

asked the Minister of Power what representations he has received concerning the guaranteed supply of coke for industrial use during the next five years; and what reply he has sent.

Mr. Freeson

Following representations from the trade, the Department have had discussions with the London and Counties Coke Distributors' Association about facilities in the London area for handling the additional supplies of hard coke that will be needed as supplies of gas coke decline. We are examining the position further with the producers and distributors.

Dr. Kerr

I thank my hon. Friend for that helpful reply. Is he aware that the problem is by no means confined to London and the Home Counties, and that the question will be of great urgency, particularly during this forthcoming winter, when Midlands industry particularly will face shortages of absolutely essential coke fuel?

Mr. Freeson

I was asked whether any representations had been received by the Department and answered that we have not had representations from the source referred to. In the first instance, such complaints and queries should go to the board, but, if there is a general policy issue here, no doubt, if my hon. Friend or others write to us, we will look into it.

Coal Mining Industry

22. Sir C. Osborne

asked the Minister of Power if he will make a statement on his talks with the Chairman of the National Coal Board regarding the loss of 300,000 jobs in the coal mines, and how far devaluation has affected the coal mining industry.

The Minister of Power (Mr. Richard Marsh)

I would refer the hon. Member to the replies which I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Lomas) on 20th November and to my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda, East (Mr. G. Elfed Davies) on 5th December.—[Vol. 754, c. 267 and Vol. 755, c. 256.]

Sir C. Osborne

While I do not remember those Answers, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman why Lord Robens [column 182]should not be given a free hand for two years to see if he can really produce coal as cheaply as imported oil and so save these 300,000 jobs which the miners will lose?

Mr. Marsh

The important point to get quite clear here about the figure for mining manpower run-down by 1980 is that there are no figures which can be justified with any reasonable argument. Having said that, I wish to make it clear that, from the point of view of flexibility to enable the coal mining industry to take advantage of increases in productivity, this is allowed for in the White Paper. If the coal mining industry does better and better in future, as it has done in the past, nobody will be happier than the Minister of Power of the day.

Mr. Swain

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in November, 1965, the then Minister of Power said that if coal output fell to below 170 million tons a year this would have a serious effect on the nation's balance of payments? Has my right hon. Friend decided what further serious effect on the balance of payments devaluation will have in terms of the import of further stocks of oil?

Mr. Marsh

I was trying to make this point earlier. Preliminary calculations show that the effect of devaluation on oil prices has meant an increase in the price of oil by an amount which is well within the margin taken into account in the second case in the Appendix to the White Paper, and not sufficiently large to distort the economic balance of payments advantages.

GAS

North Sea Gas

3. Mr. Gwilym Roberts

asked the Minister of Power if agreement has been reached on the price of North Sea gas; and if he will make a statement.

50. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Minister of Power what reply he has given to the request made by companies engaged in the North Sea gas project for increased prices consequent on devaluation.

Mr. Marsh

No agreement has yet been reached on the price of North Sea gas.

[column 183]

Mr. Roberts

Would not my right hon. Friend agree, however, that if the price charged is in excess of 2d. per therm it will make it uneconomic for many industrial and chemical purposes? Will he at this stage say that under no circumstances will he accept a price in excess of that figure?

Mr. Marsh

If my hon. Friend really expected a full answer to that question, all I can say is that he has an enviable level of optimism. I think that this is a very complex subject, rather more complicated than my hon. Friend has presented it. Clearly there will be no purpose in purchasing North Sea gas at a price at which it is not viable.

Mrs. Thatcher

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether a revised application has been received consequent on devaluation?

Mr. Marsh

Not yet. The companies are reworking their calculations, and we are in fact reworking ours.

Mr. Neal

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that this argument about prices is not depriving consumers of early participation in the use of North Sea gas?

Mr. Marsh

My hon. Friend has raised a very important point. There is no evidence that this is holding up supplies or development. Gas is coming ashore, and development is continuing, but clearly both sides are faced with a new situation in which they have to re-do some of their calculations.

4. Mr. Gwilym Roberts

asked the Minister of Power if he is satisfied that the cost to the developers of extracting North Sea gas was more than 1½d. a therm, spreading exploration and development costs over a 20 year period and a 10 year period, respectively; and what estimates he has of these costs.

Mr. Marsh

As I explained to my hon. Friend on 4th July, cost estimates made by my Department are confidential.—[Vol. 749, c. 205.]

Mr. Roberts

But would not my right hon. Friend agree with me that as the developers must know these figures already, there is nothing to hide, and surely the general public who have to pay the piper are entitled to know what it costs the companies to develop this gas?

[column 184]

Mr. Marsh

I think the companies will feel that there is a great deal to conceal from each other. The cost details are commercial secrets. They are given to the Department in the strictest confidence, and the companies would not want one another to know some of the details.

The other point which my hon. Friend must get clear is that some of these costs have not yet been incurred. The costs will be in respect of fields which have not been found, much less developed.

Prices

10. Mr. G. Campbell

asked the Minister of Power what is his estimate of the increase in costs to the Scottish Gas Board of devaluation and the accompanying measures.

11. Mrs. Renée Short

asked the Minister of Power what effect the Government's decision to devalue will have on development in the West Midlands Gas Board area; and what estimate he has made of the effect on prices to be charged to consumers.

16. Mr. Lane

asked the Minister of Power by what further percentage he expects gas prices to rise as a result of devaluation.

Mr. Freeson

Gas prices are at present being considered by the National Board for Prices and Incomes, which will no doubt take into account the effects of devaluation on the Boards' costs, along with all other factors. I do not expect devaluation to have any significant effect on the course of development in the West Midlands Gas Board area.

Mr. Campbell

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the price of gas in Scotland is already too high compared with the average in the rest of the country? Will he examine ways of ensuring that it is not increased?

Mr. Freeson

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that this question is now with the N.B.P.I. and that we must await its report.

Mrs. Short

Is my hon. Friend aware that, the day after devaluation was announced, a spokesman of the West Midlands Gas Board said that prices would probably go up and development would have to be cut back, and that, [column 185]during October, the increase in the cost of living was largely due to the increase in coal and electricity prices? Does he not think that he is putting the wrong burdens on the wrong people for the wrong reasons?

Mr. Freeson

I am not sure what the point was of the last part of that Question. The rest of it was a statement, of which one takes notice. This matter is now with the Prices and Incomes Board and we must await its report before reaching a decision.

Mr. Peyton

What on earth does the hon. Gentleman think the Prices and Incomes Board knows about this matter? Why not deal with it in his own Department rather than put upon the very doubtful Olympian judgment of the Prices and Incomes Board responsibilities for things about which it knows nothing?

Mr. Freeson

I take note of the jovial remarks of the hon. Gentleman about the work, the nature and the quality of the National Board for Prices and Incomes.

28. Mr. Dempsey

asked the Minister of Power if he has now made a study of the report of the National Board for Prices and Incomes regarding high gas prices in Scotland; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Freeson

The question of gas prices in Scotland, as elsewhere was referred to the National Board for Prices and Incomes on 3rd October. The Board has not yet reported.

Mr. Dempsey

Is my hon. Friend aware that this indefinite delay could have been avoided by using a common denominator which would indicate that prices are higher in Scotland? Is he aware that consumers are now handing back gas heating appliances because of high cost? Will he do his utmost to speed up this investigation?

Mr. Freeson

I think it was right that all the price proposals should have been referred to the Board and that no exceptions should be made. On the second point my hon. Friend is under a misapprehension. My last information was that there was a considerable expansion in gas domestic heating going on in Scotland today.

[column 186]

Mr. Edward M. Taylor

Is the Parliamentary Secretary not aware that he should stop hiding behind the Prices and Incomes Board and the Minister should accept the decision as his? Does he know that the price of gas in Scotland is already 24 per cent. above the national average and that a general increase is not justified?

Mr. Freeson

Hon. Members cannot have it both ways. There have been queries about not having the electricity prices referred to the N.B.P.I. and now we are criticised for having gas price increases referred to the Board.

Industry (Gas Supplies)

12. Dr. David Kerr

asked the Minister of Power what proposals he has for ensuring a guaranteed supply of gas of consistent quality to industry during the next five years.

Mr. Freeson

The gas boards have a statutory duty to maintain supplies of gas and their plans are framed accordingly. Quality standards are prescribed by Regulations, and the Department's gas examiners make periodic tests to ensure that they are complied with.

Dr. Kerr

None the less, is my hon. Friend not aware that certain industries in the Midlands are complaining that the variations in the quality of the gas which is supplied to them is hazarding some of their processes? What conversations are being undertaken between industry and the gas boards in the Midlands on this subject?

Mr. Freeson

If an industry or group of industries and companies has complaints about the service which it is receiving it must raise the complaints with the Board concerned.

Mr. Emery

Would the hon. Gentleman say that, to obtain this consistency and quality, there is a need for some of the greatest investment in the gas industry in the next five years? Will he assure the House that this will now be available, even in the present economic restrictions?

Mr. Freeson

There are no proposals to prevent investment on the introduction of natural gas and the further modernisation of the industry, whatever adjustments are being made or considered under the heading of public expenditure.

[column 187]

MINISTRY OF POWER

Steel Prices

5. Mr. Willey

asked the Minister of Power whether he will make a further statement on the question of steel prices for the shipbuilding industry.

Mr. Marsh

The British Steel Corporation is still discussing the price of shipbuilding steel with the shipbuilders, and I hope it will be possible to reach an agreement to the advantage of both industries.

Mr. Willey

I am obliged to my right hon. Friend. Will he see that the importance of steel prices to the shipbuilding industry is borne in mind, otherwise this industry will be sorely prejudiced if its main competitors have the advantage of £5 to £6 a ton?

Mr. Marsh

I think that devaluation will help the shipbuilding industry. The Corporation, in its own interests, is very much concerned to do what it can to work with the shipbuilding industry in their mutual interest.

Mr. Emery

As far as the shipbuilding industry in concerned—in fact this applies to all the steel-consuming industries—where there has been a major increase in price since devaluation, sometimes as much as 16.6 per cent. on present prices, do the Government intend to refer this to the Prices and Incomes Board?

Mr. Marsh

So far there has been no increase in the price of shipbuilding steel. If, at some time, the Corporation came forward with an application for an increase in price, it would be judged on its merits as to how big it was.

14. Mr. Ridley

asked the Minister of Power by what percentage he estimates that steel prices will rise as a result of devaluation.

41. Mr. James Hamilton

asked the Minister of Power what application he has received regarding an increase in the price of steel; and, in view of the damage such an increase would do to industry and exports, if he will refuse his approval to the application.

Mr. Marsh

The British Steel Corporation is still considering how far it can absorb the increase in costs due to de[column 188]valuation bearing in mind also the advantages it hopes to gain.

Mr. Ridley

But why does not the Minister tell us by how much the price of steel will rise? Will he give an undertaking that he will not allow the British Steel Corporation to drift into deficit when it is clearly part of the policy of devaluation that steel prices should rise if they have to?

Mr. Marsh

As I have already explained, the Corporation has put no proposals to me for a major increase in prices. If it did, that application would be treated in the same way as any other. As to the industry drifting, one has only to consider its record in the last year or two to realise that this is its only hope of stopping drifting.

Mr. Hamilton

My right hon. Friend is reported in the Press as saying that the price will increase by 16 per cent. If it does increase, will it be the same for the whole country? Can he assure us that Scotland will be considered very much in this?

Mr. Marsh

As hon. Gentlemen on both sides know, the question of steel prices is a very complex issue affecting the problems of the market generally. What the Corporation is doing is working out how best to change its pricing policy in the light of devaluation. If that involved any increase of any note, the necessary application would be treated in the same way as any other.

Sir A. V. Harvey

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many other industries are complex yet have already worked out their prices, including the motor car industry where exports are a main consideration? Will he note that industry's example and get something done quickly?

Mr. Marsh

Some sections of the motor car industry took one path, and some took a different path. With an industry as big as the Steel Corporation, the important thing is to get the answer right.

Indigenous Fuel

7 and 8. Mr. Eadie

asked the Minister of Power (1) what alteration he estimates will occur in the demands for indigenous fuels as a result of devaluation;

(2) what consultations his Department has had with indigenous fuel industries [column 189]as a consequence of devaluation; and if he will make a statement.

9. Mr. Biffen

asked the Minister of Power what estimate he has made of the consequences for indigenous sources of power of the recent devaluation of sterling.

38 and 39. Mr. Cronin

asked the Minister of Power (1) what changes he estimates will occur in the demand for indigenous fuels as a result of devaluation;

(2) what consultations his Department has had with indigenous fuel industries as a consequence of devaluation; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Marsh

As I said in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda, East (Mr. Elfed Davies) on 5th December, the main effects of devaluation will be to reduce slightly oil's competitive advantage over coal in the home market and to make British coal cheaper in export markets. I do not expect the White Paper conclusions about the likely future pattern of demand for the various fuels to be more than marginally affected.—[Vol. 754, c. 438.]

Mr. Eadie

Would my right hon. Friend agree that coal is no burden on our balance of payments? Is he aware that several hundred miners at Michael Colliery have been given notice? Would not my right hon. Friend help the balance of payments problem by issuing instructions to reopen Michael Colliery? Does not he believe that an increase of 17 per cent. in the amount of oil imported must make a difference to the use of indigenous fuel?

Mr. Marsh

The increase is not as large as that. With regard to oil imports, it seems at the moment that the effect of devaluation will be less than that, with the increased fuel tax in the fuel policy White Paper.

Michael Colliery is a separate question, but I think that to reopen what is now virtually a new coalfield at a cost of about £5 million must, as it has done, cause the National Coal Board to think.

Mr. Biffen

Has not the right hon. Gentleman given a most extraordinarily imprecise Answer as a member of a Government who are supposed to be committed to central economic planning? [column 190]Does not that Answer show that devaluation was unexpected and unplanned?

Mr. Marsh

Nothing is ever unexpected. Obviously, an Answer which informs the House that we are in the process of working out the effect of this on the White Paper which has only recently been printed is obviously bound to be somewhat indecisive. It becomes decisive only when we know the calculations. At the moment, as I said, it looks as if they will have only a marginal effect.

Mr. Cronin

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that there is no further substantial increase in the import of oil? Having regard to the enormous sums spent every year by this country on imported oil, will he bear in mind that, if it were not for the large increase of oil imports permitted by the last Conservative Government, there would be no balance of payments crisis this year?

Mr. Marsh

In a modern industrial economy, it is rather difficult to prevent oil imports and, under the policy of the White Paper both the rate of increase in oil consumption will be much lower than in the past and the amount of oil as a proportion of the power economy will be much less than in most other countries.

Mrs. Thatcher

Will the right hon. Gentleman not agree that oil's competitive advantages are likely to be reduced only if the price of oil rises to meet increased costs? Is it his policy to allow the price to rise?

Mr. Marsh

I am not sure what the hon. Lady has in mind. The cost of oil would have to rise considerably before it cast doubts on the White Paper figures.

Oil Prices

18. Mr. John Smith

asked the Minister of Power what is expected to be the percentage increase in oil prices due to devaluation; and by how much he expects this will increase the price of a gallon of petrol.

Mr. Marsh

I have not yet completed my examination of the effects of devaluation on oil prices.

Mr. Smith

How does the prospective increase—for increase there will be—in the price of a gallon of petrol square with the Prime Minister's statement of [column 191]19th November that the pound in one's pocket or purse has not been devalued?

Mr. Marsh

I think that the hon. Gentleman is trying too hard. The point is, as I explained at the beginning, that we have not yet agreed on an increase in price for oil. Neither have we agreed on what is the effect of devaluation. I think, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman should have kept that supplementary question for a future date when I may be able to give him some of the reasons.

Mr. Ridley

As the point of devaluation is to increase the prices of imported raw materials, will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that he will not hold them down at the expense of the oil companies' profits for political reasons?

Mr. Marsh

I recognise that the hon. Gentleman's withers are wrung at the prospect of the oil companies' own problems. However, there is a national problem as well, and my responsibility is to look after that.

Gas and Electricity Boards

(Advertising)

24. Sir J. Langford-Holt

asked the Minister of Power, in view of the fact that the gas and electricity boards advertise on television, cinema screens and in newspapers and periodicals and offer free gifts to customers with a view to securing new consumers at the expense of each other and as this cost is eventually passed on to the consumers, whether he will issue a general direction to gas and electricity boards that they should cease this practice.

Mr. Freeson

No, Sir.

Sir J. Langford-Holt

Is it not quite ludicrous that two public bodies like these should be encouraging customers to do precisely what the Chancellor of the Exchequer does not want them to do and which, we understand, he will be having to introduce legislation in the next Budget to prevent them from doing, and using public money to do it?

Mr. Freeson

We have had this Question often before—[Interruption.]—but this time it is more loaded than previously. It must be borne in mind that these industries, whatever views there may be about different kinds of advertising, spend [column 192]less than 0.5 per cent. of their combined turnover on advertising, which is a much smaller percentage than that applicable to industry at large. As for the general position of publicity and promotion, we are now looking into this matter.

Mr. Palmer

Would my hon. Friend agree that publicly-owned commercial undertakings are expected to compete in the market with every other form of consumer demand? Will he do nothing to combat the normal and proper advertising methods of these publicly-owned commercial undertakings?

Mr. Freeson

My hon. Friend's question gives me an opportunity to make it clear that it is incorrect economically to speak of these industries just competing with each other. They are, in fact, competing with other forms of consumption; and, therefore, a certain amount of advertising is inevitable and right.

Petrol Coupons

25 and 26. Mr. Lubbock

asked the Minister of Power (1) how many books of petrol coupons he instructed to be printed as a result of the Middle East War; how many have actually been printed and how many remain on order; if he will state the total cost and the cost per book; and why coupons are continuing to be printed in spite of the fact that the crisis is over;

(2) what is the normal level of stocks of petrol coupons kept in case of an emergency.

Mr. Marsh

Fifteen million basic ration books and 26 million coupons were ordered as a result of the Middle East war; 9 million books and all the coupons have been printed. Printing of a further 6 million books continues as a precaution against a future emergency. The books cost about 1½d. each.

Mr. Lubbock

Did the right hon. Gentleman go out to tender for this very large order, or did he place the order with one company at a very inflated price? Is it not a monstrous waste of money to continue printing these books now that the emergency is over?

Mr. Marsh

No, Sir. To answer the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question about the process, these sorts of documents can be printed by only a limited [column 193]number of printers. I understand that there is more than one printing firm involved in carrying out the work. This is a matter of judgment. The hon. Gentleman thinks that it is a waste of time.

Mr. Lubbock

I do.

Mr. Marsh

He is entitled to his view, but if he is serious in his question, I suggest that it would be more profitable for all concerned if he gave me a chance to answer it. One of the things we discovered when the crisis began was that the biggest bottleneck in taking very quick action was the lack of books and coupons. I believe that we should ensure that we have the preparations made, for this would enable us to have a simplified rationing scheme, which would save us about £750,000 in about six months.

Fuels (Annual Expenditure)

30. Sir C. Osborne

asked the Minister of Power how much of the £3,000 million a year spent on fuel is for domestic and industrial purposes, respectively; and approximately how much in each group is spent on the different fuels.

Mr. Marsh

Excluding purchases of fuels for transport, purchases by domestic consumers accounted for about one third, and by industry one quarter, of the estimated £3,500 million annual expenditure on all forms of fuel; in both cases about 45 per cent. being on electricity and 30 per cent. on solid fuel. Purchases of gas by domestic consumers accounted for 20 per cent. and by industry 5 per cent., and of oil 5 per cent. and 20 per cent. respectively.

Sir C. Osborne

Do those figures mean that any increase in the cost of fuel will fall proportionately more on the domestic consumer than on industry? If so, will it not be a more onerous charge on the poorer section of the nation than on industry? Should not this be looked into?

Mr. Marsh

It is rather more difficult than that. One of the things we have been seeking to do in the last electricity increases has been to begin to redress the balance in favour of industry in relation to industrial costs, and fuel costs, as a part of the industrial costs, are a [column 194]very large fraction. This means that some of the extra cost must be diverted to the domestic consumer.

Power Stations (Capital Investment)

31. Mr. Ogden

asked the Minister of Power what estimate he has made of the effect of the Government's decision to reduce capital investment by the nationalised industries will have on proposals for nuclear powered electricity generating stations.

43. Mr. McGuire

asked the Minister of Power what effect the proposed reductions in capital spending by the nationalised industries will have on the construction of nuclear power stations.

Mr. Marsh

Final decisions have not yet been taken, but the effect will probably be to defer the start of one power station.

Mr. McGuire

In view of the lower capital cost involved in building conventional power stations, will my right hon. Friend look again at the high cost which will be involved with devaluation in building nuclear power stations? Surely this is a further reason for a review of the White Paper?

Mr. Marsh

I am sure my hon. Friend will ensure that that point does not escape my mind in the next few weeks. We have this in mind, but a power station is built to last for a long time—30 years.

Mr. Ridley

When will the right hon. Gentleman give the House the details of the cut-backs in investment programmes of the nationalised fuel industries as a result of the measures announced last week?

Mr. Marsh

As soon as I can.

White Paper on Fuel Policy

32. Mr. Ogden

asked the Minister of Power what action he has taken to make the intentions of the Government White Paper on Fuel Policy known to those employed in the British coal industry; and what further action he intends to take.

Mr. Marsh

I have arranged for copies of the pamphlet “Fuel for the Future” [column 195]to be made available at collieries and I have also sent a personal message to miners outlining what the Government were proposing to do for the coal industry and the miners. I intend to visit various parts of the country where there is a particular interest in this subject.

Mr. Ogden

Will my right hon. Friend accept an invitation to visit the Lancashire coalfield, where we will give him not only a warm but an understanding welcome?

Mr. Marsh

Perhaps I may seek an opportunity to discuss with my hon. Friend exactly what he meant by “warm” .