§ Now I come to the particular class of men who are being swept into the Army, and the absorption of whom by the Army is causing a most serious loss at the present time. Take the case of the colliers. The 75,000 colliers whom the Government demanded from the coal mining industry in order to take part in the War at the crisis have proved probably better soldiers than most others who were acquired in the combing out. That I am ready to admit. A great many of them are in the Guards. And I think a collier, after his training at the face and his training with the Guards, will form 1680 the kind of troops no one would care to meet—at any rate, twice. But these colliers, when they are taken into the Army, are really the life-blood of the people of the country, because without coal we are worse off than if we were without food. Without coal you will find the people next winter one and all saying they would rather have fire than food. Suffering from cold is far worse than suffering from hunger. It is not only the fire question—that is domestic—but the prospect of the manufacturing industry and of the transport trade being unemployed, and all this unemployment spreading indefinitely, because as one trade gets unemployed other trades get unemployed too. This is going to cause far more disastrous consequences to the moral of the people of the country than is realised at the present time. The question is, what is the President of the Board of Trade going to do? He realises that coal production is going steadily down and that the plans of distribution which he made, allowing a certain amount to each industry and to each household are already being falsified, because the coal is not being produced. I want to know before the House rises what serious steps the President of the Board of Trade and the Coal Controller are going to take to increase the coal production of this country.
It does not seem to me—I speak with great deference—that he has formed any serious plan as to how he can increase production. He has got worse days in front of him. All the miners have not gone yet. There are 7,000 more to go. When they have gone production will be lower than it is to-day. We are getting 25,000 men back, B2 and B3 men. I do not know what sort of men they will be for working in the pits, but I should imagine that they will not be very efficient. I have got an example here of a man who was sent not for mining, but for gas stoking. I suppose that if there is one harder trade than a hewer in a pit it is that of a gas stoker. It certainly requires men who are in fit condition. Here is a letter put into my hands from a gentleman in Galashiels, Scotland, who knows all about it:
Just as I write I have had brought under my notice another of the many glaring cases how not to do things. The gas company here had applied for two men to have as gas stokers. Me names of men with their qualifications were submitted, but they suddenly received a wire that two men were being sent to them from Sutton in Surrey to act as gas stokers. One man pre-
sented a thoroughly pitiful appearance. He was an undersized man looking as if at his best he would never have tackled gas stoking. He said he belonged to Newcastle and was a hawker by trade before the War. The poor man was wearing four wound stripes and said that he was only six weeks out of hospital. This is the man they sent down to me for gas stoking. He appeared to be still suffering from the effects of gas and shell shock, and he could hardly make any use of his left arm and shoulder. Probably he should not have been working at all, but if at all only at very light work. He seemed anxious to get a start at anything he could do. How any man in his senses could for a moment have thought that that poor wreck of a man would be capable of doing the physical exercises required for gas stoking is quite incomprehensible to me.
Then they were asked not to send him back to Button, where he came from, but to send him to Barrow for a job, but ultimately he was sent back. These are not the kind of men who are to be sent to the mines—men with four wound stripes, suffering from shell shock and gas. Nothing much can be expected from the efforts made by the Coal Controller to get back out of the Army capable men who have been miners in their time and who are B2 men and B3 men. They have got back over 7,000. They promised to get back 25,000. I do not think that it will make very much difference in the producing power of the industry. I do think that the time has come, if he cannot get back B1 men from the Army in France, for the nation to say this, "You cannot have both the men and the coal."
§ I understand, subject to correction, that the reason why the Army do not like letting off the B men who are in France or the men who went into the field in 1914, colliers, the best of the bunch, and who have been there ever since, even though it is realised that the need for coal is most urgent and far more urgent than the need of men for agriculture, is that they have an understanding with the French Government that they would maintain a certain number of divisions in France, and if these men come back these divisions will not be fully maintained. I do not know whether that is so or not. It seems to me to be very reasonable and likely. But I think that it is about time in that case that we put before the French Government the two alternatives, "Either we can send you coal or men. If you do not let us have the men back, then we shall have to reduce the amount of coal which we send to France." I am quite certain that, if they really understood in France the crippling effect which this taking away 1682 of our men from useful productive labour is having upon not only this country but France and Italy as well, they would at once relax the pressure and let more of them come back and take their places in the industries of the country. For be it remembered that in addition to maintaining our Army we are keeping a Navy going which is nearly one-third of the size of our Army in man-power. We are also keeping the whole of our Allies going in coal and in merchant shipping, and we are bearing our full share of the financial burden of the War. That being so, I think that we might reasonably bring pressure to bear on the War Office, so that the War Office might bring pressure to bear elsewhere to secure the return to this country of a sufficient number of men to enable the industries of this country to be carried on, and to prevent the profound dissatisfaction and demoralisation which may come from a hard winter coupled with a short supply of coal.
§ I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman believes that his ration of coal for a small house is really enough, but he is faced with the danger that we may have a very hard winter, in which case it will not be enough, or he may find himself six months hence producing much less coal than he expects, because, after all, there are a very few people coming into the mining industry and everybody gets old as time goes on; the best men are taken out of the mines and only the others are left, and the position may be extremely serious somewhere about January next. Could we not bring pressure to bear on the War Office to release B1 men from France, and alternatively, or in addition, say, to the Ministry of National Service with a view to getting the enlistment of miners at present working in the pits relaxed in order that they might remain where the work is much more useful to the country than it would be if they were sent elsewhere? Nothing makes people more sick and angry at present than the misuse of man-power in this country, and seeing men taken away from where they are useful and put to doing useless jobs, washing dishes, acting as officers' servants, or as clerks where they are not wanted and doing work which a woman could do perfectly well. They see this waste of money, this waste of common sense, this brutality which destroys men's homes going on among their neighbours all over the country. That is more likely to destroy the moral of the country than any- 1683 thing else. Anything that the President of the Board of Trade can do to increase the amount of coal that may be used and at the same time decrease the taking of good men from where they are doing good work and putting them to do stupid work, would be of enormous benefit not only to the whole of the trade of the country, but to the moral of the people, whose faith can only be cemented by feeling that they are being treated justly.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Wardle)
The hon. and gallant Member who has just sat down has raised a number of points of very great and grave importance. So far as the Board of Trade is concerned, we are extremely obliged to him for raising the question of the production of coal in this country. Many subjects over which he ranged, of course, do not come within the purview of the Board of Trade and are necessarily matters upon which the War Office and the Ministry of National Service have to give an opinion and exercise a judgment. I will, therefore, not attempt to deal with those parts of the hon. Gentleman's speech which are obviously for the War Office and the Ministry of National Service, as they affect the whole question of man-power, which, going beyond these Departments, has been for some time past a matter to be settled by the War Cabinet. With regard to the reduction of the output of coal, it is certainly correct to say that it is a matter of very grave and very great importance, not only to this country, but to the Allies as a whole, and the burden put upon this country in the production of coal is one of the serious problems of the War, and one which I can assure the hon. Gentleman has the constant and close attention of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade.
§ Mr. WARDLE
We have a plan. There was an insistent demand, after the offensive in March, for men to be taken out of the mines in order to meet the grave national emergency which then arose. In order to meet that demand and the demand of our Allies, we have necessarily to restrict the use of coal in this country, and the result has undoubtedly been a fall in the output. We have been and are taking steps, so far as lies in our 1684 power, to get the managers, owners, and miners, who are still working in the mines, to increase the output which they are making at present. With this co-operation we hope that something will be done, and we have the promise of the Miners' Federation that they will do all they can in their various districts to-prevail upon the miners to put their best service possible into the production of coal. I have pointed out already that we have the promise of 25,000 men to be released from the Army. Of that number we have got 7,000, and we are expecting to get others very shortly. If it should turn out, after we have got the 25,000 men, that we are still short of men, we will not fail to impress upon the Army authorities and on the Ministry of National Service the necessity of keeping the production of coal up to the limit which at any rate will avoid the evils to which my hon. and gallant Friend has referred.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
Can you state on what date it will not be possible to keep the coal production up to that limit, and at what date you will begin to apply for B1 men?
§ Mr. WARDLE
The hon. and gallant Member is asking for a definite statement of date, but all I can tell him is that the closest possible attention day by day is being given to this problem, and that when we see that a failure of the output is becoming evident, or when the danger point is being reached, then a representation will be made at once, in order to secure sufficient men to keep up the output.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
May I ask if the ration scheme will at present supply sufficient coal to keep industries going, as during the past year, or has the position arisen now that there is not a sufficient supply of coal?
§ Mr. WARDLE
My reply to that question is, "No." The rations put into operation will not keep industries going at its present level, but it is expected to keep the output at such a level as will keep off any of the contingencies to which my hon. and gallant Friend has referred. The production of coal is a very vital factor in this War, and we realise to the full that we cannot keep industries going unless the output of coal is kept up to the necessary level. Another factor is the question of shipping. It is a vital factor which necessarily must be dealt with.
§ Mr. WARDLE
If fewer ships take coal, fewer ships take goods, and therefore it is necessary to produce coal for industries.
§ Mr. WARDLE
I am afraid I must disagree with the hon. and gallant Member when he says there is no difficulty about shipping. But he raised the question of production of coal, and I am trying my best to answer it. We are constantly doing our best to see that the output of coal is raised to the highest possible point of production, having regard to the men at our disposal, and we take such steps as we think will meet the urgent needs of the country, and will obtain and retain such men as are necessary in order that the vital industries of the country may be kept at such a level as is possible under the circumstances.
§ Sir W. ESSEX
One question that I should like to ask, and it struck me when I was spending some time in Italy. We were in bad odour amongst the Italians last winter, because it was thought we were profiteering on coal, but since then the Government may have taken steps to put the matter on proper lines. I would suggest that you might say to the Italian Government, "If you send us a certain number of our men to help us in coal production, we will give you what appears to us to be your ration of coal in the coming winter, and so much more as would be accounted for by your sending us such an extra number of our men on your front." I believe if you approached the Italian Government with such a proposal they would be willing to release a larger number of men than they do at present, at any rate for the winter, if not longer, and that would help to bring to our Italian friends a larger supply of coal, while it would quicken and increase the output of coal in this country.
§ Mr. WARDLE
This is largely a matter of transport, and I can assure my hon. Friend that every effort is being made to bring the Allies together to exchange manpower for coal, or goods, or whatever it may be, so far as it is possible to do so by arrangement. Committees are constantly sitting considering all these problems, and everything is being done, which the 1686 ingenuity of those Committes can devise and transport arrangements can secure, to bring about the desired results.
§ Mr. FINNEY
May I ask the hon. Gentleman if his statement just made will include an effort on the pact of the Board of Trade to obtain the return of miners from the Army for work in the mines to increase the output of coal?
§ Mr. WARDLE
I have already said that that is what we are doing. B2 and B3 men we are attempting to get back straight away, up to the number of 25,000. If that 25,000 should not prove to be sufficient for keeping up the minimum needs of the country, we shall endeavour to take further steps.