HC Deb 15 May 1918 vol 106 cc400-2

I would point out to. the hon. Member that any system of commutation tickets, whatever it may be, must carry with it some control in the use of those tickets, and, therefore, it really resolves itself into a system of permits, and we are not proposing to take that step unless circumstances really demand it and there is no alternative. Perhaps I may now pass on to other subjects. I should like just briefly to say a few words about our canals. It is within the knowledge of hon. Members that the canals have been under the control of the Government since March, 1917. We have a Committee set up for controlling the working of the canals, and the control is really working with a considerable degree of success. It would, I think, be true to state that as a result of this unified system of control the canals are carrying a considerably increased amount of traffic. And it is only because we have brought the canals under control that we are successfully using them as is being done to-day. Bearing in mind the difficulties arising from the considerable increase in wages and the difficulty of securing additional men for the work, I think I am entitled to say that the Canal Committee have performed very credit able work in bringing, as they have done, a very considerably increased number of boats into the service. Obviously, the future position of the canals of this country is one which requires most careful consideration. It is not possible for me at this time to give any indication of what the Government policy will be in that direction. But here again, as in the case of the railways, the system of central control has secured a great economy and made the canals very much more efficient, and I think the experience we will have had by the time the War comes to an end will have served a most useful purpose in determining the future position of the inland waterways of this country.

Lastly, I come to another controversial matter, and that is the consumption of coal, gas, and electricity. The House will remember that last winter the whole of London was put under a system of coal rations. At that time it was necessary that the amount of coal consumed in the London area should be very considerably reduced. That was due to three reasons. One was the transport question. The railways were unable to carry into London all the coal that was necessary. Another reason was to be found in the large number of men withdrawn from the coal mines, which had the effect of reducing the output; and the third reason was the increased demand for coal for our Allies and for certain neutral countries. It must be borne in mind by those who have been deprived of the use of a certain amount of coal—which, after all, has not materially affected their comfort—that in that way they have contributed something towards the absolutely essential needs of our friends and of some of the neutral countries. The system of rationing that was established worked with great success. It has not been brought to my notice that during the whole of last winter there was a single case of actual hardship in London, and I think a great deal of credit is due to the Department in charge of the work and to the officers who assisted in carrying out the scheme.

Colonel Sir C. SEELY

It was a mild winter.


I am afraid I cannot agree, because—


The previous winter was the coldest winter for thirty years.

5.0 P.M


I am sorry to say we find it necessary to go still further in reducing the consumption of coal throughout Great Britain next winter, and we have to take steps, not only to reduce the amount of coal consumed for domestic purposes, but also to reduce that consumed for industrial purposes. The rationing of domestic coal throughout Great Britain next winter will be on a lower basis than was the case last winter. As regards coal for industrial purposes, we are proposing to set up a Priority Committee, and that "Committee will determine priority with respect to the use of coal for industrial purposes. Obviously it is essential that establishments engaged upon Government work must have priority, and, therefore, as I have said, we are proposing to set up this Committee, which will deal with all questions of priority with respect to the use of coal for industrial purposes. The House will remember that last March we found it necessary to ration the consumption of gas and electricity. We had to deal with the situation in a great war. Ships which had been used for the transport of coal to ports in the South of England, and in particular to London, were constantly withdrawn for other purposes. This threw upon railway companies an. enormously increased burden, a burden that was quite beyond their capacity to handle. Therefore, as I have said, we found it necessary immediately to establish a system of rationing which would reduce the amount of gas and electricity consumed in the southern area of England. I am glad to be able to say that on the whole that has worked fairly well. We have secured economy in the consumption of coal, and I am very thankful to all, particularly the gas and electricity undertakings, for their efforts on our be-half. Now that we have more time to deal with the matter we are proposing to issue a new scheme very shortly which will make provision for this increased system of coal rationing throughout the country, and, in doing that, we are proposing to take into account at the same time the rationing of gas and of electricity, so that it will not be possible for anybody to substitute one form of fuel, either for cooking or for heating, for another to the advantage of themselves. In other words, the system of coal rationing will make provision for the use of gas and of electricity at the option of the consumer up to a certain point. In. establishing this scheme we propose doing it on lines somewhat similar to those used when we rationed the consumption of coal in London last winter, and to take into account the size of the establishment, and in particular instances the number of people occupying the establishment.