HC Deb 13 November 1919 vol 121 cc502-6
MR. ADAMSON (by Private Notice)

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether the output from the coal mines of the United Kingdom for the fifteen weeks, 26th July to 1st November, is 59,909,796 tons; whether the output for the last ten weeks, excluding the week of the railway strike, is at the rate of 234,000,000 per year; whether, if that rate is continued for the remaining thirty-seven weeks, the output for the year will be 226,500,000, notwithstanding the great loss due to strikes in the mining industry and the railways; whether that output would be 9,500,000 tons in excess of his estimate; whether the output for the past three weeks is at the rate of 245,500,000 tons per year, and if that rate of production is continued during the remaining thirty-seven weeks the output for the year will be 234,500,000 tons, an increase of 17,500,000 tons above his estimate; whether he has any reason to think this rate of production will not, be maintained; and whether, having regard to these figures, he is now prepared to take off the 6s. per ton which was imposed in July; and whether any allowance is being made to the coalowners in excess of the 1s. 2d. per ton recommended by the Report of the Coal Industry Commission; and, if so, will he state the amount?


The answer to the first part of the question is in the affirmative, and I would point out that this output is at an annual rate of slightly under 200,000,000 tons per annum, due allowance being made for public holidays. The nine weeks of the last ten, which the right hon. Member takes as giving a rate of output of 234,000,000 tons, gives, in fact, an output rate of 225,000,000 tons a year, allowance for holidays again being made. If the rate of output during those nine weeks be continued for the remainder of the year the output for the year will not be 226,500,000 tons, as the right hon. Member suggests, but approximately 217,000,000 tons, which, far from being 9,500,000 tons in excess of the estimate, happens precisely to coincide with the estimate, if the output during the last throe weeks were maintained for a complete twelve months, the amount raised would be 245,500,000 tons, but that assumes that the pits would work continuously through the holiday periods of Christmas, New Year, Easter, and Whitsuntide. Allowing for holidays, even if the three-weeks rate were continued, the output for the year ending mid-July next would be approximately 225,000,000 tons, which would be only 8,000,000 tons above the estimate.

While I hope that the present rate of output will be maintained, and perhaps improved upon, I am not prepared to commit myself to any statement on the subject, depending, as it does, upon the absence of disturbing factors both inside and outside the coal industry. However interesting these calculations may be, I am bound to deal with ascertained facts, and the central fact is that in the fifteen weeks, almost a third of a year, which have expired since the increase of price was imposed, the amount of coal raised is slightly-less than 60,000,000 tons, or, as I have already said, at a rate of under 200,000,000 tons per annum.

With regard to the 6s. added to the price of coal in July, I can only repeat what I said in this House at that time, that the Government is prepared to reduce the amount of the increase as soon as it can be done without calling on the Treasury for a subsidy. This question of the reduction of price, which we all desire, and to the possibility of which I referred in my statement in July, is extremely difficult. If we could feel sure that there would be no stoppages other than holidays recognised in the coalfield, I would be prepared to recommend the Government to take risks with reference to the price of coal, and to lower the price, not by 6s.—that is impossible with the present output—but by some much smaller amount. The subject is being considered, but I am not in a position to make a further statement to-day.

With regard to the last part of the right hon. Member's question, as I have already informed the House on more than one occasion, the Government intends at an early date to introduce a short Bill designed to limit the owner's profit on each ton of coal raised to 1s. 2d. during this financial year.


May I ask the Leader of the House, as from the answer given by my right hon. Friend it is quite clear that this is so involved a question that we cannot deal with it by way of question and answer, would he give us a day so that we may debate the matter some day next-week?


No, I cannot undertake to do that. After the discussion on the Foreign Office it would be quite impossible to give a day next week in addition. I offer the right hon. Gentleman that if he would appoint an accountant to go into the question of figures, we would be very ready to let him go into the figures, so that the public might be informed as to their accuracy.


Will he give us a Select Committee of this House of Commons, to investigate the whole question, as it is quite impossible to meet this case by sending in an accountant?


As my right hon. Friend knows, I had a very long discussion with him on this subject this week, and if it is a case of debuting—and that is what a Select Committee would do— there is no end to it. It is a case of calculation, and I am perfectly certain that the method which I suggest is better. Beyond that, I offered the right hon. Gentleman that if he or some of his Friends wished to go into the matter with 4he Coal Contoller we would be very glad to allow him to do so. Until they have done that, I do not think that they should press for a discussion.


Is it not a fact that the Prime Minister made us the same offer some months ago, and when we sought to put that offer into practice we were informed by the Coal Controller that he was advised by the Law Officers of the Crown that the information which we sought could not be divulged because of the Act of Parliament, under which the mines were controlled, making it obligatory to keep that information secret, and we were unable to get the information?


I wish the House to realise that this is a very important thing from the point of view of the effect it may have on the mines. Therefore we are extremely anxious to meet my right hon. Friend to whatever extent is possible. The suggestion of an accountant would not be met by that difficulty. It is a case of calculation, and the result would be given. But if my right hon. Friends cannot adopt that I would still suggest that they should have this consultation with the President of the Board of Trade and the Coal Controller to see to what extent they can agree as to the information to be given, and if they are not satisfied I am willing to consider the question of a discussion in this House.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

You called upon me to put question No. 46. The Prime Minister said that the question would be answered by the First Lord. As the First Lord has not answered it, may I ask am I entitled to an answer?


We are now discussing the price of coal.


May I ask whether the Government would not appoint some impartial accountant to go into this question, so that the consumers will have an opportunity of knowing whether right is on the side of the President of the Board of Trade or of the miners?


I said to my right hon. Friend and his colleagues this week that, if they could not come to some agreement with us, that was a course which I thought the Government would be bound to take in order that the public might be informed.


Will the right hon. Gentleman say if the holidays, of which he makes so much, Christmas, New Year, Easter, and Whitsuntide, are more than six days in the mines of this country, recognised holidays?


The recognised holidays for the whole year are five or six days.


Will a discussion on this point be open in the Debate on the Bill to limit the owners' profits? That might give us an opportunity.


I think that it would be impossible to prevent a discussion of this subject on the Second Reading of that Bill.


I gave private notice of a question to the Minister of Health. I have received a communication asking me to postpone it, and I have no alternative.