HC Deb 10 October 1939 vol 352 cc275-302

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Major Sir J. Edmondson.]

9.3 p.m.

Mr. Batey

This afternoon I put a question to the Secretary for Mines as to why coal should be rationed. His answer was so very unsatisfactory that I am glad that we have an opportunity of debating the matter now. Fortunately, we have the opportunity of a full Debate, and we have plenty of time. There are a good many other Members on this side of the House who feel as strongly on this question as I do myself. We believe that this fuel Order is bad, and that there is no justification for rationing coal. Since the war a great deal of legislation has been passed and a great many Orders have been made. The House may not have paid the attention that it should have done to some of the Orders. This is an Order to which more attention should have been paid, and I am convinced that the sooner we can get rid of it the better it will be for the country. It might have been wise to pass legislation with the intention of putting the Order into force after the war had been on for some time, but, instead of waiting, the Secretary for Mines put the Order into force immediately. That seems to me one of the silliest things any Minister could have done. To prevent people getting all the coal they want now seems to me a very stupid thing.

I was surprised when the Minister of Labour said last Thursday that on nth September, the last day for which unemployment figures were available, there were no fewer than 49,588 unemployed miners in England, 9,687 unemployed miners in Scotland, and 17,292 in Wales, making a total of 76,567. That is an immense number of miners to be unemployed at a time when the Government are preventing people from buying coal. There was in this House not long ago a Debate in which one of the Ministers urged that more ladies' hats should be bought. If the Secretary for Mines had been active in the interests of the miners, he would have bene urging that more coal should be used in order to find employment for the unemployed miners, but instead he has taken a step to prevent people from buying coal, thus leaving these men unemployed. But that is not all the story. There were 76,567 miners unemployed, but it would be interesting to know how many more thousands of miners have been temporarily made idle during the last week or two. In the County of Durham we have had 14 of our largest collieries standing idle for more than a week. There is no demand for coal, and therefore these men have to be added to the huge number of men who are unemployed at the present time.

The answer of the Minister to-day was not sufficient. He simply said that they were doing it because of the risk of dislocation of coal transport and distribution facilities. That is difficult to understand. The Government must take some risks, and there would have been no risk in not putting the Order into force, and thereby allowing people to get as much coal as possible at the present time. It is difficult for one to imagine that the time should ever come when coal could not be carried on the railways. That never occurred during the last war, and it is difficult to understand that it can occur during the present war. But if it should not be possible to carry coal by rail from the North of England to the South, there is always the coastwise traffic. There has always been a lot of coal carried down the coast to the South of England, and it is no answer for the Minister to say that there would be risk and danger in carrying coal. That does not justify the Minister in the action he has taken in putting this Order so quickly into force.

We are told that we are at war in order to fight Hitlerism. The trouble is that, while we are at war fighting Hitlerism, we have set up in this country an immense number of little Hitlers who are making it as difficult as possible for the people of this country, and seem to take a delight in oppressing the people. This is one of the things which the people in this country do not like. Why punish them by making it more difficult for them when there is no real necessity to do it? When the Finance Bill was being debated one hon.

Member talked about the home front being the most important front. If the home front is the most important, then in my opinion we should keep the people in this country contented as long as we possibly can. It is not a wise thing to put an Order like this into force when there is no need. If there was any need we would agree, but when there is no need we say the Order should not be put into force. It seems a strange thing to me that when any section of the community has to suffer it is the mining community that comes first. They have been suffering ever since the last war. We have had an immense number of men who have been unable to get employment and now, when there is a chance not only of getting some of them back into employment and of keeping pits going every day that are working now, but of getting other pits open that have been closed for years, the view of the Government seems to be that it will be just a pleasant thing to let the unemployed miners go on suffering. Unless the Minister will agree to take steps to delay putting this Order into force or cancelling it altogether we shall have to take steps to fight this Order at every opportunity.

9.12 p.m.

Mr. Ritson

I want to support my hon. Friend in what he has said, and to add that it is not only a question of rationing coal but of rationing electricity which is generated by coal. I come from the East Coast and I came across a man who is employed at a colliery where I was checkweighman for many years. I asked how many days a week the colliery was working, and he said, "Two." That colliery produces the finest gas coal, and yet people in that very town are being told that they will have to do with less gas and less electricity while the men at the colliery are working only two days a week. People are getting alarmed not only about the rationing of coal but the rationing of lighting. There is nothing more depressing on God's earth than to go through this city in the dark. We have been brought up in the dark in the mines but we do not expect darkness in cities like this. Not only are they trying to put out the light of heaven but to prevent us from having either light or heat. I know there are other hon. Members in this House who will have a word to say about coking coal. Why should these pits be left idle? The Miners' Federation and the Ministry of Mines have been getting together to try to bring about greater output, and I understand a guarantee is wanted of 10 per cent. more coal. Yet it is proposed to restrict the use of coal.

I cannot understand the Minister at all. I do not know who his advisers are, but he should get rid of them. I can assure the Secretary for Mines that it would be cheaper to keep the men at work rather than to pay unemployment benefit and to keep the men idle when they want to work. If we want to maintain the moral of the people we should give them light. I have always said that light is better than ventilation in some dark places, but it is still more valuable when it contributes towards the cheerfulness of the home. Here is a vast amount of coal and a magnificent number of men who are willing and anxious to raise it. There are collieries where 6,000 tons a day can be raised, and others where 3,000 tons can be mined. Then the Ministry say, "What do we care?" If there is anything ridiculous, I think it is the Order which has been given. In July we lost 122,000 tons as against the preceding months. If the Government are frightened of anything, why not stock thousands of tons of coal so that in an emergency there will be enough to go on with? It is not only in the interests of the men but of the country as a whole. The miners are the only people who have not had the oppor-tunity of earning their bread by the sweat of their brow.

9.17 p.m.

Sir William Wayland

One of the most inexplicable things which the public has had to face is the rationing of coal. The only excuse that I can see is that of transport. To-day I was talking to a gentleman connected with the gas industry, and he said, "What are we to do? The Government are rationing coal, and at the same time they are urging us to produce as many by-products as we possibly can for war purposes." That seems an extraordinary thing to me. I have heard people ask, "Why are we rationed? Have we not enough coal in the country? I thought we had plenty. "My reply has been, "The last statistics that I saw showed that we had sufficient for 200 years ahead, so I think we have enough to be going on with."

I cannot conceive of any excuse which the Ministry can make as a solution of the puzzle which they have put to the people. When hon. Members opposite speak of miners being unemployed and tell us that only 75 per cent. of the coal raised last year has been permitted to be raised, it seems most extraordinary to me. I might call it by a much stronger term which, perhaps, would not be permitted in this House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Try it."] I should say it is damned foolish. All it will do will be to put more men out of jobs, increase the staff of the Mines Office, irritate the public and not do any good for our war purposes. Therefore, I hope that common sense will prevail and that the rationing of coal will be dropped like a hot poker.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Clifton Brown)

I hope that other hon. Members who take part in the Debate will not follow the example of the hon. Member for Canterbury (Sir W. Wayland).

9.20 p.m.

Major Milner

I put down a question in almost identical terms to that of the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey), and the Secretary for Mines replied to my question in the same terms as he did to my hon. Friend. I am glad the hon. Member has raised this question on the Adjournment, because I agree that it is rank absurdity to have brought such an Order into force. We asked what were the reasons for reducing the production of coal having regard to the ample supplies of coal available? The Secretary for Mines did not give, as he might have done, a number of reasons, but he said that one of the main reasons was the risk of dislocating the transport facilities. I presume he meant that there was a serious risk of air raids the moment war began. To cover that risk the production of coal has been reduced by 25 per cent. If the risk was so great, why not have made it 100 per cent.? In my submission this Order, like so many of the other steps taken by the Government, has created the maximum of inconvenience with the minimum of practical results. It is the opinion of most people that, while in the first instance it may have been right to take all these various air-raid precautions, the moment it was seen that we were not likely to have an immediate air attack then all these steps, including the rationing of coal, should have been modified. There was ample time to bring them into force if the necessity arose.

It was quite unnecessary for the Secretary for Mines to take this step. In doing so he has entirely disregarded the fact that there are 100,000 miners out of work who have had a very bad time for many years, who could now be found work in the mines of the country. I have miners in my own constituency, and I know that it is a matter of complaint among them that at this juncture when they might have been of service to the country with their knowledge of mining, and when they might have been employed under more satisfactory and remunerative conditions, the Secretary for Mines has deprived them of that opportunity. But also the consumers are taking great exception to the Order. There, again, one would have thought that if the Government had not had the wind up, as they have for the last few weeks, they would have had the interests of the public at heart and given serious consideration to this matter; and that they would have allowed the consumers, and particularly householders, to stock up as much coal as they could afford and then when the emergency arose they would have had available stock which would carry them through the emergency. But no; as soon as the declaration of war is made the hon. Member deprives them of that opportunity. There may come a time when it will be impossible, by reason of air raids, and so on, for consumers to have coal at all. Therefore, would if not be the wisest thing for the Government to do away with these restrictions and enable all those who require coal to stock up as best they can, and if and when an emergency occurs, restrictions can be imposed?

There is another matter which I regard as a very serious factor in this question. Coal is largely used for the production of coal gas and, during war time in particular, a very large quantity indeed, of by-products is required for the making of munitions. In Leeds, from something like 250,000 tons of coal used for gas production last year, there emerged as byproducts nearly 600,000 gallons of crude benzol, 14,000 tons of tar, together with large quantities of ammonia and other valuable chemicals. Does it not seem the height of absurdity that at the commencement of a war, when one would have thought all our efforts ought to be directed to producing articles required in the production of munitions, the hon. Gentleman should have brought in an order the very first result of which is to cut down the possible products of coal in the form of benzol, tar, phenol, toluol and other constituents of high explosives. It seems almost a crime that he should have (bought for a moment of doing that. I asked the Minister of Supply yesterday whether that matter had been borne in mind, and whether he had consulted those who can advise on these matters as to whether the restriction of the consumption of coal, and hence the production of gas, would not adversely affect the supply of by-products. He said the matter had been receiving consideration. He did not think that up to date the restriction had had any serious effect but he was aware of the opinions referred to and was in touch with the interests concerned. He did not answer as to what consultations he had had on the subject, nor have I so far heard whether, before he made this restrictive Order, he had any consultation with anyone as to whether it would not very adversely affect the production of by-products essential to the manufacture of munitions.

This appears to be an extremely serious matter. It affects the employment of a vital part of the community, it affects, in one of the necessities of life, the whole community, who, of course, directly or indirectly are consumers of coal, it affects vitally the production of by-products essential to the making of munitions, and the hon. Gentleman has a very serious case to answer. I believe that he would be well advised now to say he appreciates that perhaps the Ministry have been a little hasty; that, having regard to the circumstances which at present exist, the Order might be modified and 100 per cent. production, or more if possible, be restored, and that only if and when an emergency arises and the production of the fullest amount of coal is not possible, will he think of further restricting the production of that commodity. I think the House and the country will be grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this question to-night.

9.31 p.m.

Colonel Baldwin-Webb

I strongly support the plea, which has been so eloquently put forward from both sides of the House, that this Order should be modified. Surely, at this time we should encourage the complete employment of all men engaged in producing this essential commodity. I happen to represent a constituency in which there are miners, and I realise the gallant work which they do. They should be encouraged as much as possible. This bureaucratic ramp affects not only this particular industry, but it affects our lives in many other ways, and the country is definitely dissatisfied with this control and this regulation. We want increased production from every source. For example, in regard to foodstuffs, it is not regulation that we want, but 100 per cent. production. That can be brought about if there is encouragement from various Departments. As a result of experience which I have gained during the last few weeks, I warn the Minister that action should be taken now in this matter, as in others, and that if action is not taken, the country will be even more dissatisfied.

9.32 p.m.

Mr. George Griffiths

I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Spenny-moor (Mr. Batey) has given us an opportunity of voicing not only our own opinions, but the opinions of the people whom we represent. The people in my division cannot understand why this Order is being put into operation. In my division there are hundreds of miners out of work, and they have been out of work for months and months. When these men saw that we had declared war on Germany and that Germany had declared war on Poland, they said, "There will be a chance now for some of us to get back into the pits." I see that the Minister nods his head, but these men are not back yet, and there is no sign of their getting back. They want to know why this Order is being put into operation.

There is another point I want to put to the Minister. I am afraid that the Government have "got the wind up" and that they have been thinking that output will be decreased instead of increased. That happened during the last war, but why did it happen then? It was because thousands of miners volunteered and went into the Army straight away. Some of the lads from my village were fetched out of the trenches in France and brought back to produce coal, because they were of more value in producing coal than they were in France. That sort of thing will not happen during this war, because at the present time mining is a reserved occupation. Our men cannot go. Incidentally, one hon. Member said that his constituency was dead set against the war. I cannot say that of my constituency. If there had not been conscription, many pits in my division would have been short of men, because the men wanted to volunteer for the war.

I cannot see why the Secretary for Mines should put this Order into operation. I want to draw the attention of the Minister to another matter. Two and a half years ago the president of the mine workers in Yorkshire stated that the output capacity of the mines of Great Britain was 330,000,000 tons per annum. With mechanical inventions and the extension of the use of the coal-cutter, the output should be greater now than it was two and a half years ago. The Minister is asking for a 10 per cent. increase. The production last year was, I think, about 225,000,000 tons and he is asking for 260,000,000 tons. Some of these chaps, in Abertillery and in other divisions, have been drawing unemployment pay for 10 years. Now they have a chance or should have a chance of earning wages up to £3 10s. or £4 a week instead of drawing unemployment benefit up to 34s. a week. They cannot understand the mentality of the Government as shown in this Order. Why is it applied at a time when coal is more needed than at any other time—in the winter months? People are to be allowed to have two tons a year, in certain circumstances.

The Secretary for Mines (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd)

There are two tons which are free of rationing. The rationing does not begin until after the two tons.

Mr. Griffiths

And then they are to get three-quarters over and above that. The Order stipulates that there should be two tons in a year without rationing. Then they have to start rationing. I am pleased to hear what the Minister has said because it is being circulated that people can only have the two tons. That is the impression.

Mr. Lloyd

It is important that that impression should be corrected. It is very difficult in these times, when so many announcements are being made, but we have done our best to make it clear that the two tons is the amount which is free of rationing and that rationing only begins after the two tons per year.

Mr. Griffiths

They get two tons without rationing and 75 per cent. over and above that. The Government, however, are not only rationing coal but also gas and electricity, two very important things in the home, and it means, in effect, not 75 per cent. but something less. My hon. Friend the Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) said there were 76,000 miners whole-time unemployed but how many are under-employed? The pit in which I worked before I came here has not worked full time since 1926. My hon. Friend the Member for Durham (Mr. Ritson) spoke of a colliery which he knew. I had a letter only this week from a Salvation Army officer stating that the men at a pit in the district where he was living drew only two days wages last week. These men want to know why, when they can get only part-time work, the Government should introduce rationing. They ask that they should be given a chance. I think the Minister has been, I will not say frightened but has been influenced by looking back to the last war and noticing how the miners volunteered more than any other set of men. The fact that the miners over-volunteered in the last war has frightened the Mines Department. We ask that this Order if not withdrawn entirely should be modified so that people can get a chance to work, instead of being on unemployment pay.

9.40 p.m.

Mr. E. J. Williams

I want the Minister to believe that the statements that have been made by my hon. Friends and by an hon. Member opposite correctly represents what is troubling the country. I have had a large number of people, not miners either, who have asked the reason why coal should be rationed. They can understand why certain foodstuffs should be rationed. They can understand that we depend largely on the importation of certain commodities, particularly on the immediate declaration of war, in that a large number of transport vehicles would have been appropriated, but they cannot understand why this Order should have come in on 3rd October and should apply indefinitely, at a time when the Minister himself is making representations to the Mining Association and to the Miners Federation of Great Britain to increase the annual output of coal to 270,000,000 tens, which I understand is the figure that has been stated loosely to the representative associations. It is quite certain that we shall require to increase our export trade substantially in order to obtain in exchange for that a large amount of oar foodstuffs in the future, and the public can understand certain measures being taken in order to increase our annual output for such a purpose, but they cannot understand why any restriction should be placed upon the people, particularly when we are facing winter, when they need a larger quantity of coal in order to have something like adequate comfort in the home.

I think the Minister should face up to this problem precisely as the Minister of Food did. In the fish muddle the Minister realised that he had to go back to normality, and I think the Minister for Mines will have to do precisely the same before he will satisfy the public of this country. One can well understand that when war was declared certain things were expected, such as that food stores should be placed in the least vulnerable areas, and that kind of thing, and that may have caused a certain amount of chaos for some weeks. That may appertain to meat, but we are in that respect largely dependent upon importations, while we are not dependent upon importations of coal. We have the men, the personnel, to hand and we have, obviously, enormous quantities of coal that can be worked quite easily and readily whenever the Minister requires it. It is, therefore, difficult to understand how the Minister could have come to the conclusion at which he has come. It is true that at the commencement of the last war proportionately a larger number of men left the mines than any other industry, but it has been known for some months practically that mining would be a reserved occupation, and that miners were not brought within the confines of the first Military Training Act, so that that could not have been the reason for advancing a measure of this kind.

If it is a question of transport facilities, so far as my constituency is concerned, we have quite a number of one-man businesses which have been completely dislocated. If a lorry was a good one and it was commandeered, and the man's trade was affected, there was someone else in the district who could at once have taken his trade, who could have taken the goodwill of his business and supplied the normal quantities that were required, particularly by the householder. From whatever angle the public have endeavoured to analyse the reason for this rationing, they find greater confusion. The public will not be satisfied with any restriction in the consumption of coal, particularly in households, until some significant reasons have been advanced. It must be assumed that it is essential for the prosecution of the war, but that at the moment cannot be advanced. Why there should be need for restriction at the very moment when the Minister is asking for increased output and has the good will of the industry passes comprehension.

9.46 p.m.

Mr. Mander

I have in my constituency a number of miners, most of whom work in Hilton Main Colliery, South Staffordshire. I have never been permitted to go down that mine and the miners always tell me that I shall never be permitted to go down. I do not know what is the reason. They are naturally much interested and concerned in the plans of the Government for rationing coal. All the consumers are concerned, too, at being put to what may prove to be entirely unnecessary work in filling up the registration forms. I am sure the Minister welcomes the opportunity of being able to make an attempt to justify the steps he has been taking. Is there a shortage of men? Are the men wanted for something else? Is the idea of the Government that they should be taken from the coal mines to work in munition factories? What is the plan? I hope there is some plan. One hon. Member said he did not blame the Minister, but that the people who advised him were to blame. That is all wrong, for the Minister is the only person we can blame and he is responsible for anything done by the people from whom he takes advice.

It is suggested that the Government are setting up all sorts of Hitlerite institutions in various Departments. I am sure that the Minister would be the mildest of such a type if it were true, but I cannot help thinking that if the Government go on on their present lines in conducting the war we may end up with the Prime Minister as Stalin and the Chancellor of the Exchequer as Hitler. Whether hon. Members would think there was any improvement on the present occupants would depend on the views they held. I urge upon the Minister to take every possible step to allow the output of coal to be increased; there are many willing workers to do it and there are people who need the coal, partly for warming themselves during the winter and partly for manufacturing and for essential war work. There are many consumers who would be glad to be relieved of some of the new clerical work which has been imposed on them during the past four or five weeks by the necessities of the situation.

9.49 p.m.

Mr. Logan

I trust that the Minister will withhold this Order. I am not speaking from the miners' point of view, because I have no connection with mines, but I am aware, after the many years I have been in Liverpool, of what the poverty of the people means and what the lack of a fire means. In the homes of the poor, where there are big families, food is an important matter, and with the cost of food rising it is all the more imperative for the people to have some heat, because to them a good fire is food as well as heat. It is absurd that there should be a restriction upon a commodity which is produced here in plenty, and that a body of men should be unemployed simply because the Ministry bring in an Order which in my opinion is a ridiculous one. Never before during my lifetime have I heard any such proposal put forward before. I am at a loss to understand why men are not employed when they could be employed, when we have the coal, and when the employment of these men would bring so much relief to places that have been so badly hit.

It is not only a question of unemployment among the miners. Curtailment of the production of coal will throw other large bodies of men out of work. Some of the men employed in our electricity undertakings and gas works will not be required. I am not able to take the pessimistic view that we need worry about this war. I am not concerned about that side of it at all, but I am concerned about the black nights, walking through the dark and the lack of light in the homes. It is essential if it is dark outside, that inside everything should be light and bright. The people round the fireside ought to be able to realise that the world is not as dark as it may appear. The psychological effect will be very valuable. Psychology-plays a great part to-day, and if our people have warm fires they will be comfortable at home and will keep light-hearted even though the blinds are drawn. In the homes in my city when the blinds are down it means a death, and we ought not to have the death feeling about us. We ought to have the feeling of life, and all that is necessary is to put new life in the Minister, and persuade him to revoke this Order and bring brightness into the homes of the people.

9.53 p.m.

Mr. Collindridge

We must all agree that this discussion has been fully justified. Three definite interests have been put forward in the speeches made this evening—the national interest, the interest of the coal consumers and the interest of the mining industry and the miners. There is no need for me to stress the national interest. We on these benches who represent mining constituencies remember how, in the later stages of the Great War, the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), appealed to the miners to produce lumps of coal and to allow those lumps of coal to be flung to the Germans in the shape of shells. We all know that the national interest is served in that way. We also plead for our mining districts, which have been so long benighted under the strain of unemployment that some of them are classed with the legions of the lost. While we deprecate that a war must come about in order to allow these people to get back to employment, I should think the nation would be glad to see them in employment again helping the national effort, and, incidentally, to know that people who had rather lost hope have found it again in new work.

I want to put forward a practical suggestion, because I think there is a way out of this difficulty. We have many miners unemployed or, as in my own division, working on short time. Half a mile from where I reside are two large mines, where 2,000 workmen were off work for two days last week. There is an old saying that a mill will not grind with waters that are past; the time that has been lost in the non-production of coal because miners have been idle can never be recovered. We shall miss that coal. My practical suggestion is a simple one. When industrial disputes have been pending in the mining industry the mineowners have, in times past, quietly, before the industrial strike came about, stocking large amounts of coal. In 1912 there was a mining dispute, and one of the greatest collieries in South Yorkshire stocked, prior to the dispute, 50,000 tons of coal on the pit-top. The colliery sold that coal to a large shipping company, with very great financial advantage. If that can be done during a time of industrial strife, it can be done when we are waging war against the enemy at the gate. In these days, when miners have been off work, we could have had coal produced and laid on the pit-top in readiness for when we wanted it. In view of the scarcity which we shall probably experience, and which we experienced in the last war, there may have to be local committees of mineowners and miners discussing such questions as absenteeism among the miners. You will have the tragedy of time being lost at the commencement of the war on that account.

There is the further point that, dependent as we are for much of our petrol supply upon outside sources, we should have been having coal stocked, and re-search going on apace, with the idea of making ourselves more independent in regard to our necessary fuel supplies. I ask the Minister to consider this question from the point of view also of the loyalty of the people in our mining localities. It seems incongruous that we should have fit men in their early fifties or forties unemployed at the present time, although they are wishful to help, not only in the interests of their families, but in the interests of the nation, to prosecute the war.

9.59 p.m.

Mr. Tinker

Having got the miners' leaders and mineowners together for the purpose of reviewing the whole question, in order to see what were the possibilities of the mining industry, it was unfortunate that this restriction was put into force before that review was completed. We should allow people to have the same amount of coal that they had before, until we had found out how much coal we could get when all mines were worked. In the peak year 1914, we were able to produce 282,000,000 tons. It is now stated that we have a potential capacity of over 300,000,000 tons. It is recognised by all mining experts that it can be done in a short time, but it is also well known in every mining part of the country that there are vast numbers of unemployed men who are only too eager to get back to work. It has been pointed out, also, that short time is being worked at many of the collieries and that many mines have been closed down which could readily be reopened.

I want to urge upon the Minister a point which will show what can happen in the mining industry. Owing to the coal quota, one mining syndicate bought another colliery out, and to prevent it being reopened quickly they deliberately blew the access shaft in. That has happened in the last 12 months. It is a crime against the country. Whatever the Minister may have had in mind when he brought in the Order, would he take it from me that the mining industry can always produce all the coal he wants? I have been repeatedly asked in the mining areas why coal has been rationed, and I have assured people that the restriction can only be temporary. I have said this in excuse of the Minister—and of myself, because I was taken by surprise—"Probably he is looking around in order to find out the position, and I can assure you that you will have all the coal you want before long." I hope the Minister will be able to tell us that he will accept our assurances, and be moved by the arguments put forward by men who understand the industry. The Minister of Food acted recently in response to arguments advanced in this House because he found that those arguments were sound. We can give the Secretary for Mines an assurance that we can produce 280,000,000 or 300,000,000 tons per annum without any difficulty. I hope that he will tell us that he is satisfied that the restrictions need not be applied and can be removed in a very short time.

10.3 p.m.

Mr. David Adams

I should not have intervened in this Debate, especially at this late hour, but, by a coincidence, I received this morning a letter, bearing yesterday's date, on this very question. It is from the secretary of the Hedley Pit lodge, South Moor, Stanley, Co. Durham, and says: I am instructed by the members of the above-named lodge to ask you to get in touch with the Minister for Mines to see why there is so much lost time in the coal mines of our group of collieries, namely, Craghead, Holm-side and South Moor Coal Company, when there is such a demand for the coal, and also urging a return to the mines of all capable of carrying out such work. Over and above that, there are men being released from His Majesty's Forces to go back to the mines. It seems to me that one is justified in saying that no sound reasons have been advanced for this wasteful and highly costly scheme of rationing. Certain of our manufacturers, and the Government themselves in certain respects, are being rationed under this Order. I know from experience that this Order is being strongly resented by consumers. Constituents of mine declare that they normally consume far too small quantities of coal and that it would be beneficial to family life if larger quantities could be consumed. While many of them are not affected directly by the Order, there are people just above the scale who are affected by it. No doubt every Member of this House has seen how the gas companies of the country are in revolt against this Order. Circulars have been sent out, and I have taken the trouble to interview some of the leading gas companies in the North of England and have been assured by them that this will be a burden which will be thrust upon the consumers. One company advised me that the cost of this Order will not be less than £42,000 and that the sooner it is suspended the better. As the price of gas to the consumer was based upon a sliding scale in which certain profits arose, and the quantity of gas was diminishing, the consumers would have to pay under this unnecessary scheme of rationing.

I was assured, and probably the House has seen the figures, that there will be a diminution through the Order of from 20 per cent. to 38 per cent. of coke, motor benzol, toluol, and naphtha. Some of these are the constituents of high explosives, and therefore the Government themselves have been rationed in conducting this war, as a result of this Order. The diminution in the production of essential oils that we require means an additional strain on our tanker tonnage without any justification. The colliery companies are in revolt because there are unemployed miners, and the colliery districts are certain to be called upon to pay heavier rates owing to unemployment. The loss to our local authorities owing to 100,000 miners being out of work will be accentuated by this Order of the Government.

I have not heard a single argument advanced during my peregrinations in favour of the Order. The only excuse I heard advanced was that we are living in a rationing age, and the Secretary for Mines has been affected by this unfortunate virus. It appears to be so from the answer he gave this afternoon to my hon. Friend's question. A reason put forward was the risk of dislocation of coal transport. Everyone who knows anything about colliery working knows that when there is a shortage of transport, a shortage of wagons, a colliery is laid off for a day or two. It works automatically. It did not want a rationing Order which is costing the State many thousands of pounds, and causing irritation to the whole consuming public—some 30 or 40 million people are affected by it—to tell a colliery owner not to produce coal because there would be dislocation of transport. The fact is that there was never a need for this rationing. The Secretary for Mines is one of the pleasantest of all Ministers, and is always able to justify any course which he has pursued, but I shall be amazed if he can to-night justify this Order, and I shall be still more amazed if he does not undertake to withdraw it.

10.12 p.m.

Mr. Lawson

I think the House will realise that it must be a serious matter which can keep us sitting at this hour, and will realise that we on this side have no desire to keep the House longer than is necessary, but this really is a serious matter. The reply given by the Minister may be that so far as he is concerned the policy has been laid down and cannot be changed until there is a Cabinet decision, but I see no reason why the hon. Gentleman, in the light of the arguments which have been put forward, should not assure the House that the carrying out of the Order will be postponed. He must see that it is going to make very great hardship in the country generally. This is not merely a miners question but a question affecting the whole community.

There are masses of poor people who can consume only a very small amount of coal, but even so two tons will not get them through the winter. They are going to be very hardly hit in that way apart from the question of light. It seems to me that the argument about dislocation of traffic is no answer at all to the arguments which have been put forward. In the last war, as far as I remember, there was no rationing of coal although there was a German Navy. This time we have swept the seas and there is no German Navy, but yet we are rationed. In the last war most of the French pits were in the hands of the Germans and we needed to supply the French people with coal. I believe we also had to supply the Italians, because Italy then did not use water resources to the extent that she does now. They did not electrify to the extent that they do now; they used more coal. There was a great demand for supplying our allied nations and yet there was no rationing. The need, certainly, is not as great, and the situation is not as bad to-day as it was in the last war, and I do not know why it has been thought necessary to ration coal.

As to the suggestion that railways might be dislocated, it would make no difference, whether there is a lot of coal or a little coal, if people were limited to three-quarters of the amount which they had last year. That will not improve the position unless we are going to pile up the coal in various parts of the country, and that is not being done. We could do that now instead of keeping men idle. I am waiting to hear what the Minister will say, and I am very much astonished that there has been no simple explanation given on a matter of this description.

Mr. Lloyd

There has been.

Mr. Lawson

The hon. Gentleman says there has been, but I do not think that is so.

Mr. Lloyd

We have made attempts to do so publicly, but the hon. Gentleman will realise that there have been announcements from so many sources and so much news since the war started that people do not pay as much attention as they would in peace time. That is the difficulty.

Mr. Lawson

I shall be glad to hear any reply that the hon. Gentleman has to make to the House on this matter. If he is not going to set this Order aside temporarily, he must take this message back to the Cabinet or to those who are more responsible than he, that we are not going to have this rationing Order in the present state of the needs of the country.

10.17 P.m.

Mr. Lloyd

I am glad of this opportunity to-night to say a little more than I have had the opportunity of saying before about this important subject of coal, gas and electricity rationing. I agree and very much sympathise with the view that has been expressed by many hon. Members, that it seems at first sight inexplicable that we should have rationing in this country where we have so many coal mines and where coal is one of our great and famed national resources. It is, therefore, only too natural that people should ask, not only in this House but outside, why we should have rationing when it is believed that we have plenty of coal in England.

I would like to interpose a word here, because I think it is a suitable moment, about the rationing scheme itself before I come to the reasons for it. Granted the necessity for a scheme of rationing coal, gas and electricity, the Government have endeavoured to bear in mind all the time the needs of the poorest consumers. That was why we allowed two tons of coal absolutely free before coal rationing begins, 100 therms of gas free before gas rationing begins and also the 200 Board of Trade units of electricity free. I take the opportunity of mentioning that this evening because, as the hon. Gentleman said, there is still even to-day some confusion in people's minds.

Mr. G. Griffiths

Do I understand this to be the case: Suppose somebody has used 250 units of electricity, does he then get only 75 per cent. of his 250 units, and does he not get his 200 units free first? Suppose a person is using 50 cwts. of coal instead of 40 cwts.? Are the 50 cwts. to be rationed; but the 40 cwts. not to be rationed?

Mr. Lloyd

Anyone consuming coal is allowed 75 per cent. of what he consumed the year before, and if that 75 per cent. brings out his consumption below two tons of coal he will still get his two tons. The same applies to gas and electricity. The poorest type of consumer in most districts gets his coal in very small lots, by what is called the paper-bag trade. We have gone out of our way to make sure that in the case of small consumers who get their coal in this way, in small quantities, there is no rationing; there is no limit of two tons. Therefore, we have done our best to see that the poorer consumers are well looked after. We have done this in consultation with the coal merchants and the co-operative societies, and we have decided that the figure of two tons is the right figure. Let me add this, that in cases of hardship or difficulty the local fuel overseer is in the locality in order to adjust difficulties. He has instructions to deal with the matter sympathetically. In the case of illness, or in the case of reception areas where there are more people in the house than usual, or even in cases where consumers have been very economical—for all these reasons they can approach the fuel overseer for a ration in excess of what they are allowed.

Mr. Logan

Has the hon. Member any idea of the number of people in poor neighbourhoods who have been making application for more fuel? I have seen as many as 100 people making application.

Major Milner

Is the hon. Member aware that not fewer than 14 different forms have to be filled up and that they are completely incomprehensible to the people?

Mr. Lloyd

I do not think that that can be the case. It does not apply to the small consumer, and the hon. and gallant Member must consider all the ramifications of the coal trade and that the forms were drawn up in consultation with the trade itself.

Major Milner

Why not in consultation with the consumers?

Mr. Lloyd

May I turn to the broad questions which have been raised this evening. I think hon. Members opposite will agree that my general attitude is not one of obstinacy when they raise matters in connection with the coal trade. I have no intention of being obstinate to-night. I should not defend the Order if I thought it was wrong, or if there were real reasons for making a change. But, equally, hon. Members opposite will agree that it would not be right to make a change in policy if it were really against the national interest to do so just because at first sight a number of people cannot understand the reasons for the policy. First of all I want to make a few general remarks about the coal trade in relation to the war. Hon. Members opposite, and those engaged in the coal trade, know from the experience of the last war that coal is vital in war, but neither this House nor the country has yet fully realised the extent to which coal will be vital to us in this war. We shall need every ton of coal we can raise in the country. According to the best advice that I can get, even with the maximum production that we can expect, we shall still need to see that there are certain priorities in the use of that coal and that it is reserved to a certain extent for the uses which are most vital to the war effort.

Hon. Members have felt that there is a connection between rationing and the occurrence of idle time and unemployment in the pits. I hope to convince them that they are wrong in thinking that there is a connection. At this moment any coal that can be produced can be sold, and the rationing of coal is not having any effect on unemployment. Hon. Members may find it a little difficult to understand why that is so. My information to-day is that London as a whole is buying every ton of coal it can get, irrespective of the rationing scheme. Even with the fact that people have left, London is still buying every ton of coal it can get. That means that it can get transport to London, which is a very important point.

Hon. Members have given a number of examples of idle time at the pits. I was rather interested to see that a number of those who have spoken come from the North East coast, because actually there is at the present time in the country as a whole very little idle time. The figures for the week ended 30th September show-that the average working time throughout the country was just over 5½ days.

Hon. Members will ask the same question that I asked. How is it that it is just over 5½ days when the normal working week is 5½ days? The answer is that in Scotland they have been working on a slightly different basis, and that has brought the average actually above the normal working week. Such idle time as is occurring is occurring mainly in the export districts, and is due either to the failure of ships to arrive because of delays on passage or to the bunching of ships arriving in convoy. I do not want to give actual figures of the longer time that these ships' passages are taking, because it will be understood that it may not be altogether wise; but, as hon. Members know, on the North East coast, Durham and Northumberland, it is the delay in the ships leaving the North East coast ports which is causing the hold-up at the pits.

Recently, I have approached the colliery owners and urged them to stock as far as they can. Hon. Members know-that that is not always as easy in some cases as it is in others, but I have urged them to do so. I want to emphasise to the House, however, that the really serious cases of idle time occurring in these days are not due to any general lack of demand for coal, and certainly they are not due to anything in the least connected with rationing; but they are due to the physical difficulty of getting coal away from the ports as a result of the difficulties with shipping which arise at the beginning of war-time conditions.

On the other hand, there is a certain amount of idle time due to inland transport difficulties. I am sure that hon. Members who are familiar with the coal trade will recollect that in normal peacetime conditions the railways are unable to meet the full winter demand for coal in the consuming areas of the country, and that deficiency is met by the accumulation of stocks which are gradually depleted throughout the winter. This brings me back to the point which I made this afternoon. The rationing system at this moment is not restricting production at the pits, but what it does do is to cause the reduction which takes place normally in the stocks in the great consuming areas to take place more slowly than it otherwise would do. I ask hon. Members to bear in mind the fact that we are normally now in a period of declining stocks in the consuming areas; to bear in mind also that it is a normally accepted feature of the coal trade that the transportation system is not sufficient to meet the current demands for winter consumption, and that even where the transportation system is delivering coal at maximum rates during (he winter, still the stocks are going down. I would then ask them to consider whether it is not a wise policy, in the interests of the country at the present time, in view of the risks which we know we are running to-day— although they have not so far occurred —to allow the stocks in the great consuming centres to fall too fast, when we know-that they could not in any case, even under normal peace-time conditions, be maintained at their level, and to consider what the position would be if there were a serious dislocation of the coal transportation system as a result of enemy action. I suggest to the House that it is a serious short-term problem. I do not know whether hon. Members would really wish to take the responsibility of changing that decision if they were standing at this Box at the present time.

Mr. Batey

Yes, we would.

Mr. Ellis Smith

Is not this a case of building up the stocks?

Mr. Lloyd

Stocks have been built up, but our view is that the wise policy is to conserve those stocks, and not allow them to be dissipated quickly. I ask hon. Members to consider what would be the position if those stocks really had been dissipated, and if we were then faced with a really considerable shortage of coal. Would not hon. Members opposite rise in this House, and in the interests of the public ask why we had been so improvident as to allow stocks to be dissipated in that way so that when the time of difficulty came there was no re -serve to meet the essential needs of the people? [HON. MEMBERS: "Why reduce output?"] I have explained that it is a question of transportation.

Mr. R. J. Taylor

Stocks can be built up at the consuming end and at the producing end. I take it the right hon. Gentleman means the depletion of stocks at the production end?

Mr. Lloyd

No, at the consuming end.

Mr. Taylor

Very well, that strengthens my point. Would he consider it wise that a colliery should be idle when it could be filling stocks at the producing end?

Mr. Lloyd

I said a moment ago that I had asked colliery owners to engage in stocking in proper circumstances. I am in favour of it, but it does not meet the point, which I would emphasise, that you have to consider the conservation of stocks in the consuming districts when you know that there is a definite limitation on transportation, even in peace time. and in view of the risks which must be borne in mind of further dislocation under war conditions, by enemy action. I have dealt so far only with the question of idle time and I have shown, I hope convincingly, that rationing is having no effect in causing idle time but that idle time is due to shipping delays.

I turn to the general question of existing unemployment in the coal trade, the unemployment which existed before the war. It is a more important problem, because on a larger scale than the problem of idle time. The fact that men have been thrown out of work because of shipping delays is disagreeable and is a thing which we want to get rid of as quickly as possible. I know that the authorities at Sea Transport Department and at the Admiralty are doing all they can to get shipping on the move in the normal way and to deal with that problem, irrespective of any question of rationing. But the bigger problem of unemployment is connected with the longer term policy for the production of coal in war time. Shortly after the outbreak of war, I approached the Mine-workers' Federation of Great Britain and the Mining Association and asked them to meet jointly, as the practical bodies in the industry, to consider how best to increase output up to the anticipated requirement of 260,000,000 to 270,000,000 tons. I do not wish to go into details about any of the larger and rather theoretical estimates which we have heard but I can say that both the Mining Association and the Miners Federation consider that it would be a big task to reach the output figure I have mentioned.

Hon. Members know better than I do that you cannot get a considerable increase of production all at once. New faces have to be opened up and new roads constructed, and it takes time. I am glad to say that the Mining Association and the Miners' Federation jointly have entered wholeheartedly into the consideration of the problem of the increase of production. Among the matters which they have on their programme for consideration are such questions as how far men who have been unemployed can be reabsorbed into the industry, and the question of reopening pits which have been closed in the fairly recent past where there is labour available in near by villages.

Mr. J. Griffiths

Is the hon. Gentleman asking the owners to make; a survey of the pits which have been closed in the recent past, where the labour is available?

Mr. Lloyd

I have not gone so far as to tell the Mining Association and the Mineworkers' Federation how they should do the job, but I know that that is one of the problems which they are considering. It is just the point that the hon. Gentleman has put, that is, pits which have been closed in the comparatively recent past and for which labour is available, and that is an immensely more simple problem than trying to open pits that have been closed for a considerable time.

Mr. G. Griffiths

Does the hon. Gentleman know that there are pits in Yorkshire where only one man is working in the stall, and he is asking for three more men? It makes us chaps annoyed about it.

Mr. Lloyd

I can quite understand feelings of annoyance that must arise in particular cases, but I am trying to give the House a broad picture of the whole situation, from which they will see that this picture does mean a greatly increased output from the mines of this country, that the employers and the unions in the industry are working practically upon the problem at persent, and that it will mean a very considerable employment for men who are unemployed at the present time.

Now I would like to tell the House that some of the unemployed in the industry have already been re-employed and that the process of increasing production has already begun, and I think the House and the country would be interested in the very recent figures. There has been an increase in production in the last four weeks, and I should like to point out that, without any question of rationing, which is not the practical point in this matter, there has been a considerable increase in output. Giving round figures only, the output in the last week before the outbreak of war was 4,564,000 tons; during the week ended 9th September, just at the beginning of the war, it dropped to 4,205,000 tons; thereafter it improved, and the figures for the following three weeks were as follows: For the week ended 16th September, 4,686,000 tons; for the week ended 23rd September, 4,769,000 tons; for the week ended 30th September, 4,880,000 tons; and I should like to point out to the House that the figure for the last week that I have given is not only an increase over the previous weeks that I have quoted, but it is 300,000 tons more than the corresponding figure at this time last year, so that the House will see that there is a definite upward swing in the production of coal.

I have dealt with the short-term question of why we are having rationing now, but I want to deal with the point whether we shall need rationing at a time when we have got this greatly increased production. We want production on this greatly increased scale because the essential requirements of the country are going to increase on a very large scale too. There will be general industry, there will be the coal required for munitions production, and, last but not least, the export of coal in the largest quantities that we can manage for the purpose of getting in return the vital foodstuffs and the materials for munitions production which are necessary for the carrying on of the war, and, in general, for obtaining the command of foreign purchasing power which is vital to this country if we are to carry on the war at the maximum intensity.

I cannot stand at this Box and honestly tell the House that we could, on the advice that I get from the experts and from the Mining Association and the Mincworkers' Federation, meet all the demands that we ought to meet and still have a surplus over to do what we liked with. That is not the position. The position is that if we are to make a very great effort, of which there is every sign by both the employers and men, then we shall be able to meet our essential requirement's; but I fear that it is certain that we shall have to cut down on the luxury consumption of coal in domestic use. That is the position as we see it, and that is why the rationing scheme was based upon a percentage of consumption; and, while it restricts the domestic consumer on a larger scale who, broadly speaking, in peace-time uses coal pretty freely, and who should not be put to undue hardships in making this economy in the interest of the country, at the same time we have kept the smaller consumer free. I hope I have convinced the House that the case is not quite as it appeared to some hon. Members at the beginning of the Debate, and I would appeal to them at this time, when it is not easy for the ordinary man in the street to understand the reason for everything that is being done, to help to spread the real reasons behind the policy which the Government are pursuing in the interests of the nation's war efforts.

Mr. Paling

The Minister tells us that he has approached the Mining Association and the Miners' Federation in order to get them to co-operate in increasing production. Did he approach either of those bodies and ask for their advice about rationing; if so what did they say?

Major Milner

Has the Minister anything to say about the effect of these restrictions on gas works and so on, in regard to the production of by-products for munition purposes?

Mr. Lloyd

I cannot enter into detail on that point to-night. The situation is being very closely watched by the Minister of Supply. With regard to the other question, it is not appropriate to consult those bodies on the rationing scheme, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that neither the Mining Association nor the Miners' Federation have made anything in the nature of the representation in some of the speeches we have heard to-night. They recognise that we are engaged in a great effort to raise the necessary amount of coal.

Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and negatived.

10.51 p.m.

Mr. Lawson

In view of the answer of the Minister upon this important question of coal rationing, which we do not consider an answer at all, we think it is possible we may have a Division on this matter to register our protest.

Mr. George Hall

I think it is very necessary that this Debate should be continued in the light of the reply given by the Minister. In the course of his remarks he dealt with the importance of coal. I am sure that all in the House recognise the importance of the coal-mining industry.

Mr. Speaker

As there is nothing before the House we must continue with the Orders of the Day.