HC Deb 19 February 1941 vol 369 cc178-260
Mr. T. Smith (Normanton)

I beg to move, "That Item Class VI (Mines Department of the Board of Trade), be reduced by £100."

This Vote is very wide, and I want specifically to raise certain questions connected with the Mines Department and mining generally, and it is in order to confine the discussion to these matters that I am moving to reduce the Vote for the Mines Department by £100. In happier days this was the one Sitting of Parliament to which a good many of my hon. Friends used to look forward because it enabled us to review all the ramifications in the mining industry in regard to production, distribution, safety, and any question that we wanted to bring up. To-day I want to devote my remarks mainly to questions concerned with the production and distribution of coal supplies, a Debate, which, I think, by general consent is long overdue. But before doing so, there is a number of questions that I want to ask the Secretary for Mines, and I must say that I regret that he is not at present in his place. I do not want to have to deal with purely mining matters in connection with the Department without the Secretary for Mines being present. I had much rather sit down at the moment than continue in his absence. If we can have the assurance that the Secretary for Mines will be in his place within a few minutes I will proceed to deal with the particular things that I want to raise. He ought to have been here by now.

There is a number of questions I want to ask the Secretary for Mines. First, in regard to accidents in mines and safety measures generally, I notice that in 1940 — that is, the last complete year— there were 910 persons killed in the mines of Great Britain, above and below ground, the highest figure for 10 years, with the exception of 1934, when the Gresford disaster, unfortunately, swelled the total. I would like to know from my hon. Friend whether he can tell the Committee and the country what was the explanation for the increase in fatal accidents in the mines of Great Britain during 1940, in view of the fact that we had a most searching Royal Commission a few years ago, of which my hon. Friend was a most distinguished member, and, also, in view of the fact that there are fewer mineworkers in the pits than some years ago. I know that in the past most of us have made long and strong speeches with regard to accidents in mines and that we have laid particular blame on many occasions on the Administration which has happened to be in office. I can recall vividly some of the things I have said myself to some of the holders of the office which my hon. Friend now occupies.

To-day I would like to put some searching questions to my hon. Friend. May I say that I do not intend to offer my remarks in any spirit of hostility, either to him or to the Administration in general, because I know some of the difficulties? Nevertheless, I intend to put my point of view strongly, because I think the present situation warrants it. I see that my hon. Friend has now come in. In pit terms, he seems to have "missed the morning tub," and in order that he may attune his mind to what I am saying, I will recall what I said a few minutes ago, although I detest repetition. I said that in 1940 there were killed in this country, above and below ground in the mining industry, 910 persons. That was the highest figure for the last 10 years with the exception of1924, when the Gresford accident unfortunately swelled the total. Even though we are at war, we have the right to have some regard for the safety and welfare of those who produce and distribute the coal. I asked whether my hon. Friend could give the Committee any cogent reasons why that figure should show so much increase. The year before we were priding ourselves on the lowest figure for a good many years; it was 127 fewer than the year before. Now we are much perturbed at the increase. Having regard to what was said at Question time about the reasonable length of speeches, I will not go into too much detail, but I would like to know what is the explanation. Is it, for example, due to any speeding-up, or is it due to an increase in machine mining? I suspect that the largest increase will be from falls of grounds. Has that any relation to the kind of timber which is being used to-day, or is there some explanation of which we are not aware?

My hon. Friend did his best, not merely on the Royal Commission but in connection with the explosion at Gresford, and I want to ask him whether he can give us an assurance that even though we are war there is no slackening off either on the part of the inspectorate in pits or in any other way. Is all being done that can be done to make life in the mining industry as safe as possible, while recognising that as long as there is mining it will always be a dangerous and arduous industry? I would like to ask him how many of the recommendations of the Royal Commission have been put into operation. I recognise that we cannot discuss on this Vote matters which need new legislation, but there are certain recommendations in that Report which can be introduced by regulation if not by legislation. How many have been put into operation or are under consideration at the present moment by those concerned? I know of one, and that is with regard to workmen's inspectors. This recommendation is well on the way towards operation. In one of the first speeches I made in this House I advocated that Section 16 of the Coal Mines Act, 1911, which gave the right to miners to appoint any two people, not mining engineers, to inspect their pit at least once a month was not adequate. I said that protection ought to be given to those mines' inspectors, that they ought to be guaranteed against victimisation and that they ought to work as freely and as independently as possible without any reaction. I was pleased indeed to read in the Report that at long last there were to be "fifty-fifty" payments. This recommendation, which has been discussed in my own district, is one which will allow the type of man they will get to see that the duties are carried out.

Have my hon. Friend's Department or any committee of the Department or people concerned with the matter considered what kind of new Mines Bill can be put on the Statute Book when times become favourable? In the report of the Royal Commission there were some excellent recommendations. There is, I believe, among those who know mining or who have read and studied the Report a general desire that the mining legislation of this country should be overhauled. I am not expecting the impossible during war-time; but I think somebody, if it is not already being done, ought to think out the kind of Mines Bill that we can discuss at a favourable opportunity. I would like my hon. Friend to give us some idea of what is being done in that direction. My hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) and others have been asking questions recently with regard to pits which have been closed, and having the distinction of being the only man who has served as Parliamentary Private Secretary to each of the three Labour Secretaries for Mines, I know a little about the powers of the Department. I want to ask, however, what power the Department have to deal with a pit which threatens to close?

During the last war we attended huge conferences, sometimes 1,500,2,000 or 3,000 strong, at which the present Lord Chancellor and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) impressed upon us that the production of coal was absolutely vital for the winning of the war, not merely coal for burning in open grates, but for making coke, for carbonisation, etc. They spurred us on to do our best. In these days, when a pit is threatening to close, that is, I think, a serious situation. It is not sufficient for mine owners to write to the Department and say that for economic or other reasons they propose to close a pit and that is the end of it. It is not sufficient for somebody to go to the manager and ask what is the difficulty in regard to the pit. In war-time there ought to be an overriding authority to say whether the pit should be closed or whether it is necessary to keep it going. We ought to have some control of it, and I would like to know what my hon. Friend intends to do in such cases. One of the pits which has been referred to is in Lancashire, but we have trouble brewing in other districts. In the past there have been arguments by mine owners that they were not able to keep going, but they did manage to keep going, and I would like to know the Department's attitude to this kind of thing. Coal is still very vital and will be vital as long as man lives and industry continues. I ask the Minister has he sufficient powers to deal with this situation, and if not, will he have the courage to ask for those powers? If he does so, I am sure Parliament will not refuse them.

I turn now to the question of production and supply, and I am pleased indeed to see that the Minister of Transport is in his place. I believe that in connection with this subject the Mines Department has been carrying a burden which is not altogether its own. Twelve months ago, before the advent of this Government, the present Secretary for Petroleum, then Secretary for Mines, escaped scot-free from criticism while the late Captain Euan Wallace, as Minister of Transport, had to stand a good deal of criticism for the lack of proper distribution. In the last four or five months, however, all criticisms and questions in regard to this matter seem to be directed to the Mines Department, and in my opinion the Ministry of Transport have not been getting that amount of criticism which they deserve. I have here a large number of figures concerning the present production of coal in different districts. I would be the last to reveal any figures which might be helpful to the enemy, and therefore I shall speak to-day in more general terms than I would use otherwise, but if I am challenged, I shall be prepared to prove my statements by giving the figures; I do not think, however, that any of my hon. Friends would dispute the facts which I am about to present.

When France and the Low Countries went out of the war and ceased taking our coal, production was bound to be upset. Districts like South Wales, Durham and Northumberland, which relied upon the export trade for their existence, were bound to suffer and did suffer terribly. The trouble in those districts is, largely, loss of markets due to the war and the very fact that those markets have been lost leaves a number of problems in those districts which will have to be tackled sooner or later. I speak on behalf of my hon. Friends behind me and not for any particular district, but I think I have a right to concentrate attention on the position in the export districts. I know the figures of loss of production. I know that a compensation scheme has been put into operation in order to keep certain pits ready in case they are required for production. But I also know that in some districts a social problem has been created. We hear a great deal to-day from responsible Ministers to the effect that we must never again have special or distressed areas in this country. Unless some of the problems to which I refer are tackled I am afraid we shall have acute social problems— if they do not already exist— in those affected areas.

What has the Department in mind for dealing with the immediate problems in those districts? I know that discussions have taken place with a view to finding the best way of dealing with these difficulties in the export areas. I know that efforts have been made to divert a certain quantity of that coal into the inland market and those districts, hard hit as they have been by the war, are entitled to a fair share of whatever inland trade is going. But the problem is not an easy one to solve. If all the coal in the country were of the same quality and the same price it would be much simpler. There is, however, a vast difference both in calorific value and price between the coal production of the various districts and it is not always easy to divert certain classes of coal which have normally gone across the sea to the inland market in sufficient quantities to enable the pits to remain in production. I ask my hon. Friend to take us into his confidence and to tell the men in those areas what scheme is being thought out, now, to deal with the immediate problem.

If the difficulty in the districts to which I have referred is due to loss of markets, we have a different problem in the Midlands amalgamated area. That district was urged by the Ministry of Supply and the Mines Department to produce as much coal as possible, because it was centrally situated and had less to fear from attack and could produce more coal, comparatively undisturbed, than the other districts. That big district was anxious and willing to produce all the coal it could, but we find that for the last 17 weeks, up to the end of January, that district has lost, through shortage of wagons alone, more than 3,250,000 tons of coal. Yorkshire, both South and West, has lost out of that total, more than 1,000,000 tons in the last 17 weeks. This has created a good deal of concern. It has aroused a certain amount of hostility and bitterness; the position is far from satisfactory and unless tackled at once it will, in my opinion, grow worse.

That district, anxious and willing, as I say, to produce all the coal it could, immediately advised the Mines Department and the Government what the situation was and pointed out that solely owing to lack of transport, pits were not working full time and that they could produce considerably more coal if they could get the wagons to carry away the coal. In October they met the local railway companies. Those railway companies admitted frankly that they had not sufficient wagons to convey the coal from the pits. They were very helpful, as some of these coal controllers, men whom we know, always are. They were helpful, but they were frank. The position did not improve. Then there was a meeting with the railway executive in London at which the South Wales District also was represented. It was stated that there were 24,000 wagons surplus to requirements, 15,000 on the Great Western Railway and 9,000 on the Southern Railway, and that a large number of those wagons would be released and sent to the Midlands area where they could be used. Those 24,000 wagons represented a carrying capacity of 250,000 tons of coal. It was also stated that in one particular district there were 3,000 wagons standing full which had been there since July.

Both the Minister of Transport and the Secretary for Mines, in answer to Questions, have stated, I believe rightly, that a good many of these wagons have been released and are now in commission, but the point is, to what places have the 10,000 wagons been sent? Will my hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines say that they have been sent to the Midland area? If he says that, I can only say that somebody somewhere is not quite telling a straight story. The miners' leaders and the colliery owners in the Midland area deny that the wagons have been sent there. I ask my hon. Friend to tell the Midland amalgamated district and the workers there, some of whom have been working less than four days a week— and in one pit in my division less than three days a week— where these wagons have gone. If they have not been sent to the Midland area, why cannot they be sent there?

The first thing we have to do is to win the war. I am far from being a prophet, but unless the problem of transport is tackled, I am sure we shall have a worse position next winter than we have now. A; a proof of that statement, let me say that we are at the present time consuming in this country 10 per cent, more coal than we are producing. We have been drawing on stocks. Unless the transport problem is remedied, there will be the possibility of a coal famine next winter. There is also an industrial side to the matter. In certain counties where industries have grown, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) knows, it has been a question not merely of a shortage of household coal but a shortage of industrial coal. The South Yorkshire coal owners are in the position that they cannot produce the requisite amount of coal and coke for munitions work. The position is serious, and it must be tackled.

Let me say, quite sincerely, that I know the position is not quite as bad now as it was last winter. This is due, first, to the fact that we have had a less severe winter, and secondly, to the fact that my hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines succeeded in getting large quantities of coal stored in various parts of the country. For this he is entitled to a word of praise. In addition, many householders responded to the appeal to stock their cellars. These stocks, both in dumps and in cellars, were not big enough. We ought to be stocking from April to September against the eventualities of the winter. There is, however, a weakness in regard to stocking in cellars. I listened to the broadcast speech of my hon. Friend— and I have seen in the Press a castigation of that speech— and I am bound to say that when he asked neighbours to help one another, which is quite a natural thing to do and the thing that is done a good deal, it was certainly an admission that the situation was not as satisfactory as it might be. It was an admission of failure almost with regard to adequate distribution.

Let it not be forgotten that there are thousands of people who would be only too glad and willing to put coal into cellars if they had room and if they had enough money to buy the coal. One of the complaints, particularly in the South of England, is this. People ask why there is so much difference between the pithead price of coal and the price which they have to pay. That is an old complaint and it is one on which explanations could be given, but not at this moment. The fact is that when household coal is sold in the South at £3 and £3 5s. a ton, it makes people ask a few questions. On the question of distribution, I do not want to give too many detailed cases. There has been quite a number of complaints of a shortage of coal. Questions by the score have been put to the Minister, and the Department have received hundreds of letters complaining about shortages. Some of the coal merchants have said that, with the best will in the world, they cannot supply coal to people, simply because they have not got it. The problem must be tackled.

One complaint is that wagons are not being turned round sufficiently quickly. All of us agree that they ought to be turned round quickly and taken back. Frequently it is argued that, if the present powers of the Government concerning demurrage charges were put into operation, the position would be better. I want the Secretary for Mines, as responsible Minister, to deal with that argument, because in some respects it is fallacious. Some years ago, in the Royal Commission, when, I believe, the demurrage charge was 6d. per wagon per day, the coal owners and the coal trades association vehemently denied an increase in demurrage charges. They said it would fall upon the consumers, and they said it would cost about six times more to re-handle the coal once it was on the ground than it would when it was kept in the wagons. From the time when the demurrage charge was 6d. per wagon per day the position changed until prior to the war it was this. The demurrage charged was 3s. per day after the third day, not counting Bank Holidays and Sundays.

At the present time, if a wagon is received before noon the charge is 3s. per day after the first 24 hours; if it is received after noon, the charge is 3s. per day after the first 24 hours, timed from midnight on the day of arrival. Here is the point. I am told that the railway companies are anxious to operate these new charges, but that the Government are reluctant to exercise their powers. I want to ask why. I think I know. I know that there have been a good many difficulties on the railways, I know that the coal merchants and depots have had difficulties; perhaps the Government do not wish to lay any further burdens upon those who have to handle coal. Believe me, there have been some difficulties. Let me say, in passing, that I think we ought on occasion to pay a tribute to those engaged in transport. With all their troubles, many remarkable things have been done. The men in the Merchant Service who are engaged in the coastwise traffic deserve all praise. Anybody who has seen the coastwise traffic on the North East coast knows that this praise is due. The same thing applies to those who are engaged on the railways. We hear a good deal about miners and other people, but very little is said about railway workers. We know some of them and meet them at week-ends, and they deserve a word of praise, particularly the firemen, drivers and shunters, who have been working under great difficulties in the black-out and when the "alert" has been sounded.

I wish to extract from the Government some statement of what they intend to do. Transport, like coal, has been in a chaotic state for many years. What is the real difficulty with regard to transport? We have an Executive Committee of Ministers, but I submit that in these days those Ministers have sufficient work to do without bothering about transport or coal distribution. Is there sufficient co-ordination between the Mines Department, the Ministry of Transport and the railway companies? Is it true that the railways work independently with regard to wagons, and that that fact in itself is an obstacle? If it is not true, I shall be very glad to hear it. I should like to see the Minister of Mines relieved of a good deal of the anxiety of distribution in order that he can devote himself to certain other phases of mining which deserve attention.

Then there is the question of alternative transport, such as canals and inland waterways. What a reflection on our history is the way in which we have neglected the canals. As a boy I used to spend many hours on barges in a certain canal when canals were carrying a regular coal traffic from the pits to the wharves. To-day, scarcely a ton of coal can be seen moving on the canals. I understand some of the railway companies were responsible for the sterilisation of this traffic in order to force it on to the railways. In 1929 we were carrying on the canals and inland waterways of this country 1,500,000 tons more coal than at the present time. Now we are told in the Press that somebody is going to look at the canals. Some gentleman of very great ability is being deputed to do this work, but why do we need a sight-seeing tour of the canals and inland waterways? We know what is needed, or have we neglected them for so long that we do not?

The complaint of this House and the country is that the Government have delayed so long in considering the question. It is not good enough that after 18 months of war somebody should now be sent to look at them. I may be told that before you can carry goods on the canals you must have the boats, and I appreciate that, but what I am trying to ascertain is, if there is congestion on the railway, and if it be true that there are insufficient numbers of wagons and rolling-stock to deal with the problem, what alternative methods of transport are being considered. So far as the distribution of household coal is concerned, especially in the South of England, could we not use some of the empty Army wagons, which are to be seen up and down the country? Many of us see these empty wagons at week-ends, especially on the Great North Road. The people of this country are responding nobly to all appeals for increased production. Those men who are working in the munition factories certainly have the right to have warm homes for themselves and their dependants. It is not very nice for a man to sit in his home without any fire or heat, and it does not make one feel ready to respond 100 per cent. to any appeals which are made. Quite frankly, I believe that more use could have been made of these empty lorries during this severe crisis. If the Minister of Transport is responsible for the delay, he ought to quicken things up; I know something could be done.

We have to mobilise to win this war, and I have told the Committee that we are consuming coal to-day in far greater quantities than it is being produced. That state of affairs cannot go on for very long. Coal is needed for household consumption, for industry, carbonisation, for coke and a thousand and one other purposes, and if this problem of transport is not tackled, there will be not only more Debates in Parliament but tremendous unrest in the country. Is it not time that we had all forms of domestic transport brought under one directorate— railways, canals, coastwise shipping and road transport? We have had many Debates in order to get production concentrated under one directorate, but why cannot we have transport brought under one directorate? Why cannot we have some independent over-riding body which can give decisions with regard to priority, and which can survey and take action to deal with the congestion between the pits and the points of consumption?

I conclude by asking the Secretary for Mines and the Minister of Transport to face up to their responsibilities. The right hon. Gentleman who is now Minister for Home Security wrote a famous slogan on the hoardings, "Go to it."A collier said to me last Friday morning,"Tom, they told us to go to it some months ago. We are anxious and willing to go to it, but we have nothing to go to." It is a little galling for a man who is working only four days out of six in a week, and these men cannot help asking themselves whether we are out to win the war or whether we are playing at the game. I hope the Government will face up to their responsibilities and seriously tackle these problems. My final word to the Secretary for Mines is, when he replies, not to be content merely with pious hopes and wishful thinking. Let him tell us exactly what the position is, and if there arc any difficulties, what they are, and if he has not the powers, what powers he needs. I am satisfied that the Committee will give the Government and the Mines Department any such powers they may need to deal with this particular problem.

Mr. Gordon Macdonald (Ince)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his maiden speech from the Front Bench. He has done just as well there, if not better than he ever did on the back benches, but I am surprised at his having the effrontery to move a reduction in the salary of the Secretary for Mines. Up to a few weeks ago they were working together, and his speech has shown that he could answer all the questions that he has asked. He treated his hon. Friend with the consideration that I expected of him. It would be difficult for a man who has only just left him to be unkind to him. The one question before us is whether the coal industry is organised on the best possible basis to make a substantial contribution to winning the war. I understand that discussions have been going on for a number of weeks between the Miners' Federation, members of the Trades Union Congress and the Labour party as to reorganisation of the industry. They have put forward questions which may involve legislation and therefore cannot be discussed now, but I hope that before very long we shall hear from the Secretary for Mines some reply to the suggestions that he has received.

We are not satisfied with the present organisation of the industry. We were not satisfied with it in peace-time, and we are more dissatisfied with it in war-time. The policy of control pursued between 1914 and 1918 did not prove the best policy to handle the industry, and the way it was dealt with after the war created disaster. I do not want any policy to be adopted during the war which may result in disaster after it, but I hope the Minister is considering some change. I feel that it is being run just the same now as before the war and that the only motive is profit. The coal-owners are to-day more concerned with safeguarding profits during and after the war, and those considerations are determining their attitude. I ask the Secretary for Mines not to be influenced too much by the coalowners' point of view. We have felt for a long time that the Ministry is far too sensitive to that influence, and its policy is often arranged in order to satisfy the coalowners. We have felt that during the war their representations have influenced the Minister of Mines more than those of the miners. After all, the men are involved in the industry just as much as the owners. [HON. MEMBERS: "More."] I think my hon. Friends are right but I prefer to be moderate and not to exaggerate. The miners' interests are involved as much as the owners', and they can make suggestions of equal value to those of the owners. I do not want the industry to be run during the war merely to safeguard profits for the owners and with an eye to their interest after the war. There is that danger.

The questions that my hon. Friend has raised are those that we all want to emphasise. He has referred to production and to the closing of pits. This is an outrage in Lancashire, and I want the Minister to face up to it. I do not know who is providing him with Answers at that Box, but he has not given the Answers that we expected from him. Three months ago the Bold Colliery, near St. Helen's, employing 1,200 men, closed purely owing to difficulty in financial arrangement. It is now re-opened, and we have lost the output of 200 men for three months. Someone is responsible. That is a thing that ought not to be allowed to happen. I can understand a colliery going out of production for 'geological reasons over which the Minister has no control, but I do not understand his allowing a colliery to go out for three months and then to reopen and to produce almost as much as it did three months previously. If he says he has not the power, will he decide whether he wants the power? If he thinks he ought to have it, let him tell the House, and I know that if it was refused he would not retain office. At a time like this, finance ought not to stand in the way. The colliery returned to production because someone had risked the finance which the previous owners could not or would not risk. Something has got to be done in this kind of case. In the case of the St. George's Colliery, Tyldesley, the owners met the men and pointed out the difficulties. They said that the same coal could be got from another shaft, and the men would be transferred and everyone re-employed. We do not complain.

The Secretary for Mines (Mr. David Grenfell)

Will my hon. Friend cite a case where men have made application and been refused?

Mr. Macdonald

I do not know that I can, but I shall cite a case presently where they got a hearing and nothing happened. What I am pointing out now is that there are times when certainly collieries are better closed, and no one objects, but problems in consequence of closing have to be dealt with. In the case of the St. George's Colliery the best arrangement in the circumstances was made.

I want to refer now to the Lancashire Colliery which was dealt with in the Question answered to-day. The House had better know the facts. On 28th June last the Secretary for Mines received a joint deputation. They put all their difficulties before him and asked if he would attend to them. The colliery is on the verge of closing. They have sent us this letter dated 11th February: In view of your Question in the House to the Secretary for Mines regarding the closing of a Lancashire Colliery, we thought we ought to let you know that we have written Mr. Grenfell to-day informing him of the position at these collieries. On 28th June last the directors of this company, with representatives of the Lancashire and Cheshire Miners' Federation, interviewed the Secretary for Mines with regard to the difficulties experienced here. Since then, instead of matters improving, they have become steadily worse and it leaves the company no other alternative but to adopt a policy of, at most, a temporary suspension of winding coal which may ultimately result in the colliery closing down altogether. A decision will probably be made during the next 14 days.

Mr. Grenfell

The complaint I have had is that whereas 600 men were employed by the company they have now 400 and are 200 short of their full complement. I have no authority to go to the employment exchange and order men to work in the mine.

Mr. Macdonald

My hon. Friend has had all these difficulties before him for seven months, and if he has done his best to deal with them and has failed, that is all I want to know, and I know where I am.

Mr. Grenfell

My hon. Friend knows what laws are passed in this House, and he knows the difficulties of this country. He knows that I have no authority to go to the Employment Exchange and send anybody to the pit.

Mr. Macdonald

I realise that my hon. Friend has limited authority. What I want to ask him, as man to man, is, if he has not sufficient authority to carry on this industry as he thinks it ought to be carried on, especially in time of war, will he ask for further authority?

Mr. Grenfell

My hon. Friend must really understand that I do not seek authority over the work of other Departments.

Mr. Macdonald

I do not ask my hon. Friend to do that. All I ask him is whether he is satisfied that the authority he ran exercise is sufficient to enable him to do all he wants to do with the industry?

Mr. Grenfell

Yes, I think so. I have not failed to do what I think is essential for want of authority within my Department. There is, however, a large number of things which are beyond my authority. Suppose, for instance, there is a shortage of steel or labour, I cannot control the steel or order men to go to work in the industry. —

Mr. Macdonald

I accept my hon. Friend's statement if he tells me that there are sometimes things involved in the industry over which he does not desire authority—

Mr. Grenfell

Over which I cannot exercise authority because they are extraneous to my Department.

Mr. Macdonald

But over which my hon. Friend does not desire authority. I want to put it straight to him, for we are colleagues of his, and we are very concerned that he should run the industry successfully. If he has not the power he desires to have, we are anxious to press him to ask for power and to put it to the Prime Minister that he has not the power which he wishes.

Mr. Grenfell

I must recall to my hon. Friend the statement made by the Lord Privy Seal in May last, when he said that the House in an Act of Parliament gave power to the Government to do certain things. I shall use that power if it falls to my lot to do so, or I shall give up my responsibility.

Mr. Macdonald

All I am concerned with is that my hon. Friend should have all the power he thinks he should have. He tells us that he has all the power he thinks he ought to have and that he does not feel that there is any need to have any further authority in order to control the industry. He is satisfied with the authority that he has.

Mr. Grenfell

On the present scale. Let me put this to my hon. Friend. He knows that when I came into office in May last I said that I wanted more pit room and more men and that I wanted all the power the State could give me to get more pit room and more labour. I am no longer sure that I need more pit room; I am sure that I cannot use all the pit room that I have. I am anxious about certain things, and one of those is the supply of labour, to which I will refer when I speak.

Mr. Macdonald

I will leave this matter where it is, with this comment. The colliery company to which I have referred is, I understand, likely to close down solely because of shortage of labour.

Mr. Grenfell

No; my hon. Friend must really know his own case. This company has been in a bad financial way for years. The reason for that is that there are geological difficulties.

Mr. Macdonald

I realise that, but my hon. Friend tried at Question Time to get away from it with the difficulties of men.

Mr. Grenfell

My hon. Friend must not say that, even in the House. I have never got away from anything in my life

Mr. Macdonald

I repeat that my hon. Friend at Question Time to-day put forward the shortage of labour at this colliery. In reply to me now he has put it forward again and he has also introduced other factors by telling me that it is a poor mine and has been in difficulties for a long time. All I want to know is whether his Ministry have, since 28th June last, done all they could have done to keep this colliery in production, or whether they have decided that they could not do anything and that the colliery had better close down.

Mr. Grenfell

I gave an answer that we were considering doing all we can to prevent the closing of the colliery.

Mr. Macdonald

I want to deal with the general question of the closing down of collieries, because my hon. Friend must realise that we have to face this question in our divisions. When men report at the week-ends that they have had notice to terminate their employment they naturally ask us why. They are, they say, able-bodied men and anxious to produce coal, and that coal is needed in the national interest; why, therefore, should a colliery close down? They say, "We have a good pal at the Ministry of Mines; we know Grenfell, and he is one of us; why cannot he interfere and stop the closing of the colliery?" I do not want my hon. Friend, with his well-deserved good name, to suffer because he does not possess sufficient power. He tells us, however, that he does possess it.

Turning to the question of wagons, the Minister of Transport received my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) and me some time ago. We have since received a tabular statement telling us that the number of days lost owing to shortage of wagons is a small decimal point. It is not a question of decimals, however; it is a question of men having to lose several days every month because of the shortage of wagons. It is a question of the wagons that we had in Lancashire before the war not being there now, and we want to know why. We were told that the pooling system would be to the advantage of the industry, but that has not been so in Lancashire. The Minister of Transport says that the War Office demand a certain number of wagons, but I object to other Departments holding wagons up, and they ought to be dealt with. I can realise that in a"Blitz" it may be necessary to send wagons along the line quickly, but I do not understand why the problem of colliery wagons has not been solved before this. We in Lancashire are suffering very much from the shortage, and other parts of the country are suffering, too.

I want to refer to the question of prices, which needs to be dealt with. I have not too much sympathy with the gas companies, for their attitude towards this question has not always been very generous. I want to refer to the company which provides my gas in the county borough of Wigan. They write to me complaining of the increase in prices since 1st January, 1936. The Minister can probably help us with his coal committees, which, I would point out incidentally, are adversely criticised in Lancashire. This company goes back to 1st January, 1936, although I do not know why, and gives me the increases that have taken place since. The total of the increase is 9s. 10d. per ton. The average cost of coal per ton for 1934–5 was 17s. 10d. That was a disgraceful figure, and I would like to call the attention of this gas company to that. It was unreasonable for them to have had coal at that price, and I shall tell them so in my reply. They should have realised that an increase on 17s. 10d. was a necessary increase. This is a corporation which is managed by my own people. The composition of the town council is in the proportions of two Labour members to one Conservative, and therefore I know that they are interested in miners' wages, and if I could tell them, which I cannot, that the whole 9s. 10d. increase in the cost of coal had gone to the miners in wages they would not complain. They are worrying because some of the middlemen are getting more than their share.

I want the Minister to take a glance at the question of prices. I believe that many gas companies and the gas departments of local authorities have had coal far too cheaply in the past, but there is this feeling to-day about the rise in prices. My hon. Friend has pursued what appeared to be a small point, but these small points are aggravating points. If there is an increase of is. 8d. a ton we know where we are, because that means an extra 1d. per cwt. on the retail price, and if the increase is 2s. 6d. it means an extra 1½d. But sometimes we get a figure that is less than is. 8d., or between is. 8d. and 2S. 6d., and then the increases per cwt. are always to the advantage of the retailer. That irritates consumers. They do not see why the; retailer should have the advantage in every fractional increase every time. We realise that, so long as the present system of distribution continues, the retailers have got to live, and that the cost of living is going up, but we do say that the increase which the retailer puts on the price of the coal should be the increased cost which he has had to bear, and not something above that.

I have some complaints from members of fuel committees that they are never consulted; that the chairman seems to decide; that the local fuel overseer decides without consultation with them. If the fuel overseer has that power, very well; but there is a feeling that fuel overseers are not doing their job as they might do. Both sides in Lancashire have the same feeling, and I should like the Minister to look into this point, because it may be that the machinery needs overhauling. My final words to the Minister are that he need not be afraid. We on this side have every confidence in him. We feel that it would be difficult to find a man who knows the industry better, or who has more courage and is more clear-sighted. We say to him that he should exercise to the full all the powers which he has in regard to the coal industry, which is very necessary to the successful prosecution of the war.

Mr. Culverwell (Bristol, West)

About a fortnight ago I raised the question of the coal shortage, with particular reference to Bristol, and accused the Government of lack of foresight in allowing this emergency to come upon them. The Minister, in his reply, bore out my contention, I think, when he said that in the last few weeks they had been able to augment supplies by various means. My criticism was that those means should have been adopted earlier, and that it was because the Government had not taken more drastic action that the present serious position had been created. I think there is no doubt that the country has really been saved from disaster by the response which prudent and patriotic citizens made to the Minister's appeal to stock their cellars with coal. If they had not done so, we should have been suffering from a severe coal famine. The Minister has also been assisted by the fact that the transport system has not been so vitally interrupted by enemy action as one might have expected. Transport difficulties are not due in the main to enemy action. For these reasons I do not feel that the Minister has any good cause to pat himself on the back because so far we have managed to get through the winter without a catastrophe.

A fortnight ago, in an endeavour not to depress the House and myself unduly, the Minister departed somewhat from the path of accuracy. He said that we had nothing to worry about in Bristol, because the Bristol Gas Company had no less than five weeks' supply of coal in stock. That was a very strange answer to give, because only two or three days before he had been supplied by the gas company with the exact figures. The correct figure was not five weeks' supply but 3.3 weeks' supply on present consumption and 2.6 weeks on full consumption. I do not suggest that the Minister tried to mislead us, but he was painting a rosier picture than the circumstances warranted. Figures which I have received to-day from the gas company, so far from showing any improvement in stocks of coal, show a still further decline, and that in spite of the fact that the Minister said that things were getting better and that he hoped for a further improvement shortly. Now, instead of having 3.3 weeks' supply, it is 2.88 weeks, on present consumption. I do not know whether the Minister thinks that is a very comfortable position. If he were concerned in the management of a gas company supplying a city of 400,000 people, and were down to less than three weeks' supply of coal, I think he would begin to wonder whether there might not be a chance of disaster overtaking the company.

In speaking a fortnight ago, I made three main proposals which I now wish to amplify in certain respects. I suggested that it should be the general rule that only complete trainloads of coal should be ordered from collieries, and that the order should be given by merchants in co-operation, or, if that were not practicable, by the regional coal overseer. The Minister assured me that that was the policy of the Government and that it was being followed, but I can assure him that that is not so. It may be the policy of the Mines Department with what he calls his "nominated trains," but it is not the general rule that an industrial centre such as Bristol orders its coal in complete trains. There are more than 200 small merchants in Bristol, each ordering his own consignment of coal. One can see what tremendous advantage there would be from a transport point of view if those merchants were grouped together and compelled, if necessary, to order their coal co-operatively. I urge the Minister to take more drastic action to ensure that so far as practicable—I do not suggest that it can be done in every case—only complete trainloads of coal should come from a colliery.

The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) has mentioned the shortage of railway wagons. That is one of the main excuses of the railways for transport difficulties. Cannot the Minister do something to hasten the unloading of wagons by employing Army lorries, as the hon. Member suggested? What are all the Pioneers who were in France doing now? I know they have been doing a certain amount of salvage work and helping to clear the streets, and in this emergency cannot they be put on to clearing wagons of coal? The Army is making huge demands upon industry, many people think unnecessarily heavy demands, the labour market is becoming denuded, and merchants say they cannot get either the labour or the lorries to unload the coal from the railway wagons. The result is that wagons are left about station yards for two, three or five days waiting to be unloaded. Cannot the Minister insist that they must be unloaded as rapidly as possible, if necessary with the help of Army lorries and soldiers; and if he cannot go so far as to order that only complete trains of coal shall be sent to a place, cannot he insist that if a wagon arrives for Mr. Smith and Mr. Smith is unable to take it, Mr. Jones shall have an opportunity to take it? He has power to do that, but he has not exercised it. I urge him to endeavour to get these wagons unloaded as rapidly as possible

The second suggestion I made was that the number of grades of household coal should be reduced. It would obviously be much easier to handle coal if there were only two grades of household coal, and the position would be much better from the railway point of view. The Minister replied that he could not compel people to take any coal that he chose to offer them. I say, in reply to that, that in war-time he has to take unpleasant compulsory powers, especially in view of the present emergency, and that he is wrong in saying that he cannot compel consumers to take coal that is offered to them. Many consumers are taking the coal that is offered to them. I consulted a big coal merchant on this question, and he told me that he is already acting on the lines that I suggested. He sells only two grades of domestic coal, at different prices, and you can take it or leave it. If an individual merchant can do that, surely the Minister of Mines can take compulsory powers and can compel merchants to reduce their coal demands to two kinds of coal.

I have no technical knowledge about coal, but I feel confident that if the Minister would adopt my suggestion, it would reduce the number of trains required and would facilitate distribution. It might even be necessary to ration coal. The Minister has not done that yet, but coal is rationed, where there is such a shortage that consumers cannot get it. I do not call it rationing to wait until there is no coal and then to say, "You can have only 2 cwt." I have been to a place where there is a coal shortage. I have almost got to a state of having to come to London for a hot bath, because they have had no coal for a fortnight, in the place which I visited. The main defect of democratic Governments is that they postpone drastic and unpopular measures which they know are necessary, until an emergency compels action. Then, the action eventually taken is often more severe than it need have been had the proper action been taken at the right time.

I do not want to be harsh with the Secretary for Mines. The whole Government are always trying to postpone the evil day. They are reluctant to use compulsory powers which may be unpopular or may meet with a little opposition, although they know perfectly well that they ought to take them. I do not need to remind the Committee of the opposition to conscription, before the war started, although everybody in his senses knew that conscription ought to have come years before. Why did the Government not adopt it? Because it was unpopular. Now, the public are prepared to suffer inconveniences and regulations which they would oppose bitterly in peace-time, and therefore the Minister can take powers to compel the adoption of measures which he would be afraid to exercise in peace-time.

The third point I made was that coal should be supplied to consumers from the nearest colliery, so as to obviate the longer railway haul from more distant collieries. The position is extraordinary. Why is it that coal comes from Durham to Bristol, instead of from the Midlands, more than double the haul? I have a letter here from the Bristol Gas Company on this subject. It says: Durham coal is the only class about which there appears to be no difficulty in respect of either quantity or transport. We have been pressed to take this in lieu of Midlands coal. Durham coal is, however, quite unsuitable as a substitute, for this special purpose, and it appears to us to be rather anomalous, that, at a time when transport difficulties are given as the official reason for the shortage of Midlands coal, it does not apply to Durham coal, which has to be brought a distance more than half as much again as Midlands coal. I confess that it surprises me, and I should very much like to know the explanation. I suggested that local collieries should be developed wherever possible, and I referred to Somerset collieries. On the question of output, I drew the attention of the Minister and of the House to figures I had from a typical colliery, which showed that, while wages had increased by 23 percent. output had gone down in the same period by just over 7 percent. per man. I wanted to have an explanation of that state of affairs, and whether it is typical of other collieries, of rising wages and falling output. It is a very serious matter. I have not had a satisfactory answer on this matter from the Minister. He said: If I were speaking to an audience of miners, I could quite easily explain the reason for that."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th February, 1941; col. 909, Vol. 368.] It would be better if the Minister would explain to this Committee the reasons for it, and for a paragraph in a letter which I should like to read. I think we should all like to understand the meaning of this: I note you referred to the fall in output per man. In our case this is due partly to loss of men from underground (as, naturally, the men engaged in surface work underground repairs, pumping, etc., are the same, although the number of men on coal production is reduced). But another serious matter is, of course, voluntary absenteeism,"— which the Minister told me did not exist.

Mr. Grenfell

No, I did not say that voluntary absenteeism did not exist, and I have not read the letter. I said there was a difficulty of absenteeism, which was unavoidable.

Mr. Culverwell

If it is unavoidable, it cannot be voluntary.

Mr. Grenfell

Certainly, it can.

Mr. Culverwell

Perhaps the Minister will let me finish the letter, and then we can have a better explanation. The letter goes on: Another serious matter is, of course, voluntary absenteeism, and as the war wage has gone up the absenteeism has increased. The younger men are the principal offenders and do not hesitate to inform the managers and officials that they will only send sufficient coal to enable them to earn the minimum wage, whereas they could be earning considerably more. Another reason they give is that they do not intend earning sufficient wages to pay Income Tax. I should be very glad to have an explanation of that state of affairs and to know whether the Minister has given consideration to the matter. I wrote to him two months ago, and I should like to know whether he has investigated the matter.

Mr. Grenfell

If the letter which the hon. Member has just read comes from a coalowner, I want to know why the coal-owners did not send this statement to the Mines Department, or let me have it when they came to see me.

Mr. Culverwell

I do not know whether the coalowner who is my correspondent has given the facts to the Department.

Mr. Grenfell

I asked the coalowners of Somerset to come and see me. They came, but that matter was not raised.

Mr. Culverwell

I shall not go into that question at all. I am giving the facts contained in the letter, and I am asking for a reply. If the facts are untrue, the country will be very glad to have an explanation, if, upon investigation, the Minister finds they are so. This has nothing specially to do with Somerset. It is common knowledge, if one speaks truly, and does not mind hurting feelings, that men, not only in the mining industry but in various industries, are not working above the Income Tax limit. It is a common complaint. They are slacking, and there is voluntary absenteeism, not only in mining but in other industries.

Mr. G. Macdonald

To what extent?

Mr. Culverwell

I do not know to what extent. I am giving the facts which have come to my knowledge, and I am asking the Minister to find out to what extent.

Mr. W. Joseph Stewart (Houghton-le-Spring)

You are making an assertion and not. giving figures.

Mr. Culverwell

I am not giving figures to the hon. Member. I am giving them to the Minister. I am not giving figures of voluntary absenteeism but of fall of output and of increased wages. I make no charge because I cannot substantiate it, but this is a serious matter, and if it is prevalent in other coal fields up and down the country the Minister should inquire into it.

Reference has been made to the question of the price of coal, and that, in my opinion, is a matter of Government policy. I do not think the Secretary for Mines can do anything himself. The fact is that at the beginning of this war the Government ought to have pinned prices and wages, and thus prevented a rise in the cost of living. The other day, in reply to a Question, it was said that miners' wages were governed by a sliding scale which went up with the cost of living. I do not suggest that the miners alone should be penalised. I say that this is a matter of Government policy which deserves the most urgent consideration. I am not sure that the vicious spiral has not started and gone too far to be stopped. Fire-watchers are now getting as much as £8 a week, and that is a proof that profiteers do not exist solely among employers.

I would like to say something about the railway position, and to ask the Minister whether everything is being done to assist the solution of the transport problem. Is it not possible to cut out a lot of the unnecessary traffic that is now prevalent on the railways? It may seem a petty matter, but the other day I was on Pad- dington Station and I saw a large truck-load of pots of daffodils just bursting into bloom being put into a luggage van. It struck me that that was unnecessary traffic in war-time, when the porters complain that they are overworked and short of staff. Last March I drew the attention of the Minister to the fact that bricks are being sent from London to Scotland and all over the country using up wagons which could be used for coal. Surely authorities could be encouraged, or if necessary compelled—and this applies particularly to Government Departments —to adopt the policy of using local materials regardless of price. It is not a question of price, as the hon. Member above the Gangway mentioned, so much as keeping the collieries going. With an expenditure of £12,000,000 a day, it does not cost much more to give a contract for bricks or any other material, which may be a little more expensive but which will reduce transport. I would ask the Minister to induce authorities to use the materials which are available in their localities instead of calling on the railways to carry goods from a distance. This is a serious position which does not look like improving and which will probably still face us next winter. If the Minister can get through the next month or two without disaster, a strenuous effort should be made to build up adequate stocks of coal and not the puny stores that he has got about the country, such as four days' supply in Bristol. What is the good of four days' supply in an emergency? There should be a fortnight's supply.

I would urge the Minister of Transport to work in co-operation with the Secretary for Mines and, if necessary, to cut down the number of passenger trains. There are far too many people travelling at the present time. I would also ask the Secretary of State for War to try to avoid unnecessary troop movements. It is a fad of the War Office to shift troops about the country unnecessarily, just for the pleasure of it. They had that failing in the last war. When I proposed to the Minister that in order to encourage the quick unloading of wagons the Minister could increase demurrage rates, his reply was: We have been trying to get people to secure the return of wagons, and we are not at all satisfied that it would be just or expedient to increase the demurrage. He did not tell me that the existing demurrage rates were not being enforced. I was urging an increase in the demurrage rates because I thought that the existing rates were not doing the trick. He did not tell me that he was not even enforcing the existing rates, which I understand is the fact. Why are not these rates being enforced? Surely they would have some effect in encouraging the consumers or users of wagons to unload them quickly. From the railway point of view, the Government should plan and notify the railways of Government factory requirements. Numbers of new Government factories and munition works have been put up all over the country, regardless of transport facilities. Anybody who looks; it a map and sees the siting of the new Government factories will realise that many of them —

The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Charles Williams)

I must ask the hon. Member to keep a little nearer to the coal question.

Mr. Culverwell

I apologise, but the question of transport is so vitally linked up with the coal problem that any means which will relieve congestion on the railways will obviously help the coal position. If the Government would only let the railways know what are the requirements of the factories in material, either coming to or leaving the factories, it would put railways in a much better position to make adequate provision and to dovetail the requirements of Government factories with the coal requirements of the country. At present the factories are constructed higgledy-piggledy. No one knows how many railway wagons will be required to supply them and take their products away. I urge the Government to go in for a much more far-sighted planning of their factory system. In the "Times" the other day I noticed an article on Germany. It said: In the opinion of some authorities who are studying conditions in Germany, the failure in transport may be more decisive than the insufficiency of labour or materials. Transport is one of the most important governing factors in Germany's industrial war effort. I assure the hon. Gentleman that it is just as vital and necessary to the war effort of this country.

The Secretary for Mines (Mr. David Grenfell)

I would have liked the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) to have been here —

Mr. Ammon (Camberwell, North)

We did not expect the hon. Gentleman to reply so soon.

Mr. Grenfell

That is my difficulty, too. I simply want to say—replying in general terms until the hon. Member arrives— that I appreciate the tone of the speeches which have been made. I know that the subject receives close attention from Members in all parts of the Committee and from all constituencies, but all Members do not look at this problem with the same eye. There are those who speak with familiarity of the actual working of the industry. Others have been more concerned with local coal supplies, and others have been concerned with prices. I have been asked to give a general statement touching upon the various aspects which most concern the Committee. I very much appreciate the tone of everything that has been said, and if I find more intimate knowledge of the subject on the part of one Member than of another, I excuse those who have not that knowledge of the new problems which have arisen in connection with the mining industry.

One of the hon. Members who have spoken is a practical miner, and he naturally began by showing his personal concern for the safety of the men employed in the industry. As one would expect of any Member who has spent some time underground—as he has and as I have—he directed his mind to the conditions under which the miners are working every day. Mining is a hazardous occupation, often disagreeable, often inimical to health, and there is much that we have yet to do to improve the conditions of the men—still nearly 700,000—who produce this most valuable commodity. We really do not appreciate its value until a time like this, but in the case of a shortage everybody calls out for coal, which, next to food, is the most essential commodity in our national life. It is of vital importance in regard to our war effort, and I very much appreciate the concern shown by my hon. Friends, despite the criticisms that have been directed against me. I expected even more harsh treatment.

Another hon. Member asked me what we were doing in regard to the recommendations made in the report of the Royal Commission on Safety in Mines. I can assure him they have not been lost sight of. Indeed, had the war not occurred we might now have been taking part in a discussion on the details of a new charter of safety for the men employed in the mining industry. I can assure him that the Department has not neglected to give attention to this Report; we were well on the way towards completing the draft of a new Measure for completely changing and fundamentally improving legislation on mining safety in this country. In the meantime, we are going on with the Regulations, and among the subjects which have or will be dealt with by Regulation is that of the support of working faces by packs and chocks. A Regulation is now in course of preparation and will soon be issued. Another Regulation which has been issued and which is now operative deals with the stone dust content of dust on mine roadways. Hon. Members know quite well that there was a limit of 50 percent., but that the question has long been raised as to whether that figure was high enough for the dusting of main roads underground. It has now been provided by Regulation that the stone dust content must be raised, according to conditions, to a maximum of 65 percent. on a sliding scale.

We have also in course of preparation— it is now being printed—a Report on the use of electricity in mines. Draft Regulations are contained in the Report, which I am sure will please hon. Members very much. It has gone further than I thought possible in so short a time towards presenting to the industry a new code regarding the use of electricity in mines. Another point we have been dealing with by Regulation is the question of adjusting the Regulations applying to alternatives to shot firing. There may be great possibilities in this, and we are adjusting the Regulation with a view to finding out how far we can exempt this kind of alternative from the conditions which have hitherto governed the use of explosives. We have also prepared Regulations to control simultaneous shot firing, in order to avoid the risk of misfire to which my hon. Friend referred. There is no abso- lutely safe explosive, but we are watching very closely the use, for example, of sheathed explosives, and the methods of firing, to see how far we can approach towards perfection. All these things are now being done or have been done, and in addition, although it is not the subject of a Regulation, we are encouraging the sampling of air by analysis and by special instruments. The Department has taken a direct part in producing these instruments, and we are finding out very much more about the purity of the air in our mines that ever we did before. In addition, there are thousands of automatic firedamp detectors in use under Regulations issued by my Department.

Those are the answers I would give my hon. Friend on those points. I think he is also entitled to an answer on his question relating to accident figures. This is a matter which concerns me very much. I confess that I have been disturbed for some months by the appearance of evidence that mining, both at the working face and on the roads, has become more dangerous this year than it has been in previous years. More fatal accidents have been caused by falls of ground this year than for several years past. In 1940, deaths from falls of ground numbered 505, against 406 in 1939, and the total number of deaths in 1940 were 910, against 783 in 1939. It is a formidable increase, and I have myself asked for an explanation. I consulted the divisional inspectors many weeks ago on this subject; I am in communication with them at present, and I shall attend a conference of inspectors at the end of this week to go into the matter as fully as we can. My hon. Friend asked me to give my views in regard to certain possible explanations. One suggested explanation was that green, unseasoned timber was being used. Those of us who have worked underground and have used various types of timber support know that new, unseasoned timber is not as good as seasoned timber.

I have also been asked whether the use of steel supports or mechanised conditions may be partly responsible. Answers which I have already given to Questions on these points indicate that accidents cannot be directly attributed to any one cause. In some highly mechanised coalfields the increase has been less than in coalfields where mechanisation has not gone so far. In some cases the incidence of accidents is greater where steel supports are used than where the support is solely of timber. I would not like to prejudge the matter, but I know that we must give more attention to safety. We cannot allow men to be killed like this. If timber supports are not good enough, we must somehow make good that deficiency, and if steel supports taken alone are not sufficient, we must rely more upon packs and chocks, as is already foreseen under the Regulations. I am going into this matter very closely, and I shall be uneasy until I can tell hon. Members that I believe something can be done to check this increase, and to restore the figure to something as near the pre-war level as possible. I was asked about the number of inspectors. I am convinced that the supervision has been maintained. As far as I know, there has been no falling-off in the number of inspections, but we -have already taken steps to appoint more inspectors, and the announcement of the appointments will be made in this House in a very short time. In addition, the Mineworkers' Federation and the owners, as my hon. Friend said, are negotiating, and an announcement is to be made soon about the appointment of additional workmen's inspectors, at the joint expense of the two sides, in accordance with the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Safety in Mines.

Hon. Members from all the coalfields, and particularly from Durham and South Wales—from Lancashire, too; but the problem is far more serious numerically in Durham and in South Wales have asked whether I am satisfied that I have the powers required to prevent pits from closing. The general answer that I would give is this. We have been unable to get sufficient clearance for all pits; and many have closed down for want of trade and for financial reasons. If orders and transport are available, we shall call for powers to keep sufficient pits in production for all the coal we require.

Mr. Sloan (Ayrshire, South)

After the pits have closed?

Mr. Grenfell

We are doing all we can to prevent pits from closing.

Mr. Tinker (Leigh)

Let us get this clear. My hon. Friend said, "After the pits have closed." I take it that the Secretary for Mines means that he will, definitely, take such powers before the pits have closed?

Mr. Grenfell

A large number of pits have already closed.

Mr. Tinker

I know that pits have had to close; but if the Minister is satisfied that pits ought to keep in production, will he take steps to see that they do so?

Mr. Grenfell

Let me put it like this. If we require pits to fulfil the part allocated to the mining industry in the national effort, I shall take power to see that they fulfil that part.

Sir Geoffrey Ellis (Sheffield, Ecclesall)

Presumably my hon. Friend will take financial responsibility where a pit is unable to go on working economically?

Mr. Grenfell

Yes; if we want coal we must take that responsibility. The hon. Member raised the question of 'production and distribution in a very full way. I was glad that he took so much time, be cause he does understand this problem. He said the thing which has been said over and over again. He described the situation as paradoxical, with a shortage of coal and idle pits. It is a paradox; but there are many things in life which we find it difficult to reconcile. We have shortage of coal in many parts of the country, and a surplus of production in other parts of the country. It is the gap between that has to be closed. I would like the Committee to take note of what has happened during the past nine months. I do not wish to be unkind to my hon. Friend the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Culver- well), but he said that he did not think that the transport system had been affected by what had taken place—

Mr. Culverwell

I did not say that. I said that that was not the main reason for the present shortage of coal, and that the Minister was very lucky that the damage had not been more severe.

Mr. Grenfell

That is from Bristol. I would invite anyone to go down to Bristol, and to see whether the damage has been very light.

Mr. Culverwell

It would not make any difference if the whole of Bristol had been blown up, if the railway system was intact.

Mr. Grenfell

Bristol is the railway system—or part of the railway system. So is every town which is a railway junction. My hon. Friend is rather frivolous in his approach to this problem. It is a difficult problem. I could inform the Committee to-day of facts which I will not disclose; but some other time the story will be told. My hon. Friend has hinted at all these things. He asked me about wagons. We have heard a great deal about wagons. I wish that the Committee was very much better informed upon that subject. I was told by the Press of this country that there were 4,000 wagons standing somewhere in South Wales, and that that was tying up the whole transport system of this country. What a ridiculous distortion. The presence of 4,000 wagons there would have no more effect on the transport system of this country than I should have on the traffic of Whitehall if I threw three marbles down the road. There have been groups of wagons; there have been parcels of transport; there have been stand ages for a very long time; but the reason is known to everybody living in the industrial areas of this country, and to those who know about the conditions in which transport is being carried on. There are fewer wagons standing in the coalmining areas of this country to-day than in normal times. There is no great superfluity of wagons in one area, and shortage in another. The difficulty is the time taken by mineral traffic to go from one point to another. If we could keep mineral wagons moving, our transport system would be largely solved. I cannot specify the areas of delay in the movement of traffic: it would not be wise, it would not be advisable, to do it; but those areas exist.

Please let hon. Members remember that I do not order transport. I have another role, which I accept readily. I shall not complain of any criticism in which I may share with others. I do not want to draw strict lines of demarcation in matters of this kind, but in this matter, I do not myself dispose: other Ministries and other Departments dispose of the ships, the trains, the wagons and the barges which carry coal in this country. With my knowledge of the conditions, I feel far more charitable than the majority of Members of this Committee towards the people who are directly or indirectly responsible for the maintenance of trans- port in this country. I cannot sufficiently express, in the limited language at my command, my personal gratitude to the men who bring coal round our coasts, along the coastwise routes, or my personal esteem for the railwaymen. I have seen them at work night and day, and I join with anybody in wholesale appreciation of the services which those men are rendering. The Mines Department is responsible for the supply of coal in this country, and I shall accept readily all the responsibility that falls upon me.

But there is such a thing as priority of supplies. You really must give preference to certain kinds of consumers. We are doing it in thousands of ways in this country at this time. There are certain vital industries and social services that must be maintained, and we have to pay attention to these. We have to have regard to the system of conveyance which will enable us to get the coal moved into the centres of distribution away from the coal mines under our authority and jurisdiction, but we are fully aware of the difficulties, and I propose by taking the Committee into my confidence for a few minutes to say what we have done. I came into office in the middle of May last, when I was told that we must push up production, and that everything that I required would be given to me in order to push up production. We wanted more pits to be opened. We wanted more men. We wanted adequate material and equipment for the task of production in this country. We took it on, and we made generous and bold terms with France, Italy and other Continental countries. Exactly a month after I had begun this job, on 17th June—and my hon. Friend put it in far better language than I can—France and the Low countries went out of the war. It has been said by some people—it was an eloquent statement of the case—that when they went out and left us in, they left us with an awkward coal situation, with a surplus of production and with pits for which no outlet was available. Pits were closing down before the end of June—on 23rd and 24th June. Many pits had closed before the end of June in South Wales and in Durham, and we had to consider what to do with the unemployed.

We considered that we might want all this production once again. We hoped to get the pits fully employed without delay, and we decided to embark upon a very ambitious stocking programme. We did stock. Some of my hon. Friends have said that I was a very lucky person. I thank my lucky stars that we did stock. We have stocked more coal in this country than has ever been stocked before. We stocked millions of tons more, and we are going on confidently in anticipation of stocking enough coal to carry us through even a winter as bad as last winter. But the present is not a very severe period of frost and snow. We have had a warmer winter, and from September to date it has been a matter of transport. We have been transporting on a winter basis for six months, and not a few weeks, which handicapped our efforts last year.

Mr. Lawson (Chester-le-Street)

Has not there been loss of transport?

Mr. Grenfell

There have been changes to which I cannot refer, but the stocks were put up, and we have still to-day far more stocks than we had 12 months ago. There are many millions of tons of coal in stock in the country, and even in Bristol the position is not as bad as the hon. Gentleman opposite suggested. There has been no public utility undertaking and no important production enterprise stopped this winter. There have been local shortages. There has been discomfort in some homes. I regret it. My hon. Friend was quite right, there is nothing which gives as much cheer in a poor home as a blazing fire. If you cannot get enough food or beautiful surroundings, the flames of the fire supply some comfort and beauty. When we were children we used to see beautiful dreams in the fireside pages, the only pages we were allowed to see. We shall never forget the visions that came to us under those conditions. I am very regretful indeed that there are people who have had to go without sufficient coal. That really comes first in my mind, and we shall try to avoid that kind of thing. We took steps to provide Government stocks for this purpose. We acquired 600 sites for the purpose of Government stocks. There is, to-day, nearly 1,000,000 tons in Government stocks in reserve for the great emergency which may come, but which we hope will not come. That is intended for the very poor who cannot stock and have no room for stock, and who will not be able to stock for next winter or for any winter as long as the housing conditions persist.

Mr. Gallacher (West Fife)

They have not the money.

Mr. Grenfell

Frequently they have no money with which to purchase coal, but it is physically impossible in many housing conditions to put by coal for the use of a particular family, and we have to do it communally. We talk about communal feeding, and there must be a communal coal system, and I have had it in mind from the very beginning.

Mr. Culverwell

Is it the policy of the hon. Gentleman next winter, or through the summer, to rely upon consumers stocking their cellars, or what are the Government going to do about stocks?

Mr. Grenfell

I was talking about Government stocks when the hon. Member rose. We have still millions of tons of coal in stock, and there will be many more million tons of Government stock before the coming summer is out, if we can manage it. That is the reserve upon which we will hope to draw, but we shall not discourage the private user who can stock. The best place is to stock it near the firesides where it is to be consumed, to stock it, if you have the transport, in your own house or cellar. If that is not possible, we hope to stock it in Government stocks.

Mr. Lawson

Is it not the fact that much of this stocking depends upon the willingness and initiative of local authorities in giving sites?

Mr. Grenfell

I said that we had 600 sites—and I do not wish to blame local authorities in any way—upon which many million tons of coal can be placed during the coming summer. I want to emphasise the point made by two hon. Friends who emphasised that we need greater production of coal. There are difficulties. We have not enough man-power in the industry at the present time.

Mr. Batey (Spennymoor)

There is an abundance.

Mr. Grenfell

My hon. Friend does not know enough to dismiss it in that way. My hon. Friend has not the responsibility for Lancashire or Somerset. He has not the responsibility for other coalfields. He is in Durham and I am in South Wales. We may have enough men in one area but we have not sufficient men for maximum production. We must try to get them and make sure that we make the best use of all available transport.

Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)

What will the Minister do about the men who are victimised by colliery companies? In my division there are 470 men who have been victimised for almost six months. There are thousands of such men in the British Isles. Will the Minister see that they get back to work?

Mr. Grenfell

That is a matter for the trade union organisation in the industry and it would be wrong on my part 8 substitute myself as an authority for them in these matters. I am very anxious indeed about the question of idle men in the districts where they are deemed to be necessary, but I cannot settle every individual problem in every part of the country.

Mr. G. Griffiths

At the pit I have in mind they are starting fresh men from other parts of the country.

Mr. Grenfell

If those are the conditions, that is a matter for the trade union organisation, and not for me.

Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)

Will the Minister refer later to the question of keeping open those pits which have been closed recently?

Mr. Grenfell

Yes, I hope to do so, but I want to say now something about prices, beginning with pithead prices. There have been complaints that pithead prices have gone up to unreasonable levels. I disagree with that statement. No single addition has been made recklessly or without regard to the consequences. We are concerned about keeping prices down to a reasonable level but the materials necessary for mining have much increased in price. For instance the cost of timber imported for pit purposes is up by 200 percent. Other materials have gone up very considerably, too, and the increase in pithead prices has only been sufficient to meet the additional cost of materials and pay additional wages to the men in the industry. It has been suggested that we should deny the addition due to the increased cost of living but if we want coal we must secure the goodwill of the men who hew it and we cannot do it if we deny them a reasonable wage for what they do. The price of coal has to pass the scrutiny of the Mines Department and the Government before it is fixed.

Mr. Culverwell

I never suggested that the Minister should reduce only miners' wages. What I said was that it should have been Government policy to pin wages and prices. The Government have not gone far enough with a result that as miners' wages go up, so the cost of coal and the cost of living go up. [HON. MEMBERS: "No"] It is no use saying "No" because it is happening every day.

Mr. Denville (Newcastle-on-Tyne Central)

We find it hard to weigh up exactly what happens between the coal face and the coal box. In and around London we are paying to-day 4s. a bag for anthracite.

Mr. Grenfell

I was just starting on that journey and coming to my hon. Friend's coal box. I was saying that there has been no unreasonable advance in the price of coal at the pit-head. The advance has been sufficient to pay the men about 25 percent. more wages and the cost of materials has risen. In round figures, the average increase in pithead price above pre-war level is no more than 25 percent. and the average profit in the mining industry at the present time is almost at the same level as it was in 1938 and 1939. The natural price of a commodity is the cost of production and if you pay more for material and equipment and maintain reasonable living wages for the men, that is the higher price you have to pay for coal. As far as I know, there has been no exploitation of the public and there has been no claim or dispute in the industry since the war began. The men are living up to the agreement that their wages shall be raised only as the cost of living increases and come down when the cost of living comes down.

This industry is a very difficult industry. There are 2,000 mines and there are no two alike. It is not a repetition of the mass production of factories. Coal is worked at different depths and thicknesses, some down to 4,000 feet and some near the surface. There is one seam in Lancashire where they are finding it difficult to get men to stay—and this is an indication that wages are not too high— because it is 16 inches thick. Looking round the Committee I see that many hon. Members would be physically ruled out from getting this coal. We ought also to remember that in this industry it is not easy to prescribe a flat rate. Payments have been based for 20 years on the system which regulates wages district by district. It is a kind of payment by average results. There is no pooling. There are good pits and, if the term can be employed, there are bad pits. Bad pits keep company with good pits and you have to take a kind of balance sheet. Pits are closed down because they exist in the coalfield where there are so many good pits. A pit becomes bad and a poor financial proposition because somebody else has a better proposition.

It is the good that makes the bad and the bad that makes the good. When, in connection with this arrangement which determines wages in the coal industry, people ask me to give a simple answer, I advise them to study the wages system which we have had in the industry for over 20 years. If they will do that, they will find that wages and other costs are related to prices. The prices are related to the general economic conditions in the mining industry. The hon. Member for Central Newcastle (Mr. Denville) asked what happens to increase the price between the pithead and the coalbox. Here transport comes in. It is no good the hon. Member for West Bristol (Mr. Culverwell) saying, in his first breath, "Why do you make people take the coal that is offered to them?" and then, in his second breath, asking why coal is brought from Durham to Bristol?

Mr. Culverwell

The hon. Gentleman should remember that I read an extract from a letter in which the Bristol Gas Company complained of the quality of coal coming from Durham and asked why they could not get coal which they wanted from the Midlands, which is half the distance.

Mr. Grenfell

There is not always the transport to enable people to get the coal which they want. Transport must be used to the utmost advantage. Every mile of railway and every wagon must be used in the way that will give the country the greatest advantage. Part of the coal is carried by sea, and that, indeed, is a comfort to us. A very large proportion of London's coal still comes by sea, but I reveal no secret when I say that transport by sea is rather more expensive now than in normal times. Many people have to pay not only a legitimate and reasonable addition to the pithead price, but a legitimate and reasonable addition arising from transport charges. They have, moreover, to pay the additional cost of the distribution of coal.

Mr. Denville

There is an increase of 300 percent.

Mr. Grenfell

The hon. Member's figures are wrong. I maintain that it is amazing that, after all the experiences of this country during the last 18 months, gas and electricity works are able to get coal at as low prices as they are able to get it to-day. It is amazing that, with the intricate system for determining the pithead price and the no less intricate system for assessing retail distribution costs, the retail distribution prices are as reasonable as they are. The retail prices reflect all the additions and inequalities to which I have referred. My Department are now actively engaged on schemes which will do in the field of distribution and prices what has already been done in regard to the levelling down of inequalities in the field of production. Before long, schemes may perhaps come before the notice of the House to deal with the levelling down of inequalities in transport charges so as to give greater justice to consumers. We are working on a plan by which the additional burden of bringing coal a great distance to a given town will be shared over all the consumers.

I have been asked to say something about the levy scheme. The district ascertainments showed that many pits were in a grievous position whereas their neighbours in the same district of ascertainment showed prosperous results. There were districts which were in a bad way because of the events of last Summer. In order that there should be no depressed areas in the country, we conceived a plan for a levy on the industry, and that plan was approved by the House in December last, and it is now in operation. On every ton of coal disposed of by the industry, a levy of 3d. a ton is charged, and this levy goes into a fund from which benefits can be paid to colliery undertakings that have suffered a loss of output owing to war conditions. Durham and South Wales are very much affected. More pits have been closed there than in any other coalfield. In some townships in Durham and in some valleys in South Wales the results have been almost catastrophic. We have been able to help those two areas, and from this levy scheme, which represents only a small contribution of 3d. a ton on the pithead price, we are able to pay 2s. 6d. a ton in benefit to those collieries that must be kept alive. Hon. Members have asked what the Department are doing. That is one thing we are doing. We are keeping alive pits which would have been out of production but for this scheme. South Wales will benefit to the extent of many thousands of pounds and Durham will benefit to a great extent from this fund. That is my justification of the levy and my answer to those who ask what financial provisions we are making.

Mr. J. Griffiths

I am sure all my hon. Friends who come from mining districts fully agree with the Minister, for without a scheme of this sort the capital equipment of the pits would be lost to the nation. There is one point I want to put to the Minister. Unfortunately, the area which I represent is very badly affected by the loss of export markets. A number of pits have been closed. I gather that from this levy an amount will be paid to the owners of the pits to enable them to keep the pits open. Who decides which pits are to be kept open and which pits are to be abandoned? Is there any kind of supervision in this matter by the Mines Department? A colliery company, for instance, may say that they will keep open pit A and draw on the levy, but that they will abandon pit B. As this is a national levy, do the Department exercise some supervision in the decision as to whether a pit shall or shall not be kept open?

Mr. Grenfell

We do not determine whether pit A or pit B shall be closed or whether both shall be closed. We ask that the pits shall be kept open, and the levy is made conditional upon supervision which guarantees maintenance. Hon. Members must not forget that this scheme is applicable not only to pits that are closed down; it applies also to pits which hon. Members want us to try to keep in production, but which cannot get sufficient output. A pit working two days a week will get 2s. 6d. per ton on the loss it has sustained. This may mean far more than 2s. 6d. per ton on the coal that is got by working two days a week. It prevents the pits from being closed down. It is a means of achieving the end which hon. Members desire. We are watching the operation of the scheme, and I can assure hon. Members that it will not be abused and that it will be worked properly in the interests of the nation and the trade.

My department has been engaged in multifarious duties. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) has questioned me a good deal on a matter in which he is interested. I have not been able to satisfy him with my replies, but I can assure him that the use of alternative fuels is a matter that is being very closely investigated. Some of the things are not ready for immediate adoption, but I can assure hon. Members that in the Mines Department, as a result of the reports we have received, we shall have something substantial to offer to those who are planning reconstruction when this war comes to an end. At the present time we are deriving immense benefit from the production of benzol and coal-tar fuel from coal. Progress has been made in the use of these fuels, and certain war essentials are being maintained as a result of work done by the gas industry and the research with which my Department has been connected.

We are also planning a scheme of reorganisation of retail distribution. When I spoke of this scheme in September last it was not very popular. There were hon. Members who objected to it, and a certain number of other people who opposed it. I am convinced, however, that retail distribution in this country cannot be satisfactory without a very much improved and superior organisation. We are working on that now, and we are not losing a day. We are pressing for a drastic improvement in the method of distribution, and I feel quite sure, as time goes on—and before the summer is through—we shall have much more mutuality and co-operation in the retail distribution, and much more co-operation between those who distribute the coal and those who produce our supplies in the coalfields. I do not know what our problems will be next summer. I do not know what difficulties will confront me, or what difficulties others will have to face. But if we encourage and build up a consciousness of our mutual responsibility, and if everybody works together, we shall get over these difficulties much better than by finding faults and making criticisms which are without foundation and which lead us nowhere.

Mr. Culverwell

The Minister suggests that during the summer months some better organisation of the distribution of coal will be effected. Is he relying entirely on merchants and retailers voluntarily getting together, or will he use any of his compulsory powers?

Mr. Grenfell

I use the word" pressure," and pressure suggests the application of power. We shall press harder and harder, perhaps to the inconvenience of some people. I want to assure the Committee, in connection with the Department for which I am responsible, that I shall endeavour to give fair play to every case, working in conjunction with the Minister of Transport. The Lord President of the Council, representatives of the Ministry of Shipping and other Departments, and myself have been attending meetings, and we have done a good deal to avert what might have been more serious consequences to this country. There has been much adjustment, much improvisation and adaptation. I cannot promise that during the whole course of the war these matters will be a settled sphere. I can only promise that as far as organisation, co-operation and planning will take us, I will play my small part to see that the people of this country, industry and the war effort shall not suffer in the times ahead. We shall not forget the men in the industry. We must never forget them. They have been very good, and they have suffered unemployment and all kinds of inconveniences. Their wage conditions are not good, and their working conditions are sometimes very bad. These men have played their part and are still playing their part; I can rely upon them and shall go to them with confidence. I make an appeal with the same confidence to Members of this Committee. Let us pull together and "go to it" until victory is won.

Mr. Culverwell

The Minister has answered many questions which were never asked. Would he answer one which was asked by myself and the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith), namely, why does he not exercise his powers in respect of demurrage?

Mr. Grenfell

I think an answer has already been given to that point. Let me point out that I do not charge demurrage, and that I am not responsible for demurrage. The parties concerned are now engaged in negotiations, and I believe they will soon reach a mutual agreement.

Mr. Ernest Evans (University of Wales)

Everyone will agree that we have heard a very important speech. The Minister has rather deflected me from the limited point I intended raising. He dealt with a very large number of questions of great importance with the skill and knowledge which he to a very particular degree possesses. My hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith), who opened_ this Debate, very naturally and properly commenced his speech by referring to safety in mines. I am not a coal miner, but I come from a part of the country which has contributed very largely to the human element which has helped to build up the industry in South Wales. I have always taken a great interest in the coal industry, and, quite frankly, I am not satisfied with the answer the Minister made to this part of our discussion. I have perfect confidence in his sympathy on this matter, but I do not like hearing from him the reply which is so often heard from Ministers, that "We have this matter under constant consideration." I beg the Minister not to be content with what is implied in an answer of that kind. The mere fact that there is a war on is no excuse for any relaxation in existing Regulations; indeed, if anything, it is a reason for pursuing the matter to the utmost. I hope that my hon. Friend in charge of this very important Department will not forget these considerations, and that he will pay special consideration to this matter.

In the course of his speech the Minister referred, in reply to a question put to him, to the financial assistance to be given to certain pits. I believe that we should have a much more detailed statement on the Government's policy in this respect than we obtained from the Minister in reply to an interjection. The hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) asked who was to decide which particular pits should receive this support. That question is a very material and relevant factor in any matter of Government policy in this respect. Then the Minister referred to a levy. Do I understand that the only financial assistance is to come from the levy, or is the Treasury prepared to make some contribution towards the assistance to be given to pits?

Mr. Grenfell

I was speaking of the levy only.

Mr. Evans

I do not think the levy will be sufficient to make these contributions to what I regard as a matter of very great importance. It seems to me that the Minister's statement was opening up a question of policy which, for my part, I had not considered, and which I do not think many Members of this Committee had considered. I thought he was opening up a policy of very large support to the coal industry in regard to these pits. I felt that it meant much more than merely a contribution from these levies to particular pits unspecified. The third question I should like to ask is whether it applies only to pits which are already closed or also to pits which may be in danger of being closed?

Mr. Grenfell

I think I said that.

Mr. Evans

It applies to both. These are the questions that occurred to me in listening to the hon. Gentleman's speech. The point that I really want to raise is a very simple one. It seems to me a very extraordinary thing that this Committee should have to devote a day to considering the fact that there is a shortage of coal. I do not think it can be doubted that there is a shortage. One hears complaints of it from all parts of the country, and I cannot help feeling that these complaints cannot be untrue. Nowadays people are so oppressed by actual difficulties and anxieties that they do not bother very much about imaginary ones. In peace-time there is a fertile imagination in devising grievances. I do not think that applies to the present time. Therefore, I am satisfied that there is real ground for the complaint of shortage in certain parts of the country. I can understand complaints of shortage of food or other articles which have to be imported, and we put up with the inconvenience with fortitude and patience, but to have to listen to complaints about shortage of coal seems an extraordinary thing. After all, there is coal in abundance which we can produce, and, despite what the hon. Gentleman said about shortage of labour, there are thousands of men available and anxious to produce coal. For that reason I do not think the hon. Gentleman is exercising such authority as he has over other Departments. It is very largely a matter, as he says, of transport, but surely the Minister of Mines has means of access and can dictate to the Minister of Transport as to what he should do in providing coal in different parts of the country.

It is not a new question at all. The Government have had plenty of notice of this. It is exactly 12 months to the day—Wednesday, 21st February—that there took place a very interesting discussion on the shortage of coal at that time, and the same questions were asked as have been asked to-day. I have not seen the notes of the speech which the President of the Board of Trade is to deliver, but I should be agreeably surprised if he did not give exactly the same answers as were given 12 months ago, with one exception. It is very rarely that any good thing is said about the weather in this country, but this year the Clerk of the Weather has been the Minister of Transport's greatest friend. Twelve months ago the defence put up by the Government was "The weather is so bad that it has increased the demand for coal and made it difficult to produce it or to move it." The Government have not that defence this year. They may have it very early, because the winter is not over yet, and the trouble is that, despite the comparatively mild weather that we have had, there are still these complaints of shortage of coal.

What defence has been put up? None so far. We have heard the same thing. The hon. Gentleman says there is a shortage of wagons. I travel to South Wales every week-end and back on Monday. There are miles of sidings occupied by empty wagons. What is the good of talking of shortage of wagons if you see that confronting you every week? Then we are told that if you send engines to some stations there is no freight for them, and there are other stations where there is freight but there are no engines. Is that a problem which it is beyond the wit of the Government to encompass and solve? It seems so ridiculous that, with all the powers the Government have, and the control they can exercise, they cannot: produce the coal that is there and distribute it to centres where it is urgently required. The hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) used to ask last year what was the reason for the delay in the arrival of trains from Yorkshire to King's Cross and for all the inconveniences that were caused to passenger traffic. The answer always put up by the late Captain Euan Wallace, a very charming man, whose death we all deplore, was, "You cannot blame me, because I am responding to your invitation to give facilities for the traffic of coal from Yorkshire to London."With all that 12 months' notice, surely it is not beyond the competence of the Government to provide a solution. It is a serious problem.

We are fold that the civilian population is in the front line of the war. The War Office, the Admiralty, the Air Ministry and the Home Office say it. When you are relying upon the courage and endurance of the civilian population, why should you deprive them of a comfort which you have in plenty but which you will not take the trouble to distribute? It is a very serious matter, not only from the point of view of domestic consumers, but of industry and of the public utility services. Ministers complain that they do not get sufficient notice of Questions on the Paper to provide proper answers. The Board of Trade, the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Mines and the whole Government have had twelve months' notice of this question and we are no better off now than we were then. I appeal to the Government with great seriousness. There are three Ministers concerned and they are reported and reputed to be men of great action. Let them act now.

Mr. Ritson (Durham)

I am very pleased to have an opportunity to deal with this question. I am afraid I must correct the dates of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken. I remember a year ago last November a deputation consisting of my hon. Friend the Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) and others from the North met the three Departments on the question of transport. We felt in Durham that we were going to be in a very serious position owing on the question of ship transport. We met these three Departments, Captain Euan Wallace, the Minister of Mines and a Navy representative. The Naval people warned us that the difficulty in the future of getting coastwise coal moved owing to mines and so on worried them very much. When the Government were warned a year ago the late Prime Minister had to declare, because of the appeals in the House, that he would take the matter in hand himself. The Government have had twelve months to deal with the matter. I hope that they are better informed now than they were then, because I have never heard such ignorance on the matter as I heard at that time. When we pleaded for spare wagons one of the officials said deliberately that they could not afford to have spare wagons. You must have spare tubs in pits in order to get production, and I am glad to know that there are wagons on the road if they are only worked properly. You cannot work the coal trade without a large number of spare wagons. I hope that we are getting more intelligence among those who are concerned with this industry in the Department. I do not care what criticism is made of my hon. Friend the Minister of Mines, but it cannot be said that he is ignorant of colliery work. He has practical experience behind him, and if he can convert his brethren on the distributing side we shall get over our difficulties.

The hon. Member for West Bristol (Mr. Culverwell) does not know perhaps that we have three kinds of coal in Durham—steam-coal, the best gas-coal in the world, and a coking coal. In spite of that, we are lying idle two or three days a week. He talked about wages, but let him go to Durham and he will find that some of the best men whoever went into the pit are not able to have a week's work owing to the conditions there and short time. Cannot the hon. Member get electricity companies to work our coal? The people of Durham can generate electricity, gas and power from it. Undertakings are used to getting certain types of coal and they stick to it because of their desire to get quick profits. In these days people have to take what fuel they can get just as they have to take what food they can get. People are using food that they never dreamt of using, and these undertakings will have to use fuel that they never dreamt of using. As a Member for Durham appeals have been made to me lately to see whether I can get some household coal for the people. We are living on top of the coal and some of it is so near the surface that you can almost scratch it out. They say that the Army have taken our lorry drivers. I wrote to the Army two or three times and they have released some men for three months. Although we are living on top of the coal we cannot get coal to the firesides in Durham simply because of the lack of transport. The Army have taken the lorry drivers at such a rate that many of the small coal merchants cannot deliver. More lorry drivers ought to be released so that the cellars of the people can be stocked. There is nothing that keeps the morale of the people up better than a good fire. If we had better fires there would be more happiness in the homes in more ways than one. Nothing makes me more miserable than to go home on washing day and not be able to get near the fire. I am convinced that a lot of people would never have gone to the divorce courts if they had had decent fires.

With regard to the transport of coal by sea, I live in a seaport town, and as I have said before, the men in the coastwise trade have been forgotten. These men are not in uniform, but they are feeding the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. If their work has to be transferred to the railways something should be done to relieve their position. One of these men said to me the other day: "This is my eighth torpedo I have had on a ship. They have got me this time."These men are doing a great work, and we feel that there are possibilities and opportunities for them to be used on our railway system to help in the distribution of coal. My hon. Friend the Member for Spennymoor and I made an appeal to the Ministry of Transport to see whether we could get a better system of running trains, both passenger and material. We met a big, hefty fellow who looked to me rather terrifying, and the first thing he said, before he heard what we had to say, was: "I am very busy."I said: "So are we, and you are only one, and we are two. We have a complaint, and you have a right to listen to it."He treated us courteously, of course. The hon. Member for Spennymoor was like a little terrier, and held on to his coat-tails for a long time, and I think he was astonished that that little tenacious man and a tall, cadaverous being like myself could put up such a case.

Let us see where we are in the matter of transport. I know nothing about engines, except that I know what end of a train to get into, but I feel that some trains are overloaded to the extent of almost stultifying their purpose. The engine is almost torn to pieces trying to get them out of the station. There are far too heavy loads behind engines. There ought to be some practical man who understands these matters to deal with them. They should not be left to officials who are so high in their own estimation that they will not listen to the practical men they are in charge of. That is one of the difficulties from which we are suffering. I thank the Minister of Mines for his references to timber in the pits. I have been rather worried about it, but some of us have been out of the pits for a very long time, and as sensible men we never intend to go back. If we had been sensible men we should never have gone into them, but we did get out. I am very anxious about the class of timber which is being used. I remember having to use green timber, and if there is anything that is a trap to the man who is trying to save himself it is green timber. It will not remain where it is intended to remain, and it does not give any warning. In some cases cement props have been introduced. I have been so long out of pits that I do not know anything about cement props, except that they are being used. But my hon. Friend, who knows pit work so well, will, I am sure, give their use serious consideration.

Let me deal with Durham. In Durham colliery after colliery is closed, and what we are going to do I do not know. It is not only the social problem which arises. It is not easy to tear a man away from everything he has in Durham, his family and all his interests in the place, and take him down to Bristol, as some want to do. I do not think the man would improve his conditions very much there, and in any case he does not like to be dragged away from home in that way. When this war is over we shall want all the export coal we can get. It is the greatest possible value export cargo we have ever had in enabling us to bring back full cargoes in return. We have sent many men away from the coal-exporting districts of South Wales and Durham and we may find it difficult to get them back again. If a man goes into the pit it is because he does not know where else to find a living. If we could put daylight into the pits and the working conditions there could be seen we should have the relieving officer and the doctor coming along to certify the men. When miners have found other employment it will be difficult to get them back into the pits. We may be pleased to get these men for whom there is no work at the moment out of South Wales and Durham, but it will be very difficult to get them back again.

I am pleased that there has been an opportunity of dealing with this question on the Floor of the House to-day. No body of men is more loyal than our lot. The Secretary for Mines wanted to get men back to the pits when the war broke out. The men of 67 begged at the gates of the pit to be allowed to restart; but the young men have more sense than the old men. Most of the men who are now 67 years of age went into the pit at the age of 12, but you will not get boys of 12 into the pits any more. The difficulty is of getting young labour into the pit. Do not keep yelling for men to be employed, when you do not understand their position and their troubles and trials or the needs of the industry. I give the coalowners their due; they do understand. Sometimes we do not understand them, but they know exactly what end of the stick suits them. It reminds me of an old pitman who used to do a bit of preaching. He was describing the power and sympathy of the Deity and what happened to Aaron's Rod. When Aaron's Rod was thrown down, and became a serpent, and the Lord asked Aaron to pick it up, Aaron said, according to the old pitman: "Which end, Lord?" The Lord, being as merciful as He could, told Aaron to pick it up by the tail end. The moral was that the Lord never gave a man more than he could lift. You never knew a coalowner pick anything up by the tail end. He has the other end.

Let us get together in this matter. We have never lived in a time, especially on the East Coast, when so many men and women were doing their very best. Yet I have never known such sadness at their having to remove from one county to another. The people in Bristol will not have to mind what particular coals they get. We all have to accept any kind of coal we can get hold of. In the exporting areas, however, we think we are entitled to something more than a mere levy, and we ask that we should get our fair share of the inland trade. I fear, sometimes, that our own Federation is not as sympathetic in actuality as it is on paper. I am convinced that human nature enters even into federations. Some of the more rich members of the Federation—[Interruption]. It is you people in Yorkshire. You were prepared to come within the family circle so long as we were all feeding on one fare, but now that you have a better repast than we can get you sometimes refuse to allow our men to come in. It is very hard, and we feel it very keenly. We rather feel that they are being ostracised. I am sorry that any members of my class should run down another area, and refuse to take a man in, for fear that the bounty they are getting now may have to be shared.

Lieut.-Colonel Mayhew (East Ham, North)

I have, as is probably known, a financial interest in a colliery company employing some 1,100 men in the Midland (Amalgamated) District, and we have suffered very considerably from the wagon shortage. I have taken the opportunity to speak to the Minister for Mines and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport upon this question, and I realise the immense difficulties of their Departments and of the railwaymen in regard to this wagon question, but I venture to suggest that it was quite unnecessary to leave large numbers of wagons standing in South Wales, loaded with coal for which there was no sale. I agree that it was partly due to the fact that France defaulted, and the coal which was intended to go to France did not get there, but there is no sense at all in leaving wagons standing fully loaded with coal for which there is no demand when there is a tremendous demand for other coal in other parts of the country, and which could be delivered had it not been for the deficiency of wagons.

This point was raised particularly in October, and Government Departments were warned of the serious situation which must arise. The point was raised again in November, and the railway Executive Committee disclosed the tact that there was a surplus of wagons on the Great Western and Southern Railways. In January we again pressed in this matter, and it was disclosed that there was no improvement whatsoever on the L.M.S. or the L.N.E.R., which are the two railway companies which cover principally this district. In fact, I think I may say that the L.M.S. could have very quickly utilised 15,000 wagons and the L.N.E.R. something like 3,000. In spite of what my hon. Friend has said, we tail to understand why these wagons were not made available. Figures are sometimes deceptive, and one dislikes using them more than is necessary, but the Midland amalgamated district is very centrally placed for the production of coal or the movement of it after it has been produced. Lancashire and Cheshire coal has been largely absorbed for war purposes, and Northumberland and Durham equally so, and it is not available for the general utility companies in the same degree as the Midland district. The Midland district are being continually badgered by the authorities to increase their output. In January, at a time when there is always a little opportunity for miners to take a holiday, even in war-time, there was a little coming together of wagons, with the result that the output sold from the Midland district was higher in the week ending, I think, nth January than at any time since the previous August, which was simply the result of the wagons being available.

There is another point that I wish to emphasise. The men are disturbed by never being quite sure whether or not they are going to work when they come to the collieries. There is no man more loyal, more ready to play his part or to do his job, than the coalminer. We feel that a very definite effort should be made to enable wagons to be available where they are required. My right hon. Friend will realise that there is no advantage for any coalowner in mining coal at present. He knows that, in regard to every ton of coal taken from the pit, the profit he would normally make out of it goes to pay the Government's taxes. He is proud to be making that contribution, and so are the men who mine the coal. They are doing their share. Coal is a commodity which, once it is out of the pit, ceases to have any value to the pit whatsoever. So we are taking out of our mines something which leaves the mines of less and less value, and eventually of no value at all.

I do not wish to emphasise more than I have done the need of the industry. There is another need, and this is a point on which I hope my hon. Friend will also consult with the other officers of State, namely, the question of food for the miners. A miner mostly takes cheese for his midday meal, and meat when he can get it. At present he has great difficulty in getting either the one or the other, and I have taken steps to draw the attention of those who deal with these matters to the fact that a working miner has been able to get something like 12 ounces of meat per week, while the serving soldier, who is not working any harder, has had something like 56 ounces of meat per week. The discrepancy is so appalling that I am astounded that it has been allowed to continue so long. I very much hope that the Minister will use all his influence to see that there is a greater equity of treatment as between the heavy industrial worker and the serving soldier at home.

Lastly, there is the question of service as it affects the miner and the mining community. We are in some little anxiety on this matter. A man goes into the mine very young, and it takes him a long time—a number of years—to acquire his sense of responsibility for underground work and his ability to live a not easy life under conditions which are very difficult indeed. There are certain men in mines who have to pass a definite examination before they can qualify. They are the men who are principally responsible for the safety of mines, and they are called deputies. Roughly speaking, men liable for service are between 20 and 30, and in the mines in which I am personally interested 20 percent. of the deputies—20 percent. of the men who have to pass a Government standard of qualification—are now liable for service. I cannot believe that these men will now or at any future time be readily taken from the mines. If they are, the casualties in the mines may be serious. In a mechanical mine, such as ours, about 51 percent. of its personnel are between the ages of 20 and 30. I hold very strong views that every young man should be a serving soldier. My own two sons have been through the ranks, and 1 am proud to say that they have now obtained commissions. But we arc anxious about these men in the mines. I know that the Ministries concerned have strong feelings about this, but they are being pressed by the Forces to provide men. I should like some assurance that there will not be, either now or at any future date, any move to take away the deputies and other important men from the mines.

Mr. Ammon (Camberwell, North)

I have been asked to raise another aspect of the matter. It is the consumer's point of view, and, particularly, the question of the schemes that govern and control distribution. I have questioned my hon. Friend a good deal, and perhaps he feels at times that I am too critical, and too suspicious about some of the people concerned. I am afraid that what I shall say now will make him think me even more suspicious and critical. Both from the point of view of keeping the industry running, and from that of maintaining the morale of the people, the consumer's standpoint is an important one. There would have been very serious trouble this winter in London if it had not been for the combination of circumstances that the winter was less severe and there had been a very large evacuation from London. I will give some examples to show how far evacuation has taken place; and it will be seen that these figures are from boroughs where the poorer people live. Bermondsey has lost half its population; Poplar, about the same proportion; Southwark, 70,000, and Camberwell, 92,000. So one could go right through, and show that, with this and the milder weather that there has not been serious trouble. There may have been extra stocks over London as a whole, but those places most concerned have been considerably short of even their normal supplies.

The scheme as at present administered makes for unequal distribution, it keeps prices high, and it reacts harshly on the poor and on people with small storage capacity. These difficulties arise largely because distribution is left wholly in the hands of the merchants. I make a distinction between the poor and the people with small storage capacity; because there are people who could pay, but who, because of their limited accommodation, cannot take in large stocks, and they are, therefore, in the same position as those with small means. The scheme, I think I am right in saying, was adumbrated in a letter from the Director-General on 12th December, 1940, to the Chamber of Coal Merchants. The scheme—and I have a copy here—is good, both in plan and intention, but it is rendered practically ineffective because its operation is left wholly in the hands of the trade. There may be one or two places where it has worked a little better; broadly speaking, it suggests that there should be certain committees formed, and that depot managers should be appointed, and it proposes and lays down certain schemes for co-operative working, lending each other lists of their customers, and so on. What happens? In the first place, the organisation is formed mainly from the Federation of Coal Merchants; they appoint depot managers, and it is left wholly in the hands of the Coal Trade's Federation. It shuts out the small trolleyman. who is mainly concerned with supplying and serving people in the poorer districts, who can only take small quantities of coal. Large numbers of these people live in the boroughs that I have mentioned. These trolleymen supply the main number of people in these boroughs. It is because of that that I say this scheme will not operate, because those carrying it out are more concerned about the large consumer, whereas the small trolleyman is placed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Durham (Mr. Ritson) pointed out, in a very difficult position indeed. The merchants have not acted very helpfully in the distribution of coal, and they have certainly been very reluctant to hand over their lists of customers.

Let me examine the situation. Customers are divided into two categories. There are those who can accommodate fairly large stocks of coal in their cellars, and others who can take only a cwt. at a time, and the latter are the people who buy from the trolleymen. The local fuel officer is in a very invidious position; he has the title but no power. The position is largely based upon bluff, and once the bluff is called, he is in a very humiliating position. The small consumer is nobody is child. The local fuel officer has certain powers of control over the bigger consumer and, if he thinks a certain situation has arisen, he may say who must be served first, but there is nothing with regard to the position of the small consumer. As my hon. Friend the Member for Durham Has already pointed out, the bombing of cities and the calling-up of large numbers of trolleymen bring about insufficient supplies, which are very soon disposed of. It is particularly hard on people who live on the higher floors of flats, as, owing to the limited supplies of coal and the reduced number of men who take it round, the distributors naturally get rid of their supplies as soon as possible. They are very reluctant to take coal upstairs unless they are tipped very heavily. That, as hon. Members will see, places a handicap upon the poorer person. I put these Questions to my hon. Friend—I am sure he will understand—in order that he may know of, and look into, these points and see whether anything can be done.

It may be a big job, but I suggest that we must register the small consumer. If this is done, it will to a certain extent make for more equal distribution over the whole community. The Department and the Minister himself have made requests that consumers should not be fussy about grades of coal. Although the Minister has forgotten more about the coal industry than I shall ever know, I would remind him that the system is built up on grading. There are 28 different grades of coal, and I suggest that the operation of so many grades has the effect of raising prices to the consumer, because many people cannot tell the difference between grades. I know boroughs where people do not know the difference between best coal and kitchen nuts, with the result that anything can be served out at top prices. I see that best coal is 68s. a ton and 68s. 11d. a ton, and hard cobbles and kitchen nuts 57s. a ton. It is a stiff price for poor people to pay.

Mr. Denville

They are paying £4 per ton to-day.

Mr. Ammon

That is for anthracite. I am talking about the ordinary, common, house coal, and my concern is for the small consumer. Not only do we get these lists and variations in grade which are said to be an excuse for merchants making money, but I have been told on very good authority that two large combines, for instance, which are concerned in the sale of what are known as Kent boiler nuts, from the Betteshanger Colliery, sell them under other fancy names for an extra 4s. per ton. That kind of thing runs right through the business, and there is no means of checking it or preventing the exploitation of the people.

Mr. Grenfell

But would not that be a case of fraud?

Mr. Ammon

Precisely, and my retort is: Why has not the Minister gone into the question? I know it has been reported to him.

Mr. Grenfell


Mr. Ammon

Well, as my hon. Friend has heard from the response in the Committee, it is not uncommon for this sort of thing to happen. I will give the Minister the source of my information. I am subject to correction, but I have been comparing the price lists of Lloyds, f.o.b., at various ports, including Swansea, Cardiff, Hull and Newcastle, and I find that the prices in the list I have here are 100 percent. higher than in those particular ports. I am told that it costs a trifle under £1 a ton to bring coal from Northumberland to London.

Mr. Grenfell

Far more.

Mr. Ammon

I am informed so by people who are supposed to know the business. I give this figure to show that these enormous prices are related not so much to the pithead price as to the rise that takes place between the ports and the consumers. This is a matter which certainly calls for some investigation, because there seems to be a big rake-off by somebody.

Mr. Grenfell

The hon. Member should also inform the Committee that the freights sometimes double the pithead price before the coal reaches the port.

Mr. Ammon

Reference has also been made to the amount of coal that has been stored. Surveys were made with a view to providing dumps and sites were approved, but throughout the winter very few of the dumps had any coal in them. The local authorities selected the sites, the Government paid for them, but the coal was then distributed by the merchants, and again they got the rake off. Surely, there was in this matter an opportunity which my hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines missed. There was a great opportunity for local authorities to have been the coal distributors in their districts, using the dumps the sites for which they had provided.

I want not only to criticise, but to suggest remedies. I have already suggested that the Minister ought to give consideration to the question whether small consumers should be registered. I suggest that he might again consider dividing the country into zones for the purpose of fuel supplies. I suggest that he should examine the grading of coal, as shown in the retail prices, with a view to reducing, the number of grades as much as possible. The second and third of these matters have already been submitted to the Department. So far the Minister has rather objected to zoning the country, a suggestion that was contained in the coal transport reorganisation scheme of 1917. It was rejected by the Department as unlikely to be advantageous under present-day conditions on account of other conditions that have now to be taken into consideration, besides the saving of transport; nevertheless, if the need arises adjustments in the flow of traffic will have to be made with the same end in view. This was stated in a letter from the Department. It is a little difficult to understand and perhaps some explanation can be given by the Minister. What are the present-day conditions that make it impracticable to apply the coal transport reorganisation scheme of 1917, when it is admitted, in the same sentence, that in certain conditions some adjustments might have to be made to put into operation that which is now said to be of little or no use? With regard to the examination of the grading of coal, we again find that the feelings of the merchants are considered and given first place. They said: "This, it is considered, would entail a measure of control of the mining industry on which His Majesty's Government is not at present prepared to embark. Why not? Surely they ought to have taken control over these things. Here was an excellent opportunity, during a life-and-death struggle, when it is necessary that the morale of the people should be kept up at the highest, and when the supply 01 these necessary things was needed to maintain that morale, without considering the feelings so much of the industry itself, for them to have stepped in and taken charge of it and exercised full control. Look at the powers of the scheme itself. I have a letter which was sent from the Chamber of Coal-Trade Merchants immediately after the scheme, to which I have referred, was issued. They issued it to their people and wound up with these very interesting words: The scheme, as will be seen, is an essential one for enabling the trade to deal with difficulties arising during the emergency period of the war, but the experience which will be gained from it, and from the establishment under Statutory authority of the machinery in which the trade itself through its national local organisation has a definite part, should be of value to the trade in strengthening its organisation to meet any circumstances which it might be faced with when the war is over. So again they are using all these things in that particular connection. The local fuel officers have little or no authority or power and that they merely relied to a large extent on bluff. If that bluff was called, then they would be in a very perilous condition indeed. I have in my hand a leaflet issued from the Minister's Department, headed "Statutory Rules and Orders, 1941, No. 121." Paragraph 5 (a) of this leaflet lays down, in effect, certain steps to be taken if it is felt that certain people are amassing too much, or have more than is necessary, and it gives instructions to the officers what they are to do in that connection. I also have a copy of a confidential circular issued to the local fuel officers, warning them not to operate paragraph 5 (a) because of the difficulties which might arise. This states: Divisional coal officers should understand that there are almost insuperable difficulties in securing the effective enforcement of that part of Article 5 which enables limits to be placed on the supplies of coal Is there anything which is more absurd? Here we have a printed, public instruction what they are to do, and then we find the Department going behind their own instructions and telling their own officials not to operate the provision. It is utterly absurd. The fuel officers are told they cannot operate the instruction, and therefore they must go carefully. I suggest that the Minister should look into this question.

Mr. Grenfell

May I ask the hon. Member how this affects the interests of consumers?

Mr. Ammon

It is not my duty to answer that. It is my duty to bring before the Committee the instructions issued by the Minister's Department, which are known to the public, and to show how the Ministry have been going behind the backs of the public by telling the officials that they are not to take the instruction seriously. [Interruption.] There it is. Naturally, if a fuel officer goes to the coal merchant, he is laughed at.

Mr. Grenfell

My hon. Friend must know that it is being operated. I have never heard of a single complaint by a fuel officer.

Mr. Ammon

It is given me by fuel officers who found their position untenable and that they have no power. I would ask my hon. Friend to look into the points that I have raised. The whole distribution of coal in London is entirely in the hands of the merchants, and the merchants are exploiting it for their own ends and for the benefit of their own trade to the disadvantage of the community itself. The hon. Gentleman's own machinery which he has set up to check it is being rendered ineffective. On behalf of the consumer, I ask him to give careful attention to the matter and see that the scheme as adumbrated works to the advantage of the public.

Sir Geoffrey Ellis (Sheffield, Eccleshall)

I may have misled the Minister in a point that I put to him, and I think he gave me an answer which was not quite intended. It is with regard to the responsibility of the Government for taking over pits not financially capable of production. Docs the hon. Gentleman really mean that he has the power to-day to take over any pit and run it for production if the owners are not in a position to make it pay?

Mr. Grenfell

No, what I intended to tell the Committee was that if I find pits which are unable to produce coal, and coal is required, and the plea for exemption is that they have not the financial resources to do so, I must take responsibility for getting sufficient financial resources to get those pits into production. I can cite the case of a coalfield, which must be unnamed, which does not pro- duce sufficient coal. The hon. Baronet knows the coalfield to which I am referring. The pits are not remunerative. They have been assisted with outside financial resources, because they say they cannot carry on. We say we must have the coal and the resources must be found.

Sir G. Ellis

The Minister has cleared up that point. Let me take it a little further. Before he himself takes on the responsibility, is there not the larger question of the consideration whether you cannot have better and quicker production possibly in another set of pits in another district?

Mr. Grenfell

Will the hon. Baronet explain to me the advantage of producing more coal in Yorkshire at the expense of cutting down production in Somerset, or what benefit you obtain if you produce more in Yorkshire and close pits down in Northumberland?

Sir G. Ellis

The hon. Gentleman must not try to get round me on a side issue. I did not suggest that. I admit that for certain purposes, especially in the present condition of transport, which instead of getting better may get worse, you may have to consider production on a regional basis. If that is what is in his mind, there would not be any objection, but if his answer also implies that he is trying to keep open an unfinancial pit for other reasons, the question has to be looked at from a good many different points of view. I am glad that that has been cleared up, because there was a little doubt in our mind.

Now may I say a word about transport? I was chairman of a sub-committee which has now made its report. What struck me more than anything else from the evidence and what I have heard since is the assumption of so many Members that we can continue our transport of coal pretty much as we did before the war and that, therefore, when anything goes wrong it is the fault of some Government Department or some individual that the coal is not getting delivered. I wonder whether it has ever struck hon. Members that one of the main reasons for the shortage of coal to the consumer is the disturbance that happened owing to enemy action. The experience we have as coal producers is that the blame does not lie at the door of the Minister of Mines and his people or of the Minister of Transport and his people. On the question of distribution at the end, I think the Minister—and he will as a Socialist probably laugh at me as an individualist saying this—has never been strong enough. He will never get the eventual distribution properly carried out in war-time until he prevents competitive distribution. He must pool the small merchants so that they will work together to distribute the coal. It is only possible to-day to make distribution properly to the homes of the people if you use all the sources of transport you have got, and you can only do that by compelling the merchants to come together and co-operate.

Mr. G. Griffiths

I am astonished to hear the hon. Gentleman say that.

Sir G. Ellis

My hon. Friend from Yorkshire knows me very well, and he knows also that we get astonished at many things in war-time. Do not let him make any mistake, however; I do not know that his astonishment will continue beyond the war.

Something has been said about prices and the grading of coal. Nobody more than the people who produce the coal desire the Minister to take up a position which will ensure that the coal they produce and which they know to be good is sold to the people who burn it, so that they may be satisfied that they get the coal they want. A great many of the so-called qualities of coal do not mean quality; they are simply names. I go so far as to say that if you had the simplest examination of a great many coal merchants on the coals which they now call by certain names, and you were to take away the labels on the coals, they would not be able to distinguish them. Here is an opportunity for the Minister of Mines to do what is long overdue, and insist upon a very different scale of qualities and prices from those that have been used in the past. I really do not see why, while the war is going on, you cannot reduce them to something like halt a dozen. I am glad that the levy scheme has been introduced and generally accepted. Let me say to some of my hon. Friends who are in districts not so fortunate as others that after the war the position may be the other way round. I do not say that it solves the whole diffi- culty, but I do say that it is helping to solve a portion of it. I am very glad to think that by arrangement between ourselves it has been possible to arrive at something which, at any rate, will help us in present troubles.

Mr. Cocks (Broxtowe)

We have had a very interesting speech from the Secretary for Mines, who explained very clearly the intricate and difficult nature of the problems with which we are dealing. Some solid work has been put in by him since last May, and I have myself sufficient confidence in him to say that if he had a free hand and could do exactly what he liked, he would be able fairly quickly to resolve most of these problems. But we know that he has not a free hand. He said so himself. He has interests to contend against, other Departments to consult and Cabinet decisions to consider —he is not a member of the Cabinet himself—and so I want him to understand that any criticisms I shall make are not about himself personally but about the general position. The point with which I want to deal has been mentioned by many Members in this Debate. I do not think the Minister himself dealt with it in sufficient detail, but perhaps the President of the Board of Trade, who, I believe, is to reply, will take up the matter. I refer to the difficulties in distribution owing to the shortage of railway wagons, or, rather, the fact that wagons do not get back to the pithead quickly enough. We have suffered from that very badly in Nottinghamshire, where pits have been working short time because there have not been sufficient wagons to take away the coal. The railways have been blamed, and the merchants have been blamed. The railways blame the merchants, and the merchants blame the railways, and, apart from difficulties due to war action, 1 expect that both parties are to some extent culpable, and, anyhow, both have their difficulties.

Let us take the case of the railways first. The other day Mr. Lemon, of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway, dealing with the allegation that it was the fault of the railways that wagons were not at the collieries, said: In the Manchester area between 25th October and 7th November last year the average number of loaded wagons available each day was 3,505, but only 756 were unloaded He was putting the blame on the merchants. During that period there were 42,055 wagons loaded with coal and only 9,075 were unloaded. Speaking of the Manchester and Salford area, he said: Each week-end we have 2,000 wagons standing there which have been there loaded for more than 48 hours, and a large number of them for seven days or more That is the railway side of the case. On the other side I have read a statement by Mr. Wiggins, the president of the Master Cotton Spinners' Association, in which he said: Often wagons after they have been emptied of coal are left on the sidings, thus impeding the unloading of other wagons He was blaming the railways for the time taken in the transit of loaded wagons and the delay in shunting out empty wagons, and returning them to the collieries. He gave this example of the difficulties of merchants. He said that a certain merchant whose normal requirements were 10 wagons a day received no wagons at all for nine days in succession and on the tenth day received 30 wagons all at once. In those circumstances it was impossible to unload them as quickly as they would have been unloaded if they had come regularly in the normal numbers. There are many reasons why things cannot be worked so smoothly as they were worked before, and nobody in this Committee would unreasonably expect them to be so.

There is one other matter which has been mentioned by several speakers and which probably causes delay in unloading, and that is the number of qualities into which coal is divided and the number of sizes into which it is sub-divided. The example was given to me of a man who had 100 bags of coal to deliver. In order to load his vehicle, the driver had to go to 10 different wagons to take out 10 different types of coal. That took time. The small coal merchant has no storage space beyond the wagon and the siding, and he sometimes uses the wagon as a kind of storage. Because of the different qualities and the slowness with which certain qualities are bought, he may have to keep coal in the wagon. The wagon will be partially unloaded for a week or more, and that directly causes delay. The Minister said in a speech recently that people insisted upon different grades of coal because they needed different qualities for different kinds of fireplace. That difficulty is, I think, very much exaggerated. I get what coal I can, and it all seems to burn equally well. The only question for me is, Have you any coal? I have an ordinary fireplace, and all the coal seems to burn the same. In war-time we shall have to put up with whatever inconvenience there is in this respect.

In regard to sizes, a suggestion has been put to me. I am not an expert, but this has been put to me by an expert. Would it not be possible to cut out all the sizes above what are known in the trade as doubles, which are 2 inches by 1 inch, and have an all-in fuel? Below this, let the industrial fuels be graded as before, eliminating various sizes between doubles and selected large. That would still leave the same qualities for the public, but the merchants, instead of having four or five different sizes, would have only two, as has been suggested by more than one speaker. It would save time and clerical work for the merchant, and would reduce the number of wagons; it would also reduce the time for unloading. The collieries could easily alter their screens to enable this to be done.

Another cause of delay relates to wagon repairs. I am not sure that the arrangements for oiling and greasing wagons are entirely satisfactory. In these days, wheels and bearings are getting damaged. I know a firm who were asked by a number of collieries in the Midlands to do the work of greasing and oiling the wagon bearings. As that work has now to be done through the Railway Clearing House Committee, they wrote to the Committee. This is the reply which was received from the Committee: It has now been decided that the railway companies shall be generally responsible for the oiling and greasing of requisitioned, privately-owned wagons, on the understanding that consideration will be given, in certain exceptional cases, to the question of permitting a colliery company, or repairing firm, acting on behalf of the colliery company, to continue to perform this work when it was in their hands prior to requisitioning..…You are seeking permission to set up facilities for carrying out the work at certain collieries. … As … this is the case, the railway companies cannot see their way to concede such a request. Here is a firm, asked by certain collieries in the Midlands to do this work. They have the facilities for doing so, but the Railway Clearing House Committee will not allow them to do it.

Sir G. Ellis

Responsibility for these wagons has now gone over to the railway companies.

Mr. Cocks

I know—

Sir G. Ellis

Financial responsibility attaches to the work of repairing and dealing with the wagons, and you cannot have divided control, divided repair work and all that kind of thing.

Mr. Cocks

Surely there is no reason why the wagons could not be oiled, because the Committee says it can be done in certain cases but it does not allow a new firm to come in and do it. The question of repair arrangements should be looked into, because the arrangements made by the Railway Clearing House Committee have resulted in a lot of waste of public money. I will give one instance. Before the war the owner of a fairly modern 12-ton wagon, built between 1933 and 1939, used to hire it out at 5s. 6d. a week, and had to do his own repairs. Under these new arrangements which are now in operation, the Government pay 5s. 9d. a week, and they do the repairs themselves. This amounts to about £4 10s. a wagon a year. The owner does not have to do the repairs, and he gets more money for it. The older the wagon, the bigger the bill. Hundreds of thousands of pounds are being wasted in that particular way at the present time. The owner is on velvet, and the taxpayer has to pay the bill. Only selected firms are allowed to do the repairs. Other firms of wagon repairers are not allowed into this enchanted and extravagant circle. As a result, the wagons are taking longer to repair and money is wasted. That state of affairs should be brought to the notice of the Committee on National Expenditure. I would like to ask the Minister why it is that municipalities are not permitted to purchase coal themselves and distribute it to merchants in their localities? Salford wanted to do this, and were not allowed to do so. It was recommended by the Samuel Commission and I believe the Minister of Mines has often advocated it. The Ministry says there is no need to duplicate buying agents, but I can see no reason why municipalities should not buy coal in bulk. It might help to ease the situation in these difficult times. Cannot the Minister reconsider his attitude? In conclusion, I commend the few points which I have made to the Minister and to the President of the Board of Trade, and I wish them both every success in the work they have to do.

Sir Ralph Glyn (Abingdon)

We must all recognise that in all probability the situation which we are now considering is mere child's play compared with what it will be in a few years' time. Assuming that the potential war production in this country reaches its peak in 1943, it means that we shall have to have an enormous quantity of coal delivered to a great many factories which are still under construction. There will be a large number of people who will still want to be warm, and therefore I appeal to the Minister to consider, with the Lord President of the Council, the importance of planning ahead and doing it quickly. The greatest offenders to-day are Government Departments. Government Departments now have more wagons in heavy demurrage than a whole mass of private firms put together. Private firms cannot afford to keep wagons standing, because they have to make use of their sidings. Unless the wagons are emptied and turned round quickly, it is almost impossible, with the wagons that are available, to continue to supply the country in the way required. Various hon. Members have recognised the extraordinary difficulties under which the railways have been working due to enemy action. It is unfortunate that we cannot always explain these things; they are all well known to the railway companies. But there is surely no reason why something should not be done to improve terminal facilities wherever possible at public utility works like gas works, electric light plants and so on, which are dependent on coal. Under present arrangements, which are very often the same as they were in 1850, it is not possible to handle large wagons and do the tipping expeditiously so as to free the wagon to do another job.

Another matter which I think is important to-day is that the coastwise traffic in coal has, for obvious reasons, been reduced to a very small trickle. There are certain ports and other places with good terminal facilities which might possibly be removed to some other point where they could be used to greater advantage. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down stated that the privately-owned wagons have now been pooled and have been placed in the charge of the Ministry of Transport, who is now in control of railways. So far as I know, there is no reason whatsoever why the wagon-repairing companies should not be employed as agents by the railways to carry out repairs, but clearly, as must be obvious to everybody, someone has to be responsible for getting the work done. If wagons are treated in the way they are now being treated, there will undoubtedly be an increased shortage owing to a lack of proper repairing facilities. The situation is a great deal more serious than some people recognise, because we can only suppose that enemy action is going to become more severe. The fact that this island has always used its coastwise traffic in the way that Germany and other Continental countries have used their internal canal systems means that if the coastwise traffic is cut off, an enormous extra load is laid on the railways at a time when most of the traffic is being handled at ports which are unaccustomed to it, and where, in order to get extremely quick dispersal of goods, the goods have to be moved in wagons normally used for coal We have been very short of covered wagons, and recently the use of sheeted wagons has been permitted.

The real point however that we all have to face in our own constituencies, certainly those South of the Thames, is that we are still having coal from Northumberland or Scotland routed to points South of the Thames. This is inevitable, for political reasons—political in the sense that it is necessary to keep working the pits which normally engage in the export trade. But when the coal has been mined in Durham and Northumberland, if you make up a train of 1,000 tons and haul it all the way from Northumberland to Hampshire, you are wasting wagons, wasting engine power and holding back and blocking traffic on the railway. Then the German bomber comes along, with the result that you have wagons full of coal waiting for transfer from one system to another. Much of the delay is due to the fact that instead of having a sort of short shuttle service, there are these heavy trains which have been sent from great distances. And very often when it arrives South of Thames people very naturally do not want to burn steam coal in a cottage grate. It takes some time to get well alight. They bellow it up because they want to cook their meals, and it is gone.

Lieut.-Colonel Mayhew

All the South Wales miners' wives burn it.

Sir R. Glyn

The point is that they want to use what they are accustomed to. I know the Minister's difficulties, but I submit to him that this is not a time to put coal into dumps. It is a time when the people want coal, and if we are to put coal into dumps, let us do it during the summer months. Hundreds and hundreds of people were asked to lay in coal last summer and gave their orders, and to this day have never received the coal. Things of that sort make it extremely difficult for people who have cellar accommodation to meet the Minister's request during this forthcoming year.

Anthracite is expensive; but it has to be won and hewn, and I think greater emphasis should be placed on the desirability of institutions and buildings with central heating using it instead of coke. The more we induce people to use anthracite, and to save coke, which is required for other purposes, the better it will be. I agree that in small houses, and especially bungalows, it is impossible to store coal. Therefore, the people in such houses depend on the man with a trolley. But the man with a trolley is being called up. I know of case after case where, in isolated places, such men have been called up, and there is no means of getting coal. There is a real need for planning ahead, which we are not doing at present. In many cases proposals have been put forward by the railway companies for improved facilities for working, without result. This is the most vital thing that confronts the country. Nothing is more important to the morale of the people than that they should be kept fed and warm. I would rather have tons of coal for the people than all the speeches of the Minister of Information, which make one so furious. Also, the war potential depends on proper distribution of coal. We are not going to get that unless planning is started without a minute's waste of time.

Mr. Tinker (Leigh)

I want to deal with one or two points which have not

been dealt with to-day—points which I have raised before by way of Questions. 1 come from an area where we are able to produce more coal than is required in the district. That coal is sent out, and other coal is brought in for local consumption. One would expect that at a time like this, whatever private enterprise docs in normal times, the Minister of Mines would examine the position in every district, and say that no coal must be sent out of the district if it would mean other coal having to be brought in. The Minister talks about transport difficulties, yet he knows that that kind of thing is going on. In Lancashire, as a whole, we are able to produce only about 50 percent. of our requirements; yet I have reason to believe that coal is sent out of the county. Therefore, in addition to the 50 percent. of our requirements that we should need in any case, we have to bring in enough to replace the coal which is sent out to meet orders that were placed, no doubt, before the war.

Private enterprises have this sort of thing in mind. They say: "We must hang on to our orders, because, when the war is over, we shall be able, through having kept contact with our customers, to get orders again in times when there is a plentiful supply of coal."In a crisis like this, all such things should be put on one side. The ramifications of private enterprises in protecting themselves ought to be put upon one side, and there should not be a pound of coal sent from any district that itself requires coal. It may be said that this is due to the necessity for using certain classes of coal, such as gas-producing coal. The same might be said about householders. We are having to use coal at the present time, which, under ordinary conditions, we would never think of using. We must not forget the war effort, and we cannot have everything we would desire in peace-time, and we must put up with difficulties.

We blame the Minister of Transport, the Board of Trade and other people for what is happening, but I believe a thorough examination of these points would result in much of the difficulty being eliminated. While the railways are cluttered up with traffic, why does the Minister of Transport allow trains of excessive length which have to draw up twice on the platforms, causing considerable delay? In the journey from London to Lancashire trains have frequently to draw up twice at station platforms. I do not object to trains of excessive length, but I think that arrangements ought to be made, so that passengers could be told which section of the train would draw up on the platform, so that they could arrange accordingly, and thus perhaps save a delay of three or four minutes at each station. I think that passengers would readily agree to some such arrangement at a time like this; I have not met a person who would not be prepared to make big sacrifices to help the war effort.

The Chairman

I hope that the hon. Member will not develop that matter too far, as this is not the Vote of the Ministry of Transport. Strictly, the whole Debate is restricted by the Amendment.

Mr. Tinker

Probably I have gone too far, but I was taking the opportunity of trying to bring in the wider question. On the question of production, I want the Secretary for Mines to pay close attention to the question of the closing of collieries. I appreciate what he said to-day in regard to the powers that he will take, if required. I agree that there will be collieries that may have to close owing to their being worked out or for other reasons, but I want him to be thoroughly satisfied that that closing is really necessary. If he has examined the question and is satisfied that a particular colliery must be closed, that will go a long way towards allaying the feeling of suspicion that coal-owners are seizing their opportunities to close particular pits. We want to know whether the Secretary for Mines has sanctioned such procedure. Two collieries in my division are on the point of closing. One employs 700 men and the other 200, and they are up in arms about this kind of thing. They believe it is entirely due to the coalowners' view of the matter, and if we can be sure that the Mines Department will examine these questions and say that if a pit is closing it must be done, it will bring back confidence to the public. If that happens this Debate will have been well worth while.

The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Lyttelton)

The President of the Board of Trade has, I suppose, a general rather than a particular responsibility for the coal-mining industry, but I think it would be the wish of the Committee that I should speak on some of the broader economic aspects of the industry, as well as attempt to deal with some of the many very interesting points which have been raised during the course of the Debate. I think that this is an appropriate occasion to say something about coal prices. The Minister of Mines has touched on the subject, because it forms the background against which many other problems stand in relief. The general index number of basic raw materials has risen by about 70 percent. since the war started, but the price of coal has risen by only 30 percent. This is, I think, quite a remarkable thing; it is to some extent a tribute to the industry and an answer to those who think that the price of coal is out of line with prices for other raw materials. The small rise in the cost of living is, of course, due to the fact that the Government are controlling many of the prices which go to make the cost-of-living index. Without that control it would be very much greater.

I think I ought to say something, too, about the war assistance levy. The Minister of Mines said it was not based on profit but on loss of trade. The hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) asked how this levy was applied and whether there was selection by the Ministry of Mines of the pits which would benefit. The operation of the scheme at present is automatic; it does not receive any process of selection. Indeed, there are a few exceptional instances where undertakings already on a profitable basis will actually receive some additional profits. I think I need spend very little time on the general matter of the levy, but I believe hon. Members will agree that it is a step in the right direction, even though it may be described as a small or halting step. In peace-time many other considerations would have to be borne in mind—for instance, whether a disservice was not being done to the national interest by keeping in being undertakings which would be permanently unprofitable in operation. But I suggest, as I think every hon. Member will agree, that in present circumstances the difficulties of the export areas are due to military and not commercial reasons. Nobody will say that the loss of the French or Italian market has anything to do with com- mercial considerations. Who is to know-how soon those markets will come back? We must be in a condition to take advantage of the markets when they are there again. Therefore it is unnecessary to discuss the merits of the levy scheme, which I think is beyond controversy at this moment.

A subject which I do not think has been specifically raised is the disparities which are beginning to make themselves felt in various places in England in the delivered price of coal. I am speaking of the disparities between one place and another which may be quite near together. They are due, of course, to the necessity of taking coal in some instances longer distances than has been customary, or to the rise in coastwise freights. My hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines has told the Committee that he has schemes under consideration, but in the meantime I think hon. Members should know that these disparities are being temporarily ironed out by means of a direct Treasury subsidy on coastwise traffic. That is only a temporary measure, which we hope will be replaced by a permanent and more scientific system.

I will deal now with the subject of merchants' prices which was raised particularly by the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon). This gives me a good opportunity of saying something which every housewife ought to know—namely, that the price of coal in every district to every consumer is controlled by the Mines Department, and every housewife has a right to ask for the official price. The hon. Member for North Camberwell suggested there were merchants who, while advertising one grade of coal, delivered another. That is fraud. If these instances are brought to the notice of the Government we shall prosecute the offenders with the utmost severity I think that is all I need say on the general question of the disparities in prices and merchants' prices.

I now turn to the subject which is of the greatest interest and which causes the greaest anxiety to hon. Members—the distribution of coal. I realise that many of these matters are more the concern of the Ministry of Transport or the Ministry of Shipping than the Mines Department. Nevertheless, the two subjects are so closely interlocked that I hope I shall be allowed some latitude if I stray from the depots on to the rails. I have had, for the last 20 years, some experience of mining industries. Every time I hear of the problems of the coal-mining industry I have to remind myself that, instead of dealing, as I have been accustomed, with a mere 1,000,000 or 2,000,000 tons a year, we are here dealing with some 250,000,000 tons. It is in this light that we have to look at the distribution problem. The figures are startling.

Several hon. Members have referred to the canal system. Whatever may be said about the canal system from the long-term point of view, if we look one or two years ahead, I think the general opinion would be that the utmost amount of extra coal that we could hope to transport by canal would be in the order of 300,000 or 500,000 tons. Although my arithmetic is not strong, I think that represents about one-tenth of I percent. of the total problem. To suggest that one-tenth of 1 percent. is not worth tackling would be incorrect. It certainly is, but I think that we should remember its contribution to the whole will be very exiguous.

While I am on this subject I should like to mention the question of Army lorries, to which reference has been made. During the winter months it must be very galling, in an area where there is a lack of mechanical transport, to see empty Army lorries, but I earnestly ask hon. Members to remember the fact that mobility of the Army is a thing upon which our lives depend. If you are going to turn soldiers over to transport duties, even in cases where the necessities are very great, and an emergency arises, the most serious consequences may occur. Any general system of using Army lorries for the transport of coal for industrial and household purposes is very dangerous, but wherever the Army have been asked to co-operate they have done so to the extent of their ability.

For the last few months, as hon. Members know, a committee, under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council, has been sitting, and trying to co-ordinate, or help to co-ordinate, the work of the Ministry of Mines, the Ministry of Shipping and the Ministry of Transport. The distribution of this vast tonnage of coal is one of the most complex administrative problems possible to imagine. It is like a vast jig-saw puzzle, and its complexity would make it fascinating if the stakes for which the game is played were not so high—the stakes of cold and hunger, the spectre which we have always standing over us.

We should once again realise the background of the difficulties, some of which are human and some not, with which we have to contend. First of all, I think it is worth mentioning that this country alone among the belligerents had not built strategic railways at the beginning of the war. Our railway system was entirely laid out for peaceful and commercial purposes. Another factor, which will, I think, be more familiar to some other hon. Members than to me, is that in peace-time, and for very sound commercial reasons, wagons not only serve as a means of conveyance of coal, but, to some extent, as warehouses for the merchants. There are very sound reasons for that practice, but it is a very serious difficulty when one comes to deal with this particular problem in war-time. I would add here that the number of wagons standing in South Wales had been reduced quite recently by 15,000, and in the Midland (Amalgamated) District there are more wagons than last year and considerably more than there were a few months ago. It is difficult to give exact figures.

Mr. Ernest Evans

Are they empty or full?

Mr. Lyttelton

I could not answer that question; but they will not remain empty for very long. The next difficulty, which has been touched on by many hon. Members, is that the industries of the country are working at a record rate and that new factories have been put up which represent a new outlet for coal, but which bring a new transport problem, which is not confined to coal, because into those factories have to be borne the raw materials and the coal with which to fabricate them and the finished article on its way to consumers. The general effect is to place a very much greater strain on the railways. The next difficulty is that there are rapid changes in the population, and any long-planned system of building up stocks may fail to some extent if our forecast of what those changes are should prove to be wrong. There is a number of towns—hon. Members will immediately suggest to themselves where—whose population has fallen by 50 or 60 percent. and others which have increased by smiilar amounts.

My hon. Friend talks about planning ahead. We cannot go on a rigid plan; it is necessary that the plans should be flexible and capable of dealing with the changing situations which occur. I do not think it necessary to say anything about this country being in the front line. I was most encouraged to find that hardly anyone has even mentioned the enemy at all—I can hardly imagine anyone being more furious than the Germans to hear no reference to any of their efforts—but the enemy is a gentleman who comes into war. There are, of course, unlucky hits from time to time, and very little reference has been made to the vital work that has been done by the railway repair gang and to the extraordinarily rapid way in which they have been able to repair the damage that has been done. It has been suggested that we should have dumped coal out of wagons indiscriminately. The effect of that, on the whole, would have been to create worse problems lower down the scale. If you throw coal out on to a field, the labour required to load it into lorries, and the number of lorries to be used to pick it up again, would probably make the problem still worse.

My hon. Friend has said that no munition plant has been stopped for shortage of coal. Actually he forgot one public utility undertaking, which was shut down from 5 p.m., 21st January, until 11 a.m. on the 22nd. There have also been plants engaged on unessential work which have been dangerously short of coal and have had to change over to types of coal which they have not been accustomed to use, with perhaps some effect on their costs. But I think we can congratulate ourselves that there has not been a serious shortage of industrial coal. Several hon. Members said that the weather has been a great friend of the Minister of Mines. That surely again is infuriating to General Goering, because, although the weather last winter was certainly cold, I do not remember that there was a "Blitz" then. I am told by the meteorological experts that the weather this winter—though not so bad as last—has also in fact been below the average, and I think that we can congratulate ourselves upon the fact that there has not been any general shortage of coal.

The congratulations, however, stop there. We are not at all complacent about this matter. We had to live through this winter by a series of devices and expedients. There have, of course, been shortages of house coal which are most regrettable, but I would like to put the thing in a correct perspective by means of some statistics. The rationing order is operated on the basis of local authority areas. There are nearly 1,700 such areas in the United Kingdom, and restrictions in varying degree are in operation in only 197 of them. I do not think that that is satisfactory, but it is not disastrous. We cannot live through another period on a series of expedients and devices. New mechanical handling apparatus, new sidings and labour must be provided. The Government have not got these things under consideration; they have them under construction. It takes many months to bring them into operation. I would like to assure hon. Members that the Government are dissatisfied with the coal situation, and I hope they will always remain dissatisfied. I am sure that the most insidious effect of air attacks is that it gives excuses to the inert and the incompetent for not fulfilling their duties. That will not be an excuse which will be used by the Government. The measures we have taken and are taking will greatly improve both the stock position and the supply of industrial and household coal next winter.

Mr. G. Griffiths

There has been a lot of talk in the country about staggering pay-days. At the pit where I worked power has been given by the Yorkshire Miners' Association to take a ballot because the owners will not have a pay day before Saturday afternoon. Other workers in that area get their wages on Wednesday, or Thursday or Friday. We have been negotiating with the management of that colliery for at least three years with the object of getting wages paid on a Friday, but they have said deliberately that they will not pay on a Friday. What happens? The miner gets home with his wages at half-past one or two, or even half-past two, on Saturday afternoon, and then his wife has to go to market and finds that there is nothing left. It is true that she can get the rationed foods, but foods that are not rationed have been bought up by then. I hope that either the President of the Board of Trade or the Secretary for Mines will use his persuasive powers with this colliery company and that there will be no necessity for the men to take a ballo on whether they shall cease work until they get their pay on a Friday afternoon.

I also want the Secretary for Mines to give his attention to the case of men who are out of work in Yorkshire at the present time. I know men in three Parliamentary divisions of Yorkshire who are victimised to-day—400 in one division, 120 in another and 70 in the third. We are crying out that we want more coal, and what answer am I to give those chaps when they say, "George, I have done nowt for a week"or"George, I have done nowt for a couple of months''? They can produce coal: practically every one of them is a coal-face worker. There are up to 600 or 700 of these coal-face workers who are victimised and cannot get work. When I interrupted him the Secretary for Mines said to me,"This is a trade union matter" It may be a trade union matter, but it is also a national matter. You say, "We want the coal," and we say, "We want the men working" If the trade unions cannot settle this grievance, what on earth are the Government here for? The Secretary for Mines may smile at this business. I have felt in a sense that I had no right to touch it, because my own trade union have said, "Keep off the grass," but while we are keeping off the grass those men have no grass to eat. They have no wages. They have a bit of unemployment benefit, but what is that to men who want to work and help the country? They are not like the men the Minister of Labour spoke about the other day who were asking about the possibilities of a strike being settled, and said, "Is there any fear of an agreement being come to so that we have to go back to work?" That is not the case with our chaps. They want to work. I ask the President of the Board of Trade or the Secretary for Mines to get down to this business and see that these men get back to their work.

Mr. Grenfell

The hon. Member knows that at the Mines Department we have machinery for conciliation, and if application is made to us, I will see that some re- presentative of my Department gives his services.

Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)

Strong representations have been made to me recently about the situation in the West Midlands. I am told that great difficulty is being experienced in delivering coal both to works and to households on account of the calling up of coal merchants' assistants, persons who cannot be replaced by female labour. There is great anxiety about it. There may be the same difficulty in other parts of the country, but it is certainly a difficulty in the West Midlands. Men are being called up and there is no one left to deliver the coal, because women cannot do the work. Could one of the Ministers concerned say something as to the view of His Majesty's Government on this question, and as to what they propose to do?

Mr. Grenfell

On the question of calling up these people, I would point out that they were first to be called up in July last, but the calling up was deferred for a month. It was then deferred for the month of August and then, at our request until the end of October. Then it was deferred until the end of the year and again until 30th April. I think we shall be able to keep them while they are still engaged in the delivery of coal, up to the end of April. We are very anxious to see, as far as possible, that sufficient men are retained to perform the work of delivering coal.

Mr. Mander

If I know of any cases where that does not happen, may I call the attention of the Minister to them?

Mr. Grenfell

If there are individual cases, such as where the men have been registered but the coal deliverer does not take the matter up, I shall be pleased to consider them.

Mr. David Adams (Consett)

I wish to call attention to the position which obtains on the North West Coast and, I suppose, elsewhere in regard to demurrage on wagons. Railway officials told me that they had no difficulty whatsoever in collecting demurrage charges, which in many cases are extremely high, the reason being that these charges are debited to the work in hand. That applies particularly to factories. I know that the Northern Area Committee, together with representatives of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, have made a series of representations to works in the district to get these wagons discharged more quickly. For a time the result was satisfactory. Wagons were being discharged under that relatively slight pressure which had usually been held up. I suggest that the Ministry of Transport might have a note, weekly or half-weekly, of the traffic which is being held up at the different works, and complain of the matter by telegram or by some other method. There would be a very great stimulus given to the release of wagons throughout the country. I believe that suggestion to be of considerable value, and it was indeed confirmed by the officials that it would be one method by which the Ministry of Transport would have the use of much more traffic than is available at the present time.

Mr. T. Smith

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Original Question put, and agreed to.

Resolution to be reported upon the next Sitting Day; Committee to sit again upon the next Sitting Day.


Resolved, "That this House do now ladjourn"—[Major Dugdale.]