§ The Lord President of the Council (Sir John Anderson)
I beg to move,That this House approves the proposals of His Majesty's Government embodied in Command Paper No. 6364 relating to coal.In rising to address the House to-day for the first time on the subject of coal, I am very conscious that many hon. Members have much longer experience and far greater knowledge of the subject than I have. I do not, therefore, pretend to come forward in the character of an expert, but I have had a good deal to do with the subject since the outbreak of war in one way or the other. I propose to begin my speech with a brief review of the course of Government policy during the past two and a half years. Hon. Members may recall that the first winter of the war was one of exceptional severity. The 1079 rigorous conditions and the heavy snowfall, coupled with a certain amount of disorganisation in the transfer from peace to war conditions, imposed a heavy strain on the transport system of this country. Towards the end of the winter there was some concern lest there might be a shortage, even a serious shortage, of coal in certain parts of the country, despite the fact that we had begun the winter with very good stocks. We got through in the end fairly well, but the Government decided that they would take no unnecessary risks in the following winter. Therefore, a very special effort was made during the summer of 1940 to increase production with a view to building up large stocks, well distributed, at the beginning of the winter of 1940–41. The efforts of the Government met with a good response. The production of coal rose to a very high level, but air raids began in August and continued for many months with increasing intensity. There was, therefore, considerable ground for concern lest the distribution of coal in the second winter of the war might suffer serious interruption.
I was asked, perhaps because of my connection with Civil Defence as Minister of Home Security, to take a hand in the business. I worked pretty continuously during that winter, in the closest association, of course, with my hon Friend the late Minister of Mines, for whose collaboration and friendly support at all times I am most grateful. We two met every week with the Ministers and officers of the Departments concerned. One of the difficulties at that time arose from the fact that the distribution of coal involved the effective collaboration of three separate Departments, not counting the Admiralty. We met together, as I say, every week and studied the problem. We were able to effect various improvements in the system of distribution. Bottle-necks were eased; coastwise transport was put on a better footing; cross-hauls which are wasteful were, to a large extent, eliminated; and we made a beginning with the organisation of central dumps of coal which could be drawn upon to make good occasional shortages. We were able to do all that despite continued enemy attack and a repetition, though perhaps not on the same scale, of the bad weather which we had experienced in the first winter of the war.
1080 During that period the problem was one of distribution and of distribution only. There was no question at all of inadequate production. On the contrary, we were receiving constant reports of men being idle, even of pits having to be closed, because of a shortage of wagons or of the delay of a convoy and so on. We reviewed the whole position early in 1941 from every point of view and then, for the first time, production difficulties began to loom ahead. Air raids were still continuing, and we did not know what the conditions in the following winter would be like. We wanted, therefore, to make further great efforts to build up stocks. The Department, under the guidance of my hon. Friend, made a very careful analysis of the estimated consumption, production and stocks. On the basis of that analysis, one thing emerged clearly. It was essential that the drain of manpower from the industry, which had been going on all the time, should stop. The obvious method was to apply to the mining industry the Essential Work Order, which was already in operation for most of the key industries of the country. There had to be certain discussions about the precise terms in which that Order should be applied to the coalmining industry. These discussions took some time. The critics may say that the action which we took then ought to have been taken sooner; that we ought to have intervened before so large a number of the skilled men in this vital industry had drifted away to other work. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] But I am sure hon. Members will wish to be perfectly fair. Could we have held men back in the industry with the knowledge that, for a time at any rate, they would have to be unemployed or only partially employed? [HON. MEMBERS: "What about stocks?"] There was a limit to the extent to which you could have built up stocks. Again, it is the fact that these highly-skilled men were exactly of the type required for vital war production, for drop forging for example.
Anyhow the step was taken of applying the Essential Work Order. We considered, naturally, in that connection, whether it would be desirable that steps should be taken to bring back into the industry men who had gone away from it, whether to the Army or to other industries. In the last war, as hon. Members 1081 may recall, considerable numbers of men were brought back into the mining industry, even from the firing line. We decided that there was no case for bringing men back from the Army, which was then being reformed as rapidly as possible after the disaster in France. But from less essential occupations into which men had been drifting for a considerable period before the war, during the great depression which had settled on the coal industry, we did think we could get very substantial relief. Steps were taken to that end, with the most effective collaboration on the part of the Ministry of Labour, whose organisation proved admirably adapted to the very detailed work involved in taking out men, all over the country, from all sorts of industries and occupations and bringing them back into coalmining. The number of men whose cases were reviewed in that connection ran to 70,000 or 80,000 at the very least, and in the end, if I may anticipate what I am going to say, we brought back no fewer than 33,000 men. The greater part of these came back before the winter and we had actually to call a halt in the process of bringing men back, because we found we had as many men in the industry as could be kept fully employed under winter conditions, even with the stocking of coal at the pit-head if it could not be taken away. The process of returning men from industry was resumed later, and as the result of these measures and of the improved machinery of distribution we finished the winter of 1941–42 with a stock greater by 1,000,000 tons than we had at the corresponding period of 1941.
That was not, on the whole, an unsatisfactory result. Moreover, the stock of coal was very much better distributed than it had ever been before; and when one is considering what stock it is necessary to hold, in order to be fully safe-guarded against inequalities and irregularities in the transport system, it is just as important to have the stock well-distributed as to have it in adequate total quantities. We realised that the methods by which we had obtained the result I have just described were methods which could not be repeated. The expedient of bringing men back from other industries was one which could only be resorted to once. Meanwhile, the drain from the industry was still going on, not in the same way but still going on, and that was one of the most disquieting features 1082 of the situation. The intake into the industry at the time of which I speak was only sufficient to balance the loss of men through death, accident, industrial disease and superannuation. There remained a net wastage represented by men who, to the number of no less than 25,000 a year, were going out from the industry on medical certificates. That is the net wastage which, somehow or other, has to be compensated if production is not to go steadily down.
That is not all. The output per man shift worked was going steadily down. There are various reasons for that. The age distribution in the industry is becoming markedly less favourable. There is no doubt that a proportion of the men, especially of the men working at the coal face, are beginning to suffer from the effects of continuous strain. The mining industry is not only very hazardous but very arduous. I do not speak as an expert, and here I have an advantage in not being an expert because I can say that the public do not generally realise that, in normal times, the miner gets a good deal of time off during the summer and has to work very hard during the winter. The men have now been working under continuous strain for a long time past, and I think that is beginning to tell. There may also have been, especially of late, some loss of keenness through dissatisfaction with conditions in the industry, and we have to recognise that sort of psychological factor as one of very great importance. Moreover, the proportion of face workers to the total number of workers in the industry was steadily falling, because an undue proportion of the men who had gone out of the industry were face workers, on whom we depend in the main for production.
Let me give a few figures by way of illustration. The total fall in output per shift since the outbreak of war up to the beginning of this year was about 8 per cent. Until the end of 1941 the output per shift worked at the face had varied very little. But since then a new and disturbing factor has begun to emerge. Output per shift at the face has begun to fall. In May of this year—last month—it was only 2.89 tons, as against 2.94 tons, on the average, during 1941. Against this, on the other hand, the total number of shifts worked has increased. Before the war the number was less than five a week on the average; it is now about 5½, and 1083 the average in recent weeks is, I am told, the highest on record, 5.66. These figures give point to the importance of concentrating work at the most productive seams as one of the main objectives of our re-organisation plan. At the same time they are a significant index of the efforts of the miners, and they are an answer to much that has been said about absenteeism, for these figures take full account of absenteeism.
This, then, is the situation: Production is going down, and, at the same time, consumption is going up in certain directions. There is a greater demand for coal from heavy industries and from the public utility services, a very good symptom in one way, for it reflects the development of our war effort. For certain export purposes we must expect to have an increased demand, although we shall cut down as far as possible on other exports; and there are certain contingencies of a military character, at which my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade hinted in the last Debate on this subject, which have to be taken into account. The whole situation has again been reviewed. There was the Debate on 17th March, at which, if I may remind hon. Members, the three main remedies which were discussed were: A further return of men to the industry; an attempt to work out a plan of re-organisation if one could be found which could be introduced with a reasonable measure of agreement and good will; and the reduction of domestic consumption by means of a rationing scheme. The matter was further debated in this House on 7th May, with the result, as hon. Members know, that the Government undertook to present to the House a full report covering all aspects of the question when their deliberations were complete. The outcome is this White Paper.
Before I come to deal with the plan set out in the White Paper—and I shall deal with its main features only, not going into any great detail—let me give the House some particulars of what I may call the latest balance-sheet for coal. A balance-sheet without precise figures may seem to be something of a novelty, but war does sometimes involve us in strange predicaments, and anyhow the points I shall bring quickly under review are in many cases matters of judgment rather than pre- 1084 cise calculation. On the production side we have to take credit for an increased production by outcrop working. We have to take credit, as the White Paper explains, for the result of a further return of men to the industry. Figures are given in the White Paper. We expected 6,500 from the Army, 1,300 from the Royal Air Force and some 3,500, additional to the 33,000 I have already mentioned, from industry and Civil Defence. The House, I am sure, will be glad to know that the number of men actually returned from the Army according to the latest return is 6,600, not 6,500, and we hope to get it up to 7,000 without encroaching on the Field Force at all. I should like, in passing, to pay a tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War and the military authorities for the manner in which they have co-operated in this matter. These men are at work and, I am told, are working extremely well. Then, we hope to make some cut in the wastage of 25,000 a year, which I mentioned, by improving medical arrangements—a very important matter which is set out fully in the White Paper.
§ Mr. Lawson (Chester-le-Street)
Have the Government made any serious attempt to get men out of the Air Force who are just doing ground work, little more than labouring? There are many thousands of them.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I do not know quite how many thousands there may be. The Air Force have been asked to collaborate, and lists of names have been compiled. I ought to have mentioned those figures, and I am obliged to my hon. Friend. The number actually returned from the Air Force as the result of the last claim which has been made is 1,100. If that process can be carried further, no one will be better pleased than I.
I was dealing with the matters for which credit had to be taken on the production side. The fourth head is the important one of re-organisation, to which we look to secure a better use of the technical skill available in the industry, some improvement in mechanisation, but, above all, a direct increase in production through the concentration of work in the more productive pits and seams. Finally, we hope by degrees to improve the intake of boys and youths into the industry until the position is stabilised. We are eagerly awaiting the report of Sir John Forster's 1085 Committee, to which reference is made in the White Paper. It will undoubtedly take time before any recommendations that Committee may make can have full effect, but the position can never be satisfactory until we have stabilised the manpower of the industry.
So much for the production side. On the consumption side there are certain savings that can be effected and will be effected by eliminating exports that are not absolutely necessary. We hope to effect a material saving, and, indeed, we are effecting a material saving, on industrial consumption by the introduction of improved methods of using coal and by developing, industry by industry, a system of allocating coal in the same way as we allocate raw materials. We are certain that in that way we can avoid a great deal of waste and possibly some unnecessary stocking. Finally, there is the question of a saving in domestic consumption. The balance that we strike is this: if re-organisation gives us the results for which we hope, if in the first instance we succeed in arresting the fall in output to which I have referred, with some margin, I hope, on the right side, and if in one way or another we can save on domestic consumption something of the order of 6,000,000 tons, we should be able to get through the winter and finish with stocks at a safe level, having regard to the improved distribution of our stocks, and with a sufficient margin for certain contingencies of which account has to be taken. The Government have accordingly, as the result of this review, decided to re-affirm the decision, announced by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade during the Debate on 7th May, against bringing men back into the industry from the Field Army. Further consideration has strengthened the argument against that course.
Now I come—and I will observe your injunction to be brief, Mr. Speaker—to the two major questions, rationing and reorganisation. First, as to rationing. Clearly, the further we have to reduce consumption below the normal economic level the more important it is to ensure fair distribution of whatever remains. That is essentially true with a commodity like coal, on which the health and comfort of the whole community depend. Theoretically, I suppose we should all agree that rationing must be the best way of securing such a result, though there 1086 may be dispute between The method of rationing and another How then, hon. Member may ask, do we defend the decision not scheme at this moment, when we undoubtedly have a serious situation to face? Some may say that we are just running away from the 1922 Committee.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I deny that absolutely. I took the view more than a year ago that, having regard to the uncertainties of war, it was necessary to have a rationing scheme in readiness, and the first steps were then taken to prepare one. That is precisely the position of the Government to-day. Some may say that a month ago, the Government were all for introducing the scheme at once. Why did we change? The answer is quite simple. To give any scheme a fair chance, if it involves complications and a certain amount of trouble and inconvenience, it is very important that the public should be reasonably satisfied that it is unavoidable, The last Debate, and discussions outside have shown that conviction on that point is at present lacking. That, in itself, is a material consideration which, quite apart from the respect due to the opinions of hon. Members, the Government would have done wrong to ignore. Therefore the Government say they will try other methods first. I would have preferred, had circumstances been otherwise, to have seen the scheme introduced and, as it were, properly run in while the supply-position was still fairly easy. I will be perfectly frank with the House. There is no reason to think that disaster will follow if the scheme is not introduced now. But I am convinced that all preparations must be made and brought to the point at which the scheme could be introduced with a minimum of delay, if the need were to arise. The actual plan upon which the Government are agreed is in the Appendix to the White Paper. We are satisfied, after very careful examination—very great care has been taken to examine every conceivable variant of this scheme and all alternative schemes, and the fuel overseers who would have to work the scheme in the districts have been brought up for consultation—and we have come to the 1087 definite conclusion that, if there is to be a scheme of rationing, this is the scheme that ought to be introduced.
For the moment, the Government leave the matter there. I hope that we may find it possible in the end to get on without introducing the scheme. I give the House an assurance that, in any event, the Government will not bring this scheme or any other scheme of rationing of coal into operation without prior intimation to the House and opportunity for Debate, if that should be desired. In the meantime we rely on voluntary appeals, backed by sustained propaganda.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I am sure that hon. Members will give their co-operation in urging economy. If, despite all efforts to do without rationing we found it necessary to introduce it, I am sure we should have the fullest support and good will of the House.
I now pass to the very important subject of re-organisation. The details are all set out in the White Paper. The whole plan is governed by the introductory words in paragraph 13, which I will read:In order to ensure that all practicable means of increasing output are adopted without delay and pressed forward vigorously, private interests being subordinated to the over-riding needs of increased production.
§ Sir J. Anderson
Wait a minute. It goes on:The Government have decided to assume full control over the operation of the mines, and to organise the industry on the basis of national service, with the intention that the organisation now to be established will continue pending a final decision by Parliament on the future of the industry.I have been asked what those words mean. They mean exactly what they say. The Government are taking full operational control over the industry. That control is to be exercised by orders given to some one person, to be designated for each undertaking. That provision has been made to avoid any blurring of responsibility. This is what it means. It means that responsibility for the operation of a pit will focus in that one person. It means that his responsibility will be a responsibility to the 1088 Controller and to no-on else. No-one else will be entitled or permitted to give order relating to the operation of the pit. I am told that some doubt or misgiving has been created by the use of certain words in paragraph 16 (e) of the White Paper, where it is stated that the day-today management of the pits will be left in the hands of the managers. I do not want to burke anything here. It states:… the managers…will continue to be the servants of the owners, though subject to removal at the instance of the Controller, should he deem that course necessary.
§ Mr. MacLaren (Burslem)
With all due respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I would like to ask him, as the management of a pit is purely secondary to the primary consideration in this matter, kindly to amplify what is meant or implied by the words, "private interests being subordinated to the overriding needs of increased production." What does that mean?
§ Sir J. Anderson
I will do my best to oblige the hon. Member. It means that orders will be given by the Controller. Those orders, when given, will have to be carried out, without any question being raised as to the financial effect that they may have. The orders will be operative and will be carried out. Any question about finance can be raised later and discussed at leisure. If these orders are not obeyed, there is the sanction, to which reference is made in the White Paper, of taking over the pit. Nothing could be clearer than that.
Let me return to the point I was making. I said that some misgiving appears to have been aroused by the use of the words…the managers…will continue to be the servants of the owners, though subject to removal at the instance of the Controller, should he deem that course necessary.It would have been easy to find less challenging words than those. It would have been easy to gloss it over when the White Paper was drafted, but it would not have been quite so frank. What the words mean is this. These managers will remain on the pay-rolls of the undertakings and their existing contracts with the owners will not be broken. But the words in no way qualify what I have just said, that the full, undivided and absolute control of the operation of the pits will be in the hands of the Controller acting under 1089 the Minister. What we have in fact done is to effect a separation of the business of the undertaking into two parts, operational on the one hand and finance, sales, and so on, on the other; and over the operational part the Controller has full and exclusive authority. I go further, and I say that if it should be found in practice that the arrangement is not working exactly as I have described, if anything should be found to stand in the way of the Controller exercising his executive authority to the full, the Government will at once take the matter up in consultation with both sides and make whatever adjustments may be required.
§ Mr. Austin Hopkinson (Mossley)
What about the position with regard to safety? The Controller has absolute power to order the manager to do certain things. The manager may be sent to gaol if he does those things and an accident ensues.
§ Sir J. Anderson
The position with regard to safety is deal with specifically in the White Paper at the top of page 7.
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
Could not the objectionable words "servants of the owners" be taken out, because they do imply that the managers are under the control of the owners and must do everything the latter want them to do?
§ Sir J. Anderson
They are not intended to imply anything of the kind, and I think that I have made that absolutely clear. The White Paper is to be read subject to what I have just said, and I am sure my hon. Friend will find that I have been perfectly clear, perfectly specific and quite emphatic.
We set out here in the White Paper how the new machinery that we have in mind is to be constructed and how it is intended to work. I shall not go over all that detail. We have had the benefit of consultation with representatives of both sides of the industry. We have had the benefit of considering the plan prepared by the Mineworkers' Federation and the National Council of Labour, a plan to which I know a great deal of time and thought has been devoted, and we have found it, quite frankly, very helpful to have had those consultations. The scheme set out in the White Paper owes a great deal to them. There may be room for improvement in detail; either side can raise any point, and within the main 1090 structure of the plan, which must be taken as fixed, it will be considered. There is a great deal that will have to be discussed and settled in the course of getting the plan into operation, and we make that perfectly clear, I may point out, in paragraph 21 of the White Paper.
I was going to say just a word about pit committees, and I will be very brief. We intend to preserve pit committees and develop their usefulness to the full. The only change we are making in that regard is that we are relieving them of certain specific functions in connection with absenteeism, and I think that that represents the general desire of the industry, certainly of the men's side, though some districts have been inclined to take a different view.
Let me go on to another point, because I do not want to burke anything at all. The question is raised as to why we have not gone the whole hog and requisitioned or leased the pits. Well, something of that sort was done in the last war. They were not exactly leased, but there was a guarantee of a minimum income to the owners with a possibility of a supplement if production was over a standard level. There is no particular reason to be very well satisfied with the results of control in the last war, but, let me say, if we have not adopted the course of requisition or lease it is not from any objection in principle. The miners' representatives themselves made it perfectly clear that the proposals they put forward were for the war emergency only, and that they were not designed in any way to pre-judge post-war arrangements. We considered the matter quite fairly in that light. Some hon. Members may remember what I said in the House of Commons on 3rd December last in describing the attitude of the Government towards the use of private property. I said then:Winning the war is the sole object. How to do it is the whole test. The Government will not be timid or half-hearted in taking control of any property or undertaking, to whatever extent may be found necessary, if by that means a fuller development of the war effort is realised."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd December, 1941; col. 1208, Vol. 376.]We applied that principle in this case, and we came to the conclusion that the object in view could be obtained, and could best be obtained, without interfering with the financial structure of the industry. As hon. Members on both sides of the House know, that structure is very 1091 complicated and has a long history of discussion, negotiation and dispute behind it. To requisition or lease the pits would have involved very difficult questions in regard to the application of compensation under the Compensation (Defence) Act and would incidentally have completely destroyed the basis of what is called the ascertainment [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] of which I will only say that it is a complicated process, established after long and bitter dissensions, the whole purpose and justification of which is to divide the proceeds of mining operations in any district between wages and profits. I think the House will readily understand that the Government did not wish to plunge unnecessarily into these troubled waters.
While, however, we have said that it is not intended by the proposals in the White Paper to introduce any fundamental alteration in the financial structure of the industry, we do not intend in all respects to keep things exactly as they are apart from taking over operational control. In paragraph 20 we make proposals about wage-fixing machinery to which we attach very great importance, and we say that we intend that that matter should be discussed with both sides of the industry.
§ Sir J. Anderson
It so happens that a wages claim, a very important matter though it has nothing to do with the proposals in the White Paper, has necessitated the setting-up of a strong Board of Investigation, and we have taken the opportunity—I am sure the House will think, wisely—to refer to that Board the question of machinery which is here raised. I do not know where we could have found a more competent body, and I am sure they will apply themselves to the tasks entrusted to them with the fullest recognition of their importance and urgency.
Such is the scheme. It is designed to meet war conditions, but as stated in paragraph 3 of the White Paper, we intend that it should continue in operation pending a final decision by Parliament on the future of the industry. Many of us have a clear recollection of what happened when the scheme of control established in the last war was brought 1092 suddenly to an end. There was great confusion, there was extreme hardship. We have no wish to see those conditions repeated. Therefore, thought will have to be given to the future of the industry as soon as the preoccupations of war permit. That question is not prejudiced or prejudged in any way by this White Paper. It may be that the experience gained in the working of this scheme may help towards an ultimate solution.
There have been many Debates in this House on coal. Many measures for improving the condition of the industry have been discussed here. I do not pretend that we have reached finality now. The last word has not been said, and I should not wish to appear over sanguine about the prospects of the scheme we are now submitting. The history of the industry is not wholly encouraging. There are, however, some hopeful elements in the situation. Everyone recognises how vital to the war effort coal is, and no section of the community is more intent on the prosecution of the war than are the miners. We want to get these new plans speedily into operation; we want to see the questions of wages and wage machinery removed from the sphere of controversy. Then we should hope for a renewed effort which, with good will on all sides, should secure for the nation the relatively small extra margin of output which is all that we require. The industry is vital. It must meet the needs of the nation. On that, the Government are determined. I hope that the course of this Debate will give my right hon. Friend the present Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food all the encouragement he could wish in entering upon the duties of his new office of Minister of Fuel and Power, on which we all congratulate him.
§ Mr. Arthur Greenwood (Wakefield)
I think we can congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the clarity with which he has expressed himself, and upon his studied moderation and his desire, quite rightly, to convince the whole House of the merits of the scheme. May I say in the first place that I welcome the intention of the Government as part of the plan, though not in the White Paper, to establish a Ministry of Fuel and Power, a development which in my view is long overdue because of the close relationship which exists between coal, oil, gas and electricity? The 1093 Government's rationing proposals recognise that there is this close interrelationship, which has been forced, home on people's minds because of the coal shortage. Those who in an earlier Debate opposed the principle of rationing failed to recognise or to appreciate the undeniably economic fact that both during and after the war our sources of coal, the direct use of coal, our production of light and power, must be properly coordinated. Therefore this new proposal—and I congratulate my right hon. Friend on assuming this very large and important constructive task—will be generally welcomed, certainly by my hon. Friends.
The House is asked to accept the Government's plan for the reorganisation of the coal industry, and a postponement of rationing. I wish to make it clear, if it need be done again, that for a generation the Labour movement, by declaration, by formal evidence before official commissions and committees, has insisted that public ownership and control of the mines are essential in the national interest. We still believe that to be true, and we still believe that under war conditions that demand is even more imperative. I will not go into the reasons. My right hon. Friend has explained about the difficulties which have afflicted this industry in the past, but most people in this House must honestly admit that the mineowners, speaking generally, have been dogs-in-the-manger and have inevitably always resisted any proposals of a constructive character, even those that came from non-labour sources.
§ Mr. Greenwood
I shall be glad to hear my hon. Friend's reply to this statement, which I now reaffirm.
§ Mr. Greenwood
No. The position we are in to-day, we are apt to forget, is that on 1st July, three weeks from now, the State will own all the coal—there can be no argument about that—at a rather heavy cost, but still there it is. The next step is for the nation to take over the ownership of the plant and the equipment in the industry, and through the skilled agencies in the industry to work the coal for national needs. It is only by this, in our considered and long-held view, that 1094 this vital national asset can be conserved to the public advantage, and the willing and active co-operation of the miners secured to the full. That policy has not been accepted. We have more recently submitted more limited proposals to which my right hon. Friend has referred, and of which Members of the House are aware, for the requisitioning and the reorganisation of the industry.
My right hon. Friend has tried to explain why, in the interests of the miners, it was desirable not to requisition the industry. Let me put, in a sentence, the reason why requisitioning was asked for. First, in order to get rid of the profit motive, the callous use of which has so embittered the miners in the past; secondly, thereby having got rid of that motive, having created a new attitude of mind amongst the miners, to make possible the effective reorganisation of the industry. My right hon. Friend tells us that the Government have examined that scheme with care and with a considerable amount of sympathy. That, I think we were entitled to ask, and they have no doubt spent a very worrying time, I can imagine, treading their way gingerly between the various agencies concerned with the problem. I do not envy the difficulties which must have confronted them. We now have their considered proposals. It does not need an experienced political hand to detect in these proposals that spirit of compromise inseparable from Coalition Governments. The mines have not been requisitioned, but the Government intend, in their own words:—…. to assume full control over the operation of the mines, and to organise the industry on the basis of national service,….I do not doubt the Government's intentions. What is in question is whether the Government's plan will secure these ends. Ownership remains undisturbed. That is a capital fact which sticks out a mile in the minds of the miners. Mine managers—my right hon. Friend has explained precisely what it means—will remain the paid servants of the owners. Yet they are to be subject to dismissal by the Controllers. The view of my mining friends, and others, is that this dual responsibility cannot make for efficiency. The managers will receive their salaries from the colliery undertakings, yet they must take orders from a State official. The mine-owners, cherishing the hope—a vain 1095 hope, I trust—that their undertakings will be returned to them after the war, will keep an eye on their future prospects. That is reasonable. That is what was felt to be the case under the Railways Scheme, under which railway executives were keeping one eye cocked on their current work and the other eye cocked on the situation which would arise after the war. The mine managers themselves cannot neglect that consideration either. They may be required to obey instructions by the Controllers which are injurious to the coal undertakings of which the managers are employees. That is not an easy situation. I am not in any way depreciating the efficiency and the technical knowledge of mine managers, but this situation will lead to difficulties, cannot make for efficiency, and may—I will not go further than that—lead to a breakdown of the scheme.
Paragraph 20 refers to the Government's intention not to introduce any fundamental alteration in the financial structure of the industry. That, 700,000 miners feel to be unsatisfactory. It is that financial structure which has contributed very largely to the difficulties in which the miners are placed to-day. It may be that in some areas the mine-owners are getting very little out of the scheme: in fact, they may be in debit, so to speak; but in other areas they may be doing better. In so far as this scheme is successful and the output of coal is increased, the owners, under the existing financial arrangement, are financially advantaged. [An hon. Member: "And the men are better off"]. I am coming to that. My hon. Friend is too impatient. I am a slow-minded Yorkshireman, and I will come to my point if my hon. Friend will allow me to develop my argument. The mineowners are deprived of operational control: they have no real power to affect production; yet they may profit by the scheme. All the miners think that that is difficult to justify. It cannot be wondered that the miners are dissatisfied with these two major proposals, which maintain the financial structure of the industry and put those who are actually managing the industry into an impossible position in deciding where their real loyalty lies.
§ Mr. Greenwood
In so far as shareholders in colliery companies are officials of the companies, they get their salaries. I am not concerned with that. My hon. Friend's point is quite irrelevant to my case. In the third place, there is to be a National Coal Board. I, and the Mine-workers' Federation of Great Britain, accept the view that that Board should be responsible to the Minister, whose head can be had on a charger, for a very small price, at almost any time we ask for it. As regards the composition of the Board, it is proposed that the members will include those owners who are vice-chairmen of the regiotal boards. But, as I and my right hon. Friend have pointed out, the owners are not going to be concerned, under this scheme, with the operation of the industry, and their financial situation is not affected. They are a fifth wheel to the coach, so far as the wartime industry is concerned. Moreover, in addition to the owners, there will be on the Board pit managers and colliery technicians, whose salaries will be paid by the undertakings, and some of whom, therefore, are likely—I put it no higher than that—to take the mineowners' point of view. There is going to be a preponderance of influence on the mine-owners' side on the National Board. I do not deny the value of the advice and knowledge of these people. If they are to be present at Board meetings, they ought to be rather as technical advisers and assessors than as operative members of the Board. Then, there will be mine-workers on the Board, as vice-chairmen of the regional boards, who will be elected. This is a point that ought to be pursued. It is not said by whom they are to be elected. They will, no doubt, be members of miners' organisations, but the Mine-workers' Federation of Great Britain—I believe, rightly—claim direct representation on both the National Board and the regional boards, for, unlike the mine-owners, their members are a vital factor in the production of coal. I ask the Government very seriously to consider the composition of the National Board in order to secure a more truly representative body.
As regards the pit production committees, to which my right hon. Friend referred, in a sense which I heartily 1097 approve, it is proposed that absenteeism should no longer be a matter for them. With that the Mineworkers' Federation of Great Britain agree, for reasons which I think are perfectly good. I understand that the miners will themselves propose a form of machinery which, in their view, will deal with this much advertised and over-emphasised problem of absenteeism more effectively. I hope that these proposals of the Miners' Federation will be accepted by the Government, and I am sure that they will, in any case, be looked at with sympathy. But on this question of pit committees, it cannot be denied that in numbers of pits, often enough under the inspiration of the managers, absenteeism has become the main business of the pit production committees. That was never intended. Moreover, there are managers who do not like pit production committees and do not mean to use them effectively if they can avoid it. The White Paper declares that, being relieved from all responsibility for dealing with individual cases of absenteeism, the pit production committees will thus be free to devote their full attention to matters associated with production, and I understand from my right hon. Friend that that is the intention of His Majesty's Government. I call the attention of the House to the fact that these bodies are called pit production committees and not just pit committees, and they are now to go back, according to paragraph 17 of the White Paper, to what is their real purpose.
I believe that the workers in all industries have much to contribute to the efficient conduct of their industries, and I hope, therefore, that the Government will see to it that the pit committees are so free in their operations that it will be possible to mobilise the energy and experience of the miners for the purposes of greater coal production, notwithstanding any prejudices that there might be in managerial circles. We have heard from my right hon. Friend a fairly specific assurance upon that point as to the intentions of the Government. There are a great many oilier points to which one could refer, but I have not time nor would the House wish me to go into them at any length.
In my view, the scheme put forward cannot be regarded as meeting the situation, and so it obviously, as my right hon. Friend admitted towards the end of his speech, cannot be regarded as reach- 1098 ing finality. It leaves many questions unsettled. That in a sense, I understand, as time has not permitted of their solution, and there is a territory still within the realm of discussion which the White Paper, in paragraph 21, describes as "questions of detail." I do not myself regard them all as questions of detail. Some of them we consider to be questions of considerable importance which will profoundly affect the efficient operation of the scheme. What I gather that the Government mean by the term "questions of detail" is that they stand by the major framework of the scheme, but that within it modifications can be made, and that the Government are fully prepared to discuss the proposals from all the interested quarters. It is clear that it is the primary responsibility of the Government to produce their own policy in the spirit of the undertaking given by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and National Service in the House on 4th December last. The Labour movement proceeded to consider proposals to deal with an admittedly grave and unsatisfactory situation. A plan was produced which miners and others felt might break the back of the trouble, but there was no certainty about it. That minimum plan of ours has been whittled down and substantially altered, and it may now be—I have not discussed this plan with my hon. Friend—that organised labour was unwise in submitting its proposals. However, we have conferred and we have made our proposals. However that may be, we are now faced with a decision.
We have given a good deal of time and thought to the situation. After full consideration we have decided, with the greatest reluctance, to accept the Government's scheme, but we shall press to the full our view on the range of matters within the scheme for discussion. We do not believe—and I am not using unduly controversial language, I hope, except that I said some hard things about the mineowners, about which I shall have some reply as the Debate proceeds, and I want to use measured and moderate language—that this plan will fill the national need. Whatever may be done in the sphere of reducing consumption, to which I will come in a moment, the bold fact remains, as my right hon. Friend has said, that we need more coal, and we do not believe that the plan will succeed in producing the amount of coal 1099 than can properly be made available. But it is realised that the Government have the power to get their own way, at any rate, at the moment. There is no desire among the miners and their friends to be, like the mineowners, dogs in the ranger. If the scheme does not fulfil its purpose it will not be our fault, but it will be because of its inherent defects and the responsibility will be with the Government.
We feel that from the point of view of the war effort—and it is the view, I gather, that is shared by my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council—we have not yet heard the last word about the vital need for the reorganisation of the coal industry, and, I would say, on national lines. The Government scheme has certain merits, which we realise. It does at least impute a measure of control over the industry, both national and regional. It may make pit production committees an effective part in the conduct of the industry. It offers, what ought never to have been denied to the miners, a permanent national wages board, though on lines still to be determined and subject to discussion, and hampered, of course, by the Government's intention not to introduce any fundamental alteration in the financial structure of the industry.
Now I turn to coal consumption, as to which the White Paper says:Substantial further economies must be secured.I looked forward with interest as to how my right hon. Friend would handle this very difficult and thorny question, and I am bound to say that I really must remind him how emphatic they were in their views some time ago. I was moved on this question of rationing because of the position of the domestic consumer. Coal is mined to be consumed, either for production or for domestic use. There is room for economy, as the right hon. Gentleman said, in the use of coal in order that it shall go to the manufacturing industries, but it is essential that in the homes of the people there shall be coal, light and power sufficient to maintain them in health and comfort, to provide for the needs of those who are aged or sick and those who, because of their special circumstances, require more than their normal ration of fuel. That must be done, however difficult the administration 1100 of the scheme may prove to be. It was because of that that I personally accepted the principle of rationing. On 17th March my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade referred to this issue in the House and in the very early part of his speech on 7th May so convinced was he that what he had said in March was right that he repeated it. This is what he said:There is a very serious situation confronting us…our production is insufficient…our present consumption is excessive, and our stocks are much too low. These are three very adverse factors of the situation. We must correct them all.He went on:It is clear that in the national interest consumption must be cut down. It is also clear that mere exhortations are not enough …. His Majesty's Government therefore have decided that a comprehensive scheme of fuel rationing shall be introduced as soon as possible."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th May, 1942; col. 1451, Vol. 379.]He went on to say that he regarded this question as both urgent and imperative. He spoke of it as a most urgent necessity. I was so overwhelmed by his reasons that I who had come to the House to argue about rationing, flung aside my carefully prepared and elaborate notes and confined myself to these two sentences at the beginning of my speech:In my view, the case for the acceptance for the principle of rationing is proved. I think that the situation is such, and is likely to be such in the autumn and the winter, that unless there is to be a considerable measure of economy, we shall face a very bleak prospect."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th May, 1942; col. 1478, Vol. 379]The House, with a few doubters, accepted the principle of coal rationing. Since then, as the Lord President of the Council has said, the Government have changed their minds. They intend to pursue their plans for securing economies in the industrial usage of coal—good luck to them in that effort—they are continuing their preparations for the rationing of fuel, so that the scheme might come into operation at short notice, and they are relying, in the right hon. Gentleman's words, "upon the voluntary reduction of consumption through a sustained publicity campaign." I have already reminded the House that on 17th March my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade said that mere exhortations were not enough and that on 7th May he quoted that statement again and emphasised the urgency of a rationing scheme being in operation within 1101 three weeks, that is, by 1st June. During that discussion voluntary rationing was supported in certain quarters in the House. What was the Government's reply to the suggestion that there should be voluntary rationing of fuel? My right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House, in closing the Debate, used these words—and I think the House had better be reminded of them:Take, first of all, the question of voluntary action. The Government has in the past month been told over and over again that people do not want appeals but directions. I believe that to be perfectly true—that the time for appeals has gone by—but whether that be so or not there are two very real reasons why it would be impossible to rely on voluntary action. First of all, a voluntary appeal would not enable anybody to ascertain whether there had, in fact, been any reduction in consumption or not. The fact that during the summer season stocking took place makes it impossible to ascertain whether the coal is going into the backyard or into the grate and without knowledge as to whether it is going into the backyard or into the grate, unless one takes a running count of the stocks throughout the country, which would require a very large staff, it is impossible to know whether we shall meet the winter with that necessary stock in hand to enable us to get through the winter with the production we then have. We shall, in fact, be postponing the danger to the moment when the danger is upon us and it will then be too late to take action in order to try and regulate it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th May, 1942; cols. 1561–2, Vol. 379.]That was on 7th May: now it is 10th June, nearly three months since the Government made up their minds—or we thought they had—on this question, and over a month since they most passionately reaffirmed their view, with regard to rationing, by what seemed to me to be an overpowering argument. In what respect have coal production and the coal supply situation altered within the last month? What is the reason for the new confidence of the Government in the situation so that they can fall back upon voluntary rationing? What has happened to lead the Government to decide that it is not essential that this scheme should be introduced forthwith? I have great respect for my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council, but I do not think he answered that particular point. I have great admiration for his many and varied qualities, but I never knew him before as an intellectual gymnast, as he has now proved himself to be a past master.
I do not deny the importance of voluntary economy. If it can be made, it 1102 should be made, but if it was inadequate in March, I see no reason to believe it can be adequate nearly three months later unless substantial stocks have been built up in the interval—which has not been claimed. Meanwhile, the well-to-do appear to be no worse off, but the small consumer is certainly no better off, and in some respects he is in a very difficult plight. I have received a message since the Debate opened stating that in Camber-well, one of the largest Metropolitan boroughs in London, it is difficult and indeed almost impossible to get coal now. The people who are responsible for it ask what is to be the situation three months hence, in the winter, if they cannot get coal during the summer. For the failure of the organisation, if it does fail, responsibility will rest upon the Government and those people who have forced the Government to change their minds on this issue. Time will show whether the Government's White Paper will give the country the coal which it needs, and on which both industrial output and national morale so very largely depend. Many of us have the gravest doubt. We shall watch the operation of the scheme closely; we shall not hesitate if the plan is not yielding results to bring this vital question back to the Floor of the House. My hon. Friends and I believe that no effort should be spared to win the war. The miners, on whose labour so much depends, are determined to see the war through to a victorious end, and I thank my right hon. Friend for his tribute to their loyalty to the national cause. Those who do not share our views—and in this House I fear that the majority do not—must recognise that the men and women for whom I speak—and it must not be forgotten that they can be counted in millions now—are a basic factor in the national life. I ask the House and the Government to give full weight to this consideration, that what we think must be taken into account by any Government in these days. Therefore, do not let traditional and devitalising prejudices warp our judgment of affairs today. It is with a sad heart that, on behalf of my hon. Friends, I accept the Motion, but I do so with the certain knowledge that further steps will need to be taken to mobilise to the full our industrial resources for the winning of the war.
§ Major Gluckstein (Nottingham, East)
I shall endeavour with a full sense of responsibility, being the first back bencher 1103 Member to be called in this Debate, to follow your advice, Mr. Speaker, rather than the example of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), who has just delivered an unrationed speech. I want first to thank the Government for having given an undertaking not to introduce a rationing scheme for domestic fuel until the House has had an opportunity of debating the matter again. I think that decision will very largely meet the majority of hon. Members who, like myself, have strong objections to the suggested rationing plan. I address the President of the Board of Trade on this matter because, of course, he is responsible for the scheme which has been put forward. I wonder whether he realises how much the Government's failure to produce a coal policy has irritated ordinary people. The feeling which I have, and which is shared by great numbers of my constituents, arises from the fact that in their case they live literally above an enormous coalfield, and it is rather difficult to persuade them, in those circumstances, that they should not have access to the coal over which they live. Of course, the rest of the people of the country feel the same irritation which I have mentioned because coal is the one raw material which we in this country possess in superabundance and which we do not have to import. Therefore, the shock to public feeling is still being felt, and people are still unable to understand why there is a shortage of coal and why they are threatened by the Government with a rationing scheme in the coming winter months.
After all, the scheme of rationing set out in the White Paper means a very substantial cut in the ordinary person's consumption of domestic fuel. It may be as high as 33 per cent. With the climate in which we live, and having regard to the ordinary anxieties of every-day life and the difficulties of rationing generally, the public feels that this additional burden, this possibility of having to sit in darkened and cold houses ought not to be imposed upon them if it is unnecessary. Austerity for its own sake is not likely to command a very large measure of support in this country. Everybody will make all necessary sacrifices which winning the war requires, but people do nut want to make a god of austerity. There is a danger, which I hope the 1104 Government will appreciate, of a deterioration in morale if unnecessary hardship is imposed on people and if their health has to suffer as a consequence. The efficiency of the country may very well suffer if people are cold and have to live in rather miserable homes.
I want to turn for a moment to the rationing scheme itself, before I make a suggestion for improving production. The scheme set out in the White Paper is just as complicated as the former scheme was. The ordinary person will have an impossible task, I suggest, accurately to apportion and to interchange the coal ration for its equivalent value in therms and units. I do not flatter myself that I am of more than average intelligence, and I find it extremely difficult to translate my possible requirements for future months into the equivalent of therms and units of electricity starting from a basic ration of hundredweights of coal. The arguments which were advanced against this scheme in May still hold good. I will not elaborate all those arguments, but here are some of them. The scheme which was then produced, and which is now produced, really takes no account of the innumerable differences in the construction of houses, the types of stoves put into them, the sizes of the rooms, the nature and the age of the hot-water system, and a mass of other very relevant and intricate details. I know that one cannot, in making a scheme, cover every point, but it is because there are so many discrepancies and differences that the idea of rationing domestic fuel is almost impossible to achieve. And then, after all, when millions of people have been harried into completing the Government's form and have done their best to supply the details, what is to be the actual saving of fuel in this country? Less than 5 per cent. of the total production. Millions of people are to be put out of mind and given additional worries and trouble to achieve that object. It is really a case of parturiunt montes—a most ridiculous, tiny mouse emerges from labour in Whitehall.
I may be asked what I suggest in place of this scheme. Notwithstanding the rather pontifical leading article in "The Times" to-day, notwithstanding the firmly declared policy of the Government—now declared not once, but twice, or thrice—on the subject of the withdrawal of men from the Army, I shall advance the argument 1105 that the Government should reconsider that aspect of this matter. In paragraph 22 of the White Paper, it is stated that the Government have decided that it is not necessary, particularly at this stage of the war, to withdraw any further men from the Armed Forces for work in the mines. Frankly, I cannot understand why trained soldiers of the field Army in this country should not be at any rate temporarily released for work in the mines. The Germans—and after all, it is sometimes useful to learn from one's enemies-have shown us that a dual-purpose Army is a possibility. They have released men to fight at one time of the year and brought them back into industry at another time of the year. Why cannot we follow that example? It has been done, not in the Army, but in the Civil Defence services. We have combed out of Civil Defence quite a large proportion of the personnel for factory work.
It is said that we cannot afford to sacrifice 20,000 to 30,000 trained soldiers by releasing them for work in the mines. The President of the Board of Trade himself drew a gloomy picture of what he called picking the eyes out of the Army and the elimination of whole battalions of magnificent fighting material. From the administrative point of view nothing would be easier than to eliminate whole battalions, if that were the problem. It is the possibility of having to take out men from here and there in Army units which makes it a more difficult, but certainly not an insuperable, problem. The 20,000 or 30,000 men are marching down to the mines, not to their graves. We have been extremely fortunate in the field armies in the matter of casualties, and anyone who remembers the last war knows that casualties of that number could easily occur in one day's fighting. Heaven forbid that that should ever happen again, but the fact remains that we have had this absence of casualties and we should take advantage of it. There are large field forces in this country which could be used for the purpose. The men are available, if the War Office will release them.
I listened to the tribute which the Lord President of the Council paid to the War Office, but I do not know whether the President of the Board of Trade will endorse all of it. I expect he has found that once a Department gets its hooks on to a man it is very reluctant to let him 1106 go. I do not think that the War Office and the Air Ministry are in the least bit behind in refusing to release people. They have been fighting a remarkably efficient rearguard action on what I may call the ceiling policy for a considerable period of time. They have been driven from one or two forward trenches, but there is quite a substantial area of defensible ground behind. I am not advocating that men should be brought back from overseas, because that would be wasteful and unnecessary. I do not wish to give any useful information away to the enemy, but I am sure the President of the Board of Trade will agree that the number of men I have mentioned could be spared, if the War Office would release them. If the men are untrained, because they have just been called up, their loss to Army units would not be a very serious matter, and, if they are trained—and the argument seems to proceed mostly from that point of view—these men could return, if not to their units, to depots in the event of an emergency. They could very quickly be brought back from the mines, and their equipment and uniforms could be kept at some point where they would be readily available. If the worst came to the worst, and the emergency descended upon us rapidly, and the men could not be returned to their regular units, they could form an extremely useful stiffening to local Home Guard units. They would be trained young men who knew their weapons, and would be most helpful to the Home Guard.
If the Government say that they cannot release these men permanently, why not temporarily release them and replace them by men who are not equally essential and who would come from reserved occupations? If the War Office cannot and will not give up 30,000 miners, could we not obtain 30,000 Army recruits from reserved occupations and let the equivalent number of miners go back to their jobs? Some of us think that the miners ought never have been allowed to go into the Forces, because mining is just as important as fighting, and at the moment happens to be even more important if we are to keep up the morale of the country. If the Prime Minister's statement that four-fifths of the human race is on our side is accurate, I cannot believe that we shall lose this war because of the absence of 30,000 miners from the British Army. It is going to be a very close-run thing if the result of the 1107 war is to depend on that. But, I do not think that even the War Office would say that that is the position. These men ought to be returned to the mines, and if that is done the picture will be changed. We must have more production, and reorganisation will give some of it, although I am not competent to speak on the details. I hope that the right hon. gentleman the Member for Wakefield is wrong in thinking it is only an instalment, but, whatever else follows from it, I hope it will determine for the time being some of the political pressure which has been going on in and out of the mines for so long and allow the miners, the mine-owners and everyone else to concentrate on getting coal, rather than on political advantage or disadvantage.
I hope that the publicity campaign, which ought to be inaugurated by the Prime Minister, will be a very great success, but I am anxious to point out that not one single additional ton of coal will come out of the pit because of the reorganisation for some considerable time; no doubt in due course a lot of extra coal will be produced. Probably the economy proposals will produce an immediate saving, but the one way in which we can obtain increased production in the immediate future is for the Prime Minister to intervene and to tell the War Office they must release the miners who are in the Field Force to go back to the pits in a fortnight. Let those men be returned to their units after three or four months, if that is necessary, by which time the reorganisation scheme will have had a chance to work and to produce the extra coal which we hope will result. The Government will, of course, get their White Paper passed on the grounds of unity and interest and all the other reasons which they will give, but I hope they will bear in mind that coal rationing is as unpopular now as it was when it was first suggested, and is not any more palatable by being dressed up as it is in the White Paper. If they want to solve this problem they must bring more men back into the pits and in the shortest time bring back those men who ought never to have been allowed to leave the industry.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
There is no industry which seems to give rise to more acrimonious discussion in this House than the coal industry. It is 1108 probably due to the importance of coal from every aspect of life, and it may be due to the difficulties and dangers of working and the unattractive conditions which the industry presents to the workers. It may be due also to the tremendous differences between the earnings of the miners and the enormous fortunes which at one time were to be made in other industries. The coal industry always leads to disputes and discussions, and it will do so to-day. There is, however, one important matter about which there can be no difference of opinion in this House, and that is the choice of the new Minister who is to have the enormous task of looking after this question. The new Minister carries with him the good will of all Members, which is due not only to his ability and charm, but to his sincerity. He has that rare gift of inspiring confidence and trust, and I am sure he receives from all of us our best wishes in the great task he is undertaking. The situation undoubtedly is a terribly serious one. The Government has produced a policy. It is rather liable to have the reflection being cast upon it that, even with regard to coal, the Government should have had to wait during two years and nine months of war before producing a policy. As far as I can see, the only thing upon which we have a declared policy to-day is coal. Everything else is still very much as it was two years and nine months ago; with little changes here and there, the system still remains. But, at any rate, one can congratulate the Government now on stating what is their policy on coal.
At the same time, having heard the speech of the Lord President of the Council, one wonders what justification there has been for so long withholding a policy with regard to this matter. Difficulties arose in the winter of 1939–40—so much so that the Lord President of the Council was called upon specially to intervene to deal with the situation. It was a very serious one and the right hon. Gentleman was called from the War Cabinet to intervene and deal with it. It took him weeks of study and close co-operation with the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) to produce order, for the time being, out of chaos. They realised then that there had been a tremendous fall in the number of miners, between the date when war broke out and the date when these troubles arose. I do not know why there should have been this shyness in 1109 taking the House and the country into the Government's confidence and telling us plainly what was the position.
May I, as a matter of comparison only, give some figures of the position in the last war? There were over 1,200,000 men working in the mines. In 1913 the amount produced was nearly 50 per cent. more than is produced to-day. We had exceeded the enormous figure of 290,000,000 tons—that is the potential that was in the country at that time—and there was very little' mechanisation. I think no more than 18 or 19 per cent. of the coal was raised by mechanical means. Since then there has been more and more mechanisation, until to-day 50 per cent. of the coal is raised by mechanical means. The number of men working in the mines when war broke out was only 800,000 and by July of 1940 it had dropped by 60,000. They were allowed to continue to go and the Lord President of the Council justified that to-day by asking what were they to do? They could have dug out that coal then. It could have been carried out at that time before the bad winter and before the blitz began. Some of us were begging the Government at that time to take steps. Then came the winter. What was then happening? The Government found that they could not move the coal. Trucks were cluttered up at the pit head because the transport system had not been taken in hand and dealt with.
The Lord President of the Council says that about 12 months ago he himself came to the conclusion, as a Member of the War Cabinet, that rationing was absolutely essential and that steps should be taken to prepare a scheme. What advice did he tender to his colleagues, and what attention was paid at that time to the advice that was given? We know from the protests that came from both sides of the House, that during the last winter there were empty grates in various parts of the country. The Government went on without a policy, without any rationing, without any effort to increase production except to try to induce men to come back from other industries to which they had been allowed to go, to earn higher wages than they were getting and to work under much better conditions than they could obtain in the mines. The only thing the Government did was to bring these men back, to tell their fellow- 1110 miners of the better conditions that there were in the factories and the better wages they could obtain.
There was a Debate in March, 1942, and, undoubtedly, a definite policy was decided upon—that there must be rationing. Having decided upon that, they sent for Sir William Beveridge and asked him—not to deal with the coal situation, not to deal with the production side, not to deal with the scheme for distribution, not to deal with transport. They said, "The only thing we want from you is a scheme for rationing, because there has to be rationing." That scheme was produced in its first form on 13th April and in its final form on 19th April, and then the President of the Board of Trade wrote this to Sir William Beveridge. It is attached to the White Paper issued a few weeks ago on which the last Debate took place:Dear Sir William: I am much indebted to you for your Memorandum and revised outline of the scheme and for your letter of 19th April As you know, His Majesty's Government, while not of course committed to all the details of your Report, have decided to introduce as soon as possible a comprehensive scheme of fuel rationing.That letter was written on 22nd April. What has happened since then that the Government have now changed their mind? Is more coal being produced? Is there less need for coal? Is less coal being consumed since 22nd April, that they now have to issue another policy departing from the declared policy of March and the declared policy of April? Changes of policy in the old days, when men had committed themselves definitely to a policy and were overridden by some greater power, led only to one thing. The men concerned had to leave that bench and explain to the House why they had left the bench. To-day Ministers can make a declaration of policy in March and April and make a new declaration in June. The seriousness of the position is disclosed in the new White Paper. Paragraph 2 says:Owing to the expansion of war production and other war-time causes the demand for coal is still increasing.That position is not altered at all, therefore, and I should have thought it would have compelled the Government to introduce the scheme for rationing even earlier. The paragraph continues:But the output of coal is tending to decline.That is exactly the same as it was in May. 1111The present rate of production is not yielding enough coal to cover unrestricted domestic and industrial demands. It is therefore necessary that immediate steps should be taken to increase the production, and to eliminate unnecessary consumption, of coal.The facts show that the position has become worse and is likely to become worse. By postponing the rationing scheme we shall not know whether the consumption is going down or not as the summer goes along. Although an appeal is being made to lessen consumption there is also an appeal in paragraph 25 to buy more during the summer. It is important, if an impossible burden is not to be imposed on transport in the winter months, that all consumers who can do so should, within proper limits, stock coal during the summer. How is anyone to know whether that will be carefully used or has been used or is available for the winter? There will be no check whatever. As a result of that appeal consumption will go up instead of going down.
The scheme which the Government say they will now adhere to is the one published in this White Paper. Why have they not the courtesy, the decency and the frankness to tell the public and the House that this is the Beveridge scheme unchanged, except for four tiny particulars? In substance, in fact, in detail and in actual words it is the Beveridge scheme, and they pretend, at any rate their spokesmen on the B.B.C. pretended, to the public that it was something entirely fresh. Is that the way to treat the public and this House? The four little matters on which there have been slight alterations are scarcely worth mentioning. One is the time at which the coupons are to be collected, that is whether they are to be collected on the reading of the meter or when paying for the amount that has been consumed. The other points are with regard to electricity and the use of clothes coupons. The Government knew in March that it was necessary to introduce rationing and they knew then the great dangers they were running. They impressed upon Sir William Beveridge the urgency of the matter and asked him to report as early as possible. He issued his final report within a month. Then the Leader of the House said that 1st June was the last day on which the Government could introduce rationing. We are now running on to the middle of June with the promise that it may be introduced at short notice later 1112 on. It may be introduced too late. Having told the country the dangers and having made it realise that the way to be fair to everyone and to stop some grates being full and others empty is by rationing, the Government will now run the risk of having empty grates because they have not taken the steps they should have taken.
I want to deal with one other side of the question. There are production and consumption, but in between there is the distribution to the various districts. Difficulties arose in the last two winters because of lack of proper control over distribution. I warn the Government again that they have not a proper transport policy even now. They have not a real control over the railways even today. They certainly have not control over the lorries that should be working to feed the railways. The amount of coal that is being used on the railways because of the Government's lack of policy is roughly about twice what is actually necessary. The estimate used to be that the railways consumed somewhere between 13,000,000 and 14,000,000 tons a year. We do not know what is the figure now, but a fair estimate is between 19,000,000 and 20,000,000. The Government should reshape their railway policy and use the lorries in the way in which they were meant to be used, to feed the railways and to evacuate the coal. They will probably find then that the amount of coal necessary will be only 10,000,000 or 11,000,000 tons. I commend that matter strongly to the new Minister.
With regard to control, at last we shall find that the 1,900 mines with their 1,300 undertakings will be under one control. So far so good. It is also good that the regional controllers will be under a central control and will have full powers. They will have power to use the best seams and power with regard to grouping and directing where coal shall come from. I do not think that these words in paragraph 16 (e) carry out the scheme as it should be carried out:It is undesirable that the Controllers should be burdened with the details of day-to-day management of the pits. This will be left, as it is to-day, in the hands of the managers who will continue to be the servants of the owners, though subject to removal at the instance of the Controller, should he deem that course necessary.I agree that the orders of the Controller should be mandatory and that he should 1113 have the power of removal, but it is the day-to-day management that really matters, if the manager is to be the paid servant of the owners and subject only to a distant control by the Controller you are putting him in the impossible position of trying to serve two masters, and that he cannot do. There is only one interest, and that is the interest of the country. There is only one purpose, and that is winning this war. There is only one way of winning it, and that is for everything to be made subservient to that purpose. Political considerations should not stand in the way; private considerations should not stand in the way; wealth should not stand in the way; the future of the coal-owners or the coal managers or anybody else should not stand in the way. This House said as long ago as May, 1940, that they should not stand in the way. Why is it that at a time like this the Government still hesitate to take full measures. However, the fact that they have got a policy, the fact that they are taking control of the whole of the coalfields, is a step forward. I only hope that that step will be successful in getting the fuel, but if it breaks down then they will have much to answer for.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Cuthbert Headlam (Newcastle-on-Tyne, North)
The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) has, as usual, been extremely critical of the Government. He has drawn a picture of events in the coal trade and of coal working since the war which has a certain amount of justification, no doubt, but does not seem to me to serve a very useful purpose at the present time. I listened carefully to my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council, and admired the way in which he admitted that the Government had made very grave errors, to which my hon. Friend alluded, in the management of coal and its distribution since the beginning of the war, and I felt from what he said that I should be firmly justified in supporting or at least not voting against if it came to a vote, the Government's proposal for reorganising the mining industry. I look upon it as a temporary measure designed solely to meet the emergency of the war, and I think it will be only reasonable to suppose that during the period of the war, and the period which may elapse after the war when this control still exists, a settled policy with regard to the reorganisation 1114 and the future administration of the industry will be evolved by the Government and duly presented to Parliament.
I am glad that the Government have decided, if rationing be necessary, to give us another opportunity of considering their scheme, and I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomery that the scheme they are presenting to us in this White Paper is the Beveridge scheme and nothing else. Certain of us objected to it because we felt it was a scheme that was costly, complicated and unlikely to be successful, and we all felt that unless rationing was absolutely necessary it would be much better not to start upon a scheme of the kind proposed, because we thought it was more calculated to reduce the morale of the country than anything else which could have been devised. But it is unfair to suggest, as has been suggested, that any section in this House, so far as I know, representing the Conservative Party or any other party is opposed to rationing if rationing be really necessary, and the Government alone are able to tell us whether that is the case.
With regard to production, and that is the only thing that matters at the present time, it seems to me that the scheme which the Government have evolved is not in the least calculated to increase production, although I am prepared to accept the arguments in its favour that were produced by the Lord President, because he has studied the matter more closely than I have. He is presumably right in saying that it is not possible to bring back more men from the Army to the mines, but unless he does bring back more hewers of coal I do not see how he can expect a very much enlarged production. In my opinion however the most effective way to increase production is to create, if possible, a better spirit throughout the whole of the mining industry. The miners, at any rate the surface workers, have a just cause of complaint, I feel, in that their wages compare unfavourably with those of other workers.
It has always been a curious thing to me that we in this country pay lower wages to the sailors who sail the seas, to the miners who work underground, and to the agricultural workers, all who do the hardest, the most arduous and the most important national work, than to those engaged in less exacting occupations.
1115 Living in a mining area I feel that it is reasonable that a miner should resent the fact that, more especially in these days when such high wages are paid to munition workers, they should be getting so much less, comparatively speaking. I have no doubt that it is annoying for a strong, healthy man to find on his return to his home at night that his wife or daughter who has been doing far less onerous work has brought as much money as he has into the family purse. This question of wages is extremely important, and I trust that the Committee which the Government have appointed will produce some improvement in the wages of coal workers, not based, I should suggest, on a flat rate basis, but as an incentive to additional labour. As my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire said, there is only one thing that matters at the present time, and that is that we should win the war, and without more coal we shall certainly not succeed in producing as much as we ought to do in the national interest. State control is necessary for the time being. Whether we have learnt anything from the experiences of the last war I do not know, but I was very glad to hear the Lord President, when he touched very lightly on this subject, say that the State did not make what he called a very good bargain out of it in the last war.
§ Sir C. Headlam
But no honest man can say that in this war the mining industry has so far really pulled its full weight, and we want it to do so. The longer you live in a mining area and the more you are in touch with coalminers the more you realise that the real source of all the trouble is the feeling of antagonism which exists between the employers and the employed. It dates back for many generations. Half the troubles of this world as I see them to-day are due to people living in the past and not realising that things have changed tremendously since those bad old days. In the case of Ireland half the troubles which have led to the present state of things between this country and Ireland have been due to events which happened in the days of Strongbow and Oliver Cromwell.
The same thing applies to the mining industry. Because in the early days of 1116 industrial progress in this country the owners exploited their employees and because conditions in the pits were so bad, a tradition has grown up which it is most terribly difficult to get out of the minds of the men. Our object in this war should be to try to break down this feeling. The miners should not think that the interests of the owners must always be opposed to theirs. Let both sides try to realise that they are part of a great industry and that each is absolutely dependent upon the other. Let them not imagine that there must always be enmity between employer and employed. I should like to see the Government direct their attention to that matter.
§ Mr. Maxton (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
Must there always continue to be those two sets of men? I can see the desirability of having the gulf bridged, but does the hon. and gallant Member assume that there must still continue to be owners and workers? Would not the best way of filling up the gap be to abolish the distinction?
§ Sir C. Headlam
I do not see how you are ever going to abolish the distinction. Suppose the State were the owner; it would not really abolish the distinction. There would still be employer and employee. The fact that the State was the employer would not materially change the position of the men. Somebody must be in control. There must be discipline and organisation.
§ Mr. Maxton
Before the hon. and gallant Member came to this House was he not a distinguished employee of the State? Does he not think that his status was slightly better than that of the average miner?
§ Sir C. Headlam
No, Sir, I do not. I never can claim to have been a distinguished employee of the State, although the hon. Member thinks I was. I certainly was not. The point is that I was working for the State, or working for my employer. It is really only a matter of names. If conditions in the mining industry are so much better than they were in the past, if it is true, as I believe and assert, that the miners can always get their grievances redressed if they choose, working through their leaders and the proper channels, why should there be all this unrest in the coalfields? Those, not only in this House but in the industry, 1117 who are leaders of the miners, know that there is a state of indiscipline in the industry to-day, particularly among the younger men. I have seen strikes continually in my own area for the last few months. [An hon. Member: "And lock-outs."] No lock-outs, so far as I know. There have been strikes upon points relating purely to local conditions. At three pits not very far from my home there was a strike because two boys had been sent to the mine but had refused to go, and they had been sent to prison, whereupon 5,000 men came out. If that happens in a national emergency, I suggest that it is all wrong.
I should like to see the Government directing their attention to sound propaganda in the coal industry to-day. Let them explain to the men what are the needs of the national emergency, and let them say that if the men want to win the war, they must do more work and must put their backs into it. I know that the miners are united to a man, and so are the owners. They want to win the war. We are all united upon that. Therefore let us stand together. Let us realise that there is a common purpose and common endeavour which must be carried forward. I am sure, if once that spirit were aroused and the men really pulled their weight, that production would increase enormously. Nothing less than that will make production increase. Government control alone will not do it. I remember in my early election days going amongst pitmen for the first time in my life, nearly 20 years ago. I used to go round and talk to them. I was always told of the splendid days when the Government controlled the pits and how different it was now that the employers were back again. I asked what the difference was, and they would say: "We did not do so much work and we got more money." That is all right and very human. Who does not like more money for less work. But this is not the time for that sort of thing. To-day is the time for work and it is up to the Government and to us in this House to see that the men who do the work get pay worthy of the work.
Let all unite in that industry. Let the leaders of the men go to the men and tell them that the House of Commons will see to the matter. There is no division of opinion among us as to the present need for the industry being organised and 1118 managed for the benefit of the nation. Do not let us keep up this vendetta, by a continual fight between employer and employee. Do not let us suggest, as one hon. Member has done, not leaving the actual working management of the pit in the hands of a management representing the employers. There must not be dual control in work of the pit. The Controller must give the instructions: the manager must carry them out. The industry should be combined for one common purpose. If the men are ready to work and if the owners are ready to work for the benefit of the country as a whole, the Government can advance to a solution of this problem. They will have a willing audience of men in the mining areas who will listen and take heed and who will work as they have never worked before.
Mr. Henry White (Derby, North-East)
I believe it is usual for a Member who is making his initial speech in this House to ask for the indulgence of hon. Members. Those old customs remain, but I do not know that I should be called upon, or even that it would be fair of me, to ask for that indulgence. All my life I have had to face harshness from the opposite side, both in politics and in industry. We are here to discuss the White Paper. I am particularly interested in it. The main point that comes home to me is that the Government are to take over full control of all the mines and allocate all coal raised. Twice in our lifetime we have been in the unhappy position of facing a major crisis. Twice in our lifetime the Government have had to take control of the industry. That is a damning indictment which should be borne in mind at some future date.
One of the chief points in the White Paper relates to recruitment to the mines, which is a very difficult question. Those of us who like myself have sat upon production committees during the last few months—only three months ago I left the mine itself, and I know the difficulties—are aware of the difficulties which exist in relation to this question. I remember that when our people went into the Government two years ago we went around the county urging our men to work a full shift on Saturdays, where they had never worked on Saturdays before and to complete the cycle every week, whether it meant half-an-hour or an hour's extra work or not.
1119 We got our men to adapt themselves to this new system which we had not carried out before because of our trade union principles, but having done all that, we found shortly afterwards when France collapsed that men in the export industry in South Wales and in the North were idle and unable to get work, while public opinion urged that they should be sent into other industries or into other fields in the mining industry. We also found that in the Midland area there was a strong opposition to the bringing in of these men, for the simple reason that they might cause dissension and disruption and increase output. That was the feeling that existed in the minds of those opposite to us round the tables at the production committees, and that being so, it sticks in our minds that those people are not sufficiently pliable in mind to face this issue.
There is another point. It is anticipated that it will be possible to attract new entrants into the mines. How it can be done is a difficult question. You and I are not prepared to send our lads into the pit. Why? Because of the sordid scramble that has existed in our coalfields during the last 20 years. That is imprinted upon the minds of everyone connected with the coal industry, the wife and the family of the worker as well as the worker himself. Everyone acquainted with those conditions remembers the workless days of their brothers and fathers; thousands are sullied by the memory of the soul-destroying queues that we had to form to draw the dole; too many remember the miserable pittance that went into the home when the father was on compensation, and all these are things which will have to be considered by the Government when dealing with the medical and other proposals in the White Paper. I speak with some heat on this because for eight weeks before I entered this House, in fact as I entered this House, I was in receipt of compensation which amounted to 32s. 3d. a week, and that was all I had to live on—32s. 3d. per week. I know what is behind the argument that I did not work full time; but I had done my duty to the State, and to my country, in looking after the conditions of my fellow-men in the industry, and in local government work within my county.
1120 Consideration must be given to this, because not until you can change that vision of mining life will you get an easy recruitment to the pits. Many have been fetched back to the pits where they were not wanted before, and their spirit has been antagonised. Those of us who have witnessed the return to the industry, after four years, of men who had left it, know the comments that have been made, not only by those brought back but by those to whom they were brought back. They have said, "What a shame, what a pity, having got away from it, you have had to come back." The result has been that some of those who have come back have helped to spread the spirit which is causing distress, disruption and discontent in our minefields to-day. I remember a young man in my own old home who, because of the conditions which existed, went out to another job, a job to which he could have gone five years before if he had thought fit to make the choice. After being there about three months he said it was like heaven compared to what he had to deal with at the colliery which he had left. The last speaker said that discipline is the thing which is required. I want to suggest to this House that there has been too much harsh and hard discipline in the coalmines of this country. One knows what it means, and remembers quite well the spirit which operated during the last two years against those people who thought fit to have an opinion different from that of the colliery managers.
Another point mentioned in the White Paper is the question of concentration. That is a proposal which will want careful handling. I know that it is easy to suggest that it would be as well, in the interests of production and of greater output, to bring the men from a small pit or from a pit which only produces 9 cwts. per man, to the larger pits or those who can produce 24 cwts. per man. I have had a little experience of this, and I remember that last November, at the colliery where I worked, 400 men were given notice so that they could be taken out of the top hard seam at the colliery where they worked to go to another pit three or four miles away under the same company, a pit which could produce 24 cwts. per man. Almost on the doorsteps of some of those men, not two miles away, were colliery companies, with an output per man higher than the colliery to which they were being sent, which could have 1121 absorbed them. But by a gentlemen's agreement, by a letter which created some misunderstanding purposely, the men were refused work on their own doorsteps and had to travel eight miles, putting a burden on transport, to get to the pit, and not getting the amount of production that could have been obtained had they been allowed to enlist themselves at the nearby collieries.
Apart from that, the social side of this question will have to be faced, and the disturbing factor which will come into play in colliery life, if you have to superimpose other workers on the colliery villages which already have their quota of evacuees, etc., is a thing which will have to be handled with care. Therefore I imagine that the Government, in dealing with this question of concentration, will give particular care and interest to that side of the question. The other point which has been mentioned here before and which I want to stress is this: it is the old question again of the dual affinity of the colliery manager. I do hope that, after the representations that have been made by earlier speakers in the Debate, the Government will take heed and go straight out for making the colliery manager a servant of the State. Furthermore, after listening to so much about concentration in other things, it is to be regretted that the Government are going to disturb to some degree the social life of our community by concentration while ignoring, for the time being, the question of rationing.
§ Mr. Erskine-Hill (Edinburgh, North)
I cannot open the few remarks which I intend to make to-day without asking the House to join with me in congratulating the hon. Member for North-East Derby (Mr. H. White) on the most excellent speech to which we have just listened. I can assure him of this, that this House always will listen with keen interest and with respect to the man who has practical experience of any problem. I have listened with particular interest to what he had to say about the accident he had had so recently. It linked itself in my mind with what is surely one of the best parts of the White Paper, that part dealing with the rehabilitation of the miners. I think we all agree that that is something which ought to have been done a long time ago. It has the entire support of all sides in this House.
1122 I believe the Government's decision on the present coal scheme will be welcomed by the greater part of the housekeepers in this country. It seems to me to put the real problem into focus, because I have always believed that production, not rationing, was the essence of this problem, and just in the same way as, in the sphere of war, the call of the country is "Attack, attack, attack," which call has been recognised by the Prime Minister, so in this matter the cry should be "Produce, produce, produce." To succeed you have, of course, to get the greatest possible amount.
I intend to emphasise that aspect of the problem because I believe that the country likes to feel that it is depending first of all for the success of this solution of the problem on the mining industry itself, which is the centre and core of the industry of this country, and, secondly, they like depending on themselves to do something to make an economy scheme really a success. The people of this country have never before disappointed the Government when a patriotic appeal has been made to them, and if that is done in connection with this matter, I believe there will be a measure of economy which will surprise everyone. I think the moment for the campaign is now. I think it will be dangerous to delay the time of the appeal, because, for reasohs which were expressed in an earlier Debate, the sooner we can face this shortage the better. The Prime Minister himself will, I hope, launch the campaign, and from that moment you will begin to see the measure of the response in this country. I wish to say one word of warning. We must remember that there will be the natural tendency by the time winter comes upon us, and the long dark hours of night, for people to forget the impetus of this appeal. I would therefore suggest to the Government that they should not be weary of well doing but that they should start a new campaign when we are beginning to have longer black-out hours. I know that all Members on all sides of this House will do their utmost to make this campaign a success. I do not wish to prejudge that issue any more than I can help for the sake of my argument, but I do want to say that I have always thought that coupon rationing was an argument of despair, a confession of mismanagement, and that it was infinitely better to try everything that 1123 could be done to solve the problem in the way the Government are now asking the House to agree to try to solve it than that they should proceed with a coupon rationing scheme.
On the actual White Paper itself, I have already said a word about the rehabilitation of the miners. I think the appeal which is made in that White Paper holds the essence of success in the mining industry. It is true that there have been wrongs on both sides. For myself, I share an experience with miners which is somewhat different from that of the hon. Member who has just spoken. I have had the honour of fighting with a miners' battalion in France, and if I am ever in a tight corner, I would ask for nothing better than to have miners around me, because there are no people more stouthearted than the miner.
I believe that one of the chief difficulties the miner faces in his home is the fact that because of his working conditions, and the pay, he does not at the end of the week find himself in the same position as a great many workers such as munition workers who are doing less technical and less arduous work and who are producing at the end of the week, which is the main test, a greater sum than he can. I speak entirely for myself when I say that I am extremely glad that in another place the question of coal-miners' wages is being considered. I cannot see how you will get away from a sense of grievance in the miners as long as there is this wide gap between their wages and the wages of other workers. Only the other day I had the experience of going down a coalmine close to my home, and it took me one hour 35 minutes to get from the pit top to the working face. You must remember what that means in terms of the miner's life. He has to get up, find his way to the pit top and then to the face—and there were faces further from the top than the one to which I went. He has to go through all that journey before he can start his work.
§ Mr. Lawson
May I also say that up to that time the miner has not earned a penny? He gets nothing at all for all that.
§ Mr. Erskine-Hill
If my hon. Friend had waited, I was going to make a point of that. In actual amount his shift work- 1124 ing hours represent what is a very good sum, but you have to take into account all the other delays which delay miners before they start their work. I know that hon. Members opposite will agree with me when I say that this is not a question for any one party; it is a question of justice for the miner, which affects or ought to affect every Member of this House. I believe that if you make the right sort of appeal to the miners, they will do their work. I also believe that the owners are engaged patriotically in trying to do their utmost, and I think we ought to try and see that the utmost amount of trust and confidence we can get between the two should be allowed to subsist, at any rate while the war is on. I believe that you could get a new spirit which would go a very long way to ensure success for this scheme.
I wish to say a word about the possibilities of rationing in the future, and to congratulate my right hon. and gallant Friend who has gone from the Ministry of Food to the new Ministry. He comes from a good school, because food rationing, which, believe me, is a very different matter, an extremely different matter, from coal rationing, has been carried out with the utmost success by his late chief, and if rationing has to be faced, there is no one I would rather see in the position he holds than my right hon. and gallant Friend. I am extremely pleased that dual control between one Ministry and another is at an end. I can see no justification for an important question of this sort beng dealt with in a battledore-and-shuttlecock fashion as between one Ministry and the other. If there is to be a Minister of Mines—and obviously there should be—he should be in control; and, as I read the White Paper, that matter is not now in any doubt. There is another question which has an important practical bearing on the scheme. At the foot of paragraph 18—which refers to absenteeism—there is a reference to the investigation officer, who is not to be responsible for instituting proceedings in court, as this will be the responsibility of the National Service officer. Will the investigation officer be the appointee of the Minister of Mines, or of the Minister of Labour? [Interruption.] I am told that he is to be the appointee of the Minister of Mines. Although I wish well to the scheme, I see some disadvantage in there being divided control there. It 1125 is better, if possible, to have the whole thing under one Ministry.
I want to close on this note. There is an interest which is vested, and which is shared by hon. Members opposite as well as by ourselves. That is the national interest. This coal question is a matter which most vitally affects this country. It seems to me that we must all cooperate in trying to make this scheme a success. If rationing has to come, I assure the House I will do everything I can by myself to see that any rationing is absolutely fair as between the richer classes and the poorer classes. [An HON. MEMBER: "You want to look after vested interest."] I would like to emphasise that no action I have ever taken has been taken at all in the interest of one class as against the other. It is important to say that because my motives have been misconstrued in certain quarters—and most unfairly, if I may say so. The only interest that ought to count with any Member of this House, to whatever party he belongs, is the national interest. I am perfectly certain that if we can co-operate on that basis, and wear that national uniform, there is little fear for the success of this or any other scheme.
§ Mr. Foster (Wigan)
In addressing this House for the first time, I have elected to speak on this question of the production of coal. An hon. Member opposite said that the House always listened with indulgence to one who spoke from practical experience. Before coming into this House, I spent 30 years underground and had 12 years' experience as an agent and an official of the Mineworkers' Federation. During that 12 years it was my job to deal with the many difficulties and grievances that arose between the workmen and employers. Therefore, I think I can say that I am speaking with authority on this subject. The Lord President of the Council began by saying that he was not an expert on this subject. Speaking from my own experience, I believe that too many people have interfered with the mining industry who were not experts on the industry. One could give many examples. It is agreed by the House, by the country and by the Government that the present ownership and control of the mines has failed. It has failed to produce the maximum quantity of coal which we must produce if we are to have the maxi- 1126 mum war effort. The only time that Parliament or the country focuses attention on the question of coal, or of the miners' conditions, is when there is a shortage of coal, or when an explosion or some other catastrophe in the mines kills many of our men. When such a catastrophe occurs it is a nine days' wonder, and all the newspapers express sympathy for the men who have to go down into the bowels of the earth to get coal. Speaking for the miners, I say that they do not want sympathy when there are explosions: they want a proper standard and good conditions when they are living, not sympathy when they are dead.
The fact that the Government have introduced this White Paper proves that the private ownership of the mines has failed to provide the necessary efficiency, and the necessary quantity of coal. Experience teaches me that the coalowners have always been primarily concerned with making profits, or with avoiding losses. During the war they have been more concerned with avoiding losses. As a result every application that we have made for any improvement in working conditions, or in the wages of the miners, to bring them somewhat nearer to those of workers in other industries, has been the subject of a most difficult struggle, because the colliery owners—to be fair to them—have not had the money to pay. That has been due to many factors, to which at the moment I will not refer. I am not speaking with any disrespect of the coalowners. I should probably take the same line if I were a coalowner myself. They are not in the industry to produce coal, but to make profits. If a coalowner cannot make profits, he will go into some other industry where he can. The primary object of the coalowners is not production. Only a few days ago, at a meeting of the Lancashire district, I had to repeat that to the coalowners, because of their attitude on certain questions which we brought before them. Experience, again, has taught me that the coalowners are the most conservative body of employers in this country, for this reason, that they have always opposed change whenever it has been suggested that there should be some reorganisation of the industry in order to bring about greater efficiency and a higher production of coal. The only time that they have ever given way and done anything at all has either 1127 been when the Government have brought pressure to bear upon them in a crisis or when pressure has been exercised by the men from the bottom by withdrawing their labour or indulging in a strike.
The other point is that at the moment there is no good will whatever existing between the management of the collieries and the men in the pits. I make bold to say that, whatever plan or scheme Parliament may adopt, it will not be successful unless you get the co-operation of the men in the pits. Mr. Ebb Edwards, the Secretary of the Mineworkers' Federation of Great Britain, in June of last year made a broadcast which had the blessing of the then President of the Board of Trade (Sir Andrew Duncan), and there was one paragraph in the broadcast which to my mind seems to meet the situation. This is what he said:Coal is not produced in London, not even in the House of Commons. The unit of coal production, the basis of the coalmining superstructure is the pit. It is at the pit where I plead for vital organisation and the good will of all concerned. A joint responsibility rests upon the managers and the men to create at each pit a real, live, active, virile production committee. What should be their function? Every question affecting coal production, every item affecting complete pit organisation bound up with securing the maximum amount of coal being raised to the surface must be seriously considered. We want pit production committees in reality, with attention to safety. Coal, more coal and a lot more coal is the miners' contribution in this hour of the nation's crisis.That broadcast received the approbation, I think, of everyone who heard it, and the miners felt after that appeal that at last perhaps they might have something done in order to make these pit committees what they were intended to be when they were set up. On questions of management, suggestions from the workers should be welcomed, and they ought not to be dismissed as impertinent interferences with the rights of management, which very often happens. Whenever the men's representatives on these pit committees have even dared to mention any matter in connection with management they have been told, "That is no concern of yours. We are the managers."
§ Mr. Foster
That is true in every district. The result is that the men representing the miners on these committees 1128 become entirely fed up in trying to work with these people, for the simple reason that the manager is in the position of being between the devil and the deep blue sea. He is answerable to his board of directors for the costs of production, and it is in the endeavour to reduce costs of production that all the troubles arise in the mines. Whatever comparison anybody may make in comparing the mining industry with other industries, there is no real comparison that can be made between the mining industry and any other industry. The mining industry is a hand-to-mouth industry where the men are hewing coal from the bowels of the earth and are in danger for the whole of their working time, and in darkness, apart from artificial light. A greater individual initiative and improvisation is required in getting coal than is required in any other industry. It is not like going into a workshop where the machine is standing. You can lock up the workshop at night, and it is only a question of feeding that machine or putting in another machine. Conditions in the pit change from hour to hour, from day to day and week to week. You can have an output of 1,000 tons one day, and the following day that thousand tons can disappear because of the natural geological conditions causing the whole of the face to be lost in an hour's time. Therefore, you cannot compare other industries with the mining industry. The management should welcome suggestions that are made from the men who work at the coal face, and who understand and have worked in these conditions all their lives.
The colliery manager has to cut down the costs of production—a most difficult job for a colliery manager because his costs of production are at their highest when his production is at the lowest. It is when production is at the lowest that he requires more money to spend in order to maintain his roadways, to clear his face and to get conditions to enable him to bring out coal later on. He is answerable to his directors who sit in their board room and who have decimal minds and can only read balance sheets and profit and loss accounts and know nothing of the actual working conditions of the mine. The manager, who is a practical man, is torn between two loyalties. One is his duty to the people who employ him and the other his duty to the men who are under him. There is many a colliery 1129 manager who has to do things at the bidding of the board of directors which he would never dream of doing if he was free from the dead hand of the people who sit in these board rooms.
In June, 1941, the Minister of Labour applied to the industry the Essential Work (Coalmining Industry) Order, which had for its object the increased production of coal and the retention of the men in the mines. I want to deal with three headings in the White Paper—the latter part of paragraph 16 (e) and paragraphs 17 and 18. Paragraph 16 (e) deals with the position of the manager. I have attempted to explain to the House what this man's position is and I hope that the Government will take into consideration the plea that has been made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) to try and see to it that the manager is freed from the dual responsibility and duties he has to perform in trying to be loyal to the board of directors and to the Regional Board of Control which is to be set up. Paragraph 17 deals with the question of pit production committees. These were set up at the mines under the Essential Work Order. Those who were responsible for drafting the Essential Work Order as applied to the mining industry did not understand the mining industry, or, if they did, then, they committed a crime against the industry. The provisions embodied in the Essential Work Order have created more trouble at the collieries than anything else of which I know over a large number of years.
I will now deal with one part of the Essential Work Order, namely, the pit committees. These pit committees were intended to try and increase production. What actually happened? Representatives of the men were appointed to these committees, but they found them to be nothing more or less than disciplinary committees dealing only with absenteeism. Now, the White Paper suggests that absenteeism should be taken out of the control of the pit production committees, and I want to ask the Government to consider amending the Essential Work Order so as to give powers to the men's representatives on these pit committees in order that they can have some voice in the control and management of the pits. The organisation set up under the White Paper stops at the manager, and because it stops there it will fail unless something 1130 is done. It cannot succeed unless you get the support and co-operation of the men. [Interruption.] I am reminded that this is my maiden speech and is too long. Well, I have always said that my difficulty is to get going but that when I have got going the difficulty is to stop. Under the Essential Work. Order—and this is being continued in another form under the White Paper—a National Service officer could institute proceedings against a workman for absenteeism if the matter had been investigated by a production committee. The point I want to make is this: In paragraph 18 of the White Paper it is suggested that investigation officers should be appointed, and that if they are not satisfied with the explanation of the workman they can recommend to the National Service officer that there should be a prosecution. I would not mind that providing you also gave these investigation officers the right to recommend prosecution of a management for loss of output, when it was a management's fault.
Let me give some figures which were given to me in answer to a Question which I put in the House for the specific purpose of trying to obtain this information. From June of last year to the end of March this year £1,200,000 was paid for the levy put on coal to meet the guaranteed wage under the Essential Work Order, and £645,000 of that had been paid out to make up the guaranteed wage. The guaranteed wage is paid only when a workman is available for work, and that £645,000 represents, in round figures, about 750,000 shifts. No records have been kept of why these shifts have been lost. Workmen are not responsible for these shifts being lost, yet no action has been taken against employers for loss of output. If there is absenteeism by the workers, they are prosecuted in the courts. The Government should make it possible for the employer to be brought to book if he is responsible for loss of output. There should be some investigation into the loss of these shifts. I am not blaming the late Secretary for Mines, because I know it was a very difficult matter, but a record should be kept of why these shifts and output have been lost, and whoever is responsible ought to be made to answer.
In conclusion, whatever may be done as a result of the White Paper, the sugges- 1131 tions contained in it about absenteeism and pit committees will still leave the Essential Work Order applying to the industry. Whatever is done by the White Paper will not alter that position, or alter the relationship between the management and the workmen and the management and the employers. Therefore, I suggest to the Government that they amend the Essential Work Order and make it less contentious, and give to the workmen some voice in the management and control, so that the colliery managers will not be able to rule our men out when they make suggestions for improving output. I suggest also that the Order should be amended so as to give the men a guaranteed wage, not on a weekly basis, but on a daily basis if there is no work for them on any particular day. I assure the Government that hundreds of shifts are lost because of that part of the Essential Work Order. The provision means that the workmen must put in every available hour in the week on the basis of six shifts before they can qualify for any part of the guaranteed wage. It is impossible for that provision to be carried out, and the Order should be amended to give a guaranteed daily wage. I hope the Ministers concerned and the Government will take notice of what I have said concerning the Essential Work Order and the other points I have made. I am sure that if the miners are given fair play, given a square deal, paid proper wages, and given good conditions comparable with those of the workers in other industries, it will be found that the miners will be at least as patriotic as any other body of workers, and give the country the maximum quantity of coal.
§ Mrs Tate (Frome)
I am very glad it falls to me to be the first to congratulate the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Foster), who has just made a very well informed and able speech. I am sure that all hon. Members listen with respect and often with envy to those who have so intimate a knowledge of any industry, and I hope the House will often have the advantage of the hon. Member's advice.
I was very much shocked to hear the hon. and gallant Member for North Newcastle (Sir C. Headlam) say that we had to face the fact that the mining industry has not pulled its full weight in this war 1132 It is very shocking that it should go out from the House that the mining industry has not pulled its weight. One may say that a section of the mining industry has not pulled its weight—one can take a section of any industry in the country, and that may be true, for there are always some who more than pull their weight and some who pull less than their weight-but for it to be said that the mining industry has not pulled its weight is grossly unfair and contrary to the experience to those who have the privilege of having some knowledge of that industry. Unhappily, I have no knowledge comparable with that of the hon. Member for Wigan, but I represent a constituency in which there is a large mining interest, and I can only say that I consider as very remarkable the contribution in all spheres of the national effort which the miners have made in full measure whenever they have been called upon to do so. For instance, when it was a question of taking evacuees into the mining villages, they turned to as one man to take in evacuees and do everything they could. When it has been a question of organising war weapons weeks, it has always been done with magnificent results. It is small wonder that the miner has got thoroughly sick of this perpetual talk about absenteeism. It is true that there has been absenteeism in the mining industry, but it has been among a section of the industry, and it has been advertised out of all proportion to the absenteeism existing in other industries, naturally to the great discouragement and disgust of the miners. Both the owners and the Mines Department are, in my opinion, equally to blame for that picture having been so much impressed on the public mind.
Personally, I welcome whole-heartedly the Government's White Paper. I consider it to be a thoroughly practical and constructive effort to increase coal production. I do not agree with those hon. Members who say that they can see nothing in it that will increase coal production. I see an enormous amount in it. To take the question of concentration alone, I believe that if the scheme is properly worked in the proper hands, one may by concentration alone—I agree with one hon. Member opposite who said that concentration needs very careful handling—get hundreds of thousands of tons of extra coal a year. However, I urge upon 1133 the Government that there should be not only urgent and clever propaganda to the public on the necessity of saving fuel of all sorts, but that it should start with economy in Government Departments and Government-controlled enterprises. There is nothing that so discourages the general public from making effective economies as seeing waste in Government Departments. People notice this waste and say, "What is the good of asking us to economise in some niggling little way when the Government are wasting in every direction?" I will give the House a small instance of the waste of electricity in a Government Department in the very recent past. There is a Government Department which had considerable trouble about making an effective black-out, and a Treasury Minute was sent round saying that the black-out curtains would be drawn in every room punctually at six o'clock in the evening. That was reasonable at the time, when the black-out time happened to be at 6.30. Believe it or not, in that Government Department, which comprises an enormous number of rooms, those black-out curtains were drawn at six o'clock every evening and the entire Department worked under electric light until about a fortnight ago. I do not wish to advertise the Department, but I will give the name to the Minister. I need scarcely say that it was a woman who had it stopped.
§ Mrs. Tate
No, I will not, but I will give the Minister full particulars. I do not think any amount of propaganda and of begging the public to economise will be of any use while that sort of thing is going on. I think that the choice of Minister is extremely fortunate, and I congratulate my right hon. and gallant Friend. I am very glad he is to fill this position. I imagine that under the new scheme of concentration, if there is real concentration and the closing down of pits which are uneconomic, there will be a tremendous release of machinery from those pits. I imagine that will follow naturally. With regard to rationing, I believe the whole House has been given confidence by the Minister's statement that no rationing scheme will be imposed until the House has had an opportunity of examining and improving it. I hope that if the new arrangements are put into effective working at an early date and 1134 economies are practised by the whole country, no rationing will be necessary. I cannot say that I have any confidence whatever in the Beveridge scheme, because I think it would be too costly and too intricate to work, but I think it a little inconsistent for the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) first of all to chastise the Government with his tongue for not having introduced rationing at an earlier date and then to say how abominable the rationing scheme in the White Paper is because it is nothing more than the Beveridge scheme.
§ Mr. Clement Davies
What I complained about was that although the two schemes are exactly the same, the Government have not the courtesy to acknowledge that, but pretend that the present scheme is something different from the Beveridge scheme.
§ Mrs. Tate
I apologise if I misunderstood the hon. and learned Member. The two schemes are practically indistinguishable. As I promised to detain the House for no more than six minutes and that time is up, I must give way to some other hon. Member, but I feel it is a very great joy for once to be able whole-heartedly to congratulate the Government.
§ Mr. A. G. Walkden (Bristol, South)
Many of the mine workers in my constituency have asked me to say a few words concerning this very important matter. To begin with, like the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) I wish to congratulate the new Minister on his appointment. I do so not as one Liberal to another, but as man to man, I like the right hon. and gallant Gentleman as a man, and I am sure we all admire the very good work he has done at the Ministry of Food. As Minister of Fuel he is taking on something that is very much more responsible than looking after the food arrangements. I hope he has a very full sense of responsibility, if he will allow me to say so, and I hope also that he has stripped his mind and memory of his Liberal traditions in this matter.
My earliest memory of the coal question being dealt with in the House goes back to 1912, when the great Mr. Asquith, afterwards Lord Oxford, was Prime Minister, and the President of the 1135 Mineworkers Federation was pleading for a guaranteed minimum wage of 5s. a day. Mr. Asquith declined. They were talking about that for six weeks on end. Compliments have been paid, quite rightly, to my hon. Friends on these Benches for their knowledge of the industry, but at the time to which I am referring, very little notice was taken of Enoch Edwards, the Miners' President, who pleaded for a minimum wage of 5s. a day. That was under a Liberal Government in a Liberal House of Commons. I hope that nothing like that will ever happen again. My right hon. and gallant Friend's very distinguished father handled the coal question of 1921, but he neglected to use the great opinion and finding of Lord Sankey who, with a Royal Commission, had surveyed the coal industry and given a very clear indication of what ought to be done with it. I am not altogether blaming the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's father, because at that time the House was packed with a great number of devotees of Mammon, who had been given an atrocious coupon to get them into the House in the snap Election in 1918.
I hope the new Minister will start entirely de novo, and that he will accept whatever proposals may be made for improving the Government's scheme. One of the best features of the scheme is the provision and possibility for improvement. My right hon. and gallant Friend's father did give the mineworkers something which they had never had before. He gave them a National Wages Board which was greatly appreciated at that time. A great struggle took place to retain it in 1926. The owners wantonly smashed it up, and the greatest industrial struggle of our time took place. Pitiful pleas have been made for a new start and a new spirit, but, if there is to be that new start and a new spirit, they must be reciprocal. If there is to be a clean slate, let both sides be clean, and I hope that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will start in that spirit and require everyone to come up to the necessities of the times.
I must say that I felt badly humiliated when after the very vigorous and brilliant Debate which took place on the rationing scheme and in which the President of the Board of Trade and the Lord Privy Seal answered all objections to rationing, the scheme was suspended. That scheme, which was elaborated by Sir William 1136 Beveridge under great pressure—and many of the greatest productions of the human mind have been made under pressure—met with a good deal of criticism and abuse, but the House was convinced that it was necessary, and the country accepted it. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Immediately after that Debate the newspapers were in favour of the scheme. They had been convinced, but a very sinister change took place over the weekend. Hon. Members may smile, but we know what was going on, and it is that sort of thing with which we want to be finished. We had convinced our womenfolk, although they did not like the rationing idea, that if they were to have fuel during the winter, we must have rationing so that too much of the coal would not be consumed in the mansions of the blessed. [Interruption.] Hon. Members said they wanted provision made for very large rooms, and I told them to go into their small rooms and be thankful. We had convinced our womenfolk in our divisions that rationing was in their interest, and they accepted it, but suddenly it was thrown over. That was rather humiliating for this House. We were very sorry about it, but I' am grateful in one sense, because it has brought out this scheme of control, and this will bring the beginning of a new era in the mining industry, if both sides work it as they should. The scheme is certainly not so good as it might we, and is not so good as the Coal Bill would have been had there been no war, and an Election had normally taken place in 1939–40. Had that Election taken place, this would have been a different House of Commons. I see there is an Amendment on the Order Paper for dealing with a lot of dead wood, but had we had that Election, we should have seen the clearing out of a lot of dead wood from this House itself. I implore hon. Members on the other side of the House to view things in that light, and to accept the fact that this House is not thoroughly representative of the public opinion of to-day. We are here under an arrangement which we have made ourselves to carry on for the duration of the war and we ought to carry on in the spirit of doing the utmost the public want and giving them full satisfaction.
The White Paper provides for Ministerial responsibility for production and distribution, also for the price we have to pay for coal. Production has been de- 1137 plorably faulty, and distribution has been worse. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman, when he comes to handle distribution, will find it even worse than production—the number of people who are concerned, the feeble way they carry on business with the result that, in many cases, because their credit is bad, have an overdraft—all those weaknesses of small tradespeople. The number of railway wagons is inadequate and has always been inadequate. The railways have never provided sufficient trucks, and the colliery companies, the coal merchantsand retailers have had to provide their own wagons. Half the wagons are privately owned and half belong to the railways, which is an entirely wrong state of affairs.
§ Mr. Wootton-Davies (Heywood and Radcliffe)
Will the hon. Member say why the coalowners and colliery companies provide their own wagons?
§ Mr. Walkden
They provide their own wagons because they can never be sure of getting enough from the railway companies. I speak as a railwayman, and I know that from my own knowledge.
§ Mr. Wootton-Davies
I will tell the hon. Member why they provide the wagons. It is because it is cheaper to do that than to hire wagons from the railway companies.
§ Mr. Walkden
If they are privately-owned wagons, it is private ownership and a hugger mugger of a mess. The price of coal keeps going up. I gather that the pit-head price of coal is only about 23s, a ton, whereas I have to pay 63s. per ton. I know that the railway companies do not get the money, and I know the men who put the coal into the bags do not get the money, and that the fellow who carts it and dumps it in my back yard does not get the money.
§ Mr. Walkden
My information is that it is nearer 23s., but, if it is 30s., where does the difference go? I do not wish to detain the House very much longer, but I have been asked to say, on behalf of my friends in the mining industry at Bristol, that we welcome the restoration of 1138 the Wages Board. From my own knowledge of the working of that type of machinery in the case of the railways, I can say that it has been a wonderful blessing to us. The terrible bitterness between management and men which exists in the mining industry does not happen now in the railway world. Railway directors used to stand up in this House and abuse the trade unions. Sir Frederick Banbury, Lord Claud Hamilton and others always took a reactionary view, but after the strike in 1911 we had a Royal Commission, and out of that came the National Wages Board and supplementary arrangements. Every process on the railways is the subject of discussion, and every shilling paid is on a trade union rate. There are no black-leg rates whatsoever. Better still, there are no appointments made on the managering side to which exception takes place. I do not say that they dare not make appointments which may cause umbrage, but they do not do it because this new machinery, fixing standard wages, hours, conditions, holidays, embraces everything recommended in the Whitley Council machinery, and all of that is in operation in the case of the railways with very beneficial results. Therefore I hope it will be accepted and not smashed up again as it was in 1926. I hope there will be no power on either side to do that, but that this will be permanent machinery and that we shall at last have a new era dawn upon this great industry on which the whole country depends,
§ Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)
I was very glad indeed that the hon. Member reminded the House of what had been done in the railway world. The work done by both sides has been of very great value to the country as a whole. I should also like to take the opportunity of congratulating both the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Foster) and the hon. Member for North East Derby (Mr. H. White) on two very interesting and instructive maiden speeches. I have always listened to mining Members from the point of view that I regard the House of Commons as a place where Members come in with different views and different upbringings and that it is my duty, having little or no knowledge of my own of this industry, to extract it from those who have a great depth of knowledge, as obviously did the two hon. Members I have mentioned, and 1139 to try and assimilate it in my work here as a Member of the national House of Commons. I have received enormous help from that point of view from Members representing mining localities, and I should like to thank them and my two hon. Friends for the help that they have given me to understand what is, after all, a very great national interest.
I claim that, in dealing with rationing, before inflicting it on the country as a whole one has to be satisfied first of all that the fullest possible amount is being got out of the industry and, secondly, that rationing is necessary. I think it is admitted on all hands that to-day, from one cause or another—there is no need to go into the causes—the fullest possible amount is not being got out of the industry. I do not view the White Paper with very great love, but I realise that something has to be done to reorganise the indsutry, and I accept the White Paper very much more fully because I realise that we have, in the right hon. and gallant Gentleman who is to administer it, a man who has a very great sense of fairness and very great capacity and ability as Well. You want someone with a sense of justice and fairness to administer an industry rather than one who is too much of an expert. We are setting up national machinery. As on other occasions when we have set up national machinery, we shall make lots of appointments. I suppose if you put in enough people you will get one or two good ones. I see that the Government have been careful enough to get in even the word "planning," and that will help a lot of people. There is one point in the Paper about which I am somewhat confused in my own mind. In the Annex, sub-section (3), am I right in thinking that it is paragraph 15 that is referred to and not paragraph 16? I think there may be a misprint there. The whole basis of this reorganisation of the industry will have to be accepted and we accept it as the best possible means of carrying on the war.
I notice that some pressure is being put on the Government to introduce rationing at once. Some people are allowed to put pressure on the Government. The party to which I belong did not wake up to the fact that other people had strong opinions and were pressing them, and now some 1140 of us are beginning to wonder whether we might not have our opinions. In the first place, I will deal with the very thorny question of free coal for miners. I was asked a question by a constituent a few days ago. I do not suppose for a moment that I gave the right answer, but I gave the answer which I thought right. I referred to the phrase about "muzzling the ox," and I thought that if you were asking the miner to undertake this work, it was only fair that he and his family should be certain of having a reasonable amount of the fuel that he produced. I wish the same rule applied to those engaged in agriculture, then they would not be nearly so badly off as they are in agricultural districts to-day as compared with the towns. But that is irrelevant.
Looking at it from the point of view of asking for reduced consumption, are we certain that there are not tremendous economies that could well be made? I listen to my friends engaged in industry, and they all tell me the same story. There are places where less fuel could be used. What about the Government Departments? What about the House of Commons itself? What about the most extravagant use of fuel that I ever see anywhere, and that is in the Service Departments? I know of soldiers who are billeted who can always get tons of coal, and who were quite warm all last winter. That is in the big mansions to which coal is going at present. I think it is essential that the Government should be first to set their house in order and to-economise wherever they possibly can, and the Service Departments should take a very full part in that. It would shock the House if I recalled the phrases that I heard when I was talking to an ex-miner in my division last winter and he was explaining what he thought of the quality of the coal that was sent to that area. It would never have been burned by a miner. It was difficult for anyone to make it burn. If the Government are giving a lower amount of coal to the South of England, at least they should see that a reasonable quality of coal is distributed. It is not fair that in a certain area there should be sent 500 tons, or whatever the amount may be, of coal which is absolutely useless and will not burn in any grate. That is the one appeal I would make on behalf of those districts which are furthest away from the coal pits.
1141 I do not like rationing, but I will accept it on the condition that the Government first of all put their own house in order. There are many people who have already tried to economise in coal over the last two winters. The local committees are often working well, but there are still people who are not pulling their full weight and attempting to ration themselves. There comes a time when there will have to be compulsion, because it is not fair that people should ration themselves and do their best to economise while others stand aside. If the Government say that rationing is necessary it will have to come, but I say strongly that in the meantime it is for the Government to play a much fuller part in economising in the use of coal than they have shown any inclination to do.
§ Sir Richard Acland (Barnstaple)
I am sorry to strike a discordant note in the fundamental harmony that seems to rule in the House to-day, but I think I voice the opinion of large numbers of people in expressing the view that this scheme is all wrong, that it is fundamentally wrong and that it will not work. I believe with absolute conviction that you can rely upon the miners not only for good will but for immense enthusiasm and sacrifice to produce coal for the community, particularly in our present hour of need. I do not think you will ever get that good will in association with the private ownership of the coalmines. If we had more time we could discuss blame, but I throw out the general suggestion that under the system of private ownership if in any industry relations are good between employees and owners, the owners are entitled to the credit, and if they are bad the owners are to blame; because the owners are the originators of policy and the reactions of the men merely reflect the attitude of the owners. It is just playing with this problem to pretend that after more than a century of conflict, of exploitation in different periods, of miners being thrown on to the scrap-heap when they are not wanted, and so on, you will ever get harmony in the industry as long as it is fought over by the two parties in it.
Speaking for the ordinary people of this country, I say we are not satisfied much longer to allow the production of coal to emerge as a by-product, so to speak, of a cat-and-dog fight between these two parties to the industry. Facing that, it 1142 becomes necessary to ask ourselves which of these two parties in the industry is essential to the production of coal and which of them is not. If by some disaster all the coalminers died to-night we would lose this war in three months. If all the coalowners died intestate and without heirs to-night the production of coal would not be interrupted for so much as a fraction of a second. Therefore, let us face the fact that the coalminers are essential to this industry and that the coalowners are not. There are lots of other people who are essential to our war effort as well as the coalminers, as the miners will be the first to admit, but I claim to have established my point that the coalowners are not. I am certain that on any long-term view we have to face the fact as a community that the private ownership of this industry cannot continue. It would have been an enormous gain to morale if we had shown the coalminers that that was to be the fact, instead of showing them, as the Government are showing them, that the 1922 Committee is the final voice in this matter and that the coal industry is not to come under common ownership except after we have got a different House of Commons.
Coming to more short-term issues, I would like to quote two sentences from the "Economist" of 18th April:If, in each district, the Coal Supplies Officer were given full executive powers and instructed to regard the labour force, the collieries, the managers, the equipment, the transport and the supplies of the whole district as being pooled and at his disposal, to be used for the sole purpose of raising production to the maximum, it is almost certain that an increased output would be obtained.The Government say that that is their policy, but take this next sentence:Before this could be done, it would, of course, be necessary to remove the connection between any one owner's income and the output of his colliery…so that it would become a matter of indifference to each owner whether or not his mine was prejudiced in the interests of the whole district.Will anybody deny that that is so? I do not believe that the Lord President of the Council really believes that the coal Controllers are going to control the mines without any owner having the right to intervene. In the first place, the Controllers' agents on the spot are actually to be appointed by the owners. Is it expected that the owners will appoint men who are likely to control them? Surely not.
§ Sir R. Acland
I may be wrong, but as I read it these single persons who are to control the owners are to be nominated by the owners.
§ Six R. Acland
I thought that the Lord President of the Council told us that a single man was to receive the instructions of the Controller, that his word was to go in the mine in all the detailed workings, of the mine, and that there was to be no interference with his decision in the interests of ownership.
§ Sir J. Anderson
The Controller is to be the sole source, subject to the Minister, of ultimate authority in regard to the operational working of the pits, and there is to be one man in respect of each colliery undertaking to whom the Controller's directions which are to be operated in the pits are to be given.
§ Sir J. Anderson
Not appointed, designated. The owners will select it may be a manager or an agent or somebody else and he will be the appropriate person to give orders to the subordinates in the pits. That one person—there will be no blurring of responsibility, as the White Paper points out—will receive the orders of the Controller, will have constant access to the Controller, and will be the person to whom the Controller will send instructions in order that his views may prevail.
§ Sir R. Acland
Then I understood the matter perfectly. The owners are to select a man who has always been a member of their staff and who, if the expectations of the 1922 Committee are fulfilled, will hope to become once again the servant of those owners after the war. That is the man through whom control is to flow from the Controller to the colliery. Will he ride rough-shod over the financial interests of 1144 the owners? I am sorry, but I do not believe it. It is just Alice in Wonderland. It is said in paragraph 9 that the concentration of available men and machinery on the more productive pits and seams is one of the points on which we rely for increased production. Does that really mean that the controller is to be able to take men from pit A on Monday and put them into pit B on Tuesday without anybody raising the question "How much am I to be compensated if I allow these men to go?" The White Paper says that the financial structure of the industry is not to be interfered with. I will congratulate the Minister of Fuel and Power if it turns out that he can concentrate production in these circumstances, but frankly I do not believe it. Then they are to extend mechanisation. In view of the fact that the White Paper does not mention this question of compensation for detriment to the interests of the owners in the event of concentration, it seems to me hardly extraordinary that the question of paying for mechanisation has not been mentioned; because if it is to be paid for by the Government all colliery owners will scramble for it even when it is not justifiable, and if it is to be paid for by the colliery owners every colliery owner will resist it. Then there is a reference to arranging for the grouping of pits. After all the history of this industry do we attach much importance to that? For 20 years we have been trying to get the pits to group themselves. Further, all collieries are to have available to them the most competent mining engineers. Is an owner going to allow his' competent engineer to advise somebody else, or will he himself be willing to act upon the advice of somebody else's competent engineer? The advice given may be to stop working at pit faces where production is pretty low and to start working at pit faces which he would rather keep until after the war. Here is an amazing omission from this scheme. Who is the man whose job it will be to convey to the Controller the information which he ought to have in order that he may base his orders upon it? If those who are to pass information to the Controller are to be appointed by the owners it is difficult to see how the Controller is to get from the pits the information which he ought to have in order to act.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
Are not the pit production committee there to send it through to the Controller if the manager stands in the way?
§ Sir R. Acland
I am coming to that point. I should like to know how the Controller is to get such information as that at a certain wording face the men are working up to their waists in water and producing at an extraordinarily low rate, as would naturally happen, when in the same pit there is a perfectly dry face where they could unquestionably produce far more per shift. Does the House want me to give, as I am prepared to give, the name of the pit and the names of the coal faces where, as I am told by men who appear to me to be the most bona fide men I have ever met, these conditions prevail at this moment? The miners there are being told to go and work in water when in the same pit there is a bone dry coal face at which they could work.
§ Sir R. Acland
I may have exaggerated in saying they were working up to the waist, and I am sorry. I should have said that they were working in waist-high boots because of the quantities of water. I am sorry to have made that mistake. If the House wants it, I will certainly give the name of the pit where the men are working in water when there is there a perfectly dry seam on which they could work. [Interruption.] It is the Bedwas Colliery, and the wet face is R.37 and the dry one is R.35. I understand from the miners there that if this is denied they will be perfectly prepared, if the owners give permission, to take any group of Members of Parliament down the pit to show them the places.
Then again, do we mean business with these production committees, because it is no use saying there is a production committee if it is a case only of a certain number of men meeting and being described as a production committee? Steps should be taken to make them effective. There ought to be a specific set of rules as to who shall be on the committee. I suggest that as a rule the pit manager should be the chairman, because he is, I believe, the only man on the side of the management in whom the men could have confidence. It is when an agent for the 1146 owners comes "barging in" and taking the chair that there is trouble. There ought to be rules as to how the agenda should be prepared, what subjects shall be reised and how often the committee shall meet. I would suggest that the minutes of these pit production committees should be kept by an impartial person, because I have heard of disputes in which the members were divided, five against five, as to what should be put into the minutes, and, further, these minutes ought to be regularly forwarded to the district controller. That is one of the ways in which he could receive regular information on subjects which he should investigate. Unless you have a detailed set of rules on these and other similar points, and unless people go round to find out whether the rules drawn up are being enforced, the committees will be mere smoke screens.
I do not believe there is a solution to this problem within the framework of the private ownership of this industry. I hope the Government will put some guts into this matter, and that we shall more and more see the claims of private owners ridden over. When we find that production committees are being blanketed by owners, hopeless seams are being worked and good seams being kept, I hope we shall see the owners turned out, without a pennyworth of compensation, and told to apply at the end of the war if they want anything. I hope we shall see all that, but I do not believe it. I believe that these proposals are more or less a smoke-screen to kid people that something very substantial is happening and as an excuse for hotting up measures taken against absentees.
§ Mr. Craik Henderson (Leeds, North-East)
We have listened to a speech delivered, so far as I can judge, with more vehemence than knowledge. Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I make no claim to speak with knowledge of this subject, and I will not attempt to follow him in the many irrelevancies in which he has indulged. Two or three Members on the other side have said that the White Paper has to be given every chance of proving itself. Many of us have doubts whether the Scheme proposed is the most effective way of dealing with this matter, and hon. Members who have spoken from the other side have expressed the same doubts. Greater production of coal depends upon good will in the industry and not upon 1147 the number of officials appointed or upon large numbers of people trying to deal with it in Whitehall. There are several practical suggestions which will help the position, although they may not do it immediately. I hope the proposals in paragraphs 4 and 5 will produce good results, namely, coalmining to be added to the list of priority industries which may be chosen in preference to military service, and steps to improve the conditions for the recruitment of juveniles. These conditions will, I hope, ultimately lead to good results. It may take some time for that to be achieved.
The other practical suggestion, to which I am sorry to say no further reference has been made, concerns mechanisation. I shall not attempt to say where the fault is, but I believe that greater output would be obtained if there were greater mechanisation of the industry. I know a little about what can be done and what has been suggested, and I hope that the Government will follow up this matter with great energy, because it gives hope for greater production. I wish the White Paper dealt with this matter a little more fully, but it does not condescend to details. The man at the coal face produces the coal, which is not done by having an enormous number of committees. One agrees that a certain amount of that blessed word "planning" might be useful, but when one looks at this scheme one is afraid of congestion instead of progress. On page 5 it appears that the Minister will be assisted by a Controller-General, who in turn will be assisted by a Production Director, a Labour Director, a Services Director and a Finance Director. Then the National Board will consist of the Controller-General, Vice-Chairman of the Regional Coal Boards, a number of pit managers, persons representing coal distribution and persons representing coal consumers. On page 6 you find that in each producing region there will be a Controller who will have the assistance of three directors and in each region there will be regional coal boards and so on.
There seem to be so many committees that there is very great danger that, instead of direct instructions passing from the head quickly, there will be a loss of efficiency because of these various committees. I hope that will not be the case.
1148 I am doubtful whether it is wise to think you can substitute a cackle of civil servants or experts, or quasi-experts, or near or far experts, for a gang of workmen. The people in the mines are the ones to get the coal, and onlythrough management and coalminers working together can you get coal production. The setting up of an enormous number of committees will not necessarily achieve that purpose.
The description of the committees being set up is rather startling. I find on page 6 these words:The Board will be responsible to the Minister, who when exercising the powers conferred on him by Statute and Defence Regulations will take into consideration the recommendations of the Board.These people may devote as much time as they like and carry out a good deal of investigation, but the Minister has only to take their conclusions into consideration— I wonder why Ministers never "consider" but always "take into consideration." When these Boards get down to investigation of the problem I hope they will receive proper consideration from the Minister. I hope that the new Minister will consider very carefully everything that may help the industry, and knowing the Minister I am sure he will. I am a little puzzled to find on page 6, paragraph 16 (d) that the Controller and his Directors will be responsible for ensuring that competent technical advice is available to all colliery managements within the region. What exactly does that mean? Does it mean that some lecturer is to attempt to tell the men in an industry in which they have been engaged for years how to carry on their own business? I distrust outside advice from people who do not understand. An hon. Member on the other side said that the industry had suffered from being misguided by nonexperts. I do not know to what he was referring, but I hope that we are not to have academic technical experts without particular knowledge of the industry giving instruction, as this might do more harm than good.
These are some very general remarks about the production side of this question. Now I would like to say a word or two about fuel rationing. There is a feeling among some people that rationing is approached from the political point of view. It is not so where I am concerned. From the first moment I came to this House I pressed for rationing of clothing and food, 1149 but when you turn to fuel you are dealing with an entirely different proposition. It is something that is under our own ground, not requiring shipping space, something of which a deficiency would affect morale to a greater extent than anything else. Many of us will remember what happened at the end of the last war. when the great influenza epidemic occurred, in which greater casualties were suffered than had been suffered because of the war. I venture to say that if there is a deficiency of heat in the homes of this country, what might be a very mild epidemic—
§ Mr. Buchanan
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in the last Debate which took place the President of the Board of Trade said that if the poor people were to get coal for the heating of which he is now speaking, rationing must be introduced?
§ Mr. Henderson
I will accept what my hon. Friend says, but my point is, with the greatest respect, that I am not satisfied—and a great many people in this House are not satisfied—that all possible steps are being taken to give us the coal. For example, there is a great deal to be said for releasing men from the Army, at least temporarily. There is nothing to prevent them going back to the Army; I do not mean that men should be brought back from Libya or anything of that kind, but there is a great Army in this country, and why could not men be released from it until we see whether or not we can get the production to fill in the gap? I also want to see an appeal made for the reduction of waste. I want to see it become an offence for people to waste fuel. We all know that one can go into any warehouse, or any Government Department, and see lights blazing and the most extraordinary waste. Let us try to cut it down. That would not affect-morale. What does affect morale is the lack of coal on the hearth on a cold winter's day. I say most emphatically that I dread the consequences to the health of the nation if there is a lack of heat in the house. Always in war there is a tendency to epidemics, and if by any chance there is a shortage of coal we are liable to lose far more by men being off work, by death and so on than we are likely to gain. When my hon. Friend interrupted me just now I was saying that we knew that the great epidemic of the last war carried off more people than were killed in the whole of the campaign, 1150 and laid up millions. That is a point which the Government must keep in view. There will be serious danger if there is a shortage of coal in houses where, in the third and fourth years of the war, morale is already low.
There is one other point, and one only, to which I want to refer. The White Paper says that the Government have decided that it is not essential that the scheme should be introduced forthwith. It then goes on:It is, however, important to ensure that, if it should at any stage become necessary, the scheme for the rationing of domestic fuel could be introduced at short notice";—and this is the bit to which I most strongly object—and all the necessary administrative preparations will therefore be made, including the issue to householders of the form set out in paragraph 19 of the Annex and the making of assessments by local Fuel Overseers.Let us see what this means. It means that while the Government have not yet made up their minds whether fuel rationing is to be necessary or not, and while as we know it is an offence to throw away a piece of paper, the Government are going to issue millions of forms to householders and the householders will require to fill up a form which will be a source of irritation and loss of time if nothing else; these will have to be sent back, and these 8,000 women—and a great many more—will have to be employed to assess them, all before the Government have made up their minds whether fuel rationing is to be introduced.
It may be said that there is no time to waste. That argument would carry more weight with me if, in the meantime, I had seen the Government making an appeal to the country to economise, but there has been no sign of that being done, although it is quite a long time since the scheme was first mentioned. I say that on the face of it this is an extraordinary example of waste and extravagance—waste of time, labour and everything else—and the only conclusion one can come to is that it may be that someone who is anxious to force through this fuel rationing thinks that this is a good tactical move. I say quite openly and frankly that if the Government insist on going ahead with this extraordinary waste before they have decided whether fuel rationing is necessary or not, it will raise in the minds of many people great doubts as to the bona fides 1151 of the Government's suspension of this operation. I hope there is nothing in it, but I ask the Government to reconsider this point and not to waste paper, time and everything else on something which I believe will not be necessary if a strong appeal is made to the people of this country to economise, and if waste is ruthlessly stamped out in Government Departments and is made an offence.
§ Sir Samuel Chapman (Edinburgh, South)
I am one of your five-minute men, Mr. Speaker. There are two ways of solving this question: one is getting more coal, and the second is burning less coal. I have made it my duty, and pleasure, to go round various countrysides in the south of England and Scotland during the last three or four months, and I have walked through many woods. I have seen there hundreds of blown trees, lying there for years, which could be used as fuel. I have gone into scores of cottages and I have been told by the cottagers how thankful they would be if they could get the wood which lies in the woods there. I will not go into the question at any length, but I will tell you a little incident which occurred to me in the county of Sussex only on Saturday. I stopped a man and said to him, "My friend, I want to know if you know anything about the woods round here." It was in Lewes. "I have been there for 41 years, I ought to know." I said, "Is there any timber lying there which could be used as a substitute for coal?" And then I asked him whether there was a lot of it; I hope the House will forgive me, but I will tell you what he said. He said, "A lot of it, sir? There's a hell of a lot of it." I think it was quite a proper expression.
All I rise to say is this: I will not elaborate it, but I could keep the House for two hours relating my experiences. I will just relate this one anecdote. I went to a cottage, and the husband came to the door. I said, "Will you allow me to come in for a moment; I want to ask you a question?"—"Come in, sir."—"Is there any blown timber round here?"—"Why sir, the place is full of blown timber," and then he said, "Missis, come here, the gentleman wants to know if you could burn more wood." She came in, and she said, "Jim, wouldn't we sooner burn wood in that fireplace on a winter's night than coal?
1152 Of course we would." That could be done right through the kingdom, and 15 to 20 per cent. of the coal of this country which goes to villages and many other parts of England and Scotland would be saved. That is one suggestion I make to the Government for them to take into consiueration.
§ Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)
I do not intend to follow the last speaker into the woods. I shall start in the pits. I would like first to congratulate my two colleagues on the knowledge they have of the industry, and I think that if people spoke on the things that they know, we should get to know more about the industry. This scheme, to my mind, although it falls far short of what we in the mining industry desire, is about the most progressive scheme up to now that I know of in the industry. It falls short of what we desire. Some of my colleagues on these benches feel that the scheme is not a good one, but I can say as one who, shall I say, was born in the industry—my father was in it before me, and I followed him into it, and I worked for 25 years, as big as I am, at the coal face getting coal, and got an idea of the mind of the miners of to-day—that while it is not as good as we want, I am a fellow of this kind: If I cannot get a whole loaf and they give me half a loaf, as my mother said to me years ago, "Snatch the half loaf, and then go for the other half." I do not think that is a bad policy.
I would like to say that there are one or two flaws. Without a doubt this is a flaw about the managers on page 6. There is a quotation from the Bible which says, "No man can serve two masters," and although that was spoken 2,000 years ago it is as true to-day as it was then. I say that the Government are putting these managers between the devil and the deep sea. Let me put this point. Not all managers to-day are old managers. There are some young, alert managers, and they will live after this scheme has finished, and unless after this scheme there is to be thorough public ownership of the mines, that means looking to their immediate future. In present circumstances these managers will think about their future after we finish with this scheme, in case the Government wipe their hands of this scheme in the same way as the Lloyd George Government 1153 wiped theirs after the last war. I am asking the Government seriously to consider the question of the manager being paid by- the Government. Make him fearless. Make him so that he will not be looking into the immediate future for the directors to say, "When that scheme was in operation you paid more attention to the Government Department than you did to us, and we do not want you." I think that is a practical suggestion and that we ought to look at it from that standpoint. I say to the President of the Board of Trade, to the Lord President of the Council, who opened the Debate, and to the Lord Privy Seal, who is to wind up, Consider this question before you finaly reply.
I would like to say a word on production committees. The horn Member for Barnstaple (Sir R. Acland) does not understand the industry, and it is very dangerous for the idealist who does not understand the realist If there was a bit more realism about some of the idealism, this industry of ours would not be in the plight which it is in to-day. I believe that these production committees can be of untold value to the nation in the production of coal. I know that in the past where organisation at the pit has been very poor, where the trade union has not been strong, a lot of the men who were on the trade union committees, and a lot of the men who were appointed on deputations to face the manager, have been almost afraid to open their mouths because they have been afraid of the dread of to-morrow. By that I mean they have been afraid of getting the sack—victimisation. I will give you an experience of mine on a deputation 24 years ago. I said to the manager, "At the pit where I work you know the conditions obtaining in a certain district at the present time." He replied, "If I had a knife here now, I would stick you to the heart, and if I got it in I would twist it round." Although I was small, I had sufficient pluck to make him beg pardon for what he said. That kind of spirit, when men have told managements in the past that things were wrong, has prevailed almost all along in the mining industry.
I am sorry the hon. Member for Barnstaple has gone. If there is anything I detest it is for a man to make a speech here and then clear out. I remember 1154 that a Member did that not long ago about absenteeism and went out and never came back until the next day's Sitting. I believe that the production committees will now have more power than they have ever had. I have a firm conviction that when our men are allowed to play their part at a round table, not a square table, and you are pooling your brains and intelligence in the industry, and everyone has the same standing there, we can get coal. You may not understand what I mean by a square table. I have sat at a square table with the colliery owners, with the joint board, with the manager, who have been on that side while we have been on this. I am satisfied that the production committees, knowing that they are free from victimisation—that is the point-will enable us to produce coal. The men are not satisfied at present. I need not say much about wages. Everyone knows that the industry is boiling with discontent because of the wages that our people are getting.
Let me touch on absenteeism. This question, and the way it has been dealt with at the different pits, has caused a, great deal of dissatisfaction. The managements have had control, and they have been adamant. This has made our men on the committees, and in the branch rooms when the committees have reported weekly, very bitter about the thing. The Minister of Production told us at the Box, when we were talking about these production committees, "Everybody shall have the same power." They have not got it so far. The manager sends for which absentees he likes, when he likes; and when the production-absentee committee combination is there, there is the list of the men he has sent for. I have told this House how the management of the pit where I worked sent for a man who had been absent. He had worked on the Saturday afternoon, and the manager said that he wanted him to work on the Sunday night. The man said that he would not do so. The week's shifts finished on Tuesday night, and up to Saturday afternoon he had put in 6½ shifts; yet the manager summoned him. The man came before the absentee committee. He was a little fellow, with a bit of go in him, and he walked in and stood in front of the manager, with his eyes; flashing fire—so would mine. He said, 1155 "Swanson, when I came home last week I gave my three children a penny each. They looked up at me, and started crying. I said, 'What are you crying for?' One of them said, 'My mummy told us we were not to take pennies off strangers.'" This man had put in nine shifts a week for months past, and then the manager summoned him for being absent. Do you think that kind of thing is going to help? I know I am putting it across in a humorous way; but, comrades—[Laughter]. Mr. Speaker, I apologise for calling you "Comrade"—I think you will see the kind of feeling that there is. But if these men are now to have the same say as the manager, and to be able to send matters to the Controller, then, if the Controller does not deal with it the man at the top will deal with it, and if he does not we, as a Parliament, can deal with him.
A lot of people are talking about liberating the men. If a man has been out of the pit for two or three years he cannot go straight to the coal face. The Army has been liberating men without any inquiries at all. Sometimes they send out a T.B. man to get coal at the pit. I had a letter the other day from one of the pits in my own division. I like to speak about my own division, where there are 25,000 miners. This letter said that the men refused to go back to their pit unless they could get a miner sent back. A fellow who had been sent back was a greengrocer, who had not worked in the pit for 27 years. When he went to the pit he was on the back of the coal face workers. If a man is sent back he is not in condition to start work at the coal face immediately. Fancy a man getting coal with hands like mine. His hands would be a mass of sores and festers. Let us have the right kind of men liberated, so that they can get into the coal face as soon as possible.
With regard to rationing, some people believe in it and some do not. I am betwixt and between. The hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) is very keen on rationing. Speaking off my own bat, I am very pleased that the Government, for the moment, are not going to apply rationing. I believe that if we all throw our weight into this thing and have less of that rattle from the other side about absenteeism, we shall manage better. This 1156 talk of absenteeism has helped to set up the backs of our men in the mining industry. In this White Paper we get the statement that the men are working 5.66 shifts per week, but some people on the other side put questions which make you think that the men are working only two days a week. You cannot beat 5.66 shifts a week, working 700 yards below the surface, so that if you were merely standing there doing nothing at all the perspiration would be pouring off your body. I have had the sweat off my body running out of my clog laces. I feel that, with us throwing our full weight, and with good-will, and with the management belonging to the Government as long as this is a Government scheme and taking the advice of the production committees, we shall be able to win the war, and every one of us may hold up his head with pride.
§ Major Braithwaite (Buckrose)
I thought it might be useful for the House to have some information on the last statement I made here in connection with the production of surface coal. I then told the House of Commons that, in my opinion, there were 50,000,000 tons of this coal within 30 feet of the surface, and that I thought the civil engineers of this country could obtain this fuel as an ancillary supply to help the country out, as it was impracticable to bring further miners back to the mines. Thanks to the encouragement given by my hon. Friend the late Secretary for Mines, we were able to start this plan. I can assure the House that, while even he doubted my figures at the time, there is now no doubt at all that these estimates can be fully fulfilled. I called at the Department which he set up in the Board of Trade to deal with the matter to get the latest figures, so that the House of Commons could be up to date with what has taken place. So far 85 sites have been found, 22 of which are working; the prospecting of 43 is nearing completion, and 20 more sites are under consideration. These sites are located in the main in Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Warwickshire and Staffordshire, some in Scotland and a few in Northumberland and Lancashire. The production, as has been set out in the White Paper, was expected to rise steeply, and I am informed by the director in charge of these sites that it will be 10,000 tons per day by the 25th of this month and that by the 25th of next month it will have risen to 32,000 tons a day, 1157 nearly 10,000,000 tons of coal per annum. It has been said that it is of poor quality. I have taken samples from three sites.
§ Mr. Lawson
Has the hon. and gallant Gentleman read in the White Paper that the object running right through this coal scheme is to concentrate output, and is he aware that what is called an uneconomic pit is usually the small pit, and will he give us his opinion upon that matter?
§ Major Braithwaite
I would rather finish with the workings first. I want to give the House the figures relating to the calorific value of this fuel, which is the really important factor. The coal received in industry from the site at Went-worth in West Yorkshire has a calorific value of 12,860 B.T. units, and when it is allowed to dry the calorific value rises to 13,040. At Bullcliffe, near Wakefield, in the constituency of the right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate for the party opposite, the coal has a calorific value of 13,750, and of 15,000 when it is dried. The coal from the two Warwickshire seams now open, one of which is 12 feet 6 inches thick, has a calorific value of 12,750. I have taken these samples at random, but I can assure the House that they are typical of what can be done in this direction. We have now, through the energies of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, whose enthusiasm and encouragement have been of very great help to us in this connection, 40 public works contractors working under the scheme. They have provided the Government with £2,000,000 worth of heavy plant. There is no question at all that the tonnage, which I told the House of Commons would be raised in 12 months, will be forthcoming, and I contend that this plan should prevent the rationing of domestic fuel. I have been to see some of the users of this fuel. I have seen it being used in boilers, for the generation of electricity and for making gas. I claim that this is a substantial contribution to the national effort at this time, and I hope that the House will give it the encouragement that it deserves.
A word about the price, which, of course, is important. On the basis that the Government have arranged with the public works contractors, if the overbearing averages four times the depth of the seam of coal, the price delivered into wagons works out at 12s. 8d. per ton, which will bear comparison with any 1158 mining figures in Great Britain. I hope that when the scheme has gone a little further the Government will see their way to provide, next winter, if possible, for some of the bigger types of machines from America which take 100 feet of overbearing to get a four feet six inches seam of coal, and which they can do in competition with the ordinary mines. The deeper the over-bearing the better the condition of the coal and the more value it will be.
§ Mr. Clement Davies
My hon. and gallant Friend has been very interesting, and I hope he will help us a little further. This coal is rather wet. What about drying facilities? How long will that take?
§ Major Braithwaite
The Government have made some provisions on that. Technical experts are putting this coal into big stacks adjacent to the sites in order to allow the air to get at it and to dry it. As you get deeper, I find that after 30 feet of surface there is very little difference in the coal from that which comes out at 100 feet. If we can possibly get some of these larger machines from America or have some of them made in this country, this process will be able to go on all through the winter, and every outcrop that we find will yield three times as much coal if we can take it up to 100 feet. We find on the average that these seams are dipping at about one in eight. I have put the proposal forward because I am firmly convinced that a great amount of coal can be supplied to industry in this way, and that it will be very valuable during war-time. I only hope that it will help our mining industry to recover and get on to a proper basis. It was not intended as a permanent piece of mining machinery for this country but as a help to carry us through our wartime difficulties. Again, I want to thank the hon. Gentleman the late Secretary for Mines for the help he gave in the early stages of the plan.
I do not wish to exceed a reasonable time, but there are one or two other points I want to make. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade has made no provision by which the civil engineering industry, working on this scheme, will be represented on his Coal Council. It may be said that everybody cannot be represented but if you get 10,000,000 tons of coal from this scheme, the civil engineers who get it ought to have some representation. I do not want 1159 to press the point but I ask the right hon. Gentleman to give consideration to it, with a view to seeing whether there is any possibility of such representation.
To come back to the question of ordinary mining I was amazed to get from the Secretary for Mines statistics with regard to the mines which are now operating in this country. It might be of interest to the House to know these figures, which are the last to be published with reference to the general situation of the coal mines. The number of mines employing less than 50 men is 476; the number employing between 50 and 100 men is 92 and the number employing over 1,000 men is only 196, out of a total of 1,571. The number of mines which have no mechanical means of getting coal is 642. These are significant figures and I contend that the mechanisation of this industry is one of the most important things we can do to help at this time. Whatever the Government arrange, they must plan for better opportunities of delivering machinery to the mines. Daring the last 20 years of my experience of the mining industry only 2d. per ton of coal produced has been spent on underground machinery. That is quite inadequate to keep the industry up to date.
I wish the Government's project well because I think the White Paper makes a substantial step forward. The problem of whether the manager should be employed by the State or the mine owner is a matter that can be threshed when the new scheme is in operation, but if the National Government can bring a better national spirit, through this Measure, to the mining industry it will have gone a long way towards solving our industrial problems. I believe the miners of this country will cooperate in every possible way towards winning the war. If we can get back into the industry a real spirit of good will and decent relationship I am sure it will repay the country many times. I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for having given me the opportunity of speaking in the Debate to-day and I hope the House will give encouragement to the plan for surface working and do everything possible to assist it.
§ Mr. McLean Watson (Dunfermline)
A good deal has been said in the House to-day about getting good will into the industry, and I agree that if the best is 1160 to be obtained from the industry good will is necessary. Those of us who have been in the House for some time remember previous occasions on which similar ideas were expressed. We have had Motions and Bills dealing with this subject on which the desire for good will was always expressed. But the peculiar thing about it was that when a Bill became an Act, or Parliament approved a Motion, relationships in the industry remained the same as before. The feeling in the industry to-day is not a new feeling; it is a feeling that has existed as long as I have known the industry—and I have known it since I was 12 years of age. We have always had bickering between employer and employed. The miners of to-day remember the treatment they received from coal-owners in the past; it is as vividly in their minds to-day as it has ever been. In addition to that, at the moment they have the knowledge that they are not being fairly treated as regards wages and they insist that that should be put right, no matter what schemes the House may approve. They have not been properly treated since the war began.
I remember that at the outbreak of the last war the Miners' Federation of Great Britain came forward with the offer that if the Government would prevent prices rising they would not ask for wage increases, but the Government allowed prices to rise and miners were compelled to insist upon wage increases. The same thing has happened in the present war. To-day, miners are worse off than they were before the war started. That position must be remedied, quite apart from what we are discussing here at the moment. I want to congratulate the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the new Minister on his appointment and I want to express pleasure that, at last, the Government have recognised that the mining industry is an important industry. It has always been treated as a detail in bygone years—a mere Department of the Board of Trade. It has never been recognised or given the status it ought to have had in this country and in this House. At last, the Government have been compelled to recognise that it is important enough to have a Minister who will be responsible to this House. I hope the success that has attended the right hon. and gallant Gentleman as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food will attend him in his new office. As far as the 1161 mining Members on this side are concerned, I think I can say they will be prepared to give him a fair chance to "make good." He has a task in front of him—no doubt about that—and it will be made much more difficult by the line that is taken in this White Paper.
We ought not to have been faced with this situation to-day, or with the situation which exists as regards miners' wages. We would not have been, if the miners had not been beaten to their knees in 1926. Over and over again, joy has been expressed from the other side because of the great victory achieved in 1926, when the miners were beaten after a six months' struggle. The trouble to-day goes back to that time when the fight was for a national board to control and regulate wages in the mining industry. Now it is conceded by the Government, after all these years of bickering and fighting between the coalowners and miners. It would have been much wiser had the Government used their influence in 1926 and insisted upon a reorganisation of the industry then. The Government want reorganisation now and are prepared to have the mining industry treated as a unit, at a moment when we have over 20 different districts, recognised as districts within the area covered by the Miners' Federation.
I hope the warning uttered by my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths), although it was delivered in a humorous way, will be taken seriously by those on the Government Front Bench. There is not the slightest doubt that the Miners' Federation represent the views of the miners when they say that, while they are prepared to give the scheme a fair trial, there are certain things which they look upon as vital. They want a much more effective voice in the management of the industry. They are not satisfied at being kept outside the Coal Board while others are brought in. In handling this industry, we want fewer paper experts and more men who have practical knowledge of the industry, either on the side of the employers or the employed. I hope the warning that has been given that the Miners' Federation attach the very greatest importance to a larger share in the industry than is indicated or promised in the White Paper will be carefully considered by the Government before the final reply is made at the end of the Debate.
1162 With regard to the management, I agree with those of my hon. Friends who have said that the Government are placing the managers in an absolutely impossible position by allowing them to be there as the servants of the coalowners, with the right of the Controller of the area to dismiss the manager. The Miners' Federation make a simple and reasonable request. It is that the managers at the collieries should be paid by the State. In bygone years, we have made a demand that the men who have to examine the coal-face before the miners go to-their work, the inspectors, should be paid by the State. We have made that demand for years and years, and even that has never been conceded. We now go a step further and say that, in addition, the colliery managers should be free from the influence of the colliery owners. The men who inspect the working places before the miners start work and the colliery manager should be free to give an absolutely impartial decision and opinion with regard either to safety or the working of the mines. The Miners' Federation seriously ask the House to see that the colliery managers are made free of the influence of the colliery owners and given the status and independence which they ought to have in the industry. I hope these matters will be seriously considered by the Government.
According to an Amendment on the Order Paper, we are to be asked to declare in favour of nationalisation, that the mines should be owned by the nation as well as the managers paid by the State. The Miners' Federation have not departed from their demand that the industry should be State-owned and State-managed. Those of us who are prepared to give this scheme a fair trial are being told that we are departing from our principles. But we have always had to recognise hard facts. We made our demand for nationalisation in 1930 when the Coal Mines Bill was before the House, but at that time we had to be content with a great deal less than nationalisation, and that Bill was wrecked to a considerable extent by the very party of which the hon. Member whose Amendment I have mentioned is a member. The Coal Mines Act, 1930, would have been a far more effective instrument if it had been passed as it was drafted by Mr. William Graham, who was then President of the Board of 1163 Trade. I hope the Government will seriously consider this matter.
The miners are in no mood to be fobbed off as they have been far too often in the past. There has never been good feeling between the colliery owners and the miners. In the early days, when the industry was expanding, huge profits were made. At the present time we hear about the poor circumstances of the colliery owner, the struggle he is having, and has had in the past, but there was a time when the colliery owners were making huge profits and doing everything they could to conceal those profits. The miners did not get a square deal from the colliery owners at that time; they have never had a fair deal; but I hope that, as a result of the White Paper, we shall see steps taken to bring into the industry much better feeling than has ever existed in it. But until we have got rid of the right of the colliery owner to say how his industry is to be run, we shall not get the good feeling that is desired in the industry. The mining industry is a great industry, and it will be a great industry for many years to come, despite the fact that pits are going out of production. Other pits will come into production. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has a great opportunity to make a name for himself if he can introduce into the mining industry the good feeling that is necessary to carry on the industry in a satisfactory way. Those of us who belong to the industry desire to see this good feeling established. When we see the relations that exist between the employers and the employed in other industries, it is no pleasure to us to reflect that there is no good feeling between the colliery owners and the miners. That is not something over which we rejoice. We deplore it. But the treatment which the miners have had in the past, and the treatment they are still getting, warrants fully the feeling that exists in the industry at the present time.
I agree that the White Paper, whatever may be said about it, is a great advance on anything we have had up to now. I have mentioned one subject of bitter controversy, which caused the greatest strike we have ever had, which is conceded, and I can assure the new Minister that it will be welcomed by the miners. I hope it is not being introduced so that it can be put into operation now and scrapped when 1164 the war comes to an end, as was the case in days gone by. We may be told that after the war is over things are different, and things may be different. The miner seems to be in a strong position at the moment, and even this House of Commons is taking note of his position, but there may be little interest in him after he has served our purpose. I hope the miner will not be forgotten when he is not in as advantageous position.
I hope that the Government will be prepared to consider some of the Amendments. There was no need to introduce Clause 21, unless they were prepared to have reasonable Amendments discussed in this House. We are now getting an opportunity to make suggestions, and we are putting the suggestions forward on behalf of the Miners' Federation. We attach very great importance to the proposals which are being put forward for the express purpose of getting at last the good feeling which ought to have existed long before in the industry. You may come forward with any number of schemes for gathering timber or opening surface mines, but, unless we have the feeling throughout the length and breadth of the mining industry that the miner is being as well treated as any other section of the community, we shall not get the spirit which is necessary. If we can get a real reorganisation of the industry, there is no doubt that we shall make it something of which this country can be proud, and there will not be the continual fear of what the miners are going to do and whether they are coming out on strike. There will not be this continual anxiety, and we shall be able to look upon the industry as one which will not fail us. I want to assure the House that, if the miner gets a fair chance and a fair crack of the whip so far as remuneration for the work he is doing is concerned, we shall find no more willing workers and no more anxious workers in the length and breadth of the country.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, Eastern)
With the concluding remarks of the hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Watson), I find myself in complete agreement. He expressed what I am sure must be the universal opinion of the House. I should like to follow him in the congratulations he offered to my right hon. and gallant Friend who is to be the new Minister. I should like to express on behalf of my hon. Friends here who are his colleagues our good wishes for success in the new 1165 office he is about to occupy. We have had the views of various parties and groups put forward to-day, and hon. Members may be good enough to allow me to express the attitude of my colleagues on this Bench on the new proposals. At the beginning I would say that on the general structure of the production plan we find ourselves in general agreement with the Government. There are a number of questions and suggestions I would like to put, and in particular there are omissions from the scheme which we regret and would like to see rectified.
The broad structure of the plan seem to us to be sound. We came to almost the same conclusions ourselves before the White Paper was issued. It is abundantly right, and certainly it is right in the middle of the war, when coal is so vital, that the central control of this industry should be taken out of the hands of owners and miners and vested for the time being in the State, and that the two parties concerned should be required to take orders from the Controller or Minister. I have no doubt that in some industries the two sides might sit down in harmony and confidence and settle their own destiny, but the coalmining trade, as my hon. Friend has indicated, is not one of these. There are areas in the country, where the relations between managers and workers are good, and sometimes, as in Fife, excellent, but on the higher levels, the relations between the Miners Federation and the Mining Association, a century of strife and mistrust has created a gap which no spurious partnership will close or overcome. Any joint body, therefore, such as hon. Members opposite have suggested, with executive powers to run the whole industry, would be doomed to failure, and I am bound to say that I am surprised that hon. Members who have had long experience in mining problems should have ever suggested it.
In any case a National Coal Board of the kind proposed by the National Council of Labour is a thoroughly un-British plan. A closed trade corporation supported by the Government may no doubt be suitable for Fascist Italy and be popular with Fascist rulers, but it is not the kind of thing which is either suitable or acceptable to free people such as ourselves. There is a place for an advisory body representing the two sides of the industry in the British scheme of things, 1166 and, indeed, that principle has long been established in this country. It was reasserted only the other day by the Minister of Production in the new scheme of regional boards which he recently introduced. In that case, as hon. Members will recall, the Minister has in effect his own central Advisory Board, and in each of the regions his controller enjoys similar support but everywhere the Minister and his Controllers retain and exercise the executive power. I am glad that the Government have seen the good sense of following this precedent, which has been so successful. The country understands and the workers understand a system of war-time controllers, based as this on the conception of each of us performing a national service, and I do not anticipate any trouble in the mining areas in the acceptance of this new scheme of control. On the contrary, if the Fife Coal Production Committee is in any way typical of mining areas throughout the country, I should expect this scheme to be warmly welcomed; because this is what they wrote to the President of the Board of Trade on 18th March of this year:The coal industry of Britain is essentially conservative, and we have come to the conclusion that the 10 per cent. increase in output which the country clearly needs will only be had when the Government decides upon the methods by which it can be obtained and issues an order to both sides of the industry insisting that this shall be carried out.It is a message reminiscent of many speeches that I have heard, and some that I have myself delivered, in the last two years, begging the Government to make up their mind what they were going to do, and to govern. Here we have the miners in a great coalfield saying the same thing.
My hon. Friends and I welcome the assurance that, while the coal controllers will exercise full and undivided responsibility for the policy and general conduct of mining operations in their regions, the day-to-day management of the pits will be left in the hands of the colliery companies, subject of course to the supervision of the controllers and to the companies being efficient and turning out the goods. I think there is horse sense in that arrangement and I foresee no practical difficulty in carrying it out, despite the suggestions that have been made that the managers will be put in a difficult posi- 1167 tion. I have consulted those with whom I am in contact and I am assured that no practical difficulty will arise in that way at all. There is sense in it. There would be nonsense in the other suggestion for requisitioning the industry, with all the inefficiency that followed a similar plan in the last war. There is no sense in going through one experience and taking no advantage from it.
On the general structure of the scheme, therefore, my hon. Friends and I wish to congratulate the Government, but there are three questions I should like to ask regarding it. First, what type of man is to be appointed Controller-General and Regional Controller. I hope he is not to be a civil servant and I trust that he will not be drawn from the ranks either of the Mining Association or the Miners' Federation. If I understand the views of the miners of Fife, the sort of man they want is one drawn from outside the industry, with long administrative experience, with personality and, above all, with drive. I believe that that kind of man can and will inspire the whole industry to greater effort. It is not too much to say that upon the choice of these controllers may well depend the success or failure of the scheme.
Then, I ask, have the Government fully considered the practical problem of concentrating effort in the most productive mines and seams? The Lord President stated that this was probably the most important objective of the White Paper. I agree that on paper this proposal looks attractive and, no doubt, powers to do this kind of thing are necessary, but all the information which has reached my hon. Friends and myself in the inquiries that we have been making in the last few weeks—information coming from both sides—goes to show that the miners will be most reluctant to move from one area to another, not only because of the difficulty of leaving their homes and finding new ones, which is the major difficulty, but because conditions in the pits and the areas and the districts are so different. I am advised that the advantages which this scheme, in general, appears to offer may be more than offset by the fall in individual output from men transferred on account of the strange and unfamiliar conditions. I note that the Government see prospects of securing by this device a substantial increase of pro- 1168 duction. I hope sincerely that that statement is justified but I should not regard it as a very certain hope, even with the best good will, which is the term used by the Government in the White Paper. If this transfer of men is to be made effective in any district it will be not so much as a result of good will as of good organisation, good sense and good planning on the part of the local controller. I hope my right hon. Friend can develop that part of the White Paper, because the men who will be responsible for running the industry under the control of the new Minister are seriously perturbed about this matter.
Now I am going to touch on a subject which may cause a little soreness in certain places. Are the Government contemplating any increase in the number of shifts worked throughout the country, with, of course, appropriate overtime rates; or how otherwise do they expect to obtain the substantial increase in output during the coming year to which they look with so much confidence in paragraph 22? Once again, all the information which has reached us suggests that, without an increase in the number of shifts worked in the mines, no really substantial addition to output will be obtained.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr)
Will the hon. Member explain exactly what he means by increasing the number of shifts? Does he mean lengthening the number of hours worked in the shifts or does he mean working on Sundays?
I am not referring to the hours worked per day and I make no suggestion that the 7½ hours should be altered. I am dealing only with completed shifts, worked, if you like, per fortnight or per month. Upon this matter my own feelings are again supported by both the miners and the managers in Fife. In the same letter to the right hon. Gentleman, from which I have already quoted, this is what the two sides said to him in March last:In our opinion the coal can be obtained provided, first, that every man in the industry works six full days a week and, second, that an extra shift is worked on Sunday either every fortnight or every month as circumstances demand.They are referring to the 10 per cent. increase in output which they consider to be practicable, and they conclude by saying:This we believe the miners could do without undue strain.1169 The House will agree that this is a remarkable statement coming from one of the most important coalfields in the country. I mention it in order to draw attention to the sharp disparities that exist throughout the country with regard to output and shifts worked. The figures are examined in detail in the report of my party which will be in the hands of hon. Members, and I need not repeat them now. But the position warrants attention, more particularly in view of the claim made in paragraph 11 of the White Paper that the number of shifts worked per week now is the highest on record, namely, 5.66. I do not challenge that figure, but I say that, like every other average, it does less than justice to some districts where they have made substantial improvements and fails to disclose stern facts in other districts where the record is not so good.
I have studied the district figures with great care and I find that, whereas the average for the whole country shows an increase over pre-war of something like one-quarter of a shift worked per week per man, in just under one-third of the districts the number of shifts worked, per wage-earner per week, is actually less today than it was in 1939. That is a staggering figure. In more than one-third of the districts the increase is only one-tenth of a shift or less. These, I say, are startling figures which justify the conclusion reached by my hon. Friends and myself that, had the reverse of what the figures disclosed been the case, that is to say, had the mining industry been stretched, by longer hours and greater output, like agriculture and other war industries, it might have been said that nothing more could reasonably be asked for from the miners and managers concerned. That, however, is not the position to-day. The contribution of the mining industry to the war effort in a substantial part of the country has not taken the form either of increased hours, or of additional output.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards (Caerphilly)
Does not the hon. Gentleman realise what a grave injustice may be done by quoting figures in that way? Has he not taken into account the recent report of the committee on pulmonary diseases among South Wales miners, which shows that, at one colliery alone, 10 per cent. of the men are regularly idle because of physical 1170 incapacity? The hon. Member ought to make some such explanation of the figures.
My hon. Friend is no doubt quite right that there are explanations to be found. I am only showing the prima facie case for the assumption that there is something more to be got out of the industry if we only knew how to get it. That is what every Member on the other side has been saying. If the House will permit me to continue for a few more minutes I will suggest how it can be done. My question to the Government on this point is whether they are fully seized of the position in the districts and are taking measures to bring about in all the areas that substantial increase in output which is possible and necessary in the interests of the nation and without which no great addition to output will be possible.
I referred earlier to omissions from the White. Paper scheme which my hon. Friends and I regard as regrettable. I want to refer to one in particular. It is obvious that no large scale permanent reorganisation of the industry could have been carried through at this moment. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Most of us will agree that that is not a practicable proposition. Indeed, I contend that the new scheme of control which is being imposed makes any change of that kind unnecessary so long as the war lasts. Speaking for myself, however, I feel that the miners are entitled by virtue of their arduous calling, their dangerous occupation and the often miserable conditions under which they have to live and work, to be given now not only an assurance, but a clear outline of the better mining world which the country would desire to offer them when the war ends. My party feel that steps should be taken without delay to consider the details of a post-war plan. We accordingly propose that an authoritative body, committee, commission or whatever the Government may wish, should be set up at once to frame a practical plan for peace time. [Interruption.] If this scheme is passed 85 per cent. of the Samuel Report will have been put into effect. The omission of the prospect of such a plan weakens the scheme we are now considering.
I do not think there can be any doubt of the need for a radical change in the set-up of the mining industry after the war. Consider some of the facts. We 1171 depend for our livelihood, and shall depend still more when the war is over, on a great mercantile marine, a great exporting trade and a great export of coal. Whatever Government is in power at that time it will be compelled by the force of circumstances to give close and continuous attention to the mining industry and ensure, as I think, by some form of public control, that ample supplies of coal are in fact available and at such a cost as to enable our manufacturers to compete successfully with their rivals overseas,
The initiative was taken by my party a generation ago in proposing the State ownership of coal. We are now proposing a further step, and we are entitled to put forward our views and to have them seriously considered. The problems after the war will be immense. There is the basic question of coal reserves and the development of mining areas. The House knows that unless great developments are made in some areas there may be devastation, there may be commercial ruin, facing the people in those areas. There is the deeply disturbing question of the drift of men away from the mining industry and the reluctance of young men to enter the industry to take their places. There is the problem of technical development and research in order to keep ourselves abreast of our rivals abroad. There is the human problem of countering the long, unhappy history of mining and creating an industry offering peace and security to those employed in it. Those are problems with which the State must concern itself.
I wish to indicate to the House what I myself feel to be the solution. Clearly, no ready-made political "stunt" will solve this great problem; clearly no incantation, no catch-word like "nationalisation" will suffice. This is not a political problem at all. It is the harsh economic problem of how to make this great national industry prosperous when the war ends, because only in that way can we maintain our standard of living or raise it, as we all wish to do. Speaking for myself, the only organisation which appears to offer prospects of efficiency, strength and resiliency is an organisation of the public utility type run upon sound business principles 1172 and based upon the districts. I will not develop the suggestion now. My hon. Friends and I are considering its details further. It may well be that the Commission, which we suggest, will find a better way or a development of a policy of the same sort. My own view is very clear upon it. One way or another we have to take a grip of this industry and knock it into shape, and I am certain that neither miners nor owners are competent to do it. I am certain that neither one side nor the other could lead the industry into better times. It is for this House to suggest a better and more modern plan, and I beg the Government, before this Debate is over, to indicate that the question of the future of mining is not to be left till after the war but that the problem will be tackled at once and that competent advisers will be appointed without delay.
§ Mr. Sloan (Ayrshire, South)
I shall not attempt to follow the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) in the ramifications of his speech. It has clearly demonstrated to me, at any rate, that what he does not know of the coal industry would fill all the books in our Library. The statement he made relative to the number of shifts worked is amazing. He evidently has received some information from somebody.
§ Mr. Sloan
No, I listened to the hon. Member for 40 minutes, and I have had as much as I can stand in one day. The number of shifts for the whole of Britain, as given in the White Paper, is 5.66 shifts per week. The number of shifts worked in Scotland was 5.92, and if that is not as near to perfect attendance as anybody can get, then I do not know what figures mean. The number of shifts worked in Scotland last year was 313. The Scottish miners not only broke the record but they beat the calendar. They worked a shift more than six shifts for every week in the year. Then one listens to "blather" about more shifts being worked. The hon. Member comes from Fife, the same 1173 county as my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McKinlay) and the hon. Member for West Fife. There is a collection of them here. The hon. Member brazenly accuses the Fife miners of not working a certain number of shifts
§ Mr. Sloan
The hon. Member read a latter, a letter which has already been repudiated by the workmen's side of the production committee. What it was intended to convey in that letter was that in some districts where 11 shifts per fortnight have been worked the miners might consider the possibility of making it 12. That is the explanation of the letter, and the twist which has been given to it either by those who sent it to my hon. Friend or by my hon. Friend himself is intended to create the impression that the miners' representatives in Fifeshire are asking the miners to work Sunday shifts, which is totally untrue. I am not going to follow my hon. Friend further. I can just wipe him off. The amazing ignorance of mining shown by Members of this House is something which it is almost impossible for me to comprehend. There was surprise when the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Sir R. Acland) spoke of men working in a pit up to the waist in water, or lying down to the waist in water. I know that some hon. Members think that pits are very nice places—beautiful, rosy. I remember when the late Ben Turner, then Secretary for Mines, came to Ayrshire to visit some pits. For a week before he came men were employed cleaning up the roads—whitewashing them. Tons and tons of ashes were sent down the pits to be used to make up the roads. The only thing the coalowners of Ayrshire did not do was to emulate Sir Walter Raleigh and spread carpets on which poor old Ben could walk to the coal face.
But we are discussing this question of the organisation of the coalfields. The very fact that this matter is being discussed for two days is a reminder of the vested interest which the people of this country still have to fight. We hear a great deal from my hon. Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) about a second front. We have a second fronf. We have a first front against the Axis. We have the second front at home against these vested interests that are holding the country to ransom. Our soldiers, sailors, 1174 airmen, merchant seamen and industrial workers are fighting gallantly both offensive and defensive actions, and on the second front here the vested interests are putting up a stiff fight to defend their interests. This White Paper proves that they are defending their interests showing that any proposals that are made must be subject to the conditions of these people who are entrenched in this House and who will, because of the privileged position they maintain, owing to the majority which they secured in 1935 under false pretences, still drive the country into securing their position when the time arrives.
§ Mr. Sloan
By an Amendment which I see upon the Order Paper and which contains the following words:approves of the scheme of reorganisation of the coal industry, provided that the organisation to be established shall not continue for longer than the period of the war and two years thereafter.they are securing their retreat. They are trying to secure that they will be in the same privileged position in which they were after the last war. Decontrol took place almost at a moment's notice. The industry was handed back to the coal-owners, who are not going to lose it this time. The industry will be in their hands. Decontrol can take place after this war as it took place after the last war. The first result to the Scottish miners was that they lost, not five per cent. or 10 per cent. but 75 per cent. of their wages in one week. Their average wage in Scotland had been £ os. 6d. a day, but they had to start the next week after decontrol at 8s. a day. That is what happened after the last war, and, knowing the psychology of the majority of Members of this House and of the coalowners, we have no reason to hope that the position will be any better when this war is over.
When I hear about the penalties that it is proposed to inflict upon the German people I wonder whether reparations will be provided for in the peace treaty and, if so, whether coal will be involved in them. I do not know whether we have learned our lessons. We never seem to learn anything. We seem to go back to where we started. Any question of reparations will have a very serious effect upon the coal industry. With the best intentions in the world, the provisions of 1175 this White Paper will not, as far as I can see, relieve the difficulties of the coal industry. How can the proposals in this White Paper produce one single ton more of coal? I was in a pit yesterday, dealing with a dispute in my own county, near to the village where my predecessor lived all his life. The output of the men in that conveyor run was 22 tons per man per shift. The workmen are paid 8½d. per ton for producing the coal. The manager suggested to me that instead of an increase in the tonnage rate being given to the men, he would take two men out of the run. The men who were left would then be able to produce 25 tons per shift, and, instead of getting an increase in the ton rate they would have an increase in their wages by filling three extra tons each. Will the White Paper succeed in inducing those men to fill three extra tons of coal?
I do not think that there is a possibility of increasing the production of coal. The fact of the matter is that the pits have now become conditioned to the number of men in them. The working space at the faces has become restricted to a very large extent. The Lord President of the Council tried to explain the loss in output by stating that the output of the men at the coal face had dropped slightly, but if there is a drop, it must be very recent. The men at the coal face are still producing as much coal as they did formerly. The reason for the fall per man-shift is the number of people who are taking away those 22 tons to which I have been referring. So many people are handling the output that the organisation of the collieries is in chaos. The men who have been sent back from industry are not likely to start digging coal. They have had too good a time since they left the pits. They are not likely to go back and fill 22 tons of coal in a shift. The men who have returned from the Army are largely the unfit. Commanding officers have the right to send back the men, and they are sending back only those who they know will not make good soldiers. That is the position. I see an hon. Member shake his head, but it is the position in the county where I live. Men have made application to me, but I have said, "I have nothing whatever to do with it. I can't help you. Make application to your commanding officer." The men who have 1176 been relieved from Army duties are generally those in an unfit condition and not likely to make good soldiers.
What is wrong with considering the nationalisation of the mines if they are facing the question of reorganising the mines? You say it cannot be done in war-time. Well, if the Germans were to invade this country, a whole lot of things would happen, would they not? They would not stand on ceremony about taking the mines from the coalowners. If a country is fighting for its life, if it is necessary in the interests of the country that the mines should be nationalised, if it is necessary in the interests of the nation that private enterprise, which has failed to come up to the standard, should be eliminated, what is to hinder the Government of this country from being able to do it? What is the good of talking about not being able to introduce controversial measures in time of war? This measure is controversial. It may not be quite so controversial as a Bill for public ownership of the coalmines, but still it is controversial. Hardly a question is discussed on the Floor of this House which is not controversial; they may not all mean wide, sweeping changes, but the time has surely arrived when sweeping changes are necessary, and should be faced at this time of crisis. You talk here about this question being discussed with the mineowners. That has nothing to do with the matter at all. They will draw their dividends, but they will draw more than their dividends, because it says here thatthe success of all measures of reorganisation will turn very largely on securing the good-will of both mine-owners and mine-workers.If the mineowners are eliminated, if all they are to do is to sit back and draw their dividends, if all they are to do is to view from afar the coalmines from which they draw their profits, why do we require to secure their good will to carry out any scheme which may be proposed here?
The fact remains that the mines are still the property of the owners and will be worked in the interests of the owners. The owners will nominate the managers who work the mines, and in the end we shall have made no progress towards the reorganisation of the industry. A great deal has been made of the National Wages Board. [An HON. MEMBER: "Four Tories and one Labour Member."] It does not matter whether they are Labour, 1177 Tory or what they are; if the financial structure of the industry is to remain unchanged, how is the National Wages Board to operate? Many hon. Members of this House have attended consultation boards on ascertainments. There are about 24 items of cost other than wages which are deducted from the ascertained selling price, and then what is left is divided between the coalowners and the workers. The result is that in a few years the Scottish coalowners have lost something approaching £10,000,000, but there is not one of them in the workhouse yet. They have lived on their losses, and the Scottish miners have lived on their poverty during the whole of that period. What is the necessity for having any more inquiries? We have often inquired into the coal industry. In 1919 we had the Sankey Report; a Commission was set up for the purpose of inquiring into the coal industry. Will anybody tell me that the White Paper is a substitute for the Sankey Commission? Does anybody suggest that, instead of working along the lines of the Sankey Commission so that the nation should secure control of the coal—which is its own coal—this milk and water substitute is of any use to take its place? [An HON. MEMBER: "There is not much milk about it."] No, there is neither milk nor substitute about it. It is a sham and a fraud from beginning to end.
I want to suggest to people who are endeavouring to settle this industry that unless they are prepared to take the bold step forward, it will be no use. The very fact that in the middle of a war, at this very moment, the miners have had to force upon the Government their claims for increased wages, and have been sent to an independent board for a decision, in itself proves that even in the midst of a war these people are not prepared to give any measure of justice to whose who produce the coal. I want to suggest, at least to the Labour Members of the Government, that something more is required than this shabby substitute which is being foisted upon the country as a plan for the reorganisation of the coal industry.
§ Sir Reginald Clarry (Newport)
For a few minutes I should like to call the attention of the House to that humble but essential body by whose co-operation only can a successful coal scheme be made, that is to say the consumers, right from the humble house to the largest industry in the country. As a peg on which to 1178 hang the few remarks I intend to make, I will take page 5, paragraph 15, in which it is stated:The Minister will be assisted by a Controller-General, who will have as his chief officers.…(iv) a Finance Director, responsible for all financial arrangements including advice on coal prices.What I want to know is, Will the machinery of this Finance Director include an independent tribunal to settle disputes between suppliers and consumers? The situation is this: Since the commencement of the war there has been a suspension of the committees of investigation and the appeals tribunals which were the only means of redress and appeal open to the consumers. In this new proposal I think it is absolutely vital that there should be some opportunity for the consumer to state any serious grievance. We know that small and sometimes even large consumers at the present time are more or less overlooked and are merely giving lip service when they make any complaints through their associations. I say that because it is very difficult to find any successful representations which have been made through associations of any character, representing either an industry or one of its members.
The point arises that a consumer, whether an individual who buys from a coal merchant or a large industry, has to accept the quality, suitability and price of coal as allocated to him by the price control committee. I think that really, as far as they are able, they will do that, but there are cases when it is practically impossible to accept coal owing to its un-suitability, and certainly not equitably if they are to be allocated coal at the same price for which they contracted, although it may contain as much as 5 to 10 per cent. more ash than the coal which was contracted for. I hope an appeal tribunal will be included. It is not an unreasonable suggestion, and I hope that the Government and the new Minister of Fuel will consider favourably the question of giving this Finance Director power to appoint an independent appeal tribunal, because advice on coal prices is not quite enough. There should be some opportunity for appeal, on reasonable grounds only, by the consumer. It will make for a happier and better running of the scheme for coal. I hope that the Minister-to-be or the right hon. and learned Gentleman who is to reply will give some 1179 assurance on that point, which is most important and which is being watched very closely by the whole of the public in this country.
§ Mr. Storey (Sunderland)
While I share the satisfaction which has been generally expressed on this side of the House about the Government's decision to postpone the rationing scheme until such time as they decide it to be necessary, I do not agree that they are wrong in bringing forward now an outline of that scheme. So imperative is it that the reasonable fuel demands of our war industries should be met that the country cannot afford to be unprepared. If our efforts to improve output and to balance consumption and output by economy fail, then the demands of our war industries can be met only by rationing, and by progressively severer rationing. Therefore I think that the Government are right, and are showing mere prudence in bringing forward an outline of their scheme, and I would only ask that they should go just a little further than they have done, and that they should continue the discussions as to its details before a final decision is taken. Of these details, I would only say two things. I think that the criticism that the interchangeability of coupons may throw a great burden upon the already overburdened electricity supply industry is not sufficiently met by the veto on increased consumption over the corresponding period of the previous year, and I think it would be better if, instead, the Government were ready to ask that there should be a percentage reduction on the consumption in the corresponding period of the previous year.
I think too that the total fuel allowances which are demonstrated in the Annex are not altogether adequate. The Lord President of the Council to-day talked about a reduction of the order of 6,000,000 tons. The Annex talks about 10,000,000 tons. I hope from that we may assume that the scales set out in the White Paper are merely an indication of the basis of rationing, and that if possible they will be increased. I hope too that the provision by which, if the consumption in the past is proved to have been not unreasonable, only a cut of 33⅓per cent. will be made will be administered generously. While we admit the necessity of rationing, and that a scheme should be ready in the background, do 1180 not let us forget that rationing itself is a confession of failure on the part of the Government to overcome the difficulties of the past. Its enforcement in the future will be a confession of a threefold failure—of the public to economise, of the mining industry to increase its output, and of the Government to provide that leadership without which these aims will not be achieved. The trouble in the past has been that the Government had not given the impression that they are in earnest. The present proposals, I think, go a long way towards remedying that, and they should provide some additional manpower for the industry. They should simplify the proceedings against those who are guilty of wilful absenteeism, and while the measure of national control proposed avoids the pitfalls of State ownership, it provides the powers which are essential, in my opinion, if the coal resources of the country are to be fully exploited.
Some hon. Members look upon control as a step to State ownership. I think that to do so is to shut their eyes to what is already in force in other industries. I agree that it is desirable to maintain individual ownership as an incentive to initiative and to the acceptance of responsibility. But the coal industry, as other industries, must accept a measure of State direction in the interests of the country and an adequate standard of efficiency. The success of our war agriculture has been due to strong leadership by the Government as to policy, coupled with individual responsibility in the implementing of that policy, subject to an insistence upon an adequate standard of performance. The new Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary, both of whom enjoy the confidence and the good wishes of this House and of the country, will do well to follow the example of the Minister of Agriculture, who, with courage and with clarity, has told the farmers what the country expects from them and has imbued such a spirit in the industry that production comes first and the discussion of grievances comes afterwards. Such a policy should not excuse any delay in dealing with grievances, and there is one which I think calls for prompt action.
I hope that the negotiations about wages will not be too prolonged. I believe that in some coalfields such as the Durham coalfields the wages it is possible for a miner to earn when compared with 1181 those earned in other industries with a fraction of the experience and with a fraction of the effort called for in coalmining are so out of proportion that they are a real grievance, and I hope that prompt action will be taken to remedy this grievance, always provided—and here I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for North Newcastle (Sir C. Headlam)—that any increase in wages should be dependent upon increased output and upon better attendance. The biggest problem which is facing the Minister is the lack of self-discipline among the less responsible elements in the industry, a lack which is responsible for most of the recent stoppages. It is a lack that will not be made good by—
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
Could the hon. Member tell me how he is going to manage this production with 65 men out of every TOO not on piece-work?
§ Mr. Storey
I cannot go into details as to how it can be fulfilled—that is a matter which must be discussed between the mineowners and the miners—but it seems a simple matter to find some form of bonus scheme which will have regard to the output of the colliery and to the attendance of the individual miner. The greatest difficulty is the lack of self-discipline among the less responsible elements in the industry. This has been responsible for most of the recent stoppages, particularly in the county of Durham. That will not be made good by fines, by imprisonment, or by the kind of hard discipline referred to to-day on the other side of the House. It will be made good only by securing a new outlook, and by convincing the men of the efficiency of the policy laid down by the Government and of the fact that any responsibility for failure to achieve the Government's aim will rest on those who do not play their part in increasing output. In securing that new outlook, I hope publicity will be allowed to play its part. So far, propaganda has not been really tried. It is true that we have had spasmodic propaganda, through pit committees, directed to the miners, to induce them to increase production: it is true we have had half-hearted appeals to the consumer to economise in consumption of fuel; but there has been no real drive in these efforts, and no attempt to convince either the miners or the public of the responsibility which rests upon them. I 1182 hope that publicity will now be put in the hands of those who are experienced in it, and that we shall have no belittling of their efforts or defeating those efforts by stirring up the recollections of an unhappy past, of which we have had some examples to-day. We must not ignore the fact that there is a definite improvement in the relations between the mine-owners and the miners. Let us cut out the whole history of the unhappy past, and try to build upon these new proposals a new outlook, which, I am sure, will result in increased production. If we have that, I am sure the public will play their part in reducing consumption of fuel.
About the details of the scheme of control outlined in the White Paper, I would say only one thing. I welcome the provision of a medical service for the mines, not only for its immediate purpose, to check the wastage of labour in the industry, but also for the germ which it contains of a wider service to deal with occupational diseases and the rehabilitation of those who have been injured. I hope that that service will grow and spread through other industries, and in due time take its part in a national health service. I think that the success of these proposals will not depend upon the details outlined in the White Paper: that will depend entirely on the way the scheme is administered. If the Government content themselves with laying down the policy which the interests of the country demands, and in securing that an adequate standard of efficiency is maintained, while leaving the structure of the industry substantially unimpaired and allowing individual initiative and responsibility to have full scope, I am confident that we have little to fear, and much to hope for, from these proposals. That the Government will do so they have given a token in the men they have chosen to administer the scheme. I have already said that in the Minister and in his Parliamentary Secretaries we have men in whom Members in all quarters of the House have every confidence, and I feel sure they will administer the scheme in such a way that it will produce results.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards (Caerphilly)
I am wondering whether this House is conscious of the serious situation in the various coalfields of the country. We are discussing the re-organisation of the mining industry in a fairly quiet atmo- 1183 sphere and are apparently oblivious of what amounts to open insurrection against responsible authority that now exists in almost every coalfield in the country. I am told that to-day Cumberland is idle. In South Wales there are a number of collieries idle, and we do not know what colliery will stop next. The men are utterly fed up with the treatment that has been meted out to them. They have decided that they will not wait any longer. It has been the responsibility of the trade union leaders to get the men to continue to work in order to promote the constitutional procedure for the settlement of their grievances. The trade union officials have recognised that a greater enemy exists across the water, and they want to pull their full weight in this struggle against Hitler. It is true to say that the men in the mines of this country have, individually, contributed more to the various funds assisting to prosecute this war than any other section of the community. They have done remarkable things, and yet these men, conscious of all that is at stake, have now reached the stage when they are throwing discrimination to the winds and strikes are spreading through the coalfields like a prairie fire.
Why is that? I spoke to an old collier on Monday, and I asked him what was the matter. He said, "It is like this. I go to work. I work six days a week. I come home on Friday, have my bath and then take my money out of my tommy-box and put it on the table. Within half-an-hour my two daughters come in from a munition factory, two young girls, and they put on the table pounds more than I am able to put on the table." I have had to discuss this position with a number of boys—young men of 18 and 19 who have never been engaged in trade union work at all, but who themselves have been organising strikes in various collieries. I have discussed the position with them, and they say, "What is the use of you talking? I have a sister three years younger than me who can bring home twice the money that I can bring home. She can spend much of her time gossiping in the factory, work in decent conditions and bring home twice as much. I go down the pit and have to sweat my guts out, and that is all I get for it." These things, together with 1184 the 15 years of persecuting tyrrany which the miners of these coalfields suffered from the owners, still burn in the hearts of our people.
Let me just give one other example which is causing trouble. The week before last a colllier came back from the Army and was sent to work in a colliery in the constituency I represent. He had been in the Army for two years and on the fifth day of his work at the Elliot Colliery he was killed. The mining industry was more dangerous to him than the Army. He was killed in the middle of the day, and his widow has sent me a letter to say that the colliery company, which clamoured for him to go back, deducted half a day's wages for the day on which the man was killed. Can we hope to get a wholesome atmosphere in industry while that sort of thing goes on?
§ Mr. Colegate
Surely this sort of question has been settled for years by joint consultative action between owners and miners. It is a charge of inefficiency against the branch of the Mineworkers' Federation which dealt with the case.
§ Mr. Edwards
The only remedy the Mineworkers' Federation have is one which, for the duration of this war, they have undertaken not to use. Do not charge them with being inefficient when they have given up power in order to help this country to win the war. Coal is vitally wanted. At another colliery in my constituency, within three miles of where I live, 16 men had to travel 10 miles to work. The bus in which they were travelling broke down, and they arrived at the colliery five minutes after the time at which they were supposed to be there—6.30 a.m. They were sent back home, and they have no redress. Take, for instance, the snowstorms of last year through which men had to cycle four or five miles to get to their work. The same thing happened then. We are not satisfied that the owners have changed their minds or that the industry can be left in their hands. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey) has just given a fine explanation, but what 1185 he has said to-day has been said elsewhere. Owners are now prepared to offer miners increased wages, but it is conditional upon extra output and regular attendance. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"] The miner who produces coal is already on piece-work. Why should a miner, in order to get wages comparable to those which girls and women are getting in other industries, be treated differently from those in other industries? You have the piece-work rates which govern miners' wages, but in establishing a minimum you have a double set of tests upon them as to whether or not they should get reasonable wages. It has been admitted that they get unreasonable wages. That conditional offer has been made; it has got around, and miners are having revived in their minds again the awful conditions which attached to the attendance bonus. If a man's wife had a baby and he stayed home to look after her, his bonus was stopped. If he stayed at home to bury a relative, the same thing occurred. That sort of thing is wrapped up in the present offer by the owners.
The Mineworkers' Federation have submitted to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Tirade eight amendments to the scheme contained in the White Paper In the course of the Debate, I think we are entitled to know what are the replies that are to be made. Personally, I am not satisfied with this scheme. I am certain that in six months' time—probably in three months' time—the Government will have to come to the House again to ask for a remodelling of the scheme. I think they will have to ask the House for authority to take over the mines, because I cannot see how they will be able to run mines that are in the possession of someone else. What are the eight points? First, it has been suggested that the structure of the National Coal Board should be altered. The second point, which is a very important one, is this: if there are social consequences as a result of concentration, what provision is to be made to deal with them? If the men have to travel greater distances to the pits, what compensation will they get? Will means of transport be provided for them? Will there be better canteen arrangements for them? We ought to be given some indication of what the Government are prepared to do. Speaking from 1186 memory, I think the scheme provides for six regions.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
Very well. I take it that the size and boundaries of the regions will be decided as a result of consultation with both sides. I am very anxious that an effort should be made to get a greater measure of centralisation of the coal fields that are adjacent to each other. We do not want a lot of little patriarchic estates to continue in the industry. The next point is that where the Regional Controller gives directions in a Region and the Regional Control Board object to those directions, will there be any arrangements whereby the difference can be settled by an appeal to a higher authority? There is then the point about pit managers and their responsibility. I beg the Lord President of the Council to recognise that the managers will obey, openly or surreptitiously, those who pay them, and unless my right hon. Friend can devise a means whereby the managers will be responsible to the State and dependent upon the State for their salaries, they will be put in an impossible position. The miners have a bad time of it, but some colliery managers are ridden to death by the superior structure which is over them. I hope they will be given an opportunity to apply their minds in a scientific way to the development of the pit and the production, without hindrances from any side.
With regard to the point about the functions and powers of the pit production committees, again I must quote the position at a colliery which is almost a stone's throw from the place where I live. Three months ago there was a pit production committee at that colliery. It was presided over, not by the pit manager, but by the colliery agent, who presides over all the production committees in that group. At that pit production committee the workmen raised the question of certain officials having sent out certain men irregularly. At the following committee meeting, the agent refused to have recorded in the minutes any reference to the complaints raised by the workmen, and when the workmen insisted on its being inserted, he closed the meeting, and for three months there has been no meeting of the pit production committee. The Minister will find that in South Wales the majority of the pit production committees 1187 are not functioning. Very largely, in the past, so far as they did function, they functioned about absenteeism and dirty coal, and nothing else. The men's job was to work and not think.
There is then the question of the amalgamation of undertakings. I should be obliged if, when the Government reply is made, we could be given some indication as to what is meant by a "colliery undertaking." Is a colliery undertaking the whole of the collieries of a company? One colliery company in South Wales owns one-third of the collieries in the coal field. Is that one undertaking? If it is one undertaking, it means that the structure of the present ownership will be completely retained and the directions will come from the responsible person in the undertaking, the managing director, through the colliery agents to the pit managers. We ask that the managers at the pits shall be made the responsible persons to the controllers. If the colliery manager is to be responsible to what is called in the White Paper "the responsible person" and that responsible person is the colliery agent, all that is being done is to provide for the preservation of the structure of ownership of the colliery owners. I am hoping that the colliery managers will be made the responsible persons in regard to each pit. If that is done, not only will they receive instructions direct from the Controllers, but they will be responsible 100 per cent.
I suggest that pit production committees should, by right, have a copy of the orders sent by the Controller to the colliery manager. It is important that these pit production committees should not only assist the manager, but should know the requests which have been made to him, in order that they shall not be cheated of their rightful place. I ask that we shall be given a reply to these questions by the Government. We are disappointed with this scheme. We were led to expect something better than this by the speech of the Lord Privy Seal on the wireless. We expected some resolute, strong action to mobilise this country in the prosecution of the war. There is not much strength and not much resolution in this scheme. There is a lot of timidity, and I am afraid that that timidity has been brought into being by pressure from the 1922 Committee.
1188 That is our view, and it is the general view held in the coalfields. It is a view which is rather supported by the nature of the White Paper itself. While we wish the right hon. and gallant Gentleman all the success he can have in his job, we want to warn him that he is up against one of the most difficult industries in this country. But, so far as the spirit of the miners is concerned, they want to give of their best to this nation, and they want the nation to give them a square deal.
§ Mr. Higgs (Birmingham, West)
I have listened to a large part of this Debate, and it seems to me that the White Paper is not going to meet with very great difficulties. The appointment of a Minister for coal and fuel has given considerable satisfaction in the country, and I am sure that the appointment of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food as the new Minister has given equal satisfaction in this House. The Debate has largely centred around increased production rather than on increased economy. When a fellow gets into financial difficulty he has never enough money, and his problems would not have arisen had he been spending less. That, I think, is the position of the coal industry to-day. We are not economising enough with that which is produced. I looked through the first White Paper with interest, and I did not see one word concerning economy in the use of coal in industry. We then produced the second White Paper, and those responsible found room in one-third of a page to refer to the economies which might be practised in industry. According to the White Paper, industry consumes three-fifths of the coal produced. Yet, when economy is debated, we are emphasising the importance of economy on two-fifths of the output. It is really ridiculous that two-fifths are being paid for by the individual, and the average individual, if he buys coal, has to do without chocolates. If he buys fuel of any description, he has to go short of something else, and which we are preaching, for the domestic consumer affects his pocket, and he will Be as economical as he can for his own benefit.
But the position is not the same in industry. Public utility companies are the most economical users of coal. They have studied the question for years, and they get the best out of their fuel. The 1189 culprit is the manufacturer, the average industrialist. Their gases are left on, and there is no economy practised on consumption. Heating apparatus is left functioning unnecessarily. There are many factories in Birmingham using artificial light because it is too much trouble to take the black-out material off. Factories working one or two shifts, in daylight only, are using artificial light, and no step is taken to enforce the removal of the black-out. There is no suggestion in this document that anything is to be done about it. The only reference that I can see is to an education campaign. That seems to be the idea of the Government, to create more officials. If, instead of creating officials, an equal number were to be sent down the mines, that would have a far greater effect, and we should get the fuel that we want. To get this efficiency in industry we have to offer some inducement, and, unless we do, I am afraid this continual waste will go on. I suggest that if the fuel consumption for any future period is less than for a similar period last year, the saving should not be subject to E.P.T. It comes to this, that the Government are paying for this excessive fuel consumption. The majority of firms to which I refer are paying E.P.T., and fuel consumption is a charge on manufacturing costs. Consequently a firm does not feel the loss, and, unless some drastic action is taken, and some encouragement is given to the manufacturers to be efficient, nothing will be done. Far more can be saved in industry than the relatively niggling little bit which it is suggested may be saved by domestic rationing.
In Birmingham there are some 500,000 meters to read every time the accounts are paid. In this document there is no reference to the difficulties of reading meters. Some 30,000 in Birmingham cannot be read at all because nobody is at home when the inspector calls. These are some of the minor difficulties which would confront the rationing of domestic fuel. When there is this other great need for economy I cannot understand why the Government do not give it more attention. The real reason is that it is a difficult job, and the Government will not face it. We have had more difficult problems, and we have solved them. I believed that this problem could be solved, but the Government would have to give some inducement to the manufacturer 1190 before he would take an interest in it. In the White Paper, under the heading "National Machinery," there is no provision for transport to be considered. Further down I see that persons are to represent the coal consumers. Under "Regional Machinery," however, there is no provision for the consumers to be represented. It is very desirable that the consumers should be represented on the regional machinery as on the national.
The White Paper states that the industrial consumption of coal is to be reduced through improved methods of fuel consumption and an organised system of allocating coal to industry. Why do not the Government include something about reducing waste? The country has been ahead of the Government in economy on every occasion. It has had to force economy upon the Government, and it is time the Government took notice, because so much could be saved by economy of consumption in industry. I notice that if the rationing scheme is carried out, both points rationing and the basic period rationing will be included. It has been shown that the points rationing is exceedingly difficult, in any case, but by carrying out the basic period rationing as well the scheme will be made more difficult. It is proposed that one person should read both gas and electricity meters, and the White Paper states that such an arrangement is already in force as between the Gas Light and Coke Company and the County of London Electricity Supply Company. That arrangement, however, is purely experimental and applies only to a small area in Kent. It has been tried in Edinburgh without success, and the unions and federations are opposed to the practice. This has been a very interesting Debate. A large number of Members have taken part owing to the fact that they have made short speeches. I am not going to transgress, and I will now sit down.
§ Mr. Molson (The High Peak)
There has been some criticism on the other side of the House because the 1922 Committee have taken a certain interest in the rationing scheme. I do not know why it should be only the Labour Party which is entitled to make representations to the Government. Hon. Members on this side of the House are in the majority, and they are surely entitled to represent to the Government their conviction that a scheme of 1191 rationing without any attempt at increasing production would be extremely unpopular in the country and would be regarded as a general confession of bankruptcy. I think they have been justified in the White Paper that has now been produced, and I hope and believe that the effect of this White Paper will be to put the production of coal upon a better foundation than ever before. I did venture, before my party adopted the policy, to advocate the nationalisation of coalmining royalties, and at the same time I was in favour of making effective the compulsory amalgamation of colliery undertakings, and it does seems to me that at the present time, when coalmining royalties have been nationalised and the National Coal Board has been set up, it should be possible for the whole coalmining industry to be gradually reorganised in a way that, over a long period of time, will result in increased efficiency in the production of coal. I do not anticipate that, as a result of the powers given to the Minister for Fuel, there will be a sudden increase in the highest standard of technical mining, but it seems to me that this machinery should enable him to insist that all mines shall be brought up to the standard of the best. I should like, in passing, to ask why it is that the Controller-General is to be made the vice-chairman of the National Coal Board, and I would urge upon my right hon. Friend that the proper person to be the vice-chairman is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Department.
I wish to support strongly what was said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Nottingham (Major Gluck-stein) about the release of miners from the Army. I feel that the White Paper has adopted a long-term policy, which I hope will ultimately result in an increased production of coal, but I cannot see that it is likely to do so in the next few months. In fact, there will be only 11,000 men released from the Forces this year, though at the same time we are told that the annual wastage from the mines is 25,000. I hope that even now it is not too late to ask the Government to reconsider their decision in this matter. I wrote to the Minister of Labour last year and urged upon him that it was a great mistake to be calling men from the munitions industry to go into the mines when at the same time the Government refused to 1192 release men from the Armed Forces. At that time the British Army was most inadequately equipped. There were men for whom we had not got the equipment, and yet the Government, in their wisdom, refused to bring the unequipped soldiers back to the mines, although they brought back men from munitions. It was, as I believe, the obstruction of the Service Departments which resulted in that mistake last year, and I am surprised that the Lord President of the Council should have paid a tribute to the War Office for their co-operation down to the present time. Indeed—as I read the White Paper—it does not merely mean that the Government persist in their refusal to release men from the Field Force but that no additional men are to be taken even from the anti-aircraft defences of this country or from other branches of the Army which do not constitute the Field Force. I would once again beg the Government to reconsider their decision in this matter.
It is impossible to expect the consumers of coal in this country to accept rationing without grave dissatisfaction as long as they read of absenteeism and of strikes in the coalfields.
§ Mr. Molson
Hon. Members opposite expect to be listened to when they are making their speeches criticising the coal-owners, and I hope they will be good enough to listen to me. I shall try not to be unduly provocative in what I have to say, but these matters have to be faced. They are being talked about by the general consumer all over the country at the present time. Only a short time ago there was a strike at the Dorman Long collieries, because two young miners, surface workers, had been sent to prison for refusing to go down a mine. That was a difficult case, and I am not saying anything about the circumstances in which those two lads refused to go down the mine; but I would point out that there can be no justification whatever for the action of the men in coming out on strike. The case was under the Essential Work Order, which is part of the law of the land. The law was set in motion by the Minister of Labour and was applied by the magistrates on the local bench. For the men of those collieries to come out on strike because the law had been set duly in motion was not only illegal, but, from 1193 a moral point of view also, could not possibly be justified during war-time.
In the colliery districts I feel that there is still a failure to realise the urgency of the need for coal. A short time ago Hickleton colliery refused to abandon the old custom of ceasing work on any day when there had been a fatal accident in the colliery. The custom is natural enough in peace-time, when sudden death is not expected to take place anywhere, but it indicates an altogether exaggerated idea of the importance of a miner's life in wartime. At all the aerodromes in this country there are casualties daily and nightly, but the work is carried on. For a colliery to be treated in an entirely different way and for a miner's life to be regarded as in an entirely different category from the life of a seaman, airman or soldier, shows that the colliers, largely because they live in communities and are remote from the rest of the world—
§ Mr. Lawson
It is a regular middle-class attitude that because miners live in colliery districts they are remote from the rest of the world and are ignorant; only there is no truth in it. The hon. Member would not say that of the soldiers.
§ Mr. Molson
I said that miners live a remote life. They live away from aerodromes and from the rest of the community, and therefore the ordinary casualties and accidents that happen to other members of the community seem to them to be remote from their colliery villages.
§ Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)
I really do not wish to interrupt my hon. Friend, but may I ask him whether he does not see any fundamental difference between the risks which a sailor, soldier or airman runs in war-time and the ordinary risks which the colliery worker runs in the ordinary day-to-day drudgery of colliery work? Surely there is a fundamental difference.
§ Mr. Molson
I cannot possibly see why in war-time, because there is a fatal accident, whole collieries should close down for the day when the same thing does not take place in the case of the Armed Forces of the Crown. It is not clear from this White Paper whether the responsibility for the enforcement of the law against absenteeism is to be in the hands of the new Department or in the hands of the 1194 Ministry of Labour. As I understand the position at the present time in the case of Scotland, the Minister of Labour is responsible for labour questions—
§ Mr. Dalton
I have answered this point twice, and perhaps I can save the time of the hon. Gentleman and of the House if I say again that it is perfectly clear that this will be the responsibility of the National Service officer. He is an official of the Ministry of Labour.
§ Mr. Molson
That is to say, the system which at present applies in Scotland will be applied in England. I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. I would also like to ask whether, in future, the Essential Work Order will prevent a miner from moving from one colliery to another. At present the Essential Work Order, as I understand it, only prevents him from moving away from the coalmining industry to another industry. It does not prevent him from moving, at his own wish, from one undertaking to another. Obviously, as was pointed out on the other side of the House, if there is to be a concentration of labour upon those mines and those seams where production will be easiest, it will be necessary for the Essential Work Order to enable the Minister of Labour to direct a miner to work in any particular mine.
The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) referred to the causes of the discontent which at present is so widespread in the coalmines, and said that a skilled miner, after a long week of work, goes home with total earnings less than those of his wife or daughter who has been engaged on much less arduous work in some local ordnance or other munitions factory. This was brought home to me very vividly last week-end, when I was staying in a coalmining area near a Royal Ordnance factory. This illustrates once more the very great difficulties which have arisen owing to the Government's failure to produce a wages policy. The miners are, to-day, demanding that they shall be paid a wage equal to that which is being paid in other industries, but if there is a flat-rate rise in wages, it is likely that it will result in more absenteeism and not less.
§ Mr. Molson
At present, in South Wales, something like 40 per cent. of the miners are relying not upon the piece-rates but upon the minimum wage, and obviously if the minimum wage is to be increased without a corresponding increase in the piece-rates, the inducement to a man to raise output will not be increased. I am aware of the difficulty involved in bringing about an increase in piece-rates, where you have already long-established price lists for various seams in different parts of the country, but I hope that when this new wage agreement is reached it will be possible to increase the piece-rates and that there will not be an increase in the minimum wage.
I very much regret that the Government have not done anything to implement the White Paper on wage policy which they put forward nearly 18 months ago, and I wonder that the Trades Union Congress have shown themselves hostile to that White Paper. Look at what is happening. Those classes of labour who have gained most during this war are just those who are unskilled and who are not organised in trade unions, and it is the coalminers and the railwaymen and the engineers who have benefited least by the increase in wages which has taken place. I feel that we are now confronted by an almost insuperable difficulty where, owing to the Government not having had the courage to put into effect their White Paper on wage policy have allowed the wages of boys and girls and unskilled workers in general to go up, so that today those are the people who have gained most out of the war, while the skilled workers who before the war were the aristocrats of labour, have not benefited to anything like the same extent. I hope that, even at this stage, it is not too late for organised labour to change its attitude in that matter.
I believe that during the next few weeks there will be ample opportunity for a great reduction in the consumption of coal by the Government, by industry, and by private consumers, as a result of the appeal which is being made by the Government. I hope it may be unnecessary to introduce the rationing scheme. But however that may be, I am glad that the Government are taking the steps necessary to have a rationing scheme available so that if it is not possible to produce enough coal to dispense with rationing, we may have a scheme in operation before the winter.
§ Mr. Hely-Hutchinson (Hastings)
I intend to confine my remarks to the smallest possible compass. The House will have appreciated the patience with which the Lord Privy Seal and the President of the Board of Trade have sat through this Debate. Their patience has been equalled only by the patience of back benchers jumping up at intervals of quarter of an hour, Mr. Speaker, in the hope of catching your eye. It is interesting to observe that, whereas, a month ago, the points rationing scheme was the spearhead of the Government's policy, it is now first, production, and secondly, economy, which are the spearheads of the Government's policy, and the points rationing scheme has been relegated, quite properly as I believe, to the position of an Annex. If this has been brought about, as some hon. Members have suggested, by what the Prime Minister would characterise, and two or three years ago could have afforded to welcome, as "a growl from the Tory party," I do not think that the Tory party need be ashamed of what they have accomplished.
§ Mr. Hely-Hutchinson
I say that if they have accomplished it, they need not be ashamed. On the question of the control of the industry, I do not believe that the 95 per cent. of the people of the country who are not directly interested in the industry as producers of coal, either as miners or as owners, care very much about the abstract doctrine of nationalisation. I think they are inclined to approve the Government's present proposals in respect of coal because those proposals represent an attempt to secure greater production. They are not concerned to prove or refute the truth of some abstract doctrine as to whether or not nationalisation is a good plan.
There is one point in connection with the new control and the alteration of places from which coal may be produced that the Government will have to watch. That is the effect of the operation of 100 per cent. E.P.T. on particular coal mines. On the point of wages, I think that the 95 per cent. of the population who are not interested directly in the production of coal would be glad to see an increase of wages, provided that it was, in some way, coupled with increased output. On the point of economy, it is important to 1197 realise the effect which price has on economy, particularly in domestic consumption. There has been considerable economy in many houses as a result of the increased price of coal. I wish to make a suggestion which will probably be regarded as reactionary, because it is the kind of suggestion we have not heard for many years, and it is now possible to say that any doctrine of the Manchester school of economists is reactionary. The suggestion is that if one of the results of the proposed increase of wages, if granted, should be an increase in the price of coal, the Government should not be afraid of that, because there is no factor which would be more powerful an accompaniment to the Government's scheme for encouraging economy.
The important point in the Government's scheme on which I should like to speak is the points rationing scheme, which, very properly, has been relegated to the Annex. The statement of the Lord President of the Council that no scheme would be introduced without this House having an opportunity to discuss it, was reassuring; but the assurance was qualified in a way which I think would naturally cause apprehension. The Government propose, as was stated by the Lord President of the Council, to go ahead with all their plans for a rationing scheme, to issue a large number of forms, and to appoint a large number of the necessary officials. That can mean only that, if and when a rationing scheme becomes necessary, the Government will confront this House with the statement that a rationing scheme is necessary, that they have gone three-quarters of the way with this particular scheme, and that, therefore, this is the sort of scheme they must have. Therefore, our discussion of what kind of scheme we should like will be rendered useless. It is necessary to state, and to place upon record, as briefly as possible the fundamental objection to the points rationing scheme proposed by the Government. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, in introducing the scheme about a month ago, said, in language which I did not find very convincing, that it was a simple scheme. I think he said that it could be operated by school children
§ Mr. Hely-Hutchinson
I suppose that we all look at the schoolmaster's desk 1198 rather like school children. If I may comment upon it in the words of the school child, I would like to say something to the Government which any child could understand and which a schoolboy could certainly say appropriately to a former schoolfellow. That is that, as far as the points rationing scheme is concerned, the view of a very great many of us is, "Take it away, because we do not mean to have it." I hope that that simple thought is clearly expressed. But the fundamental reason why we do not wish to have it, quite apart from all the complicated details of operations to which reference has been made by other speakers, is that it does not really meet the essential need of the situation. The Government say to us, and we agree, that in the operation of a rationing scheme there has to be a reduction in the consumption of fuel. A reduction compared with what? How will that question be answered by 13,000,000 or 14,000,000 householders throughout the country? Upon what are they to make the reduction? They will say, "On what I consumed last year." That is the only way in which any individual can think. Nearly every household in the country has its consumption of fuel on a more or less standardised basis. What is fundamentally unsound about the Government's scheme is that it tends to base the reduction not upon what each household consumed in a previous year, but upon some theoretical standard of what a household of given dimensions ought to consume quite apart from the qualifications of that particular house, the different reasons why different forms of light, heat and power are consumed in that house. The essential thing upon which economy of fuel must as a practical matter be based is in relation to the previous year's consumption. In that connection I would like to call the attention of the House to a letter which appeared in "The Times" two days ago from Sir Frederick Hopkinson, in which he says:In the first Beveridge rationing scheme it was, I think, stated that-it would mean a reduction of 8½ per cent. to the ordinary householder. On my last year's figures from 1st January to 31st December, on a normal year, the scheme was given in 'The Times' shows that in this house, where coal, gas and electricity are used, it works out at a reduction of 72 per cent.I had been preparing my own figures with a view to seeing what would be 1199 possible to meet what was necessary to be done, and in my own case, comparing with the last full year, the reduction is 90 per cent. in order to meet the Government standard. I have been able to effect a reduction of 40 per cent., but I cannot manage to continue to live in my house if I have to reduce fuel consumption of all kinds by 90 per cent. I have to-day received a letter from a constituent whose feelings I echo, who says:Dear Sir,—If the fuel rationing scheme as proposed by the Government is put into force, we shall be obliged to break up our home.That is the position many people will be faced with if this arbitrary scheme, based upon a theoretical conception of what a house of given dimensions ought to consume, is put through. However, there is one paragraph in the Annex which offers us a ray of hope in that respect. It is paragraph 16, which says:If any householder satisfies the Local Fuel Overseer that his previous consumption was not unduly high it will be cut by not more than 33⅓ per cent.That, I think, is a very fortunate provision in the Government's scheme, but even that does not let it out against all the immense implications that are involved in the administration of this scheme. People much prefer a scheme along the general lines advocated by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Sir A. Gridley). I believe his speech on the last occasion on which we discussed this subject was the most powerful agent we have had in causing the Government to recede from their original view of putting points rationing in the forefront and turning round now and putting increased production and further economy in the forefront of their present policy.
There is one final point I would like to make. Just as we have succeeded in getting the Government to put the idea of increased production and more economy in the forefront of their policy, there is one other thing I would like to keep well forward in their minds. In total war the morale of the civil population is something which transcends even the morale of the Armed Forces. To keep people warm through the winter is one of the most vital objects which the Government ought to keep in mind. If we have to draw in our belts, we shall do it much better if our houses are warm. That does not merely mean some houses. The 1200 Government should try to arrange the scheme so that everybody is kept warm in winter. If they do so, it will be a vital factor in morale and will be the greatest contribution that can be made towards carrying us through this winter to victory.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr)
I have sat through most of this Debate to-day and, naturally, as one who has a life-long association with the mining industry, I cannot possibly refrain from casting my mind back over the history of that industry since I first became aware of it. This White Paper does not reveal a glimmer of any historical sense at all so far as the mining industry is concerned. The hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Molson) made a speech a few minutes ago. I could easily visualise him with the Lord Privy Seal and the President of the Board of Trade explaining and extolling this White Paper to the miners of South Wales. It was one of the best commentaries I have yet heard on this White Paper. His speech was devoted to lecturing the men who make the collieries and keep them going. It was a kind of speech that this House has had to listen to for years, particularly from those Benches. I am rather glad that when old colleagues of mine present a scheme of this kind to the House, they are for the moment sitting on that side of the House rather than on this side. It is a far more appropriate place for them, with more appropriate background.
Coalmining and the coalmining community are the background to my life. I have said in the House on more than one occasion that I know very little about any other industry than coalmining. This White Paper amazes me, and also hurts me, as it will hurt thousands of splendid miners. It is not even an apology for a scheme. My right hon. Friends must know that the moment one attempts to fit that mosaic collection of ideas and principles contained in the White Paper into the industry as one knows it, one is forced to the conclusion—and no one regrets it more than I do—that the White Paper will not work. There is nothing that would make such a strong appeal to me, or give me as much pleasure and happiness, as to see this great industry at long last intelligently organised and its great resources exploited for the benefit of the people of the country. But as my right hon. Friends must know, this White Paper, apply it in any way you like, wrap it up with all 1201 the eloquence and rhetoric that you can, will not produce an extra ton of coal.
I am more than tired of this insincere, pettifogging and piffling treatment of the mining industry. My mind has been going back very vividly over 30 years of a very active life in the industry. Every commission and every committee of inquiry for 30 years has condemned the conditions responsible for the disorganisation of the mining industry. I am not using language that is too strong when I say that for sheer, wicked, irresponsible and wanton "wastrelism" this industry has suffered more than any other industry in the country. Now We talk about rationing. Twenty-three years ago to this very month a great Commission was at work inquiring into the wholly inadequate organisation of the mining industry. We had this pronouncement made by the Sankey Commission:I recommend on the evidence before me that the principle of State ownership of the coal mines be accepted.What has happened since then? Nearly 500,000 men have been driven out of the industry, and we have lost about 80,000,000 tons of coal per year in output. And here we are crying and panicking for coal to-day. The miners cannot be blamed for the loss of a single ton of coal and for the displacement of a single worker. We have preached, appealed and written and cajoled all the powers that be for well over a generation, and these are the results: 500,000 men have been driven out of the industry, and hundreds of collieries have closed down. The abandonment of a colliery means, in general, that it is completely ruined. Communities have been made derelict, families have been broken, homes have been uprooted and indescribable poverty and despair have been experienced by thousands. Do the Government think that the miners have forgotten all this? My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) stated what every mining Member from South Wales can corroborate. I do not remember in my experience such widespread cynicism, disgust and resentment as exist to-day in that coalfield, and that is the truth, on my honour.
This White Paper is no good. It is adding insult to years of injury. No one would be given more pleasure than myself if a happy solution of the difficulties confronting 1202 this industry could be found. Nobody wants the miners to be happier than do Members on these benches but this industry is peculiar and has an extraordinary psychological effect on the people. Somehow or other coal seems to get into the inner spiritual life of the miners. I do not think it is altogether due to the appalling tragedies which are associated with the industry. Do not let us forget that over 5,000 men and boys have given up their lives in the last six years, and over 800,000 have been injured, more or less seriously, many of whom have died because of their injuries,' and many of whom will be of little use in the mines. The men in the coalfields have not given up all hope. This House has power vested in it to give them a square deal some day. I would appeal to my hon. Friends to scrap this wretched business. They know that it will hurt more than it will give pleasure to our own people. They know that it will not give a shadow or a flicker to the morale that we want among the miners.
I do not know how the Lord President feels after he opened the Debate—whether he thinks he put it across effectively—but I am certain that every miner who reads his speech will have a great deal to say, and it will not be very complimentary. Imagine the admissions that the right hon. Gentleman made of the tragic failure of the Government. He told us that output was decreasing and consumption increasing and the country was becoming denuded of its coal stocks. He reminded us that there was an impossibly high average age distribution in the industry.
We have talked about these things, emphasised them and repeated them over and over again. There is no news in them, and there is no new factor apart from the reduction in output. We could see its inevitability. I have told the House before that, if you take young men out of an industry where agility and strength count for something into the Armed Forces, inevitably, with the best will in the world, output will have to go down. My hon. Friends have repeated this over and over again. Then there is the failure of the industry to attract boys and youths. Are there any of my hon. Friends, ex-miners, who have not pointed out to the Government that to make the industry more attractive to these young lads and not pay them 1203 slave wages would be to the benefit of the industry? During the last few days the Government have seen it, and apparently now they are going to react to what we have stressed over and over again. Have we not warned the House of what would be the effect of this appalling wastage? There are about 700,000 employed in the industry, with an annual net wastage of 25,000. One could say a great deal about that in explaining how this wastage is brought about, but I do not want to take more time than I reasonably can. No change of conviction or of heart or no new orientation so far as the mining industry is concerned is revealed by the Government in this White Paper.
Let me tell the House what the miners say about it. I sent away last week eight copies of the White Paper to eight colliers in my constituency. The youngest of them had worked 23 years in the coalfield of South Wales. I know them all intimately, and they are splendidly reliable men. I asked them to meet me on Sunday afternoon last. I saw six of them and asked them to give me their observations on the White Paper. They did what thousands of others were doing and anticipated all the effective criticisms that have been made in the House to-day. They had not a good word to say for any point in the scheme except that they thanked the gods, although they were none too optimistic, that the National Wages Board was being lifted out of the wretched White Paper and being thrown somewhere outside to be implemented and worked upon. They appreciated that, because they thought that if in some way or other it had to be worked into this wretched scheme, they could not expect it to succeed and be of any use to them. In other respects they just anticipated the strongest and most effective criticism that has been made here to-day. They will tell the Government sooner or later that this White Paper is nothing more than a piece of irresponsible class legislation. That is what they are saying. Nothing will disabuse their minds of that, and I am confident, as more than one hon. Member has stated, that the events of the next few months will prove it up to the hilt. The Government for the time being have abandoned rationing in response to an order. Who told the Government not to introduce the rationing scheme? I have a shrewd suspicion where that instruction 1204 came from. We are not impressed with the ease with which the Government listen and respond to the instructions that come from the now notorious 1922 Committee. I have tried not to repeat what my hon. Friends have stated, but, like every other ex-miner, I could tear this scheme to pieces.
Before I sit down let me tell my own colleagues whom I see on the Treasury Bench opposite that although I cannot count for much, being just one Member, I shall refuse to assume the least responsibility for this White Paper. The Government are shirking their responsibility. It is known to every ex-miner in this House that between now and the beginning—not the middle or the ending—of next winter this Government will have to face the greatest internal crisis since this war commenced. Some heads will fall. You cannot produce coal or inspire the production of coal by papers of this kind, and I shall refuse deliberately to be placed in the position that I must assume some measure of responsibility for that crisis or for the suffering and great discomfort that will be a consequence of it. I shall absolutely refuse to do so, and if I have the opportunity—and I hope my hon. Friends will not think that I do it out of personal pique—I shall go into the Division Lobby to support an Amendment that tells us the obvious thing that has to be done sooner or later, and that is to take this industry out of the hands of the most irresponsible people who have wasted a priceless natural asset of this country. Hundreds of millions of tons have been wasted in my own coalfield alone. As I said in the last Debate, it is being wasted now—this is no exaggeration, and I hope the President of the Board of Trade will take note of it—at the rate of some millions of tons every week. That is in the steam coal areas of South Wales. We have protested against it, against the conditions under which the men work and the conditions governing their pay, and if this White Paper is the only thing we can have, well, I regret more than I can express in words that any old colleagues and respected friends of mine should be associated with such a wretched bastard policy as a substitute for what they know can alone put the mining industry on its right footing and inspire that great race of men and boys to give this country far more than they are permitted to give at present.
§ Mr. David Adams (Consett)
I should not have intervened but for the reflection that the Government have suspended the Rule to-day in order that back bench Members may have an opportunity, which so seldom come to them in Debates nowadays, to participate in this classic discussion. It would be rather churlish on my part if I did not avail myself of such a generous opportunity, but I will not trespass on this exceedingly kind gesture on the part of the Government. I felt that the Lord President of the Council's introduction to the Debate was very fair and very informative and admirably fulfilled the task which the Government had laid upon him of pouring a good deal of oil upon the troubled water in the offing. I congratulate the Minister of Fuel and Power upon his promotion. We all know that he has what is necessary in dealing with this thorny industry, and that is the spirit of good will and consideration for all concerned. No one will deny the allegation that the new Minister fairly reeks with good-will. He has proved capable of good-will not only in this House but throughout the country generally, and he will be known as the Minister of good-will who, once upon a time, was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food.
Coal production was one of the Government's prime errors after the French débacle. They seemed to have blotted out entirely from their minds the idea of coal production at that time. It was left to coalowners to interview persons like myself and other hon. Members in the districts which they represented, in order to try and persuade the Secretary of Mines to give some little thought or consideration to the problem relating to the closing of certain collieries and the transportation of large numbers of workers from their native districts. The Secretary for Mines apparently was not sufficiently strong to play the necessary part in saving the industry at that time. I am glad that, at all events, this error is being rectified, inasmuch as the new Minister' will be a member of the Cabinet or, if not, will be so closely associated with it that he will be able to speak with the voice of authority in regard to the coal industry, as is necessary to-day.
One thing is certain, which is that the error and neglect of the Government in this matter have brought extremely near 1206 that dreaded eventuality, the nationalisation of this industry, which seems to-day almost a certainty. In this particular, the Government, whether they like it or not, are treading upon very dangerous ground. We know to-day that, if the position were put before the country—if such an opportunity were made available—the country would, with singular unanimity, declare, particularly in view of this industry's mournful history, that it should be transferred from the hands of those who are not capable of managing it in the public interest to the hands of the State, there to be utilised in the interests of the workers and of the community to a degree which it is difficult to over-estimate to-day.
The White Paper is happily an advance on the present situation, although, in my judgment, it has certain manifest defects. Take the case of the managers of collieries, who will remain the paid servants of the owners. They are not to be the paid servants of the community, even in this hour. Surely they ought to be the paid servants of the State during a period of State control. What possible argument is there against the managers being made State servants at a time when it is alleged that we have eliminated the profit motive from the scheme of coal production so far as the owners are concerned? We know just what the results will be. There are bound to be the same conferences between owners and managers, there is bound to be the same desire on the part of the manager, who will once again resume his position officially as the servant of the owners, and the profit motive must in the nature of things be. kept well to the fore. Therefore, many of the defects which we find in the colliery system of to-day will be continued during the period in which the mines are supposed to be used for increased production and for the furthering of the national interest to a higher degree.
The Regional Coal Boards are overloaded against the miners themselves. Their constitution, as set out here, is quite clear; they will comprise representatives of coalowners, miners, managers and technical staff. The managers, presumably the technical staff and certainly the coalowners, will not be on the side of the representatives of the miners, nor will they yield to their views, so that when they begin their labours in the interests of the industry the miners' representatives 1207 will be placed in a serious and derogatory position. The pit production committees are to be relieved of their troubles connected with absenteeism, and one advance which we find in the White Paper is that competent technical advice is to be made available to all collieries. Personally, I have had complaint after complaint from members of pit production committees, who have declared that they have asked managements to make improvements of a technical nature by the addition of certain machinery and so forth, and have been very brusquely informed that that is a matter of management and that they had better confine themselves to their own business. Now that collieries are to have competent technical advice, a very large step forward has been taken in the direction of improving output. I can say quite definitely that if the best technical advice could have been taken at certain collieries within my own knowledge, the output, according to the experts—I mean the mineworkers themselves-would have been substantially improved. Now we shall get that substantial improvement.
With regard to the redundant pits, the least profitable are to be shut down, I understand. That is a very dangerous power to be placing in the hands of the Controller. It seems to me that we may find many of our lesser pits in County Durham alleged to be not as efficient as others, perhaps some of the older pits; and we may find certain districts denuded of the main source of the local authority's income so that whole communities may be virtually derelict, as they were during the worst days of the mining industry. I hope that the Controller will take it upon himself, whether he has powers or not—those powers might be given to him—to consider the rights and necessities of the local authorities which may be most adversely affected by the shutting-down of collieries, and that he will consider whether additional machinery, or perhaps the sinking of another shaft in some cases, or some other technical change, might avoid that dread necessity of shutting down collieries and turning derelict what are today relatively important areas in the col-field.
The National Wages Board, as long as the structure of the financial basis of the industry remains unchanged, will have an extraordinarily difficult task in improving 1208 the wage conditions of the miners. How they are to achieve that I am at a loss to understand. I have conferred with leading members of the industry, and I am advised that so long as the structure remains as it is, so long as the present method of ascertainment of wages continues, it will debar the miner from obtaining a rational and proper share that should fall to him and his from this great industry.
So long as Parliament or the Government decide that the bare profits from the mere coal-getting are what the miner is to receive his share from, then it is a certainty that he will never have a reasonable livelihood out of the industry. This industry is not mere coal-getting. There are vast profits in the distribution of coal. What makes the difference between the pit-head price and the price to the consumer, either industrial or domestic? There is a source of profit which, under proper organisation, could become a means of improving the financial status of the worker. Then there is the by-product industry. By every test that ought to have been made—and Parliament will certainly in due course make it—part and parcel of the profits of those who are connected with this industry. There are vast profits being made out of the by-products of coal, and if the industry was nationalised and the necessary resources were placed at the disposal of the industry, then in every part of that industry, in every coalfield, countless millions of money, so I am advised, would be earned through the by-products of the industry, and enormous advantages would be given, not only to the industry itself, but to the various industries of the country, including agriculture, in the additional advantages that could be placed at the disposal of the State through the by-products of coal.
I raised in the House not long ago the question of the treatment of young men in the industry, and gave certain illustrations of what I had been a participant in, so far as County Durham is concerned. We all know that the treatment of boys and youths in the industry has been a scandal for many years past. Within living memory, the treatment of the mineworkers has been a scandal. In my constituency, in a colliery district from which great wealth has been produced, an aged miner from the pit who was no longer able to work was immediately, with his wife, if 1209 he had one, taken, even during living memory, to the poorhouse. I have had pointed out to me the son of a person who, owning a small horse and cart, gave himself the privilege of always taking, free of charge, the old miner and his wife to the poorhouse when the miner was no longer able to work. The youths to-day are subject to low wages and long hours, and their value, if killed, is less than that of a pit pony. They are subject to dismissal at any time if there is slackness at the colliery or at the caprice of the owners or managers of the colliery. I remember taking part with an ex-Member of this House in protest meetings in my constituency against the dismissal of no fewer than 60 young men at one time from a series of collieries. The reason for their dismissal was not slackness of work. It was not inefficiency. They had performed all the services required of them, they had attended the safety classes, and they had learned pit-craft in other directions. Their offence was that in the case of most of them they were reaching an age in a few months when they could demand a man's wage. That justified the colliery owners in dismissing no fewer than 60 of these young men.
I was able to trace the subsequent history of some of them, and I found that they were accepting labouring work, some with the local authority, and others elsewhere. Mr. Ebbie Edwards, Secretary of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, himself said to me, "It is possible for a youth of 14 to enter the mines to-day and serve his full time, up to the age of 21, learning all the craft of the industry and to find at the end that he is a labourer, receiving a labourer's wage." Therefore, we look forward with great pleasure to the report of the Committee on the improvement of the status of boys and young men in the industry—although if you were to ask any engineers' branch to submit a proper scheme of apprenticeship for a young engineer, whose trade is no less technical than that of a miner, they would do it in 14 days. However, we must appoint a Select Committee to look into the difficult matter of making life tolerable for young men in this industry. It is one of the most lucrative industries in the Kingdom if properly organised.
This White Paper is only a compromise. It is a very mild form of compromise. It is 1210 overloaded with the views of the management, who have displayed in this particular, so far as this White Paper is concerned, the same lack of foresight, good judgment and consideration which they have displayed in the past. I believe, however, that there will be economies in industry in the consumption of coal. Reforms have been outlined as far as output is concerned, and, lastly, and as particular as any, there is to be propaganda in the country in the matter of fuel saving and so forth. Although this has not yet been tried, it will, I believe, have a very beneficial effect on consumption and give splendid results, and that is the way we shall avoid, what each of us desires to avoid, the rationing of coal and fuel in the country.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
For reasons which have often been given in this House and elsewhere my party supports this Government. But it is a tough proposition while it remains in its present piebald and patchwork condition. From such a Government it is to be expected that we shall get such a patchwork document as this. Nevertheless, despite what may be said against it, it represents a step forward, not a very beg step, and we have to use that step forward to try and get further steps. Either we have to take a short step forward or we stay where we are. If we take this short step, we can try to take a bigger step, and many bigger steps will have to follow. It is a certainty that as soon as this proposal is put into operation new problems will come up, and new moves will have to be made. No effort of the 1922 Committee will prevent this. A Member complained that some of us were very critical because the 1922 Committee had taken a certain interest in this question. If he had said the 1922 Committee had taken a reactionary interest, it would have been correct, because that is the purpose of this organised body of Toryism, to prevent anything of a progressive character being done. I would give the new Minister a bit of advice. He should get into serious conversation with his colleague the Secretary of State for the Home Department and Minister of Home Security, and if he can get him to put 50 per cent. of the mineowners into gaol, his job will be very much easier.
The Lord President of the Council said to-day that the mines are vital for the 1211 war effort, and I interjected, "So are the miners," and he agreed. Is there anyone who would get up on the Front Bench opposite, any representative of the Labour party on the Front Bench who could persuade any colleagues outside the Labour party, which includes the Lord Privy Seal, to get up and say that the mineowners were vital for the war effort? Let us distinguish between the mine-owners and the management. It has been said in some discussions, "Oh, the Communists want co-operation with employers." No, the Communists do not. The Communists want to obliterate the employers, but they support the co-operation of shop stewards and the management in factories, because as soon as you get cooperation between shop stewards and management, the shop stewards and the workers begin to get a measure of control. But the 1922 Committee and the mineowners are very anxious to get an organisation that will retain for them the right to control and direct industry. The White Paper says that the day-to-day management of pits will be left as it is to-day—in the hands of the managers, who will continue to be servants of the owners. That will have a peculiar echo in the minds of the engineers of this country, because for longer years than I can remember, trade unions have fought employers and the engineers' federation have stood firm on one thing—"managerial functions." That was their special prerogative, and neither trade unions nor shop stewards nor the workers were allowed anything to say on the question of management of industries.
We hear a lot of talk about what is to happen after the war. Is this an indication of what is to happen? I have been talking to coal managers in Scotland who claim to be progressive, and they say that they are prepared to give the most solemn pledges and to have it in an Act of Parliament that if miners will make the concessions they want in order to get more coal, they will go back without hesitation to the conditions which existed before the war. Is that the new world? The 1922 Committee and the coalowners have been trying to get conditions laid down so that if this scheme is withdrawn at the end of the war, the miners will go right back to where they were. The manager has to take instructions from the Regional Commissioner, but he will be operating for his 1212 employer. What is to be his position after the war? Is this to be permanent, or is it to represent an advance to something else? Unless there is some future offered to them the managers will continue to serve the interests of the coal-owners. The coalowner's first concern is not coal production; he is concerned with coal only so far as it represents profits. I have previously drawn attention to the fact that from the other side of the House we had a stream of sympathy for the miners, a stream that grew into a torrent. I said that if miners could draw food and sustenance from sympathy, they would be a race of giants. Now it is not sympathy, but good will—such a nice term. I have sat here to-day and heard it hundreds of times. Why did not somebody mention good wages?
I read an article in a Sunday newspaper recently, written by an unspeakable creature whose name I do not propose to give. He said in answer to a letter from a soldier that we are all in this together, that we are bearing the same burdens and sharing the same hardships. What humbug and hypocrisy. I am told this writer gets £5,000 a year for writing this trash. In the workshops, we used to have a show of membership cards to show which members were paying their dues. The same thing goes on yet. I propose that in this House, where we have so much unbearable talk about the miners and the workers, we should have a regular showing of bank books, so that we can see how much truth there is in this story of our all being in it together and all bearing the same burdens and sharing the same hardships. Why does not somebody talk about wages for the miners? At a meeting the other Sunday night, after I had finished my speech, a miner who knew me came over and spoke to me. He was from Lanarkshire. He said, "I worked in the pits for 30 years and starved while I worked." He said it was better to starve in the open air than in the pits. He left the pits to sing in the streets. Now that man is singing in the music halls, one song a night, and he gets £10 a week. Good luck to him. But consider that in relation to the miner's wage. The big question is good wages, and there is no possibility of getting good wages while the 1922 Committee and the mineowners are allowed to' function.
1213 There is another matter on which I would like to be clear myself. In Fife there is a good position from the point of view of production committees and cooperation between the men and the management. Fife has had an exceptionally good record during the past months. If one takes one of the biggest companies, the Fife Coal Company, which owns a very large number of pits, the executive director—I think he is the owner—is Mr. Augustus Carlow. Is it the owner, the executive director, who is referred to in this paragraph of the White Paper:In order to avoid any blurring of responsibility the owners of each colliery undertaking will be required to nominate a single person who will be responsible with regard to that undertaking for receiving and carrying out the directions of the Controller.The next man to Mr. Carlow is the managing director, Mr. Carlow Reid. Under him there is a number of colliery agents, each of whom has two or three pits under his charge. In each pit there is a manager. "Will it be Mr. Augustus Carlow who will be approached to nominate this man? If so, whom will he nominate? He will nominate Mr. Carlow Reid, the managing director.
§ Mr. Gallacher
The Lord Privy Seal shakes his head, but the Fife Coal Company is a colliery undertaking, and the owner is the man who will be approached, and he will nominate his man, unless it is put down in black and white that someone is to be nominated at each pit in the district to accept instructions from the Regional Controller and keep contact with him. Unless you are prepared to put that down in black and white, the structure of the Fife Colliery Company, or any other company, remains the same.
There is the remark made on one or two occasions that the mineowners are incapable of managing the industry. That is not exact. The mineowners have criminally prevented the industry from 1214 being managed. In this country the mining industry is on a semi-feudal district basis, and the owners have fought with the utmost tenacity against anything in the nature of treating the industry as a national unit. The Miners' Federation came forward with a suggestion to set up a national board to organise and control the whole of the industry, but the 1922 Committee and the mineowners have prevented that, and we get instead a national mines board of an advisory character and executive control in each region. That is very bad. I hope that Members whose past has been associated with all that represents progress will take a strong stand worthy of the masses of the people who have made such great sacrifices to build the movement they represent. I hope they will take a resolute stand against the mineowners and against the 1922 Committee, which will bring about results better than we are largely to get under this White Paper.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.—[Major Sir James Edmond-son.]
§ Debate to be resumed upon the next Sitting Day.