§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. James Stuart.]
§ The Minister of Fuel and Power (Major Lloyd George)
The problem of coal supply has exercised the minds of Members in all parts of the House on more than one occasion during the year. As the House will recollect, last June the Government decided upon certain steps. I make no complaint that Members are anxious to know what progress has been made in setting up the new organisation, but I am perfectly certain that they will agree with me that the creation of a new Ministry practically at the end of the third year of war cannot be achieved overnight, especially when one considers the many new Ministries that have already been formed and the great expansion that has occurred in some of the older ones. It would be not an easy matter at any time, but it has not been made any easier by the fact that summer was already well advanced at the time when it was decided to create this Ministry. The immediate problem of the supply of coal had to be tackled at once. I am glad to say that we have made satisfactory progress with the new organisation. I have visited many of the regions myself, and I hope very shortly to be able to visit them all. I am pleased to say that while they too have had their difficulties, with regard to staff and accommodation, very satisfactory progress is being made. I do not think anybody would quarrel with me if I were to say that the reorganisation of the industry which is intended as one of the results of the new machine is not likely to have a very material effect on the supply of coal for this winter.
I was, therefore, faced with this problem. First, I had to overcome the 961 immediate difficulty of supply and at the same time I had to create a machine which would enable us to avoid that difficulty next year and in subsequent years. May I remind the House of what the position was when I took office? The coal supply position was this: In 1938 the production of coal in this country was 227,000,000 tons; export and other oversea shipments accounted for 46,000,000 tons which left 181,000,000 tons for the home market. In the year which ended with Dunkirk, the date which marks the beginning of the sharp decline in the industry's manpower and the great increase in domestic consumption—two factors I would remind the House which are responsible for the present position—in that year, the production was nearly 230,000,000 tons. Exports and other shipments accounted for 45,000,000 ions and that left the home market consuming 185,000,000 tons.
I come now to the position in the present coal year, that is, the year beginning on 1st May, for that is the period when stocks are at their lowest and the time when we are beginning to replenish for the winter. The position this year is that during five months output has been at a rate that would produce something under 200,000,000 tons. Together with that decrease in production, requirements have risen steeply since Dunkirk, owing to the increased demand for raw coal at the new war factories, the development of the war industries, the needs of the Services, and the increasing demands made upon our public utility undertakings, including railways. As an example of what that demand is in the present coal year, I may say that certain important munition industries will require 25 per cent. more coal than they did two years ago; electricity will require 40 per cent. more coal, gas 15 per cent. and railways 13 per cent. above the figure for the pre-Dunkirk period. The effect of this increased demand will be that consumption in the United Kingdom will be about 20,000,000 tons in excess of what it was in the year before Dunkirk. This, together with the fall in production—due very largely to the loss of man-power—has created a deficit which even the decline in exports does not make good. The current estimated deficit is about 14,500,000 tons. Against that there is a saving which we have already achieved by running down public utility under- 962 takings' stocks, the use of low-grade fuel from colliery banks and production from open cast workings. The total contribution I expect from these three sources will be about 3,500,000 tons which will bring our deficit down to 11,000,000 tons.
I take this opportunity, in passing, to speak about open cast working. The probable output from open cast working is about 1,500,000 tons. I think hon. Members opposite will agree that there has been a good deal of exaggeration as to the possibilities of what can be got, this year, out of open cast working. One of my difficulties is transport. Many of the open cast sites are, at the moment, remote from load or rail. The fact is that we were accumulating large supplies which had to be got away. While I appreciate that getting large quantities of coal from outcrop is not an easy matter, I do not want anybody to believe that the transport of the coal away from the sites is an easy matter either. But I am glad to say that we have made substantial progress with transport arrangements, and I am satisfied that we shall be able to get rid of the accumulation before long. I only want to make this point—that while the ultimate possibilities will really be such as to give us a real contribution, I do not want anybody to run away with the idea that, in this present coal year, we shall get more than 1,500,000 tons from this source.
That, with the public utility undertakings' stocks and the use of inferior qualities off the banks, would bring our deficit down to about 11,000,000 tons as I have already said. The question which I have to face is how this deficit is to be met, without either injuring the vital war effort of this country or causing unnecessary hardship to our people. While the seriousness of the situation must not be underestimated, I am satisfied that we can get through this winter, provided we get the full co-operation of all, both consumers and producers—and when I refer to producers, I do not refer only to the men but to the managements as well, and when it refer to consumers, I do not refer to domestic consumers only but also to that very important class of consumers the industrial consumers. The deficit in our coal budget has to be wiped out and in my judgment it can be wiped out. There must be an increase of production and a decrease of consumption.
May I give now the figures relating to consumption? Consumption is divided 963 into two parts, domestic and industrial, and I will deal first with domestic consumption. Although we are now in the fourth year of the war, I doubt very much whether until recently consumption of fuel in all its forms by the domestic population of this country had really decreased at all, per head. I am talking now of the situation before any economies have been made. I am satisfied that very large savings can be made without real hardship, and I do not want people to confuse inconvenience with hardship. There is a very important difference. But, as I say, I am satisfied that it can be done without real hardship to our people. In this connection, I feel that I must remind hon. Members that it was decided by this House last June that they would give—or that I was expected to give—voluntary economy a fair trial. At the same time, it was laid down that all the necessary steps should be taken and administrative preparations made to produce a rationing scheme in case it might be necessary to introduce such a scheme at short notice. I need scarcely now remind the House that the fuel economy campaign has started, under the able and energetic direction of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Commander King-Hall), and it will grow in intensity as the winter comes on. While I am satisfied that we can achieve the necessary savings by voluntary means I have not neglected to fulfil the Government's undertaking as to other arrangements. Some 13,000,000 householders were required to complete forms in the middle of July, and on the information contained in those forms Local Fuel Overseers have been busy assessing the needs of the householders of the country. The arrangements are now practically complete, and the first stage of a really vast undertaking has been successfully completed. Whether we have a rationing scheme or not, the information will be of immense value to us in determining the allocation of fuel to districts this winter, and the work therefore will not be wasted, whatever we decide.
Furthermore, I decided to secure a substantial measure of economy by statutory direction. I therefore made a Waste of Fuel Order, and subsequently a Control of Fuel Order. Under this latter Order I have made certain directions which 964 come into force to-day. I do not know whether anyone in the House has noticed them, but they certainly would have done so yesterday. They came into operation to-day and limit the use of fuel for central heating, for water heating and also lighting in public institutions and larger households. It is obviously too early yet to judge the full effect of the fuel economy campaign. Of one thing I am absolutely certain; it has made the whole country fuel conscious. There are definite indications that the campaign is having a substantial effect on consumption, but it is obviously impossible until later in the year to see how successful it will be, because we are now only at the end of September.
I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that if the cases which have come to my notice are typical of what is happening throughout the country—and I have no reason to doubt that they are-many thousands of tons of coal are being saved. If the House will bear with me, I will give one or two illustrations which I have taken at random. I have tried to take them to cover every activity. For instance, in the case of municipal offices I have examples of savings of from 17 to 42 per cent. since this campaign started; in the case of hotels savings of from 15 to over 50 per cent. have been secured; cinemas, from 15 per cent. to one case, in London, of 59 per cent.; and for flats I have examples of savings of 20 per cent. and under in many parts of the country. But the most remarkable indication of all is one of the big cities of this country, a very important manufacturing city with a consumption for gas of about 1,000,000 tons of coal a year. Before the campaign was started they were using about 17 per cent. more gas this year than last, because it is a big industrial city and the demand is great. That was reduced to 6 per cent. above last year, then to 2 per cent., and now it is one-half of 1 per cent. above last year. An interesting thing is that before the campaign really started the excess consumption of gas over last year was 55,000,000 cubic feet, and this has now come down to 7,000,000 cubic feet excess. This means that not only is there economy in industry but obviously there must be a very substantial economy in domestic consumption as well.
Another important factor in my plan for saving is the restriction of supplies 965 this winter. I have reduced the allocation of coal for domestic consumption, both in its raw state and in the form of gas and electricity, by 4,000,000 tons. The supply restrictions at present in force do not permit any householder to acquire more coal than will raise the stock in his cellar to one and a half tons of coal and three tons of coke. The House will be aware that there is an overriding condition in the case of coal which limits deliveries to not more than one ton in the period of three months ending 30th October. Any householder can under the Order appeal to the local fuel overseer, who may grant licences for greater quantities if he is satisfied that there would be real hardship unless the restriction was relaxed. These restrictions will be continued, but they may be modified as to quantities in the light of the supply position. If supply improves, the restrictions will be relaxed. Some relaxation has already been made regarding coke, because the supply position is somewhat easier at the moment. It is right to point out that the improvement in supply may be in respect of poor quality fuel, and householders and others may have to realise that they will have to take poorer quality fuel than some of them have been accustomed to having. Many people have been rather spoiled in this country in the past in respect of the quality they have had, and they may well have to put up with poorer quality now.
To secure the measure of economy in domestic consumption of gas and electricity restrictions will be imposed by Order on consumption. In deciding upon the form of the restrictions I propose to impose, I have had uppermost in my mind the need for equity in the distribution of the supplies that are available. I feel it is essential to provide for the small consumer as a first charge on the supplies of solid fuel that are available. To this end I propose to instruct merchants that consumers who normally use about 1 cwt. a week will be the first charge on their coal supplies. Each merchant must set up a regular rota covering all the streets in the area served from the depot. The supervision of the performance of these instructions will be carried out by the local fuel overseer, to whom I should like to take this opportunity of paying a tribute. Restrictions imposed by my Ministry on the lines I have described will continue to apply to those consumers who do not come within this "small con- 966 sumer" class. It is intended to supply these people on a programme basis with a stock of from 1 ton to 1½ tons by the end of December. The House will see that under these arrangements the transport and labour for deliveries during the period when conditions are usually at their worst will be available to serve the needs of the small consumer.
As an insurance against interruption of transport during the winter, merchants have been compelled to hold back a certain quantity of coal in stock, and Government dumps have been established in localities where the effect of interruption of supplies would be most serious. For instance, dumps have been established in practically every Metropolitan borough in London, and the councils have been encouraged to hold stocks at their blocks of flats to meet the difficulties which arose last year and in other years too. Under the scheme of delivering coal to the small consumer, as I have just described, the rota will be laid down for the merchant, but the householder must play his part in ordering coal at the office of the merchant with whom he is registered.
I do not want the House to think that because of recent concentration on the domestic consumer a great deal cannot be done with the industrial consumer. I am certain that substantial savings can be secured in the industrial world as well without seriously or at all impairing our war effort. The consumption of fuel by our industries must be somewhere in the neighbourhood of 140,000,000 tons a year, and a very small saving there would turn out a very large tonnage. Much has already been done. A year ago my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell), when he was Secretary for Mines, appointed a Committee, under the chairmanship of Dr. Grumell, to advise on how greater efficiency could be obtained in the industry. Their work is definitely beginning to bear fruit. They realise that it is impossible in war to effect substantial reductions in the consumption of coal by the installation of different plants, but they realise that a great deal of saving can be made by proper attention to operation and to maintenance. They have a three-point programme for economy.
First, they realise that however great the willingness to economise, it is useless unless people have knowledge. They therefore started last year refresher 967 courses at the technical colleges throughout the country. Secondly, they were convmced that in many large industries economies could be made by an overhaul of the heat in process work. The accordingly met representatives of about 30 trade associations, to discuss the scope for economy in each industry in turn. These associations undertook to make examinations and to see what savings could be effected. Many industries have appointed whole-time officers to give advice, backed by that of the Committee set up by the Ministry. Large economies can be made in steam-raising plant. For this reason, at the request of the Committee, my staff of combustion engineers has been increased. In addition, the controllers in the regions set up under the White Paper have been asked to recruit the voluntary part-time services of other experts. Nearly 300 of these experts have volunteered to give their assistance. We have thus set up an organisation to help those who want to save fuel in industry.
I could give many examples; there is one that I will give, from South Wales. There, one of these economy committees was set up. They inspected 50 firms, with an aggregate consumption of coal per annum of 700,000 tons. They are satisfied that they will be able to save 70,000 tons in that group of 50 firms alone. I could give many other cases. I am satisfied that people are doing their best to take advantage of what advice is offered to them, and that substantial economies not only can be made, but at this moment are being made in this country.
I have dealt with consumption: I must come to the other part of the effort to get rid of our deficit—that is, production. Leaving out the question of reorganisation, which I shall deal with later, there are at this moment, for the immediate problem, two ways of increasing output—an increase in man-power, and an increased output from the man-power that we have. It is stated in many quarters—and I see there is a Motion on the Paper to that effect—that this problem can best be resolved by releasing more men from the Forces. Members will appreciate that in dealing with this matter considerations obviously outside coal considerations must be taken into account, and I would remind them that that is 968 not an expedient that can be repeated year by year. A great deal has already been done; I wonder whether the House realises how much. The House will remember that in 1941 33,000 men were returned from other industries. This year it was decided to bring back 11,000 more from the Services and from other industries. This programme has, in fact, been improved upon. The total number returned to the mines last year and this year is nearly 50,000.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
To what category do these men belong? They are not first-grade men, from the field Forces; so they are not the youngest and most virile workers. How many are real face workers?
§ Major Lloyd George
I have not the figures broken down as my hon. Friend wants them. As for face workers, the result has been to put up the number of face workers by over 5,000 as compared with last year.
§ Major Lloyd George
No. My hon. Friend, I am surprised to see, has forgotten that there is such a thing as wastage. That increase of 5,000 allows for the wastage that has taken place.
§ Mr. Bevan
I am sorry to be so persistent, but this is a matter of the gravest possible moment. My hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell), when he was at the Ministry of Mines, made several attempts to get men released from the Forces. The War Office laid it down that they would not release men from the field Forces, so men are coming back who are not Grade 1 men; and they are not the men to raise coal output quickly.
§ Major Lloyd George
I will try to get the actual figures for ray hon. Friend. Obviously, no Minister responsible for producing coal would refuse additional man-power. It would make my task, I will not say simple, but a good deal simpler than it is at the moment. But I must remind the House that there are 17,000 more men in industry than there were last year, and that the output is 70,000 tons a week down. I make this point for one purpose only; I want to make it perfectly clear that "more men" 969 is not the whole solution to this problem. An increase in output from the present labour force might be achieved, and can be achieved, by concentration on more productive pits and seams and on the modernisation of methods. This must, of necessity, take time. Not only has the machinery to be manufactured, but very big issues are involved, both human and mechanical, where concentration is concerned. My regional officers are now engaged in making detailed surveys—that is a very important preliminary to anything of this character—and in a number of cases are already discussing details with colliery managements. Further, concentrations within some collieries have already taken place. I say frankly that progress has not been even in all the regions, but I have given instructions that this must be considered as a work of prime importance.
But the anxiety of the House and the country is concerned with the immediate position. That must in the main depend on the increased productivity of the men now in the industry. For the last two years output has steadily declined. I thought it was of the utmost importance that as soon as I had the opportunity I should myself go around to try to ascertain what the reasons were. I have recently been around several of the areas—and I hope very shortly to have seen them all—and I have met over 200 pit production committees. I had a perfectly free and frank discussion with them all. I encouraged them to tell me what they thought about anything, and it was extremely instructive and, I think, will be of great use.
I will give one or two examples of the kind of things which in their minds are responsible for decreasing output. There are many others, but I am just taking one or two. First of all, I found in many cases an extraordinary lack of appreciation of the powers conferred on pit production committees. I was very surprised, and I took the opportunity to explain to them that their position was such to-day that they could take part in advising as to production and that what they suggested and advised would be sent to the Regional Controller. I want to make that perfectly clear again, because the operational control of the mines is invested in me and my Regional Controllers, to whom I delegate my powers. 970 I made it perfectly plain to pit production committees that that was a very different position from what it was at the beginning of the year. I thing my visit was useful for that purpose alone. Here are one or two of the points emphasised. There is the general strain of the war, including——
§ Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)
I do not like to interrupt, but before the right hon. and gallant Gentleman leaves the pit production business, may I ask him if he emphasised to the men that they have also the right to go down the pit and see the face and make recommendations over and above the managers themselves?
§ Major Lloyd George
The pit production committees are composed of both sides, and the men are perfectly entitled to go down, as indeed they do, but what discouraged many of them in the past was that when they made recommendations no notice was taken of them. I tried to make it perfectly plain that that would be very different in the future, and that if they made remmendations to me for improved production and things of that sort, they would be considered from one angle and one angle only.
§ Mr. Sloan (South Ayrshire)
Is the Minister quite sure with regard to pit production committees being at liberty to go down the pit and go into certain sections where they consider that things are not being carried out efficiently? The managers at the colliery simply say that they are responsible for the management of the pit, and they will not and cannot allow men to wander around the pit without permission.
§ Major Lloyd George
If that is so, I will look into it, but my intention is that the pit production committee should certainly be what its name suggests, and if they need information which would help them to that end, I shall be very glad to hear it, because I am satisfied that coal must be got. That is one thing which I may go upon with regard to output. There is the general strain of war, including the lowering of nutritional standards. The average age of miners—and I have recently made inquiries—is now 37½, compared with 34½ 10 years ago. The number over 40 years of age is now more than 40 per cent. of the total man-power 971 compared with 33 1/3 per cent. in 1931. The number between the ages of 21 and 24—a highly productive group—is not more than one-third of that group in 1931.
Deterioration and breakdowns in machinery, and, in some cases, difficulty in getting parts and so forth was also mentioned by pit production committees, and without exception, at every meeting I attended, the question of absenteeism was raised. I want to deal with that.
§ Mr. E. J. Williams (Ogmore)
May I put this point? [HON; MEMBERS: "No."] I seldom interrupt, and it is a vital point. Has the Minister inquired into the average age of the pits themselves, which, after all, is as vital as the average age of the miner?
§ Major Lloyd George
This is part of one of the things upon which I am engaged at the moment, and that is the question of the survey, which is vitally important, and it will be bound to take a little time, because we have not had an up-to-date survey in this country at all.
With regard to absenteeism, which was raised at every meeting to which I went, let me say quite frankly that in general the majority of the men are working considerably more shifts than in pre-war days. There has recently been a good deal of discussion about absenteeism among miners. The rate at present is between 10 and 11 per cent. for the country as a whole. This is an overall figure, which includes voluntary as well as involuntary absenteeism, and absenteeism through sickness and accident which operates with great severity in this industry. Nor should it be forgotten that in considering the rate of absenteeism account must be taken of the number of shifts worked by miners compared with the number worked at any other period in the history of the coalmining industry. I have no information which leads me to believe that absenteeism among miners is greater than that of any other industry.
§ Major Lloyd George
While this is so, it does not excuse the small minority of men who are not working with the urgency required for this present situation. With 972 this minority I say at once I have no sympathy. I doubt whether anybody in this House has any sympathy for them, and I certainly found no sympathy whatsoever in a single pit production committee, either individually or collectively. Indeed it was generally condemned. I will go further—and I had lots of talks with miners themselves. It causes a very great resentment among those who are working steadily, because it upsets the work they are doing, and, further, it draws upon the whole mining community criticism which ought to be confined to the particular section which is not doing its job. An examination of the actual attendance of individual men in a large number of collieries shows that in these collieries 85 per cent. of the men are putting in a satisfactory number of shifts and the remaining 15 per cent. are not putting in the requisite number of shifts. Some of these, it is true, are elderly men, and these cannot be classed with the younger men, who can offer no justification for their absence.
§ Major Lloyd George
It is rather high. It is estimated that if the minority were working as many shifts as the majority, the output of these collieries would be increased by 4 per cent., and if these collieries represented the whole country, that 4 per cent. would mean an additional 5,000,000 tons for the rest of this coal year.
In dealing with the question of absenteeism, a step of great importance has been taken in that absenteeism is removed from the jurisdiction of pit production committees. Of equal importance has been the alteration in the Essential Work Order to bring the coalmining industry into line with other industries by making absenteeism a direct offence under Defence Regulations. This Amendment became operative on 17th September. The policy laid down in the White Paper has been carried out, and investigation officers have been appointed in the regions. I have been in consultation with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour with a view to simplifying the machinery for dealing with absenteeism. I am satisfied that the alteration of the procedure will reduce delay in dealing with these cases and give the results 973 which the whole industry desires. It is too early to estimate the effect of the steps which have been taken, but the reports which reach us indicate that there has already been an improvement in this very important matter. During September also there was a very welcome improvement in output, and I am glad to inform the House that the output last week was 4,137,000 tons, the highest figure, with one exception, since December of last year. The total represents an output per man of 5.82 tons, a figure which had not been reached since last March.
A satisfactory feature is that eleven of the districts have reached their standard tonnage. Last week it was only seven, and I hope very much that we shall be able to start a second eleven next week. The House, I am sure, would like to know that I intend to publish in future, on a fixed day each month, the total output figures for the whole country during the preceding month, with a statement showing the percentage of the standard tonnage reached in each district. This will enable the House and the country to follow the trend of production and to know how far each district has gone towards achieving its tonnage.
To sum up, I am satisfied that if everybody concerned puts his back into it, we shall wipe out our deficit of 11,000,000 tons. With what we can expect to get from domestic and industrial consumption I think it can be achieved without hardship or difficulty. The indications which I have seen this month show that by a concentration of output on the part of those who have not so far been doing their share we shall be able to bridge this gap. I am perfectly satisfied about that.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I am sorry to interrupt my right hon. and gallant Friend, but he has either left something out or perhaps intends to refer to it before he sits down. When he talks about the improvement in the position so far as men are concerned has he discovered any defects relating to production so far as management is concerned? What has been done in that direction?
§ Major Lloyd George
That is in the hands of my Regional Controllers. I said at the beginning of my speech, and I meant it, that when I referred to men I referred to managements as well. Part of 974 the purpose for which the new machinery is being set up is to see that management is functioning as it ought to function.
§ Major Lloyd George
Where things are not going properly they are being looked into at the present moment. I can assure my hon. Friend that whether it be management or men I have instilled it into my Regional Controllers that this job must be done in the interests of the nation and in no other interest whatever. I do not care whether it is one side or the other, if their attitude is obstructive to what this nation wants, it will have to be corrected.
§ Mr. Foster (Wigan)
Have any colliery managers been sent to gaol? In three cases in Lancashire miners have been sent to prison for three months each, but no managers have been sent to prison.
§ Major Lloyd George
I am sure my hon. Friend will not expect me to deal with that now. I do not even know what the charge against them was or what charge my hon. Friend has in mind against managers, but I can only repeat that so far as I am concerned no interest will stand in the way of the interest of the nation. There are, of course, other matters of immense importance to this industry with which I should like, to have dealt, but I felt that at this moment the House would have liked me to deal with the immediate position. I have concentrated my attention on that, although that is not to say that I have lost sight of other extremely important things, such as the new medical service and plans for recruitment to the industry. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, however, has devoted a great deal of time to these two particular subjects and will deal with them more fully later in the Dabate. As I have mentioned, the question of a long-term policy is one which cannot affect seriously the output for this winter. Therefore, I confined myself to dealing with the subject which is of most interest to the House and the country at this moment—how to get through this winter.
As I have said, I am satisfied that if we can get—as I am certain we can—all concerned seized with a sense of the urgency of the position and to contribute their share, I have no doubt we shall see it 975 through. But I am far from thinking that the tackling of the immediate position is the sole purpose of this Ministry. It is true that this industry is essential in war, but it is equally essential in peace. It produces the raw material upon which the prosperity of this country is founded. All has not been well with this industry for a great number of years. An industry that loses more men than it takes in is not in a healthy state. When we have overcome this immediate position, as I am sure we shall, I shall be free to give my almost undivided attention to the reorganisation of this great industry, so that its vast resources may be used to the best advantage of our nation and for the security and well-being of those who labour within it.
§ Mr. A. Edwards (Middlesbrough, West)
May I put this point to my right hon. and gallant Friend? With regard to men in the Forces, it has been said that those who have been released are not effective men. I had a Question on the Order Paper to the Minister, and he promised me he would give me some information on this point. Some of us are given to understand that there are effective men in the Forces who could produce all the coal required. The Minister has not yet said whether he is satisfied that these men are available; if so, whether the War Office would release them, and whether, if they are there, he would take steps, if all else failed, to insist on these men being released to do this essential work in the mines.
§ Mr. Edwards
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. I had a Question on the Order Paper, and my right hon. and gallant Friend promised me some information today. It is an important point and he has not made the issue clear.
§ Mr. Grenfell (Gower)
I would like to extend my warmest congratulations to the Minister on his first speech in his new office. I can assure him—if he needs any assurance—that I will do everything I can, wherever I may be, to help him in 976 his onerous task. The Minister has found himself in charge of an organisation which has yet to develop and which has yet to acquire his full influence in the scheme of mining and fuel operations of this country and I sympathise fully with him when he alludes to the need for building up this industry. I thought that when he began his speech he would propose a Vote of Censure upon the Government for having set up this Ministry at this most inappropriate time. I assure him that I have no feeling in this matter at all and that I do not complain of the enormously increased authority reposed in him compared with the authority which I had in my time of office. I served two years m the Department, and for the first year I found no difficulty in the performance of my duties, but I must say that during the last year of my duty in the Mines Department I was very severely restricted in authority. I said so then, and I think I should say so to-day. The Minister has been elevated to a position which will enable him to achieve far more with his own power than he would have been able to do if he had occupied a position similar to mine. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman concluded his remarks on a note of optimism and idealism. He said that this is a long-term policy but that it is equally important as the immediate policy. I would like to assure him that, although the long-term policy will require the combined wisdom and authority, knowledge and experience, of all the people in the industry if the industry is to play its rightful part in the life of the nation, there is to-day a terribly urgent situation that cannot be disregarded. I do not complain of anything that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman said, but I thought he was not quite sufficiently impressed with the importance of the immediate problem.
He referred to certain figures of production and consumption. He gave us some of the history of the industry. I would like to amplify that history a little by saying that there has not been any time in the last two and a half years when the industry has been sufficiently supplied with man-power, except for the period immediately following Dunkirk, when the export market for 500,000 tons a week fell away overnight, and there were no doors open to receive the coal produced in our exporting areas. In Durham and South Wales pits were 977 closed down. We had, it appeared then, a surplus of coal and a surplus of manpower, but it was a very great mistake indeed at that time to assume that those figures would be permanent, that the figures up to the time of Dunkirk would be the figures of consumption and prospective production for the duration of the war. I remember that I gave a very definite and clear warning that there would be a steeply rising curve of home consumption. I am afraid that the wisdom that is displayed by my right hon. and gallant Friend to-day has come all too late to the Government. He referred to the increase of 20,000,000 tons compared with the highwater level of 1938, when we were beginning our war preparations and when there was a consumption of 181,000,000 tons a year for all kinds of industrial, domestic, and miscellaneous purposes.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman said to-day that we are needing more than 20,000,000 tons additional coal. I will give the figures. Last year we produced and consumed almost an equal balance. It was a great achievement for the industry and for those responsible for the production and distribution of coal. Last year we produced 207,500,000 tons—a very large figure—and consumed almost exactly the same tonnage. This year, according to the estimates—I remember them very well, for I prepared them—from 1st November to 1st May of next year, we shall require no less than 120,000,000 tons for home consumption, plus a minimum of exports which we may not cut down with safety of 3,500,000 tons or 4,000,000 tons. We shall require, according to the estimate already available, 124,000,000 tons for the next six months. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman said that there is deficit of only 11,000,000 tons and he hopes that that will be made good by economies in industrial and domestic consumption. He had better remember that he should be very careful not to rely entirely upon prospective saving? to meet prospective demands. The prospective savings are problematical. He cannot guarantee them. The demands are certain. I should like to give a word of advice—get your coal in the bag before you weigh it.
I would like the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to face the problem as a problem modified in its aspects from the 978 one which he described. We shall need 120,000,000 tons for home consumption in the next six months. Perhaps I should interpolate here that this is a winter problem. The danger is in the winter. There is always a margin in the summer, and that margin should be used for stocking. This year the stocks are not there. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman did not tell us what are the stocks to-day. I do not suppose he is under an obligation to tell the House, it may be dangerous to do so; but let me give the history of stocking before I proceed further. When I went into the Mines Department at the end of the first winter of war, there were 10,000,000 tons of coal in stock. There had been much hardship and complaint about coal shortage, but there were 10,000,000 tons in stock on the day I arrived at the Department. Then came Dunkirk. There was a pessimism in Government circles as well as in industrial circles which I had to overcome, and I make the claim that I stood alone in Government circles and almost in industrial circles for a while when I said, "You will want this additional coal."
The figures that have been quoted today by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman show how right was my forecast of the requirements. In May, 1940, there were 10,000,000 tons of coal in stock. Then came the transport difficulties which set in on 1st September with the blitz. I would like to pay a word of tribute to the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council, who presided with patience, tact and an extraordinary grasp of the details of the transport problem over the committee of the Admiralty, the Mines Department, the Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Shipping, the Railway Executive and the Board of Trade which was in almost constant session throughout the winter. We managed to stock a good deal and I readily tender my recognition to the Lord President of the Council and all who worked with us.
We began the winter of 1940–41 with 28,000,000 tons of coal in stock. I ask the House to note the figure. We survived a very severe winter 1940–41, during which the position was aggravated by transport difficulties, magnetic and acoustic mines when there were reports of sinkings all around the coast, and bottle-necks and obstacles of all kinds on the railway system. The 28,000,000 tons of coal in stock helped us to overcome the 979 difficulties. We ended my first winter with 14,000,000 tons in stock, 4,000,000 tons more than I had when I entered the Department. The next winter, in the light of the increase in the prospective demand, I insisted on more stocking, and we began the second winter with 31,000,000 tons of coal in stock on 1st December, 1941. I ask the House to note that we ended the winter with exactly the same tonnage; at the beginning we had 3,000,000 tons more in stock, but the stock worked down to the same level of 14,000,000 tons. We took 17,000,000 tons out of stock in the second winter and finished up when I left with 14,000,000 tons. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman must face this matter before the Debate ends. It is in the interests of the country and in his own interest that I speak. He knows that he will not be able to draw 17,000,000 tons out of stock next winter. He has not got it. He will not have it. It is not there.
I speak with complete approval of the plan of reorganisation. I submitted the first draft myself. It is still there. I am convinced that it ought to work to the advantage of the country, and I wish the right hon. and gallant Gentleman Godspeed and the utmost success in its operation. There is a plan which has given the best possible results from the equipment and the men at his disposal. He cannot by any efficient management get more than the capacity of the pits. Are there enough men? The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has been given a very fine office, which is much more dignified and elevated than mine was. I admire his modest demeanour in this very exalted situation, but no top dressing, no well-proportioned scheme of organisation, will get coal from the pits without men going down the pits, and there are not enough men. I shall be told, "You were there a long time. Why did you let the men go?" I did not. Everyone knows that I was opposed to letting them go. I tried to impose a limitation upon the number who were to remain. After all, what is important in an industry like ours is. What have we left when they have gone? I gave a minimum figure of 720,000 in September, 1940. We fell to below 690,000 for a very long period.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman must really watch this. The production 980 of coal was never, more efficient than in May and June, 1941. We then had 688,000 men. They had not been driven too hard through the winter, because there were transport stoppages. They had not been worked too hard. They had a surplus productive capacity which was never fully employed. When the spring, came, they responded readily, and, despite their attenuated numbers, they produced nearly 4,200,000 tons. That is just about the limit. All kinds of inducements were put to me to promise a greater output, but I said I would never promise more than a 5 per cent. increase. Under the best conditions you might get 2½ per cent. from better management and 2½ per cent. from better attendance. When you have added the lot together, 5 per cent. increase is a very good achievement indeed. We were producing nearly 4,200,000 tons with fewer than 690,000 men, a number lower than we had had for 50 years, and at no time in the 50 years which have passed since I began to work have we had better production results than in May and June last year. The House can check these figures. The figures of mining are very simple. The ramifications inside the pits are beyond the layman altogether—the cannot understand them—but the figures are simple. If you get from every man employed at and about the coalmines in this period of stress and pressure which the Minister contemplates, with all the persuasive influences of neighbours and colleagues upon the workmen and all the pressure of the Regional Controller upon the management, if you get six tons per person per week in 50 weeks, you will have achieved a very good result indeed.
May I show some of the obstacles to reaching this high rate of production? It has been suggested that there are two factors which deal with the efficiency of the men in the mines. One is the average age of the men employed, and that is highly important. I was in my prime when I was in the pit. I left coalface work at 35, feeling good and strong, but I knew men, my own father among them, the cream of the industry, who remained in the mines till 50, 55, and 60. At my age we could run away from them. Youth does count. It is a very arduous occupation. I take a rather more pessimistic view than the Minister about age. The average age is well over 38 to-day.
981 I know he has expert statisticians, whose work I admire, but this is one of the points which have not come into their computation. We have far more men over 60 than we ever had in the industry. I am afraid that some men over 64 are not known even to the Ministry of Labour. To my knowledge some of the old boys suddenly take six or eight years from their age in order to get a job. The average age is well above 37½. I should say it has gone up from 33 to 38 in the last 10 years. It is now 38. It was not more than 33 in 1937. Suppose you pick two football teams, one of an average age of 33, and other other of 38. What number of points do you expect to go to the older team? You cannot expect the productivity that you got from younger men. Of course it drops as the men get older and, if you try to retrieve the loss due to that cause by excessive driving, you only make matters worse. You must take care of the older men. You must work them within their strength. You should set aside, if you can, the non-mechanised parts of the mines for them and they will give you far better value.
But there is a far more important point, and that is the percentage of men at the coalface. I wrote a memorandum on this in the first three days that I was at the Mines Department. It is there now. I described the effect of losing a proportion of your face workers. Again the proportions are very easy. I mentioned an average production of six tons per person per week. If you get an average production of 16 tons per person at the coalface you are doing very well taking mechanised and non-mechanised mines in the lump and thick seams with thin seams. I myself have travelled along seams in recent years, I admit with extreme difficulty, less than 17 inches in thickness. If you take your good and bad seams and mechanised and non-mechanised mines and lump them together, you can get an average of 16 tons per man for a week at the coalface. It requires full attendances.
That requires good attendance and diligence. If the overall output is six tons a year and the output at the coalface is 16, you want only six men at the coal face out of 16 persons employed. Three-eighths of the men should be employed at the coalface. That is the optimum percentage but we have lost that optimum level. We are working now 982 with a, proportion of face workers of less than 36 per cent. Before the war we had 800,000 men on the colliery books, and 38 per cent. of them were at the coalface. Multiply 38 by 8,000, and we get a total number of men at the coalface of 324,000. We have now come down to 36 per cent. of the men in the industry who work at the coalface, but that is 36 per cent. of a number that is reduced by 10 per cent. If you multiply 8,000 by 36 you get 288,000, and then, if 10 per cent. is taken from that number it gives 256,000 men at the coalface. They are now expected to produce as much as 324,000 men would have done before the war.
There is no mystery about this at all. The only man who fills coal in the coalmine is the man who works at the coalface, but we must have the other men—the winding and engine men, the banks men, the onsetters at the bottom, the ventilating men and the pumps men. Many of them have to work whether men are filling coal or not, but if we want to get the best overall results we must see that the optimum percentage is maintained at the coalface. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has not got sufficient men at the coalface. If he could put an additional 20,000 men at the coalface without adding one man anywhere else, he would be able to get the 250,000 tons a week that he wants. Let him not delay in putting these men there. He has no coal in stock now. He is millions of tons down now, and from 1st November to 1st March he will want, after all his economies have been achieved, something in the neighbourhood of 116,000,000 tons. There are 24.6 working weeks in the mining half-year, less than 25 weeks. I have given him 6,000,000 tons to take from stock; he will, therefore, have to get 110,000,000 tons in the next 25 weeks. Can he get it? With new organisation, with good will and with the pooling of managerial responsibility, will it give him 4,400,000 tons a week? There is a more simple way, and that is to add to the number of men at the coalface and to treat them properly when they are there.
I do not wish to speak very harshly about the Government. They have their responsibilities and none of us would exchange responsibility with them. They cannot run the risk of going without coal this winter. They have sent men into 983 munition works. The Government have persuaded them, appealed to them, coaxed them and done everything to get production. We are talking about a second front. Who dare send men to fight on any front if in December, January and February the works are unable to maintain war production because there is no coal? Coal is at the bottom of it. You have to get your production right and your organisation right. Let the Minister have all the help he wants in economy, in production and in distribution, and he will have all the help he wants from people on this side. I have not spent a day in the last four months without taking some time of every day to prepare a favourable atmosphere for the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to do his job.
Let me say a word or two of warning about domestic rationing. I submitted three alternative rationing schemes on 3rd February this year. The Cabinet knows of them. I put them up under my own initials to be held in reserve. I favoured a restriction scheme, the kind of scheme the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has described to the House to-day. We may have to come to rationing, but let me warn the Government not to dare to cut down the consumption of the 2,000,000 or 3,000,000 poor people who have never had enough coal. They have been rationed by circumstances all along. There are the poor of London, of Glasgow, of Birmingham and of Liverpool; I know them well and know their difficulties. We must try to overcome some of those difficulties. We must improve transport. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has assisted materially by preventing people putting in too large stocks. A large stock often makes a person selfish, for while he holds on to it he wants his share of the limited supply that will be made available in winter time.
I wish the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the utmost success in his attempts at distributing the restricted amount of coal on the fairest basis, but I warn him not to attempt miserable economies at the expense of the poorest people. This is not the speech I would have made if I had spoken first. I do not wish to appear unappreciative of the Minister's speech, but I do want him to think again and to consult his good advisers. I worked for 984 two years at the Ministry and learned to respect them. Let him have consultations with them again. Let me assure him that he stands in very grave danger. He will carry us all into the danger zone with him if he under-estimates the enormity of this problem. This is a whale of a problem. Let him not be content merely with counting the shrimps of economy. It is the biggest problem facing this country. There could be nothing more demoralising if we broke down because there was no fuel in the munition works and if we let people suffer from the cold. There is nothing more demoralising than cold. You cannot make war with cold feet. You cannot even make love with cold feet. Let us not be led into the temptation of assuming that because a Minister has been changed and the Ministry exalted he can give up a claim for the essentials of production in this vital industry. There are three essentials. The first is a suificient number of efficient men of strength and staying power to do the arduous work underground; the second is ample pit room—that can be improved; and the third, labour and steel, which are difficult to command, for the essentials of the new mechanised mines. But first of all my right hon. Friend will be doing himself and the industry justice and doing his duty to the country by insisting that the industry is properly staffed.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Lancaster (Fylde)
I do not propose to follow the late Secretary for Mines in his very generous and very well-reasoned speech, other than to say that I join with him in desiring to strike a note of warning in regard to the situation. I cannot agree with the Minister of Fuel and Power that the situation is as satisfactory as he seems to feel it to be, or that its solution of our difficulties will be as simple as he suggested to the House. What are the bald facts of the situation? Ever since Dunkirk, or a few months after, it was evident that our growing war industrial effort would require a great deal more coal, and I think it is fair to say that the only concrete steps that have been taken since that time to deal with the situation are these. Possibly the most important was the improvement in transport. By one means or another after the winter of 1941 the railways have been able to transport more effectively and more efficiently a greater volume of coal than in the first year of the war, and they 985 are still making improvements, but the margin is getting very small and we cannot expect a great deal more in that direction. There is also the question of economies by both industrial and domestic users, and there I am in full agreement with the Minister. I think very considerable economies can still be made, with the proviso of the late Secretary for Mines that those economies shall not fall on the poorer section of the population. Thirdly, there has, of course, been a change-over from non-essential production to essential war production. Of course the lag of that has been more than taken up.
Those have been three main factors of alleviation. During the whole of that time increased production has only been effected by, in some small measure, the return of more men to the pits. Fifty thousand is the actual number referred to by the Minister. Of course during that period there has been wastage, and therefore the net figure has been something in the nature of 17,000. We have approached the matter from other aspects, giving increased wages aid attendance bonuses, but by and large that step has not been a success. Not that wages did not require increasing, but the fact remains that the increases given under the Greene award did not bring about either an increase of production or a decrease of absenteeism.
I must ask the indulgence of the House if I return to a theme which I have expounded on every occasion when I have been able to attend coal Debates, and to say that in my opinion the matter can only be effectively dealt with by tackling the question of production. In my view nothing has happened during the war and nothing has been said during these Debates to make me feel that there is any other effective way of doing that than by facing up here and now to rationalisation, covering the men, and managements and machinery. We shall have to face it sooner or later. We have to make it possible for the men in the industry to produce more coal. They cannot do more than their best. If we are satisfied that with the exception of the small percenttage of men who absent themselves—and I will deal with that question later—the men are doing their best, and I believe they are, then we must evolve some means of enabling them to produce more, and that, as I have said, can only be 986 done by rationalisation. In every district, in every section, in every few square miles of the coalfields there are places, as we all know, where coal is more easily produced than in others. What is required at the moment is that men and machinery—possibly lo the extent of about 20 per cent. of the available men—should be moved. The men should not go out of their districts or sections beyond, possibly, an average of four or five miles, but they should be moved into those pits where shaft capacity, transport arrangements, face room and all the other requisites for the production of a higher tonnage per man-shift are available, and thus be given a chance of producing more coal.
Surveys have been taken—I know they are not complete, I know they are up to date in only one or two districts. Surveys should be taken at the earliest possible moment over the whole of the country. We cannot wait for the completion of those surveys. We must be ready, if need be, to go ahead at once in those districts where the surveys have been sufficiently completed. Undoubtedly there will be mistakes, but that cannot be helped. By and large, any steps taken in that direction are bound to be steps in the right direction. In my opinion, if we pursue that objective for the next six or nine months, we shall come to a position where this gap can be closed without having to bring back these essential face-workers from our field Force.
Additionally to that, there is scope in the direction of further use of power-loaded machinery. We are much too apt to be satisfied with mean percentages of mechanisation, when we say that certain districts and parts of coalfields are mechanised to a given percentage. I remember very well, when we went to France at the beginning of the war, how the then Secretary of State for War said that the Army was mechanised to a most satisfactory extent. It took the Battle of France and the first Battle of Libya to make people realise that an armoured fighting vehicle which could do very little more than keep out the rain was not necessarily a very effective piece of mechanisation. Merely to sit back on the fact that we have a high percentage of one sort or another of mechanised mining does not of necessity mean that the mechanisation is anything like as intense as it might be.
987 I have referred to this matter before, and I refer to it once again. We should do well to consider what has been effected in the United States during recent years. They have had very considerable difficulties in their coalmining industry for one reason or another, but they have been able to increase the intensification of their mechanisation. From what I have been told by people whose opinions I respect, I am satisfied that conditions in a great many seams in this country are such that we could make a very much greater use of the type of power-loaded machinery which is achieving such remarkable results in the United States of America at the present time. As the House is aware, America is producing four times the amount per man per year that we are able to produce in this country. There are reasons for that, including the more virgin state of their coalfields, but nevertheless we cannot completely discount the, very marked improvement which they have made in recent years in regard to intensive mechanisation.
I recognise that the Government have acknowledged this aspect of the matter and have taken certain steps in regard to it. A purchasing commission has recently been in America, but fully five months have gone past and no machinery has arrived in this country. People familiar with coalmining will agree that, even if the machinery arrived to-morrow morning, some considerable time would have to elapse before the necessary adjustments and modifications could be made to enable the machinery to be put to effective use. Time is against us. We have not started rationalising, and we have not intensified our mechanisation to the point which I consider possible—according to those whose technical opinions I respect.
A word about absenteeism. Both sides of the industry have made mistakes in their approach to this problem. The trade unions have pressed for increased wages, and a section of the coalowners have thought that the situation could be dealt with by the weapon of fear. I think they have both made a psychological mistake. I believe the men will respond to the right appeal, but I do not think it practicable for that appeal to be made at this stage through the medium of the pit production committees. These 988 committees have had the invidious experience during the greater part of the year of having to deal with absenteeism as a disciplinary matter. It is asking too much of those committees to say that they should turn round overnight and be the medium by which a call is made to the higher and better feelings of the men. Mistakes have been made both by the Minister and by the Regional Controllers. They are depending too much upon the pit production committees for getting their results. The appeal to the men will have to be done upon a national basis. I have little fear that if it is done effectively and a call is made to the men's consciousness of the gravity of the situation, we shall get over the winter. It must not be an appeal as to what they can get out of it. The situation is, much graver than that. The gravity of the situation should be brought home to the men on the highest possible basis and not the basis "Obtain more if you can possibly get it "on one side and" We shall punish you if you don't turn up" on the other side. By all means pay the men what they ought to have, but I would observe that soldiers give of their best not merely because they will be shot if they do not, but because they feel that their country needs their best. I am convinced that the miners will give on exactly the same basis. I have had the advantage of knowing miners for a number of years in peacetime, and I have known them intimately during the last three years of war-time. I have not the slightest doubt that if the right appeal is made they will respond, and that absenteeism will cure itself, in great measure.
For that section to whom no appeal is possible, discipline must play its part. It is not as well known as it might be that managements still have considerable power of exerting discipline if they wish to do so, without appeals to the National Service officers in the first instance. It is their duty to report cases immediately with the full circumstances. They have power to observe a measure of discipline beyond that of which a great many of them are at present fully aware. I do not put much reliance on the most recent suggestions that young men, rather than go into the Army, may be allowed to go down a pit for a month. If those men have had no previous connection with 989 mining life or with the mining community, I do not think they will be welcomed very warmly. No one would suggest that miners themselves are not undertaking a job of work which in some senses is every bit as important and front-line work as any, but I think they have much too shrewd an appreciation of human nature to be impressed by a young man who might decide, because he thinks it a safer thing, to go down the mine rather than join the Armed Forces.
I have made three suggestions. They are, an immediate rationalisation of the industry to an extent which will cover the gap of our immediate requirements and provide the basis for meeting our requirements, whether the war lasts two years or ten. I ask the Government to push ahead at the earliest moment with the question of an intensification of mechanisation, with particular reference to what has been achieved in the United States. I beg them, to appeal to the men on the highest possible level, and on one which puts the duty of the miners precisely in the same light as the duty of the Armed Forces of the nation. In view of what seems to me the extreme urgency of the situation, I appeal to the Minister to do this here and now.
§ Mr. Murray (Spennymoor)
A great man and a good man once said:I think myself happy because I shall answer for myself this day.Liberty of thought and speech are very precious things in these days, and I wish to say quite frankly at the beginning that there are some things in the White Paper with which I entirely agree. I realise, for instance, that the nation must have coal, and plenty of coal, and have it immediately. But what I cannot subscribe to in the White Paper is the fact that the Government have decided to concentrate available machinery on the best and productive seams while at the same time they are prepared to leave over the question of the future control of the industry until another Parliament. That is the danger I see in that particular Government suggestion.
I have been in and about the mines since I was 13 years of age. I went down the pit the day after I was 13. I started as a trapper boy, and having had over 40 years' experience in and about the mines, one has at least had an opportunity of 990 making a few observations. In my own division I have discussed this question with managers and checkweighmen, and every one of them without exception says to me, "All the best seams have already gone from the industry in the West of the County of Durham." What has been suggested in this White Paper is no new thing; it has always been done. That has been the system that has operated in the coal industry. The manager has always seen to it that the miners have gone for the best coal so that he might realise his ambitions, never thinking of the poor individual who had to follow him. Therefore the manager's position in the West of the County of Durham is a very difficult one, and I suggest that it is a very unenviable one and is no sinecure by any means. He knows perfectly well he cannot have his cake and eat it at the same time. He understands the suicidal policy that has been adopted. If that same policy is pursued to-day, it must greatly aggravate the future position of the mining industry.
Because of this policy and my activities as a trade union leader, I had the pleasure of receiving unemployment benefit for three years nine months. The manager during that period of time was doing exactly what is suggested in the White Paper, getting the biggest possible production with the least number of men. That was his job. That is the system which has always operated. When the best places became exhausted I was sent for. Work was available, with the result that I had to go into the worst places in the pit where it was hard and wet and low and difficult, and where the lowest possible production was obtainable. More men were employed at that moment, but that did not mean that production automatically went up. That was not the manager's intention. His intention was that he should maintain his prior production so that his costs might be kept down, so that he might deliver the goods, so that the owners might get the profits. He knows that if he fails in that direction, his stewardship is very soon called into question.
I have a note from a friend which bears out this very point. He says that in two months, in March and April, seven sets of men with pneumatic picks produced 800 tons in a week. That coal became exhausted. The men were transferred to other places in the same pits, but the pro- 991 duction of those same men was 175 tons in a week, in other words, a reduction of 625 tons; and no one would suggest that any one of those men was not a trier. They were doing their level best, but conditions had changed. They had to travel two miles to the face to work. So with all the good will in the world and with the most perfect organisation those are some of the things that cannot be altered. They simply happen, they come and go like the swing of a pendulum, but once gone they are gone for ever. To my mind the mining industry cannot simply be considered in the present tense. It is a trinity of thought of past, present and future.
I am glad that the White Paper, as the Minister mentioned to-day, makes provision for the worker to have some say in the industry. A picture comes to my mind of a pit where new stables were erected near a coalface, where new landings for tub standage were placed near the coalface. Steel girders were withdrawn, the roof was allowed to fall, no pony was ever put into the stables, no tub was ever run on to the landing. The part the miner had on that occasion was to pay the piper, although he did not call the tune. He could not even make a protest against the terrible expense and waste. I would be very sorry to see this policy pursued by the Government. I suggest that they would certainly be living in a fool's paradise in following the very short-term policy that has always operated in the mining industry. No firm or combine should be allowed to do what has been done in the past. I hope that they will never again be able to close a colliery where there was a production of 4,000 to 5,000 tons a week, which is equal to a quarter of a million torts a year, to throw 700 employees on to the streets, and to flood the mine, so that it overflows to the mine of another firm. With a little common sense and good will between two colliery firms the pumping cost in that case could have been halved, and both collieries to-day could have been in full production; but the will was not there under private enterprise. As a result, there are millions of tons" of coal still in the bowels of the earth, while the country becomes impoverished. When transport is difficult to obtain, these men, who had their mine at their doorsteps, have to travel a number of miles to find em- 992 ployment. This policy is short-sighted, it is costly, it is a wicked waste, it is a national scandal.
Any combine that desires to close any colliery can always find ways and means of making that colliery uneconomic. In time you will make every colliery uneconomic by ploughing into the best seams and into the places where the best production is to be got. I hope the Government will think again before embarking upon such a policy without also deciding what the future conduct of the mining industry is to be. We people who have been in the mining industry all our lives have long memories. We remember the result of the 1921 debâcle. When I was in Russia I had the privilege of seeing the best mine I have ever visited. There I did not see broken timber: I did not see pressure from the roof; I was able to walk practically to the boundary. Their method was to work that seam on what is termed the retreating system. There is the means of increasing production whenever you want to do so with reduced cost of timber, of stonework, and of Datal work, and with happy and contented men working under ideal conditions. I wish we could have such things in this country, but I know that under private enterprise it is not possible: you have too long to wait for your profits, you have too long to carry on in the narrow places. Under a unified system of control it can be done.
I know we can produce grand speeches in Parliament, but grand speeches will not produce the 250,000 tons per week which are required. But I believe that, with proper co-operation, some increase cam be effected. I am glad to note that in Durham the ascertainments just issued show an increase amounting to 889,779 tons for the year. I know that there are more men employed and more shifts worked, but this increase is a step in the right direction. But if you want to increase production, you must increase the number of strong, active, healthy, skilful young men, and they will produce the coal and see that it reaches the surface. It has been said to me time and time again in my division, "Jim, it is not pies we want: we are sick of pies. Let us have some steak and kidney, and our wives will make the puddings. Let us have some suet, and our wives will make the dumplings." The miner is a very hard-working 993 man, but he is also a good eater; look at me if you do not believe it. Many of these men have said to me, with all sincerity, "What we need, Jim, is some substantial food." I want to speak of the consumption of coal. I believe that, with proper methods, fuel can be saved. I have been a very active member of our Durham County mental hospital committee. They were very anxious about fuel costs. After careful investigation it was found that by installing a super-Lancashire boiler better results could be obtained on five tons a day than had been obtained on eight tons a day with the old Lancashire boiler. The cooking in that great hospital was centralised. The electric oven had been simply eating electricity, but that electric oven is now a thing of the past, and the results have been wonderful. We installed new machinery in the laundry, and thousands more articles are washed today—not only for the patients, but also for the military—and overtime has been abolished, with a great saving of fuel and power.
I am now going to say something with which many hon. Members and many people outside may not agree. I cannot understand why the Minister of Food, in this time of stress and strain upon our shipping, has not seen fit to prohibit the sale of bread until 24 hours after it has been baked. There are three reasons why I advocate this. I believe that the community would have better health, and good health is cherished now more than ever. Secondly, I believe the bread would be more nourishing. Thirdly, I believe there would be a great saving in fuel, and in the consumption of bread. I know that people like new bread, and they say that bread will not keep. I am not asking them to keep the bread. What I say is that it should not be on sale until it is 24 hours old. In our house we never got new bread. There were nine robust lads and one daughter, and our maxim was not that of the Food Minister, that we should eat more potatoes and less bread, so that there should be more shipping space: it was, "Eat more pudding, and you will want less meat." If you put that maxim into effect and eat plenty of pudding, you will not want any meat. That is the reason why it is advocated. In our house we were always at war, but it was a war against poverty, an economic war. I have seen my father bring in 25s. for 12 days at the pit, with 12 to keep. 994 You can understand sometimes why we people are so anxious to help the people we represent. My mother was a wonderful woman. She could neither read nor write, but she was a born organiser. She believed in the long-term policy in the home as well as in the pit. When the box was full of bread that was the time to bake, and not when it was empty. No new bread was ever allowed to be eaten in our house, and I do not think that I am a bad advertisement for that, and for what I am advocating.
I know a bakery in the County of Durham where the bakers are anxious to abolish the night shift, and that is what everybody advocates. They do not want any night-shift baking. They built a new bakery and installed modern machinery. What is the position to-day? An hon. Member yesterday said that this new bread was unpalatable, and all I would say is that I hope we shall never have worse in this struggle in which we are engaged. These figures may help to assist that hon. Member. For the week ending 12th September, 1941, 41,168 two-lb. loaves were baked in this particular bakery and for the corresponding week this year 155, 255 two-lb. loaves were baked, just over three and three-quarter times the number that was baked last year. For the two weeks ending 12th September, 1941, 552 sacks of flour were consumed and for the corresponding period this year 1,624 sacks of flour were consumed. These figures speak for themselves, and I leave it at that for the digestion of hon. Members. I humbly suggest to the Minister of Fuel and Power that this simple remedy, if adopted, will save fuel and power and shipping space.
People will grouse. They will grouse at me probably for what I am saying today. It is a good thing that they can grouse. That is their prerogative. I told my people in the Spennymoor Division not to leave a yard of land unfilled, not to waste a scrap of bread, not to bum an unnecessary unit of electricity, not to waste a drop of water, and not to lose a shift at the pit if able and fit to go. And yet I read that outside the Grosvenor Hotel at 1.15 a.m. there were 137 cars waiting to take dancers home, and at midnight, the paper said, the rush was like a peace-time rush for motor cars. I suggest: that such a picture is very aggravating and irritating, and it is certainly grossly unfair that such things are allowed. If people want to dance and 995 have the time to dance, let them dance. I am not a killjoy, but I would not allow them to use vital fuel supplies that might be urgently required in the near future for war purposes. When I was elected to this House I received many letters urging that there should be some move to get this cruel war finished. What I want to say to the Government is, "Be bold, be active, be courageous. The people today are anxiously waiting. Now is your opportunity." My old school teacher used to say to me that opportunities were like snowflakes on the river, a moment seen and then gone for ever. Let the people see that the Government mean business. Stimulate in them a greater faith. Let them see that you intend to get a move on, and if you do, you will find the people are with you 100 per cent. and will do anything and everything to assist you to final victory.
§ Viscount Castlereagh (Down)
I would first like to congratulate the hon. Gentleman the Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Murray) on the very excellent speech which he has just delivered, but his eloquence and his knowledge were such that I thought he was an old established Member of this House who had been elected while I was away in the Army abroad. I sincerely hope that he will frequently intervene in our Debates, but I must say this to him, that, much as I welcome him as a Member of this House, I deeply regret the fact that his predecessor, an old friend of mine, Joe Batey, found it necessary to resign. As a representative of the coal owners, maybe my hon. Friend will think it wrong for me to say that Joe Batey is an old friend of mine. But he is, and I think he also regards me as an old friend. I hope that in future the same happy relations will exist between the representative of the constituency of Spennymoor and the representative of County Down.
It is so long ago that I made a speech in this House that it is more or less like making a maiden speech, and in many ways it is rather worse. The whole atmosphere has changed. The benches are red instead of green. My clothes are khaki instead of black jacket and striped trousers, and I have no hesitation in asking hon. Members to accord to me the same indulgence which they extend in respect of a maiden speech. I 996 promise that my speech will be of the shortest possible duration. I have been in the Middle East for some time, and there were times when the temperature was of such an excessive nature that any reference to a substance like coal or any substance which generated heat was regarded as the height of bad taste. At the same time, we were interested in the subject of coal, and we realised from the meagre reports we got or from letters from home that the situation at home was not quite as good as it might have been with regard to the production of coal. If we got hold of the papers we read that the output of tanks. Spitfires and other warlike material was going up by leaps and bounds. At the same time we read with considerable anxiety that the backbone of the whole thing, which was coal, was definitely going down. I was abroad at the time and not unnaturally I thought that there was only one cause for this, and that was that the miners had joined the Fighting Forces as they did in the last war. I thought it might be that there had been lack of co-operation between the Ministry of Labour and the War Office and that these key-men, the miners, had joined up before. I remember in the last war that stories were told of the fighing worth of the North country miners in the Northumberland Fusiliers and the Durham Light Infantry. I think that the present Joint Under-Secretary of State for War, Lord Croft, could tell hon. Members a lot of stories about the fighting value of the Durham Light Infantry. I thought this was what had happened. Men in my own unit were recruited in Durham. My own battery, of which I was the battery captain for a year and a half, was recruited entirely in Seaham. Two of the battery sergeant-majors were hewers in the collieries with which I am connected. Naturally I thought that the falling-off in coal production was due to the fact that the miner, as he did in the last war, had joined the Fighting Services.
I am inclined to believe that that is the main argument, but I am also inclined to believe that there are other arguments. I have no hesitation in saying that in my humble opinion there are far too many miners in the Fighting Services. I would like to see them withdrawn from the Forces straight away. If this cannot be done, is it not possible 997 for the War Office to see that these men are seconded temporarily, say for a period of six months? There are many units which were recruited about the same time as my own battery, which, I might add, is still abroad. Suppose the men of my battery came back to this country to the Tyneside area and were stationed about 15 miles from where they used to work as civilians. The men of the battery are trained gunners. What is to stop them from going back to their civilian work and being called back every six months to be given a refresher course, to see that the pneumatic pick has not clumsied their hands for dealing with the 40 ram, gun? They could be taught the modifications of the gun and then sent back to the pits again. Then, if and when the second front starts, they could come out, and I guarantee that they would be among our finest troops. A miner in a pit is a much more valuable man than a miner in the Tanks. A ton of coal is worth a dozen route marches. Somebody once wrote that a large standing Army which was not fighting was a parasite on the country. I believe that to be true. What the extent of the Army is now I do not know, but I do know that there is a very large proportion of highly trained men who could be seconded from their duties to do other work until the time comes for them to be called back for fighting, although I know of two districts where the harvest was very severely held up and where commanding officers thought it very infra dig for their soldiers to be pretending to be farmers, even for a short period.
Hon. Members opposite have had many arguments with me about coal. They have always been of a most friendly nature, but still there have been differences. But everything is entirely different now. We have our gallant Ally, Russia, putting up the greatest fight against tyranny the world has ever seen, and we are doing our utmost to help. The Royal Air Force is smashing the production centres of Germany by night and day, and our convoys to Russia are getting through. The Russians, undoubtedly, are grateful for this, but if they get a paper in Stalingrad—I do not know whether they do—and suddenly read that the output of coal in Great Britain is going down, it will not impress them. I do not know what they would say, but I do know that they would feel that their Ally was not helping them to full capacity. The 998 situation is very serious, and it is the duty of hon. Members of this House not only to find out the reason for it but to put it right. One thing most of us have always agreed about is that the mining engineers in Great Britain are the finest in the world. Our methods of production are first class. They combine efficiency with economy for the future use of coal. We used to have disagreements about the ownership of coal mines. Many thought it quite wrong that private individuals should own coal mines—they may have been right—and that they should have been owned by the State. But that is not the argument now. If somebody says that with Hitler on the doorstep, as he was two years ago, the miner intends deliberately to curtain output because coal mines are not owned by the State, well, frankly, I do not believe it. The shortage of output is not due to any political reason like that.
I understand that the miner is at the moment making a decent wage. I hope so. His is a very dangerous and arduous calling and should be rewarded with a decent wage. It has always been my theory that an employer should pay the biggest wage possible and cut hours to the minimum, or cut down the working week so that at the end of the week men had money to spend on recreation, leisure or on their families. Members may not recall it; but I was one of the earliest advocates of holidays with pay. I always thought that the only industry which had holidays with pay was the House of Commons. Although some of us may not have had a holiday, we did, at any rate, get paid. I advocated that all along for the coal industry in order to prevent men getting stale and giving them something to which they could look forward. Now there is no crisis like that, and the miner is not getting too bad a wage, so I ask hon. Members opposite to tell me if they think miners' attendance is quite as good as it might be. I can speak for only a limited area, but some of the voluntary absenteeism on Monday and Saturday is just enough to pull the output down very considerably.
I cannot help feeling that some of the younger people in the mines who are exempt from military service do not realise the gravity of the situation. I used to read, while abroad, that England was a nation conscripted. Well, the only way to take on somebody like Hitler is to 999 have conscription, but let us see that there is proper conscription. Men who do not turn up on Mondays or Saturdays should think of their pals in Libya, Egypt, Iraq and Syria, who, if they do not turn up, are put on a charge and punished. If that sort of thing is clearly put to these men at home, I am quite certain they will respond. The nation is supposed to be conscripted. I admit frankly that the whole idea is repugnant to me. I am entirely an amateur soldier, and the idea of discipline is one to which I object very strongly, but we have to do certain things whether we like it or not. The conscription of civilians is a thing I do not like: it is totalitarian; but I have the feeling that if we do not do this totalitarian stuff ourselves, there is a little man in a brown shirt who would love the opportunity of showing us how it is done properly on a big scale.
I have been told that there is a certain feeling of resentment among the mine workers that they are being paid 30 per cent. or 40 per cent. less than munition workers. That sort of thing happened in the last war and it was a great grievance. I know little about munition workers, but I know that their life is a fairly easy one compared with coal mining. The munition worker does not have to crawl about a 17 inch seam such as was described by the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell). It is an easier he, but the munition worker is paid far more than the miner. I should have thought that the unfortunate coal miner would be getting used to this sort of discrepancy in wages. A very few years ago coal miners were earning very low wages, but luckily we managed to introduce the principle of central selling schemes and co-ordinated district schemes. I think hon. Members will remember that I was one of the forerunners of that arrangement. It led to improvements in the position. But it must be admitted fairly that part of the cause of low wages for miners was in the industry itself. The coalowners and the miners fought each other with such success that the consumers were able to buy coal at a, rate far lower than they should have done. The central selling schemes put that right. At the present time, the situation is rather different, and the discrepancy between the wages of miners and those of munition workers is not the fault of the industry, but of the 1000 Government in not formulating a wages policy. I cannot congratulate the Government on their wages policy, or rather their lack of it.
But there is another aspect of the matter. The miner is getting a pretty fair wage now; many of his comrades in the Army are not getting half as much or living half as well. I have spent three years with a battery consisting 90 per cent. of miners, and I know the conditions in which they are living. They are, it is true, clothed and shod by a grateful Government; they are fed pretty well, in my view; they are doctored rather indifferently; and they are paid abominably. Like other hon. Members, I have read the famous White Paper on Service pay. If anyone believes that, he can believe anything Dr. Goebbels tells him. I do not know who wrote it, but when I read it I was convinced that it was a piece of modern British humour written by the Senior Burgess for Oxford University (Petty-Officer Herbert). But the miners who are serving in the Forces are earning a very small sum of money compared with what is earned by the chaps at home, some of whom are not doing the work they should do.
In conclusion I want to ask the Minister to go straight to the War Office and, with the powerful support of the Minister of Labour, say, "We want every miner, not only in this country, but abroad—send them back as quickly as possible." I would go a step further and say that any miner who is a prisoner in Germany and who is fortunate enough to escape should go down the pit after a week or fortnight leave. Secondly, I want to make an appeal to the leaders of the Miners' Federation. I have been rather out of touch with that body for some time, but a few years ago I used repeatedly to meet the President, Mr. Joseph Jones, and Mr. Ebby Edwards; Very patiently they used to listen to my questions, and to give me a lot of advice and criticism, too. They were two fine men. I appeal to the present leaders of the Federation to go round the districts, to find out who the slackers are, and tell them that they are in the front line just as much as the men who left the pits and joined the Army, that they must do their stuff now, and if they do not, they 1001 will get it in the neck. The nation needs coal, it has got to have coal, and the nation is jolly well going to get it.
§ Mr. Ridley (Clay Cross)
I would like, first of all, to join with the Noble Lord the Member for Down (Viscount Castlereagh) in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Murray) on the attractiveness of his maiden speech. The great movement to which he belongs, and which he distinguishes, has made a great contribution to the Benches on this side of the House, and we had every right to hope that, on coming to the House, the hon. Member would make the great contribution he has done. I would like also to thank the hon. Member for Down for the gracious reference he made to my hon. Friend's predecessor in the representation of Spennymoor. Joe Batey held the very great affection of hon. Members on these benches, and I feel sure the references that have been made to him will warm his heart in his retirement in Spennymoor. I congratulate the Noble Lord, too, in not having lost, after a fairly considerable absence, his facility in addressing us and in trailing his coat for the purpose of providing further argument for sustaining debate. I wish I had the opportunity and time to debate with him the three principal provocatives he propounded—first, the ownership of the mines, secondly, absenteeism, and, thirdly, the curious doctrine that if we are to beat Hitler, we must out-Hitler Hitler by the use of his totalitarian methods.
I rise for a few minutes to ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, whom I congratulate on his appointment to that position, to underline, for the purpose of bringing more conviction to us, at least one of the statements made by his right hon. and gallant Friend. In the last 20 years, debates on coal have been almost interminable and generally inconclusive, and there is one direction, not so far referred to, except in a different way by my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell), in which I think this Debate may really be conclusive. I do not ask for a rationing arrangement, and certainly I do not ask for a rationing arrangement merely for the purpose of having a piece of machinery on which a label can be stuck saying, "This is rationing." But I do beg for some more conclusive assurance that whatever coal 1002 is produced will find its way into the places where it is most needed in conditions of equity and not conditions of inequity. On that ground, despite what has been said, I feel some misgiving and some disquiet. The House does not know much about the work of the Ministry of Defence, and it does not expect to. It is willing to believe what it cannot prove, although the first verse of "In Memoriam" must not be carried any further than that. But we are entitled to hope that in such vital matters as the when and where of a new offensive there has not been displayed so much timidity and vacillation as has been shown in this matter of fuel consumption.
I came to the House, as many others did, on 7th May, generally having the idea that a rationing arrangement in the matter of domestic fuel was desirable but not having any strong or conclusive Views about it. Then I listened to the speech of the President of the Board of Trade, a speech which I thought one of the most cogent and convincing and complete that I have ever heard him make. Having known him for a large number of years and listened to a great many of his speeches, that is indeed high praise. I then became convinced that a rationing scheme something on the lines of the Beveridge scheme was immediately imperative. I should like to take an abstract of the speech. He knew that from many directions there were demands for a reorganisation of the industry, and he knew also that the view was gaining ground that an increase in production was making a decrease in consumption less necessary. Against that my right hon. Friend said,The case for rationing as an urgent necessity emerges through all the other hopes and possibilities on which we are working. Time is pressing hard upon us. Next winter is not very far away. In the view of the Government rationing cannot be delayed, even though other steps must be taken as speedily as possible.This was obviously a serious declaration of Government policy, or so it was assumed to be. The Government was in favour of compulsory rationing as an urgent necessity. That was my right hon. Friend's phrase. He dismissed the idea of propaganda as an alternative to rationing by saying:I wish to submit that propaganda alone will not do what we want. It can be a very-valuable supplement to a rationing scheme. It can be an educative influence and a stimulus, 1003 but it will not alone achieve the purpose. That is generally accepted and I need not stop to argue the point.The idea of a voluntary scheme was dismissed peremptorily and the Lord Privy Seal having later in the day forcibly underlined what the President of the Board of Trade had said, and, having gone through the alternative scheme proposed by the hon. Member for Stockport (Sir A. Gridley) as a warm knife goes through butter, dismissed the idea of a voluntary appeal by saying,When the country approaches a state in which there is liable to be, and indeed almost certain to be, a shortage of a commodity, that we should in advance, if possible, arrange a fair scheme of distribution of that commodity which is going to be in short supply."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 7th May, 1942; col. 1563, Vol. 379.]He said also that the whole essence of a voluntary scheme was that a lot of people would deny themselves those commodities which were in short supply in order that other people might consume them. Let the House consider these extracts carefully and then consider the present situation. We are now in a position in which we have not a rationing arrangement, which the President of the Board of Trade said was an urgent necessity. We have a kind of voluntary scheme which was rejected almost with contempt by both the President and the Lord Privy Seal. There must be some reason for this sudden such substantial change of policy and the House is entitled to know what it is. There are on these benches some grave suspicions, but there are suspicions in other and even more surprising quarters." In the "Observer" of 17th May, immediately following the first Debate, I discovered this amazing editorial:The Government declared fuel rationing to be necessary and asked Sir William Beveridge to produce a scheme. He produced one. Ministers approved it. The Conservative 1922 Committee disapproved it. The Government, not persuaded by Debates on the Floor of the House but intimidated by a party meeting upstairs, thrust the whole thing back into the melting pot and announced that after the Whitsuntide Recess it would produce a new and more voluminous scheme embracing not only fuel consumption but the organisation of the industry.The "Observer" went on to say—this is the "Observer," not the "Daily Worker"—Fuel, like food, is a necessity of life, and the basis of any rationing scheme must be, as 1004 with food rationing, individual need. The Beveridge scheme starts from that, which is perhaps why the Labour Party approves it and the 1922 Committee does not.In the Debate of 10th June the Lord President sought to discount the view that there had been a change of policy on account of the 1922 Committee when he said: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th June, 1942; col. 1086, Vol. 380.]I do not know what the Lord President meant by saying that public conviction in the matter of fuel rationing was lacking. I admit that he might have thought so from speeches made on the other side of the House. This is an old House, and a General Election is along way behind us. I am convinced that, if an election came to-morrow, some Members on the other side would be swept like chaff before the wind. As far as I have been able to test it, they certainly do not accurately represent public opinion in this matter, and, if they did, they would be representing a very selfish kind of public opinion. In any case I do not understand the fear of public opinion in the matter of rationing. There has been no objection to rationing in the scores of directions in which it has been applied. On the contrary, it has been pressed for from these benches and has been welcomed, because it would relieve the gravity of the existing situation and further because a rationing scheme not only involves a shortage of supply but has come to be regarded as a guarantee of supply. If the Minister says he cannot apply a rationing scheme to fuel because he cannot even guarantee a rationed supply, a calamitous situation would then be revealed. I ask him to say whether that is the case, and, if it is not, why he does not propose even now, late though it may be, to implement a rationing scheme. I believe that, because of vacillation in this matter, we are heading 1005 for a very serious situation. It is now very likely too late for any rationing scheme to be effective for the coining winter, but I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to say definitely whether he is satisfied that, with the arrangements announced to-day by his right hon. Friend, there will be this winter an equal distribution of domestic warmth between rich and poor, between those who have coal cellars already well filled and those who have no cellars at all and have in consequence to rely on small weekly supplies.
In other words, if there is to be shivering this winter, will there be an equality of shivering? If there is inequality it will be a scandal. It will simply be due to the fact that the Government do not pursue with resolution the policy they announced on 7th May. I beg that we may be assured, in spite of what my right hon. and gallant Friend said to-day, that every resolute attempt will be made to ensure that whatever may be the shortage this winter there will be equitable distribution of whatever supply there is. One of the most serious aspects of the problem is that we continue to endure an entirely chaotic method of coal distribution. I beg my right hon. and gallant Friend to tell the House what he is doing to deal with it. With some little experience I again warn the Government that if we get this winter, as we easily may, a combination of the circumstances of last winter and the winter before, the Government will make a grave mistake if they repose on rail transport burdens which could, if other steps were taken, be to some extent avoided. I wish the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, in spite of his peculiar ideas about voluntary rationing, every success in his new and most responsible position, although I confess to some grave misgivings about the future because of the vacillations in Government policy in the last few months.
§ Sir Arnold Gridley (Stockport)
My hon. Friend the Member for Clay Cross (Mr. Ridley) has devoted his speech mainly to the problem of rationing. As there is no proposal to introduce any compulsory rationing scheme until the House has an opportunity of debating it, I am sure that my hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not treat the question as a live issue to-day. We have a much more urgent matter to face. When the present 1006 Minister was appointed to his onerous office his appointment was received with good will and approbation in all quarters of the House. The Minister retains that approbation to-day, and I am sure he feels that it is the desire of everyone to help him as far as they can in the problems which face him. I do not want to say anything to-day other than with the intention to be helpful. We know that he is as anxious as anybody to avoid having to introduce any compulsory fuel rationing scheme, but this obviously depends upon whether coal production can be sufficiently increased to make compulsory rationing unnecessary. Unfortunately, he figures that have been given in answers to Questions this week and again by the Minister in his speech to-day—on which I would like to congratulate him—show that production has, if anything, fallen and is nowhere near the target which has to be reached if all the requirements of war munition industries and domestic consumers are to be met.
I think that the majority of Members agree with the view that the situation is now so grave that steps much more drastic than any that have been taken hitherto and which are long overdue must be taken if the output of coal is to be increased. I am sure that the majority of Members do not look upon this as a party question at all. It is a national question which concerns all parties. For that reason there was no difficulty in getting the support of Members of all parties to the Motion dealing with the release of coal-face workers from the Services which I thought fit with many of my hon. Friends to put on the Paper for to-day's Debate as a direction to which we might devote our consideration. I claim to have received sufficient information to enable me to speak on this subject and the position in which the industry now stands in a more informed way than others in the House except those who work with me on the Select Committee on National Expenditure and who for nearly two years had at regular intervals the position of the coal industry and of electricity, gas, oil and transport under review. It was our business to call witnesses before us in order to inform ourselves of the situation from quarter to quarter and we consulted all interests. We had before us representatives of the mineowners, the Miners' Federation, the coal merchants, the gas 1007 and electricity industry, the Mines Department and of oil.
The House will forgive me if I remind it that 18 months ago the Eighth Report of the Select Committee dealt with the then serious coal situation and made certain recommendations. Three months later, in the worse situation which had then been reached, it was urged in the 16th Report that the situation could only be remedied, first, if thousands of experienced miners now in the Army and in various industries were released for return to the pit; second, if by hearty cooperation between mineowners and workers output could be steadily increased and sustained by reducing idle time and absenteeism to the minimum; third, if the users of coal, coke, gas and electricity for domestic purposes exercised economy to an extent few have yet attempted to achieve. In the body of that Report it was emphasised that economy must begin at once and be maintained until coal production had been increased by at least 25,000,000 tons per annum. That was 15 months ago. Four months later, just under a year ago, the 24th Report recommended, first, that greater efforts should be made by the Mines Department and the, gas and electricity industries to secure voluntary savings, and, second, that the question of releasing miners from the Services or other employment should at least be reconsidered. We used that careful term in the Report because we knew that up to then the Government had stuck their toes in and said, "No more men from the Field Forces." Finally, another Report which dealt solely with the coal situation and was presented to this House on 19th February last included among some 14 recommendations this outstanding one: that a plan should be prepared for the temporary release of men from the Army this spring to help in building up stocks for the winter of 1942–43.
I wonder of what use all these recommendations have been? For 15 months there was little effective action. In the past three months there has been some activity. We now have a Minister of Fuel and Power, we have Government control over the industry, and there is now in active operation a scheme for securing a reduction in domestic consumption by voluntary means. Can it be wondered at that in the circumstances, 1008 and having regard to the serious, indeed, most grave situation, in which the country stands as regards the Supply of its coal needs, many of us are driven now to raise very definitely the issue of urging the recall of coal-face workers from the Field Forces? And I have been advised since the Motion was put on the Paper that we could well have added "and from industry," because I am told there are still thousands of miners working in the industries of the country who could be combed out of those industries and go back to the coal face.
No one will be so foolish as to deny that there are weighty arguments on both sides of the suggestion that trained men should be called back from the Forces. One can appreciate the strenuous opposition of commanding officers to having battalions broken up, but having regard to the relatively small amount of serious fighting by large British Forces it would not have entailed any serious weakening of those Forces—as we have heard in an excellent speech from the Noble Lord the Member for Down (Viscount Castlereagh)—if men had been released temporarily to return to the coal-face. After all, if a battalion goes into battle it is fortunate if it comes out of it without serious losses, in engagements such as are fought to-day, and then commanding officers have to fill up the gaps with reserves. In Germany when active warfare diminishes for a time in the winter months it appears to be the practice to send many thousands of soldiers back from their armies to resume their former occupations in munition works and the mines. If the Germans, with a far greater man-power than we have, find that pays surely there is much to be said for our bringing back a relatively small number of our men—whose absence from the Army and other Forces would not be materially felt—to their former occupation, where their value cannot be over-estimated. War coins new words. One of the new phrases of this war is the term "browned off." There are a great many men in the Forces today who would be very much better off in occupations where they would be black with coal-dust rather than left brown with boredom.
There are some who, I think, still hold the view that we cannot expect increased output from the mines until the mines have been nationalised. On that I want 1009 to say a word without the least intention of being provocative. There are many in this country who point to Russia as an example that it would pay us to follow, and in many respects I agree, but I have here the "Soviet War News" of 21st April and 22nd April. An article in the first is headed "More coal," and from it I quote this short extract. It is dealing with what is needed if the shortage of coal is to be made up and says:Above all, improved organisation of labour in the mines. It is necessary to carry out the repeated directions of the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party and of the Soviet Government about staffing the workers with sufficient hewers and team leaders.There we have the question of the coalface worker again. The second article is headed "Absenteeism must be punished," and on this point the article says:In the conditons of this unprecedented war managers who tolerate violations of labour, discipline, or self-interest undermine the work of their factories. Even if only a few such persons are to be found in a factory, they must not go unpunished, but must be held responsible according to the law. We must remember Stalin's words. It must be explained to the workers, and particularly to those who have only recently entered' factories and workshops, that by admitting absenteeism and not furthering labour productivity, they are acting contrary to the interests of the whole working class and harming our industrics.Do not those two quotations suggest that even where industries are owned by the State the same human difficulties are found as we are confronted with in our coalfields?
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
In that quotation it says they are doing injury to their industry, and therefore should be punished, but the hon. Member says that if they injure not their industry but your industry they should be punished. That is the difference.
§ Mr. Kirkwood (Dumbarton Burghs)
The mines in this country belong to the mineowners, just as the land in our native land belongs to the landlords. It is the very opposite in Russia. The mines are the Russians, belonging to the workers, and that is why there is enthusiasm there to beat the Germans.
§ Sir A. Gridley
I think that the hon. Member has missed the point. I understand that all those things belong to the Russian State, but I am pointing out that that fact does not get over the troubles which we find are inherent in human nature. Men will absent themselves from work when they ought to be there, and Stalin points out that those men are acting against the interests of their own class by so doing.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
Give us the mines, and we will deal with the malingerers in no uncertain fashion just as we are dealing with the mineowners now.
§ Sir A. Gridley
The conclusion I want to draw from those two quotations which I have made is that it is too much to assume that one can get over our present difficulties by persuading a small proportion of youager men in the pits to put out that greater effort and give that more regular attention which ought rightly to be expected from them.
§ Sir A. Gridley
The only effective alternative to mitigate the wastage in the mines, which is of the order of 25,000 workers a year, and to get the additional coalface workers that are wanted is the return of miners who are now in the field Forces and in industry.
May I turn the attention of hon. Members for a moment to another point upon which I hope I will not be doing the House an injustice when I say I doubt whether any hon. Member has really considered it before? The coal which is required to meet the needs of the gas and electricity undertakings to enable them to supply their domestic household consumers for a year on the old rate of consumption represents only 152 hours' mining output. Gas and electricity undertakings are probably the most efficient—I do not want to put the claim too high—users of coal.
§ Mr. Grenfell
There must be some mistake there. The hourly output is 100,000 tons, which is 700,000 tons a day, and we must reckon seven days per week. The joint consumption of electricity and gas undertakings is nearly 50,000,000 tons per year. [An HON. MEMBER: "He said domestic."] Is it purely domestic? Do lighting and heating all come within that figure?
§ Sir A. Gridley
Yes, Sir. The hon. Gentleman did not quite understand me. I was very careful to say that this was for supply to domestic household consumers. That is the figure which I have given, and I doubt very much whether the hon. Gentleman has that figure at the moment. Just consider what that figure means. If everybody, large and small users, succeeded in cutting the use of gas and electricity by 25 per cent. in domestic household establishments, we could do without one week's output of coal from the pits. There are few houses in this country which have not their worries, anxieties, discomforts and inconveniences, yet the harassed domestic household is being harried to make cuts which, if wholly effective to the extent of 25 per cent. will represent only one week's effort, or 2 per cent. of the present rate of output.
I do not use those figures as an argument against rationing. I have been an advocate of rationing from the very start of the situation which has developed over the last 18 months, but I have never been in favour of rationing on the lines of the Beveridge proposal. I shall continue to oppose any scheme of rationing on the present fuel-target basis, if it ever becomes compulsory. Do not let anybody think that I am saying one word now to discourage the practice of the utmost economy in every domestic household in the country. The need for economy is absolutely imperative, and everybody should do his utmost to limit consumption of coal, gas and electricity to the utmost, so long as the war effort is not thereby impaired.
As the House knows, even if the country does not already know it, I have opposed, from the beginning, the Beveridge plan, of which the fuel target, as voluntarily exercised, is a complete copy. I am going to call Sir William Beveridge, however, to my aid on this occasion. [An HON. MEMBER: "Do not do that."] I will take the risk. He wrote a letter to "The Times" on 14th May in which he replied to his critics. In that letter he said:Of course, efforts to increase production of coal are required in any case."—that is, whether rationing becomes necessary or not—Rationing in general is not unpopular with consumers. But rationing of fuel has to make head against a general opinion that rationing should not be necessary since there is, plenty 1012 of coal underground. Even when it is explained that getting coal to the point of consumption depends on organisation and manpower, general doubt persists whether manpower and organisation in the mines have been handled wisely. Unfortunately, with a single exception, all suggestions that can be made for increasing production, such as concentration of the available labour upon the best seams in the best mines, temporary increase of miners' hours or reorganisation of the industry, are highly controversial, or highly speculative, or both. The exception—the one certain method of getting more coal at once"——
§ Sir A. Gridley
is to increase the skilled labour in the mines by returning to them at once men now in the Forces.That is the policy which has been urged upon the Government for the last 18 months.
If the problems of the Minister of Fuel and Power are to be solved, the War Cabinet should come to a decision to act upon the advice given them in the Motion on the Order Paper to-day. I beg the War Cabinet to give the Minister the manpower that he wants in order to make sure that the coal the country needs may be won from the pits. It is all very well to estimate what the present and the growing requirements are and what the production must be in order to meet it. How do we know and how can we possibly foresee what unexpected contingencies will have to be provided against? We ought not to be trying merely to balance our demands with the production. We ought to have a reserve of sufficient amount to meet any contingencies with which we are likely to be faced. God has put into the earth the greatest asset, which mankind is able to draw freely from the earth.
§ Sir A. Gridley
It has taken thousands of years to mature. Coal is absolutely vital to the life of man in peace-time and far more so in time of war as grave as that which we face to-day. Therefore, I appeal most strongly that Ministers present should bring before the War Cabinet the need to come to an urgent decision now and to act quickly. Let us be done with procrastination.
§ Sir Samuel Chapman (Edinburgh, South)
We have had a most serious and illuminating Debate, and I rise not to join 1013 in the general Debate but to turn just for five minutes to a point which has not yet been mentioned during the Debate. I know nothing about coal-mining, and so I will say nothing about it, but I do know something about what is above ground, and I wish once more to make the suggestion that the woods of our country, the timber in our country, would provide a very large percentage of fuel in the 5years to come, if the right hon. and gallant Gentleman—if I may presume to say so—goes about it in the right way. I know how anxious he is on this point of using more wood, because he has sent out a circular to all the local authorities, and I know too how anxious the Secretary of State for Scotland is, because he too has sent out a circular. What I desire to ask is. What progress is being made to get into the minds of the people of this country that they should use more wood and less coal?
The quantity of wood which lies in the great forests, if I may so call them, of this country is enormous. Not only is it lying on the ground, no one daring to pick it up, but there are hundreds of thousands of dead trees which could be cut down without interfering in any degree with the timber which is wanted for the national requirements of the country. I will give just one example. It is no use speaking in general terms. I was walking yesterday in the county of Sussex and went through a charming little village called Isfield, a few miles from Lewes. There is an old corn mill there, and within a few minutes' walk of that corn mill there is enough wood, if it were properly used, to keep Lewes in fuel for the whole winter. Wood lies by the roadside; trees looking like antediluvian monsters have been there for years. I spoke to a woodman, who said, "If you go up that bank, you will find an old oak which has been lying there since 1910. I helped to cut it down. The tree was coming over the road, and we cut it down, and there it lies, eight or ten tons of it," Dead wood such as this is to be found all over the country in huge quantities. Why is not this wood used to save coal?
I shall make three suggestions. It is useless getting up and talking without making suggestions. The matter will have to be tackled in three ways. The first way is to leave the wood merchants to continue business as they are doing now. In the county of Sussex they are 1014 getting about £3 a ton for wood, which works out at about a penny for a 3 lb. log which when put on a fire will last for a considerable time. About four of these will keep an ordinary sitting-room fire going from 4 p.m. until bedtime with a little coal. [Interruption.] I regard bedtime as half past nine or 10 p.m. Any man who is in fairly good health and lives in the country wants to go to bed in good time in order to keep himself fit and be able to get up early next morning. The thing is to leave the wood merchants, who are conducting their business in a most admirable manner, as they are at the present moment.
As regards my second point, I know a wood of 1,800 acres. I went through it yesterday and could have picked up tons of wood lying on the ground, wood for which people would be thankful. Why is it not picked up? [An HON. MEMBER: "It would disturb the pheasants."] Cottagers around, and everyone else, would be glad of it, but what one is told, "We dare not go in. We should be watched." I spoke to a man whom I met in a public house. That is the way to get information in the country. Go into the local public houses. You need not have bottled beer or whisky; have a grape juice if the house provides it. I raised the question with four or five men who were standing round the bar. One man said, "I shall not go short of fuel. I know where to get it—after dark." There will be a lot of that sort of thing going on if fuel runs short. This matter is very serious. I suggest to my right hon. and gallant Friend, who has made such an excellent and illuminating speech, that he might make an appeal to the great landowners of this country for good neighbourly feeling, that we must pull together, that we are all in the same boat, and would they show a spirit of friendship and kindness to the countryside by saying, "Come into our woods—without axe or without saw if you like—and pick what you see lying on the ground." There would be a minority who would have to be guarded against, as I learned in the public house. People will talk to you at the bars of these village public houses, and I have been in 20 or 30 of them. My hon. Friend has been down the mine, but he has not been into the public houses and got first-hand in- 1015 formation. What men of good will have told me is that I am quite right, that they would like to go into the woods and pick up dead timber, but that there are others against whom safeguards would have to be made. Some persons might even come down from London with lorries. These people who wish to go into the woods in the way I have proposed agree and desire that regulations of a reasonable nature should be made.
The great thing is to get a spirit of good neighbourly feeling in the minds of the people of the countryside. The response would be wonderful; it would be enormous. I see the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Rear-Admiral Beamish). He knows these woods better than I do, and I recommend him to go into the Old Ship inn a few miles from Lewes. If in the past he has passed it, I would suggest to him not to hesitate to go in there. At the side of the road is the Plashet Wood of 1,800 acres. It is full of good stuff. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman said that the country had become fuel-minded, and was anxious to save fuel. I am sorry to have to disagree with him. The people have not yet fully realised the seriousness of the situation. We must do everything possible even in regard to burning this wood. Perhaps if action were taken in the right way that would save 10 to 15 per cent.: it would help the right hon. and gallant Gentleman in the great task he has undertaken. Get the good will spirit, and let the people go into the woods, without axes and without saws. That is not enough. In the third place, the right hen. and gallant Gentleman will have to urge the local authorities to take in hand the cutting down of dead trees, and use these great antediluvian monsters which all over the country are lying by the roadsides. Then we shall, ease the great strain upon our miners and upon the use of our coal.
§ Mr. Sloan (South Ayrshire)
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member into the woods. I have listened to a great part of this Debate, and it has not helped me very much. I have no great complaint to make about this speech of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. He accomplished a very difficult task in a very capable manner. It is not easy to face this House and say that coal production has fallen to 200,000,000 tons per 1016 annum, that the mining policy has been a tragic and ghastly failure, that the country must face a period of austerity, and that, in the words of the Prime Minister, people must in the coming winter shiver in their homes. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has stated that production is falling. If ever there was a time when I could claim to be a prophet and the son of a prophet, it is now. In the last coal Debate in which I took part, I prophesied that coal production would continue to fall. In that prophecy I have been completely justified, and, unfortunately, I am in the position to say to-day that if reorganisation of the industry does not take place production will continue to fall. The Minister had a great deal to say about man-power in the mines.
The name of the hon. Member for Stockport (Sir A. Gridley) is among those attached to the Motion on the Order Paper demanding the return of 30,000 miners from the Forces. The return of 30,000, or 100,000, people, without proper directions, will make no difference to the production at all. That has been demonstrated. Already 33,000 men have been returned from other industries, and after that happened production was lower than before. Men returned from the Army to the mines, and production then went lower still. It has been a progressive decline. We have now lost an output of three cwt. per man-shift since the war began: instead of having 23.4 cwt. per man-shift, we have now an average of something like 20.14 cwt. Yet without one single man being returned to the mines, if output was restored to 23 cwt. per manshift we should get all the coal that is asked for by the Minister. We must find the reason for this tragic drop in output. In spite of all that has been said, inside and outside this House, the sole responsibility for the drop in output lies with the management of the collieries. The workmen are as capable and as willing as they were three years ago. They are prepared to work as hard at the coalface as they were three years ago, and as hard as they were six years ago, when the output per man-shift was over 25 cwt. The same men are there, the same coal seams are there, the same people evidently are there to take the coal from the men after it has been hewed. This is a very elementary matter. We must look into the distribution of the men in the pits. The number of men at the coal- 1017 face has not increased; in fact, it has slightly decreased in the last three years. But the number of workmen other than at the coalface—those not engaged in active production, in cutting the coal and filling it into the tubs—has increased enormously. Who is going to examine this matter?
We have now a new scheme of control. There was ever a more fraudulent scheme imposed upon a country or upon an industry than this scheme of control. It is there on your White Paper. It was accepted by the Miners' Federation, and by this House, and put into operation, but I defy any person to visit the coalfields—the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has been visiting the coalfields, and it is a pity he had not visited them before this scheme came into operation—and find the slightest change taking place in the outlook or psychology of the coal-owners. Where has the change taken place? The mines still belong to the owners, and they are being operated by the same agents, managers, under-managers and all the lesser fry in the same fashion as before. They are being operated not in the spirit of securing more coal for the nation but in the spirit of securing greater profits for the mine-owners. There is not the slightest difference taking place. They are still squeezing the miners at the coal face.
I visited a colliery the other day where it was a question of 3d. a ton between the management and the men. The management said that they were not going to give that 3d. per ton and said they would put machines into the pit; they would find some other method of operating it, but they were not going to give the other 3d. a ton. That is the spirit in which the mines are being operated to-day. The question of output is not a question of the men at all. There are men at the coalface filling 20 to 22 tons of coal in a shift. Will the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary in his reply tell me how 22 tons of coal can be scaled down a ton per man before it reaches the wagon? Can he explain why it takes 19 men to take away one man's output? Can he explain how it can be scaled down? In collieries in the county in which I live where they are working without any machinery the output is more than three tons per man per shift. The men are working coal at the coalface, and 1018 surely no one is going to suggest that the men are at all responsible for the loss between the coalface and the wagon.
There is only one way in which you can look for increased output. Even supposing 30,000 to 50,000 men were released from the Forces to go back to the pits, they would not, unless there was drastic reorganisation, increase the output of coal. Besides, there is no pit room for these men. During the last three years of the war development has suffered very severely, and while no doubt there may be some pits where more men can be employed, in the majority of pits I know there 1s. no room for any more men. It is only by making proper use of the manpower already there that output can be raised per man-shift. Give me a pit I can walk in and I will dig my 20 cwts. and carry them out on my back. The suggestion that reorganisation cannot take place or that output cannot be increased is ridiculous in the extreme. Do not let any Member say that absenteeism is the cause of the loss in output, because it is not true. There is not a single word of truth in it. We know that a certain number of men have been absent from their work when they ought to have been there. Nobody on this side of the House justifies that, neither does any miners' leader, and we; will take any steps possible to stop it. But do not let anybody come to this House and say that absenteeism is the cause of the drop in output.
Absenteeism in Scotland, both avoidable and unavoidable, is 8 per cent. On the last figures we had from the Government they proved that if men were absent one day a week, they were working extra shifts to make up for it and that during the whole year they had actually worked more than six shuts every week. So the question of absenteeism in Scotland does not arise, although output there, like that in other places, has dropped. Let us not be complacent about the scheme of control which has now been forced upon us. I have heard the Minister say a great deal about production committees, and I want him to investigate the question of the power of these committees to examine collieries where allegations are made that production is being retarded, because I am informed by managers in Scotland, and by the Controller, that men have no power whatever to move from one section of a pit to another in order to have it 1019 examined. If there are complaints about safety, there are workmen's inspectors whose job is entirely different from that of the production committees, which have no right whatever to move about the pits.
The managers claim that they are the managers of the collieries, and they will not allow their rights to be usurped. The managers have very serious responsibilities under the Mines Act, and undoubtedly they will maintain their rights. If these production committees are to work efficiently, they will have to be able to visit the different parts of the collieries, and I hope that matter will be examined so that we may know exactly what powers they have.
§ The question of man-power in all the collieries should be thoroughly examined. Pits should be examined for the purpose of finding out how many useless men there are in them, how many men have been brought into them who were never miners but are there with an umbrella over them to keep them out of the Army. I would like to know whether people are being brought into the pits who ought not to be there, who are of no use in the pits and who, by their presence there, are reducing the output per man-shift. The workmen cannot be blamed for a reduction for which they are not at all responsible.
§ If people are to be prevented from shivering in their homes this winter, something very serious will have to be done. The coal is still there, the equipment is there, and the men are there. The miners especially are people who never shirk employment, despite what the coalowners or managers may say. My chief complaint about them is that, they are always prepared to work too hard and to do too much. It is well known in mining districts that the tendency of men, if they are put on a ton rate, on piece rates, is to trample over the top of each other to get coal away from the coalface. If that is so, there should be no scarcity. The 30,000,000 tons of coal required should be obtained quite easily. One hon. Member talked about Russia and about what would happen in Russia. Drastic things have to happen in Russia because Russia has lost over 60 per cent. of her coal output, and drastic things are being done in an attempt to make up that loss. Not a single pit has been lost in this country, there is no invasion here, no enemy trampling over our coalfields, but the output has gone 1020 down to such an extent that the position has become tragic and serious. I suppose the Minister will come to Scotland in the near future. I hope that in his peregrinations round the collieries he will see to it that the management work the pits not in the interests of the coalowners or in the interests of profit, but in the interests of securing every ounce of coal that can be brought out of the pits during this period of war.
§ Mrs. Tate (Frome)
I cannot intervene in this Debate even for the very few minutes in which I intend to occupy the time of the House without paying a tribute of appreciation, which I am sure the whole House must feel, to the energy and imagination with which my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister for Fuel and Power has tackled the extraordinarily difficult task with which he has been faced. I am sure that all who listened to his speech in this Debate must have considered it a model of introducing a very intricate and difficult subject in a manner which was interesting and inspiring to the whole House.
The hon. Member who has just spoken said there was no need for a larger number of miners in the pits. His knowledge of mining is very much greater than mine. He has experience which I can never hope to have, because the experience of those who have worked in the pits and lived their lives among miners must of necessity be infinitely more valuable in every respect than any experience of those who endeavour to study the question from the outside. I only wish my experience of the industry were sufficiently good to enable me to pay the tribute that I would wish to pay to the miners, in whom I have taken a very great interest. But I cannot agree that there is not a greater need for men in the pits, and I think not only is this a matter of grave concern at present, but it must be a matter of very grave concern in the future. The Forster Committee Report, recently published, shows that in the last year in Somerset only four boys entered the coalmining industry. When one considers the very high degree of wastage because of old age which is inevitably taking place year by year, one can but consider that a most seripus situation, and indeed the Minister said that was a problem which was engaging his most earnest consideration. I would ask whether it is 1021 not possible to restart mining classes. Fifty-five years ago the Somerset County Council commenced evening mining classes, which were of tremendous assistance. A very large percentage of those who attended them obtained posts as managers and under-managers. Twenty years ago, for reasons of economy, the classes were brought to an end. The coalfield of Somerset is very nearly as large as that of the Forest of Dean, where there are these facilities. I hope consideration will be given to the reopening of these classes.
The Minister spoke of the economies which had been made up to date since the campaign was started to make the country conscious of the very great need for economy. I am sure the whole country would rather see economy produced by voluntary means if possible than by compulsory methods. But, in spite of what the Minister said about the figures being satisfactory up to date, and the very appreciable economy being effected, I do not think it is as yet time to judge how effective that is going to be, and I am certain that we have not reached the maximum of economy. There is still a considerable wastage of fuel in the consumption of electricity and gas in private houses, and I think greater publicity should be used for hay-box cookery. A Question was asked in the House the other day whether the Purchase Tax could be removed from hay boxes. I agree that anyone who can afford the rather expensive type of hay box which is now being sold could also afford to pay the Purchase Tax, but I suggest that it would be a great advantage if, in food advice bureaux and over the wireless, full instructions could be given on the method of economically making hay boxes in the home, and the tremendous saving in fuel which could result from the use of hay boxes. I welcome the visit of the Minister to the coalfields and his interviews with coal production committees. I hope that he will visit Somerset at an early date. I particularly welcome his intention, which I know to be sincere and genuine, that where faults are found in management they will receive the same attention as faults in other departments in the mines. I am sure that the coal production committee of Somerset will be extremely glad to receive a visit from the right hon. and gallant Gentleman.
§ Major Braithwaite (Buckrose)
I do not 1022 think that any Minister has started off in his new office with better wishes than my right hon, and gallant Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power. He has the particular affection of the House, and everyone is wishing and praying for his success in connection with the many difficulties attached to coal production. To-day he made a fine Parliamentary performance, and it was one that must have very much pleased the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). When, however, I get away from the Parliamentary performance, I do not find anything in the speech which contributed one extra ton of coal to the nation's need. We are in desperate straits. Unless coal production goes up we shall lose the war, and the sooner the House of Commons and the country realise this the better it will be for them. We cannot envisage opening up a second front unless we are prepared to fuel the people of France as well as the people of this country. Here we are with a gap to fill, and yet we are talking about coal as if it were a matter of not very mach urgency. This Debate is on a par with Debates in which I have taken part in ordinary times; there seems to be no urgency about the matter at all. Coal production is falling, the country is in grave danger, and I am very much alarmed.
I had hoped that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, with his vigour and courage, would have come out boldly with some valuable proposals for the immediate increase of coal production. Instead of that we have this lamentable decline and the figures that have been presented to us today. I have had a long experience with the coal trade and have worked with men underground practically all my life, and I say to the Minister frankly that by running six consecutive shifts he is losing production instead of improving it, particularly in the most prolific districts. I was glad to see the appointment of my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith), because he has a knowledge of coalmining which is second to none in Yorkshire. He knows perfectly well that in South Yorkshire where there are prolific seams six days a week consecutively underground is bound to bring production down instead of up. There may be something to be said for pits where the production per man is much lower, but certainly in the other districts 1023 it is far better to carry on with the five shifts and get the maximum, giving the pits and the machinery a chance to recover and giving extra leisure. The repair of machinery to-day, the getting together of spare parts and the opening of new districts, takes time, and if we run this six-day week underground it will retard production instead of expanding it.
§ This question is one of man-power. The Government and the Lord President of the Council, who, I see, is present, must take the fullest responsibility for allowing the young men to leave the pits at the beginning of the war, and we shall not get production back to its old level until we have put that man-power there. If this country is to be the Allied striking base for the winning of the war, Allied strategy should be directed to the preservation of the British coalfields and their utilisation to the maximum extent. I therefore suggest in all seriousness that a force of miners should be recruited from the British Empire, and if necessary some miners brought from Russia—from the Ukraine where they have been turned out of their mines—to this country and put into mines here, and our displaced miners sent to reinforce the workers in other mines so as to keep our personnel up to strength. In that way we could get back to normal production and would be able to secure the expanded output which is absolutely necessary.
§ Next I want to say a few words upon a subject in which I am particularly interested. Having been the father of the open cast mining scheme in this country, I want to join issue with my right hon. and gallant Friend. He did a great disservice to this effort the other day by putting out a disclaimer of certain reports which had appeared in the newspapers from industrial correspondents. I assume full responsibility for the visit of those industrial correspondents to the open cast mines. Nobody from the Ministry had bothered to go and see the work. I have not had the pleasure of seeing my right hon. and gallant Friend, or the Parliamentary Secretary, or the head of his Department, or any of the officials connected with it except the Controller for Yorkshire, who has spent half a day on the matter since he was appointed. I felt that it was necessary that the public should know exactly what is going on, 1024 and as this House represents the public I want to say frankly that I stand by every word that was written by those industrial correspondents. I did not go with them myself, so I was not able to influence anything they wrote. I asked them to give an opinion on what they saw.
§ What did they see? They saw a vast amount of coal being produced. They saw one man who, with one machine, dug 700 tons of coal in one day. They saw a production of not less than 30 tons per man employed; and they saw to their dismay thousands and thousands of tons of coal stacked in the fields at a time when it is badly needed in industry. My right hon. and gallant Friend says that this is not so, and that the Coalowners' Association, who are supposed to sell this coal for the Government, sell it without profit. I understood they were receiving 1s. a ton for handling this outcrop coal. I do not know whether I am right or not, but that is my impression. But if 1s. a ton is the sum paid, and whether they make a profit on it or not is not my business, they should be paid for handling it, and there can be no excuse for lack of sales at this time. I went to the head of the Midland amalgamated district for coal sales at Sheffield, and I said to him, "There is a vast amount of outcrop coal coming on to the market. It is coming, quickly. The director at the Ministry of Mines will tell you when it is arriving. He will tell you when it is coming and the approximate output. Before you are asked to sell it you will receive an analysis, made by the Government at Sheffield University, of each seam, so that you will know its calorific value and what it can be utilised for. It is up to you to make arrangements for its disposal in advance." He said, "That is easy. Do you know that I am dealing with 1,500,000 tons a week? "I said," Of course I know that, and so this extra 20,000 or 30,000 tons will not worry you." He said, "Not in the slightest. We want every bit you can get." That was before June. Since 5th June we have produced over 600,000 tons of outcrop coal, and in Yorkshire alone, 129,000 tons is now lying in the fields instead of factories and power stations. It has cost the Government 1s. a ton to stack it in the fields and it will cost them another 2s. a ton to pick it up and load. At one time during the course of its raising, it could have been taken direct to 1025 the power station or public utility companies within easy range.
§ I will tell hon. Members the places. At Manston, only four miles from the city of Leeds, 21,800 tons have been produced since July. On the ground lie 21,818 tons, or 100 per cent. of the output, and no attempt has been made to sell it at all. That is a definite loss to the country and to the taxpayer of over £1,000 in putting that down. Again, at Went-worth, eight miles from Sheffield, 45,000 tons have been produced of Barnsley main coal, suitable to drive any steam engine or any electric plant in the country, but 37,800 tons, 83 per cent. of the total production, have been put into a field within a few miles of an electric power station. I do not know all the cases, because I am only concerned with the organisations I happen to be looking after, but out of a total production of 303,000 tons, 129,000 tons, instead of going away, have been put on the ground.
§ Major Lloyd George
I will have to deal with this matter later, but would my hon. and gallant Friend be good enough to indicate to the House on how many of those sites there were facilities for removing the coal at the time he speaks of?
§ Major Braithwaite
At every single site the coal was put into a wagon and transported from the coal face to some place in a field to put on the ground. That wagon could easily have left the field and gone to some power station, instead of staying there. That is not the whole of the story. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman said to-day that he could not expect from open cast mines more than 1,500,000 tons in his coal year, which ends at the end of next May. Why minimise the effort? Why not give the diggers a little more credit and help? We are getting 60,000 tons a week now——
§ Major Lloyd George
I am sorry to interrupt my hon. and gallant Friend again, but I cannot allow that figure to go out. The figure of 60,000 tons has been reached only once in the whole period. The average is far below 60,000.
§ Major Braithwaite
It depends from where you take it. If you take the whole position, I think my right hon. and gallant Friend will not disagree that over 650,000 tons has been raised since 5th 1026 June this year. I make that statement perfectly specifically. Work that out, and you find that before the end of next May you will have over 3,000,000 tons. This has been done with a minimum of plant. One concern engaged in getting coal ordered £80,000 worth of machinery to dig it. As each machine was finished at the excavation works some Government Department came along and commandeered it. That concern has never received one new machine for this work.
Again, only last week 30 of the machines being used by the contractors on this, work were commandeered and will leave the coal jobs in the course of the nest week or two. I made a statement in this House, which I stand by, that there are 50,000,000 tons of coal within 30 feet of the surface of this country that can be dug by open cast methods. It is only a question of the number of machines that are used, I admit that some of the coal is of an inferior quality, but most of it is useful for industrial purposes. I am thoroughly dissatisfied by the lack of appreciation and lack of help which the Ministry of Fuel and Power has given to this project, which is quite capable of raising 10,000,000 tons a year. During the course of this Debate I got a wire for which I did not ask from one of the Ministry's own officials, which reads:Please inform House of Commons that 32,000,000 tons of outcrop coal are available for open-cast mining at an average ratio of one in four within a radius of 25 miles of Wakefield. Can produce reliable evidence.I do not want to stress this too much, but I feel that everybody ought to be all out to do every little bit possible to help win this war. Everything in this country depends upon coal. The mere fact that we cannot produce rubber in this country because we cannot produce coal is a serious matter which ought to alarm the minds of all Members. There are so many considerations that hang upon the production of coal that I earnestly ask the Minister please to let us have all the help he can give us. My statements have been discredited by people who do not know what has been happening.
I can substantiate every figure and word I have used in the House. I have proved the situation up to the hilt, and, that being so, let us get on with a full effort. There are plenty of machines and men doing less vital work which could be trans- 1027 ferred to this job, immediately; skilled miners are not needed. I promise the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that if he will give us this encouragement and help, he will not be disappointed. I am most anxious that both he and his colleagues should succeed in this very big task they have undertaken. I am ready to give them every bit of energy and help I can. This is no time to disparage one another's efforts. It is a time to work as a team and try to get the best results for the nation.
There is one other thing I wish to touch on in the main mining issue. There will unless the Government give very earnest consideration to the matter be a very serious shortage of pit props. There are plenty of pit props to be had in parts of Scotland but I was speaking to one of the people engaged in that trade only yesterday, and he told me that it was quite impossible for him to get labour. If collieries are to produce coal in increased quantity, it is absolutely necessary they should be supplied with essential needs, and pit props and pit wood are vital to increased production. Will the Minister examine the conditions under which the Minister of Labour will allow people to be transferred to cut pit props? I am told that a lot of women volunteered to help with this job in Scotland, and that they were refused permission by the Ministry of Labour. There may be a shortage of pit props, and it is vital that something should be done about this.
I want to revert to the subject of open cast mining. I took around the greatest expert in the world on open cast mining of coal, who happens to be in command of one of the American units over here. He has done more of this coal-getting in the open than anybody else in the world. I took him around, and I said, "Tell me where we are wrong and what we can do to help?" He said, "You are doing a great job of work in this matter, but you are doing it with toys. If only I had a dozen of the machines that we are using in America for this wonk I could double the output for you very quickly." I asked whether we were doing it in the right way, and he said, "With what you have got, you could not do it better." So that the House shall not imagine that this is being done uneconomically, I will quote figures. The amount raised by a 1028 company of which I know, up to 23rd September, was 282,000 tons. It cost the Government, in the contract for raising, £188,000—that is 13s. 4d. a ton. That was the average for the whole period: it included prices which were considerably higher. You must add to this the Ministry's charges and the charges for putting it down on the ground, which I do not think is a charge which should be imposed on the contractors. I submit that on those figures I am entitled to greater consideration from the Ministry, and to more help and encouragement. I promise the House of Commons that we can make a great contribution to the Minister's effort.
§ Major Braithwaite
There is only one screening plant available, and the Ministry screen the coal there themselves. The cost of the coal there as it goes into the screens is 10s. 2d.
§ Major Braithwaite
My hon. Friend knows that this goes through the coal selling schemes, which are operated entirely apart from the contractors. I have no knowledge of the price at which it is sold.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power (Mr. T. Smith)
As we are having another day for this Debate, perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House if I were to rise now. As my right hon. and gallant Friend can speak again only by leave of the House, he proposes to deal, among other things, with the statement that we have just heard. I want to be perfectly frank with the hon. and gallant Member for Buckrose (Major Braithwaite). He said that neither the Minister nor the Parliamentary Secretary had been to see these open cast pits. Please do not believe all you hear. I told the hon. and gallant Member some time ago that when I went to see the open cast mines I should go officially, and not with him. If any contractor who happens to be working on them cares to come with me, that is 1029 another matter; but I do not take my advice, or my instructions, from anybody who is working an open cast pit.
§ Mr. Smith
The hon. and gallant Member is not going to have it all his own way. Nobody is disparaging this effort, but the hon. and gallant Member knows what the trouble has been for six or eight weeks. That is why some of us did not go. [An HON. MEMBER: "Tell the House why."] The hon. and gallant Member knows why. He would do far better to let the matter stay where it is until the Minister is able to reply to him on the next Sitting Day. After all, my right hon. and gallant Friend is the Minister; I am only the Parliamentary Secretary. I do not mind saying that I have spent nearly the whole of my life in and around mining, and I claim to be perhaps as tolerant as any Member in this House, and when I make up my mind in regard to a thing and I know that I am right, Bostock's elephants would not move me.
With regard to the other point made by the hon. and gallant Member, relating to pit props, anyone might imagine that since the Ministry was created there has been no discussion about pit props. As a matter of fact—and on security grounds one cannot say all that one knows about this matter—it was one of the first things that I had to tackle with the aid of the best experts in the country. The question of wood and steel and alternatives and all that sort of thing was gone into, and my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell), who was Secretary for Mines, was on these committees. If my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckrose has any information with regard to pit props and will let me have it, I will see that it is examined, but for heaven's sake do not assume that nothing has been done with regard to it.
For the last two or three years in particular I have taken a fairly active part in coal Debates, usually from the opposite side of the House, and although my hon. Friend the Member for Gower and myself may have differed on occasions about what should be done, nevertheless, both of us know the mining industry; we are the closest of friends and are prepared to co-operate to the fullest extent in order to get what we want in the interests of 1030 the country. He rather excelled himself to-day. It was an excellent speech. I have not a word of disagreement, as he knows, because I said all the same things myself some time ago with regard to manpower, pit production and our own experience in the pit. I agree wholeheartedly with him. May I say one thing and one thing only? He knows that I cannot give the figures with regard to the stocks at the present time, but the position is not quite as bad as he may have given the impression. I am sure he will take from me that assurance, but nobody connected with the Ministry of Fuel and Power will disagree with Members in all parts of the House in pressing for adequate man-power in the pits. All that has been said about the need for an adequate labour force at the coalface we know to be true, but there will be another occasion, on the next Sitting Day, to discuss that, and none of us attached to the Ministry will disagree with what has been said. Under the White Paper—and whatever my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan) may think, the coal plan was the decision of Parliament—my right hon. and gallant Friend's task is to carry out what is laid down in this coal plan. It may not be a perfect plan.
§ Mr. Smith
At the same time, that is our instruction as it were, and the regional control is being built up. I am bound to say that it has been up to now—perhaps not in all areas—and it will be in the future, productive of much good. Take the question of pit production committees, and hon. Members must never forget that coal is not got in London but is got in the pits and that it is there where you have to have your minds directed. With regard to these pit production committees, I can give this assurance straight away. Those committees are, as far as possible, to be on a basis of equality. There should be no attempt on the part of any management of any colliery to regard the pit committee as theirs. When these committees were first instituted there was a good deal of complaint on this ground, and if any Member knows of any pit committee in connection with which there is disagreement as to what is being done and will write to the. Regional Controller or to the Ministry, the fullest inquiry will be made. The building up of this structure 1031 has been a rather difficult task, but I am certain that it will be productive of much good in more than one direction.
§ Mr. Smith
If a pit production committee was discussing the question of production at a particular pit and they had all the figures and data before them, and thought that the inspection of a certain part of a district in a seam would be helpful to more production, not only have they the right to inspect it, but they should immediately do so. We are starting a new thing in the mines. Miners have been clannish and conservative in many ways but if the question is rightly tackled, that should not hinder any progress in that direction. We have heard a good deal about wastage in the mining industry, and there is no doubt that it is very big indeed. With fatal and serious accidents, old age, infirmity, illness and so on there is always a terrific wastage of man-power in the industry, apart altogether from the question of entrants at the other end of the scale. There are between 25,000 and 30,000 men going out every year through one cause or another.
In paragraph 19 of the White Paper it was suggested that for the first time in the history of mining there should be 1032 set up a medical services scheme purely for the miners., not merely to deal with the checking certificates of those who wanted to leave the industry, but to deal with rehabilitation and remedial treatment in cases where it was required. Little time was lost before an Inter-Departmental Committee was set up, formed of some of the best men that could be obtained. After not too many meetings but a good deal of hard work their report has been prepared, and I propose to give its outline to the House. I had the honour of acting as chairman of that Committee, and I think this report will show that we have done good work, not merely for the immediate benefit but the ultimate benefit of the mining industry. The subject matter boils down to three heads—service at the pits, service away from the pits, and the checking of medical certificates. It is suggested that in each region there shall be appointed a full-time medical officer, making eight in the regions, and an additional one at headquarters, making 10 in all. I think everyone who knows anything about mining will agree that even in the days when there were 300,000, 400,000 and 500,000 more people employed in the industry than there are today, there was only one full-time medical officer. He is a very able man who has done wonderfully well, but he has had an almost impossible task to survey the 1,900 to 2,000 pits and all the different cases of illness and sickness. It is suggested that there shall be eight full-time regional medical officers and an additional one at headquarters, making 10 in all.
§ Mr. Smith
Yes. The duty or work of the regional medical officer will be to survey such things as first-aid treatment and ambulance services. Anybody who has been associated with pits knows that a good many collieries were deficient in some of the very first things that they ought to have had years and years ago. I worked in a colliery for more years than I care to look back on where there had to be the utmost agitation in order to get an ambulance and where there was no first-aid room. While a good deal of progress has been made, there is certainly some work left to be done. The regional medical officer will be expected, among other things, to supervise and improve the first-aid treatment. My hon. Friend 1033 the Member for Gower knows that in the Royal Commission's Report there are three paragraphs dealing with this specific point, urging more improvement, better qualifications for those who are handling it, and so on.
There are then the investigation and preventive measures concerning occupational diseases and fitness. I wonder whether the average Member appreciates what is taking place in mining at the present time. There are occupational diseases like nystagmus, which has been on the decline largely because there has been extra illumination. There is an occupational disease called silicosis, which the House will hear more about in a few weeks, and which, as a result of an inquiry in South Wales, is to be called pneumoconiosis. If anybody wants to know what silicosis actually means, he need only read that report and make some investigation of cases in certain parts of the country. I think hon. Members will agree that there will be plenty of work for the regional medical officer along those lines. The regional medical officer should be the type of man who is able to go down pits. To my own knowledge there are certain pits where men suffer from carbuncles and boils on an average more than in other pits, and where the causes should be investigated. There is to-day evidence of a certain number of cases of dermatitis, not limited to one district, where there is plenty of room for the medical officer to go down the pits and try to ascertain the causes and the necessary preventive measures.
Another thing we have recommended is that there shall be medical inspection of juveniles in accordance with the recommendation of the Forster Committee. I want to be frank about this matter. With the strain on the medical staff of the country at the present time, it would be almost impossible to carry out the annual inspection of youths in pits up to the 19th year. So what the committee suggests at the moment is that a youth entering the industry should be examined as to fitness for the work, and that after all is vital, but the question of the annual inspection up to the 19th year is a matter that shall be discussed with the Mineworkers' Federation. There has been a good deal of hostility in the past to the annual examination, and we know the reason why. On that score alone we shall find plenty of work for the regional officers.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
I gather that there is to be one medical officer for Scotland. It strikes me that he will have infinitely more than one man can possibly do.
§ Mr. Smith
The Minister is to speak on the next Sitting Day. When we come to the question of medical services away from the pits, there are panel treatment, hospital treatment, in and out treatment, and so on. In respect of fractures and allied injuries, there is a certain amount of facility under the emergency hospital scheme, but we have been told that quite a number of miners in certain localities have hesitated to go for out-patient treatment when advised by the medical man on the ground that they could not afford the travelling and out-of-pocket expenses. It is proposed that wherever a miner, on medical advice, goes for out-patient treatment, on request the whole of his expenses shall be paid. That is one of those irritating little things which have existed for a good many years.
With, regard to rehabilitation, we want to use as far as possible all existing facilities. It is no use opening another building if you have facilities in the area already able to deal with rehabilitation cases. The Scottish Office of Health has been extremely good. We have had the offer of one of the best places in Scotland for the rehabilitation of a certain number. We aim at using existing facilities and bringing them to the notice of the mine-workers. Where there are no facilities we are aiming at rehabilitation centres dealing-purely with medical cases. There are one or two in existence, at Mansfield, Wigan, Lanark, and so on. At Mansfield they are restoring injured men in a marvellous way. I had a physical disability for many years through an accident, and, if we had had the slightest kind of rehabilitation treatment in existence, I should have been saved 30 years' suffering. Instead of lying on basket chairs for years the men are treated with remedial 1035 exercises and up to 60 per cent. of all the cases treated are restored to their original work. In one pit I am told the figures show that more than 90 per cent. were restored to their original work.
We want to extend that service where there are not existing facilities. What is more, we want this rehabilitation work to be initiated by the Miners' Welfare Commission. The Commission has since 1920 won the confidence of the industry and has done wonderfully good work. We want the Commission to undertake this work, and I have an assurance from the chairman, although he has not been able to consult his committee in the few days before this Debate, that he is convinced that the Commission will be pleased to do this work, I can tell the House also that the amount of money that will be needed will be provided.
With regard to the third part, which is in paragraph 19, namely, the checking of medical certificates, the figures are rather astounding. It is estimated on the figures for one quarter that there are just under 20,000 applications to leave the industry annually based on medical certificates. Of that number about 25 per cent. come from men actually at work and who have remained at work in the industry. The most remarkable thing is that four districts—South Wales and Monmouthshire, Durham, Lanark, and Lancashire and Cheshire—have roughly 50 per cent. of the cases. Anyone who knows the conditions in some of those counties knows that the number has been on the increase. The figures are rather illuminating. In the checking of medical certificates we have not wanted to set up separate medical machinery for miners apart from anybody else. We do not want to segregate miners and regard them as a race apart. Whenever a man presents a certificate with an application to leave the industry on medical grounds it is first scrutinised by the lay staff of, say, the Ministry of Labour and National Service. If the certificate is vague or unsatisfactory the workman is then sent to a medical referee whose decision is final. In addition, we are suggesting, in order to fulfil the exact wording of paragraph 19, that certificates relating to miners shall be lodged with the regional medical officer who will scrutinise them and, if need be, get into contact with the man's 1036 own doctor or the medical referee. That course may be in the man's own interest. In addition, it will keep a check on the number of certificates applied for and in some cases it may deter some doctors from lightly giving medical certificates.
Let me give one case to show how careful one must be in charging general practitioners with lightly giving certificates. I know of the case of a big strong man who applied to leave a certain pit in my locality. He presented a certificate which said that he had serious heart disease. Nobody who knew him believed it, least of all the colliery manager. The case was looked into. The week afterwards that young man played Rugby football and scored two tries in a very rough-and-tumble Northern Union game. Before we had finished the inquiries that young man was dead. It was a serious case of heart disease, and I give that as an instance of how careful one must be before charging general practitioners with lightly giving certificates.
This medical service will enable us to maintain, as it were, a check oh the certificates. There is something else which it will enable us to do. The White Paper suggests, and rightly so in my opinion, that there are many men in the industry who while not actually ill are in need of certain treatment in order to prevent them from having to stay away from work. We believe that these cases can be brought under review. For example, the investigation officer, if he comes across a man who has been habitually losing time and is convinced that this man is not an habitual idler but is suffering from something, can suggest that certain treatment be given to him. All these things can come under this medical service scheme; but they do carry with them this obligation, one to which the House cannot fail to pay attention. If a man is working in the pits and you say to him, "Look here, what you are in need of is a certain kind of treatment, and you ought to undergo that treatment," he may say, "I am willing to do so, but who is to keep my family in the meantime?" That brings up the question of maintenance, travelling expenses and all that kind of thing, and that question is under consideration at the moment. It is a matter which certainly cannot be shirked. I can only say with regard to the Report generally that we have given careful attention to it and have 1037 laid what I believe to be the foundations of a scheme that will not merely deal with the immediate problem of checking to some extent this wastage but will prove of permanent benefit to those engaged in the mining industry, if rightly applied.
Finally, we must never forget the 700,000 men who work in the pits. We have had a good deal of discussion in the last 20 years in this House about accidents in mines. I see opposite me my two hon. Friends the Members for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) and Gower. I acted as P.P.S. to each of them at different periods. We have had many discussions on accidents in mines. In September of last year my hon. Friend the Member for Gower, in discussing the prevalence of accidents from falls of ground, said he had appointed eight inspectors, specially seconded, for dealing with falls of roof. No one likes to be dogmatic with regard to accidents in pits. As a matter of fact there is a saying, in the mines that the moment you start to congratulate yourself that you have had no accident, you get one, but I think I am right in saying that during the first 37 weeks of this year the fatalities at all classes of mines and quarries were 676, compared with 741 in the corresponding period of last year. Of that total, 634 fatalities occurred at mines under the Coal Mines Act compared with 684 in the same period last year, an improvement of more than seven per cent.
One looks with very great interest each week at the accident sheet when it comes in, and I am very pleased to say that at the present moment there is a gradual decrease which I hope will be maintained. In the rush for increased production there must be no weakening in anything that can be done to make the mines safer for those who work there than they are at the present time. In addition to the eight inspectors to deal with falls of ground at the face, 10 junior inspectors for mines have been appointed. These are all men with first-class certificates who have been carefully selected, and they are keen on their jobs.
§ It being the hour appointed for the interruption of Business, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn"—[Major Sir James Edmondson.]1038
§ Mr. T. Smith
Those 10 junior inspectors attended a conference at Sheffield recently, where they listened to lectures from all the experts in the Ministry upon all the matters with which they would have to deal in their duties. There were lectures on roof control, accidents from falls of ground, explosions, fires in mines, electricity, and explosions in coal and gas, and I am pleased to be able to say that there has been a reduction. I certainly hope it will be maintained. In all the changing circumstances of the last 12 months my hon. Friend the Member for Gower is certainly entitled to a little of the credit for certain things that were done while he happened to be Secretary for Mines. He and I used to talk these matters over very frequently indeed.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
Before my hon. Friend leaves that point, will he tell the House how many of the inspectors who have been appointed have engineering experience?
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor (Morpeth)
In regard to the inspectors who have been appointed with a view to reducing accidents at the face, ray hon. Friend has given the figure of a substantial reduction in accidents between one period and another. Does that reduction relate solely to accidents at the face and to falls of roof?
§ Mr. Smith
No, Sir. I did not go into details because I thought I was taking up too much time. Do not misunderstand the position. The eight inspectors were appointed to deal with falls of ground. In addition 10 junior inspectors will be attached to the general inspectorate, and they will deal with the general position inside mines. As to the figures, there is a corresponding reduction in other directions, except that the explosions figure happens to be up. The first half of 1942 was marked by a series of disastrous explosions. Fatalities from this cause during the first 12 weeks were 95, as compared with 65 for the corresponding period of last year. My hon. Friend will remember that we had the unfortunate occurrence at Sneyd on the first day of this year, which increased the 1039 figure on the explosions side. Generally, as compared with last year, there is a reduction in accidents, and the figure is assuming something like its position previous to the beginning of the war.
Frequent references have been made to paragraph 6 of the White Paper, under which men are to be allowed to opt, as it were, into the pits as against the Services. Perhaps a discussion will take place about the value of that provision, but nevertheless it is one of the suggestions that have been made. Consideration is being given in the case of any young man who opts to go into coalmining to the question of some kind of training being given before he goes underground. As to the exact kind of training to be given I am not at the moment in a position to say, but I think everyone with pit experience will agree that he would be horrified to think that any young man who had never had any intention of going down the pit was to be precipitated straight on to the coalface. That could be done. One point I wish to make perfectly plain. Someone has said that these young men would not be welcomed. That is not the case at all. Any young man who decides to go into the coalmining industry as against the Services will be doing valuable work. We should not decry mining. Mining is a very hard and dangerous industry. It can also be a very fascinating one, and there are few pitmen in this House who have not enjoyed a good deal of their work underground, even when it has been hard and often underpaid.
§ Mr. Smith
My hon. Friend happens to be wrong on that point. I know a good many pitmen whose boys have followed on. What I am pointing out in this case is that if any young man offers to go into mining, consideration is being given to some kind of training before he goes down, training not merely on the top, but training underground as well under skilled supervision.
I think my right hon. Friend will agree when I say that no one could complain about the temper of this Debate. It has 1040 been an excellent one from that angle. It has been the one coal Debate during the last two or three years in which there has been very little bitterness shown with regard to absentee figures. I could not help smiling because the hon. Member for Stockport (Sir A. Gridley) actually went to Russia to find a similarity on absenteeism. As one who was privileged to go down the pits in Russia six years ago and see for himself what conditions were like, I could not help smiling when the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) said that the pit was theirs. I remember going down a pit in a district unfortunately now overrun by the enemy. When I came out one of the women said, "Tovaritch, what do you think of our pit?" I replied, "Your conditions underground are very tolerable, very good; on the top, no." She said, "Ah, Tovaritch, the difference is that these pits are ours and those in Great Britain are not yours." I have to admit that from that angle it was conclusive evidence.
With regard to absenteeism, it is not a new term in mining. I find that in 1641, which is 301 years ago, a Scottish Act of Parliament declared that:Coal hewers in Scotland doe ly from their worke at Pasch Yule Whitsunday and certain other tymes of the year which was of great offence to God and prejudice to the coal-master.That was in 1641. I find quite a number of instances of attendance bonuses and bonuses on output. In 1816 at Rothwell in Yorkshire there was an output bonus. There, if a man worked six days in a week, he got an additional 4s. Being Yorkshiremen they called it "takking brass." It was to some extent effective. There will always be a certain percentage of absenteeism in a heavy industry like mining, but as my right hon. and gallant Friend said, the great majority have done their best. Unfortunately, there is a minority whom nobody can defend. I have told the lads themselves, as hon. Members opposite have done, that some are not playing the game; and we are doing our best to encourage them to play the game. We believe that this output bonus, rightly applied, will bring increased production. The figures this week are an indication that that is likely to happen.
All these inducements are directed towards getting increased production. 1041 Absenteeism will be tackled. I believe that among the investigating officers we have the right type of men, that they will not bully the man in the first instance, but will interview the man, to ascertain from him the reasons for his absenteeism, and will point out to him his responsibility, and encourage him to work more regularly and to do his best. But if the man definitely refuses to do his best, he must be dealt with in another way. To those who have been saying that the more money you give miners the less work they do I would say: Believe me, it is not true. We have had hardly two normal weeks since the Greene award was given, with holidays and other things. I and other Members have gone out of our way at miners' meetings to tell the men that these special awards should not mean less output for the flat rate payments. I refuse to believe that output is decreasing for that reason in the industry generally. In the interests of winning the war, whatever can be done to secure increased production must be done; and nobody has made stronger appeals to the mineworkers than the leaders of the miners themselves. They have worked exceptionally hard. As my right hon. and gallant Friend said, we need the co-operation of everybody. Now we have tranquillity in the industry, and fewer disputes than we have had for a long time, and we want to get co-operation between both sides in order to achieve maximum production. Whoever is hindering production, whether he is a mineworker or a manager, must be tackled, as tackled he will be, I believe, through the regional organisation. I wanted, among other things, to outline what has been done on the medical services side. I would say, in conclusion, that I believe the Committee dealing with that work have done a good job, and I believe that the benefit will not be limited to our time.
§ Mr. McLean Watson (Dunfermline)
I want to thank the Parliamentary Secretary for his very interesting statement. It is true that he has not been replying to the Debate, but he has given us some instructive information about the medical proposals for the men. I want to raise two points, in particular, I was pleased that the Parliamentary Secretary dealt with them, and that one of them was mentioned by the Minister. I warn the Minister that he had better be very careful how he operates the Essential Work 1042 Order. He said that arrangements were being made for a certain modification. I hope that there will be a modification, and that we are not going to have a constant procession of miners into the courts, on charges of absenteeism. I hope that the problem will be dealt with differently, because such a development would be asking for trouble in the coalfields.
I regretted to see the announcement that the Essential Work Order was to be applied to mining with regard to absenteeism, and I trust that the Minister will be very careful in whatever steps he takes to make it effective for dealing with absenteeism. I believe it will be possible by other means to get the miners to give the maximum attendance at their work. The Minister himself has said that the average age of the miner has increased during the past three years and is three years greater than it was at the beginning of the war. The fact has to be kept in mind that a very considerable number of elderly men have gone back to the mines. Men who could not find a place in the mining industry since 1926 have gone back to the mines. Some have been compelled to go back as they had previously worked in the mine, though they did not want to go. These men cannot be expected to work 100 per cent. of the time that the pits are working, so that you will always; have a certain percentage of absenteeism which is perfectly genuine. As far as the other cases are concerned, there is no sympathy among the miners themselves, and certainly not among the miners' leaders, with deliberate absenteeism, especially on the part of young men.
The other mutter I want to mention particularly is that with which the Parliamentary Secretary was dealing a few minutes ago and which had not been mentioned previously in this Debate. It is the option which is to be given to young men to enter the mines instead of the Services. We are to have a new type of miner introduced in this country—youths over 18. I remember reading somewhere, I think it was in connection with the agitation which the then Lord Shaftesbury carried out a great many years ago that in the case of the mining industry he had to meet the argument of the coalowners, who wanted children of seven and eight years of age to go into the mines. They had to be got into the mines at that time in order to get the 1043 "stoop" that was necessary to make a good miner. I am not going to advance an argument that they must be got at seven or eight years of age in order to become good miners. The best miner is the young man who is sufficiently interested in the mines and wants to work in the mines. If a young man is to be practically compelled to go into the mine, I do not care how long he is there, he will never be a miner.
I remember that during the last war a considerable number of young men got access to the mines. They were not compelled to go but they flocked into mining, which was a sheltered industry. They never became miners. They were not like the men who went into the mines when they left school and gradually became accustomed to the work. By the time a boy who enters the mine in the ordinary way comes to the age of 18 years he is a man. When I started in the mine this was the system. I went into the mine when I was 12 years of age. By the time I became 18 I was getting a man's "darg "—a man's wage. That was before the days of mechanisation in mines. The Minister intends to compel young men who do not want to go into the Army to go into the mines but I can tell him that they will never become miners, despite the rosy picture which was painted by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary in trying to justify the step. I would like to see some of these men at the coalface after working there for a week or two. The Parliamentary Secretary says there will be a period of training. I thought the Minister was particularly anxious to get immediate production of coal. What is needed is men at the coalface to produce the coal.
§ Dr. Russell Thomas (Southampton)
I think the Minister said that the idea was to get extra labour into the pits in this way so that other men already in the pits could be moved to the coalface.
§ Mr. Watson
I do not believe that would help very much, although it might help to a certain extent. It would not make any difference at the coalface. After Dunkirk, our coal export trade had gone and there was unemployment in the coal mines with the result that thousands of our young men volunteered for the Forces because they had no alternative. Those are the men who could give us 1044 the coal, if required, not the men who have been compelled to leave other industries and go to the mines. That has not met with very much success up to the present; neither has the scheme for the removal of men from the Forces to the pits because a great number of these men were not at the coalface before they went into the Forces. The men who have been coming back were not at the coalface, but were engaged in other phases of the mining industry before enlisting in the Forces. The men required to increase production are the young able-bodied men who left the coalface and went into the Forces during the time when there was so much unemployment in the industry.
I hope that the pit production committees will be a success. When that scheme was brought before the House, I welcomed it. I thought it was the greatest thing that had ever happened in the mining industry. I believed that because of the assurances we had from the Lord Privy Seal that the Government were determined that nothing on the part of the management would interfere with the most efficient working of the mines. I trust that the pit production committees will have an equal say with the management in the working of the mines. That has been stated by the Minister once again in this Debate. I hope that the pit production committees will be made a really effective instrument for getting the maximum output from the mines. I attach a very considerable amount of importance to them, and in this I differ from my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan). I do nor think the pit production committee scheme is a fraud. I think the miners have been given the greatest opportunity I have ever known in connection with the industry of having a say in the management of the mines. The assurance has been given in this Debate that the pit production committees will have liberty to enter pits where there is the least suspicion that they are not being properly worked, and with that power in their hand the pit production committees ought to be able so to organise the mining industry that it will give the maximum output that can be got.
In welcoming that scheme because I thought it would give the miners a great opportunity, I did not believe in a great 1045 many of the suggestions that were made. They were propaganda. At the present time there is any amount of propaganda among the miners. It is being tried among the miners in Scotland, but it is not having any effect. The miners will not go to meetings to be told by men who know less than they do about mining what should be done. Consequently, this propaganda is a "wash-out" in Scotland. The miners know more about these matters than those who come to lecture them. They are not prepared to listen to Lord Traprain or anybody else telling them about their industry and professing to know more about it than they do themselves. My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire put his finger on the real point when he spoke of the management of the mines. Despite the setting up of 1046 the pit production committees—I agree that they have not had time to function very much yet—the managements have the same power and influence and are carrying on in the same way as they did before the change was made. Unless the pit production committee system is made really effective, I believe the position will be just as bad as it was before. I was glad to hear the Minister's assurance that he is personally making himself acquainted with conditions in the coalfields, and is determined that the system shall be a success. I am certain that if we get co-operation between the management and the miners, there is no reason why all the coal that is required should not be produced.
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.