§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. James Stuart.]
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
May I ask the Leader of the House whether he is prepared to grant extra time to-day for debating the coal situation, in which a large number of Members wish to take part? The Debate closed down rather quickly on Thursday, and we think that an hour or two extra should be given to go fully into the matter.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Sir Stafford Cripps)
After careful inquiries the Government allotted two days to the Debate instead of prolonging the Debate on one day, and it would be difficult now to extend the time on the second day. I think the House have had ample time to discuss this matter.
§ Mr. Shinwell (Seaham)
Every one of us is animated by a single purpose, that is, to harness our production to the war effort, to lay the foundation of a sound military strategy and to achieve a speedy victory. Moreover, there is no dispute among hon. Members nor with Members against the Government on the need for stimulating the production of coal. Coal is a vital element in the war effort. It is only elementary to say that without a sufficiency of coal we cannot produce a sufficiency of equipment and consequently would be unable to prosecute the war. It is a significant but unflattering commentary on the present coal situation that for some years before the war there were too many miners ready to produce coal but unable to secure employment, whereas now more coal is required but labour is not available. It is still more significant and still more unflattering to our policy and capacity for organisation that there is in this country an abundance, indeed a superabundance, of coal. It is quite unlike the food position in which we depend so much upon overseas supplies. Similarly with shipping. We are not completely independent in that regard. As the Government have frequently announced, we depend for the replenishment of much of our shipping losses on what we can gain from shipbuilding in the United States. But as regards coal, the position is quite different.
Three years ago a deputation consisting, of my right hon. Friend the Member 1099 for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), the right hon. Gentleman the present Home Secretary, who was then possessed of more freedom than responsibility, and myself, waited on the late Mr. Chamberlain. There was, with Mr. Chamberlain, the present Minister of Supply, then President of the Board of Trade and therefore responsible for the handling of the coal problem. We pressed upon the then Prime Minister and his associates in the Government the urgent need for tackling this problem in the most drastic fashion. We anticipated, as no doubt did other hon. Members at the time, that unless effective measures were taken in time there would be a serious coal shortage, at any rate a coal problem. Therefore we asked that the Government should stock coal in large quantities. Unfortunately, little or nothing was done, apart from an attempt to create Government dumps and to replenish the stocks available to public utility companies and industrial concerns which did not meet with a large measure of success. Very little was accomplished.
I mention that to show that it cannot be said that the Government have not been warned. Not only by means of that deputation did we press our views on the Government, but in frequent Debates in the House this matter has been repeatedly discussed. I repeat that the Government cannot say that they were not warned. Anyhow, the responsibility for the present position does not lie with the party on these benches. We took, at all times, prompt and effective action. The responsibility for the present position lies heavily on the shoulders of the Government. It may be that their estimates were wrong. It may be that they were unduly optimistic. At any rate, at this critical time in the war, when consumption is bound to increase, when new factories are coming into production, when new machinery is being installed in those factories making heavy demands upon electricity supply and other forms of fuel, it is a melancholy reflection that at the beginning of this winter—the most critical winter, it may be, of the war—we find ourselves actually in a worse position than we were in during the two previous winters. I arrive at that conclusion, much as I deplore the fact, as, indeed we all do, from a careful analysis of the speeches delivered by my right hon. and gallant Friend opposite and by my hon. Friend 1100 the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) on Thursday last.
Before I deal with what I regard as the crux of this problem, may I be allowed to say this? If we are to have an effective Debate and an effective response from the Government, if the House is to be put in possession of all the facts and not sidetracked by irrelevancies, it is better to say that much as I prefer the national ownership of mines, as we all do on these benches, to the present scheme of reorganisation, we do not press it on the present occasion. However effective we believe it to be, it represents, after all, long-term policy. The same can be said about the increased mechanisation of the mines. It is very desirable that mechanisation should be extended throughout the coalfields. That depends on available supplies of machinery and on the steel position and again on the labour supply, and, at best, however effective it might be when fully applied, it also represents long-term policy.
I would add that in order to gain a clear perspective of the problem we must exclude all the silly talk, the sheer nonsense, the pabulum, the hyperbole and the exaggerated and extravagant statements which we have heard in this House and elsewhere and which have been reported in the Press about absenteeism among the miners. When my right hon. and learned friend the Leader of the House spoke on the coal question some months ago, he said the ghost of absenteeism was laid. One would have thought that after that statement, we should have heard little or nothing about it. But in last Thursday's Debate several speakers, particularly on the benches opposite, again referred to the subject of absenteeism. I suggest that all these irrelevancies—at any rate they are irrelevancies alongside the crux of this problem—should be excluded from this Debate in order that we may concentrate on the main issue.
Of course, on the subject of absenteeism, everybody knows that there are black sheep among the miners as there are black sheep in all sections. But we should remind ourselves that we are dealing with a body of men who, for almost 15 years before the war, suffered the ill effects of chronic industrial depression. These men suffered from prolonged periods of unemployment and of low wages—that will be generally admitted—and from malnutrition. 1101 Over and above that, the average number of shifts worked in the mining industry during those years was no more than about 4¼, and large numbers did not work more than three. Indeed, so much was that the position that in many parts of the coalfield men worked three shifts and for the remaining three days were on unemployment benefit. They became habituated to that position. Having discovered that it was just as remunerative to work three shifts and to be off for three days, as it was to work 4 or 4¼ shifts, they came to regard that as the customary position. We have to take that background into our consideration. You cannot take men who have been for many years working three shifts a week and plunge them into a situation in which they are called upon to work 5½ or 6 shifts a week at high pressure, especially when they are men who are growing older all the time. You cannot expect a sustained, vigorous effort all along the line in those circumstances. At some time they must break down. Whether they break down or not, it is not easy to sustain the effort throughout a prolonged period.
Having, I hope, disposed of some of the irrelevancies that have cropped up, may I come to what I regard as the main and immediate problem confronting the House and the country? My hon. Friend the Member for Gower, in that admirable speech which he delivered last Thursday, which commended itself to Members in all quarters of the House—and which, I might add, would have been exceedingly useful if delivered 12 months ago—told us that in the winter of 1940 the stocks available amounted to about 28,000,000 tons, and that at the beginning of the succeeding winter they had increased to 31,000,000 tons. In the interim period, of course, they had diminished; that is natural, because, as everyone knows, large demands are made on the winter stocks. I hope hon. Members will not regard this as too elementary, for I say it with a purpose; but when we speak of stocks, let us be clear what we mean. There may otherwise be some misunderstanding, if not in the minds of Members of this House, in the minds of some people outside. We do not mean when we speak of stocks that the Government have in their possession that amount of coal, which they can distribute as they please. We mean reserves in the possession of the public utility companies 1102 and industrial concerns, and also what we estimate that domestic consumers have in their cellars—a most difficult estimate to make.
Of course, the Government have some stocks, but I do not think they amount to more than 1,500,000 tons. That is not very much to go on with. In 1940 and 1941, when these stocks were available as reserves, I estimate, taking it by and large, using an average figure, that the stocks in the possession of the public utility companies amounted to about six weeks' supply. I doubt whether the stocks available for the steel and iron concerns amounted to more than three weeks' supply. The Government can, of course, correct me if I am wrong. I arrived at these figures not from any inside information, but by a process of simple deduction. If that is correct, the situation is far from satisfactory. Again I say to my right hon. Friends opposite that they can tell me whether I am right or wrong, when I suggest that to rise above the danger margin in respect of reserves the public utility companies and the industrial concerns ought to have at least nine weeks' supply. It is perfectly true that we have had considerable freedom from air raids in the past 12 months, but there is always the danger, particularly as many of our collieries are on the coast. I do not want to go into details, but it is possible—I put it no higher than that—that some of the collieries on the coast may be damaged, and their production decreased. The margin of safety must rise in the measure of the possible danger. Injury is more than possible: it is highly probable.
I put this quite categorically to my right hon. and gallant Friend—and I put it to the House, because the House bears the responsibility in this matter. If the House makes up its mind as to the remedy, the Government must respond, or else the Government may find no favour in our eyes. Our present position, at the beginning of the most critical winter of the war, is worse than in the two previous winters. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power said that there was a deficit of 14,500,000 tons—that is the gap between estimated production and estimated consumption—but he reduced that deficit to 11,000,000 tons by taking away public utility stocks—even that is a dangerous thing to do—and by depending to some 1103 extent on the production of surface coal. I am prepared to take a generous view, and to disregard the figure of 14,500,000 tons. I would prefer to take the latter figure, but I do not want to be involved in any controversy. Let me then say that 11,000,000 tons is the deficit. That means that in the next few months my right hon. and gallant Friend must secure an output of no less than 4,400,000 tons weekly. That will not take us very far above the danger point, particularly as the stocks now available are much less than they were last year. If my right hon. and gallant Friend would prefer that we should not be quite so nebulous about the figures, perhaps he will give us the figures later. Everything depends on the amount of stocks available, and upon whether we can overcome the deficit, which is alleged to be 11,000,000 tons, particularly in the next few months. How are we to deal with that? We have to get 4,400,000 tons weekly in the next 25 weeks. It must not be assumed—and here perhaps I differ slightly from my hon. Friend the Member for Gower—that this is primarily a winter problem. It is more serious in the winter, but we have to look ahead. We have to produce more and more as the war goes on, in order to meet a rise in demand. It is not merely a winter problem, but a summer problem, and a problem of next winter too. The problem is progressive in character—although so far it appears to have been retrogressive in character.
How are we to get that 4,400,000 tons? Hon. Members appear to have discussed this as if there were alternatives: as if it could be done either by increasing man-power in the pits or by having a compulsory ration. But this matter cannot be discussed by way of alternatives. We have to get increased output and at the same time to ration, because we must economise in our resources. I beg of hon. Members to attack the problem in that fashion. Hon. Members opposite have taken the line that if we got 20,000 or 30,000 more men from the Forces or industry into the pits, it would solve the problem. I beg of them not to believe that that would be so. You may get the men back—and I shall deal with that in a moment—hut you must also resort to the strictest economy.
Let me first deal with the question of production. My right hon. and gallant Friend 1104 the Minister of Fuel and Power said that he hoped to overcome the 11,000,000 tons deficit by inducing the men now working in the pits to produce more. Who are the men? They are not the datal workers, the day-wage men; they are the piece workers at the face. These are the men who produce the coal. I have made very careful inquiries over the week-end of men with long experience at the coalface about this matter, because it appeared to me to be so fundamental. They informed me—and I am sure hon. Friends behind me who have great experience in this matter will agree—that the men at the face cannot work any harder, and that in fact the majority of the men are exhausted at the end of the shift and for this reason, that there is such hustle and bustle at the pits that the men take it out of themselves to such an extent that they are quite incapable of producing any more. They are producing almost the maximum. My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan) in his speech last Thursday demonstrated that the men at the face were actually producing as much as they were able to produce. There may be fluctuations, of course. On some days a man is in better trim than on other days. You cannot depend upon the same production every day.
You cannot overcome your 11,000,000 tons deficit by expecting these men to produce more, but you can overcome the deficit by introducing into the pits of this country more personnel of the right kind. I heard yesterday, in investigating this matter, that one of the difficulties is that the men at the face are not always producing coal because there are not sufficient lusty, vigorous young men to handle the tubs so that the coal can be filled. The face-men have frequently to leave actual coal production and handle the tubs themselves. That is happening frequently in all the coalfields. That, of course, reduces the output per man at the face. So at bottom we discover that to solve this problem more men must be introduced.
How many more men does my right hon. and gallant Friend want? At the moment he has got about 711,000, but he needs 720,000 men as a minimum in order to get his increased output. Even if he does believe—and everybody knows how sincere my right hon. and gallant Friend is and that he would not attempt to mislead the House in any way—that he can induce the men to work harder, he ought 1105 not to rely upon that entirely. He must, therefore, introduce more men. He told us that there are only 4,000 of these men available in the Army. That is to say, there are 4,000 men in the Army who are face workers, and that is not, clearly, a very large number, but we not only want face-men, actual coal-getters, but putters and all sorts of men back to relieve the pressure on the face-men. That is essential. Therefore, he must not rely upon his 4,000 estimate in the Army. There are many more men who can be brought back. I agree at once that it is a matter for the consideration of the War Cabinet. You cannot bring men from the Middle East or other theatres of war back to this country to work in the pits. Many perhaps do not want to come and some may be non-commissioned officers and do not want to come back, and they had experience of pre-war years in the pits, and you cannot blame them altogether. But there are many men now engaged in industry in this country who formerly were in the pits and could be brought back, but there is one difficulty. Many of these men are earning much higher wages in the munitions industry than they would earn in the pits.
I would like to indulge in another digression. Those who pretend to know something about political economy have heard about the law of supply and demand. It is highly significant that the miners have not taken advantage of the law of supply and demand. If the miners said, "We want £10 as a minimum wage," what would the country do? The country would have to respond. We cannot send sufficient men back from the Forces, and we cannot take them from industry. We cannot black-jack and bludgeon them into the mines. They could take advantage in an unpatriotic way of the country's needs, but they do not, all credit to them. They accept their modest guaranteed wage when wages are soaring in every other direction, and they do not take advantage of the inexorable law of supply and demand. That is the position. We have to get these men back. I recognise that we cannot get all the men back we want but we have to get a large number, where available. We have to comb out industry and comb out the Forces. I believe that there are a large number of men on the ground staff under the Air Ministry who could be made readily available and we ought to consider 1106 that suggestion I had an interesting experience the other week—and I communicated the matter to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour—of a young man, employed three months in the mine, who came down early in the war and joined the National Fire Service. He was combed out and was referred back to the mine and protested because, he said, he had not the six months' experience, which, I understand, is the prerequisite of the return to employment in the mine. On the other hand, I had the case of a man who wanted to go back to the mine; he was employed in the National Fire Service, and an experienced man, and they would not let him return, and the Minister of Labour is now juggling about with that problem. It is foolish; it is worse than that: it is criminal. The Government have the matter in their own hands. Indeed they have the whole of the problem in their own hands. They must try and tackle it in a better way. So much for the production side. It is no complete solution of the problem. We must do all that, but there is still more than that.
Therefore, I come to the question of economies in the use of coal. I agree that the scientific expert mentioned by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman in his speech last Thursday is doing a great deal of useful work in connection with fuel economy, but that again is a long-term policy. It takes a long time before you get effective economies in the treatment of coal. With what are we left? We are left with what the right hon. arid gallant Gentleman put before the House—the appeal to consumers of this country to consume less coal. I see my hon. and gallant Friend the member for Ormskirk (Commander King-Hall) sitting below the Gangway, and I am not going to castigate or reproach 1dm for what he has done or failed to do. He has been entrusted with a most difficult task. It is a difficult task to induce people to resort to self-denial. You might succeed in the summer and you might even succeed in the autumn, but it is very difficult to succeed in the dead of winter, because, a cold room rises superior or, if you like, inferior to even the highest patriotic virtues. You can tell me on a warm day that I should see that the lights are put out, and that as I leave the room I should press the switch and put out the light, or that the electric fire is not kept 1107 on, but to tell roe that in the black-out, when I am deprived of all outside entertainment, to tell me that in the dead of winter when I am starving from cold, much as I desire to be patriotic, it is less easy to succumb to the blandishments of my hen. and gallant Friend the Member for Ormskirk. That is the real point. What do you expect to get from this voluntary appeal? Is there any estimate? If there is an estimate, is it worth a halfpennyworth of toffee? It is a very uncertain factor, and we cannot rely on uncertain factors to meet this problem. We must be much more definite and specific.
Now I come to the question of rationing. We are practically all agreed about compulsory rationing. How do I know? Well, the Government have agreed, At any rate, they have said so. My right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House, with my hight hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, said in May of this year that compulsory rationing, however objectionable it might be to some people, must be applied by 1st June. Presumably, the Government were unanimous about it, but whether they were or not, there was a majority of the Government in favour. Hon. Members opposite dislike rationing, as we on this side dislike it, but it is not what we dislike in war-time; it is what we must put up with. People talk about hardship, and my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power was at great pains last Thursday to say that people would suffer no hardship, just inconvenience. Putting that alongside the epic and glorious resistance of Stalingrad, what do hardships matter? Moreover, we have no right to expect our men to sacrifice their lives on sea, land or in the air if we are not prepared to undergo hardships.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I am trying to take care that we shall be compelled to turn the switches off. There will not be any use in putting them on. I have the greatest respect for the hon. gentleman's virtues and patriotism, but I cannot even trust him, on certain occasions, to turn the switch off. You cannot depend on this method. Hon. Members opposite have said that they were in favour of compulsory 1108 rationing. Indeed, the hon. gentle-roan the Member for Stockport (Sir A. Gridley) made a remarkable speech in a previous Debate on this subject stating that he did not like the Beveridge scheme and—I have the OFFICIAL REPORT here—that he was in favour of compulsory rationing. Others did the same. The whole House is agreed that if there is no other alternative, there must be compulsory rationing. You cannot depend upon this voluntary scheme. Useful as it is, it is; not enough at this critical time. Our party were reluctant to accept compulsion, but we did so because the Government said that it must be done. We fell for it, and some of us do not like falling too easily when the Government make representations. But because we felt something had to be done, we agreed and were let down by the Government. What is to be done now? I agree that if you imposed this compulsory rationing scheme, you might find it defective, but that is precisely what happened to Lord Woolton's food rationing scheme. He introduced food rationing and found it defective in many respects, but he improved his scheme and tightened up his organisation, although it took him some time. We may have to do the same.
I would like to point out that the Leader of the House said in a Debate last June that the Government had set aside the compulsory rationing scheme which had previously been presented to the House because they must have regard to public opinion. But I suggest that it was not public opinion which was taken note of; it was the Conservative party. [An HON. MEMBER: "Is not that public opinion?"] It is not the whole of public opinion. That is the point. If the Government set aside the rationing scheme because of representations made by the Conservative party and completely ignored other hon. Members, who reluctantly accepted the Government scheme, that is not playing the game. Anyhow, what does the Conservative party or the Labour party matter in a problem of this kind? This is a national problem. We must get the coal, but we have also to introduce economy and see that the coal is effectively distributed. Consider what the problem may be in the winter. The Minister said last week that he intended to secure the poorer consumer, but even if there is coal, how does he know that they will get it? The larger 1109 domestic consumers, the lower middle classes and the middle classes and probably all Members in this House have taken care to see that they are properly supplied against contingencies. They have proper accommodation, but poorer people have not. There may be transport breakdowns in the winter and all that sort of thing. I say, impose rationing not as an alternative to bringing men back to production—because that is essential, indeed, imperative—but because it is always open to you to remove the defects and readjust the scheme if you find it necessary to do so.
In conclusion, I want to say this: I have spoken about the background of this problem, the years of chronic depression and malnutrition among the miners. The men in the industry have to look forward to the future. What guarantee have the Government given them? If the war ended next week—and we should be delighted if it were possible—what is to be the position of the mineworkers in this country? Large numbers of men would come back to the mines, and then you would find that the law of supply and demand would operate. The guaranteed weekly wage would be subjected to severe trials and vicissitudes. What guarantee have you given the men who are now working out their hearts and bodies to help the nation? What have you offered them for the future? Clichés, promises of social security and a brave new world. Translate it into action so that the men can understand what you are driving at. Give them the assurance that for a long time after this war ends they will not be deprived of employment of, if they are, they will not be deprived of their guaranteed wage. The men know that at the end of this war they will have to queue up at employment exchanges, be subjected to the inquisitorial means test and all the rest of it. What do you offer these men? Little or nothing. We must consider this problem in relation to the future. We must solve it now. If the House does not use its authority in this matter, responsibility lies upon hon. Members. We have the power to compel the Government to act speedily and effectively, and if they are not prepared to do that, there is only one alternative—to ask them to make room for a Government that will respond to the needs of the situation.
§ Sir Geoffrey Shakespeare (Norwich)
I differ in several aspects from the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), but I hope. I shall express my disagreement in the same reasoned and reasonable way as he has done in bringing forward his arguments. Certainly, I would agree with him that the responsibility in this matter is and must remain on the Government. I intervene in the Debate to urge the solution recommended in the Motion that is on the Order Paper in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Sir A. Gridley), but before coming to that, I want to put one or two questions to my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power and to make one or two observations. May I, in the first place, add my meed of praise for the vigour and imagination with which my right hon. and gallant Friend is tackling this question. I want, first, to ask a question about the organisation. To what extent has the Minister completed the appointment of the Regional Boards and to what extent has the National Coal Board instructed the Regional Boards on questions of policy? Let me give the House an example. In paragraph 10 of the White Paper, it is stated to be the opinion of the Government that:The most direct means of securing an early-increase in output is by concentrating effort in the most productive mines and seams.I ask the House to note the words "securing an early increase in output." Everyone who is connected with a mining constituency knows the difficulties with regard to labour, transport, housing, and so forth. Nevertheless, in the view of the Government, that is the means of securing an early increase in production. What I want to know is whether as yet the National Coal Board have laid down to the Regional Boards the policy in this respect. It is, of course, much too early to expect this policy to he operative, but having discussed the matter with a large number of experts, I am convinced that there is more in it than some people admit. Particularly now that the standard has been set and the Greene bonus has come into force. I can conceive that, in cases where the mines are nearly worked out, where the men have to work under unpleasant conditions and to proceed a long way underground before they get to the coalface, they would welcome the opportunity of working in a pit where they felt that their work was justified and 1111 Where, by the operation of this bonus through the district ascertainments, they Would earn more money for themselves and for their mates in the industry. I believe that the Greene bonus will facilitate the policy of concentration and I am sure that at a later stage the House will expect a much fuller report on that aspect.
Secondly, I want to ask what target the Minister has set himself, what target the hon. and gallant Member for Ormskirk (Commander King-Hall) is working on, both in respect to domestic consumption and industrial consumption. The Minister mentioned that he had allocated 4,000,000 tons less to merchants. The domestic consumption of coal, taking account of coal for gas and electricity, is between 40,000,000 and 50,000,000 tons a year. If the Minister has allocated 4,000,000 tons less to merchants, the presumption is that he is aiming at an economy of about ten per cent. in domestic consumption. But I feel there is far more economy to be achieved in the range of 140,000,000 tons of coal annually consumed by industry. On the last occasion when we debated this matter, I gave an example of a single firm which, in a fortnight, had cut down its consumption of coal, simply by re-pointing bricks in boilers, from 60 tons to 15 tons. If there were a ten per cent. economy in industrial consumption, the anticipated gap of 11,000,000 tons would be more than filled. If only half of that economy were achieved, there would be 7,000,000 tons which, with the 4,000,000 tons saving in domestic consumption, would fill the anticipated gap. Perhaps my right hon. and gallant Friend will tell us more about the target at which he is aiming.
I do not want to be controversial, but I agree with the hon. Member for Seaham that the position is grave. There are several disturbing elements. One of them is that, on the figures given by my right hon. and gallant Friend, the fall in production is 30,000,000 tons as compared with June, 1940. There is there a margin for increasing production, because if one examines the figures of employment, there are 53,000 fewer miners on the collieries' books than there were in June, 1940, and, taking the ordinary figures, from that fall one would expect a decrease in production of about 15,000,000 or 16,000,000 tons a year. 1112 But there is a fall of 30,000,000 tons. There is, therefore, that margin which cannot be accounted for if one simply takes the fall in the number of men on the collieries' books. My right hon. and gallant Friend referred to the fact that a satisfactory number of shifts is not being worked by 15 per cent. of those engaged in the industry. Every one in the country and in the House will give him all the powers he needs to deal with slackness, shirkers or inefficiency, and in my view he will be judged not only by the way in which he deals with shirkers and slackers, but by the way in which he deals with inefficient management as well. He must be quite impartial.
I want now to say a few words in reply, to the contentions of the hon. Member for Seaham on the question of compulsory or voluntary rationing. I do not think the country would stand for a compulsory scheme at this time until much greater efforts had been made to increase production. I do not think the country would stand for compulsory rationing in respect of a commodity of which 95 per cent. of the required target of production had been achieved. If one takes the production now as being 200,000,000 tons a year, and if my right hon. and gallant Friend estimates that this is short by 11,000,000 tons, then 95 per cent. of what is required is being produced now, and there is a fall short of some five per cent. Clearly, that is a very different position from the food situation, because sometimes the largest percentage of a food commodity has to be imported from overseas. I cannot believe that the poor harassed housewives, who have a very difficult time from morning till night, bound and harassed by irksome restrictions—which they cheerfully bear because they realise they are necessary as part of the war effort—would feel the same in regard to a commodity 95 per cent. of the requirements of which is actually being produced, and the whole of which is in abundant supply in this country, and could be produced if a little more direction, forethought and vigour were shown in handling the problem.
May I say a word about propaganda? I do not think it is the slightest good lecturing or nagging the miners, even in regard to absenteeism. They are a sporting crowd. May I relate a personal anecdote which has always amused me? I went down to oppose the hon. Member 1113 for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) at a by-election. It was one of the rowdiest meetings I have ever seen, but, after the chairman had said something in Welsh, I had the best reception I ever had in my life. I asked him afterwards what he had said. He replied that he had told them, "This poor boob of an Englishman has come all the way from London to talk to us. Let us be real sportsmen and give him a quiet hearing." I think publicity for increased monthly output in the regions would do more than anything else. There has been far too much "hush hush" about this. For some unearthly reason it is considered a matter of security that the total annual production should not be published. If the country had known how production was running last year and before, Parliament would have insisted on action being taken. When I was engaged in the national crusade against slums nothing was so stimulating as the publication of the figures of achievement in slum clearance by the big cities—Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield—and when it was found that a town was not clearing slums the Press revealed the fact. I believe that the publication of monthly returns in the regions would have a very salutary effect. Take one small point. Does the country know that absenteeism in Scotland is lower than in any other of the regions? Why should not the Scottish miners get the credit for it? I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his decision to publish the figures of production region by region. I am sure it will have a very big effect.
I want to support as strongly as I can the appeal that has been made by so many Members, with the exception of the hon. Member for Seaham, for the release from the Services of all available miners.
§ Mr. Shinwell
No. I said there were no alternatives in the matter. You had to bring men back from the Forces and bring about economies as well.
§ Sir G. Shakespeare
I am sorry if I misunderstood. The House, then, is unanimous in pressing for the release of men from the Services. I agree that any one factor may upset calculations and 1114 estimates. There is only a gap of 11,000,000 tons to fill. A long cold spell in the winter, the repetition of air bombing, the expansion that one hopes for in war industries may upset calculations. It is a very narrow margin, and one cannot afford to take risks. We must secure the output of this coal, and here is an obvious remedy. I quite appreciate that at the time of Dunkirk the natural desire of young and vigorous miners was to go into the Services, and it was the desire of the Government then to get them in. There was only one trained and fully equipped division in the country. When I was in the Rhondda Valley I was amazed to find so many miners idle and so many pits not working full time. I expressed the opinion that sooner or later the country would need that coal and that the Government ought to be buying and storing it. At some stage in a war, probably throughout the whole of the war, coal is a vital factor, but, as it drags on, the production of coal becomes more and more important. If there was justification for the attitude of the Government; then in letting the miners go, there is none now for opposing their release. I quite understand the attitude of the Service chiefs. They are reluctant to let trained men go, but the War Cabinet must look at the question as a whole, and I am convinced that a miner, even in the field Forces overseas, would be doing a much greater service if he was producing coal here for the nation's need even than if he remained on active service.
I was impressed by the speech of the noble Lord the Member for Down (Viscount Castlereagh), himself commanding a battery in which miners were serving. I hope my right hon. and gallant Friend will very strongly represent the almost unanimous view of the House in this respect. The hon. Member for Seaham referred to 4,000 men still believed to be in the Services. I have been reading the OFFICIAL REPORT and there is no indication that these 4,000 men are face workers, but surely they must be many more than that. In the field Force training at home and in the Armies overseas, according to the best estimate I can form, the number even of face workers is very much higher. I estimate that there are 10,000 face workers who could be released from the Services. They would mean an increased production of 7,000,000 or 8,000,000 tons. 1115 a year. If they were released, a very dangerous and precarious position would look, I will not say brighter, but better.
I agree with my hon. Friend that there are still too many young miners in other industries. I know of four or five miners under 25 who walk past the pit every day to go to some factory. I am sure that, if a much more vigorous policy were followed by my right hon. and gallant Friend's Department and the Ministry of Labour, once the War Cabinet gave the "all clear," my right hon. and gallant Friend would be surprised at the number of men who wished to come back. I am sure that if it were put to the men on active service, a fine patriotic body of miners who were the first to go, that the dire need of the country was coal, they would be only too willing to come back and help. I beg my right hon. and gallant Friend to do what should have been done years ago. Being the son of his father, he will remember the desperate position in the last war when miners had to be brought back. It should never have happened again. It was a great blunder to let them go, and it should now be repaired. We cannot compare our fighting strength and our preparedness now with the position at the time of Dunkirk. With the millions of men who have been enlisted and trained since then, with the Home Guard, which is quite a formidable force, and with the multitudes of Americans arriving here, we cannot pretend that the withdrawal of 5,000, 10,000 or even 20,000 men from the Forces will make any difference to the fighting efficiency of the Army. It would, on the contrary, make a vital difference on the home front.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Mayhew (East Ham, North)
I rise to say a few words on this subject primarily because I am convinced that the most important factor is the shortage of men on the face. We have been saying this for a long time, and we hope the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will impress upon the Cabinet that we mean it this time, because we are certain that most of the problems connected with the mining of coal would disappear if the 50,000 men who were asked for two years ago could come back. There are one or two other factors in regard to production on which I must lay stress, although I see my hon. 1116 Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) looking at me with some anxiety. I believe that there is practically no discipline in the mines at the present time.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Mayhew
The miner is by nature a tough fellow, as befits a man who follows a dangerous trade, and he thrives on discipline. The same may be said of the regiments which are recruited from South Wales—the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, the South Wales Borderers and the Welch Regiment. There are battalions of those regiments largely recruited from the mining world which are renowned for their courage and discipline. The same may be said of the regiments recruited from the Midland Amalgamated Area and from the North of England and Scotland. I know something about them, because I had the honour in the last war to serve with three battalions which were recruited largely from the mining World—the Loyal North Lanes., the Durham Light Infantry and the 5th Fusiliers. As a result of the application of the Essential Work Order to the mines, managements are quite unable to enforce discipline.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Mayhew
Managers are unable to terminate a man's employment except for serious misconduct. If a man is sent out of the pit for refusing to work or for not complying with instructions, he becomes entitled to payment. What a farce that is. It was the common practice prior to the war if a man absented himself—
§ Lieut.-Colonel Mayhew
Let me finish my speech. The hon. Member will have ample opportunity to make his own speech afterwards.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Mayhew
We found that the method of dealing with these cases was most effective, and the older men preferred it so. I suggest that the method of dealing with avoidable absenteeism needs to be completely overhauled, and it needs it now. I am convinced that 1117 it is one of the main factors in the shortage of output. In his speech a few days ago the Minister stated that he had met over 200 pit production committees and that in many cases he found an extraordinary lack of appreciation of the powers conferred on those committees. In our opinion the Ministries generally have not supported the committees. The Government have now gone so far as to take absenteeism out of the hands of the committees and to put it into the hands of visiting gentlemen who will be paid large salaries, which must come out of the working costs of the industry, and who, after all, will have to go to the pit production committees to obtain their information. We feel that the pit production committees, which are representatives of the men and the owners, were set up—
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Cuthbert Headlam (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North)
Whom does my hon. and gallant Friend mean by "we"?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Mayhew
I would rather say what I have to say in my own way. Since the conditions attached to the payment of the bonus were dispensed with in December, 1941, absenteeism has increased considerably. In South Derbyshire this has risen from 7 per cent. to 8.95 per cent. My right hon. and gallant Friend suggests that absenteeism is between 10 and 11 per cent. for the Whole country. I suggest that that is wishful thinking. Prior to 17th September, 1942, absentees were dealt with by production committees through the National Service officers. It was the delay in prosecutions by the Ministry of Labour in the cases referred through these officers that seriously discouraged the pit committees so much so that the offenders have been able openly to flaunt and defy pit committees. In our opinion lack of action is bound to increase persistent avoidable absenteeism. In South Derbyshire 118 cases have been reported to National Service officers, but in only 10 cases were there prosecutions. The penalties have ranged from £2 to £5, and in one case there was a sentence of three months' hard labour. As examples from our own experience of how absenteeism affects the working of the mines, let me give two separate cases for the week-end 19th September, which resulted in a loss of output of approximately 500 tons. This was the manager's report:Mentioned in my last report the work of preparing this face was proceeding with all 1118 speed. It was ready for the conveyors to be installed on 19th September. There was no reason why the face should not have been in practically full production on Monday 21st. However, this could not be accomplished, due entirely to the fact that sufficient men could not be induced to come to work during the week-end to get the machinery properly installed, and only half the face could be started at about 11 a.m. on Monday. This caused the first day for full production to be Wednesday, when 240 tons were produced.That is a loss of 240 tons. Here is another case:During the night of September 19th a fall occurred at the main gate Rip. The fall could easily have been cleared up during the weekend. Workmen could not be persuaded to come in on Sunday to do the work. This caused a loss of about 250 tons of coal.I do not want to thrash this point unduly, but I am absolutely certain in my own mind that unless my right hon. and gallant Friend reinculcates mines' discipline and persuades the powers-that-be who are over him that he must have a large number of men back to the face, we shall continue to have this problem as between the owners and the men and as between the owners and the men and the consuming public.
I have one or two words to say on consumption. I cannot understand why my right hon. and gallant Friend and his predecessor cannot listen to the men who have to sell and deliver the coal. As far as I can gather, they take no notice whatever of the coal merchant or the factor. There are four questions regarding the storage of coal which I want to ask. I understand that the deficit as between production and consumption is about 250,000 tons a week; that is what the Minister has been saying in the country. I apologise for not being here last week, when the Minister made his speech, but I had to be elsewhere. I want to ask, first, how does he propose that the deficit shall be made up unless he gets the Leader of the House, or whoever is the deciding authority, to send back men to the face? Will he give the names of any works of any importance that are short of coal? We have taken some little trouble to ascertain what big works are genuinely short of coal and I cannot give the name of one. Will the Minister give the names of any works or corporations that have not considerably more fuel in stock to-day than in peace time, and also the comparative tonnages then and now? This next question I ask with some apology, because it is difficult to know what is in the 1119 minds of the Government and what instructions have been received by Ministers in the execution of their duties: What are the actual Government stocks of coal—which never existed pre-war?
Many of us feel that coal should be in the cellars or the works of the consumers. Coal put into dumps loses 40 per cent. of its value directly the weather begins to get at it, sometimes more, so that is a wasteful and silly business. I think that is definitely the opinion of those who have to take up the coal and sell it. It is never my practice to talk for very long on these occasions if I can avoid it, but I am convinced that my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister will have a very big task unless he can get more men back to the face; and every one of us who has any interest in or knowledge of mining, whether on this side of the House or on the other, should continue to tackle the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary with demands that they shall impress upon my night hon. Friend the Prime Minister the gravity of keeping men in the Services who should be at the coal face.
§ Mr. Owen Evans (Cardigan)
The hon. and gallant Member for East Ham, North, (Lieut.-Colonel Mayhew) has made a categorical statement that there is complete lack of discipline in the mines. I hardly think that the House ought to take that statement seriously, because it is not the experience of anyone who knows anything about the conduct of mining, and I am, for my sins, responsible for one colliery. After all, if there is such a complete lack of discipline in the mines the wonder is that we have any coal at all. We all know, as has been said today by the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), that there are black sheep in all families, and there may be a very small minority of men in every coalmine who make things somewhat difficult. From my own experience, what I feel is that they make it much more difficult than is necessary for their fellow workmen. The big mass of the employees in the coalmines in South Wales are so loyal to a small minority. It is a loyalty which explains many things to me. It makes them, shall I say, overlook this ill-discipline of a very small minority. The sweeping statement that there is a lack of discipline in the mines is wrong, it is not true.
1120 I had made a note on the subject of stocks, to which the hon. and gallant Member and the hon. Member for Seaham have both referred. It is an extremely important question. I do not know whether the Government will publish figures relating to stocks, but I see no reason why they should not. We should like more information regarding stocks than we now have. Our experience in industry is that the owners of firms have, speaking generally, taken every precaution to increase stocks of coal to a greater degree than before the war. How reliable are those figures? How much is known at the Ministry about the stocks which are in the possession of works? Are the figures sound and reliable, and is it a compulsory obligation upon industrialists to give accurate figures with regard to these stocks?
This is the first time I have spoken in a coal Debate. My right hon. and gallant Friend is Minister of this very important Department, and I would join in the chorus of praise of him. There is no discordant note anywhere in this country about the work he has done on the problems which face him. He had already gained the good-will and sympathy of everybody by the marked success he had in his previous office, and it justifies our belief that he will tackle his new job with outstanding courage. I have known him for a very long time, and I cannot imagine anybody more capable of talking to coal-owners with no sense of inferiority or to miners with no sense of superiority, but as one man to another. I have formed, in connection with coalmining, particularly in South Wales, the conclusion that a little more of the human touch would be good and that the problem is very largely psychological besides being economic.
We were told that to curtail the consumption of coal for domestic purposes would be a serious disaster and that public morale would suffer, but I submit that nothing would convince the people of this country that such a disaster cannot be avoided by foresight and planning. Equally disastrous would it be if the industries of the country were to go short of coal and were thus to be crippled. The hon. Gentleman who last spoke asked the Minister whether any industry had so far suffered from shortage of coal. I know of none so far, which I suspect is largely due to the fact that industries had laid 1121 in considerable stocks before and after the war began.
The Minister has enormous powers vested in him by the White Paper. The sentences in the White Paper on this matter are very significant:The Government have decided to assume full control over the operation of the mines and to organise the industry on the basis of a national service.Nothing could be more definite or stronger than that, which is the declared policy of the Government. To give effect to that policy, the Minister, as the White Paper says, is placedin the fullest executive authority over the operation of all mines and over the allocation of the coal.He is Controller-General and has a number of Directors to assist him. He delegates to his Regional Controllers every individual colliery undertaking, and managements will have to obey their directions. These are far reaching powers, and I assume that they are not meant to be a dead letter but are to be used firmly—and, of course, wisely. We hope that they are adequate for the Minister's purpose. If not, I hope the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will come back as soon as he can and tell the House that they are not. Does the Minister think they are adequate? He has been in that office only a very short time; how far has he gone already in organising his regional control? Does he see his way to getting the increased production that he seeks? He told us the other day that if 15 per cent. of the men worked the same shifts as the majority, the output would increase by 4 per cent. in the collieries concerned, and which have been investigated. That 4 per cent., if representative of the country, would give us 5,000,000 tons for the rest of the year. That would be a very important contribution. All those factors of production will mean that he, through his officers, will have to come to grips with the actual working of each individual mine. Nothing is more damaging to the organisation of an industry than to have dual control under which nobody knows what his powers are and how far he can go, but my right hon. and gallant Friend is the master. That is clearly understood. The former masters will undoubtedly be servants in the future.
From the little obseration I have made, I believe—and I can only speak of the 1122 mines which I know—that a very substantial output per man is easily obtainable without undue strain upon the men. The leaders believe that, and they have said so time and time again in very strong and sometimes very censorious appeals to the men. I need not remind the House of the phraseology of the appeal made by the Mineworkers Federation in August last to the miners of this country. This is the wording of the appeal from the Mine-workers Federation to all miners:Coal output is falling per man employed. Lack and irregularity of attendance is on the increase. Unnecessary stoppages have occurred. There is a mentality among some miners that reflects unconcern at the danger with which the country is faced. This and other deterring production factors perpetuated by the men reflected no credit on our organisation. As the responsible committee we desire to speak straight and plain. W are not satisfied that all of our members are doing all they can all the time to produce all the coal the nation now requires. The present rate of production is not satisfactory.I am not saying that, but I do venture to say from my own experience that with good will and good feeling and a good spirit among the miners we could easily get an over-all increase of production per shift by a considerable amount, which would enable us to find a way out of the difficulty we are now in.
I think it is quite clear the Minister is right, perfectly right, in expressing his view that he may, and ought reasonably to expect the men to produce somewhat more, even with the present labour force, without the addition of any other men. As to domestic consumption I do not wish to say anything one way or the other about compulsory rationing, though I am very much impressed by the powerful and cogent speech of the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell); it is a speech which requires an answer from the Government. To my mind it is not an immediate issue, but at the same time one must admit it is difficult to explain the change of attitude on the part of the Government regarding it. The Minister has told us that he thinks he can get what he requires without rationing. I also feel confident that the gap can be bridged if, on the one side, production is raised in the way I have indicated, with a contribution from domestic fuel savings as well as industrial savings.
The Minister said that we must not confuse inconvenience with hardship. We all know that not every inconvenience 1123 is necessarily a hardship, but certainly every hardship is an inconvenience, and it is sometimes difficult to draw a line between the two. The Minister expects a considerable saving as the result of his Order prohibiting central heating in October. I would like to warn him that he may have to reconsider that decision if the weather becomes unduly cold, and workers in sedentary occupations suffer considerable hardship through working below the normal temperature. Offices have had a little experience of that on a couple of days already. To my knowledge clerks suffered considerably through sitting for hours without heating with the temperature far below what it should be in an office. The result may be a serious increase in sickness and therefore in inefficiency.
I endorse to the fullest possible extent the view expressed by hon. Members in the course of this Debate that great care should be exercised so as not to cause further reduction in the coal available to the small domestic consumers. Many people, I suppose the majority of people, in this country have been consistently using probably not more than one or two rooms of their house at the same time. The bulk of them probably do not use more than one room at the same time. But there are those who have been in the habit of using six or seven rooms at a time. They should be compelled to reduce the number of such rooms, say, to one or two. That would probably effect a remarkable saving.
I wish to say a word on industrial consumption. I am convinced that the Ministry will achieve a great deal in this direction. The Minister estimated the other day that the consumption of coal in industry was 140,000,000 tons a year, and he cited remarkable instances of saving it would be possible to make. He said 50 firms consuming 700,000 tons of coal would be able to effect a saving of 70,000 tons, an equivalent of 10 per cent. It would not be reasonable to assume this percentage over the whole field of British industry. I should say that probably 80,000,000 tons of coal are consumed by large, well organised and well equipped industries. These big industries already have first-class equipment. Nothing much can be saved in that respect. A good deal can probably toe saved in the operation 1124 of the boilers by the boiler personnel in the boiler house, but as regards equipment very little can toe saved. I know these great industries have been equipping themselves with modern plant, modern boilers and modern gas producers in the last few years at great cost. I know of one instance where at the beginning of the war a gas plant was completed, costing several hundred thousand pounds, which has increased the efficiency of the plant by over 30 per cent. Most of the industries may be taken by and large to be well equipped, and the only saving they can effect is by better supervision of those operating the plant. But 60,000,000 tons of coal are probably consumed by relatively small works, and in these there is no doubt that great economy can be effected. Ten per cent. would be a very reasonable estimate, I submit, based upon the best opinion I have been able to obtain. In addition to that I have no doubt that at least 2,000,000 tons can be got from large industrial concerns, in particular, railroads. My information is that there is still a great waste of fuel on railroads. The Minister may expect 2,000,000 tons from the large undertakings plus 6,000,000 from the small industrial undertakings. If he gets 4,000,000 tons from domestic users, 6,000,000 tons from the small industrial users and 2,000,000 tons from the large industrial users, it will bridge the gap.
I wish to make one other point. Where these very small plants require small adjustments to their boiler, involving not a very great deal of material, they find great difficulty in getting what they require. I submit to the Minister that his Department should be able to certify a high priority for these requirements in order to save coal, and he should be able to give a higher priority than another Ministry, because Ministries are still pulling against each other in these matters of priority. I suggest that it is important, if he wishes to save 6,000,000 tons from small industries, that he should assist them to get the necessary material to make the small adjustments necessary in their boiler plant. Is the Minister aware that in a large city in this country industrialists were informed at the beginning of the war that the more smoke they created the better; and that that direction has never been rescinded. Smoke, as we all know, spells inefficiency of combustion. Then there is the screen of smoke 1125 which covers glass in offices and factories; cannot that be removed? It has been said that men should be withdrawn from the Army. Let me make the further point that no more men from the mines should be taken into the Army. Only this morning I had a note from a manager, saying that one of the best stokers in his boiler house had been taken into the Navy and had had to be replaced by a less efficient man.
The Minister referred only casually to the question of reorganisation. I hope something more will be said on this point. It cannot be denied that the coal industry has caused more trouble and anxiety than any other large industry. I do not say that the record of the miners is a black one, but the record of relations in the mining industry is as black as the coal itself. It is probably the most important industry we have, except agriculture. Goering said, according to the report of his speech, the other day that the miner in Germany tops the list for wages, and he pointed out how hard it was to get the coal, and that they had none to waste. He added, "Organisation is good. Here we are not, as they are over there,"—I suppose he means here—"run by General Muddle." The miners must have an improved status in regard to wages and to conditions; otherwise, it will be impossible to direct the right type of men permanently into the industry.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Cuthbert Headlam (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North)
During recent weeks I have been going round the coalfields of Durham with Mr. Lawther, the president of the Mineworkers' Federation, and with the approval of the Durham Miners' Association, speaking at various pits, explaining the situation and the necessity for further production. My task in this combination of two very pronounced political opponents in the past has been to explain as well as I could the dangers of the military situation and the urgent necessity for the production of coal in order to obtain the necessary armaments to fight against Germany. It was left to Mr. Lawther to exhort his men to further efforts. Everywhere we were listened to with the greatest attention, and it was obvious that what we said was being taken to heart. There was a good spirit everywhere. I do not think there can be any doubt that in that part of the world, at any rate, the miners as a 1126 whole fully appreciate what is required of them—production, and yet greater production. At the same time, there is undoubtedly a small minority, mainly of younger men, who are not conscious of their duty, and who are to a certain extent out of control. It is easy to exaggerate this voluntary absenteeism, but I think all the miners' leaders are agreed that it cannot be tolerated indefinitely, and that sooner or later drastic steps will have to be taken to put an end to it. I am not one of those who believe that sending men to prison is necessarily the best method. I think it is a mistake to send men to prison for offences of this kind. But if you do send them to prison, I suggest that it is best to keep them there, and not to let them out again. I think that the release of those men who were imprisoned in Kent for this sort of offence has had a bad effect on the younger men in the pits.
§ Sir C. Headlam
That is a matter of opinion. At any rate, my impression is that if this form of absenteeism is repeated the best method of dealing with it is to de-reserve the men, and to make them go wherever their services are required.
§ Sir C. Headlam
And Members of Parliament as well, if you like. I think that to de-reserve these men and make use of them in another way would be effective. I may be wrong.
§ Mr. Rhys Davies (Westhoughton)
Would the hon. Member not suggest that magistrates, instead of sending such men to gaol for a first offence, should put them on probation or fine them? In most cases the men are sent to gaol for a first offence.
§ Sir C. Headlam
I am not concerned with the details of the matter, but I suggest that de-reserving these men would probably reduce voluntary absenteeism considerably. I am confident, from what I have seen and heard in Durham, that the method which is now to be adopted for dealing with absenteeism is very sound. That method is to put the matter into the hands of the Regional Commissioner's labour officer. He is chosen more or less by the miners' leaders, and, 1127 in our case I know, he is a man of great efficiency. He will be able to deal with the question far better than the pit committees were. In Durham these committees are already doing very good work, but I agree with my right hon. and gallant Friend that there has been a lack of appreciation by the men of the powers that have been conferred on them. I am certain that the more the men are imbued with the idea that the committees are really going to function for their benefit, and for the general benefit of the pits, the more successful the committees will be. It is odd that miners, unfortunately, are rather suspicious of any changes, even when the changes are made in their own interests. They are extremely conservative, and they like holding on to old customs.
§ Sir C. Headlam
I do not know the reason, and I am not concerned with the reason; I am merely telling the House the facts. Everything must be done to make the miners realise that the pit committees are concerned with every detail of production and that their aim is to effect higher efficiency in the working of the pit and to secure increased production. The miners must be made to understand too—because it was obvious that they did not understand it at some of the meetings I have been addressing—that it is not only they who are subject to the rules of the pit committees but also the managerial side of the business. They must understand that inefficiency will be just as severely dealt with when it is on the managerial side as when it is on the side of the miners.
During the course of this Debate doubts have been expressed and questions have been raised as to what is to be the future of the industry. One of the things which will most conduce to effective working in the pits at the present time is that the miners should understand—as I take it to be the case—that the changes that have been effected in the industry have come to stay. [Interruption.] It would be so much easier if I were allowed to make my speech and a running comment was not kept up from behind me. The miners really have got practically everything for which they have asked, except the nationalisation of the pits.
§ Sir C. Headlam
The royalties have been transferred from private ownership to the State, the men have better wages, a national board, with regional boards in the various districts, has been established, and the pit production committees are also in existence. All these things are what the miners have been demanding, and it is quite reasonable that some may say, "These are merely War measures and when the war is over we shall have to begin fighting again." That point of view has been expressed to me by several people lately when going round to these various collieries. I have always said that there is no likelihood, as far as I can see, of our going back upon what we have done. When I talk to the managers I find that all the more intelligent managers are delighted with the pit production committees. They had been wanting them and they are glad that they have come, and I am told that they are working well and are in complete accord with the men. In return for this the miners should do as their leaders ask them and strive harder and harder to produce the coal that is required.
When it comes to the question of bringing back men from the Forces, I am not certain that I agree with hon. Members to whom I have listened. It is all very well to say that the miners would be more useful in the mines than they are in the Army, Navy or Air Force; that might well be the case if they had not been in the Army, Navy or Air Force. I realise that, if I were in command of a battalion of the Durham Light Infantry, my heart would sink if I were told that all the face-workers were to leave. When my Noble Friend the Member for Down (Viscount Castlereagh) and my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Sir G. Shakespeare) speak so lightly of this matter I feel they can neither of them realise quite what the military aspect of the case is. It is a very difficult problem and I do not really believe that it is so important as people make out at the present time, and for this reason. The number of miners who would be brought back to be hewers would be very inconsiderable. The actual figures have not been produced, but when you realise that it is miners who are wanted at once it can only possibly refer 1129 to the soldiers and sailors and other Service men who are in this country or in Northern Ireland, because we cannot get men back from Libya or Syria at the present time to work in the pits this winter. It is no use anticipating that bringing men out of the Forces is going to solve our immediate trouble. I would also point out what the Minister said in his speech on Thursday. He said: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st October, 1942, col. 968, Vol. 383.]It does not necessarily mean therefore. that by bringing back more men you will necessarily get more work done. It does mean, however, that you can get more work done if people are willing to give more effort to bring up coal. Therefore, I suggest to the House that we have to make the miners realise more and more what is required of them and how necessary is their work. I believe that the meetings we have been having in Durham have had a decidedly good effect. The fact that two men like myself and Mr. Lawther were working together side by side in union had this effect. If that were done more constantly throughout the country, if we all pulled together and really showed that we were united and expected the miners to be united, I believe the results would be most satisfactory to the general production of coal.
When it comes again to the other question of the consumption of coal, I am heartily glad that the Minister feels he will be able to get through this winter without coal rationing. It is easy to minimise the effect that coal rationing would have but I believe that there is nothing more likely to lower the morale of the people than the enforcement of coal rationing. If it can be avoided so much the better for this country and so much the better for the morale of the people. I hope and believe that the appeal of the Minister, with the assistance of his regional boards and his pit committees, and his general desire to help in every way in this great national movement will have the desired effect and that coal production will increase. I am sure he can rest satisfied that the vast bulk of the people in this country will do their best to make the consumption of coal as small as possible.
§ The Minister of Fuel and Power (Major Lloyd George)
I think it would be convenient at this stage of the Debate if I dealt with some of the points raised in the Debate on the previous day and to-day.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
Is this Debate to finish at the usual time, or is it to be extended? If it is to conclude at the usual hour, some of us want to put some very pointed questions to the Minister. I have some in my pocket that I brought from Yorkshire this morning.
§ Major Lloyd George
There are one or two points with which my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council will deal later, but there are many points raised already upon which I feel that the House would like to have some reply from me. None of the points raised are points of really great substance, and I will do my best to deal with them as briefly as I can. I do not know whether we can congratulate ourselves that up to now the Debate has not generated enough heat to compensate us for fuel economy, but that is probably a good thing. My right hon. Friend will deal specifically with the question of man-power, while I will now try to deal as briefly as possible with such questions as absenteeism, pit committees, outcrops and rationing, which have been put by various Members.
§ Mr. E. J. Williams (Ogmore)
Will my right hon. and gallant Friend specifically refer to the question of compensation? I put it to him last week that this is a vital matter, and I do not think that anyone but himself could reply. The miners have debated this for some time. Persons who fall on compensation are getting less per week than the war bonus.
§ Major Lloyd George
I am in consultation with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on this point at the moment. There will be no avoidable delay in dealing with the matter. I am fully alive to it. I do not agree with the hon. Member who opened the Debate to-day that absenteeism is irrelevant. It is my purpose in this discussion to put all these matters in their proper place. It is no good saying it is irrelevant, because it is not. I do not want to stress it more than any other thing; all I want to do is to give the facts. With regard to this problem of absenteeism, we have to consider age distribution. 1131 I referred in my speech on Thursday to the raising of the age in the mining industry. Many Members have referred to the small minority—and I stress those words—who deliberately do not pull their weight. It is suggested that they are chiefly found among young men, and that is borne out by the evidence which I have from all over the country. I have myself examined the attendance records in many parts of the country and have found that among the minority of the bad attenders a high proportion are young men, particularly coalface workers. Older men, as has been pointed out, are playing their part very well. Their standard of attendance is far better than that of the younger men, and for men over 60 it is not much below that of the men in the 40–50 years of age group, which is the best of the lot. The worst record of all is that of the younger men, especially those between 20 and 3p. That is the point we have to remember. I am not one of those who believe that these young men are deliberately not concerned about the future of their country. I do not accept that. I believe it is only necessary to apprise them of the urgency of the situation. It was my endeavour in, a few places I visited to do that as straightforwardly and as frankly as I could, and it has been the purpose of my Regional Controllers. I am satisfied that in the vast majority of cases of these young men I would far rather get them to work because they were seized of the urgency of the situation than in any other way. Hon. Members know the machinery I have to deal with irreconcilables, who are, of course, to be found in every section of industry. I have seen encouraging results from the districts where I have tried to explain the position, and I hope to cover the whole country before long.
It may interest the House to know the figures of the output of coal since the Debate in June, when the White Paper was approved. From the week ending 20th June to the week preceding the August Bank Holiday—I leave that week out, because it is not comparable with anything we know—the average output per week was 3,921,000 tons. For the weeks that followed up to 3rd October, last week, the average output was 4,031,000 tons per week, and since the bonus scheme was introduced the average output per week has been 4,085,000 tons. That shows, I think, that we are entitled 1132 to say that the decline which was going on at the time the White Paper was debated in June has stopped. What is more encouraging is that there has been a gradual rise. I am glad to say that while the average for the last period since the bonus has been 4,085,000 tons, the average for the last two weeks has been in excess of that figure. That is all I wish to say about the question of absenteeism, except that I am satisfied that if we concentrate upon stating the facts as they are, we shall get the required response.
Now I come to the question of the pit production committees, which I regard as an extremely important part of this new organisation. My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan), in his speech last Thursday, rather confirmed the impression I have formed in many coalfields as to the lack of appreciation of the new position of these committees. There seemed to be some uncertainty as to whether they have the right to make, for instance, underground inspections of districts within a pit where production seemed for any reason to be retarded. Although I think I have made the position perfectly clear to my Regional Controllers, I intend to issue further instructions on this point so as to remove any doubts that may exist in anyone's mind. I am myself quite clear that inspections should be made where members of a committee feel that such inspections would lead to an increase in output. Members know that there is equal representation of both sides on these committees and that differences may arise on occasions as to the necessity for carrying out inspections. Where such differences exist they will be resolved by the Regional Controller, so that facilities may be available, when necessary, for underground visits by production committees in every case where production would be increased for such a visit. I want to repeat now that it is the Government's intention that the pit production committees should have an effective voice in dealing with all matters relating to production, with, of course, the proviso that the statutory responsibility of a manager for safety within a mine must stand.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
Does the Minister know that when men lose work they are paid nothing except 3s., which comes out of their own trade union funds?
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor
Is the Minister aware of the method that has been adopted at the Ashington group of collieries in Northumberland, where there is appointed full-time a man who reports daily to the pit production committee?
§ Major Lloyd George
I will not say that the coal organisation is entirely in its infancy, but the sort of thing to which the hon. Member has referred is the sort of thing that we can learn from the various regions. I know that the point he has made is one that has arisen.
§ Mr. Murray (Spennymoor)
Will the opinion of the pit production committee be taken into consideration before a pit is closed? Will they have any say in that matter?
§ Major Lloyd George
There will not be a shadow of doubt about that. After all, to some extent we must rely upon the information which these people give as to what to do. The question of the outcrop has been raised in the Debate and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckrose (Major Braithwaite) seemed to think I was not taking the matter seriously and that I did not regard it as a contribution that was worth bothering about. If that is the impression which my hon. and gallant Friend obtained from my speech, I regret it, because what I said quite definitely was that, as far as the present coal year is concerned, 1,500,000 tons is what I expect to get from the outcrop. I do not want people to get an exaggerated idea of the possibilities for this coal year, but I am satisfied that ultimately this is a very hopeful means of getting a really substantial contribution. I did not say anything else. I said, and I repeat, that there has been a good deal of exaggeration regarding this matter. The hon. and gallant Gentleman himself told us in the Debate last June that by about 25th July we should be getting 32,000 tons a day. Since June we have averaged about 39,000. tons a week.
The hon. and gallant Member also complained that we were stacking the coal very extensively, but when last June he was asked a question by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. Clement Davies) as to whether some of this coal was not rather wet, and what was to be done about that, he said that the Government had already made provision and that experts 1134 were stacking the coal in fields in order to dry it. That was a very good explanation. I am glad to say that stacking has now been very greatly reduced, but I must point out, as I said when I made an interruption in the Debate last week, that a good deal of stacking was unavoidable because there were not adequate transport facilities for removing the stacks. That position has been very greatly improved, and last week there was removed from the sites practically all that was produced. While the average has been only about 40,000 tons a week since June, I am glad to say that last week the figure of production was over 60,000 tons. I hope very much that it will increase, and I assure my hon. and gallant Friend that I am not so completely bereft of my senses as to refuse coal, if it will burn at all—and I might almost go further and say, if it looks like coal. If there is anything I can do to get coal anywhere, I am hardly likely to turn down the idea. Every effort is being made in regard to the outcrop, but I do not want to overstate these matters. I know the possibilities. For instance, my hon. and gallant Friend said that there were 32,000,000 tons of coal within 25 miles of Wakefield. It may be—
§ Major Braithwaite (Buckrose)
May I interrupt my right hon. and gallant Friend to point out that I did not say anything of the sort? I said that one of his own officers from Wakefield had sent me a telegram, which I read to the House, and said that there were 32,000,000 tons 25 miles away, I have contended all the time that there are 30,000,000 tons of this coal within 30 ft. of the surface of this country.
§ Major Lloyd George
If I misinterpreted my hon. and gallant Friend, it must have been due to my desire to absolve him from having read in this House a telegram which he received from one of my officials. Apparently one of my officials—I should be interested to know who he is—wired that there were 32,000,000 tons, but the only possible basis on which to work is information from the Geological Survey, and they do not know this for certain. I do not know how even one of my officials—and they are very good—could possibly know what the geological surveyors are not in a position to give actual figures for. I would like to have a little more information as to where the information came 1135 from, and I would not mind knowing who Sent it. I have gone into this matter in detail only because I do not want the House to run away with the idea that we are turning down something which is of enormous value and that we are not interested in it. Every effort is being made to exploit this thing to the full and I can assure the House that we shall continue to do so, because it is vital to get whatever coal we can.
§ Major Braithwaite
I should like to thank my right hon. and gallant Friend for his statement, which is one of the clearest and most concise I have ever heard from the Government. I am grateful to him, and I can assure him that all those who are interested in that matter will do their best to help him in any way they can.
§ Major Lloyd George
With regard to reorganisation, questions have been asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Sir G. Shakespeare) and other hon. Members as to what progress has been made. In opening the Debate, I said that the progress has been satisfactory. To start with, obviously, we had very great difficulties, because of the period at which the Ministry was started; staff, accommodation, and so on, but satisfactory progress has been made. I have already dealt with the immediate problem of getting coal this year, but as fas as concerns reorganisation, which is a long-term matter and not something that can be done next week, my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) sent a very distinguished mining manager to America, just before the White Paper was published, to study mining methods and machinery in the different conditions of that country. The conditions there are totally different from those in this country, but the methods are not altogether inapplicable. He has reported favourably on the possibility of instituting some of those methods in a limited number of mines in this country, and already we have ordered from the United States of America as much machinery of that sort as we can reasonably hope to get within a reasonable period. Good progress is also being made with the ordering in this country of machinery suited for our own methods, and I am certain this will have a very great effect on output. 1136 In my opening speech I have already referred to concentration. I must again emphasise that, for reasons which must be well known, this is not something that can be very quickly done, because there are not only technical problems, but human problems. Before anything effective can be done in this matter, it is obvious that there must be a very good survey of the pits in which this concentration is to occur. I want again to emphasise that questions of mechanisation, reorganisation and concentration are some of the most important preoccupations of the Controllers in every region. Not only are the Regional Controllers concentrating on mechanisation and reorganisation, but they are doing their best also to get into contact with the men themselves, to stimulate output in that way, concentrating on the colleries which appear to be worse from the point of view of output than they ought to be in order to find out the reasons, which may for instance be of a managerial nature or due to some disaffection. With regard to reorganisation, I would mention that during one of my visits to one of the coalfields, I saw something which showed the immense possibilities of reorganisation and increased efficiency. There I saw a colliery which a very few years ago was derelict but which, as the result of really efficient management and a good deal of capital sunk, has become one of the most efficient in the country in a very short period. It was an eye-opener to me as to what can be done by a forceful, energetic policy of reorganisation to improve efficiency.
§ Mr. A. G. Walkden (Bristol, South)
Was not all that fully pointed out in the Report of the Royal Commission presided over by Lord Samuel and in the Samuel Memorandum? Have the owners done nothing to carry out those recommendations?
§ Major Lloyd George
I only assumed this office in June, 1942, and I am prepared to carry out those recommendations to the best of may ability. I do not think the hon. Member can blame me for what happened then. I shall try to learn from what has gone before. Now I come to the question of rationing. The responsibility for not having rationing, rightly or wrongly, is the responsibility of this House. They decided last June that they would not have it.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Is there not some misunderstanding there? As far as I can recall, there was no actual division.
§ Major Lloyd George
The Motion was that the White Paper should be approved. I am simply confirming what the hon. Gentleman said, that the House must bear the responsibility. I do not think I shall be wrong in saying that the real reason why the majority of hon. Members opposite want rationing is that it will be to the advantage of the small consumer, who, for lack of either financial assets or stocking capacity, can store no coal at all, and it will enable him in difficult times to be sure of a certain amount of coal. I stated on Thursday, and I repeat, that the small consumer will be our first charge during this winter. But no one can guarantee, even in peace-time, that difficulties will not be met. Whether you have a rationing scheme or whether you have a restricted scheme such as that in operation at this moment, difficulties, whether from weather or enemy action, are bound to be encountered. I do not think the possession of a coupon is absolutely essential to a scheme of fair distribution, especially with the programme of deliveries now in operation.
The hon. Gentleman opposite said last Thursday that he was responsible for this scheme of restriction, and I think it is an extremely good scheme, but it is not quite analogous to the Ministry of Food. There is this very important difference, that you can have your dumps of food all over the country, and, if an emergency occurs, you can deliver from your dump to the area where the emergency is. So you can to a certain extent with solid fuel, though not quite so easily, but that is where the resemblance ends. People can fetch their rationed food in baskets. Generally speaking, every ounce of coal has to be delivered. Therefore the great differences are those of transport and man-power. The hon. Gentleman said the well-to-do and the middle classes would take good care to see that they were stocked. We allowed them, in a restricted way, to do that. I want to give priority to the small consumer during the winter months so that the whole of that labour and transport can be concentrated on these deliveries. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the difficulties of distribution are almost as great as the difficulties of supply.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman is not really facing up to this. First of all, the comfortable classes, those who have cellarage accommodation and the money, can stock for themselves, and he has instructed them to buy. The second point is that they can avail themselves, as the majority of the poorer cannot, of the electricity supply, so that there is a twofold advantage.
§ Major Lloyd George
The hon. Gentleman has not stated the case quite as he ought to have done. It is true that those who have accommodation have been encouraged to buy coal, and it will be a very great advantage when the difficult times come, because we shall not have to worry about those who have it in their cellars. But, while they are given enough to help fill their cellars, it is at a very restricted rate. The amount was in very close relation to the amount available, and it is in my power to alter it as circumstances demand. I want flexibility in this scheme of restriction, and I want flexibility in the hands of my controllers. It may be an advantage for us to encourage people to turn over for a short period to gas and electricity if it is there, thereby saving solid fuel elsewhere. Flexibility is of great importance. I will give an example. At this moment the coke situation is rather easier, and we have suggested that people should burn a little more coke. Many people do not know how to burn coke, and it is my business to see that they know by mixing a little coal with it. I give that as an illustration of the flexibility that I want, so that I can switch from one to the other and conserve supplies in the best way possible. With regard to stocks, I can confirm what my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) said—I thank him very much for his gracious references to myself—that he was always ready to help. I have practical experience since assuming office on more than one occasion that he has put that into effect, and I am grateful for it. I think, however, that my hon. Friend painted a rather gloomy picture when he referred to the stocks.
§ Mr. David Grenfell (Gower)
I listened one morning a week before last to a speaker on the wireless who said that he had not come to give advice but to give a fact. The fact was one stated by the Minister of Fuel and Power to a meeting at Nottingham that 1139 the production of coal was at the rate of 250,000 tons a week less than was required for current consumption. If that is the fact my picture was not in the least gloomy. I spared the House the sense of gloom which I felt when I heard that statement.
§ Mr. Grenfell
If that was a fact and the current consumption was 250,000 tons a week more than the production the Minister must have been drawing upon stocks instead of putting coal into stocks.
§ Major Lloyd George
My hon. Friend is speaking of the needs of the future. I was dealing with the question of stocks now, and I felt that he painted a rather gloomy picture, because, while stocks may not be up to those of a year ago, they are by no means those suggested by my hon. Friend. Owing to the experience which we had during previous winters, they are far better distributed throughout the country. That is an important point.
§ Mr. Grenfell
I stated what stocks we had at the beginning of the winter in 1940 and 1941. There is nothing wrong in giving the figures, and the House ought to know.
§ Major Lloyd George
Perhaps my hon. Friend will excuse me for not giving them for the time being. I would rather not do so at the moment, for I must have a consultation about it. I can say, however, that the picture is nothing like as bad as he said it was. Better distribution is an important point; it is as important as anything else.
§ Mr. Shinwell
It makes it very difficult for hon. Members for the Minister not to state what the stocks are. He says that the picture is not as gloomy as other hon. Members have made it out to be. Will he tell us exactly how gloomy it is?
§ Major Lloyd George
I must ask hon. Gentlemen to have some confidence in me. I did not give the picture that I did to the House last Thursday without being 1140 fully aware of the whole position. I am only now dealing with stocks, and when I say what I want for the winter I know what stocks I have got. When I say that I have a deficit of 11,000,000 tons, it is, of course, in relation to stocks and also in relation to the safety margin in stocks that I must have in the winter. That is all I can say at the moment. All these considerations were taken into account when I gave that picture to the House on Thursday, and if the hon. Member will not ask me to go any further at the moment I shall be much obliged. I get figures every week from the big industries and the utility undertakings, and I know the position from week to week. I had these figures very much in mind when I was giving that picture. When I said there was a deficit of 11,000,000 tons I had them in mind.
May I repeat what I said on Thursday? This deficit can be made up by increased output and by decreased consumption of domestic fuel and in industry. I do not think that in assessing any one of these three things I have been too optimistic. The figures of consumption which I have already given show that not only the decline which was present in June has stopped, but that output has begun to increase, with a result that to-day it is considerably in excess of the average before the holidays in August. Therefore, I have every reason for assuming that there will be an increased output and that we shall save at least the 4,000,000 tons which I quoted for the saving in domestic consumption. I am not going to say I want to save 10 per cent., for I believe in many cases we can save more without any undue hardship to the consumers. It is a question of using a little ingenuity and of not confusing inconvenience with hardship. I am certain that the figure I have given is not an exaggerated one. I am equally certain that the industrial figure is not an exaggerated one. I deliberately kept the estimated figures low because I do not want to err on the side of being too optimistic. At the same time, I do not see why I should give a picture which is gloomier than the hon. Member gave. It is within the power of the people of this country to do what we want, that is, to close the gap of 11,000,000 tons. It is within their power to do it without any serious hardship at all. I am satisfied that if we can get the co-operation of the 1141 three sections, we shall have no difficulty in closing this gap serious as it may be.
§ Mr. Brooks (Rothwell)
I hope that I may have the indulgence of hon. Members, which I understand is given to all new Members. I come to the House as a practical man, having had over 40 years' experience in coalmining and at least 25 years at the coalface. I remember the illustrious father of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman—the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George)—making wonderful statements about the miners in London in 1915. He then spoke of them as being good singers, good Welshmen, good sportsmen and grand on the football field—at any rate, that we were very fine fellows, and we agreed. The blame for less output to-day, however, is very largely placed on the men, and it has been so placed in the Debate to-day. Up to only five or six weeks ago I was sitting on a production committee, and in my experience I can agree with the Minister in his statement that the younger men from 18 to 25 are perhaps the worst offenders. I would like to point out, however, that these young men are doing six and seven shifts every week, and that is counted in the absentee figures. I think that the Minister has been wasting valuable time in visiting the pit production committees. We should give over pin-pricking and leave these chaps alone. The production committee members know their job. Give them the facilities to tackle the work and the work to tackle, and you will see a great improvement.
The House must not forget that every day's work means being further away from the pit bottom. That means something in walking time and in transport of the coal from the face. Many things happen in a mine that do not occur on the surface. There are falls of roof; anything can go wrong in the cycle of operations in the 24 hours. Haulage and other things can go wrong. That is a factor which ought not to be forgotten.
I have one or two pointed questions to put to the Department. Machinery wears out. How long does it take to get a new machine? Spare parts for all kinds of machinery are simply not there. Is everything being done to get the necessary timber and steel supports? All these things have been discussed by us as a committee. Is there any co-ordination 1142 among Government Departments to secure some priority for machinery, especially for pits which are 100 per cent. mechanised? It should not be forgotten that the young men to whom I referred just now are not machines. We have been at war for three years, and theirs is a very strenuous life. I am speaking from experience. Even under the best conditions work in the pits cannot be compared with other employment. Those young men have to work underground. Think of the air they breathe, the very few clothes which they can wear, and out of which they have to wring the sweat many times a day. They are human beings and should be treated as such.
Next I would say a word about colliery managers. Every opportunity was given to our committee to investigate any cases of reduced output, and, if need be, to visit the working places or any part of the seams. We have no complaints to make in that respect. The management welcomed any suggestions for improvements. Nor could we complain about food. I want to say that clearly. The canteen at the pit in which I have been interested, and of which I have been branch secretary, for 30 years has been giving full service since June, 1941. It may be asked, Has this altered the figures of absenteeism? It may not have altered them, but at least it has given support and help to the men who are giving 100 per cent. work every day. If we had not fed those men there would have been a very much bigger absentee list. Get on your toes, Mr. Fuel and Power Department. If coal is the blood stream that runs through the veins of all industry, what Department will dare to withhold facilities to keep the blood coursing? The question of machinery, spare parts and supports is vital if we want more output.
Wastage of man-power has been mentioned. More than 12 months ago an appeal was mode for skilled and semiskilled fitters for munition factories. A great number of men left the collieries for these better-paid jobs. Can we blame them? They were asked to go by Government Departments. Those repair men are just as important as, and in some pits more important than, the coal face workers. Why were they allowed to go? I say clearly that hours of output are lost through lack of repair men. What few are left are doing nine and ten shifts every 1143 week, and some of them more. It is more than human nature can stand. The Minister has told us that we are losing from 25,000 to 30,000 men a year in industry. How many of the men who are seriously injured get back into the industry? Many are injured for life. Those who partly recover are in many instances driven into the open labour market because no work can be found for them at the colliery. I ask very respectfully, "Why should not the colliery where the accident happened to them be compelled to reemploy them when they are fit for some lighter employment? To-day these men find work in munition factories. If a man is strong enough to carry a message he can get a job, and in many instances receives better wages than the miners are getting.
I make the very bold statement that in the colliery industry more paupers have been made through injuries than in any other industry. The widows and children, if death follows an injury, are badly treated under compensation laws. I hope later to have an opportunity to say something about the compensation laws as they affect the widows and children of those who have died following upon injuries in the pit. In normal times, if a man is certified as fit for light employment only, he cannot be found work at the pit, and his only income is unemployment benefit plus the few shillings of partial compensation. If he is still unfit at the end of six months, he has to go to the Assistance Board, and that takes 50 per cent. out of his compensation, which is a heartbreaking position for the man. Full compensation should be paid if light work cannot be found. Two days ago I visited a small cottage hospital of which I am to be one of the founders. There are only 40 beds in the hospital. In one ward were three men with broken backs, all of whom had been admitted within the last fortnight. That is an example of the tragic conditions in these men's lives. We hope that the medical scheme and rehabilitation clinics will do something to stop this wastage of very good men who are driven from the pits on account of injuries.
I agree that the scheme of appointing investigating officers to interview absentees will prove a success. I think results will show in a few weeks. I had an opportunity of speaking to some of 1144 these men last week-end, and I am confident they will have a very good effect upon the situation. But I want to ask this pertinent question. Is there to be any tenure of office about this job? The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry knows something about absentees and how many men have been sacked, shall we say, by absentee committees during the last two years. It is a very unpopular job. We must give these men some help and not throw them on the scrap heap after they have done this useful job for us.
Coming to the subject of outcrop coal, the hon. and gallant Member for Buck-rose (Major Braithwaite) said last week that this subject was his baby. I am not taking to his baby, and the Department do not seem to know a lot about it. According to what we were told by the Parliamentary Secretary last week, it is very poor quality coal. It would be interesting to know what the scheme is costing and whether the money would not have been better spent in developing good seams at well organised collieries, increasing output in that way. The hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Murray) mentioned a colliery in Durham that could easily be made to produce 4,000 or 5,000 tons of good coal a week. There are many more in the country. I do not want to discourage any effort to get the necessary output of coal. There is very good machinery for the job, but I hope the industry will not be hindered in the matter of getting the machinery that is required. The contractors and men are, I understand, doing very well—very much better, I believe, than the miners who risk their lives and limbs in the mining industry. All the same it is making a real mess of the countryside, and, further, are you hindering any agricultural effort for growing food?
A great deal has been said about bringing men back from the Forces. We must certainly have the coalface workers back from the Forces. They are already trained for any special military service if they are needed, and at present they will be doing a greater service at the coalface than where they are now. Every coalface worker must be brought back before the introduction of any scheme to induce young men of 18–25 to go into the industry. If you bring that in, the tranquillity—a very beautiful word, especially when applied to coalmining—will go, and 1145 feeling might be created among men in the Forces and would be very unpleasant for the men who, it would be said, were escaping military service.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman and his Department have the same good will and excellent spirit from the men in the industry as his illustrious father the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs had in 1915. I say to him that he should give the men and managements the encouragement which means so much. Let him treat them with respect and confidence and not forget that he is dealing with men who are just as willing and patriotic in the war effort as any other workmen in the country. I am confident that he will then get his desired output and the thanks of all concerned.
§ Mr. Colegate (The Wrekin)
I have the very pleasant duty first of congratulating the hon. Gentleman the Member for Rothwell (Mr. Brooks) on a very excellent maiden speech. He has a fund of practical knowledge which will no doubt be of great use to this House in further Debates, in which he has promised that he will take part. I notice that he spoke as a member of a pit production committee, and I am sure we shall all welcome his experiences. I was prevented from being here last Thursday, but I have read every Word of the Debate. I think it may be said that we have started to get rid of many of our party prepossessions on this subject and are at last getting down to the problem as it ought to be dealt with in war-time, purely as a practical problem. I was sorry that the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) should have tried to make out once again that there is no question of avoidable absenteeism. It is not right that that kind of statement should be made, particularly since the leaders of the Mineworkers' Federation are in perfect harmony with owners on this subject and are doing their very best to solve the problem of the absenteeism which is not due to old age, sickness or to medical reasons, but to avoidable causes.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
Had the hon. Member a doctor's certificate for being absent last Thursday?
§ Mr. Kirkwood (Dumbarton Burghs)
That was the hon. Member's absenteeism. He was just exercising his rights.
§ Mr. Colegate
I will deal with the point because it refers to me. I had a reason which possibly may occur to hon. Members, if they think for a few moments. The question nowadays is how to deal with this absenteeism. I would like to make a suggestion. I strongly object to any form of imprisonment being inflicted on miners because of absenteeism. The proper way is to avoid any method that appears to be vindictive or means a long-drawn-out process, particularly the taking of men to court. Is there not a better way? Surely the way to deal with avoidable absenteeism is quickly, and not by the court method, but mainly by action on the part of pit production committees themselves. If we had a system by which a man were to feel the effect of his absenteeism in his pay packet at the end of the week while knowing that he had an immediate right of appeal to the pit production committee, it would be better. It would have a very considerable effect upon the volume of absenteeism, with no resentment against the managements or the Regional Controller. The way to deal with miners has always been to deal quickly and generously. The miners themselves will respond very much better to a method which gives them a right of consultation and appeal to their trade union officials. One of the best things about the present situation is that the trade union officials are wholeheartedly on the side of this effort to obtain increased production.
I press very strongly for the return of men from the Army. I do not see how we can hope to bridge the gap without bringing men back from the Army, and from other industries. Absenteeism is approximately 14 per cent., and about 10 per cent. or 11 per cent. over the whole industry. Approximately 7 per cent. or 8 per cent. is due to medical and other legitimate reasons. If you take a figure of avoidable absenteeism of, say, 6 per cent., the coal represented would not amount at the outside to more than 7,000,000 or 8,000,000 tons a year. A much more serious effort must therefore be made to get men back at the coalface. It is very important to consider a little more closely the methods of getting men back. We have already got certain men back.
The first method proposed was that miners should be released by the Army authorities. We know the pride that 1147 commanding officers take in their men; when they have to choose men, their choice is not necessarily of men who are best at the coalface. That is shown in the figures. To one of the big collieries in the Trent district, the Ministry of Labour submitted 434 names between July and December, 1941. Many of them were rejected by the colliery and 126 of the nominations were cancelled by the Ministry of Labour. Finally, 151 men were interviewed, and 78 started work. At the moment, out of 434, the number still at work is 41. In other words, a large number of men, many of them unsuitable, were submitted by the Ministry of Labour, and less than 10 per cent. were suitable for the job.
Another method was tried between April, 1942, and July, 1942. In this case, the colliery submitted the names of men to the Army authorities. There was a very different result. The number of names submitted by the colliery was 306. Only 114 were released. Out of these 114 men, 98 men are still working at the colliery to-day. In other words, if the whole 306 men had been released, there would have been approximately 270 men working at the coalface out of 300 men, instead of 41 out of 431 men. That really is a very important point. I urge this most strongly on the Minister: Do try to get these men back, but do not let them be chosen by the military or by the Ministry of Labour. Let the collieries, the pit production men, the people in the industry who know the conditions and the circumstances and what is required submit the names to the military authorities in order that they may be returned to the pits. I urge that as a very important point, because I think these statistics can be paralleled by those of any of the larger collieries.
I wish to speak about rationing. I think there is considerable misunderstanding, as is shown by some of the analogies which are drawn between food and fuel rationing. To begin with, it is obvious that the hon. Member for Seaham has never thought of this: The main bulk of food in this country is not rationed. Bread is not rationed, potatoes are not rationed, vegetables are not rationed. Therefore, the position of the food rationing scheme is very different. Behind your food rationing scheme are stocks 1148 amounting in many cases to many months' supply of the commodity affected. I do not mean to say that fresh meat is in cold storage to that extent, but it is on foot and in sight. Therefore, there is the fact that when the consumer is given a coupon he can rely upon cashing in on that coupon for months to come. Secondly, even if it were the case that a particular ration was not available, the consumer would be able to live on bread, vegetables and potatoes. The main difficulty with regard to coal is that the emphasis must be placed on distribution. Coal cannot be stocked in the sense that food can be stocked. At no time within my experience of the coal industry has there ever been more than a few days' or a few weeks' stocks in this country. Stocking is very difficult. It has to be done to a very large extent at the pithead, in trucks. The trucks are badly needed. As the result of this necessity of being able quickly to transport stocks from one place to another, we are confronted with immensely difficult problems of transport. Therefore, I still maintain—and I have considered this most carefully—that we should restrict—yes, some restriction we must have—but any coupon ration scheme is heading for disaster. It is a scheme based on a partial rationing of food. This is a totally different subject, which has to be dealt with in a totally different way, or serious disaster is being risked.
That brings me to another point. I do not think too much should be looked for from reorganisation and rationalisation in the coal industry, especially during the present period. I am afraid many people do not realise what the position is with regard to coal in the sense that a great many people say, "Here are two pits, one with a comparatively low cost of production, the other with a comparatively high cost of production. Why not shut down the high cost of production pit and concentrate on the low cost of production pit?" Before that is done the question must be asked, "Why is the high cost of production pit surviving at all?" The answer is that the high cost of production pit only survives because in spite of its high cost of production it is delivering coal to its customers cheaper than the lower cost of production pit. There are some new pits in the Sherwood Forest area of Nottingham which have a cost of production that on the face of it would wipe out every pit in this country. 1149 But the main cost is not the cost of production in the pit, but the cost of labour in transport. Even if it is thought that it will be possible to concentrate on particular pits, even after the development of coalfaces and the transport of men and the provision of the housing arrangements necessary, it will be found that a large number of consumers will have to be charged a much higher cost for their coal because it has to be brought from a greater distance, and more has to be spent on transport and labour getting the coal to them.
One of the main difficulties in this country at the present time, not only in connection with coal, but with the whole war effort, is the problem of railway transport. The system is strained to the very uttermost. If large changes are to be made by which masses of coal have to be transported much greater distances than hitherto, it will once again increase the strain on transport. I venture to think that what can be hoped for from reorganisation and rationalisation—I take the short view of war-time only—is not very much. If it means 1,000,000 tons, it will be as much as can be hoped. There are surely only three ways of dealing with coal supplies. It comes down to a simple problem in outline, although admittedly it means great difficulties and great energy and enthusiasm on the part of the people who have to tackle it.
There is absenteeism. That, in my opinion, is well in hand. The Mine-workers' Federation are whole-heartedly with all concerned about this problem. They have the matter in hand, and I am quite certain, from one source and another, that that problem will be dealt with during the coming months. I only plead in that connection for the simplification of the method of punishment, or fining, or whatever it is called, and the cutting-out of any question of imprisonment. The second way is the question of getting men back to the coalfield from industry and from the Army. I have dealt with that.
I think I have made a legitimate point about the method by which men are got back from the Forces and from industry to the coalfield. That, in my opinion, will give, with the men available, as much as a 5,000,000 tons increase in production. Absenteeism is being solved gradually, and that, I think, will mean 1150 that we shall get another 7,000,000 tons. There is 12,000,000 tons. In addition, there has to be restriction. We all know that a considerable amount of saving is possible both among domestic and industrial consumers. Very great things are possible, and I must confess that in that admirable speech by the hon. Member for Seaham—I envy him his facility and eloquence—I was extremely sorry that he thought it necessary to sneer at the efforts of those people who are trying to reduce domestic consumption. It is no good talking heroics about the magnificent defenders of Stalingrad, and then saying, "It will not make me turn off my electric stove on a cold day." This is the type of appeal which, in my view, you can base on such heroism, whether at Stalingrad or at Malta. One of the things which people who are not directly engaged in war service can do is to join in this voluntary effort, to deny themselves by turning on their wireless a little less often, by having a slightly smaller fire, by reducing the number of rooms occupied. I think the Minister has every right to ask us, and we have every right to ask our constituents, to see that consumption is reduced to the utmost. With those three methods, I think the Minister is right to be optimistic that we shall get through this winter without too great hardship, or even too great inconvenience, and that we shall at the same time provide the fuel which is essential to our munitions industries and to transport.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
There is only one feature of this Debate which for me is a small ray of light in the darkness—because I have found the whole two Bays of this Debate highly depressing. That feature is that at last we are going to have someone to reply who has direct responsibility for the muddle which has been created—when he has finished acquiring information from his officials. We had the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell), who during two very difficult years had to reply for policies for which he was not directly responsible. We have the present Minister of Fuel and Power, who was selected by the Prime Minister undoubtedly because he was able to make a disagreeable case agreeable to the House. Then, some little time ago, we had the Lord Privy Seal, who I am delighted to see is not going to reply this time, because he is not responsible either. 1151 This is the first coal Debate after two years of discussions about coal shortage in which we are to hear someone with some direct responsibility for the situation. I hope that the Lord President will be able to explain where we are in this matter. I hope that he will give us some precise information, and not embark on a series of verbal adventures.
The difficulty that I see is this: We have managed, by a skill which must arouse the admiration of the whole world, to produce a coal shortage in Great Britain. Only a divinely-inspired Administration could produce such a result. This House has no responsibility whatsoever for it, except cowardice. This was not an unpredictable situation; we were not dealing with unknown factors; there was not a single element in the coal situation in this country after the collapse of France that was not predictable with mathematical certainty. The information, at least, was somewhere in the Government offices. It was not with the Minister of Production, because there was not one: it was not with the Prime Minister, because he does not take much interest in these matters; but we knew that there was going to be an increase by as much as 25 per cent. in the industrial consumption of coal. At any rate, that ought to have been known, because the Government were making plans for increased industrial consumption. It was known that a Certain number of men, between certain ages, were being called up for the Forces from the mines. It was, therefore, a matter of easy prediction what would have been the coal output and the average age in the pits. It was known also that there were going to be certain difficulties in regard to coal transport. If those things were not known to the Government as a consequence of their own planning, it was pointed out to them over two years ago by every authority having a point of view on this matter. The Coalowners' Association of Great Britain told them 12 months ago last March, and the Mine-workers' Federation told them 12 months ago last February. A Select Committee of the House of Commons has been saying it for over 18 months. In Debate after Debate in this House the Government have been told exactly the same facts.
The only thing that was left was for the House of Commons to behave with a sense of public responsibility, and to insist 1152 upon the Government carrying out what was the common sense of the situation. Had we got that full sense of responsibility and had a Motion been put on the Order Paper and the House divided upon it, every yellow newspaper in Great Britain would have attacked us for destroying the national unity, every hack journalist in Great Britain would have dipped his pen in bile and described the Members of the House of Commons as irresponsible, raucous-voiced critics. Yet every single fact with which we are faced to-day has been known to us for over two years. I was hoping to be able to make a speech without saying anything about the Prime Minister, but he is so much in the centre of the picture that you cannot fire a shot and try to hit the target without his being somewhere on the horizon. In the Debate on the Address last November, the Prime Minister made a statement to the House. I should point out that all these facts that I have just related were known to the Prime Minister, or should have been known to him if he was doing his job. He said:Some months ago we were anxious about the coal position for this winter, and it still gives cause for concern. I am glad to say that … the situation is better than seemed likely a few months ago. Our stocks are now between 2,000,000 and 3,000,000 tons larger than they were a year ago and are far better distributed, and the men, who have responded most nobly to the appeal made, are working a longer working week than ever before. There has been great concern on the part of some of the younger miners at not being allowed to go to the Army.I nearly lost my breath when I heard that. An appreciation of the industrial situation which represents that a large body of young men in industry is straining on the leash to go to the Armed Forces is one which one would not expect to exist outside the pages of Seton Merriman or Captain Marryat. [Interruption.] There may be one or two young men who want to go.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)
Does the hon. Member really suggest that among the young men in the mines there are none who would prefer to fight?
§ Mr. Bevan
I made no such suggestion at all. What I suggest is this: I have probably as big a postbag as any Member on this question. I have received a large number of letters from men in the Forces asking to be released to go back to the pits, but I have not yet received any requests from men in the collieries to go 1153 back to the Army. The Prime Minister went on:We have had some very hard cases of young men who wished to go and serve in the Fighting Forces, and we all understand how they feel. But they can really best help the war effort at the moment by staying where they are. … There are good grounds for the belief that we shall come through the winter all right, and that, without having deranged our Army by withdrawing thousands of coal miners from their platoons, the regular process of our coal supply will be maintained."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 12th November, 1941; cols. 29 and 30, Vol. 376.]We all know that the Prime Minister misled the House by that statement. It is not possible to quote other statements made by the Prime Minister on this subject, because they were made in circumstances which make it impossible, but the Prime Minister is Minister of Defence. It is he and the Committee of Defence who decide the size of the Armed Forces. The Committee of Defence, I understand, is a sub-committee of the War Cabinet. On that sub-committee, if my information is correct—these things are so much shrouded in secrecy that I may be wrong with respect to a few of the names—are the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for War, and the Lord President of the Council. I do not know whether there are any others. The Minister of Labour is not on it, and neither is the Leader of the House. It is that sub-committee which recommends to the War Cabinet the size of the Armed Forces, and they give their directions to the Minister of Labour. He does not know all the information upon which the directions are based, but in that particular he is no different from the thousands to whom he gives directions in his turn. The Minister of Labour receives from the sub-committee and the Prime Minister these general directions, and he has to select the men from industry in certain proportions. Had there been a Minister of Defence, for which we have been asking for over two years, the Minister of Labour would put his provisional proposals for the distribution of his manpower before the Minister of Production, who, having before him a complete picture of the production plans of the Government, would be able to tell at once whether the Minister of Labour was over-calling up or under-calling up from the certain sections of industry. There never has been a plan or machinery of that sort, and there never has been provided by the 1154 Government any method by which these grave errors might have been prevented, although we have been asking for this now for some two and a half years.
I suggest that the Government have a direct responsibility, and the responsibility of the House is only secondary. What is the position? Having got the country into a situation of grave coal shortage in the third winter of the war, we have ourselves to deal with it. It comes back to us once more. How is it suggested that we deal with it in particular? The hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Colegate) said that we ought to deal with absenteeism. The miners are getting tired of this. There is no higher percentage of absenteeism in the coal mines than there is in industry—(An HON. MEMBER: "Less probably")—and there is greater justification for absenteeism in the coalmines. You might be able to reduce your coal deficit if you reduced absenteeism in the pits. You could eliminate absenteeism in the pits altogether if the men had brass lungs, iron muscles and wooden heads. The Government should base their plans, and we should base our plans now, not upon an ideal miner but upon a real miner.
§ Mr. Colegate
My remarks about absenteeism were absolutely in line with those of Mr. Ebby Edwards, the Secretary, and Mr. Lawther, and Mr. Horner, of the Mine-workers' Federation, and the hon. Member should address his remarks to them about it.
§ Mr. Colegate
I do not. I have Ebby Edwards' statement in my hand. Does the hon. Member wish me to read it? It is essential that we should not have any misunderstanding or mis-statement on this matter. Mr. Ebby Edwards says this, and here is his letter written after 14th August, 1942. It starts:The Executive Committee of the Mine-workers' Federation of Great Britain at its meeting in London on the 14th August, 1942, heard a very detailed and most alarming statement from representatives of the Government on the present rate of coal output and its relation to the war effort and the domestic needs of the country.I will come to the essential part about absenteeism.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Read it all.] 1155For very obvious reasons we keep the details out of this appeal, but assure each and every member of the whole Federation that we feel compelled to issue this urgent appeal to you to go energetically out for an immediate increase in coal production.If factories and work-yards producing ships, aeroplanes, tanks, guns and other munitions of war are held up for the want of coal; if the working people are without the necessary supplies for the home fires this winter, well may the community look upon our industry as one that can be charged with criminal neglect in this hour of the country's peril. Every district executive, every lodge or branch committee, every individual workman muts act with vigour and take responsible decisions now. All must work in co-operation to increase immediate coal output. The shortcomings of others, if in the industry, must not be used as the excuse for the miners refusing to face up to their own responsibility to supply the nation with the coal it needs. Coal output is falling per man employed. Lack of regularity of attendance without reason is on the increase. Unnecessary stoppages have occurred. There is a mentality among some miners that reflects an unconcern for the danger with which the country is faced.These and other deterring production factors perpetrated by the men reflect no credit to our organisation. As responsible committee we desire to speak straight and plain. We are not satisfied that all of our members are doing all they can all of the time to produce all the coal the nation now requires. The present rate of production is not satisfactory.To live and work in a period of war the same as you did in times of peace is acting in a way to lose the war. We ask you voluntarily to do those things essential to victory, because if we fail, democracy ceases and authority (dictatorship) comes to rule either from within or from without.Fellow members. Produce more coal now so that all the supplies of war can be sent forward immediately. A second front can only come if the supplies from the home front are satisfactory.We await the response to your supreme effort in coal production.On behalf of the Executive Committee of the Mineworkers' Federation of Great Britain. Ebby Edwards, Secretary.I claim justification for every word I said about the increased effort on behalf of production.
§ Mr. Bevan
The hon. Member has abused my courtesy in giving way. It is true that the Miners' Federation of Great Britain has called the attention of miners to voluntary and remedial absenteeism, but the problem of absenteeism in coalmining has been exaggerated, repeated and brought to the front although it is less than in any other industry. The plans of the Government have brought 1156 about the coal shortage. Had this not occurred, we should have heard nothing at all about absenteeism. The House must face up to this fact, which is a nasty one to swallow, that you do not always get the co-operation of the men by getting the agreement of the trade union officials. It is not a good thing that in the third year of the war the Government should satisfy themselves merely by getting agreements between two sides. If those agreements do not receive the spiritual endorsement of the masses of the people behind them, they are not worth the paper upon which they are written. There is far too great a tendency for reactionary persons like the hon. Member to use patriotic statements of trade union leaders as decoys for their own sinister statements. The miners are being made the whipping boy of this matter, whereas the whipping boy should be on the Treasury Bench. It is not the miners who are responsible for this situation; it is the Government and the cowardice of Members of the House of Commons.
There is another thing to be said about absenteeism in the pits. If many more miners are sent to prison there will be an ugly atmosphere in the coalfields. We have had just about as much as we can stand. Among a large number of miners in Great Britain there is the profound impression that Fascism is rapidly establishing itself in our midst.
§ Mr. Bevan
I will give an instance concerning a member of a pit production committee in a colliery in my own Division. He is a very aggressive person, I agree, but a very good collier, and he quarrelled with the over-man about the system of measurement of the ground upon which the earnings of the men depend. The management wanted to alter the system without consulting the workmen. He objected, there was a row about it, and he was dismissed. His colleagues wanted to come out on strike to back him, but they were appealed to to go on working. This man appealed to the local committee which was set up for the purpose by the Ministry of Labour and found that the chairman of the committee was the solicitor to the colliery company, who, of course, decided the company was right and the man was wrong, with that strict impartiality which we always expect from members of the judiciary who 1157 are serving in any capacity whatsoever. Then the man appealed against his six weeks' disallowance of unemployment benefit. He went to the court of referees and found that the same man was chairman of that. So again, of course, his appeal was disallowed. After a lapse of some weeks this man was directed to go to another colliery, which meant that the colliery company would have won, But the South Wales Miners' Federation intervened and succeeded in getting him directed to another colliery under the same company, although that meant that the colliery company would have still won. The Miners' Federation has agreed to his transfer to another colliery, but do you think that the men in the pit will like it? What will happen at the next meeting of the pit production committee?
The men do not trust the managements, and the managements do not trust the men. The representatives of the workmen have no guarantee against victimisation. The managements have no guarantee against victimisation if they give too much authority and power to the pit production committees. Every management in every colliery in Great Britain has one eye on existing coal production and the other eye on their further employment after the war by the same colliery company. How can you expect to have an atmosphere in which men participate fully in production? The very term "joint production committees" shows the dualism that runs throughout the industry. You do not need joint production committees; you need production committees. The word "joint" reveals that, having separated the industry into two halves, you are trying to bring the two halves artificially together to run the pits. That is the atmosphere in which you are working. If the Minister of Fuel and Power were to say that after the war the State would accept responsibility for the payment and the appointment of all the pit managements, if there were that guarantee, there would be a changed atmosphere in all the pits. But we are discussing the whole thing quite unrealistically in London in an atmosphere that is far different from the atmosphere which prevails at the pits.
There is a further aspect of the matter that we ought to consider, and that is the immediate possibility of increasing production by a straightforward effort. What is the way to do that? You can get a 1158 bit more by increased production and a little more by the reduction of absenteeism, as was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell), but there is a straight, simple way of increasing production, because there is still pit room if you are able to make use of it, and that is to get men back from the Forces. Will the House of Commons now have a little more guts than they have had before? This is what the matter boils down to. There is no room for argument here; we have all known these arguments for two years. Why cannot we get those men back from the Forces now? I am not asking the Minister of Fuel and Power. It has nothing to do with him. I am putting the question to the right hon Gentleman the Lord President of the Council, who is to reply to this Debate. I sent a letter to the Secretary of State for War last week concerning a married man who had written to me asking whether he could get transferred nearer to his home because his wife was extremely ill. He was transferred. Then he wrote to me and said, "I am doing nothing of any importance in the Army; cannot I get back to the coalface?" He was a coalface worker. I thought it was understood he was to go back, but, no—he is attached to a field unit. You can get men back from the Army who are in other units if they are coalface workers, but not if they are attached to field units. So the colonel said, "He cannot go back to the coalface because he is attached to a field unit." What is he doing? He is playing the clarinet in a band. The House of Commons gives two whole days—two whole years—to a discussion of coal production and yet the colonel beats us. He insists on keeping his clarinet player.
§ Mr. Bevan
I am not blaming the colonel; I agree it is not his fault. It is our fault. We ought to tell the Prime Minister that he should start being Prime Minister. He should start looking at the problem realistically. He should give orders to the Army Council, and insist upon these men being returned to the pits at once. It is no use saying that will break up certain units. It has been suggested that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. 1159 Lloyd George) had the same co-operation from the miners in the last war as the country is getting in this, but he got no such thing. I was a youngster in the pits then and I remember fighting him fiercely in the last war. We are getting more good will on the part of the working class in this war than we ever did in the last. When the right hon. Gentleman was faced with a coal shortage in the last war he brought 60,000 men back from the trenches and put them in the pits. This National Government has not the "nous" to bring them home from camp.
A few months ago I seconded a Motion to the effect that we had no confidence in the central direction of the war. I was quite wrong. I assumed that there was a central direction. It is clear, from the way that these things have been managed, that there is no central design upon which you can put your finger. There is no integrated conception of the war which the citizen can understand or which is worked out in administrative action. There is a mosaic, presided over by a number of disconnected Ministers, all jealously watching each other and, as a consequence, this is what we find facing the country. This is no funny matter. It is all right for some central commander of the Army to decide that certain units in East Anglia are to get two cold-meat days a week. They are not the men who are going to have the cold dinners. We are running into a very difficult winter and we shall be faced with the very serious problem of maintaining the morale of the American soldiers in this country. Large numbers of them have been brought from warm States, with heated houses. They will not have sunny skies over them, as they have in America. If they are to be kept in cold barracks, without any social amenities, you will run into the most difficult human problem with which the country has ever been faced. To maintain warm barracks and give them warm meals every day is an essential condition for maintaining their morale.
§ Viscount Castlereagh (Down)
Does the hon. Member really think they are going to get central heating when they go abroad?
§ Mr. Bevan
That is not the issue. Do not let us deal with an abstract, romantic soldier. We have to face the problem 1160 courageously. We must insist on helping the Minister of Fuel and Power by demanding that these men be brought home from the Forces immediately. Hon. Members must not believe that they can solve the problem merely by the stoical measures which we ourselves adopt so easily at the top, but which are difficult to carry out down below, where people are suffering from a bombardment of advice day by day. One of our problems is not only to impose hardship upon people, but to get people to accept that hardship as an inevitable and natural accompaniment of the war effort. If they think it is frivolous they will resent it.
I asked the Prime Minister earlier today whether he did not think that certain things that had happened between us and another nation might not affect the morale of the country in production. He did not think so, nor did hon. Members opposite. I have in my hand, however, the speaker's notes sent to me by the Minister of Fuel and Power which I am supposed to use to stimulate the enthusiasm of the miners to produce more coal and the enthusiasm of the population to sustain hardships. Practically all these notes concern themselves with the Russian campaign. They talk about Stalingrad, the loss of the Kuban Valley, the loss of the Don Basin and the loss of the Ukrainian wheatfields. The notes do not talk about Great Britain. They, quite properly, talk all the time about the efforts and sacrifices that are being made by the Soviet Union. Therefore, the central direction of the war, the main strategy of the Government and its relation with Russia and the other Allies are integral parts of the spiritual attitude of the people who have to work in this country. The men who do not stand up to that ought not to be in charge of a washing machine, let alone a war machine.
It is, therefore, essential for us this winter to see that our people are kept in spiritual good health. That is why the Government must consider, in their attitude towards coal rationing, not whether hardships are necessary or unnecessary, but whether the people can be convinced that they are necessary. They must consider morale. They must go out for equity. The Minister said that people with large cellars had been encouraged to build up stocks because he would then have transport facilities available which he can use to see that the poor people are supplied 1161 with coal. But the difficulty is that the well-to-do man with a large cellar will be certain of his coal. It is the poor who will be uncertain of theirs in such circumstances as that. That is why the Government have to consider that it may be necessary to introduce compulsory rationing if it is only in order to convince the people that the coal available is being equitably distributed. I beg and implore the House to try to live up to some sense of its responsibility. There are over 200 Members of the House directly concerned in administration of one kind or another, either having jobs or sweating on the top line for jobs. The result is that the Executive has been allowed to make muddle after muddle and to have escape after escape, because the back-bench Private Members do not realise that they are as much responsible for carrying this war to a successful conclusion as the Government themselves. When the Private Member knows that a mistake has been made he should punish the Government fearlessly and patriotically. If men are to be asked to sacrifice their lives in France or Libya, we ought to be able to sacrifice our chances of promotion in the House of Commons. We ought to take political risks if they take physical risks. The reason we are facing this winter with a coal shortage is that the House of Commons itself has failed to live up to the high traditions set by representative government in Great Britain.
§ Captain Duncan (Kensington, North)
The hon. Member for Rothwell (Mr. Brooks) made a maiden speech to-day. Though I have been in this House for seven years, I have been away from it for so long that I feel exactly like the hon. Member for Rothwell. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan), whose bright, brilliant and breezy orations I always appreciate, made, I think, one error of fact, and perhaps of taste, to which I would like to call his attention. In effect, he said that the average Welsh miner was not keen to join the Army. He said that in his postbag he had many letters asking that they should be released from the Army, but not letters from men asking that they should be allowed to join the Army.
§ Mr. Bevan
I am sure that the hon. and gallant Member will acquit me of appearing to suggest that South Wales miners are less concerned in fighting this war than anyone else, but he must recognise that we now have conscription in this 1162 country, and men are waiting to be sent for, and to suggest that men are straining at the recruiting depots to join the Army is a falsification of the real situation.
§ Captain Duncan
That is one of the points I was going to make, but I think it was not very fair either to Welsh or Durham or Scottish miners to say that they did not want to go into the Army. I have had some experience with a Welsh Territorial Battalion, and a keener lot of fellows I have never seen. I think it spoiled an otherwise interesting and brilliant speech to make such a remark, which, at least, led to a misunderstanding.
The hon. Member has called attention on more than one occasion to the lack of "guts" in the House of Commons. I noticed that when using that expression he did not address either you, Mr. Speaker, or this side of the House, but turned to his own party. That amused me at the time and perhaps his remarks were primarily addressed to those sitting on that side of the House. He also used in relation to the Lord President of the Council the expression "verbal adventure." I am now going to undertake a verbal adventure, and I hope the hon. Member will not sneer at me. I do not want to say anything about rationing, except that the amount of the shortage, as I understand it, is in accordance with the calculations made by the hon. Baronet the Member for Norwich (Sir G. Shakespeare): that we are only five per cent. short of our needs and that therefore rationing, in his opinion, is not necessary. I would add that this five per cent. shortage is not a shortage covering the whole area. The shortage is only to be anticipated during, possibly, two months. To impose a complete system of rationing, involving the employment of a large number of civil servants, an enormous number of coupons and forms, and much checking, for the sake of a five per cent. shortage during two months is something that the Government must avoid at all costs. If rationing is forced upon us then, judging from my postbag at the time of the Debates in May and June, I shall have to retire from the Army, at least temporarily, to act as a liaison between my constituents and the Divisional Coal Officer in order to see that my constituents get some form of justice.
1163 My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin Division (Mr. Colegate) referred to the release of soldiers from the Army. I hope that this is not purely an Army problem. These releases should come equally from the other Services. The Army seems to be getting it in the neck at the expense of the other fighting Services which probably have miners in them who could be released. The margin is certainly too small for safety and I press for the release of men from the Services.
I would follow up what my hon. Friend said about the method of release. He is right in what he said about the average commanding officer. When the officer gets a demand from the War Office asking for the return of miners or underground workers that officer cannot be expected to pick out the battery sergeant-major, a platoon sergeant or a tradesman from a tradesmen's unit, if he can help it. He will try to lose the least important soldiers rather than the more important, and I have every sympathy with him. The second method suggested by my hon. Friend seems to have in it the germs of the right way of doing it. The collieries should submit to the military authorities through the Ministry of Fuel and Power the names of men who were actually at the coalface. One can leave out the Ministry of Labour, at any rate for the time. The military authorities could then get into direct touch with the officer in charge of the records of the men concerned and there would be no need to go to their units at all. If the men in question are in this country and are not above the rank of sergeant-major they should be released. It would be a pity to keep the selections down to privates and corporals. Many men who were Territorials in South Wales have been in the Army for two or three years, and have probably reached the rank of sergeant or battery sergeant-major. To refuse them total release and to leave total release to privates, who are, perhaps, not such efficient soldiers or such efficient coalface workers, would not be right.
I would like to see the War Office lay it down that, providing the men in question were not serving abroad or mobilising for overseas, they should be released, without any restriction of rank. In that way, the Army would contribute its quota towards the number of men required to provide the needed reinforcements. I 1164 do not believe that this should be more than a temporary measure. Have the Government made any inquiry to find out what the Germans are doing in this matter? Are they on the point of releasing soldiers, say from 1st November to 1st April, for war work in their own munitions works and the mines? I do not know, but I imagine they may be. Why should we be too proud to copy the enemy when they do something sensible? Would it not be possible, therefore, to take a certain number of men—I do not mind what the figure is provided it is one which the Ministry of Fuel and Power is satisfied will meet the need—split it up among the Services and say that those men will be released from 1st November to 1st April. Neither the unit nor the Ministry of Labour need be asked. It can be done directly between the Ministry of Fuel and Power and the War Office. If that is done I believe it will ensure that additional fuel which is vitally necessary, judging from the Minister's speech and the statements of other Ministers, and answers to Questions in this House.
What is the position? The figures given at the last Sitting by my right hon. Friend the Minister show that he is 11,000,000 tons short. He said that he was doing various things which he hoped would just about balance the figures—by increased production, decreased consumption and so forth. Has he allowed in these calculations, first, for a long cold winter? I admit that last winter was a cold, long winter, but that does not mean we shall not have another one. Has he allowed for renewed bombing and the disruption of transportation—because the bombing of 1942–3 by the Germans will probably be more severe than the bombing of 1940–41? Certainly the British bombing of Germany is very much more effective now than it was then. Has he allowed for an epidemic? Hon. Members will remember the influenza epidemic of the last war, which carried off a number of people and caused a great deal of disruption in munitions and in other ways. It is just for people affected in these ways and particularly children, that extra heat must be available. Has he allowed for the difference in the quality of coal? I understand that now one has to take what coal one can get, not the coal one has been accustomed to having, not the coal one necessarily likes. That very often 1165 means that the coal burns quickly and that what coal one had last year, which lasted for a certain time, may not last so long now. Therefore consumption, both domestic and industrial, may be higher than it was.
Has the Minister allowed for the opening of another, front? Supposing this front is in France; I speak hypothetically without any knowledge of what our Army is doing. But suppose for instance another front—I particularly do not want to use the term "second front"—was opened in France, does anybody imagine that the Germans would leave the coal mines in the North of France working, that they would leave any coal for the French population? Not if they could help it. We should have to supply coal not only for our own troops in France but for the civil population of any part of that country we freed. If we took Norway, Belgium, or Holland the same thing would happen there. We must allow for a very considerable amount of export coal to any part of a country which we intend to free from the enemy. Lastly, has my right hon. and gallant Friend allowed for the possible necessity of exporting coal to Russia? I have no idea what the present coal position of Russia is, but she has certainly lost all the Don coal for the time being, and to keep her industries going it may well be necessary to export coal to Russia. It sounds an extraordinary thing to do, but we might have to do it.
Have all these allowances been made in considering our reserves and our estimates of production and estimates of consumption? I very much doubt whether proper allowance has been made in my right hon. and gallant Friend's calculations. Perhaps because I am a Scotsman I want to be on the safe side and I believe that it will be necessary for additional man-power to be introduced into the mines. I make the suggestion that the men in the Services should be brought back and I have suggested the method by which they should toe brought back. What I have said to-day is not meant to be an attack upon my right hon. and gallant Friend at all. I wish to congratulate him upon the speech he made and I hope and pray that his prognostications will prove correct. I confess I am anxious and if he, too, is anxious, I hope he will consider what I have said. Let him say, "I must have these Service 1166 men." If he loses before the War Cabinet, I hope he will resign, and come to this House and say why he has resigned. Then the House of Commons will have something genuine to go on, to support the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, and will have a real chance of showing that it has "guts."
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
We have now reached the concluding stages of a Debate which has lasted two days and I want to try to crystallise the issues which are before the House and the nation, in order that we may get from the Lord President a definite reply to the questions which have been asked, here and outside. Let me begin by referring to an aspect of this problem which has been mentioned in almost every speech. If it has not been referred to by actual statement, it has been implicit. I think we all feel some sense of guilt that in this country, of all countries in the world, we should be faced with the problem of a coal shortage. Proportionate to the size and the population of the country, we are the richest country in the world in coal supplies. We have every kind of coal, of every quality. Not only have we an abundant supply of coal, but, fortunately for us, it is so well distributed that I do not think, speaking at a venture, there is a single town in the country which is more than 60 miles from a pit. Yet we are confronted with a shortage, and we may face a grave shortage in the coming winter. I would say only one or two words about responsibility. Neither I nor any of my colleagues will be afraid to accept any responsibility for any shortcoming that is proved to be due to ourselves, or to our men, but fundamental responsibility for the present position cannot be laid at our door.
I will only refer to the tragic story of the mess we made of the coalmining industry in the 20 years between the two wars. We allowed 1,000 pits to be closed and 500,000 men to be thrown on the scrap heap. We could do with some of those pits and some of those men now. I hope that the lesson of this Debate will go deep into the consciousness of this nation when we come to settle the postwar Britain. Even with the tragic story of the 20 years between the two great wars, we began this war with an industry which, if it had been kept intact, would have seen us through. 1167 We began the war with an industry which was supplying not only all we needed in the country but a surplus which we were exporting to other countries, and which, while doing that, had a reservoir of unemployed waiting to be employed. Then came 1940, the collapse of France, the entry of Italy into the war, and the industry was allowed to disintegrate. Let me say in plain collier's language that the final responsibility for allowing the industry to disintegrate is the responsibility of the Government. It is not the responsibility of the industry on one side or the other, but the responsibility of the Government. The Government must have known in 1940 that the capacity of the industry then would be required to see it through this war. Surely they knew that, and if they did not know some one must have slipped up very badly. They must have known it and the responsibility is to be fairly placed upon the Government.
I would remind the Lord President of the Council that in the early spring of 1941, he met and discussed this problem with the representatives of the industry. By that time the Lord President of the Council and the Government had definitely fixed in their minds, by Cabinet decision, presumably what was described as the target figure of output required to maintain the whole of the production of this nation and to provide sufficient and ample fuel for domestic purposes, and for some measure of essential export at that time. The Lord President of the Council, accompanied by the President of the Board of Trade, and my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell), then Secretary for Mines, went to the industry and said, "This is the target of what we shall need as a nation." The industry was asked whether it could provide the target. The Lord President of the Council will remember that both sides of the industry said that they could do so only on condition that they got more man-power.
Therefore, in the early months of 1941, in response to a question from the Government to the industry, "Can you produce this target figure?" the industry said, "Yes, we can, but not with the existing man power but only with increased man-power." The point is that increased man-power has not been given 1168 to the industry and the industry cannot be expected to fulfil the Government's target, if what is taken by both sides to be adequate man-power is not forthcoming. However we may juggle and talk about absenteeism, in any case the responsibility is that of the Government, and they have no right to put it upon the miners or anybody else. Everyone who has spoken in this Debate has prefaced his remarks by expressing good will towards the Minister and, although I have done so before, in my constituency as well as in this House, I also want to join in those expressions. I would speak to him in collier's language, as he is now something of a collier, who has been given an "abnormal place" in which to work. I would say to him, "I do not think you will earn the minimum unless you get allowances and I do not think you will get allowances unless you get something which my hon. Friend the Member for Gower did not get, namely, the full backing of the other members of the Government who really decide policy." I wish the Minister good luck. He will need it. All I hope is that he will be given power to do his job properly, a power which was obviously withheld from my hon. Friend the Member for Gower.
I want to speak in plain terms about the statement the Minister made to-day. As I understand it he has accepted responsibility for seeing that this country gets through the winter without a grievous coal shortage. He has accepted responsibility for wiping out the 11,000,000 tons deficit, with the existing man-power and with the aid of voluntary restrictions. Well, speaking as one who has some knowledge of this industry I warn him that I do not think it is in his own interests and, what is more important, in the interests of the country, that he should accept that responsibility. I myself would not accept that responsibility nor do I think would other Members who, perhaps, for the moment, know more about the industry than he does. It is not merely a question of how best we can save coal. The important thing is that if there is a coal shortage, saving must be such that it is in fact as well as in appearance, a saving that is equitable as between all people in the country. Quite frankly, I do not believe that by the method of voluntary reduction of consumption, that can be done.
I warn the Minister that a coal shortage will be bad enough but it will be much 1169 worse if there is a feeling that some people are getting all the fires they want, while others are suffering. The Minister has said that there is to be some restriction on stocking, but that people who can afford it will be permitted to buy three tons of anthracite. Well, I would not mind going through the hardest winter with three tons of anthracite, provided I had the equipment to use it. I believe that, already, there are clear indications that we begin this winter with our coal reserve ill-distributed among the people of this country. If to that is added a coal shortage which places a great burden on our people, then the Minister is accepting a responsibility which I would not care to accept.
The Government ought now to introduce a compulsory rationing scheme. Is coal sacrosanct? We ration food. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman was for two years Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food, and we all admired the way in which he tackled food questions. He did not tackle them by having a wordy "battle of food" over the wireless every day; he tackled them by organising rationing and making sure that everybody got his ration before anyone got more than his ration. That ought to be done with fuel. Everybody knows that in June rationing was abandoned not for economic reasons, not because of difficulties about the rationing scheme; the Leader of the House, I thought, shattered completely the objections put forward and made an unanswerable case for the scheme which the Government had accepted. We know that the abandon-men of rationing in June was the sacrifice of the nation's need to political prejudice. All I hope is that the Minister will not accept the responsibility this winter of allowing a matter of that kind to be determined by political prejudice, but that he will determine it by the need of the nation. The need is that whatever is available in coal shall be fairly distributed and that the poor people who have one fire shall be left completely alone until all the others have been touched first.
The Minister has accepted the responsibility of seeing that that part of the gap which cannot be made up by savings by voluntary methods is filled by the industry by increased production with existing man-power. I speak as a miner. Let us assume that half of the total amount, 5,500,000 tons, is the part of the gap which the mining industry, with existing 1170 man-power, is expected to make up. As a miner, I say honestly and sincerely that I would not accept that responsibility. I will tell the Minister why. One of the things about which we must not make a mistake when talking of existing man-power in the industry is that man-power in the industry is not a fixed figure. It it subject to more changes by wastage than the man-power of any other industry. When the right hon. and gallant Gentleman accepted that responsibility, I do not know what was in his mind about wastage. In the Debate in June, figures were given by the Government which have not been corrected by anyone since, and therefore, we may assume that they are still correct. It was stated then that prior to June, over some months, the wastage in the industry was at the rate of 600 a week and that the intake was 200 a week, so that there was a net loss to the industry of 400 men a week. As long as those figures remain, we are, in effect, losing a pit of 1,200 men a month. Are those figures still correct? Are we still losing 600 men a week by wastage? Is the intake still 200 men? Are we, therefore, still losing a pit every month? If those are still the facts, does the Minister still accept the responsibility of filling the gap with existing man-power? If so, I say to him as a friend, as a Welshman, as one who represents a neighbouring county in this House, that he is accepting a responsibility, placed upon him by the Government, which I believe, in the interests of the nation as well as himself, he ought not to accept.
Let me say a word or two about existing man-power even after the wastage is made up. A great deal has been said about the problem of mining output. I lived and worked in the mining industry throughout the last war. I have been trying to recall my experiences of the last war and comparing my experiences in conversations with men in the industry with whom I am in close touch. I have realised from the beginning that you cannot sustain the individual output at a given level throughout the war. I believe you have to work upon the assumption—it is dangerous to work upon any other—that during the war the output per man employed will, all the time, fall. In enslaved Germany the output per manshift has steeply declined. It is bound to fall still more because man-power 1171 gets older all the time, particularly because of the wastage problem to which I have referred. If a Member of Parliament, or someone in a sedentary job, becomes a year older it does not mean a great deal, for some time anyway, but when you become a year older in the pits, it does mean a great deal, and when you become a year older after 45 it means more still. It is the bulk of the men—not the tiny majority who are absentees—who will pull you through. We are making calls upon them. Let the House remember something for which it is responsible. These men began the war with 20 years of poverty behind them. They are obviously weaker. How could they be stronger, having regard to their experience? I want hon. Members to think all the time of these men aged about 45. I know them. They are my generation. They are fine fellows. But even with the best conditions you cannot expect them to sustain their individual output. They are now being called upon to produce coal in new conditions of mechanised mining. There are clear signs that the inadequacy of their diet, related to the work they have to perform, is already beginning to be felt. To pin our faith entirely to the men in the industry is to place a responsibility upon it that it ought not to carry. That is a further reason why men must be brought back.
May I say a word about absentees? Miners are not angels. If they were, they would not be miners, anyhow. Of course, there are bad ones amongst them, and good ones too. One thing we have to bear in mind is that we should not give the impression, when talking of the bad ones, that we are "getting at" the good ones. That is very important psychologically. I know that this is a problem, and I am not going to hide behind it. I know that there is absenteeism in the mines which is voluntary, but I think it can be remedied. It is a difficult problem. I have discussed it with the President of the Miners' Federation, the Secretary of the Federation, the President of my own South Wales organisation and with many people concerned with the industry. I did not object to the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Colegate) reading that letter from Ebby Edwards. It was a letter to the men asking them to do their all for this effort. The hon. Gentleman is connected 1172 with the coalowners. I wonder whether he could read a letter from them to the managers asking them to co-operate with the men. It is significant that there has not been a word from them. The appeal in the letter to the men was one that I myself made to a meeting of miners in South Wales this week-end. I confess that I am in a difficulty about these young men. They are a problem. They are sometimes cynical. They are the children of a depression, reared on the dole, thrown on the scrap heap, and allowed to rust. When you ask them to respond to the nation's call they tell you in plain colliery language which I will not repeat here, "What did the nation think of us in 1935?" We cannot throw the young unemployed miner on the dole and the street and avoid reaping the harvest. We are reaping the harvest in the cynicism of the young to-day for what we did to them then.
This is a problem that requires careful handling. Someone has suggested that we should deal with it by de-reserving the young men and putting them into the Army. I do not think that has any terrors for them. For many of them the pit is a greater terror than the Army. I have made a suggestion to two bodies of miners to whom I spoke this week-end, and I want to make it to the Minister. I said to the older miners, "The best way to handle this problem is for you to handle it. Get these young men together, talk to them and make them feel that unless they rise to the occasion they will lose caste with their fellow men." It should be remembered that this is a problem of only a minority, and a small minority, and that there still remains the problem of the main body of the men. In saying that I will say, too, that I do not think the House ought to accept responsibility. I would not accept it. I do not think my hon. Friend the Member for Gower with his two years' experience at the Ministry would want to accept it, and I do not want the Minister to accept the responsibility of seeing the nation through this winter. We may not be as fortunate this winter as we were last. My hon. Friend who preceded me was right in saying that last winter and the winter before we were fortunate in the incidence of sickness. We may not be so fortunate this winter, and I am sure that the Minister's advisers will tell him that if there is an epidemic of sickness and influenza particularly it 1173 would definitely be due to the need of coal at home. We may not be so fortunate in other things. We may not be so fortunate in transport. Bearing in mind all these things, I say that the Minister is making a mistake in accepting the responsibility he has accepted. I say to the Lord President of the Council that the Government are not fair with the new Minister in asking him to accept that responsibility. There must be an infusion of new man-power into this industry. I do not suggest whether the men should come from the Army or from industry, but they must be found. They are available. At this moment they can render this nation a greater service in the mines than anywhere else, and unless we can get someone to render that service grave difficulties will arise.
Opening the Debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham said something which I wish to supplement. I wish to see the machinery set up, but the real test of that machinery will be the pit production committees. The rest of the great structure of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will be merely a piece of expensive apparatus if those committees do hot operate properly. If this scheme is to succeed, shall I tell the right hon. and gallant Gentleman who the key man will be in the pit? We discussed this matter very strongly not long ago, and I urged him, and urge him still, to keep an open mind about it. If the scheme is to work, the key to it all will be to make the colliery manager an employee of the State, so as to remove the dual loyalty the manager now has to the Controller and to the owner. Many managers in South Wales, through the Colliers Managers' Association, have decided that they will not attend pit production committees. I will not say more about that point at the moment, because I do not know all the details, but I would observe that obviously it is a matter that ought to be looked into. If we can get a partnership in the mines it will go a long way to solving our difficulties.
I would add one final word. The Minister said, by implication, when in my constituency, if not by plain statement, to the miners of the country, "This control by the State is not a temporary thing; it is a permanent thing." Without any disrespect to him, I would say that the miners still fear that at the end of this war they will be double-crossed—[An 1174 HON. MEMBER: "That is right."]—as at the end of the last war. I hope that the Lord President of the Council will say to the miners to-day, in making the appeal that we all make to them, "Stand by this nation now, and, on behalf of the Government, the House and the nation, I tell the miners that the nation will stand by you in the days that are to come."
§ The Lord President of the Council (Sir John Anderson)
I rise at this late stage in the Debate to deal with one aspect only of the coal problem. It is a very important aspect, but it is still only part of the problem. It is the question of man-power. I propose to deal with it from the point of view, not of the use being made in the industry of the man-power available, but from the point of view of the man-power that is, or can be made, available. A great many vigorous, forceful and sincere speeches have been made in the Debate in which this important question of man-power has been dealt with. I think the impression left upon hon. Members by those speeches is that I have a very formidable case to answer. It would, indeed, be an unanswerable case if it were not for one fact, which is that practically every speech was based upon a fundamental misapprehension so far as the facts of the situation are concerned in the matter of man-power. I will proceed to give figures to establish my point. Before, however, I come to the figures I would like to say a word or two about the policy followed by the Government during the past 2 or 2½ years in this matter. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckrose (Major Braithwaite), in the course of the Debate last week, said:The Government and the Lord President of the Council … 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st October, 1942; col. 1023, Vol. 383.]My hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) said something to the effect that it was unflattering to the policy and powers of organisation of the Government that there should have been at one stage a surplus of man-power and at another stage a deficiency, and my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) said the Government must have known the facts in 1940. The Government did know the facts in 1940. There is no 1175 reason for anyone to offer an apology for the action that was taken then. As the result of the collapse of France and the loss of many foreign markets for coal there was a surplus of coal production. Men were idle, men were being stood off, because production had reached saturation point. They were clamouring to be allowed to go elsewhere. Their anxiety was very natural. It was supported by hon. Members of this House, and my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham may remember that in September, 1940, he said this, in the form of a Question:Will the Minister make further inquiries with regard to the removal of the present restrictions on alternative employment, because many men are complaining that although they have been permitted by colliery managers to seek employment in munition works, when they go there they are sent back by the Employment Exchanges."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th September, 1940; col. 172, Vol. 365.]The Government were pressed very hard indeed at that time to set the men free from the coal mining industry for other work, and their services were in great demand. They had the skill, the experience and the capacity that were greatly needed in our developing munition industry.
§ Sir J. Anderson
Very natural. I am not making any complaint. All I am saying is that the Government ought not to be criticised—
§ Mr. Shinwell
The fact is that we did press at the same time—after Dunkirk—for the stocking of coal, when there was a surplus of coal. It was only because the Government did not adopt the stocking policy that we had to direct attention to the fact that so many men were out of employment.
§ Sir J. Anderson
The stocking policy was adopted, but it took time to get it into operation. I am addressing myself to the criticism that the Government let things slide, and did not know what they were doing. I am trying to point out that the Government took a very firm control over the situation.
§ Mr. Grenfell
I spoke in the House on 5th September, 1940, and I suggested that the instruction which had been issued by the Minister of Labour on 10th June should be relaxed to allow miners temporarily to take employment else-where, 1176 on condition that they would come back to the pits when they were called.
§ Sir J. Anderson
The last thing I want is to be at issue with my hon. Friend. I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for the observations he made during his speech last week about our association together in dealing with this matter. I was addressing myself to a rather different point, the suggestion that we allowed men to drift away uncontrolled into the Army in circumstances which made it quite impossible to get them back. [An HON. MEMBER: "Well, you did."] Let me proceed. I will deal with all these points. I claim that in 1940 the situation was closely controlled.
§ 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."—[Mr. Pym.]
§ Sir J. Anderson
The age of reservation, which had been 18, was only raised several months after Dunkirk, after due deliberation, and the movement of men into the Army and the other Services was very closely controlled. There never was at any time a great drift of men into the Army. The bulk of the miners in the Army were in the Territorial Force or were Reservists and were called up at the very beginning. In the action taken in 1940 the Government kept in the closest touch with both sides of the industry, and the raising of the age and the permission given to the men to go into munitions were all decisions taken in close consultation with the representatives of the mineowners and the miners' leaders. Actually, as I once said in a previous Debate, there was no man-power problem in the sense of a threatened deficiency of man-power in the coalmining industry in 1940. It first became a problem, as my hon. Friend will recall, early in 1941, and the Government then took stock of the situation. The Mines Department raised the question of the release of men. The attitude of the War Cabinet was that a release of men to an industry subject to a continual drain in wastage which is very serious, was only a palliative—it could give only a temporary relief, and should not be resorted to until the possibility of permanent remedies had been fully explored.
§ The whole question was gone into then by the Government with my hon. Friend's Department, and it was decided that there should be a release of men, not from the Services, but from industry—the munitions industries, as well as other sections of industry—to the mines. That policy was adopted and was entirely successful so far as 1941 was concerned. My hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly spoke of the conversations I and my colleagues had with certain representatives of the industry early in 1941. He said the industry made it quite clear that the target that had been fixed could only be reached if more men were brought into the industry. That was done. Thirty-three thousand men were returned in 1941 to the coalmining industry, and the process of return was only stopped when it became clear that the industry could not absorb any more.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
It is true that 33,000 were returned to the industry, but when the industry put its needs to the right hon. Gentleman it was clear that they intended an increase over the existing man-power, and, as he knows, the 33,000 were substantially taken up in replacing labour.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I really have not time to go in detail into the figures. The fact is that the Government could have released more men to the industry in 1941 if the industry had been in a position to absorb them. The process was stopped for several months, and was resumed only in 1942. I am giving the actual facts. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) asked me not to indulge in verbal adventures but to give precise information, and that is what I am doing.
§ Sir J. Anderson
Nevertheless, it remains the fact. In 1942 we looked into the position afresh, and we decided that the process of return of men from other industries to the mines should be resumed, and that men should be returned also from the Services, but not from the Field Force. The actual proposals of the Government were set out in the White Paper, which was approved by this House. The results achieved were an improvement on the White Paper. In the White Paper we said that we would secure the release of 6,500 men from the Army, 1178 1,300 from the Air Force, and 3,500 from industry and Civil Defence—in addition to the 33,000 released in the previous year. The actual number of men released was 16,500—over 8,000 from the Army, 1,200 from the Air Force, and no fewer than 7,300 from industry and Civil Defence. I claim that the whole position was handled throughout by the Government carefully and methodically. Now I come to deal with the present situation. It is here that I have to call attention to certain fundamental misapprehensions which are prevalent in all quarters of this House apparently, and in the country.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I am going on with the question of release from industry and from the Army. I have dealt so far with what has happened.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
How many of the 16,000 men were actual coalface workers? The other chaps are no good in the pits.
§ Sir J. Anderson
The hon. Member will find that practically all who were released from the Services were underground workers, and that a very high proportion—more than one-half—of those released from industry were coalface workers, Let me come to the present position. There seems to be an impression that there is a great untapped reservoir of skilled mining labour available in industry or in the Services. That is very far indeed from being the case. Take the position in industry. The number of ex-miners registered at the Employment Exchanges in July, 1941, was 105,000, of whom 65,000 were face workers, 22,000 other underground workers, 9,200 surface workers, and 8,000 tradesmen. Those are precise figures. The number, out of the 105,000, who had reported back to the mines up to 19th September of this year was 40,319. Practically all the remainder are unfit or otherwise unsuitable. There were, however, a certain number kept back because of the high importance of the work on which they were engaged. The number so kept back was approximately 22,000. All these cases have been 1179 individually reviewed. Of the 22,000, the Government decided that 5,000 were engaged on work of such vital national importance that they ought to remain where they were. Of the remaining 17,000, 14,000 were found, after examination, to be unfit.
§ Sir J. Anderson
They were adjudged unfit after careful examination of all the circumstances—physically unfit.
§ Mr. Shinwell
They may be unfit for facing, but they may be fit for other kinds of underground work.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I can only give here information derived from other sources, but my information is that they were judged unfit for work underground.
§ Sir J. Anderson
Yes, work underground. Of the 3,000 remaining out of the 22,000, after this process of winnowing, 2,300 have been directed back to the mine—they are included in the 40,000 I have already mentioned. There remain 1,000 cases which are still under consideration. That is the position as regards ex-miners in industry. These are the facts. Members will see them in the OFFICIAL REPORT. They can be scrutinised and criticised.
Let me now pass to the position in the Services, which is equally interesting. Several hon. Members, my bon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Cole-gate) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Kensington (Captain Duncan), represented in practical speeches to the Government that the proper course was not for the Army to be asked to make a selection of miners to come back but for the industry to make the selection, which is exactly what was done. The Mines Department called upon the industry to submit the names of all underground workers in the Forces believed to be still in this country, because it was considered not to be reasonable or right to consider the return of men who were serving overseas with all the difficulties of transportation and so on. Twenty-four thousand names were submitted.
§ Sir J. Anderson
Yes, the whole industry was asked to submit names and 24,000 names were submitted. Just over 8,000 have been released and a further 600 have been earmarked for release.
§ Sir J. Anderson
Most of them have gone overseas. I am going to deal with every aspect. My information to the House is going to be precise and complete. Eight thousand have been, as I said, already released, not from the Field Army, and some 600 have been marked for release and will be released in due course. When you take the balance, deducting those already released from the 24,000, a balance of some 15,000, some have become casualties, some are prisoners of war, some have gone on active service overseas since the list was made up, and others have reached such rank or occupy such key positions in the Army that they cannot be considered for release. One comes down by a careful process of analysis—and it has been gone into in some detail—to a number somewhere in the region of 3,000 or 4,000 who are the most that could be released from those in this country, even drawing upon the Field Army. That is a very different story from the impression created by some of the speeches to which we have listened in the Debate to-day.
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor
When men were released in 1941 they were released for three or six months and then went back into the Services. Are those men included in the figures of release?
§ Mr. Taylor
I did not mean to imply that there was any trick, but the fact is that I have had letters from lads who were released from the Services for six months and have now gone back and who would like to get into the pits again.
§ Sir J. Anderson
The figures are perfectly straightforward. We come, as I have said, to the balance of 3,000 or 4,000 men representing the greatest number of men who could be released from the Services if the War Cabinet were prepared to adopt the policy of drawing from the Field Army.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I have dealt with the Army, because, obviously, theirs is the biggest part of the problem. There is no reason to suppose that in the Air Force the figures would not be exactly comparable.
§ Mr. Foster (Wigan)
Is the Minister inferring that there are only 3,000 or 4,000 miners in the Army?
§ Sir J. Anderson
No, Sir, I said that the industry was asked to give the names of underground workers known to be in the Army and known to be in this country.
§ Sir J. Anderson
A large proportion of the miners were in the Territorial Army or were Reservists and, naturally, were among the first to go overseas. The Cabinet, after very careful consideration of the whole position, have decided that it would be a wrong policy at this moment to draw upon the Field Army. We do not intend to say to members of a battle unit that fighting is not the most important rôle of any member of such a unit. Units have been organised and have been made ready for despatch overseas, and we do not intend to cut into them. But that does not mean that there can be no fresh blood, no infusion of new blood into the mines—
§ Sir J. Anderson
What I am saying, on behalf of the War Cabinet, is that after the most careful consideration we have decided that we will not draw upon the Field Army for this purpose.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I have made it clear that if the decision were otherwise the contribution that would be made to the coal problem would not be anything like so great as most people have imagined, but, apart altogether from the size of the contribution, we have decided as a matter of principle that we will not do so, and I will tell the House why. We have reached such a position in the general man-power situation of the country now 1182 that the accounts no longer balance. Demands for man-power, added together, exceed the supply. There must be a general cutting down. The principle of equal sacrifice must be applied. The various industries will have to make their own contributions. When battle casualties come along, as we must expect, they will have to be met, as in the last war, by drawing upon the resources of vital industries. The aircraft industry and all branches of the munitions industry will have to make their contributions—[An HON. MEMBER: "And Government Departments"]—and Government Departments. Agriculture was called upon early this year to contribute 10,000 men. We were told it could not be done, yet it was done. The Government stood by the position they had taken up, and agriculture has won through.
This is a very serious matter, and I ask hon. Members to address themselves to this question: "Would it really be right in these circumstances to call upon the Army to release men for the mines, men who would have to be replaced at the expense of other industries?" Would that be right? The Government say, No.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Suppose that we accept the right hon. Gentleman's statement—and obviously we cannot argue with him on the figures—where does it lead? We cannot get the production; therefore, we have to conserve our resources by rationing.
§ Sir J. Anderson
Hon. Members are quite able to draw their own conclusions. I have been addressing myself to one particular question in an endeavour to make the situation as clear as plain statements of fact can make it. I hope I have succeeded. My hon. Friend the Member for Seaham asks where this leads us. I will say in a moment where I think it leads us, but I would like first to make one observation. I sincerely believe that in our endeavour to impress everyone concerned with the urgency of the matter, we have been handicapped by two things. The first is by the statements that are constantly being made contrasting coal with food, which has to 1183 be imported. This country, it is said, has vast amounts of coal. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale made some jocular observations on the subject. Coal, it is said, is under our feet in vast quantities. That is a most misleading thing to say. Coal in the bowels of the earth is not the same thing as coal in a yard or cellar.
§ Sir J. Anderson
It is constantly used. The other thing is the impression that somewhere or other, there are great reserves of man-power which, if only the Government were not so pig-headed, could easily be drawn upon and which would solve the problem of the industry straight away. I do hope we shall hear no more on either of those points. Perhaps I am top optimistic, but I wish that hon. Members and everyone who is dealing with any aspect of this problem would look at the thing realistically and would be careful not to say anything likely to be misleading. The hon. Member for Llanelly, who speaks with great earnestness and cogency on these subjects, and the hon. Member for Seaham, put it to me, "Where does this lead us?" In my view, it leads to this, that the declared policy of His Majesty's Government in this matter, a policy which was approved by this House not long ago, has got to stand, and we must ask all concerned to give their wholehearted support to my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power, who is applying himself to these problems with so much vigour and sincerity of purpose.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down, will he address himself to a matter which, I am sure, is uppermost in the minds of hon. Members, particularly after what he has said? If we cannot get the man-power—and we must accept what he says for purposes of argument—and if we are to rely entirely on the present organisation, how does he propose that we can overcome the gap to which the Minister of Fuel and Power referred, and what are the existing stocks that will enable us to overcome that gap?
§ Sir J. Anderson
I did not set out to deal with those aspects. My right hon. and gallant Friend dealt with that matter. There was a general desire expressed that 1184 a member of the War Cabinet should deal with the man-power situation, which is obviously not fully within my right hon. and gallant Friend's purview.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
The Minister of Fuel and Power has accepted a responsibility that he will bridge the gap of 11,000,000 tons by voluntary savings and existing man-power. Are the Government satisfied that that can be done?
§ Sir J. Anderson
We are satisfied that it can be done for this winter with good will all round. It will not be done beyond this winter.
§ Mr. Bevan
How many coalface workers have been sent abroad since the middle of last year and are now engaged in the various battle fronts who could have been sent back to the mines if they were in this country? Furthermore, what is the use of using shipping to bring large numbers of soldiers from overseas who remain idle in the country whereas it could be used to bring colliers back?
§ Sir J. Anderson
With regard to the first part of the question, I could not give the figures without notice. I should have thought the latter part of the question was going rather beyond the scope of the discussion.
§ Mr. Bevan
Does not that mean that the miners, by a deliberate act of Government policy, have been made inaccessible to them at the very time when they are needed to produce coal? When they could have been producing coal they were used as soldiers, and now that they are wanted as miners they have to remain soldiers. That is a masterpiece of Government strategy.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
Is the Minister aware that the Government's policy is preparing a crisis? The fathers, wives and brothers of miners in the Army will strenuously resist the idea that anyone is going to live in their houses while their own brothers or sons are with the Fighting Forces. That is producing resentment all over the country.
§ Mr. Grenfell
On the right hon. Gentleman's own figures 105,000 ex-miners were identified in industry in July last year, and there were estimated to be 65,000 in the Forces. We asked for the return of 50,000 men at that time, but fewer than 50,000 have come back—less 1185 than a third of the miners known to be in the country last year. Will not the Government at this late hour undertake to look at this again and see whether they cannot find 20,000 men in industry and in the Forces who can come back?
§ Sir J. Anderson
It is not quite accurate to say that fewer than 50,000 have come back. The number who have come back from industry and from the Services is as nearly as possible 50,000. 1186 The Government have already very carefully gone into the position—the hon. Gentleman knows with what care these matters are gone into—with the results that I have stated.
§ Mr. Shinwell
In view of all the circumstances and the very unsatisfactory position, we may require to raise this matter again.
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn" put, and agreed to.