Motion made and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £90 be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1944, for the salaries and expenses of the Ministry of Fuel and Power."—[Note.— £10 has been voted on account]
§ Mr. David Grenfell (Gower)
I welcome this opportunity of discussing the situation in the coal industry and the supply and distribution of coal. We have been concerned with this subject for nearly four years, and I had an oppor- 1179 tunity of seeing the problem at close quarters for just over two years when I was Secretary for Mines. I want to assure the Minister and his Department that I have the utmost sympathy with the task that they have in hand, and I want to say one or two things during the course of my speech which I hope will be helpful to them. I regard the problem of the Minister as the most serious problem of the State. Coal and agriculture are rivals in the importance that they occupy in the national economy, but there is one point of difference which I think the Committee and the country should realise. If we fail to achieve our full programme of food production while shipping facilities are present, we can augment our supplies from abroad, but we must produce all the coal that the nation needs in this country. There is no possibility of help and assistance under war conditions from any source. It is wondered sometimes why there is this problem of production in a country that has always been a leader in coal production, a country that has produced for over 100 years coal far in excess of its own requirements. We were at one time in recent years exporting one-third of our production. The Minister himself called attention in a reply which he gave yesterday to the changing figures of production and distribution of our coal supplies.
In the years immediately before the war we were exporting over 20 per cent. of our production. Then came a change to which I must refer, because it is important. We should recognise these changes as they occur. The problem of the Minister of Fuel and Power to-day is not the problem which beset me in 1940 within a few weeks of my advent into office at the Mines Department. The problem then was to find the transport and the markets for the coal which we had in excess production. We had more than enough men. We had more than enough production. Pits were closing down, and our men were standing idle just over three years ago. We had an ample production. There was no gap. There was no shortage. There was no likelihood of shortage in June, July and August of 1940 after the fall of France and the loss of our European markets for coal. There then came something, and it is well to remind ourselves of it. We had a very trying winter in 1940, and a 1180 great deal of organisation and patient adjustment were necessary. We had to exercise patience in regard to the maintenance of man-power, for we had surplus men who wanted to go away. We had pits remaining idle which would be required for production. I say without any claim to an excess of virtue in this matter that I warned everybody concerned that we would want these idle pits brought into production; that we should not disperse the men who were standing idle; that if they were given temporary employment elsewhere they were to be brought back on demand by the mining industry for the man-power that belonged to it. That is a very important thing. The man-power does belong to the mining industry. You cannot substitute it by anything else. These men have been trained for it, and as a short-term expedient the training of alternative supplies of labour is impracticable. It was therefore vitally important that we should have kept our men ready on call to resume their work. We should have refrained from stopping pits and particularly those pits in the exporting areas that had received a very damaging blow by the occupation of friendly countries and of our customers' lands on the Continent of Europe. We must take some credit as a Department. I myself, as the head of the Department for the time being, insisted upon the men in Durham and South Wales being brought back to the exporting pits. We have to take into account that there are pits enough in Durham and South Wales, and there are more men than there would have been had we not exercised some restraint.
One of the things I wish to impress on the Committee once again is that we have not sufficient men now in this industry, and we shall not have sufficient men for the duration of the war. We have to compare our man-power with the task which the industry has to perform. We have barely pit room enough for the tasks ahead. I am handicapped as everybody else is by not knowing how long the war will last or what unknown demands may be made upon us, partly at home and partly abroad. There are war conditions which may make very large demands upon our coal production. In the absence of that information I cannot give figures, but I do give a figure which I gave more than two years ago. It has 1181 appeared in reports. I gave a figure of 720,000. I refuse to move from that figure. I still say that if there had been maintained in the industry roughly 720,000 men in the period that has intervened, there would have been no coal problem. I compared coal with agriculture a little time ago. Much praise, due praise, has been lavished upon agriculture. It has done a marvellous job of work. It has been given facilities and encouraged in every way. I cannot say that that is true of the coal industry. Nobody has seemed to regard the performance of the coal industry in its right proportion, but it has done a great job of work. We have to-day in the industry 704,000 men employed—the latest figure given by the Minister yesterday. That is almost 500,000 fewer than at the end of the last war — a tremendous drop. In the number of men fit for work at the coal face the loss is greater still. We are considerably handicapped by the reduced man-power. It is not merely the numerical decline but the qualitative decline of labour that must be taken into account. We have not sufficient men at the coal face. That has been pointed out over and over again. I warned my colleagues on the Committee on Public Expenditure about the probable shortage ahead. Let me say a word of acknowledgment of their Reports. I know nobody outside the Department that has such a firm grasp of the nature of the problem. I have read their Reports and had the pleasure of giving evidence before them, and I am satisfied that they have understood this problem.
What is the task to-day? Figures have been given, and the Minister said yesterday that output has declined. I am not surprised. I can explain that decline in output in terms of man-power—and not only in terms of man-power. The industry is getting older. It is becoming exhausted in plant and machines; it is tired and therefore less productive. There has been no new equipment in this industry for many years. The industry began the war after a long period of economic attrition. It was beggared. It had jettisoned its capital and its resources in the struggle to maintain production and in competing one unit against another.
The industry started the war very weak. The man-power to-day is 704,000, an exceedingly low figure. That man-power 1182 cannot be relied upon with all the good will in the world to be as good as a manpower which on the average is five or six years younger. It is an ageing personnel. There are men who have stayed too long in the industry for their own efficiency, but they must remain there because we cannot afford to lose them. Our production for last year was roughly 4,000,000 tons less than in the previous year. I am not surprised, and I am sure no blame is attached to the Minister or to the Parliamentary Secretary or to the Mines Department. There is no blame to be attached to individuals. I would like to examine whether our machinery is the best machinery we could devise, but I would like first to be helpful to the Minister in this great job. I think he can help us. He has had much publicity—I will say too much publicity and not the right kind. I say that in no carping spirit. It has bewildered people in the industry. I have been unable to understand some of the allusions which have been made from time to time to the programme of the Ministry. Now the Minister must have an idea of what he wants. He cannot estimate to a fine exactitude what he will require next year, but he must have made some estimate of the needs of production, and I should be very much surprised if the needs of production next year are not greatly in advance of last year's production. If we produced 203,000,000 tons last year, I cannot believe that the Minister, looking ahead, estimates that a production of 203,000,000 tons next year will be enough to maintain his position. His position is being worsened now by loss of production, and the prospects for the future are being clouded by the fact that everything done so far has failed to bring output up to the level which we deem to be necessary.
We are now at the beginning of the fourth stocking period since the war began. We were able to stock a considerable quantity in 1940. If the transport had been available in 1940 we could have put by a very large summer production. We began the winter of 1940–41 with 28,000,000 tons of coal in stock. We began the following winter that of 1941–42 with 31,000,000 tons of coal in stock, and we finished both winters with a stock of 14,000,000 tons. I do not think I shall transgress the rules of confidence and secrecy if I say here to-day, in the presence of hon. and right hon. 1183 Gentlemen who know, that it was deemed that the stock which we actually had in hand a year ago was more than was really necessary. There were people in high places who thought we were carrying too much stocks. I am glad that we carried that 14,000,000 tons. We were above what was taken to be a safe level, but the output has been declining and consumption must increase, and it is in regard to consumption that I say —and I do not blame the Minister—that the reports from the Department have not been so helpful. I have not seen one report of the actual consumption of the last 12 months. I do not know how that consumption has been spread. I do not know the measure of economy which is due to the Ministry and to the action of the committees who are doing such splendid work for the Ministry. I do not know to what extent consumption has been curtailed, or possibly reduced. I do not believe it has been reduced but I am not to be blamed, if I do not know, because nobody tells me. One depends upon what one is told. But I should be surprised if the consumption has been much reduced. If it has been reduced it has been by economies and by the smiling face of Providence which gave us a far warmer winter than we had a right to expect. I estimate the saving due to good weather last winter may have reached the figure of 5,000,000 or 6,000,000 tons. If I am wrong, let us have the correction but I am sure that that has been a substantial saving. We had budgeted each year on a prospective increase of consumption at home at a rate of about 4 per cent. The Minister confirmed that in his speech in October last. He gave figures then showing the increased demand for the production of electricity, for the production of gas and from various other sources. He estimated the scale of increase, the progression in demand, to be at the rate of about 4 per cent. per annum. If that figure stands, and if we get a bad winter and if we have to meet it with a production which is 3,000,000 or 4,000,000 tons less than that of 1941–42, then, I say, nothing but a break-down faces this industry.
This is a very important matter. It is vitally important. We have mobilised the country's man-power and woman-power. The Ministry of Supply has built 1184 factories and set up machines and the Ministry of Labour is taking men and women out to work those machines. Every one of those machines is a coal consumer. Every person who goes to work in war industry requires for each day's work an equivalent daily production of coal from the mines of this country. If we do not produce sufficient coal, the men and women working in the war factories will have to stand idle, and it that happens, there will be something to be said by those men and women themselves, and the country will have something to say to a Government which allows such a thing to take place. It is an awful thing to run that risk unnecessarily, and I say so now because I read a report of a speech made in another place, a very complacent speech, from which I gather that there are to be no more men brought into the industry, that nothing is to be done and that we are to go on next year as we have gone on last year—and this in the light of the fact that production is declining, and that by all the rules we must anticipate a further decline in production, unless something is done for next year.
I think someone ought to bring these matters before the Committee. I have spoken on many occasions on this subject myself, and generally the House of Commons has been kind to me, but some who did not know have criticised. I hardly dared to speak aloud of some of our problems then. There were certain difficulties of transport, due to the special attention which was being paid to this country at that time by the enemy, and these had to be kept more or less secret. But we are now entitled, I submit, to ask the Minister to tell the Committee what he expects to have in the way of production next year. Will he also tell us what does he estimate to be next year's consumption and give us the ground for any change that there may be in that estimate as compared with last year's? When we get that information, then the House of Commons will have been joined with the Minister in whatever responsibility falls upon us. But this House of Commons cannot share the responsibility—I cannot, with all my knowledge of the difficulties and all my sympathy with the Minister and his Department, share the responsibility—unless we know. So I think my first point to-day must be, that we should now take cognisance of what 1185 has taken place, and try to compare the situation of to-day with the situation of last year and of previous years. I say here again, and I say it especially to those who have been too facile critics of the industry, that the years 1940 and 1941 were the best years from a production standpoint, that this country has ever known. Never have so few men produced so much coal as the miners of this country in the years 1940 and 1941. But this qualitative decline to which I have referred must be taken into account. It goes on and is perhaps being accelerated by the passage of every month and every year. Therefore, we must take a really serious view of the prospects and I think the Minister ought to take us all into his full confidence.
I shall leave that part of the subject for the moment, because I want to know something else. In addition to knowing the prospective demand and the manpower which he is budgeting for, I would like the Minister to lift the curtain of secrecy as far as he can and tell us whether he expects to be called upon to increase largely the amount of export coal during the year. I shall be surprised if he is not called upon to do so, and the export coal can be got only from those districts which are producing coal near docks and the places where the ships are loaded. It is vitally important not only that we should have sufficient coal but that it should be produced in the right areas from the point of view of convenience. If more export coal is needed, then greater attention should be paid to the exporting areas, not only from the point of view of the quality of coal but as regards the convenience of its situation. I always dissented from the idea of regional concentration. I was unwilling to run the risk of putting all our eggs into one basket, having all our bags of coal in the same coalfield. It was not safe. There are human problems involved. It is all very easy to work out on paper, doing little sums in arithmetic, stopping so many pits, moving so many men—but we do not get the coal in that way. In the light of the possibility that we shall want export coal I hope the Minister will pay attention to maintaining the utmost production in the exporting areas.
I will come now to the question of accidents, about which I am concerned. I congratulate the Minister and all in his De- 1186 partment; they are all working together, and there has been an improvement. It has been a fortunate year in some ways. I do not know the exact figures, but we are glad to learn that the casualty rate is lower than it was some time ago, and in particular I am glad to find that we are establishing a greater mastery of the situation at the coal face. This is the most dangerous place in a mine, the most dangerous place known in British industry. Not even on the field of battle is there always more danger than there is at the coal face. It is a highly dangerous place.
Some two years ago I consulted the inspectorate and it was decided to appoint nine special inspectors, competent, energetic, keen men from within the inspectorate itself to carry out their duties on a narrower and more limited front than in the case of the ordinary inspectors. They were to give the whole of their attention to the problem of supporting the roof at the coal face. In 12 months the deaths were reduced from an average of 10½ a week at the coal face to about 7½. I do not know whether the improvement has been maintained, but it is a good thing for the country to know that by special supervision three good lives have been saved every week. I have read in technical journals some of the reports of the inspectors who are doing this work, and I wish from the floor of this House and on behalf of the House to congratulate all concerned on having done a job of work that was highly essential.
We have passed into an era of new conditions underground. The rapidity of the processes associated with mechanised mining leaves little time, if the cycle of operations is to be kept up, for the support of the roof immediately behind the men working at the coal face. I am afraid we are tempted sometimes not to finish the packing operations as perfectly as they should be done. We sometimes hurry to get the coal away and neglect the safety of our people. There are special problems, highly technical and apart altogether from questions of personal neglect or indifference, which are being tackled in a way never attempted before. These special inspectors and the Ministry are working with the workmen's inspectors and the officials of the mine; all arc working together and they have been able so far to bring about a very handsome improvement. I hope that improvement will be 1187 maintained by still closer and more constant attention to the safety of the men at the coal face. I shall not say more about the general aspects of the safety question, or I shall be going beyond my time limit, but there is one question connected with safety which I cannot allow to pass. I think we are entitled to know something of what has been done to protect the lives and also to protect the health and the-working capacity of the men, few in number, who are doing a job for which no public thanks have yet been rendered —not one word in Parliament, not one word outside, but sneers and nasty comments about the men, quite unwarranted in the view of anyone who knows anything of the industry.
I must say a word or two about the closing of pits, because that is an important matter. I do not believe that we have pit room enough to allow us to play with pits. We have sunk no pits, we have made no developments, for many years now, and if you close a pit and then wish to reopen it you have not the labour and the materials to-day to do it. Once a pit is closed down it is closed for the duration of the war. Access to it cannot be regained, valuable areas of coal may be lost, and men may lose employment because we carelessly allow a pit to be closed down. In my opinion too many pits have been closed. We must try to examine as a whole the problem of the maintenance of our pit room side by side with the maintenance and reinforcement of manpower. We must see that the pit room does not decrease and that man-power is reinforced if we are to maintain our wartime production. The Minister now has the power to take over the control of mines and I should like to know whether he is finding any difficulty in exercising that control. Can he take over all the mines he would like to take over? I am all for it. I signed the White Paper, and in fact I wrote a large part of the White Paper, and I believe that the power which has been given to the Minister was an indispensable step towards better organisation in war time. Where it is found that production has suffered owing to bad management steps ought to be taken at once to strengthen the management, and if that involves control certainly the Minister should take all the powers he needs to improve the management and to improve production.
1188 I warn the Committee that they should not be too finicky about this. Here and there one finds old-fashioned people in charge of the coal industry, and we should not be too touchy if occasionally such people have to be told of their shortcomings. Nobody has ever heard me join in any denunciation of the coal industry. Those engaged in coal mining are a hard-working body of people, occupied in a hard industry, working under adverse natural conditions, subject to all the uncertainties and risks which attend the search for minerals deep down in the earth. It is an industry which calls for much scientific training and in which much courage is needed—day-to-day courage, not the occasional courage called forth by disasters but day-to-day steadiness and courage. The average colliery manager is a fine fellow; I know him very well, and I cannot say too much in extolling his courage and the courage of the men. These are the men who get our coal for us. It is said they are old-fashioned, that they are not progressive. I have my political views, but I say that you cannot divorce the present situation in the mining industry from the past history of the industry. It is what it is because of what it was, and these people are not any worse than the rest of us. I am sure we shall not get the best results from mining without the assistance of Parliament, and I say that not in any derogation of the qualities of those on either side in the industry. This industry must be assisted to its feet. We must make it more productive.
Let me again intrude my claim upon the Committee. I sent to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) my scheme for the reorganisation of the mining industry. He left the Government as I did, a little suddenly, and the present Minister without Portfolio came to his place, and I ask the present Minister whether he knows my scheme. The scheme I proposed for the post-war building up of this industry dispenses with private profit and private control. We have reached a point in the engineering growth of the industry at which you cannot work the industry through a thousand separate companies. There must be unification and planning.
The Minister has a terrific responsibility, and no one has shoulders broad and strong enough to carry his burden, without great concern, for the next 12 1189 months. When all has been done that the Welfare Commission and the inspectors can do in war-time when all the magnificent co-operation between the owners and Miners Federation has been fully utilised, and when the Department have properly led both parties as far as they can in the direction they should go, there is still a great need for enhancing good will. I am not blaming either side in saying that, but we must have good will. The industry is on the point of losing its self-respect. It feels shabby, because everybody is criticising it. No Minister has yet got up to say "Thank you" to the mining industry, but it must be done. Our present Minister will be well advised to see whether he can start building up a system which will secure the utmost good will and co-operation among all those in the industry. The scheme to which I have referred was a genuine suggestion on my part, something on the lines of the London Passenger Transport Board, but it does deny the right of an individual company or colliery agent to dictate how a pit shall be worked if the national interest requires that it shall be worked in a different way. Management must rest ultimately under the Minister of Fuel, either the present Minister, whom we all want to help, or some other Minister who may take his place.
One last word. I am very disturbed. This industry is not attractive. Everybody gets away from it. Fathers and sons get away from it, and no colliery manager wants his son to be in the industry. He wants him to be a doctor or an engineer or a civil servant. We have to try to find some way by which we can retain our people. The Minister must search for every way to get full co-operation. Let him carefully use the labour, materials and machinery and the pit room at his disposal; let him also make a gesture. Let him show some sign that he is in favour of improving the quality of management and of engineering services, which men arc keen to give but which they cannot always give to-day. Let him encourage the engineer and the workman by holding out to them the promise of an industry in the future that will not be the Cinderella, the beggar or the bankrupt industry, but one which will be self-sustaining and which will sustain and support the strength of Britain.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Lancaster (Fylde)
In general, I have a great measure of agreement with a good deal of what has just been said and more particularly with the note of warning which the hon. Gentleman expressed throughout his speech. We have recently had two reminders of the gravity of the situation. The Prime Minister made a personal appeal to each one of the miners to whom he spoke of the grave dangers which threatened the industry. We have also the Report of the Select Committee on National Expenditure, who were most emphatic in certain of their conclusions, to three of which I should like to refer. The Committee said:There is so far no sign that any increase in total output during 1943 over the 1942 figures will be realised. Second, your Committee see no escape from the conclusion that in the absence of new conditions such as a further release of miners from the Services or their transfer from other industries, the nation must be prepared to face a serious decline in coal production. Lastly, account should also be taken that they will become necessary to support increased quantities of coal.All the figures with which I have been able to provide myself bear out those findings. I must frankly admit to all the more surprise at certain of the statements of the Minister within recent months. I would like to refer to three of those statements.
In reply to a Question in this House on 1st June, he said:Provided we do not get a setback in production, I am confident that we can get the coal we want.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st June, 1943; col. 15, Vol. 390.] A few weeks previously—to be exact, at Bristol, on 10th April, he was reported as saying:I have been watching production figures in the last few weeks with serious concern. Although there are at the moment more than 5,000 more men in the industry than a year ago, production each week is over 100,000 tons less than in the same week of last year. The indications are frankly not good.Finally, in reply to a Question in this House on 8th June, the Minister referred to certain figures which give a completely different appearance to the situation than was given by the last statement to which I have referred. He said seven of the first 22 weeks of 1943 showed a higher output than the corresponding weeks of 1942 and the average output per man-shift for the first three months of 1943 was higher than in the corresponding period of 1942. I do not think those figures substantiate that 1191 statement made at Bristol to which I have referred.
What are the facts? So far as I can gauge the situation, in the first quarter of the year, that is to say, up to the end of March, production was 50,770,000 tons, which compared with 50,920,000 in the previous year. If we take the 20 weeks up to 15th May, we find that production was 77,890,000 as against 79,084,000. There was a drop of well over 1,000,000 tons during that period. On the average there was something between 5,000 and 6,000 more men employed in the industry in the later period. Let me make another approach to these figures. What is important is the aggregate produced in a year and the total output per man employed. There again we are up against the same position. In 1940 we produced 230,000,000 tons, and the output per head was 307 tons. In 1941 the total production dropped to 213,000,000 tons, and the output per man had dropped to 305 tons. In 1942, we dropped still further to 211,000,000 tons, and the output per man dropped rather sharply to 297 tons. In the first 19 weeks of 1943 we were producing at the rate of 209,000,000 tons per year, and the output per man had dropped to 293 tons. There is just one other approach to the problem that I would like to make, and that is the output per shift. In 1938 we produced 22.9 cwts. per man per shift. That figure had dropped in the period to which I have just referred to 21 cwts., and it has since then dropped to under 21 cwts.
In the light of those figures I find it difficult to reconcile the statements of the Minister. We should be much wiser to face the facts. There is no reason to suppose that this Committee is not prepared to face facts as they are, and no one in the industry has any objection to plain speaking. Output has dropped, and the demand for coal is going up. If we escaped the major disaster last winter, it was entirely due to the mildness of the winter and to the economy exercised by householders and industrial users. Another point of which we are apt to lose sight is that winter production was maintained on a slightly higher level than in the two previous winters due to the mildness of the weather and an absence of the conditions obtaining during the bad weather of the previous winters.
1192 I would like to attempt to analyse the situation, in the light of the White Paper which was presented to Parliament just over a year ago. Before I do so, it is desirable that we should see the matter in its true perspective. A great many recommendations in that White Paper had been under consideration since the latter part of 1940. The Mines Department and successive Presidents of the Board of Trade had given this matter a great deal of thought, and what was embodied in the White Paper was the outcome of these deliberations and a good deal of spade work in the way of organisation which had occurred. It is completely fallacious to suppose that the present Ministry of Fuel and Power took over from scratch, that there was no organisation in being, and that no views and no statistics or facts were available at that moment.
For the purpose of reviewing the White Paper I propose to refer to these matters under the three main headings of men, management and machinery. The first factor in regard to men is the question of men who have opted for the industry, and there the Select Committee have reported quite definitely that the results are practically negligible. Likewise we must recognise the fact, to which the former Secretary for Mines has referred in his speech, that there is not only the annual wastage of between 25,000 and 28,000 men, but that the industry is becoming year by year older. There are more men over 50 in the labour force than there were when the war started. We have these two factors, that men are not coming into the industry and at the same time that the industry is losing men and those who are staying in the industry are getting older.
We now come to the very vexed question of absenteeism and I am not going to approach it in a controversial spirit. I wish merely to refer to one or two aspects of it. I think it is indisputable that there is a small section of the industry, mostly among the young men, who do absent themselves. There are reasons for it. We might as well face up to those reasons. We have had cases during the past week-end in the collieries in which I am interested in which men were presented with their Income Tax claims, amounting in some cases to between £60 and £80. The effect on the individual man, particularly a young 1193 man, is undoubtedly one of making him feel, "If I work an additional two days or one and a half days a week, or whatever it happens to be, I find myself using up possibly a certain reserve of my strength, and at the same time I find myself in due course liable for a lump sum demand for Income Tax, and I find it very difficult to reconcile that with my extra work." I put that forward for consideration. It might well be that the Government will think out some other means of producing these Income Tax demands on the men. The fact is that there is absenteeism, and it is in great measure confined, I think, to a certain section of the industry. Whether or no we have been very imaginative in our approach to this problem is another matter. After all, a man absents himself for a great many reasons. These vary from complete reasonableness to wilful absence. Each separate case is a problem on its own.
I wonder sometimes whether we could not take a leaf out of the experience of the Ministry of Supply in matters of that sort, and consider whether something in the nature of Labour Managers to deal specifically with this problem might not be helpful. After all, the colliery manager himself is at this moment a tremendously over-burdened individual. He is trying to keep up production, and at the same time he has to keep his eye on development work. He has this continual problem of a shortage of labour, particularly at week-ends, owing to absenteeism; there is a high accident rate which usually accompanies war-time conditions; there are all the difficulties of dealing with labour at this moment under the Essential Work Order—we might as well recognise that—and in addition there are the various Controls of materials, all of which add to the problems and complexity of the work which confronts the colliery manager. It may be we can evolve some additional means of helping him out where this question of absenteeism presents itself.
The pit production committees, as a result of the introduction of regional investigation officers, certainly for a short time lost a certain amount of authority. On occasion they have not been too constructive in their viewpoint. Equally I think colliery managers have not always been as anxious to make use of their 1194 services as they should have been. I feel strongly that these committees must be encouraged and supported by all the means we can use, not only supported by trade unionists or colliery managers and those engaged, in the industry, but supported so far as possible by Parliament. This is a means by which the men can progressively over a period take an increasing part in the conduct of the industry. I have no personal experience of them, but I am told that wherever Works Councils have been instituted and have got into their stride, after an initial period before they settle down to their work, they have practically invariably proved successful. That is something which has been proved in most other industries. Our means of doing a similar thing lies, I think, to our hand in these pit production committees, and I should like to feel and to see that as time goes on everything is done to encourage them, so that by that means more and more men in the industry can feel, and rightly so, that they can play their fair part in controlling in some way or other the industry which, when all is said and done, means as much or more to them than to anyone else concerned.
Now just a word about medical advisers. Many Members may remember that one of the recommendations in the White Paper was that there should be medical advisers in every one of the regions. Actually, I think, the number suggested was one per region. That hardly seems to me sufficient. Certainly, we have not got very far yet. Only six of these medical advisers have been appointed, and those all within the last three months. Surely in the light of the increasing age of the men in the industry, and the strain of war-time, we should be well advised to push ahead with the appointment of medical advisers as quickly as we can. A word about malnutrition. There have been suggestions in the Press, particularly lately, that malnutrition is a cause and a reason for absenteeism. I cannot speak with authority about malnutrition throughout the country. I do know that in the Midlands there have been researches into this matter, and I believe it is a fact that the medical profession are quite definite that there are no signs at present of malnutrition among the men. I believe that the number of men who avail themselves of meals in colliery canteens is still small 1195 —about 29 per cent. Certainly in many collieries these canteens are available, and I think it is very much to the credit of the Ministry of Food that they are able to supply the considerable amount of food which men require. It is there if they want it, and frankly I do not think malnutrition, except in a very small percentage of cases, can be considered as an excuse for absenteeism.
In the White Paper a year ago the question of concentration of production was stressed, and time after time Questions have been asked in this House. Certainly I have not seen any replies which dealt with the matter sufficiently clearly to enable me to satisfy myself that this is occurring. Figures which I have quoted already and the statistics I have had available do not support the view that this matter is being pushed ahead anything like quickly enough. I do not know whether the Committee are aware that there was in the White Paper a very definite recommendation for the appointment of a Director of Production. For the last five months there has not been such a person in the Ministry, nor am I aware that there is anybody else at the Ministry who can take his place, who has either the knowledge or experience or ability, purely from the engineering point of view, to give to the Minister the advice he must require. This question of production is primarily a mining engineering problem, and that there should be at this moment no Director of Production at the Ministry seems to me to indicate that this matter of production, whether from the point of view of concentration or any other kind of view, is not receiving the attention that it should.
I know we have had a similar gap in the Midlands recently. There, by the initiative of the Regional Controller, we have set up a panel of mining engineers to help and advise, and it has worked perfectly satisfactorily, but we have not for one moment lost sight of the fact that expert advice at this moment, particularly in regard to the concentration of production and the intensification of mechanisation, is vital. I cannot understand why the Ministry can go on month after month disregarding the necessity of having someone of expert engineering capacity in their Department. Mining engineers are at this moment very over-burdened men for the 1196 reasons I have mentioned, and for the reason that there are unfortunately far too few of them. That may well be the fault of the industry. We may not have made their calling sufficiently attractive to recruit the numbers that have been necessary. The fact remains that we are short of mining engineers, and that there are at this moment a certain number of these men in the Army. There are very few coal-getters in the Army, whatever people may think. There are a few colliery engineers. I had occasion to ask for the release of a particular one quite recently, and my request was turned down by the Secretary of State for War. The individual referred to had a fine record, and had become a field officer in a Service unit, and no doubt he is very useful in the Army; but, from the point of view of the Ministry of Fuel and Power, I cannot see why they are not insistent upon that man returning and taking his place in the war effort where he can do the greatest good. He represents tens of thousands of tons a year in production. A man with years of mining experience, capable of dealing with labour on a large scale, cannot be left in the Army, whatever the requirements of the Army may be, at such a moment as this.
A year ago I referred to the introduction of power loading machinery from America. I do not propose to-day to deal with that question, except to say that the reports we have had from visiting mining engineers from America fully bear out the conclusions some of us had arrived at. Leaving aside for the moment the question of American machinery, I am by no means satisfied, nor do I think anybody connected with the industry is satisfied, that we have probed this question of mechanisation in the industry anything like to the full. We are lagging behind every large coal-producing country in the percentage of coal won and conveyed. I think we obtained something like 59 percent. of our coal production before the war by mechanical methods. That compares with between 80and 90 per cent. in Germany, Belgium and Holland, and about 98 per cent. in America. As I said a year ago, the United States are producing 1,200 tons per man per year. Whatever natural advantages they may have in America, the disparity between that figure and our figure of 300 tons per man is far too large. We can go much 1197 further in mechanising our pits. The whole question of the priority of machinery must be kept continually before us. There are two matters to which I would like to refer in that connection. I am told that the timber merchants say we are getting very close to the exhaustion of our present timber stocks. We are relying practically entirely on timber from this country, and I am told that we have not much more than nine months' or a year's supply. Unless arrangements are made to obtain timber from Canada or from some other source, we are going to be faced with a very grave problem. Also, we are increasingly using at present synthetic rubber in our conveyor belts. This does not compare with the rubber that we had before the war, and breakdowns in those belts are getting worse and worse. The conveyor belt is the main artery of output in a colliery and if anything goes wrong with one of those belts, everything else stops at the same time.
I have dealt very briefly with some of the matters which arose in this White Paper, but I hope I have said enough to indicate that the problem is not only very complex, but very grave. We are faced with a difficult situation. Despite that, I feel that it can be solved. I have the utmost faith in the industry. If I lack faith in the Department, it is because I do not see in it that sense of urgency which is required. I have indicated in this brief survey some of the factors which I feel might bring improvement. It has occurred to me and to a number of other people that we might contemplate not only the immediate situation, but the post-war situation, from a psychological aspect. I have very little doubt that the demand for coal will continue, at any rate for four or five years after the war, at its present high level. Would it not be possible to work out some scheme to guarantee employment for miners, at any rate, for five years after the war? That would do something to allay the awful spectre of unemployment which hung over the industry before the war, and would give parents an additional inducement to consider this industry as a calling for their boys. Recently we have tried out an experiment in regard to absenteeism. By agreement with the men's representatives, absenteeism is dealt with summarily by the Regional investigation officer. That method has some merits. The time lag is cut out, the necessity of 1198 referring the matter to another authority is done away with, and the stigma of the courts is taken away. It enables a man to recover his fine if he attends regularly subsequently. But this is only one approach to the problem. We have to be more imaginative in our approach to this problem as well as to others. We have had the report of the Foster Committee some eight months, but we have done very little to implement it. There is a strain at present on mining engineers, and mere engineers in the industry are necessary. Then there is the whole question of mechanisation. I feel that thereby lies the solution in great part if we would only tackle it finally. I would like to join in the appeal which the Prime Minister made to the miners, "fighting with your tools in the mine, to think of your countrymen in arms, to stand solidly behind them, and to cut more coal."
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
Might I ask, for the convenience of the Committee, at what moment the right hon. and gallant Gentleman intends to intervene? The speeches would be Much shorter if we had the facts from him.
§ The Minister of Fuel and Power (Major Lloyd George)
If it would be to the convenience of the Committee, I should like to intervene in about three-quarters of an hour.
§ Mr. Foster (Wigan)
I believe that the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary and the staff of the Ministry have done their very best to make this scheme a success; but the facts prove that the scheme has been a failure, that, instead of production being increased, it has gone down, not only in the aggregate, but on the average per man-shift. It is for us to point out the causes of this decline. I wish to put before the Committee what are in my opinion some of the main causes. I have heard the Minister of Fuel and Power described by the miners as being a Minister of Fuel without Power. I have heard him described by consumers and others as being a Minister of Power without Fuel. The latter is really the result of the former. I contend that the reason we have not got increased production is that the Minister has not the power to do what he would like to do. As a result, the miners have no confidence whatever in this form of control which is at present applied to the industry. They 1199 have no confidence in it, because it is too one-sided. It works not in the interests of the workmen, but in the interests of the employer, in many ways. It is not surprising to anyone who has practical knowledge and understanding of the industry that output has gone down, either in the aggregate or per man-shift. The miners are discontented, and their discontent is growing, because of the application both of this scheme and of the Essential Work Order.
When this matter was debated here 12 months ago some hon. Members criticised the scheme because it did not go far enough. They said it would not conduce to good relationships between the employer and the worker to have dual control in the industry. I can assure hon. Members that most of the troubles which have developed in the industry, and which have resulted in a huge loss of output, can be traced to this dual control. The criticism which was made of this scheme in June last year has been fully justified. Why are the miners discontented? In the first place, by the application of the Essential Work Order the miner was partially tied to his job. He could move to another job in another pit only if he conformed to certain regulations. If advantage was taken of him by the employer, he was able to go to another pit. Anybody who has worked in a pit knows that when the management takes a dislike to a workman it has 101 ways of making his life uncomfortable. The Ministry of Fuel and Power have interfered with this liberty of going from one pit to another. They are advising the appeal boards not to grant applications to transfer from one pit to another unless the man desires to go to a pit with a higher average output. Because of that, coupled with the conditions under the Essential Work Order, a man is chained down to his job. The result is that the coalowners, through the managements—I do not put all colliery managers and owners in this category; there are some Who might be described as being good employers, but they are very few and far between in the mining industry—have taken every advantage of the fact that the miner is tied to his job. You therefore have any number of miners working in the pit who are discontented and would like to get away from it, but they cannot.
1200 Owing to the way that the owners act towards the miners, now they have got them in chains, there are more irritations, provocations and pinpricks in the mining industry than in any other industry in the country, resulting in many stoppages of work by one man or many men for a day, a week or more, and we are losing a huge quantity of coal. This new power of the coalowners has also manifested itself in disputes and grievances at the collieries, and it reflects itself in negotiations when we attempt to solve these problems from time to time. Our experience in the Lancashire coalfield is that the owners are now like the young boy whose father, when he tried to teach him to be temperate, told him that he must learn to say "No." The Lancashire coalowners have learnt to say "No," and no matter what dispute or grievance we have, the coalowners generally reply "No." Therefore, we have no means of redress or of having the difficulty attended to. Under these conditions the man in the pit, because of his nature and the nature of his work, is bound to revolt against tyranny and repression if that is the only way and means of showing his resentment against the pressure that is used against him. You find from time to time one or more revolting against these conditions.
This is what happens. A prosecution takes place, the man being prosecuted for loss of output, and we find that the Minister of Labour, in conjunction with the Minister of Fuel and Power, has a one-sided policy. They prosecute the man for loss of output in these circumstances, but they never prosecute the employer or manager for loss of output. The explanation of that is that neither the Minister of Labour nor the Minister of Fuel and Power has any powers at all to prosecute the manager or employer. The Ministry of Fuel and Power have, within the scheme, the right, if they think fit, to remove a colliery manager, or they may take over an undertaking, but they can only do that provided the colliery manager has refused to carry out the directions of the controller. The Committee can take it from me that, whatever action may be taken in that connection, the employer, through his colliery manager, has a thousand and one ways of negativing any action that may be taken by the Ministry of Fuel and Power.
1201 I would like to give, by way of illustration, one example of this unfair treatment in prosecuting the workman and not prosecuting the employer or manager for loss of output. We had a case in North-East Lancashire where 100 men revolted against the conditions and were prosecuted by the Ministry of Labour under the Essential Work Order at the local police court. Much play has been made of the fact that, through their solicitor, the men made an apology for the action which they took and undertook that they would not do it again in order to get out of being fined perhaps £10 or £20 each for the action which they took. This is what actually happened in another case at another colliery. A man at one of those collieries was sacked by the employer, and he appealed against his discharge under the Essential Work Order to the National Service Officer and later to the Appeal Board. Directions were issued that the man should go back to his employment, and the employer was prepared to employ him, but six deputies, who are part of the management, refused to work if the man was allowed to come back again to his job. There was a loss of 450 tons of coal, and 250 men had to play, but no action was taken against those men by the Ministry of Labour, and they got away with it. It would seem that there is one law for the coalowner and management and one law for the workman, and the workman always gets the mucky end of the stick.
In my opinion there is only one solution to this problem, and it has been referred to to-day by my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) in his opening statement. That solution is the taking over of the industry completely by the State. If that is not done—and you need it in the present situation and under the present form of control—you will continually have this conflict, first between the management and the Ministry of Fuel and Power and, secondly, between the workmen and the management and the coalowners and the Ministry of Fuel and Power. The man is the bottom dog all the time, and he has come in conflict with three powers which are attempting to control him—the management, the coalowners, through boards of directors, and the Ministry of Fuel and Power. That cannot continue and the men remain contented in the industry. If the Ministry of Fuel and Power were the one 1202 employer, I believe that it would be possible to build up good relations between the Ministry of Fuel and Power and the workmen so as to avoid these difficulties.
I would like to deal with the question of absenteeism. It has been mentioned to-day, and a lot of light as been focused upon it in the mines, but those who are continually drawing the attention of the public to the question of absenteeism in the mines are doing it for the purpose of placing the blame on the miners for the shortage of coal instead of placing it in the quarter to which it should be directed. The fault is not with the miners at all; it is to be found in the present form of control and not in any single individual. The Minister of Fuel and Power gave a complete answer to the charge of absenteeism when replying to a Question in this House on 8th June. This is what he said to an hon. Member:I have never excused absenteeism in any industry, nor has anyone else in this House, but I would like to point out that this is the only industry which has this limelight upon it. As I have said before, there is no evidence that absenteeism is worse in this industry than in any other."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 8th June, 1943; col. 507, Vol. 390.]That is the Minister himself, and he should know, with all the data that he has before him. But how many Members inside this House and people outside who have no knowledge of the working conditions in mines understand the problem of absenteeism? I am speaking as one who has had 30 years' experience in the mine, and it is absolutely wrong for anyone to lay this charge against the miners in the way it has been laid. I would like to ask the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary when he replies to this Debate to tell the Committee how the figures of absenteeism are made up. I would like to know whether the Department just exclude shifts which are lost through sickness and accident or whether they make any allowance for any other shifts which are lost. In order to augment or support that point, I would like to inform the Committee, if they do not already know it—there are Members on this side of the Committee who do know it—that to-day there is more overtime being worked in the mines of this country than at any other time.
§ Mr. Foster
That is not applicable to the point that I am going to make, if the hon. Member will listen to what I am about to say. This overtime which is being made in the mines is being made by men who work at the coal face, and it is due to the shortage of men and to mechanised mining. Those who understand the workings of the pit know that in mechanised mining the management have a certain length of face, it may be 100, 200 or 300 yards, and there is a cycle of operations. The face is cut, scufted, drilled and blown, and where the coal has been extracted, is packed and so on. That means that each operation in the cycle must be completed before the next cycle can take place. What happens is that if on the coal filling shift—and it happens on some of the other grades of work—there are some colliers off work out of the number of men who have been allocated to the face to remove the coal, the number who ordinarily remove the coal are depleted. They cannot remove the coal from the face and complete the operation within the specified time, and the result is that it is a common thing in every mechanised pit to see men going home two, three, four, five and six hours after their ordinary working time. There are men working six, seven, eight, nine and even 10 shifts in order to clear the coal face and maintain output. But if a man under those circumstances happens to lose a shift during the week, although he may have put in seven or eight shifts, that is entered into the books as an absentee shift.
Thousands of shifts have been lost under these circumstances and have been published by the Ministry as figures for absenteeism. In Lancashire, when we dealt with this matter with the employers, we argued that if a man worked in a pit for six days a week, he had done as much as, if not more than, could be expected of him, whether he worked on ordinary shifts or overtime. We reduced the employers' figures in Lancashire by about 8 per cent. by coming to agreement with them to exclude from their calculation any shifts lost in those circumstances. I can assure the Minister that if he will go into this question and will calculate the figures on a different basis —the one I have suggested—he will find that absenteeism will drop by about half. 1204 I know that some men in pits do neglect their work. It is the same in other classes of employment; it is not peculiar to the mining industry alone. It affects nearly every industry, even this House. If the absenteeism of Members of this House was tabulated, I do not know what the voters in the constituencies would have to say. If attendance at this House determined output, very little output would be achieved. I hope the Minister will taken note of the point I have just made.
Another point I would like to make in connection with this problem of absenteeism is the policy which is being pursued by the Ministry of Labour—the Minister of Fuel and Power is, perhaps, not responsible—through their National Service officers, of prosecuting men for absenteeism and sending miners to gaol.
§ Mr. Foster
Fines of £10, £15, or even £20 are inflicted on the men. That, in my opinion, is a mistaken policy.
§ Mr. Foster
At local police courts—and I have experience of this—the majority of magistrates have no knowledge of underground working conditions. They are influenced by their patriotic feelings, and it is the easiest thing in the world for them to send a man to goal for three months or fine him £10 or £20.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)
I am rather doubtful whether that point is in Order, and I think we might leave it.
§ Mr. Foster
Perhaps I might be allowed to give an illustration in answer to the hon. Member. In opposition to the policy which is being pursued on this question of absenteeism, when we had a young man before us, charged with being absent from work on certain days, I was able to influence the two other magistrates to agree to adjourn the case for two months on the understanding that I should tell the young man what we expected of him. The result has been that this young man 1205 has put in every shift since then and is still putting in the maximum number of shifts he can work. I submit that the corrective policy is far better than using the whip. Some people are not satisfied with having the miner in chains; if he happens to escape from the chains, they want to whip him as well. I hope that policy will not be continued. When figures of absenteeism are given they generally include the number of shifts which have been lost, but I notice that no hon. Member of this House has complained of, and criticised, the coalowners for the thousands of shifts lost every week when workmen, who are available for work, are paid a guaranteed wage. If ever there was a scandal in this country it is the fact that coalowners have exploited the guaranteed wage fund in order to save costs and pursue profits. I put a Question to the Minister some time ago regarding the number of shifts which are being lost. At that time the Ministry had been in existence about eight months. The figure given to me at that time was 242,000. This number of shifts had been lost during the period in which workmen had been paid their wages and employers had not found any work.
§ Mr. Foster
Employers have used the fund for their own purposes, and it is difficult to detect them doing it. I would like to say a few words about the concentration of the industry. Is the Minister satisfied that it is the right policy to close pits which are in production and transfer men to other pits? Is he satisfied that this policy has resulted in increased production? In reply to a Question put to him the other day, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary stated that the number of pits which had been completely closed was 33, while 14 had been partially closed, making a total of 47. I do not doubt that, taking the long view, concentration may be the best policy, but I doubt very much whether it is the right policy to pursue at the moment and during the war. We have to remember that when a pit is in production it is producing coal and that when the pit is stopped and men are transferred to another pit production is not necessarily increased.
I will give an instance of a colliery in my district which was closed. This pit 1206 employed 600 men on the surface and underground. The production was 2,500 tons per week. The pit was stopped, some men were transferred to two other pits controlled by the same undertaking, and others were allowed to go to other pits, while some who were employed on the surface were permitted to leave the industry. There was an immediate cutting off of 2,500 tons per week, and there has been no increase in the tonnage from the other two collieries. What must have happened at the other 46 pits which the Minister has closed? The present policy is a mistaken policy unless the Minister can satisfy himself that men are being transferred to pits where there is room for them, where faces are ready and where there is the necessary haulage and winding gear to deal with the extra output. Unless these conditions prevail, it is the silliest thing in the world to close a pit and lose immediate output and run the risk of output increasing at another colliery.
The reason this concentration scheme is being applied is, I understand, in order to maintain and increase production for war purposes. We want increased production now, not in two, three, four, five, six or seven years. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, replying to a Supplementary Question recently as to increased output as a result of this policy, said that it was as yet too early to judge but it was most encouraging. Is that satisfactory? Is not a bird in the hand worth two in the bush at any time? We must have lost thousands of tons of coal weekly as a result of this policy. The Ministry, I know, is advised by local people, some of whom seem to think they are doing big things if they carry out the White Paper policy, start reorganising and concentrating and openly stating at public meetings that it is their intention to have further concentration—all this in spite of the reduction of output. One of the major contributory factors in reducing output is this rushing into concentration of pits before the position has been fully investigated. I know that the answer will be that a full investigation is made, but it is a one-sided business. Only the owners and the Ministry are consulted before action is taken by the Regional Controller, who makes the decision to close the pit. The men have no voice in the matter.
§ Mr. Foster
Even under this dispensation. I know that when men complain their complaints are investigated, but it does not make the slightest difference. In the case I have mentioned the men's objection to the closing of the pit was most bitter and was justified by the result, which is the loss of output and the upsetting of their ordinary social life. One can understand that the owners are always ready to close pits if they are not making a profit. All the negotiations went on between the employers and the Regional Controller in the first instance and it was practically decided before we knew anything about it. The output was down to 13 cwt. per man shift, yet the very week that it was closed it had gone up to 15 cwt. and was still rising, and the average for the county was only 17 cwt. Here you have a loss of output. In my opinion it ought never to have taken place.
I finish, as I began, by saying that loss of output, though it can be attributed to other factors as well, is in the main due to discontent prevailing in the mines for the reasons that I have stated. There is no confidence whatever between the men and the management. The manager has a most difficult job to try and satisfy two bosses. He has to try and satisfy the board of directors, and he is expected to carry out all the directions of the Ministry of Fuel and Power. When the Ministry intervenes the owners or the agent, the directors and the manager, can in a thousand and one ways which are only known to those who work in the pit circumvent anything that the Ministry tries to do in regard to the management of the pit. One could give any number of instances showing that the coalowners to-day, just as they were yesterday, are in the industry for one purpose only, and that is the pursuit of profit. The output of coal during the war is not their primary consideration. Under the Coal Charges Order the owners are guaranteed a certain rate of profit. I have figures from the Ministry that in my county thousands of pounds are being paid out in order that nine collieries which are necessitous undertakings may be solvent. Under war circumstances coal should be got whatever it costs to get it. Coal is the basis of our war effort and private profit, or 1208 private greed, should not determine what shall be done in the getting of coal. If the basic motive for producing coal was removed from the industry by the pits being taken over by the State, I feel sure that it would free the minds of our men from the suspicion that they are being exploited in the interest of profit and greed, and it would result in a better relationship between the workmen and the State and we should achieve the highest possible production.
§ Major Braithwaite (Buckrose)
I am grateful to the Government for providing a further opportunity of debating the coal situation. There appears to have been some hesitancy in certain parts of the House as to the desirability of having a Debate on this important subject. I was amazed to find Members not wanting to have the matter publicly ventilated. This House is the ventilating chamber for our difficulties and, if there is one serious situation, it is the coal situation. It is likely to do us irreparable harm if it is not put right, and it is our duty to take whatever measures are necessary. I am not concerned to-day with the merits of nationalisation or unification of the mines, but I think we have to take some measures to pull the industry together to give everyone confidence in it and to work it in the best possible way. The production of coal is steadily falling. In spite of increased numbers of men in the pits, the tonnage of coal raised goes down and war demands grow weekly. You cannot carry out a successful invasion of Europe, or anywhere else, unless you have a reserve of coal. The demands of Tunisia may reach the region of 5,000,000 tons a year. France and Belgium and the countries that take our seaborne coal we have always supplied, and may need up to 20,000,000 tons. It will be a practical impossibility to consolidate this situation unless there is an increase in the amount of coal raised. I have lived my life among the miners, and I think I know them as well as anyone in the House. I was chairman of the first co-operative mine in Great Britain, which was run by the miners themselves. Owing to cutthroat competition, they were unable to carry on for very long. They were destroyed by the pits round about them. There is something wrong with the psychology of the industry. Why should the coalowner and the miner be constantly at one another's throats? Why 1209 can they not work as a team? What is preventing the reasonable appreciation of one another's difficulties?
§ Mr. Colegate (The Wrekin)
Is my hon. and gallant Friend aware that there has been a national agreement for the whole of the country and that this is the only industry where maters and men have agreed and in which resort to a national arbitration tribunal has been unnecessary?
§ Major Braithwaite
That does not alter the fact that there is continual disagreement. I have seen strikes going on in my county all this year—[Interruption] authorised and unauthorised.
§ Mr. Colegate
I challenge that statement. There has been no authorised strike in the industry since the beginning of the war.
§ Major Braithwaite
Thousands of men have been away from their work through some form of pettifogging dispute which ought never to have interfered with coal production. [Interruption.] It does not matter whether it is authorised or not. It is losing coal production. We do not want to be debating fine points as to why these things happen. It is wrong in the middle of a war in which thousands of men are laying down their lives, when coal is needed to win the war. Anyone who restricts the production of a national commodity that is necessary for the winning of the war is doing something against the country and against those who work in the industry. No one can challenge that statement. The miner has as much patriotism and is as courageous as any other section of the community. This inherent hostility in the industry can only be removed by Parliament, and it is our duty to see if we can correct what is wrong. I want to examine some details of what I believe to be the fundamentals. Is the pay commensurate with the risks? Do the hours of labour give the best results? Does a six-day week underground give the maximum result? Would not a five-day week give us more production? I am not at all sure. These are points which everyone should examine. Are the mines being properly mechanised? It is no good half doing the mechanisation job. If you mechanise at all, you have to mechanise fully to get proper results. I wonder if machinery is being produced in sufficient quantities 1210 to deal with the matter. Coal mining has been very much slower in mechanical development than most industries, and, now that we have these new facilities, they ought to be employed as quickly as possible. Have the measures brought about by the National Government improved the coal position? From the production point of view, we have not seen it yet. I know the Minister has done everything he could, by encouraging these various committees, to get a better spirit into the industry, but I am seriously alarmed that we have not seen the result reflected in the production. I hope that in the next few months, with increased mechanisation, we are going to have some real results, but this House has a responsibility to the country and to the industry to remove whatever difficulties are in the way and to get coal mining back in such a position that the nation can thoroughly depend upon it.
I should like to refer to the scheme of open cast mining. We commenced this operation with the idea. of helping the nation through the coal shortage, and I gave the House some estimates of possible production, which I will repeat. I said there were certainly 50,000,000 tons of coal lying near the surface which could be got by excavating machines and, if the machines were available, we could get 10,000,000 tons a year with a labour personnel of not more than 5,000. These figures were accepted in the House and in the country rather sceptically and were said to be exaggerated, but I have no reason to retract them. I believe the Ministry of Works has now definitely proved and got ready for recovering over 8,000,000 tons of serviceable surface coal. During the last 12 months, in spite of having only a quarter of the machines that hoped we should have, 2,000,000 tons have been raised. Production at the moment, which is the most favourable time of the year, is running at the rate of 100,000 tons a week. It is under the capable control of Lord Portal and the Ministry of Works, which has organised this work in a first class manner, and is making a great drive forward to help the country through this year. I do not want to attach any particular blame to the Government in connection with the past year's operation. Practically no new machinery was available; indeed, military requirements necessitated some of our machinery being taken away.
1211 In the 8th Report of the Select Committee on National Expenditure a possible loss of £1,000,000 is forecast for last year's operations. I do not know how this forecast was made, but I can give the Committee some details of the firm of which I am a director, Sir Lindsay Parkinson and Co., Ltd., which is doing a substantial amount of this work. According to the figures of the accountant of the firm, this one company, to which, I think, the coal using industry and public are indebted for putting its entire mechanical resources at the disposal of the Government, raised 600,000 tons of coal starting from scratch in the last 12 months. That will compare very favourably with many big mines and big groups of collieries. This 600,000 tons of surface coal has been raised, including transport to the station, loading, stacking and a certain amount of prospecting, at a cost to the Government of 19s. 11d. per ton. This does not include Government on-costs such as royalties, compensation, surveying, screening and the overheads. The only reason for a loss of £1,000,000 on 2,000,000 tons of coal is either that the overheads have been particularly high or that the coal has been disposed of at too low a figure. I shall be glad to learn how this forecast was arrived at because I do not want the Committee or the public to be misled by a figure of this sort.
As to the future, the Government have commenced to secure a number of large excavators. These are not yet in operation but they will be before the autumn and they should make a good deal of difference in carrying the work through the winter. I confidently expect a useful addition to the tonnage in this direction. My hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) was hoping to raise on the Adjournment the other day the question of amenities in connection with this scheme. I want to tell him that every piece of civil engineering when it begins does make some sort of scar, but on every site I have seen where the coal has been extracted and the land reinstated the amenities have been restored to the fullest extent. I am hopeful that this scheme which has been started will be able to make a useful contribution to the war and at the same time leave behind it no disfigurement.
1212 Much has been said about the desirability of bringing men back to the pits from the Forces. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) that it is doubtful whether there is pit room to take back many men. It would take some time to put them in the pits if they were brought back. There is a potential source of further coal. When these outcrop schemes run to the stage when it becomes uneconomic to excavate the overbearing on the coal, that is to say, when it gets to above 50 feet of cover, it is possible to go underground. There are many of these sites with perhaps 400 to 500 yards of exposed seams of coal from 2 feet 6 ins. up to 6 feet thick which are available for men to go in. It does not need the sinking of a shaft. They can go straight in and the coal can be got out by day holing methods. There may be many miners who may not be able to work deep underground who could be usefully employed there. I estimate that a production of a ton per man per day can be got there and that 2,000 men would give us another 500,000 tons of coal a year. I hope that the Government will give some consideration to this. There are men coming out of the mines who cannot for one reason or another go back deep underground and who might be able to work in this way, and I believe that the civil engineering industry could be able to help if arrangements could be made with the mining community.
I would express the hope that Parliament will make the most strenuous efforts to put this industry right at once. Now is the time to do it. It may be too late if things are not corrected. Unless we do something those miners who are in the Forces will not want to come back after the war to coal mining. They will not want to return to the pits unless they are made attractive for them. They would rather go out to the Empire and other parts of the world than go back to an industry if hardships and strife still exist. It is my firm conviction that it is our duty to devote ourselves to the preparation of a virile, attractive, safe and remunerative coal-mining industry on which this nation can confidently depend in the strenuous years that are to come.
§ Mr. Kirkwood (Dumbarton Burghs)
I rise to speak on behalf of over 800,000 engineers who empowered me to state to-day that we are standing by the miners 1213 at this juncture. We shall support action that the mining members in the House of Commons are prepared to take in order to defend the miners who are being ostracised, criticised and villified by colliery owners in this House. So far as we engineers are concerned, I want to refer to a question which I have raised time and again with the Minister. It is in regard to the inspectorate. The mines are becoming more and more mechanised every day and my own country of Scotland is the best section for mechanisation in the mining industry. The inspectorate is a disgrace and it is important that it should be strengthened with engineers. I know that I am knocking at an open door with the present Minister of Fuel. I am not flattering him and I have no axe to grind when I say that he is most capable and courageous and I want to assure him that we will back him in defending the miner.
That brings me to the question of absenteeism. Why is there all this cry about absenteeism in the mines. It is because it is the most hellish job that any man has to do. When we raised this question in the House not long ago, we were told by Members opposite that the absenteeism was due to the young men. Of course it is the young men and we do not apologise for them. The reason is because the young men have not been crushed down and because they know of something better. We have 40 mining Members of Parliament and there is no more patriotic section in the House just as there is no more patriotic body of men in Britain than the miners; yet there is not one Member of Parliament who has a son at the coal face. There is not a miners' leader who has a son at the coal face. There is not a colliery owner who has a son at the coal face. That cannot be said of any other industry. Take my own industry of shipbuilding and engineering. One of the men best known to us, Sir James Lithgow, who is in charge of shipbuilding of this country, went through all the grades of work in the workshops. He went through the drawing office and through the whole gamut so as to understand the industry. Time and again employers of labour in all industries have put their sons into their businesses, but never did a mineowner send his son to be a coalminer. He would commit suicide first. That is the explanation of absenteeism.
1214 The men have got to be handled in a different fashion. Here is an industry of loyal and courageous men, whose record in the last war was irrefutable in the way they carried out the most dangerous deeds. Praise was heaped on them. Different generals have said to me in the House, "It was a joy to work with them. It did not matter what you sent colliers to do, they never hesitated a moment although bullets and shells were being showered on them." These are the men we are dealing with. We must have a different approach to them. I expected that when Labour had some power in the Government there would be a different approach, a collier's approach, a worker's approach, but, no, it was the same approach—" If you dare absent yourself you will get gaoled," just as if they were criminals. That is the wrong approach, particularly to miners, to men who are doing this terrible job. The young fellows feel that the job is degrading. I got men who came out of the mines in Lanarkshire jobs in an aircraft factory, but the Minister of Labour took them out of the factory and put them back into the mines. They said to me, "Davie, I would as soon go to hell."
That is the state of affairs, and I want this Committee to approach the question from the standpoint of the actual facts. I wish those were not the conditions in mines. I wish mining were as pleasant a job as shipbuilding and engineering, although shipbuilding is not such a pleasant job in the winter. I wish people would not put it all on to the men. I wish the Minister and his understudy, who at the moment happens to have been a miner, would approach the situation from the standpoint of the conditions that do prevail and deal kindly with these men. Let them try to create the same atmosphere as we try to create about our soldiers, about our sons who are prepared to give their lives in defence of their native land. Why do we not treat the miners in the same way? Mining is a most important industry. We can win neither the war nor the peace without the miners, and yet we are antagonising them, but that is because their lives and their conditions are as foreign to the Government as night is different from day. We have no idea about them, and therefore we go on treating the industry as though it were a beautiful industry carried on with the sun in the sky above 1215 and the larks whistling overhead. But there the men are, down in the bowels of the earth. There are men in this Committee who have had the hellish experience of working in the mines and have run from it—fled from it as from the wrath to come. They have no wish to go back to the coal face.
I have no desire to stand in the way of my miner colleagues putting their case across, but I wanted to put the situation as I see it, I who have only been down mines occasionally. Once when they could not get the coal cutters to go they got me to go down there, but only for a week. No; I have seen the miner at work. I have lived with miners all my life, and I know the reward the country gives the miners. I know the colliers' rows as I found them as a young man, saw them with my great colleague the late John Wheatley—single-apartment houses, 200 back-to-back houses, with no conveniences, none. That is what the colliery owners have done. They sowed the wind, and we to-day are reaping the whirlwind. That whirlwind is the healthy discontent of our virile manhood, which is the best asset this country or any country can have if it is properly handled. It is there for the handling, and it is for the Government to do the handling.
§ The Minister of Fuel and Power (Major Lloyd George)
If I may say so, the atmosphere in which the Debate has been conducted has been all that it should be, that is to say, the Debate has been conducted in a very calm atmosphere. That is a great improvement upon some of the Debates which I have heard, and I only hope that we shall be able to continue in that atmosphere until the end.
§ Major Lloyd George
Because I believe there is quite enough atmosphere in this industry already without our creating any more. It is about a year since the White Paper, the document that contained certain proposals for the reorganisation of this industry, was brought forward. In particular it contained a proposal for taking over the operational control of the mines and outlined the machinery necessary for that purpose. The responsibility for that new organisation was entrusted to me. My hon. 1216 Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) has almost tempted me to follow him into further fields of organisation, but I am going to resist that temptation. I may have my own views about what they should be. Fortunately the Committee does not know them, because I have never spoken of them since I have been here, so I will resist that temptation to-day and deal with the organisation which Parliament entrusted to me. Whilst it will not be possible in the time at my disposal to deal with all the points raised I hope I shall be able to deal with the main ones, and the Parliamentary Secretary will cover some of those which I may have to leave out.
Before I come to the White Paper itself, I think I ought to deal with the most urgent problem with which that White Paper dealt. The problem as stated there was that the war-time demand for coal continued to increase and, as they said, output tended to decline. I do not want to criticise the work, the very hard work, which my colleagues put into that White Paper, but after being at the Ministry a long time I should regard it as an understatement, that "tended to decline." As soon as possible after I was appointed to the Ministry I caused a careful estimate to be made of the future. My hon. Friend the Member for Gower said that he had been bewildered by some of the statements made, and I think my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Fylde (Lieut.-Colonel Lancaster) said the same thing. I only make the statements and the speeches, and I know the difficulty, in these days of shortages, of printing a full statement, but on no occasion have I ever stated anything which I need withdraw with regard to output at the present time.
When estimates are made the actual trend of output at the moment is taken, with any up-trend there may be in the autumn, and so forth, the future manpower position is also taken into account, and the actual consumption is estimated, with possible increases owing to war demand. When that has been done the estimate is presented. Last October I had to say to Parliament that consumption would exceed production at that time by 14,000,000 tons or more, but by de-stocking certain utility undertakings and so on we had brought that figure down to 11,000,000 tons. That was the position 1217 when I gave the estimate to Parliament. I told Parliament that I was satisfied that producers and consumers would respond to an appeal, the one to produce more and the other to consume less. I was warned from many sides that it was a very foolish thing to hope for, but I thought I was justified in the belief. Some time ago I was able to announce that the deficit had been wiped out, and that both consumers and producers had played their part in bringing that about.
I had hoped to get rid of that deficit of 11,000,000 tons—and believe me that was no figment of my imagination, it was the most careful estimate which could be prepared—by getting 3,000,000 tons more from the producers than it had been estimated that I should. In fact, in part owing to the man-power remaining slightly higher than we had anticipated, but at least as much owing to extra effort, we produced 5,200,000 tons more than we had anticipated. My hon. and gallant Friend seemed to suggest that the fine weather in January and February had something to do with that but output in January and February was not as good as in the previous year. The great spurt in output came in the autumn of last year. As for the consumers, industrial and domestic, I hoped they would produce economies amounting to 8,000,000 tons of coal, but, and this is a remarkable fact for those who have been slightly pessimistic, it was not an economy of 8,000,000 tons they contributed but 11,000,000 tons. So the producers produced 5,200,000 tons more instead of 3,000,000 tons more—and that is my answer to those who say the producer has played no part whatever in this battle—and the consumer contributed economies of 11,000,000 tons instead of 8,000,000 tons.
I referred to pessimists just now, and I am sorry to say that I have been inclined to include the hon. Member for Gower among them; but lie was not the only one. I was told that I could not get through the winter because we had not got the stocks to meet the consumption demand. Not only have we met the consumption demand, but we have added substantially to the tonnage in stock at the end of this winter. This extra saving—I want to emphasise this—which has gone to stock is due undoubtedly to the finer weather we had, particularly during January and February. There is one 1218 thing I want to urge upon the Committee, and it is one of the difficulties, I confess it frankly, in giving figures about the industry. If they are favourable they immediately react throughout the country; if they are unfavourable they react probably far too much the other way. Therefore, when I say that we not only cut our consumption last winter but added to our stocks, I do not want that to be taken as a reason for thinking that everything is lovely, because it is not. Rather should it be taken as an example of what can be done. Next time there will be a diminishing man-power, we may have a more normal winter, and there may be further demands for operational purposes.
While listening to this Debate, I wished that hon. Members would look back upon the position last year and be good enough to study the Debate last year and, if they have time, also some of the organs of the Press. When I hear these criticisms today I say to myself, "How many hon. Members were there, or how many people outside were there, who thought we would have seen last winter through?" I should be very surprised if any hon. Member thought it was possible to produce the result that has been produced. The Committee will not therefore charge me with exaggeration when I say that the achievement I have just announced can be regarded as substantial.
I would like to ask hon. Members to look at the position as it was then and as it is to-day in certain other respects. At the time the White Paper was published, the industry was affected by a serious wave of disputes. In many cases they were started by boys and they affected nearly every part of the coalfield. At one time they became so serious that 120,000 tons of coal were lost in one week, and the average for the six weeks prior to the publication of the White Paper was about 60,000 tons. Industrial relations are now happier, I am glad to say. Since the publication of the White Paper the tonnage lost has been almost at the lowest level since the war. It is true that there has been a slight rise recently, but, taking that slight rise into account, the tonnage lost is only about one-third of what it was during the bad time last year.
We come now to man-power. I doubt if anyone last year would have thought it likely that there would be almost as many 1219 men in the industry at this time. At the moment, we have actually only a few hundred less than we had at this time last year. It was announced that special measures would be taken to fortify or reinforce the man-power in the industry. The fact that the situation to-day is, relatively speaking, as good as it is, despite the wastage of 25,000 a year, is partly as a result of the mild weather but mostly as a result of the economies effected by the people of this country. We have ended the winter with a considerable tonnage more in stock than we had a year ago. Having said that, may I once more warn the Committee that this stock is a reserve and an insurance against known and unknown risks?
Another comparison which is of great significance is in the consumption of coal. The White Paper pointed out that owing to the increasing war-time demands for coal those demands were increasing all the time. At the time when we were discussing the White Paper home consumption was rising considerably above that of 1941. The percentage increase which had been taking place has been greatly reduced. The percentage increase was less and less as the year went on, until, by January, it went below. It has continued below since, and we are not yet finished with the economies which can be produced in this country. I am glad to say that the increase which was apparent last year has gradually declined until it has become less. One comparison which is not favourable is with regard to production. Not only do I wish that were greater, but I know it can be greater. What are the facts? I shall try to give the Committee information which will be not only of interest but of importance in regard to man-power and production.
The miner is working to-day more shifts than he did before the war. That point is not remembered often enough. He is working one-third of a week more than before the war. The output per shift is 1.045 tons, as against 1.036 last year. It is the first time that the downward trend of production has been reversed. The output per shift is generally regarded as one of the best indications of the efficiency of the organisation of the industry and of the efforts of those engaged in coal production. In spite of all the difficulties which have been encountered in 1220 the fourth year of the war, the output per man-shift has been successfully maintained and is higher than it was a year ago. The Committee may therefore wonder why the total coal output is less than it was a year ago. The answer is that fewer shifts are being worked or, in other words, that absenteeism is rising. I will deal with that point later at some length.
I want to approach this matter in an atmosphere of calmness, and I would ask the Committee to remember that we are nearing the end of the fourth year of the war. The Lord President of the Council said, in the Debate last year, that there was no doubt that a proportion of the men, and especially those working at the coal face, were beginning to suffer from the effects of continuous strain. May I remind the Committee that in the year that has gone by those men have continued working hours longer than in peace-time? Mining is probably the hardest physical toil of all. It has suffered grevious losses in the younger groups upon whose energy so much has depended in this industry, and it has suffered very heavily in other ways. More than 20 per cent. of the mine workers of this country are over 50 years of age. If you compare the output in this war with that in the last war, taking 1938 as comparable with 1913 and 1917 as comparable with 1942, you find that in 1917 the output was 5 per cent, below 1913 and in 1942 it was 1 per cent. below that of 1938. If you take 1918 against 1943 as far as it has gone, you will find that the figures were 11 per cent. down in 1918 and only 3 per cent. down in 1943, which is something to remember, because it is the first time that the downward trend has been reversed, and it happened at the end of last year.
I would like to come to the measures undertaken for the control of consumption and production. Let me take consumption first. It falls under two headings, domestic and industrial. The savings due to the fuel efficiency campaign in industry have been great and will continue to increase, because they are cumulative. It is not a campaign which attracts much public interest. It is rather a matter of hard slogging and of educating technical staffs by instructions and advices given by the fuel efficiency committees, which were set up in London and the other regions of my Ministry. I 1221 am very glad to have had the opportunity of meeting many of them, and I would like to pay a tribute to the value of the work they are doing. It is excellent work, and voluntary at that. With the help of these panels and of no fewer than 650 highly skilled engineers, who are all serving voluntarily, they have visited about 11,000 factories, with a consumption of 29,000,000 tons of coal per annum. As a result of their efforts, a saving of 10 per cent. has already been achieved in those factories. This campaign is cumulative, and this saving of 3,000,000 tons is only the beginning. In view of the enormous consumption by the industries of this country, I expect much greater economies from them in the ensuing months.
I turn to the domestic consumer. Hon. Members will remember the intensive propaganda campaign which was conducted last winter. There was some criticism or scepticism about the appeals, but what I may call the Ormskirk experiment was a very striking success. The amount of solid fuel delivered to domestic consumers last winter was less than that which would have been required to meet the coupons under the rationing scheme. Domestic consumers made a real contribution to the savings made by gas and electricity undertakers. It is not easy to divide these savings, but I will give an idea of what they were like. This winter I shall again appeal to the domestic consumer. There were last year also certain restrictions on the delivery of all solid fuel. Those restrictions, which will continue, are reviewed from time to time. They establish a maximum over-all total, beyond which consumers will not be able to go. Under this ceiling, they should, and indeed they must in the national interest, exercise all possible economy.
Next winter I shall ask them, and I shall do my best to show them how, to make considerably greater economies than they made last year. In the meantime I advise them to stock up as far as they can with the qualities of coal available. They are not doing it so far, particularly in London and the South.
§ Major Lloyd George
That is not really so. There are certain cases which I have come across, but, taking the country as a 1222 whole, that really is not so. I know the reason for the South, but I want people to realise that where they can stock up it is in the national interest that they should do so. Last year I stressed the importance of stocking in order to relieve pressure during the winter. I was most anxious that as much coal should be stocked as was allowed. Then the labour, which is my greatest difficulty in delivery, and the transport, will be available for the smaller man who has to have small amounts. The arrangements made proved very satisfactory last winter, and I had very few complaints indeed about delivery. Perhaps I might quote one London mayor who said he had no complaints at all last winter. That was a thing quite unique since the war started.
This scheme will apply again during the coming winter, and I hope it will be still better than it was. As a result of our experience the small consumer will again be assured of priority in the winter months. This makes it all the more necessary for those who can stock to stock now. If they are large consumers, they must apply for the necessary licences. In the distribution of coal the guiding principle is that no coal must go unaccounted for. Hence its allocation to industry has been accomplished by means of an elaborate machinery bf area control and programming by which individual units in an industrial framework are given the average weekly delivery they require of each grade of coal, enabling them to meet their essential minimum consumption and maintain the appropriate levels of stocks. Programming is now being extended to a greater number of industries, indeed to the Service Departments themselves.
I am referring elsewhere to outcrop coal, but I should say that the use of outcrop and other alternative coals is becoming increasingly important. My hon. and gallant Friend referred to large coal of high quality. Large coal and high quality coal are needed for military operations and for certain industries of high priority rating. The need to husband these coals and make use of alternative fuels applies not only to industry but to the domestic consumer. That is a very important point. The coal used by the housewife in her grates is very largely the type needed for operational purposes such as ships' bunkers, locomotives, and the Fighting Forces.
1223 I now turn from the field of consumption to that of production, in which the most important element is that of manpower. I know my hon. Friend said he thought in 1940 they had sufficient manpower. Under the circumstances I wonder whether the situation was not altered very seriously and whether that would be true to-day. I think the whole question of man-power goes far beyond the begining of this war. That is one of the problems we have to face.
§ Major Lloyd George
If the circumstances had remained the same I think my hon. Friend would have been hard put to it to meet the needs to-day, because the question goes further back. It is one of the gravest questions facing the industry, not only during the war but after. I mentioned that the man-power position last year was not unsatisfactory. Indeed it was better than one dared to hope at one time. The number is only a few hundred below last year, due to three causes. First, the scheme for the return of miners to the mines from the Forces and other industries went on longer than was anticipated. Instead of getting 11,300 men, we got 25,000. Secondly, coalmining has been added to the list of those industries which can be chosen in preference to military service. This scheme was brought into full operation last September, and up to date 2,500 men have been placed in coalmining employment.
§ Major Lloyd George
They cannot go below, of course, until they have had training. The Committee will be interested and reassured to know that in order to deal with these optants as well as with other new entrants to the industry, a provisional but carefully planned training scheme has been brought into operation. Thirdly, the measures foreshadowed in the White Paper to reduce the number of men leaving the industry on the production of medical certificates has already had an appreciable effect.
§ Mr. Sloan (South Ayrshire)
Will the Minister say where training schemes have been brought into operation?
§ Major Lloyd George
I can give the hon. Member the information, and I can assure him that they are in operation now. The schemes are being put into operation though it may be not in the same way over the whole country. I am dealing with the men who are affected by the new medical certificate arrangements. The establishment of a medical service and a tighter control of man-power have reduced the wastage by a figure which exceeds a rate of 3,000 a year. This should be further reduced as medical and rehabilitation services are extended. The rehabilitation services have been extended appreciably this year.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr)
Would the Minister say in more detail how the medical service works and how it has added to the man-power of the industry? My hon. Friend has questioned the Minister. We know very little of the work of that service.
§ Major Lloyd George
The hon. Member will appreciate that I am trying to cover many points rapidly. My hon. Friend will give greater detail on this matter. I have said that the figure is 3,000 better than it was. As regards rehabilitation centres, last year there were only two in the whole country. I hope we shall have 11 working very shortly. I need not explain to hon. Members who know the industry what an advantage and boon they are to the industry as a whole. I am sure also that those Members who represent West Wales constituencies will be interested in a committee which has been set up to enquire into pneumokoniosis. Juvenile recruitment has risen from 10,000 to 12,000 per annum. As a result of all these factors the wastage, which last year was at a rate of 25,000 annually, is now reduced to 19,600, and if the optants are included, to 17,000. That is the rate at which we are running at the present time, which is a great improvement though I am not saying it is anything like enough.
As a part of the longer term policy, the fruits of which will obviously not be realised immediately, steps are now under consideration to implement the recommendations of the Foster Committee for improving the intake of boys into the industry. It is important to realise that the question of intake to the industry is not confined to this country. I think it is 1225 found in most coal-producing countries in the world, particularly Germany. One of the reasons why at this present time it is extremely difficult to raise the number of juvenile entrants, leaving out the question of the history of the industry, is the availability elsewhere owing to the war of many more attractive opportunities for this type of labour.
§ Major Lloyd George
The rate of intake before the war was about three times as high as it is now. The Foster Committee will tell the hon. Member that if he looks at their Report. Nevertheless, I regard the recruitment of youth into this industry as the most important long-term policy which this Ministry can pursue, the most important problem facing the industry, and consequently one of the most important issues affecting the economic prosperity of this country. I am therefore setting up a special branch in my Ministry to give this question undivided attention. This is not all. Steps have been taken to increase the number of miners in production work by upgrading and by transferring surface workers underground. It is satisfactory that the proportion of shifts worked at the face has been more than maintained at the figure at which it stood a year ago after recovering from the serious decline following the fall of France—36.1 in May last year and 36.3 in May this year.
§ Major Lloyd George
I quite agree. The corresponding figure in December, 1941, was 35.97. Over 2,700 surface workers between 18 and 25 have now gone underground, the vast majority voluntarily. This is essential, since quite apart from increasing the labour force I must see that the men in the industry are used in the most effective way possible, and it is the concern of myself and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour to see that surface workers who are willing and fit are transferred to work underground. The question of giving a chance of working in the industry or going into the Forces is a question of far-reaching principle 1226 affecting the principles of organising the nation's man-power, and is therefore one which my right hon. Friend must decide. As far as I am concerned, I cannot recommend that young surface workers should be given the option of going into the Forces at a time when the industry is faced with a very serious shortage of young men for underground work.
§ Major Lloyd George
The clerical staff does not enjoy the advantage which the surface worker does of a blanket deferment. A surface worker is not liable to called up for service. There is a great difference, because if you are deferred you cannot be called up but you may be directed to any work. This industry is the only one in the country which has a blanket deferment covering the whole lot.
Thus, to make the most of our manpower, we are giving attention to health, to recruitment and also to training, upgrading and transfer underground. In addition we have followed a policy of concentration, the urgency of which I have impressed upon my Regional Controllers, in view of the decline in man-power. This policy falls into two parts, first of all to concentrate within a pit wherever possible, and, secondly, to move men from less productive pits to pits where the output is higher than the one from which they are transferred. That is the aim of the policy, the one within, the other without. I never anticipated that this policy would produce quick results, but the efforts made over the past year are now beginning to show themselves and, I hold, have been encouraging.
Every pit in the country has been examined, and 50 schemes of concentration, in which pits have been closed or partly closed and the men removed elsewhere, have been put into operation, and at over 40 pits plans of internal concentration have been carried out. Although most of these schemes have only been put into effect since the beginning of this year I estimate that the gain from the present rate will be about 1,000,000 tons a year. I indicated last year that this policy would not be an easy one to carry out, as human as well as technical problems were involved. For instance, low productivity cannot always be the test 1227 for closing a pit, because certain types of coal which are in short supply must be mined even when productivity is low.
It is important to overcome the opposition from both sides of the industry. As a result of consultation in the regions, great progress has been made this year in overcoming that opposition. Together with that policy of concentration we have been pressing ahead with the installation of machinery. Inevitably there has been difficulty in increasing manufacturing capacity. The actual application of machines to the pits is a very big problem. The development of power loading and the installation of machinery—examples of which are now in operation in Nottinghamshire—continue. Where power loaders, of one type or another, are satisfactorily applied there is an increase of output per man-shift, releasing colliers for other productive work. An encouraging feature is that the men who are trained to work these machines are enthusiastic about their work. One may hope that this aspect will aid us in attracting youth to the mines. Finally, we have made progress, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckrose (Major Braithwaite) mentioned, in the working of coal by open-cast methods. This has been undertaken, as he said, by the Ministry of Works, on my behalf. The Ministry works in the closest co-operation with the Regional Controller of my Ministry. The number of these open-cast mines is 62, with an average life of 30 weeks. Many others have been or soon will be tested and proved. In the last coal year over 2,000,000 tons of this coal was produced, and I hope that this year the amount will be very considerably increased. I cannot leave the field of general production without mentioning the new conciliation machinery. It is difficult to estimate how much this country owes in the output of coal to the promptness and imagination of Lord Greene and his Board in devising the wages award of last June. An even greater achievement is the establishment of a national wages machinery for the coalmining industry, the existence of which will do much, I hope, to prevent a repetition of the unhappy conflicts of the past.
Despite the undoubted progress that has been made on many of the points referred to in the White Paper, I am faced, as is inevitable, with a number of 1228 problems of varying degrees of importance, which somehow I must endeavour to overcome. One which has been raised frequently during my visits to the coalfields is the question of food. It has been raised here to-day. I must say this. I have said it to the workers themselves whenever I have been asked questions on the matter. The miners at their canteens have access to more food than the rest of us; yet again and again at canteens which I personally visited, at which I had meals, I heard that they were patronised by one-third or one-quarter of the miners, despite the fact that those mines were equipped with pithead baths. Where canteens are provided, it is fair to expect that they should be used. I do not suggest that miners should be put to inconvenience—if it deserves so hard a word—to eat good, plentiful, and cheap food at their canteens rather than at home. As compared with the West End restaurant, the miners' canteen receives 100 per cent. more meat, 67 per cent. more fats, 60 per cent, more sugar, and 25 per cent. more fish.
§ Major Lloyd George
That is beside the point, if I may say so. The complaint is that the miner does not get enough to eat. My answer is that where there are canteens which supply these things they are patronised by only one-third to one-quarter of the men. [Interruption.] We have more canteens than my hon. Friend thinks. It is a service not only to the men but to their wives—far more so than some people believe. I sat next to one miner's wife at lunch. She told me that she had six sons, and she was delighted that they sometimes took their meals at the canteen. If shortage of food is the argument, there is no excuse for not taking it where food is supplied. It is not good enough to say, "I must take it at home" Another point is, at how many of the pits are these canteens available? Very shortly, sit-down hot meals will be available at 60 per cent. of the collieries of the country, and counting snack bars, canteens exist at over 90 per cent. at present. I know that where there are no pithead baths it is a more serious problem, but I emphasise that where they exist the canteens should be used. I am thinking of one particular case where the canteen is only 25 per cent. used.
1229 A point which is always referred to in coal Debates, and which is inclined to generate heat—which I think is a pity—is the very important question of absenteeism. I would like the Committee to examine with me this question, on which, so far as I know, no considered statement has ever been made in this House. So many statistics are produced from different quarters, all rather coloured, according to the view of the gentlemen putting them forward. I long ago asked for the most comprehensive figures to be made available to me. I have kept them very closely under review. Many of them were never available before. I expect that some of these facts will be very new to hon. Members. Most people are familiar with the statement that absenteeism in the coalfields is running at about 11 per cent., or a little more. That is the general statement. The first thing I asked was, "Percentage of what?" The answer was, "Shifts which were not worked, as a percentage of the total shifts which could have been worked under war conditions." It was a purely mathematical calculation, including weekend shifts and overtime.
I asked that this percentage should be divided between shifts lost for reasons within the control of the individual, and shifts lost for reasons outside the control of the individual, such as illness, injury and certain other causes. They show that 4.47 per cent. of the total man-shifts possible were lost through avoidable causes, and 6.98 per cent. through unavoidable causes. These figures may surprise the Committee. It is not generally realised that in the man-power force of this industry of 708,000 men, there are in. any week 50,000 men who do not work through sickness or injury. That means that the effective man-power in this industry of 708,000 men is only about 660,000. The absence of these non-effectives is, and always has been, included in the absentee figures. I need not explain why the number who cannot work through sickness or injury is so great—certainly not to hon. Members opposite. Many Members may not know, however, that the number of absences reported each year involving absence for three days or more is between 150,000 and 160,000—that is, on an average one man in four suffers injury involving absence of three days or more, at least once in the year. There are in a year 135,000 cases 1230 involving absence for eight days or more. The industry has a very high rate of occupational sickness, while the miner is more prone than people in most other industries to rheumatism. Taking into account the number of men not employed in the industry in any one week, the effective rate of voluntary absenteeism is not more than 4½ per cent. It is not possible to compare this figure with that for any other industry, since comparable figures are not in existence. The miners as a body suffer from the fact that there is a statistical searchlight on their attendances and absences such as exists in no other industry. I have thought it right to indicate what the statistics available to me really show. To put it in another way, it is the shifts worked, and not a statistical percentage, which produces coal. If we take the men actually employed week by week, the average number of shifts worked exceeds 5¾. These figures should be taken into account whenever accusations are made against miners as a body.
But I am not attempting to hide the fact that there is an irresponsible minority, mainly composed of young men, and others who absent themselves particularly at week-ends, and I do not need to remind hon. Members with a knowledge of the mining industry what an effect it has on the cycle of operations if the weekend absenteeism is heavy. That irresponsible element bears a heavy responsibility at the present time. When I used the term, "only 4½ per cent.," I did not mean that it was an insignificant figure. I simply meant that it was 4½ per cent., and not 11 per cent. If the 4½ per cent. who are guilty of voluntary absenteeism to-day would decide to reduce their absenteeism by only half, this country would have 4,000,000 tons more coal per annum. Surely this is not much to ask, when most of them are the younger men in the industry. Were it the older men, you could say that the physical strain tells on them much more; but it is not the older men. It is not much to ask these younger men by voluntary effort on their part to reduce the absenteeism by half.
§ Mr. Foster
Does that 4½ per cent. include shifts lost by men who are already working over six shifts, as a result of overtime? Does the Minister expect men to work the whole of the shifts in addition to their overtime?
§ Major Lloyd George
No. The figures used to be made up in that way. I had cases where men had worked eight shifts and were still included as absentees. That has been completely stopped. These are really the bad boys, you can take it from me. When we have asked, and got a response from, every class in this country, rich and poor alike, for, I will not say hardship—we do not inflict hardship upon them, but certainly we have inflicted inconvenience upon the public by our fuel economy campaign last winter—is it too much to ask that these young men should really play their part in seeing this country through its difficulty? The country has a right to expect that these young men shall do their duty in this field, as other young men are doing it throughout the Empire.
§ Major Lloyd George
I will develop my speech in my own way. I am endeavouring to tackle this matter by the method laid down in the White Paper, which ensures continual approach to all habitual absentees. But this matter, I am certain, cannot be equalled in any other industry in the country at the present time. In addition, I am proceeding with experiments—details of which I will not give out at the moment but which are not without promise and it may be worth recording, as evidence of the difficulty of finding a solution of this problem, that the most critical who share my anxiety in this matter have not yet been able to provide me with any new suggestion. To face the fact that unwarrantable absenteeism exists is not to be resigned to its existence, but I thought it right to let the Committee know that the great majority of the mining representatives of this country are putting their backs into the job. The others, whose irresponsibility I do not condone—nor does anybody I have come across in that industry condone it—we must remember, are still coal-getters. The right approach to them, I am convinced, is to try and persuade them of the serious need for coal and to tie up their lives with the lives of the men who are fighting at the front. There are some who pin their faith entirely to harsh punishment measures alone. I am not suggesting that severe 1232 measures may not sometimes be necessary. I have not been afraid of taking them, and I shall not be afraid of taking them in future, but I shall continue to regard it as my duty to use in coal-getting all the labour that is available to me.
§ Mr. MacLaren (Burslem)
Before the right hon. and gallant Gentleman leaves that point may I ask him whether the position has been put to him with regard to the effect of Income Tax upon these young men as against the older men with families, who are able to get remission of Income Tax; and is he aware that the young men are rebelling against this Income Tax?
§ Major Lloyd George
That is a question which has been put to me at many meetings I have addressed, but I do not think that my hon. Friend would persuade me that that really has anything to do with this problem.
The last question that I come to is that of pit production committees. It is a field in which I am convinced that progress can and must still be made. It is a very important matter. It is not possible for a Minister to keep in touch with every individual in the coal industry, but I do try to keep in touch with the pit production committees. I have personally addressed the committees of collieries of nearly 1,000 pits in this country since I assumed this office. I have always encouraged as free a discussion as possible, and I have never been disappointed. I do not as a rule address them for any length of time, because I simply say that I would like to hear their views. As a result of these discussions—and I have enjoyed them all, free as the discussions might have been—I have learnt the views of the men themselves. I have had many useful suggestions, and I do hope that in some way I was able to clear up many points which they were in doubt about. But I do not think yet that what I can say is one of the most valuable things from the point of view of the men in the industry, namely, the pit production committee, has been appreciated by the managements. From a survey that I have made—it is not a complete survey—one in four of the pit production committees is functioning really effectively, but, on the other hand, one of the remaining three is almost ineffective for the purposes for which it was set up. There are a number of circumstances which affect the useful- 1233 ness of pit production committees—industrial relations in the area, the character of the regional control and, above all, the attitude of managements, which in the nature of things must come all the way to meeting representatives of the men. The management have a complete knowledge of plans and developments, impending difficulties and so on; the men's representatives naturally begin as a rule only with the knowledge acquired in their working experience. Both sides must come to these meetings in a spirit of good will, otherwise they can never function, and it is not a coincidence, I feel, that, speaking broadly, there is a direct relationship between a good pit production committee and a good output. I do not think that it is altogether a coincidence, and I regard the question of pit production committees as one of the most important as far as this new organisation is concerned.
§ Mr. E. J. Williams (Ogmore)
May I ask the Minister whether, in his tour of the country, he realised the dual position in which a manager finds himself in having to carry out the dictates of the controller and at the same time come under the purview of his directors?
§ Major Lloyd George
As far as pit production committees are concerned, while that obviously has been raised, curiously enough, it was not one of the most prominent features of the discussions, and I think the reason is that, quite rightly, the committees are accepting the situation which exists at the present time. All points of that character, even as the Government themselves pointed out last year, would be reconsidered in the light of circumstances, but that is not one of the most important points raised.
Having discussed some of the main events with regard to the White Paper, I will say one word in conclusion about next winter.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
Does not the Minister find that the majority of the workmen's representatives on the pit production committees feel that they are resented very much by a tremendous number of the managements?
§ Major Lloyd George
That really would not be very dangerous as a general statement. That goes back to what I said when I remarked that an awful lot de- 1234 pends on the management. My experience, frankly, of pit production committees has been not only that there has not been that difficulty, but that the greatest difficulty was to get the management to speak at all.
§ Major Lloyd George
That would not do any good. I was not in the chair, but at any rate I was very near it. With regard to next year, I have had the most careful estimates made again of the position, and I will say this,.provided—and it is a very important proviso—that there is no serious decline in output per man, and if the economies secured last year are not only maintained but increased, as they can be, we shall see next winter through. It has been said that the only solution is more man-power. That certainly is an easy solution, and it would make it very much easier for me. I am not someone to reject something which makes my life a little less difficult, but while it is my duty to see that we have enough coal for our war effort, it is equally my deity to see that everything possible is done to fulfil that demand without weakening our war effort in any direction. The time may come when, owing to alterations in the war situation, such demands will be made as cannot be met with existing resources, but until that situation is abundantly clear, it is surely our duty to make every effort to meet our requirements with the means at our disposal. A year ago most people feared that we had not the means to meet the requirements during that winter. I do not think that people have quite forgotten some of the things said last winter.
§ Major Lloyd George
I did not say 15,000 more men. It was 14,000 more men than I expected to receive.
§ Mr. Grenfell
The Minister himself said that during last year he received 15,000 more men, and will he be able to get thorn next year?
§ Major Lloyd George
My estimate was based on man-power as I know it to-day. They did not come all at the same time, and the amount of coal I attributed to these men who came 1235 in is something in the neighbourhood of 2,000,000 tons, and 3,000,000 tons contributed by those already in the industry. But it was thought, and much more strongly than it is to-day, that we could not possibly see last winter through. Lots of my friends felt very sorry for me, and I was very grateful for their sympathy, because I needed it. The facts that I have presented to the Committee to-day show that these fears were not in the event justified, but only not justified because of the determined effort made by everybody concerned, both consumers and producers alike. To those who have given expression again to those fears I would only say this, that if the same determination and wilingness to co-operate are shown this year as were shown last year, we shall realise 12 months hence that we have safely completed one more stage of our arduous journey.
§ Sir Arnold Gridley (Stockport)
We have listened with attentive and sympathetic interest to the long statement which we have heard from the Minister, but whether we can find ourselves in agreement with his final sentences is another matter. I am afraid that those of us who have been charged with the duty for the third time of making an examination into the general state of the coal industry find our greatest anxieties as to how the Minister and those assisting him are going to provide the nation here and overseas with its requirements during the coming winter. The last winter we safely weathered, as the Minister has explained to us to-day, by the contribution of all partners in it—first, the miners, who, if I understood the figures referred to for the first time, secured over 3,000,000 more tons of coal than estimated and to the consumers who reduced their consumption by something of the order of 11,000,000 tons, whereas it was only expected that they would reduce it by 8,000,000.
§ Sir A. Gridley
So much the better. I I want to give the industry and the miners who go down the pit every bit of credit which may be their due.
I feel to-day a special sense of responsibility in intervening in this Debate, for the reason that in conjunction with hon. 1236 colleagues from both sides of the Committee we have made a most careful review of the position and the developments that have taken place since the setting-up of the Ministry of Fuel and Power. Nearly all the points which the Minister touched upon in his statement were not, I think, new knowledge to us, although to the Committee no doubt some of the facts have been divulged for the first time. The Minister achieved great success during last winter in bridging and closing the gap, which seemed an alarming and almost an impossible one at the time. He was assisted to a very great extent by the most excellent work carried out by the hon. and gallant Member for Ormskirk (Commander King-Hall), and by the humorous "fuel flashes" of Freddy Grisewood, which had a great deal of influence on housewives. We only wish that equal success had attended the efforts of the new Ministry in achieving what the White Paper led us to anticipate. I would like to refer to the Debate in which the present Minister took part in October last, because he said then one or two things about which we should remind ourselves to-day. He said:As an example of what that demand is in the present coal year I may say that certain important munition industries will require 25 per cent. more coal than they did two years ago; electricity will require 40 per cent. more coal, gas 15 per cent. and railways 13 per cent. above the figure for the pre-Dunkirk period.Later, he said:The anxiety of the House and the country is concerned with the immediate position. That must, in the main, depend on the increased productivity of the men now in the industry.Again, referring to absenteeism the Minister said:The rate at present is between 10 and 11 per cent. for the country as a whole. This is an overall figure, which includes voluntary as well as involuntary absenteeism … it does not excuse the small minority of men who are not working with the urgency required for this present situation. With this minority I say at once I have no sympathy. I doubt whether anybody in this House has any sympathy for them whatsoever in a single pit production committee, either individually or collectively. Indeed, it was generally condemned. I will go further—and I had lots of talks with miners themselves—it causes very great resentment among those who are working steadily, because it upsets the work they are doing, and, further, it draws upon the whole mining community criticism which ought to be confined to the particular section which is not doing its job …. In a large 1237 number of collieries … 15 per cent. are not putting in the requisite number of shifts. Some of these, it is true, are elderly men, and these cannot be classed with the younger men, who can offer no justification for their absence.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st October, 1942; cols. 961–972, Vol. 383.]May I make this observation in passing? I think it is a mistake to make the comparison which the Minister has made more than once between absenteeism in this industry and absenteeism in other industries. It may not matter very materially if you have a high percentage of absenteeism in filling factories or in an industry of that kind where we have, possibly, ample stocks. But in the coal industry we have the foundation of all other industries' efforts and the foundation of our total war effort and, therefore, it is of vital consequence to cure all voluntary absenteeism. There are many who say—and there is a good deal of substance in this—that voluntary absenteeism from the mines is as grave a matter to the country in present circumstances as absenteeism from the Forces.
Later, in our last Debate on this subject, the Minister went on to refer to the delays in dealing with these offenders and indicated that he was satisfied that the alteration in the procedure for dealing with such cases would reduce delay and give the results which the whole industry desired. We pointed out in the Report we issued from the Select Committee on National Expenditure last month, that the methods of dealing with these offenders were still most unsatisfactory and far too slow. I could not agree more than I do with what was said by the hon. Member opposite who emphasised the futility of taking men to court and imposing upon them sentences of imprisonment and heavy fines. That is the wrong way to deal with these matters in these times. The way to deal with absentees, so far as we can make any suggestion at all, is for their colleagues in the pits to deal with them. We made one suggestion in the Report, of which those who have read it will be aware. Although we have been charged by some newspapers with not having made as many constructive suggestions as might be possible, Select Committee are sometimes accused—and I think not without justice—of going outside their terms of reference on matters of policy. That we tried to avoid.
1238 I want to refer for a few moments to the White Paper itself, because I do not consider that the present Minister is responsible for the position in which the industry finds itself to-day. The White Paper we had before us last June was a Government White Paper and, if my memory serves me aright, the present Minister was not then appointed, or if he had been appointed it was only a very short time earlier and he could have had little responsibility. I may be wrong but I do not think I am. The Government said in paragraph 22 of the White Paper:As a result of these measures— that is the addition of 11,300 underground workers, the working of outcrop deposits and measures to increase efficiency by enforcing their scheme of Government control—the Government look to a substantial increase in output during the coming year.Well, we have had the figures to-day and they show that no substantial increase has been forthcoming. Referring to the demand expressed in all quarters of the House in an earlier Debate for a return of more men from the Services the White Paper said:The Government have decided that it is not necessary, particularly at this stage of the war, to withdraw any further men from the Armed Forces for work in the mines.Let the Committee note that it was the Government in June last which looked to a substantial increase in output during the coming year. It was not the Minister of Fuel and Power. The net effect, as a result of the measures taken by the Government and in spite of appeals by the Prime Minister, Field Marshal Smuts and many others, including miners' leaders, who have done everything they can to secure increased production, is that production is waning, at a time when, as the Minister said in the last Debate, railways, important munition industries, gas and electricity undertakings are needing a substantially increased quantity of coal.
In addition to these demands—and this is what frightens me—we may have to export many millions of tons of coal. Indeed, we have already sent hundreds of thousands of tons to North Africa. That supply will have to be maintained even if North Africa is removed from the fighting arena because the coal which North Africa used before our troops 1239 occupied that part of the world came from France when the Vichy Government was in control. Now that supply, which we have had to replace, will have to come from this country. Everyone is anxious to see, and all are daily expecting to hear of, new big moves being made to open a second front in Europe. Who can tell what quantity of coal will be needed for the life-and-death purposes of our Forces? Who is to go short if the vitally urgent needs of our Fighting Forces are to be met? I cannot think that any young miner, if this point were hammered home to him by his colleagues, and if he realised how vitally important every ton of coal is not only to us here but to our Allies overseas, could possibly absent himself for a day. When I spoke in the last coal Debate I quoted Russian opinion about those who do not pull their weight and I daresay a great many Members read, as I do, the "Soviet War News" which is issued daily from the Soviet Embassy in London. I have in my hand the issue for 25th May from which I think I ought to quote to the Committee. The references I want to quote are as follow:War is war; it demands iron discipline at the front and at the rear.Then, referring to absenteeism and loafers, it says:These absentees and loafers are stealing from the Red Army. They are depriving it of a certain amount of arms, ammunition, equipment, bread and meat. During March several dozen workers absented themselves from their duties in one mine in the Kuzuetsk Basin. The absence of even one miner deprives his country of no less than a dozen tons of coal and we need every ton of coal as much as we need air. Absentees interfere with the battle against the enemy; in fact, they help the enemy by their disgraceful behaviour.Referring to the duty of organisers—and I quote the following sentences because here management comes in—the paper says:In war-time the full force of the law must he directed against that handful of backward and unenthusiastic workers whose absenteeism interferes with the people's honest labour. Every day's absence from work is a crime against the front and the Motherland. How can one speak of honest absentees?— What sort of men are those so-called directors who do not censure loafers and who try to excuse the violators of discipline? The parties of Lenin and Stalin always attached tremendous importance to inculcating iron discipline among the masses.I will make no comment on that——
§ Mr. Kirkwood
Before the hon. Member goes any further may I ask does he not see the difference between miners in Russia and miners here? In Russia the mines belong to the Government, whereas in this country they belong to the mine-owners who run them as a means of making profit and not for the good of the country. That is the difference.
§ Sir A. Gridley
I should probably be out of Order if I attempted to reply to that point which was made the last time I spoke. The fact is that the mines in Russia belong to the State and the same trouble exists. The men absent themselves from work when they ought to be at it.
Once more may I urge on the Government, in spite of what has been said by the Minister, that there is very great necessity for finding more personnel, and particularly more face-workers, for the mines.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
The hon. Gentleman has been using Russia as a perfectly fair illustration, but, if we went into the whole details of it, obviously it would be going beyond the bounds of the Debate.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
Surely it is in Order, when a very serious point is being made, for an hon. Member to ask for further information. He surely has a right to have the point elucidated in a friendly manner.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
As far as that is concerned, the hon. Member did rise to put his point, but I repeat that, if you carry elucidation very far, you will never get on with the Debate at all. In saying that I have in mind the very large number of Members who want to take some part in the Debate.
§ Sir A. Gridley
I was appealing for more personnel to be provided in the mines. The Minister said that no one would welcome that step towards the solution of his difficulties more than he would 1241 himself. I have not forgotten the speech of the Lord President of the Council in winding up the Debate last October, when he purported to show that the number of miners in the Forces overseas was quite small—something of the order of 3,000 or 4,000—and many speakers were reluctant, rightly or wrongly, to accept those figures as accurate. But, be that as it may, I particularly want to call attention to a Question addressed to the Lord President by the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), who said:The Minister of Fuel and Power has accepted a responsibility that he will bridge the gap of 11,000,000 tons by voluntary saving and existing man-power. Are the Government satisfied that that can be done?The reply of the Lord President was:We are satisfied that it can be done for this winter with good will all round. It will not be done beyond this winter.—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 6th October, 1942; col. 1184, vol. 383.] That forecasts a critical situation facing us next winter, when we cannot expect to get the mild weather that we enjoyed last winter. I hope we shall not hear anything to-clay either of a demand for rationing on the White Paper coupon system. The. Minister got through last winter amazingly well. I only ask those who still seem to hanker after a coupon system, what would be the feelings of the people who had been granted coupons to get coal by the cwt. or two cwt. bags and who found all over the country that stone was mixed with the coal? That would have damned any coupon scheme. A coupon presupposes that you will get whatever the coupon represents. With a coupon for coal, you should be able to get coal and not half coal and half stone. I know how reluctant those in command in the. Services are to have their units broken up by releasing men to go back to the mines but, when there is serious fighting, battalions must suffer casualties and have their organisation broken up. Surely it is no less difficult to re-form battalions in consequence of casualties than in consequence of returning men from the Fighting Forces to the coal front.
To sum up the position as I see it, there appear to be only three alternatives facing the Government. The first is to bring back more coal face workers to the pits from wherever they can be combed out. The second is that the existing personnel must produce more coal. That can be done by 1242 reducing absenteeism. The third is that the consumption of coal, gas and electricity must be further reduced next winter both as regards domestic and industrial use. In other words, it is either more miners, or more output from those now in the industry, or reduced output, with very considerable hardship on householders, the majority of whom are engaged in war munitions production. The Government have grave decisions to take. We must never forget that it is not only British interests that are at stake but those of our Allies, whom we must not and dare not let down. I beg the Government to face these issues and to come to wise decisions. In my view they have not an hour to lose.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
May I begin by congratulating the Minister upon his concise and comprehensive statement, in the style to which we have now become accustomed? But I am afraid the subject is far deeper than would appear from the sort of surface gloss which has been put on it. In many ways this is the most amazing of all the industries in the country, and in many ways it is the most tragic. The wealth of the country in all kinds of directions has depended in the main upon this industry. It has often been pointed out that we are an island, and we should not have enjoyed the prosperity that we have enjoyed these last 150 years but for the fact that coal was to be found in so many parts of it, which has built up new industries and has enabled us to be the pioneers throughout the rest of the world. Then, having supplied the wealth for the rest of the country, it became a sort of plaything of finance and, at a time when finance wanted other outlets rather than coal, that is the very moment when the industry is deserted and allowed to suffer. As an hon. Member said just now, we have sown the wind, and we are now reaping the whirlwind. Let the Committee think what has been the position. At the beginning of the last war we were producing a fourth of the total consumption of coal in the world, and, what is more, we were exporting a tenth of the world's consumption, and you had 1,250,000 people working in the coalfield. We come to the beginning of this war, when we were producing a little over 200,000,000 tons, as compared with 292,000,000 tons in 1913, and let it be 1243 remembered that in 1913 there was very little mechanisation. By 1938 that had grown to something like ten times what it was in 1913, but the number of men employed had fallen from 1,250,000 to 800,000, practically 500,000 had gone.
That is the situation that faced us when we entered this war. Why? For several reasons. But one which is not emphasised sufficiently is the treatment that has been meted out during the last too years to the workers in the industry, the houses built for them, the places where they had to live and the wages paid them—the most patriotic of all in the last war, the first to volunteer, volunteering in such numbers that they had to be called back. When they were called upon to hurl coal at the head of the Kaiser in place of shells, they did it. That patriotic group of men between the two wars has suffered more from unemployment than any other set of men. We are indeed reaping the whirlwind. Reference has been made by Member after Member to the fact that no Member of the House who was brought up in coal has a son working at the coal face to-day. I have had a long experience now of my fellow countrymen and the traditions of coalmining in the Welsh valleys, where there are families in the fifth and sixth generations of miners, but what mother is there in the whole of South Wales who is encouraging her boy to work in the mines? If she can possibly find him something else to do, she is sending him out to do that something else. Now the call comes for younger men. The Minister has given us the figures showing that 20 per cent. now are over 51. Many of us live an active life, having to go here, there and everywhere, but what one of us, having reached these years, is prepared to go down a mine and put in the work that these men are putting in between the ages of 50 and 70, and, what is more, putting in more shifts than they have ever put in before? During that bad period there were days when they could not work. To-day they are called upon, and have been called upon for the last four years, to work every possible shift they can, and they have done it. But a war weariness is bound to come upon them.
Where is help to come from? The Minister rightly has taken consolation from the fact that he has come through this year as well as he has owing to the amaz- 1244 ing saving by consumers of over 3,000,000 tons above what they were expected to save, and an extra production of 5,000,000 tons, which is 2,000,000 tons more than was expected. What about future consumption? The hon. Member for Stockport (Sir A. Gridley) rightly called attention to the greater call there must be by industry, electricity and gas, but there is also the much more likely call to come for export. At the moment what do we export compared with what we may be suddenly called upon to provide to keep up the morale of those peoples whom we will be freeing? There will be a greater call for consumption. It is on the figure of production that I would challenge the figures of the Minister. May I remind him that he got that extra production through extra work put in by men who were already tired, who had already put in three solid years of hard work and have now put in a fourth? He got in addition 14,000 fresh men from industry. They can only be taken once. There is no steady trickle of men back to the mines of those who have been absent for two or three years. Where is the reservoir for the future? All the Minister can do is to hope that the young men will come along and that his system of training will secure him a few thousand, but how will that few thousand compare with what he is bound to have in order to make up for the wastage? After four years of war and with 20 per cent. of the men over 50, the old average of a net loss of 25,000 and a gross loss of 35,000 is bound to happen, and I cannot see how the Minister is to recruit this year the fresh hands that he will require. There is no other reservoir such as he has had this year to draw upon. What is to be the inducement for the young men to come in?
It seems to me that much more drastic steps are required than those mentioned by the Minister in order to meet the labour position. I can never understand why, if one advocates in this House the continuance of the status quo ante, it is non-political, but if one tries to suggest a reform which is necessary at once, one is talking politics in the middle of war. If it is necessary in order to get production to take much more revolutionary steps, I hope that the Government will take them. I am sure that it does not lay in the hands of the Minister to do anything. The policy has been laid down by the 1245 War Cabinet; he has to carry it out, and well does he carry it out with the tools that have been given to him. May I use a phrase that was used by the Prime Minister in an appeal that he made to America? "Give us the tools, and we will finish the job." I am hoping that the Minister will demand that the War Cabinet gives him the tools that will finish the job, and I am sure that he can do it. So much depends on the outlook and approach with regard to these matters. At the present moment what is the outlook for the miner? All he can see is that for the duration of the war he is working at coal which has been controlled by the Government. It is still owned by the mineowners and the full intention apparently is that it shall go back to them at the end of the war. The position will then be exactly the same as it was in 1919. Seeing this, the miner says to his son, "In the last war I was told to go into the mines because the country wanted coal. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who was then the Prime Minister, came down and talked to us in language which moved us and told us that it was the most patriotic thing we could do to go back to the mines and produce coal. I believed him and I went back, but what pay did I get between 1919 and 1939? You know, my boy, of the years of unemployment that your father suffered and that your friends' fathers suffered. There is a call for you now to go and work in these mines. If you are patriotic you will listen to it, but if you are only thinking of yourself and comparing it with what your lather went through, then, before you go, demand some better guarantee for yourself than your father got."
§ Mr. Holdsworth (Bradford, South)
How can any revolutionary step alter the world economic position or make the miners' position any different?
§ Mr. Davies
What is the attraction now for the young miner to go into the pit when he has that history in front of him? It would make a world of difference if the mines were being worked for the community and the community was standing behind the miners.
§ Mr. Davies
When men realise that the work they are putting in is benefiting the community as a whole and not one particular individual or company, and when they realise that there will be a guarantee behind the industry, that the whole community will be responsible for it and that it will not be dependent on the wealth or bankruptcy of particular firms, their outlook will change. Their whole treatment with regard to housing and amenities will alter. I hope that the view taken by the Minister will be justified by events, but I fear greatly that the demands of consumption will be increased. What I fear still more is that in spite of the patriotism and hard work of the miners there will be a fall in production in the coming winter. If that happens, it will be a major disaster in fighting this war.
§ Mr. Wragg
When I spoke last on coal in this House my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) said that I hardly ever spoke on any question except coal, and that I reminded him of the silversmiths of Ephesus, who only began to talk when their craft was in danger. I make no apology for speaking on an occasion of this sort, because the mining industry is one which vitally affects many of my constituents. I was interested to listen to the eloquent speech of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), but from my experience of barristers I find them not very reliable in figures. It would take me a long time to go into the various figures to show how wrong he was. Before the great war of 1914 the number of men employed in the mining industry was not 1,250,000, but 1,100,000. The output was 287,000,000 tons. In 1920 the output had gone down to 220,000,000, but the number of men had increased to 1,200,000—an increase of 100,000 men and a reduction in output of 67,000,000 tons. That does not seem to show that State control was any great success in the last war. In fact, State control was the rock on which the industry almost foundered.
To talk as if there was not a proper wage paid to the miners at that time is absolute nonsense. The miners were paid 25s. a shift on the average during that period. In 1920 the wage cost per ton of coal was 25s. 9d., and the price at 1247 which the coal was sold was 37s. 5d. The output per man-shift had dropped from 21 cwts. in 1913 to 15 cwts. in 1920. For the three months of 1921 before the great strike of that year the wage costs had mounted up to 29s. 8d. and the price had gone down to 33s. 1d. There was a loss which was borne by the State of 6s. 11d., and that was what brought about the crisis in 1921. During this period the price at home was controlled, but the export price was free. We managed to get 37s. 5d. in 1920 for home and export coal, but the home price being less we got it by robbing foreign countries and charging countries on the Continent which were short of coal £3, £4 and £5 a ton. As soon as those foreign countries got their own mines going and got their electricity from water-power undertakings in operation, they no longer wanted our coal, and that brought about the crisis. I am only hoping that control in this war will be better than it was in the last war, and that the after results will be better.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
The hon. Member says the men were getting 25s. a shift. I say that if he were offered 25s. an hour, he would not be a miner.
§ Mr. Wragg
I really must be allowed to make my speech in my own way. I try to be calm and not to emulate the example of the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) in his vociferous speech. Many statements have been made about colliery directors and mine managers not going to work at the coal face which are entirely wrong. The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) stated that a mine manager did not send his sons to work at the face.
§ Mr. Wragg
I was referring to what the non. Member for Gower said. He said that mine managers never sent their sons to work at the coal face. All I can say in reply is that in one small district in South Derbyshire I can find three managers who have sons in the industry. One is working at the face, and the two others are mine managers. They are following in the footsteps of their father.
§ Mr. Wragg
I am not accustomed to being suppressed by clamour from either Communists or Socialists. I have attended many meetings of miners at election times which have been much more stormy than this gathering. We had the crisis in the mining industry in 1921, and then there was the strike, but between 1921 and 1938 output was actually increased from 15 cwt. per man per shift in 1921 to 24 cwt. at the outbreak of the war. It has now gone down to about 21 or 22 cwt., a decline of about 10 per cent. since the beginning of the war.
§ Mr. Wragg
I am dealing with 1938, when there was a 7½-hour day, and 1921. I say that in 1921 the output per man per shift was 15 cwt. and by 1938, as a result of mechanisation by the wicked coal managers and their colliery directors, whom the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) has repeatedly said ought to be shot, and the men, all credit to them, all working together, output had been increased from 15 cwt. to 24 cwt. at the outbreak of the war.
§ Mr. Gallacher
If the hon. Member is giving credit for increased output to the coalowners, I would ask what actual part the coalowners played in coal production?
§ Mr. Wragg
I was particular to mention both the wicked coalowners and the mine managers, and I incidentally mentioned the men. The men cannot get the coal without the management. I said they were all working together. I cannot understand why Members like the hon. Member for West Fife should wish to be setting one section against the other, setting the mine managers against the men and the men against the mine managers, and the two against the coalowners.
§ Mr. Wragg
I am quite accustomed to this sort of thing, all these interruptions, 1249 but I should like to make my speech in my own way. What are the reasons why output has gone down? One of the real reasons is that the number of men working at the coal face is altogether out of proportion to the number of men on the surface and the number of men working underground but not at the coal face. Many of the younger men working at the coal face, on whom the output of a colliery depends, were called up at the beginning of the war for the Territorial Force, and in many of our collieries in the Midlands we suffered a great deal owing to that happening. It is said that mining is the Cinderella among the industries. That is absolutely untrue. It is said that men will not go into the mines, and that boys will not go into the mines. There is no difficulty in South Derbyshire, Leicestershire or Nottinghamshire in getting men to go into the mining industry. The difficulty is that there is so little difference in the remuneration of a man working on the surface and doing a light job and a man working underground. In Leicestershire a banksman on the surface, owing to the bonus that he is getting now, and owing to the flat rate, is receiving £5 13s. 9d. for a six-shift week, and if he goes underground he gets only £5 16s. 6d. for a six-shift week. The ordinary man at the age of 21 or 22 with a light job on the surface does not feel inclined to go down the pit for an extra 3s. a week. [Interruption.] I am not saying whether the man getting £5 13s. 9d. is overpaid or whether he is underpaid. All I am saying is——
§ The Chairman (Major Milner)
An hon. Member is not entitled to interrupt unless the hon. Member who is speaking gives way.
§ Mr. Wragg
The difference between the pay of the man on the surface and the man underground is due to a great extent to the Greene award. It has been found to be favourable in some districts, but it made the great mistake of giving a flat-rate advance to the men working on the surface as well as to those working underground, whereas in the opinion of many mining people there should have been a difference. There is comparatively small difference in the pay of a man doing 1250 an easy job on the surface arid a man doing a responsible job—in many pits.
Next I will deal with the question of absenteeism. In Derbyshire, which I know something about, and in Leicestershire there is very little absenteeism indeed. Perhaps the hon. Member for West Fife will take note of this, that in South Derbyshire the avoidable absenteeism at the coal face is only 1.06 per cent., and the percentage of absenteeism among all employed is only 0.83 per cent. If other districts were as good, there would be no difficulty in the coal industry. In Leicestershire the absenteeism is 3.24. if they can do that in Derbyshire and Leicestershire, they could probably dc it in Scotland and Wales.
§ Mr. Wragg
I cannot deal with every county. I simply say that the position in regard to absenteeism is very good in the Midlands. Along with other Members of this House and with people interested in the mining industry who appreciate the great work which is being done by everyone connected with the mining industry, I deplore the taking of men to court and fining them, and sometimes sending them "down the line," as they say, for absenteeism. I would much prefer to see it dealt with by the pit production committees, subject to an appeal to, say, the Regional Controller. What happened before the war, when absenteeism was not so bad as it is to-day? If a man was a good manager, he knew his men, and if a man who was a good man stayed away and said he did so because he was tired, the mine manager, who would know the man, would know that he wanted a rest. On the other hand, if a man who was continually shirking took a day off, when he came back he would be told, "You have had a day off for yourself, and now you can have a day off for us." I say that that is a more humane way of dealing with the matter than by taking men into the police court, but such cases should always be subject to appeal to the Regional Controller, if the men want to take them to appeal.
Coal control causes a great deal of trouble and is not liked by a great many of the men. One of the great ideas seems to be to get anything which is black, whether it is coal or not. In lots of pits, 1251 propositions are being put forward of a very doubtful character. Take a pit producing 25 cwts. per man-shift of excellent coal from one seam. There is another seam close by where men could produce 27 or 28 cwts. of inferior coal. "The management are asked to take men out of the seam of good coal and put them into the other seam. It ought to be realised that it is not the weight of the coal which counts but its calorific value, or the heat which it gives out. We have therefore objected in many districts, in regard to pits with which I am connected, to regional controllers coming round to us with such requests. It is of no advantage to the country to turn out a larger quantity of a poor class of coal.
I come to the question of outcrop coal. I see that the Select Committee on National Expenditure say that 1,300,000 tons of outcrop coal have already been raised, and the loss has been about £1,000,000, but I think that will probably turn out to be an under-estimate. Whenever I mention a question of this sort to anybody, I get the answer that money does not count. Mr. Harold Skimpole in "Bleak House" was indifferent to money, and the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) has also told us that pounds, shillings and pence are mere symbols. The feeling often expressed is, "If we must have the coal, what does it matter what it costs?" If it does not matter what it costs, we have no right to take the savings of the people, and we ought to be honest and to tell them that at the end of the war their money will not be worth what it is now and their savings will, in effect, have gone, because of the extravagance of Governments during the war. Money does count. There is far too much extravagance at the present time, not particularly in the mining industry but in every industry. Last September I had correspondence with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power. I wrote to him on these lines: "The Select Committee on National Expenditure holds post-mortem examinations, after the money has been spent, but I am going to advise you before the money has been spent, to save extravagance in this particular case."
Outcrop coal is being raised in my constituency and I should imagine that it costs anything from £2 to £3 per ton, 1252 without allowing for compensation for loss of crops, and damage and other things. Before it is finished it will probably cost £4 per ton. It is being sold at £1 a ton. It is being stacked in thousands of tons, and when it has had a winter of snow and frost, it will probably be slurry, and I do not know who would care to give £1 a ton for it. Perhaps money does not count; if so, we ought to tell people so. I see my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckrose (Major Braithwaite) here. He is a great advocate of outcrop coal. I will give him credit by saying that at one place in the Midlands, I saw the best proposition I have yet seen in outcrop coal. There are several kinds of outcrop coal. There is one where you have a seam nine-foot thick. You can work it with excavators at £1 or 30s. a ton, and it is a reasonable proposition, but when you come to seams three foot thick of poorish waterlogged coal and you have to remove a lot of rock off the top and then put it back, it becomes an impossible proposition—and then, money counts. That sort of venture ought never to be undertaken. I do not hold with the opinion of my hon. and gallant Friend that you can get a great many millions of tons from this outcrop coal.
I am sure that some Members will be very glad that I am bringing my remarks to a close. All I can say is that I feel sure there will be more co-operation between miners, managements and owners, and that everybody in the industry will do his level best to get the coal which is urgently needed for the prosecution of the war. It ill becomes hon. Members to say that this or that colliery-owner, at this or that pit, wants to stop it because he is losing money, or that another colliery-owner who is making money, therefore wants to go on with it. If hon. Members argue in that way, what is the poor colliery owner to do to be saved, except to hand over his pit to syndicalism or to some form of nationalisation? That sort of extreme speaking, and the heat engendered in coal Debates, will not impress the people of this country with nationalisation or with handing over the management of the pits to hon. gentlemen opposite, and will bring no good result in the future. I am glad to have been able to say these few words and I hope that I have been able to convert the hon. Member for West Fife to doing his best.
Mr. Henry White (Derby, North-East)
I am happy to be able to follow the hon. Member for Belper (Mr. Wragg). It is the first time in my life that I have followed him. In my early industrial life I worked for him. He has displayed to-day the mentality that permeated his firm when I was young, because I worked for that firm for 6s. 6d. a week when I first started. He has talked of the industrial area where he lives, and of the harsh treatment meted out to those who have been sufferers from absenteeism and has said that most of the magistrates are Labour people. He knows that that is far from true. He knows of the representation made not only by my party but also by my industrial union, to the powers that be, for more representation on the magistrates' bench in that county.
I think the same treatment is due to the hon. Member for Belper as he has meted out to us.
Furthermore, he made the statement that South Derbyshire and Leicestershire are so attractive that the young lads in that particular area are scrambling to get in the pits round Church Gresley and Swadlincote and elsewhere. I happen to know that area. I have three brothers who worked for the firms with which the hon. Member has an association, and he is stretching the point when he goes our of his way to say that one manager has a son at the coal face and two others are managers. He forgets to say it is their desire in life to recreate their personnel and their class of managerial outlook. Having said that, I would also like to mention that one is not prepared to accept even his version of open-cast mining. I have seen up and down the country and in his particular area as well a seam of coal that could be got within a reasonable price. Only three weeks ago, on his very doorstep, or his industrial doorstep, I witnessed the winning of coal that was of such a value that it would help the war effort and also take the burden off my colleagues in the coal-mining industry.
I rose to make a special point to the Minister in respect of the question of concentration. It has been laboured somewhat to-day, but I want to draw the 1254 attention of the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary to the question of concentration in relation to its effect on the transport difficulties of this country. It has been thought fit in my particular area to close a colliery. Four hundred men at that colliery have been directed elsewhere—to two more productive pits than the one which has been closed and one with a little higher productive capacity. This step not only meant the misfortune of not having proper travel facilities when the transfer took place, but it also had a bad effect upon the mining community in North-East Derbyshire. We have lost the National Production Director, who has not been replaced. In my region the Regional Production Director has not been replaced. There are seven men working on a panel. The Minister himself, in reply to a Question of mine, admired their public spirit in coming forward to help in this piece of work. Some of these men must have been in some degree connected with the closing of this colliery, with the result that the men who were working at the colliery which has been closed have been directed to the pits where some of those Production Deputy Directors are engaged on the production side. This has a bad psychological effect on our men. There is a feeling that they are being toyed with, with the result that there is resentment.
A fortnight ago I spent the whole of a week-end trying to avoid a stoppage of work because of the lack of facilities provided for transport and also because of this bad psychological effect. Therefore I want to appeal to the Minister that in future when concentration takes place some regard should be given to proper travel facilities being put into operation before the final direction is given to the men. In my particular area there is a feeling also that from the Yorkshire side into Derbyshire financial interests are creeping in and getting a hold of, and controlling, the pits where direction is taking place, with the result that you have not only got men and masters at variance, as has been suggested here to-day, but there is a feeling that there is a scramble of interests controlling the mining industry itself, and that our chaps are getting the wrong end of the stick every time. I say that this petty irritation has got to cease.
I warned this Committee 12 months ago what would happen to the concentration 1255 scheme. I put my point then, and what few concentrations have taken place in my particular area are proving to the hilt what I said then. It disturbs our village life and our community of interests, our men and our organisation, and there is a feeling that due consideration is not given to the man-power in these particular cases. I am very much afraid that after all the concentration we will not get in the long run an increased output. We might get it now, but it will prove in the long run that the disturbance caused will create such a psychology among our men that the output will decrease according to the man-shift worked. Let me give a case of the concentration that has taken place in North-East Derby. The men had a bus service. They were directed to another pit, and straight away the bus service that took them to this pit was refused them for travelling to the other pit, which was further away than the first one. This is too ridiculous for words. Apart from that, the furthest of the two pits to which they were transferred was 10 miles away. This means an expenditure in petrol, rubber, etc. We know we want coal, but the fact remains that these men had worked in a pit where total recognition of a trade union was accepted. They were directed to a pit where total trade union recognition as we understand it was not, in essence, accepted, where the company maintained and stuck to the letter of the law, with the result that these men have gone there 10 miles away and have to work a little longer, being expected to see the job finished.
I had a case last week of men who should have finished work at 10 p.m. staying a little longer to complete the job, with the result that after this had been done there was no bus to take them home 10 miles away, and then they were expected at work on Sunday morning. They told me the colliery manager had said, "If you do not present yourself for work on Sunday morning, you will have to appear before the investigation officer." They asked me my opinion. I said, "Go before the investigation officer." That is the position regarding concentration in my particular area. I hope that when further consideration is taking place the Minister will give full consideration to transport difficulties and other unsatisfactory features.
§ Mr. Lewis Jones (Swansea, West)
I was greatly interested in the speech of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power, and I could not help pricking up my ears when he said that he hoped next year to see the country through without any trouble, provided two things—that the output per man-shift were maintained, and that economy were still greater in industry and in domestic consumption. I agree with those Members who have expressed doubts about the optimism of the Minister. I thought the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) was wrong when he said that the miners had produced more last year than in the previous year. The figures which the Minister gave yesterday disclosed that the production was down 308,000 tons on the previous year, that is, 6,000 tons a week. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery said that, instead of a reduction last year, there had really been an increase. I know that the country has to face the fact that during the coming year there will be a fall in man-power in the collieries by 16,000, and I estimate, on the assumption that each miner produces five tons a week, that that will mean a reduction of at least 4,000,000 tons in the output of coal. I think the position is rather alarming. I am not going to pursue that argument now, but I want to make one or two suggestions which might assist in the solution of this problem.
It is rather tragic that the coal industry is practically alone in British industry in being in this dire state. It is so easy to fling bricks and venture criticism to the right or to the left; I have no desire to do so. I have been watching the operation of the Greene bonus award very closely since its inception, and I have come to the conclusion that this output award is a failure. I need not remind hon. Members that the scheme was first recommended to the employers and the employees by the Greene Board, as, in their own words:an inducement to the miners to make a special effort to increase productionIt was decided in the first place, after conferences between the owners and the miners, that this scheme should be operated for an experimental period of six months, and that at the end of that period, last March, the position should be reviewed. I gather that when the scheme was first discussed it was advocated on one side that the bonus should 1257 be on a district basis, and on the other that it should be on a pit basis. It was decided to adopt a district basis. There are in the British coalfield 25 coal-producing districts. It is remarkable that in only four of them has the output bonus been earned. A target has been fixed for each district, and the total of the district targets may be reckoned as the national target for the British coalfield. In not a single week has the national target been reached. Indeed, in 10 of the large districts, including South Wales and Yorkshire, in not a single week has any district reached the target. Those 10 districts are responsible for 48 per cent. of the coal of the country. Figures have been published showing the earnings under this scheme on 15th May, and on that occasion just over 7 per cent. of the employees of the whole of the coalfield had had the bonus. It is unsatisfactory that only 55,000 miners out of 710,000 have qualified. What is the reason?
§ Mr. Jones
The hon. Member has been interrupting all through the Debate; I hope he will let me go on. I take the view that if a pit target had been adopted the situation would not have arisen. You may have a district bonus paid on an output of 105 per cent. for the district. Some of the collieries in that district may have reached only 95 per cent. of the target, but they will have the advantage of the bonus. Another district may have produced only 98 per cent., and some of the collieries in that district may have reached 105 per cent., yet, because the district percentage is below 100, the men in the collieries producing 105 per cent. get nothing. It must be very unsatisfactory to the miner who has made a special effort to increase production. You may have a pit which has done remarkably well, where a very active pit production committee has successfully encouraged miners to increase production well above the target, but they fail to secure the bonus because another pit in the district has fallen well below the target. The incentive which inspired people will have disappeared, because they have gained no bonus. I urge the Minister to look into the matter, and to see whether he does not believe that an improvement could be effected by the adoption of a pit basis. I am surprised that no miners' 1258 representative has dealt with this point——
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
The Miners' Federation put forward the very point that the hon. Member suggested months ago.
§ Mr. Jones
I was not aware of that, and it only confirms my view of the position. On the question of canteens, those of us who are interested in, and associated with, the heavy industries realise that it is very desirable that everything should be done to supply the workers with additional rations. I have seen these canteens at work not only in the coal industry but also in the steel industry, and I can understand the disappointment that is caused when these canteens are not more freely used. It is indeed disappointing when every effort is made to provide good meals for mineworkers to see such a small percentage of workers taking advantage of them. I know of a case where only 20 per cent. of the miners took advantage of such a provision. I am confident that if we could persuade the operatives in these difficult rationing days to take advantage of this additional rationing system available at very reasonable prices, it would materially help to maintain the physique of all concerned. If we coupled that simple suggestion with the incentive of a pit production bonus scheme, it would provide an incentive for a material increase in output.
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor (Morpeth)
This, I believe, may be a red-letter day as far as the coal industry is concerned. We have 1259 listened to the Minister with great pleasure because we did not expect that he would have been able to give the figures that he has given to-day, either in regard to production or in regard to the saving by the consumer. We were very pleased to hear that last winter stocks were added to, but it will be generally accepted that if there was one lucky man in this country it was the Minister of Fuel and Power. He was congratulated. The sun shone upon him, but it would be a mistake to bank too much upon the sun always shining, just when we want it. I am pleased that the tone and tenor of this Debate to-day have been such as to warn the Minister to take further steps, in addition to those he has suggested himself.
There is one thing about which I am very pleased. I am glad that the Minister has come down on this question of absenteeism and I hope that we shall have no more humbug about it. There are Members in this Committee who have done almost irreparable damage in the coalfields by the strictures they have made here and the unfair things they have said about miners, by and large. The right hon. Gentleman gave the figure of 4.47 of avoidable absenteeism and of 6.97 of unavoidable absenteeism, but, taking the industry generally, during the war period and considering the time that we have been at war, I make bold to say that there is no other industry in this country that can be compared with the mining industry. Mind you, the miners have no lunch-time "Music while you work." The only music that our men have is the clank of the conveyor belt, and the rate at which they are working is the rate at which the conveyor belt is working.
Recently, while on the way to London I found myself riding in a bus with a miner from Newcastle. I did not know him but he knew me, and I know the colliery at which he works. He said, "The trouble at our pit is that we are getting too old." Nobody can question the patriotism of the miners. Lift the barrier and you would not have many young men left in the mines; they would be in the Forces. My miner friend said, "With all the good will in the world, we are tired before the week is out." These men are over 50 years of age. They have been working continuously now for some years, but before then they did not work regularly. 1260 Because of the insane cut-throat competition of the coalowners in this country, our men were partly idle and working only half-time. The coalowners were not underselling the foreigner; they were underselling each other. That is where the mistake was made in the coal trade; that was where the fatal blow was struck, and it is that from which we are suffering now. There were thousands of men who could not find work in the industry and they came trooping down here because of the insane policy of building factories round the Metropolis. That was one of the mistakes and one of the means by which we drained the industry. The figure of 4.47 of avoidable absenteeism in my view is probably too high, because men who may be idle one day do not put in a doctor's note and do not report it and therefore it is classed as avoidable absenteeism.
I want to emphasise a further point about the 5¾ shifts that our men work. Our men have not only been working hard for four years; they have been working hard since 1936. When the coal industry at last used common sense and reason and began to lay the basis in the industry which provided definite wages, it was able to create full-time employment. Our men have not only been working strenuously during the war period; they have been working strenuously since 1936 and some of the elderly men are getting tired and weary.
Now I want to tell the right hon. and gallant Gentleman where he is making a big mistake. I do not think he is to blame, because we have had similar pronouncements from other Members of the Government. He is not in favour of men coming back from the Forces, unless something very serious happens that necessitates their return. Why run along the edge of the precipice in danger of falling over? If something serious happens which will necessitate their return, the damage will have been done. Although consumption demands may have been lightened by economies, we are all expecting that in a short time—and the sooner the better, if it is wise to do so—we shall go further afield and that there will be tremendous actions to try to finish the war as quickly as possible. We have heard how much coal has been taken to North Africa. How much more will it take to supply the other places to which we shall go? It will take enormous quantities. Time is marching 1261 on and winter is approaching and I say that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is too optimistic, he is taking too big a risk and in certain circumstances the House of Commons will not forget. They may continue to love him, but if he is wrong, they will not forgive him. No failures are forgiven, although perhaps I had better not say that——
§ Mr. Taylor
I pass from that to say a few words about surface and underground workers. There was never any bother in the old days when boys used to go to the mines to work underground. At that time they were buried away in colliery villages, without any semblance of the decent amenities of life. They were satisfied because they did not know any better. But now, thank God, times have altered. They are not going down the mines. It is no use throwing statements across the Floor of the Committee that colliery managers' sons do not go down the mines. The sons of Members of Parliament do not go down either. But we need those who want to go underground. This is the crux of the situation. One of the things which handicaps output now is that if a non-producer is idle, or if you are short of boys, you have to bring in a man from the face, which means that you have to bring in a young man.
I want the Ministry to be careful. It is true that there are many boys underground who did not want to go to the coal face. In future, why not give boys a reasonable training and an opportunity to go clown below and let them join the Forces if they do not wish to go underground, instead of hauling them before the courts? Some lads in my district, before they went to court, were walking about for weeks doing nothing. There is no sense in that. Do not be too hard on these boys and young men now. Remember they are the product of the dole period in this country, when Members on the other side, in 1931 and onwards, insisted on a means test for our people and allowed coalowners and companies to leave industrial districts for other districts, so creating derelict areas. If fathers were on the dole their sons were subject to a means test and their standard of life was kept as low as possible. If the son was working and the 1262 father was idle, there was hardly any standard of life in the house. I will not say that miners are the finest men in the land—we are all Britishers and brothers—but they are not the least finest. Yet they were treated as callously as though they were aliens or prisoners of war. In our discipline, let us be careful what we are doing.
I do not suppose it is generally known except by the hon. Member for Belper (Mr. Wragg) how miners' wages and conditions operated. The same thing is going on to-day to a greater or lesser degree—grasping one penny a ton here and 2d. a score there, so creating irritation. My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Foster), earlier to-day, put a very pointed question to the Minister about the operation of the control and asked why coalowners are never in the dock. The question I want to ask is: Are you close enough to the coal-field? You do not produce coal in London or in a regional office. I had a case brought to my notice recently of lads who had been idle for a day.
Nine of them at least were working double shifts every day. If you had a pony that would not work, it held up the other lads who wanted to get on and there was trouble. This has been going on for a month. I believe it is settled now, but you ought to know all about this. If a pit is employing 1,500 stops for one day it takes a good deal of absenteeism to make up for that. Therefore I am asking that my hon. Friend should keep as close to the coalfield as he possibly can. I believe this Debate may have done good, hut, unless the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to say that men will be brought back from the Army, we may have a very serious situation to face in the future.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power (Mr. Tom Smith)
I do not think anyone, especially on this side, could complain of the temper of the Debate that we have had. I remember that when the White Paper was under discussion my right hon. and gallant Friend and I sat here without saying a word. When the House accepted the White Paper we said to ourselves, "These are our terms of reference." When we got down to the new Ministry, a Ministry for the first time in the history of British mining and not a Department, we knew that we had a task that was going to 1263 demand the best from all of us. We knew that there was an estimated gap between production and consumption and, as my right hon. Friend told the House on 1st October last, that gap could only be bridged if certain things were done. The Committee has had to-day what may be termed a progress report. As one who has been privileged to take some little part in the economy campaign in different parts of the country, North, East, South and West, both industrial and domestic consumers, deserve a word of thanks. Long before the spell of fine weather came, consumers had become economy minded. I could tell of exhibitions that took place in different parts of the country to which scores of thousands of people went. They not only knew the value of coal in time of war, but were prepared to put up with some little discomfort. By the elimination of waste and by economy industrial consumers have done well. With regard to production, it is only right to say that the producers have done well. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) that it is far better to give credit where credit is due and sometimes give the producers a pat on the back than concentrate all the time on the small minority who are not quite playing the game.
Twelve months ago we had a good many strikes running. One morning I counted about 34 running at the same time, most of them set down by boys, before the increase of wages under the Lord Greene award came about. What made me laugh one morning, when there was only one left, was that it happened to be a pit which 38½ years ago sacked me for the same thing. So I got my own back. When the Greene award came it certainly brought a good deal of tranquillity into mining, and, while there have been repeated unconstitutional strikes, as we call them, in certain parts of the country, it is only true to say, as the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Colegate) said, that there has been no strike authorised by the trade unions since the war started. Why? Because the miner is a patriotic being. From the beginning of the war miners have been prepared to see Fascism and Nazism downed. I do not think anyone can charge the Miners Federation with not doing all it possibly can to secure the coal and everything else necessary to bring about victory.
1264 With regard to the man-power problem, I do not think that the hon. Member for Gower will dispute that in 1941, from that side of the House, I did a little to focus attention on the decreasing manpower. It is true that since the White Paper was issued we have had men returned to the industry from the Forces, from the ground staff of the R.A.F. and from other industries, but since the beginning of this year up to date there has been a decrease in man-power of something like 4,300, and the man-power problem, as my right hon. Friend said, is one that we have constantly to keep in mind. Someone asked me whether we had pit room. My right hon. and gallant Friend and I would be very happy if we had all the present pit room tilled. I think I am right in saying that at present we could find work for at least 20,000 coal face workers, and, given a little preparation, We could find work for another 15,000 at the coal face. Therefore, from our particular point of view, we shall not complain of anyone focusing attention on the man-power position. I agree with my hon. Friend, because, when I was his P.P.S. in 1940, we used to talk of the minimum necessary in mining, and we agreed that 725,000 was the minimum that was safe. At the same time we have to remember that we are in the fourth year of war. When miners have been in the Army for three or four years, the Army do not like to lost them. They are pretty good scrappers. It is also true that the Government decided that as from the end of last year no more could come back to the pits. But the Committee may take it that we are constantly considering this question and will continue to do so.
§ Mr. Hutchinson (Ilford)
How does the hon. Gentleman propose to deal with the normal wastage, which will amount to 19,000?
§ Mr. Molson (The High Peak)
Will the hon. Gentleman tell us the number who returned from the Armed Forces, how it came about and what additional number could be brought back?
§ Mr. Smith
I have not a good grasp of the figures, but I was coming to the point raised by the hon. and learned Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson). In mining you have almost inevitable wastage. When the White Paper was produced it predicted an annual net wastage of 25,000. My 1265 right hon. and gallant Friend has mentioned that that figure has been got down to 19,600. My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr (Mr. S. O. Davies) asked what the explanation was. There has been a tighter control of men trying to get out of the industry. That itself has been responsible for something like 3,000 fewer people going out. In addition to that there is a wastage of men through age, accidents, illness and so on.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies
I was promised a little further explanation of the question I put to the Minister when he was speaking. Would the hon. Gentleman explain what he means by tighter control and how the medical services have contributed towards that tighter control?
§ Mr. Smith
I was not leaving the point but was coming on to the medical service in its proper sequence. With regard to the closer control of men getting out of the industry, there were large numbers who were getting out on medical certificates some of which looked a little doubtful on the surface. When we set up the Mines Medical Service with a doctor in each region, one of the things we expected him to do was to pay some attention to that matter. We are not saying that all the 3,000 were due to the activities of the Mines Medical Inspectorate, but they have had something to do with it. Taking all in all and having regard to the fact that there is a shortage of doctors, we have done remarkably well to get the Mines Medical Service set up. While we had large numbers of doctors making application for the posts, we wanted to get the right type of doctor to deal with the kind of cases that mining brings and we wanted men who would be prepared to go underground if necessary. My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Bernard Taylor) has asked me whether anything was being done with regard to dermatitis. When there were any alleged cases among underground workers our medical officer lost no time in getting in touch with the committee of eminent skin specialists in order to go into the whys and wherefores. Therefore, I can 1266 only say to my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr that the number who come out on medical certificates is down to 3,000.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies
In what regions have these medical officers worked? [Interruption.] I do not wish to interrupt my hon. Friend, but by implication a charge has been made against medical practitioners in some coal pits, and we are entitled to have the matter cleared up. In what regions are these medical officers functioning?
§ Mr. Smith
I cannot give the eight regions off-hand, but I am prepared to supply my hon. Friend with the information. I made no charge at all against the medical profession. What I said from this Box last October was that you had to be particularly careful before you disagreed with a doctor's diagnosis, and I quoted the case of a man who played rugby although he was certified to be suffering from heart disease. I have argued this matter with some of the doctors, and some general practitioners themselves have told me that they have felt on occasion that they have let men go when they perhaps should not have done so. The Mines Medical Service and the doctors in the regions will pay some attention to this matter.
On the wastage question again, we were promised in the White Paper that there should be rehabilitation of fracture cases. In 12 months we have had more rehabilitation of injured mineworkers than we have had in the last 40 years. The one thing that pains me as an old mineworker who has always been pretty strong is that it usually needs a war to focus attention on some of these human problems. Let us see what we have done under the rehabilitation scheme. Men from the four Scottish coalfields are being treated at Gleneagles, which I have seen only once, and that was at the opening ceremony. We are getting centres going in the other coalfields, and it is generally admitted by those who know what has taken place that the Miners' Welfare Commission since it undertook to do this work has done remarkably well. It takes far more to rehabilitate a mineworker for his original work than to rehabilitate a man for lighter work, and when we get this thing going we shall have it as a permanent part of the mining industry.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Charles Williams)
If the hon. Gentleman is allowed to make his own speech, we shall get along more quickly.
§ Mr. Taylor
I do not often interrupt, and I only wanted to say that the Mansfield centre was established long before the White Paper was issued.
§ Mr. Smith
With regard to industrial disease, may I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Gower and his colleagues of South Wales that we lost no time in legislating on pneumokoniosis? We have a three-way method of dealing with it. First, by compensating the victims and by a benefit scheme, and I am pleased to say that the regulations were signed yesterday. Second, there is a committee set up in South Wales of eminent medical men and others who think out how best to rehabilitate the victims of this disease. I can say as one who was at the first meeting that the committee is extremely keen on its work. Third, and perhaps most important, are the preventive measures underground in order to allay the dust. May I pay a tribute to the inspectorate and to those who are assisting the inspectorate for the work they are doing in trying to allay the dust? With that three-way drive into pneumokoniosis all that was accomplished within 12 months. When my hon. Friend twits me about its being time, let him remember that it took years upon years of agitation both outside this House and inside to get silicosis recognised as being an industrial disease for the purpose of workmen's compensation.
1268 With regard to the question of whether people will go into the mining industry, I say frankly and sincerely that I know why lads will not enter the industry. I am going to be frank and blunt about it. I do not like to be personal, but I am one of the best illustrations there can be. My father was a miner, and he said that I would never go to work in the pit while he lived. I did not until he died, and then I had to go into the pit. What he said was what thousands of mineworkers have said: "My lad will never go into the pit if I can stop him." They are still saying it. They want to see the lads have "a better crack of the whip" in this world than they themselves have had. During the two or three years I spent on the Miners' Welfare Scholarship Scheme Committee I saw evidences of the tremendous amount of ability among the sons and daughters of British miners, but I used to be appalled when the question was put to these young people, "Wouldn't you like to become a mining engineer?" "Oh, no," they used to say, and when they were asked why they would say, "My father developed silicosis, my uncle got killed," and so on. They wanted any kind of profession but mining. I have great faith in British mining, and I want to see new entrants into British mining not merely during the war but in the future, but a lot of things will have to be done if we are to encourage boys to go into the pits.
The hon. and gallant Member for Buck rose (Major Braithwaite) talked about making the industry more attractive, and in that I will give him all support. Let me mention one or two of the things which will have to be done. In the first place, there will have to be good wages and good working conditions, and provision made for good training. An hon. Friend asked me where training was taking place. In Northumberland, at one particular pit, Ashington, there is a scheme of training which has been copied by other collieries. The kiddie coming from school, after being given a few lessons in elementary geology and getting a little knowledge about gas in mines, is taken down the pit and allowed to play with a pony and a tub, told of the working of the endless rope, told how to put the clip on in safety and so on. From that he graduates to other work, on to the conveyor along which the coal 1269 is taken, and so on right the way through. The lads are given training so that when they do go into the workings they have at least sonic: knowledge of what it is they are likely to meet. What happened when we went into the pit? Nobody had given me any training before I went down for the first time. If the pony would not pull, somebody came out and gave you a good cursing and sometimes more than that. We shall have to give these boys training and, more than that, give them a chance of promotion, so that they may have something to look forward to.
Also, we must stop talking down mining. Everyone who writes a book about mining writes about the sordid side. Miners have been looked upon as being not quite as good as other people. They are as good and no better. If we put mining into its rightful place in our national economy, we shall stop its being the Cinderella among our industries, we shall recognise mineworkers as being as good as anybody else, and we shall make progress. Then, as soon as possible after the war is over, we shall have to make our colliery villages a jolly sight more bright than they have been. We must make the environment better, make them villages from which the young people will not run away as soon as their brains are developed. And when we have done that we shall have as much difficulty to get as many boys working underground as we have had before.
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor
Would the hon. Member include in his condemnation the system by which a boy is valued at less than a pony if an accident occurs?
§ Mr. Smith
That brings in other matters, which I do not wish to deal with now. What I am saying is that if British mining is to live, we must have new entrants to the industry, and with the increase in mechanisation and with newer methods we want boys who have been, say, to the secondary schools and who have some mechanical knowledge. Anybody who can visualise the future of British mining will know that these new methods have come to stay. Questions have been put about concentration and new methods, which I would like to answer. Everybody who knew anything about mining knew that concentration would give rise to difficult problems. There were the social consequences, the 1270 uprooting of people from the villages, and so on. I can give this assurance forthwith. There is consultation when it is proposed to close down a pit.
§ Mr. Smith
The Regional Controller and his officers are always ready for consultations with the owners and the men. My hon. Friend quoted a particular case during the Debate, and I will make inquiries, but I can say from my own knowledge of the district in which I worked that there was the closest cooperation with the branch, with the management, and with the pit production committee, and there certainly should be.
With regard to power loading, which was referred to by the hon. and gallant Member for the Fylde division (Lieut.-Colonel Lancaster), I would ask hon. Members when they are talking about power loading to keep a sense of proportion. The hon. and gallant Member spoke about the American who came over here. I met him at one of the hon. and gallant Member's pits, and we had a long chat about the differences between British mining and American mining. In America the pits are more shallow, they usually start on the surface. They usually try to finish a pit in 20 years. They have less gas than we have. When talking about putting power loaders into the pits, here we must keep a sense of proportion. In the South Yorkshire coalfield, in the Barnsley area, there is a seam of coal 750 to 920 yards deep, gaseous coal, some of it liable to spontaneous combustion. If power loaders were put in there we should have to introduce shot firing in order to blow the coal to the side, so that the power loader could handle it. Unless a good deal of discrimination is exercised the introduction of power loaders may have serious consequences. I speak as one who spent some little time in one of the pits where 45 men were killed. The Committee can take it that all these factors will be borne in mind before power loaders are introduced.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
I agree entirely with what my hon. Friend has said. Can we have an assurance that before these power loaders are introduced in any particular pit there will be consultation with the men there?
§ Mr. Smith
My hon. Friend may take it that before power loaders go down any pit there is consultation, and I can give the assurance that consultation on anything that is going to make for better coal production is desirable. There is only one other question I would like to deal with in the time at my disposal, and it is that raised by the hon. Member for Gower in regard to accidents. Let us be perfectly frank. The appointment of nine additional inspectors to go into the matter of roof control was a step in the right direction. There has been some little reduction in the rate of fatal and serious accidents, and while it cannot be attributed solely to the appointment of those nine inspectors, their appointment has certainly helped. Without giving a lot of figures to the Committee, it would be interesting for them to know that in 1940 there were 923 persons killed and 3,237 seriously injured, in 1941, 925 killed and 2,990 seriously injured and, in 1942, 877 persons killed and 2,809 seriously injured. The conclusion to be drawn from those figures, despite the drive for production, is that there has been no conscious weakening in any of the safety measures.
When we come to look at the main cause of fatal and serious accidents at the coal face, we get the comparison which is as follows: In 1940, 433 were killed at the coal face, in 1941, 431 and in 1942, 371. The respective figures for serious injury were 1,270, 1,218 and 1,085. My hon. Friend the Member for Gower and the Committee generally can therefore take it that while there has been an improvement there is still room for a great deal more improvement, and that there will be no slacking off in safety measures, whatever may be the demand for securing the production of coal. I am entitled to say, when one remembers the kind of work that a mines inspector has to do today in addition to what he had to do in peace-time, that on the whole the inspectorate have done a marvellous job of work, and in each district the joint committee going into the question of falls of ground with workmen's inspectors, under Section 16 of the fifty-fifty arrangement, has done a remarkable job. We shall continue to try to secure still further reduction in all forms of accidents underground. Twelve months have gone. What we are all concerned about is the future. To me it is not a question of the arithmetic between production and consump- 1272 tion but of getting all the coal we can and using it to the best advantage, because we do not know where we shall have to send this coal before the war is over. I therefore say to the Committee and to the industry, whether to the men, the managers or the officials, that we want tranquillity, good will and co-operation, in order to produce the necessary amount of coal which we hope is going to blast us to victory as quickly as possible.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again "—[Major Sir James Edmondson]—put, and agreed to.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon the next Sitting Day.