§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. James Stuart.]
§ Mr. Cocks (Broxtowe)
On a point of Order. I understand that matters requiring legislation cannot be discussed on a Motion for the Adjournment. Is that Rule to be waived on this occasion?
§ Mr. Speaker
I do not think that matters calling for immediate legislation will arise in this Debate. Naturally, the Debate must be wide.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
If any matters requiring immediate legislation cannot arise in this Debate, many of us who hope to catch your eye, Sir, and the House itself, will be severely limited in discussing this matter. May I again call attention to the fact that, as almost anything can be done by administrative Order of the Government, anything that we wish to discuss in connection with the coal industry would be in Order in this Debate?
§ Mr. Speaker
Matters which normally would require immediate legislation can now be done by administrative Order. Therefore no rule need be waived.
§ The Minister of Fuel and Power (Major Lloyd George)
During my experience in this House I have come to the conclusion that Debates on coal are not always noted for their placid nature. This is the fourth Debate in which I have taken part since I became Minister of Fuel and Power, and I can say—and I say it with a full sense of appreciation—that they have all been conducted in a comparatively calm atmosphere. I am perfectly satisfied that, difficult as it may be, it is essential that discussions on this industry should be held in as calm an atmosphere as possible. The House will realise that there is no industry in this country which makes so much detailed information available to the public. There is a danger that, because of the publicity which constantly surrounds coalmining, the industry may be looked at in a distorted perspective in relation to the rest of our war effort. I say that in order to emphasise the extreme care which must be exercised in arriving at conclusions. I would like, therefore, to preface my remarks with a short general statement.
762 We are at the beginning of the fifth year of the war. The miners, and, I add, the colliery managements, have not yet failed to win the coal needed for the conduct of the war and the reasonable comfort of our homes. One hears a great deal of talk, lots of it very ill-informed, about miners. My difficulty is this. If defend miners, I am charged with complacency, with ignoring the fact that there are some miners who do not pull their full weight. No one is more aware of this fact than I am; I have referred to it on more than one occasion. But let us remember that there are other sections of the community in which there are minorities equally not pulling their full weight. What I would say to critics is this: If they want to criticise, I wish they would not always look down the shaft before doing so. Whether these people be in the mines or in other walks of life, there can be nothing but the severest condemnation if they are not pulling their weight at this juncture—it does not matter what industry or what activity they take part in. But to make this general charge is not only unfair but is, in my honest opinion, contrary to the interests of production. I have said this before, and I make absolutely no excuse for repeating it to-day. The mining population, because it is so difficult to find substitute labour, has suffered more than any other from the rise in average age. Even so, taking the country as a whole. the miner has worked steadily more shifts every week than he worked before the war; and in some areas many more shifts.
Hon. Members are uneasy about the coal position. I think this can be attributed to two causes. They are worried as to whether we shall find sufficient coal for our needs, and they are troubled by the. signs of unrest within the industry. I would like to discuss those to aspects of the problem. I do not say that they may not be very closely related, but I will for convenience sake deal with them separately. At intervals since the war' egan there has been inevitably, for one reason or another, disquiet about coal supplies. For instance, before France fell and before Italy entered the war, those two countries were asking for respectively 27,000,000 tons and something under 8,000,000 tons per annum. It was quite impossible to meet those demands in full, even with the labour force then available to the industry. The fact is that no belligerent country can, under the conditions of modern war, have coal 763 in sufficient supply at any moment without the risk of mal-distribution of its manpower and economic resources.
Last year at this time I was able to present to the House a clear-cut coal budget. Experience has shown that on the whole the estimates that we then made of production and consumption were sound. Production matched consumption for the year, with something to spare. Then, in June last, hon. Members will recollect, I felt compelled to warn the House that new demands, created by changes in the war situation, might arise which could not be met with existing resources. On 29th July my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and National Service made a statement on the reinforcement of the manpower of the mining industry, showing clearly that the changes to which I have referred were already in train. We have reached, therefore, a situation of a somewhat different character from that which I discussed a year ago. We have not only to reckon now with total inland requirements, which, within limits, we can control, either by programming or by a system of priorities, but we have to meet demands created by the operations of our Armed Forces and the services—gas, electricity, transport—needed to maintain them.
A moment's thought will convince most hon. Members that this country alone cannot deal with all the demands likely to arise. Accordingly, consultations were begun some time ago to determine, in the closest collaboration with the United States of America and the Empire countries concerned, our contingent liabilities for the future, and for this purpose committees of the Combined Production and Resources Board have been established in London and in Washington to work in concert on the mobilisation of the coal resources of the United Nations. The establishment of such committees, in addition to those already dealing with other munitions of war, recognises the vital importance of coal to the Allied war effort. This does not mean, however, that there can be any relaxation of our efforts in this country. Whatever the outcome of the joint deliberations to which I have referred, it is certain that coal will be needed in increasing quantities, and for that reason the mining industry must be given adequate man-power and be geared- 764 up to its highest efficiency. For the same reason the public, both the domestic and industrial consumers, must strain every nerve to equal at least their savings of last year—at least. I come to the measures which the Government propose to take immediately for the improvement of coal production. We have reviewed the position of miners in the Armed Forces. Substantial numbers of ex-miners have been returned to the mines during the past two years, and I am not quite sure whether hon. Members fully realise the extent of that return. In the last two years over 6o,000 ex-miners have been returned to the industry from other industries and from the Forces.
Major Lloyd Georǵe
Up to September, 1943; in the two years 194–43. I am not sure of the month. I think it was June or September, but I will check it for the hon. Gentleman. The figures for industry, if I remember rightly, are 48,000, and the figures for the Army are about 9,600, and for the Air Force, I think about 1,600.
§ Major Lloyd George
I will come to that in a moment. I am thinking about heads at the moment. I am coming to what we propose to do. I mentioned that that was the figure, of which a lot of people hardly appreciate the magnitude. I give that as a matter of information. In view of those figures, it will be clear, at any rate, that the scope for the further return of underground workers is limited. The Government are, however, taking steps to institute a comb-out of miners in the Army, particularly of the older men, with a view to their return to the mines. It is obviously impracticable to withdraw men engaged in actual fighting or who are in the existing Armed Forces required for forthcoming operations.
The House will remember the statement made a short time ago by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour and National Service of his proposals for raising the labour force in the mines to a minimum of 720,000 men. This number will have to be maintained in the face of the net annual wastage from which the industry suffers. My right hon. Friend has made every endeavour to maintain the 765 man-power of the coalmining industry. It is clear that the voluntary recruitment will not of itself produce the numbers required, and it will now be necessary to call up men for the coalmines in the same way as they are called up for the Armed Forces. Voluntary recruitment will, however, still be retained, so that both the Forces and the mining industry will be on the same footing in that their intake will consist of both volunteers and compulsorily called-up men. A considerable number of volunteers have come forward, and both my right hon. Friend and I are grateful to them for their readiness in offering their services in getting coal at this juncture. [HON. MEMBERS: "How many?"] I do not know the actual figures, but I will find out.
The use of this labour and of the new recruits, whether by volunteering or direction, will be aimed at securing the maximum amount of up-grading in the shortest possible time. They may replace the men who are now engaged on haulage operations who in training will be enabled to make up the numbers of the coal-face workers. My hon. Friend who was at the Ministry before I was did a great deal for this upgrading, and it has continued, and I am sure he will be interested to know that, despite the situation with man-power, the numbers at the face to-day are actually 6,000 greater than they were last year. That, I think, is entirely due to the policy of up-grading, which has 'met with considerable success, but I am satisfied a great deal more can be done. The training of those who will be going underground to undertake these tasks is a subject to which my right hon. Friend and I have given the closest attention. We intend that all those coming fresh to the mines from occupations unconnected with coalmining shall be trained in Ministry of Labour training centres for one month. Thereafter they will undergo training in the particular tasks to which they are assigned, under careful supervision, in order to ensure their own safety and that they contribute the maximum amount to the output of the pits to which they are sent.
There is one other source of production which is playing an increasingly important part in our coal budget, and it is the outcrop coal. During the current year production from outcrop coal is running at roughly double what it was last year, and it is intended that the production for the 766 next coal year, 194–45, will be at least double what we have received from this source this year, and hon. Members will agree that that will make a substantial contribution to our budget, particularly in view of the demands which may be coming in.
§ Major Lloyd George
This year, I think, we put it at 5 million tons. This year it is double what it was the year before, and we hope to get that at least doubled, and when I say "at least" I am frankly conservative, because it is well to err on that side, but that is what we want next year. From that I turn to conditions within the industry. The actual figures of the volunteers asked for just now are just on 3,50o from 1st September.
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
Before the right hon. and gallant Gentleman leaves the question of the Army, can he say how many can be released from the Forces?
§ Major Lloyd George
I said that a comb-out was going to take place. It will take some time before we know that. Certain figures have been given before, but the question of units on active service which may be earmarked for operations and that sort of thing is being considered at the moment.
§ Major Lloyd George
I do not know. Frankly, I am not too terribly interested in that, although it is a significant thing from the point of view of the attraction of this industry to the public. That is the only thing that interests me about it. I would like to be certain of the hon. Member's figures, but I should say that he was not far wrong. You could work it out. Hon. Members have found cause for uneasiness on account of certain kinds of unrest in the industry. Much attention—if I may say so, too much attention—has been directed to stoppages in a number of districts. On this point the House should know that, despite a comparatively heavy loss caused by a single dispute last month, which is included in the figures, the loss of tonnage due to disputes in 1943 —the first nine months—was considerably less than in the corresponding period of 1942.
§ Major Lloyd George
I could give that too, but if it had not been for the last strike, in September, the figures would have been very considerably less. Even including that strike, the figure is better for the first nine months. My hon. Friend will be able to give the exact figures when he winds up the Debate; I have not got them with me. I must say, however, that one does come across disputes every day—and I watch them very carefully—about which the surprising thing is this, that they are nearly all disputes for settling which machinery exists. There can be no excuse whatever for a stoppage of work where machinery exists for dealing with such a stoppage.
§ Mr. Sloan (South Ayrshire)
Is the Minister aware that colliery managers have been responsible for stoppages by refusing to allow machinery to work?
§ Major Lloyd George
I am not apportioning blame at the moment; I am simply saying that what worries me is to find strikes occurring when there have not been consultations. It is not a question of the machinery for settling them breaking down; the machinery has not been used. There is a tremendous amount of that going on, and it worries me for more than one reason. I am not only concerned with the output of coal; I am seriously concerned with its reaction on the trade unions in this country. I am not speaking without authority when I say that you do see a complete disregard of people who are there to conduct negotiations. Stoppages take place before the machinery provided for settling them is either used or exhausted.
I have recently received representations from the Mineworkers' Federation of Great Britain and also from those on the management side, and I would like to deal at some length with the points raised by the two sides. The managements' foremost complaint is that they have been deprived of their powers of discipline. This they attribute almost entirely to the introduction of the Essential Work Order. On this I would remind them, as I have said before, that if there has been a decline in discipline—and I think we will all agree that there has—it is to be found in the change in the man-power position in the industry, brought about by the war.
768 Before the war the sanction for the enforcement of discipline was the right of dismissal. This instrument was much more effective from 1926 onwards, because there was a greater supply of labour than there was a demand for it. The war has reversed that position, and so far as it is possible to see ahead the return to peace will not mean a return to pre-war conditions in respect of the man-power in this industry. I believe it will be necessary, if there is to be proper discipline, without which no industry can discharge its functions with efficiency, for there to be a new technique of labour management, a challenge to the existing management, who, we must recognise, are working under tremendous difficulties at the present time. The problem is to find that new technique. It cannot be provided from outside the industry. It must come from within, and I believe the pit production committees can play an important part in developing that new technique. That is one of the reasons why I am encouraging that development by every means within my power. Speaking generally, when management is efficient not only in technical matters but also in its handling of labour, and where the leadership of labour is in capable hands, discipline oh the whole is well maintained even to-day.
Now I come to deal with the men's side. Members will have seen in the Press certain suggestions which have been put forward to rue. In due course they will get a detailed reply. Of these proposals I have dealt elsewhere with man-power and training. There remain wages, welfare measures, output bonus and operational control. These suggestions are made with a view to increasing output, and I have examined them, and will continue to do so, in that light. I think, however, that miners themselves would agree that a great deal has been done in the past year to deal with the issues which they have raised. If the House will bear with me, I will very briefly go over some of the achievements in this field during the last 15 months. Take wages. At the beginning of the war in the list of average earnings for industries the mining industry took 81st place. After the Greene award last year the industry came up to 23rd place, and no one would think it was not right to bring members of the mining industry nearer to the standard to which their skill entitled them. Since the 769 Greene award, during 16 months since, £33,000,000 has been paid to miners through the flat rate increase of 2s. 6d. per shift. Under the terms of the Essential Work Order miners have been guaranteed their wage for days on which they were made, idle by stoppages in the pit outside their own control—
§ Major Lloyd George
If the hon. Member knows of any cases where they have not, I should be glad if he would let me have them, but he cannot deny that on the whole they do get them. Under the provisions of the output bonus scheme there are further opportunities for improvement of earnings. The promised review of the district output bonus scheme has now been completed, and the results of the deliberations of Lord Greene's Committee are before the industry. The conclusions of the Committee are that in future the output bonus should operate on a pit basis in order to increase the incentive of the individual miner. The Government, for their part, are prepared to provide the financial and administrative machinery necessary for the working of the new system.
One word about conciliation machinery. I have referred before in this House to the importance which I attach to the establishment of national machinery for the settlement of disputes, which is now in operation in the mining industry. I hope that before long the industry will take the further step of completing machinery for settling disputes in the districts and at the pits. As regards health services, here again substantial progress has been made during the last 12 months. There has been provision, long overdue, for the rehabilitation of injured miners. I would like to pay my tribute to the Miners' Welfare Commission, under the chairmanship of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Nottingham (Sir Frederick Sykes), who so willingly undertook to do this and other work at the time. It is doing very well. A mines medical officer has been appointed in each region. Inquiry continues into the past methods of treating pneumonio-coniosis, and measures for preventing the dust which is its cause have made satisfactory progress. With regard to canteens, here again considerable progress has been made during the past 12 months, and there 770 is now hardly a miner for whom it is not possible to have some sort of meal at a canteen and, for the majority, a hot meal. One of my hon. Friends opposite shakes his head. I know the part of the world he comes from, and I am sorry to say that they were far behind Yorkshire.
§ Major Lloyd George
No, but I can assure hon. Members that the majority of mineworkers are to-day in the position of being able to have a hot meal at a canteen.
§ Mr. Keeling (Twickenham)
Can the Minister say what proportion of miners use the facilities which are available?
§ Major Lloyd George
From my own experience I know that in a good many canteens it is not very satisfactory. The figures run to about 25 to 3o per cent., and I know from personal knowledge that it has nothing to do with the quality of food in the canteens. There was the same sort of thing over the pithead baths, and we must try to break this clown a lithe more quickly if we can.
I would like to say a few words about the consequences of the concentration of mines, when mines have been closed. We have endeavoured to relieve cases of hardship which have resulted or which may result from this policy of concentration. Miners who have been directed from one colliery to another in the interests of concentration and who have thereby incurred additional travelling expenses are relieved of any excess over the amount they formerly paid. Miners who, because of age or infirmity, are difficult to place in other employment at other collieries are entitled to the guaranteed wage for a period up to r2 weeks, and in exceptional circumstances this period may be extended. This survey shows, I think, the substantial progress which has been made during the last 15 months. Quite frankly, the extent of this progress is not fully realised even within the industry itself. I am perfectly satisfied about that. I have never held very extreme views about this industry, and I believe this has enabled me, quite possibly to get a clearer picture than otherwise I would have been able to get. In my travels around the coalfields I have formed the impression that a good deal of suspicion and mistrust exist.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths: That is true.
Major Lloyd Georǵe
No doubt this is largely due to the past history of the industry—[An HON. MEMBER: "And the present"] and while it is impossible to ignore the effects of the past on the present, I believe it would lead to better relations if more attention were paid to what has been achieved, particularly during the last 12 months, and to the possibilities for the future that these achievements present. I understand the reasons for it, but I am very impressed indeed by the constant harking back to what happened after the last war and to what is going to happen after this. We must move on from that atmosphere. You cannot get anywhere at all if the whole industry is going to live 20, 3o or 40 years ago. We must learn by our mistakes. We must have some vision and look ahead. I am fully aware of the difficulties, but, if we do not get out of that atmosphere, we shall have this kind of thing for heaven knows how many years. [An HON. MEMBER: "The other side do not mind."] It is not a question of the other side. I know the other side. [Interruption.] I hear an exhibition now of what the difficulty is. Unless you can get rid of it, it is hardly worth while talking about what you are going to do.
Now I come to a point which, I understand, is uppermost in hon. Members' minds. It is whether the present system of control exercised by my Ministry is adequate to the purpose for which it was intended—the full operational control of the mines in war-time. There has always been some criticism of what is called dual control, by which is meant in short the responsibility of managements, on the one hand, to their boards of directors and, on the other hand, to the Regional Controller. It will be agreed that regional control has secured substantial advantages which I do not think could have been won without it. In every district there has been created an organisation to maintain close and constant touch with the leaders on both sides of the industry, a machine for carrying out the policies of mechanisation and concentration, and, last but by no means least important, an essential link with the pit production committees.
May I remind the House what the position was when this organisation was 772 set up? At that time there was a serious decline in production and a considerable increase in consumption. Indeed it was estimated at the time the White Paper was produced that consumption would exceed production by 14,000,000 tons So far, however, were we from ending the coal year with a deficit of that order that production actually exceeded consumption. Up to that point at least there was no possible ground for suggesting that the reorganisation had failed. Since then, however, production has fallen off. Up to 30th June the decline, though apparent, could not reasonably be attributed to deficiencies in the White Paper scheme. Steps were taken in co-operation with the Minister of Labour to meet the situation as it developed. But in the months which followed the decline has continued and has been of a more serious nature.
What are the causes? Many Members are able to form an estimate of the multiplicity of reasons which are every day suggested to me. The question at issue now, however, is how far the decline is attributable to dual control. I am well aware of the difficulties that are inherent in the system of dual control. In accordance with the undertaking given in the Debate on the White Paper last year, this question has been kept constantly under review, and the Government are now considering what improvements may be necessary in the war-time machinery for operational control. They will not fail to make such changes as may be found necessary in the light of experience if the original intention of Parliament is to be achieved. It is of the utmost importance, however, to realise that new proposals affecting the present structure of the industry will have to be considered in relation to any long-term implications. Discussions on the future of the coalmining industry since I became a Member of the House have proved that it is not entirely a non-controversial issue. Our present job is to achieve better production, and we cannot allow that purpose to be prevented by controversy whose effect might be to divert attention in the coalfield from the getting of coal to political problems. In the examination that is now taking place it is clear that we cannot lose sight of this aspect. Hon. Members are aware of the pledge contained in the White Paper on coal. There can be no question of the removal of 773 control until Parliament has determined the future structure of the industry. Therefore, there is no ground to fear a repetition of the conditions that arose when control was removed after the last war.
§ Mr. Bevan
All that the right hon. and gallant Friend is saying is that Parliament will do nothing until Parliament does something, because it is Parliament which would have to end this control at any time, as it did after the last war. All the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is now saying is that what will be done with the future of the industry is a matter which on some subsequent occasion Parliament will decide.
§ Major Lloyd George
I sometimes find it a little difficult to follow the hon. Member. He says that Parliament will not do something if it does not do something. That applies to everyone outside Parliament. The question is, Can this control stay until Parliament decides what the future of the industry is to be? That is what happened last time. The hon. Member must really remember where he is. He is in Parliament, and there is no other body but Parliament which can decide the future of the industry?
§ Mr. Shinwell (Seaham)
Is not this the point? When is Parliament going to decide? Is it going to decide to-day or is it going to be left till some indefinite period which no one knows anything about?
§ Major Lloyd George
That point is covered in my statement. Is Parliament going to decide to-day? Obviously not. I have made it plain that we are, in accord with the White Paper policy, looking into the whole question of the working of control as set out in the White Paper. It was said that, if there was any interference with it, or its full working was not possible because of certain things, the Government would consider the matter at once. I went further and said that, of course, there were certain changes that we might have to make which would obviously have an effect on the future. Therefore, if the hon. Gentleman looks at the last part of my statement, it makes it clear that the industry is not going to be thrown on its own resources at the end of the war without Parliament having decided what its future is to be. Who else is to decide? I cannot see the point of this 774 division. Hon. Members come here to do certain things, and who but Parliament can decide what the future is to be?
§ Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has been giving us an elementary lecture. He has been telling us that Parliament can decide to end or to continue control. Parliament can do what it likes with the industry.
§ Major Lloyd George
There are times when I am not at all sure that that should not be repeated in the House. I am simply repeating what the House of Commons accepted last year. I was ordered to carry out the White Paper. What else does the hon. Member want me to do?
§ Mr. Buchanan
I will tell the right hon. and gallant Gentleman what to do when. I am appointed to the job. He is paid for the job. Let him tell us what he is going to do.
§ Major Lloyd George
I sat on that side far longer than I have sat on this, and in the hon. Member's position I should say exactly the same thing. I have said that this is being looked at. I am working the machine that Parliament put into my hands. I am also looking to see what defects there are, if any, as the result of 12 months' experience of its working. As the result of that I am not at all satisfied that the White Paper has failed. On the contrary, in the first year it did what it set out to achieve—to make production meet consumption. Since then there has been a decline. We are now looking into it to see whether that decline is due to certain defects in the White Paper, and we shall come to certain conclusions. Is not that the proper way to do it? I cannot add anything more. I am sorry if the hon. Member is not satisfied with that—I did not expect him to be —but he will see that everything one can do is being done. I do not accept that the decline in production can be laid at the door of the White Paper. In the first year it achieved what it set out to do.
§ Mr. David Grenfell (Gower)
It did. nothing of the kind. It did not increase the output. Output went down in the first 12 months by 5,000,000 or 6,000,000 tons. The figures are in the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's possession.
§ Major Lloyd George
I have all the figures. The hon. Gentleman can confirm everything that I say, because he wrote the White Paper.
§ Mr. Grenfell
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman assumed that himself. The fact is that the first 12 months of his tenure of office resulted in a decline in production of about 6,000,000 tons.
§ Major Lloyd George
Let me go back to the White Paper. It had nothing to do with me. I did not even know what the figures were. The estimate made before the White Paper was produced was a deficit of 14,000,000 tons. By a certain amount of de-stocking of public utilities that figure was brought down to 11,000,000. In other words, we had to find ri,000,000 tons. On the estimate made by the Department production was supposed to be so much, consumption so much, and there was a deficit of 11,000,000 tons. The mild weather saved about 1,000,000 tons and no more. The consumer saved nearly 5,000,000, leaving out the mild weather, and there was an increased production above estimate of 5,000,000 tons. [An HON. MEMBER: "On estimates."] We have to estimate, otherwise we should get into serious trouble, and the estimate which was made before I came into the office was 14,000,000 tons.
May I say a word in conclusion? I would again refer to the present situation and to emphasise the fundamental difference between the situation now and the situation this time last year. Then we could estimate the demands to be made upon us with reasonable accuracy. In the changing circumstances of to-day a similar forecast is impracticable. For example, no one can foretell when the volume of demand will reach its peak. Steps have been taken to augment our man-power and pool our resources with our Allies. That, however, does not entitle us to relax our efforts in any way whatever. Rather should we be encouraged to maintain our efforts in view of the great events that have led up to the new demands. Last year the British 776 people showed that it was well within their powers to overcome difficulties, however formidable. We need these efforts quite as much to surmount the difficulties of the coming winter. In the belief that these efforts will be made, I place my confidence.
§ Mr. Bevan
May I rise on a point of procedure? The right hon. and gallant Gentleman, as everyone in the House knows, has been presenting a policy made for him by the War Cabinet. Is it the intention of the Government that a member of the policy-making body should speak in the course of this Debate? It is not good enough for the House that the Minister, for whom the House has great affection and respect, should be called upon to defend a policy for which the War Cabinet itself was responsible. This matter is of such major importance that surely the Minister of Production or some other Minister of equal rank should intervene in the Debate.
May I be allowed to emphasise the point made by my hon. Friend? I do so in no disrespect to my right hon. and gallant Friend, but we recognise that he is in a hopeless position. He has stated a case which is really no case at all, and I should like to ask him whether he is to be fortified in making such proposals as he has made by a member of the War Cabinet? Can my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister say whether we can have the views of the War Cabinet?
§ The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. Attlee)
The House should be under no mistake that when a Minister speaks as my right hon. and gallant Friend has spoken he is speaking on Government policy. It is not the invariable habit that every item of Government policy and Government decision should be put forward by a member of the War Cabinet. Members of the War Cabinet will be present during the Debate, however, and if there should be occasion for one of them to intervene, no doubt he will do so.
§ Mr. Shinwell
May I put to my right hon. Friend with great respect that it is not so much a subject of controversy as trying to produce a solution of an intricate problem? May I ask him whether it would not be desirable, as this is a question of national policy affecting the war 777 effort in which everybody is concerned, for a member of the War Cabinet to speak in the course of the Debate?
§ Mr. Attlee
That is the matter for consideration, but I think we should do better to see how the Debate goes. I shall be watching the Debate and reporting to the Prime Minister, and if there is occasion for a member of the War Cabinet to intervene, obviously he will do so.
§ Mr. Bevan
Is it not quite clear to the right hon. Gentleman that the changes of policy which the Minister has been able to announce to the House fall so far short of the needs of the situation that unless we get something more substantial it will be necessary to resist the policy in the Division Lobby at the end of the Debate?
§ Mr. Attlee
I should really prefer to hear what hon. Members have to say rather than depend on an obiter dictum by the hon. Member.
§ Mr. Tinker
We want to know whether the Cabinet stands behind the Minister one way or another, because if we do not get greater satisfaction than we have had, a Division will be called.
§ Sir Geoffrey Shakespeare (Norwich)
May I put a further point for the consideration of the Deputy Prime Minister? Many of us believe that production in the coalfields will not be adequate until a large number of miners are brought home from service overseas. That is a matter primarily for the War Cabinet and not the Minister of Mines. Many of us would like to urge that point in the Debate, and I suggest that it would be appropriate for a member of the War Cabinet to be prepared to answer it.
§ Mr. Lawson (Chester-le-Street)
The right hon. Gentleman has batted well for his side, but it must be obvious to him that he has not satisfied the House. I think that the obvious disappointment of the House, in view of the needs of the country in respect of this great industry, will be reflected in the country to-morrow when his statement is read. It is true, as has been said, that we have a very high regard for the Minister. I can say that in the mining industry there is a regard amounting almost to affection for him. In view of the unspecified and expanding needs of this nation and the areas we are liberating, the statement he has 778 just made, which did not deal fundamentally with any of these things, is not only disappointing but almost tragic. I appreciate what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman said in explaining the fact that a miner is actually working more days now than he did before the war. Much that he said explains to the House and the country the difficult position the miner is in. I have heard comparisons and criticisms about the mining situation made by what would normally be called intelligent people that have really amazed me. As miners' representatives and ex-miners, we have tried to explain from time to time some of the difficulties of this industry. I heard the Minister of Labour say not long ago that the country was suffering to some extent from strain as a result of five blacked-out winters. If that is so, what must be the position of the miner who is blacked-out every day throughout the year in a blackness that is not to be compared with the black-out on the surface? It is a darkness, a blackness, that weighs upon you. There are also artificial air and low roofs for the great bulk of the men. To the strongest miners, those who have pride in their craft, there come, with the best will in the world, days when they are simply finished. They are not ill. They are simply facing a stone wall, and they are done, That is the result of the general conditions of working in the mines.
I have heard a good deal of criticism about these matters which I am pleased that the right. hon. and gallant Gentleman to some extent set aside in the early part of his speech. He made a statement that will give some satisfaction, that the Government have decided to bring back the miners who are in the Forces in this country. The extent to which many miners have been kept in the Forces in this country doing practically nothing has been little less than a scandal. I was much surprised to hear that 6o,000 miners had been brought back to the industry, including 11,000 from the Forces. I will not trouble the House with some of the letters I have received. I have cases of an amazing kind, of men who are doing little more than peel potatoes and cut grass. They say themselves that they are of no use as far as the Forces are concerned. Some of them are miners who are used to the mechanical side of the industry.
It is plain that dual control is not getting the coal. Dual control was 779 brought in in order that output should be increased and the needs of the country met, but with the best will in the world, and with all the skill that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman himself could use, it has to be admitted that there is a grave shortage, and if we were to have a severe winter and whole countries were to be liberated from the enemy, we should find ourselves faced with obligations to our own people and obligations to the liberated countries that would put us in a very parlous condition. I am sure that both the House and the country have been much disappointed at the lack of concrete proposals from the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to meet this position. The Miners' Federation are quite satisfied that coal control as it works at present cannot meet the needs of the industry. They have made that clear to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and to the Government in the proposals in their Memorandum. They pointed out the likelihood of it in the earlier stages, when the White Paper was first in their hands. I do not want to criticise managers at all; they are a very fine body of men, they have great responsibilities and they do high-class and skilled work, but they are in the pay of the companies. Their present and their future are in the hands of the companies. While they are ordered to do things by the control their future, they know, is in the hands of the companies, and it is possible for them to influence the minds of managers.
One cannot go into details about this matter, as the right hon. and gallant Gentleman knows, but from every side one receives evidence that there is such a duplication of authority as makes it almost impossible for the coal control effectively to do its work in increasing production. The Miners' Federation have pointed out with regard to production committees, for instance, that the men feel they have a loyalty to their own. They work with the managers but the old temper is prevailing, let nobody make any mistake about that. I say it as one who has tried as much as anyone to create good-will. Those years before the war—from 1926 onwards—were almost tragic years for the mining industry. I heard the other day of a case, not in my own part of the country, in which a man was brought before a tribunal with the idea of getting him back to the mines. The man- 780 ager was there. The man said to him, "I know what you want. You want me to come back into the mine. I am not coming. I would remind you of what was said the last time I came to ask for a job." The manager had been very abrupt and forthright with him. Everyone knows that was the situation before the war. There was bitterness, a kind of "take it or leave it" spirit, during those years, and while the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is right in saying we ought not always to be harking back to the past the unfortunate thing about this industry is that, to use an Irishism, its whole future is involved in its past. That is why the statements of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman about what the Government would do in respect of control and the decisions they would make have been received with considerable scepticism by my hon. Friends. When one considers what continually happened between the wars one can understand the reason for that scepticism. The Miners' Federation, in their Memorandum to the Government, state:From the information we have at our disposal it is obvious that the men are very concerned with the possibilities of the future, particularly the post-war period. It is useless to tell men who have experienced years and years of hardships brought about by underemployment, unemployment and intolerable working conditions that their experiences following the last war will not be repeated. They require something far more concrete. The disposition of the workmen employed in the industry and those living in and around mining areas has been responsible for the problems created in respect of juvenile recruitment, a problem which has faced the industry for many years and has merely been accentuated by war circumstances. Similar problems will continue to arise until such time as we are able to restore the fullest confidence in the industry, and that we submit can only be done by guaranteeing to the workmen employed in the industry, and potential workmen, a substantially improved standard of living on anything they experienced in the years between the two wars.The Miners' Federation go on to say what those conditions were, and I shall come to that later. What was written many centuries ago is profoundly true to-day: "Be sure your sins will find you out." For years we on this side tried to tell the House, sometimes speaking to empty benches, and tried to tell the country, of the devastating effect that the deep depression and under-employment were having upon some of the great mining areas. We asked that the Government 781 should in some way control industrial policy. But what happened? Tens of thousands of miners—I believe 50,000 from the north alone—were driven out of the industry, and they took with them the potential workers. If light industries had been established in those areas, as was suggested, instead of being established in this part of the country, the mining villages in the north and in South Wales could have been sustained to some extent. We suggested that, but we might as well have spoken to stone walls, and the situation we are in to-day is more directly due to those depressed years than to anything that has occurred during the war.
And so the men have lost their confidence in the future of the industry, a sad state of things in a great industry like mining. Once the men in the mining industry had got pride in their craft, and I am sorry that that pride has been undermined. Sons used to follow their fathers, but they are not following them now. Boys used to go into the industry at an early age and learn the craft, sometimes from their fathers. Now confidence has been undermined. The miner seems to have no confidence in the future and that view is based not upon what may happen but upon what has happened. There is no feeling of assurance that the Government will take any steps which will alter the situation. The miners have now laid down certain proposals to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. I think the country ought to know them, but before I read them let me observe that it is a very significant thing that out of all the tens of thousands of people who had the opportunity of opting to go into the mining industry only 3,500 have done so. Industry has come to a very sad state when that is the position, even allowing for the spirit of adventure and the desire to render service to the country in the Forces. Had people been given the opportunity of opting for work in factories the situation would have been altogether different. It is a grim comment upon the mining industry that men should prefer the battlefield to the pit. It shows how low the industry has been brought.
I think the Government might well consider extending the attempt to comb out miners from the Forces in this country to the Forces overseas. I have never supported that proposition before. I know only too well what it means in 782 the breaking up or weakening of a unit, when a key man is taken away, but the position in the mining industry is such that it is becoming a very grave question whether a man is not much more needed doing his work than he is upon the field of battle. The 3,500 men will not be. any good this side of 12 months. Everybody knows that. You can train them, you can do what you like with them. We used to have a standing rule in my county that nobody could go to the coal face at all until he had been 12 months in the mine. We had that regular practice. What the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is depending upon is the number of men he can comb out in this country, without any consideration of the larger numbers in the Forces out of the country, many of them not upon the field of battle at all and probably, like some men in this country, doing work that is hardly worthy of the efforts of a grown-up man. I hope that the comb-out will be very thorough. I have had many letters on the subject showing that good men are doing work which is altogether unworthy of them.
The miners have suggested first that there should be legislation governing the hours of work after the war. There is good reason for that. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman made certain suggestions to the Mineworkers' Federation to the effect that men should work on certain Sundays, 12 days a fortnight in the places where they now work and that they should extend their hours by finishing the cleaning of their places.
§ Mr. Lawson
Well, cleaning their places is only a very polite way of extending the working time. In fact, men do clean the places in certain areas, except where there is some dispute. All those proposals were simply the result of a bad old habit in the mining industry, the everlasting desire to go back to longer hours, very often fixed by those who do not know anything about the class of work. The miners have asked for a provision of guarantees of Government control of the disposal and price of coal, both inland and export. An international arrangement would be required in this connection. Then there is the continuation of the guaranteed week and the national minimum below which the week's earnings should not be allowed to fall. Once the 783 war is over I feel sure that we shall hear the same story that we heard after the last war and which was told us repeatedly in this House, that the mining industry is finished, played out, that it has no future. The proof that we shall have the same old story is that, as far as we know, there is no attempt in Government policy to influence the old position of industrialists setting the pace and just doing what they like.
I can tell the House what is happening in my own part of the country, in regard to the balance of industry. Everybody knows that what we need to-day is a mixture of light and heavy industries. What Wales has been trying to do during the war is to get some factories which will to some extent improve its position by mixing light and heavy industries which can sustain the community. How we remember those old days. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman must not blame us if we go back and recall them, because we can see similar conditions in the offing again. They were times when fathers and sons were driven away from mining areas to other parts of the country, such as London. Mining areas have the family sense very highly developed, but fathers and mothers have had to discuss whether they would allow the family to break up. The father had to leave the mine and take some of the boys away from school, or perhaps the whole family had to emigrate. The same thing is very likely to happen immediately the war is over.
I can show how little direction there is and how little hope of replanning. Since the blitz there has been plenty of building going on round about London, more than there has been in the mining areas in the North altogether during the war. There does not seem to be any direction of industry at all. We talk about planning, but it will be very difficult to unplan some of the planning that has been taking place during this war. There is no greater admirer than myself of the leading Members of the Government. They have earned from this country, and will earn, gratitude for their labours and their great achievements. They have worked full time and overtime, and I do not like to say anything that might make their job worse, during this great crisis of the war. Nevertheless, I must say that the time has arrived when the people of this 784 country need some concrete expression of policy which will give them hope for the future. The mining industry might well claim that something should be done immediately to give them hope and a belief that better conditions will prevaid. Steps should be taken which will re-establish confidence in the industry generally. We know, of course, that there will be competition, conflict and all the rest of it with the rest of the world, but the Government could at least give an assurance that the guaranteed week will be continued and that the national minimum will be maintained, below which earnings will not be allowed to fall. There is the question of welfare, but I will not deal with that at the moment.
There is the question of workmen's compensation, which, particularly in the mining industry, has been a very great scandal. I met a man the other day—I tell this story to give point to my case about the position as to workmen's compensation in this industry—who was first blown up in one of the pits in Barnsley He was very fortunate in not being killed. He came to Durham where, in an accident, he had one or two toes chopped off. He seemed very pleased that he had not lost his life. That man was actually exercising himself on the road in order to bring himself back into ordinary work again. I talked to him. Do hon. Members know how much that man was getting? He had been off work for six months, but he and his wife were getting 32s. gd. for compensation. That is a very good instance, taking the full rate of compensation. A situation like that certainly needs attention. The present Bill is by no means satisfactory to the miners, as the Government well know, and miners have asked for a comprehensive workmen's compensation scheme on the lines of that presented by the Mineworkers' Federation to the Royal Commission on Workmen's Compensation.
Before I sit down I want to say that the proposals of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman have been very disappointing. They leave us no alternative but to consider what steps we shall have to take about the matter. This country may have a hard winter. If children should lack warmth—the schools might be involved—and the aged also, or even the people as a whole, lack warmth and maybe light on any scale, the matter will be considered one of urgency. I can imagine Parliament 785 being called together to consider the situation, and to be told that as we liberate certain areas, if we are not in a position to meet their needs it will reflect upon us. We have a duty to ourselves, but we have a duty to these people, in addition to the needs of the Forces in other parts of the world. The statements of the Government to-day upon the mining situation are an illustration of the way in which the whole peace future of this country is being handled. I can tell the Government what the people are saying. They say, "We will see this war through." There is unity still, after four years, and determination to make an end once for all of the evil forces with which we are wrestling. We have, of course, entered the endurance stage of the war.
I have no doubt that our people have the will and will continue to give all the support and unity they can and do their best until this conflict is ended. If the people we are fighting think it is a matter of holding out long enough in order to test our will, they are very much mistaken, because our people will go on to the bitter end. That is my experience. But the people do say, "What has the future got for us?" and there is a lack of faith in the Government's policy with regard to the country in the future, when peace comes upon us. They badly need their faith revitalising, and I hope the Government in the very near future will take some steps to justify the faith of the people of this country in the future.
Finally, I think that in dealing with any of these matters it is of profound importance that the Government as well as ourselves should always remember—it would ill-become us to forget—that brave men have risked, and large numbers of men have given, their lives in order that we might be saved from utter destruction. On land and sea and in the air brave men are at the present moment battling and enduring great privations in order that we might live in peace. That places upon us the responsibility—I do not care whether it is the Members of this House or the citizens of this country, I do not care whether they be great, important, influential or humble; there is a very great obligation on all of us—to do the best we can to support those who are fighting our battle. In this matter of coal, events have driven us to-day into the valley of decision. The Government apparently do not appreciate that, but I hope this House 786 will compel the Government to do their duty, to take over the mines, to requisition the mines, to clear the owners out of it, to accept financial and operational control in order that the will of this country in respect of this great industry should become effective.
§ Major Braithwaite (Buckrose)
Surely the hon. Member does not suggest that the owners and the operating owners of the coalmines in this country are wholly incapable and incompetent? He says, "Clear them out," but who are you going to put in their place to manage the industry?
§ Mr. Lawson
I have been trying to show that dual control, where the owners are in charge, has failed, that dual control has made impossible the effective working of the mines and that what was really necessary was financial and operational control direct to make it effective. We say that sooner or later the Government will have to come back to this solution. The House and the country know that we are in a position where we have to arrive at drastic decisions, at drastic decisions affecting the lives of the miners, at drastic decisions affecting this industry and its relations to the country. I hope we shall see that the House compels the Government ultimately to face this problem unflinchingly, because if they do not do so, I am afraid we shall find ourselves facing very sad and very difficult times. All I have said is only in pursuance of the object which we all have. All that I have asked for and that the Miners' Federation ask for is for one purpose, for the leaders and the workers in this industry are among the most loyal and forthright in the country in support of the cause we all have at heart.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Lancaster (Fylde)
I have listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), whose sense of sincerity and responsibility we have all come to respect. If I do not agree fully with all his conclusions, I would like to say that I am in very full measure in agreement with him in regard to his analysis of this problem. We have to-day the advantage of a full quarter's figures since this question of the coal industry was debated. Members may remember that on that occasion the majority of speakers expressed a considerable degree of concern about the situation 787 and about the position in front of us. The Minister in his reply, which I think "The Times" described as a speech of measured optimism, expressed the view on that occasion that without any exceptional measures in regard to directing man-power into the pits we should see the winter through. I think a good many of us went away not only rather unconvinced by my right hon. Friend's reasoning but disturbed at a state of mind which seemed to accept a position of seeing the winter through as being in any way satisfactory. I think we all realised at that moment that events pending in Europe would inevitably bring about a situation where it was not going to be merely a matter of seeing the winter through so far as coal is concerned but of increasing our production very considerably.
In the event the concern we felt and the note of warning which a number of us expressed were fully justified. We are today considering a situation which gives cause for the gravest anxiety throughout the country. Hon. Members by now are familiar with certain salient statistics about the industry. They know that our requirements are in the nature of 4,200,000 tons per week. They know we require something like 720,000 men to produce that tonnage, that there is an annual wastage of about 20,000 men, and that to attain that force of 720,000 men with that annual wastage we shall require by next May to bring our existing labour forces of 705,000 about an additional 30,000 men. I am afraid I shall have to ask the indulgence of the House to inflict on Members some additional facts and figures. I feel they are necessary for a practical approach to this problem.Whereas in the first quarter of this year production fell by slightly under 500,00o tons in relation to the similar quarter of 1942, for the second quarter of the year that figure had been increased to nearly 1,250,000 tons and for the third quarter, the figures for which we now have in front of us, the figure has increased to one of 2,500,000 tons. I had the most recent figures sent to me this morning, and I find that for the first 39 weeks of this year we are 4,500,000 tons down as against the relevant period for 1942, and that if this decline, which is gathering momentum, continues to the end of the year we shall 788 have lost about 6,500,000 tons as against the previous period. At the same time output per man-shift has declined. Where as in the year 1938 we were producing 22.9 cwts. per man-shift that had declined by the end of 1942 to 21 cwts., and we are now barely maintaining a level of 20 cwts. per man-shift.
In his review of the industry on the previous occasion the Minister of Fuel and Power attempted to draw a comparison between relevant periods of the last war and this war in relation to output. Statistics in connection with this very complex industry are apt to be misleading. One requires considerable experience and an intimate knowledge of the industry before one can usefully deduce facts from them. In point of fact that comparison was quite valueless, as it was made without the relevant man-power figures. The only important comparison the Minister could have made was one of output per man-shift. There we come to the disturbing fact that during the period from 1914 to the beginning of 1918 output per man-shift in the last war was very nearly constant. We started the war with a figure of 20 cwts., and by the beginning of 1918 that had fallen only slightly over half a cwt. per man-shift. The actual figure was 19.4 cwts.
The serious decline occurred between 1918 and 1921, when the Government took over the mines. Then it fell from 19 cwts. to 14½ cwts. That is an unpalatable fact, but those who are toying with the idea of complete control should remember it. There we have two vital facts about our present condition. Output is falling rapidly, both in the aggregate and per man-shift. There might appear to be two solutions, or possibly a combination of two solutions—to draft men back into the industry from the Army and to direct men into the industry from other sources. I was glad to hear from my right hon. and gallant Friend that men would not be drafted back from the Field Forces. It would be a calamity to attempt at this moment to withdraw men from our Field Forces, either those which are operating in Italy and elsewhere or those which are training for the main assault upon the Continent.
I would, however, make an additional suggestion, which my right hon. and gallant Friend might pass on to the Secretary of State for War. There are, I be- 789 lieve, half a dozen or so trained mining engineers now in the Army. Their value at this moment could be computed at some tens of thousands of tons of coal. The question of their return should be reconsidered. Before we direct men from other sources into the industry we should be satisfied that the industry is in such a condition that the men who are directed can help to bring about the results for which we are looking. It is essential to disabuse hon. Members' minds of the idea that mere numbers will solve the problem. In the 29 weeks ending 17th July this year we had 174.00 more men in the industry than in the same period of 1941, and they produced 2,500,000 tons less. We must go more fully into this matter to ascertain what is wrong with the industry. I have alluded to a decline, both relative and absolute. We must also consider the question of strikes. I am not referring to them in a critical manner; I am merely adding them to the other factors for considerations. In 1942 55 per cent. of the industrial stoppages in this country were in the mining industry. Although my right hon. arid gallant Friend gave rather more satisfactory figures today in that connection, a high proportion of the industrial stoppages this year were in this industry.
That points to the fact that there is a state of mind among the men not conducive to the highest production. Let us try to analyse that state of mind. It might well be, as the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street suggested, that the miners are becoming anxious at the prospect, when the war ends of a repetition of circumstances such as confronted them on the last occasion. The miners remember that as a result of the 1926 strike, they were left, in vulgar parlance, holding the baby. They felt that they had been let down by the rest of the community. They blamed the rest of the community for those disastrous years in the industry after the 1926 strike. In a sense they dissociated themselves from the rest of us. That is why I feel that very often appeals for their co-operation appear to fall on deaf ears. They feel deeply hurt, and they resent advice from other sections. I think they have what a psychologist might call a complex. The ordinary lay person will recognise that anybody who has been so deeply hurt as the miner has been does not' always behave in a reasonable man- 790 ner. That more often than not is at the bottom of what seems to the rest of the country an unreasonable attitude on the part of the miners when appeals are made for their co-operation. If there is this fear of a repetition of what occurred on the last occasion, we should face up to it.
When we debated this matter at the end of June I suggested that a guarantee should be given by the Government to the industry of a continuation of existing circumstances, with a guaranteed wage and guaranteed employment for five years after the war. We can safely assume that the demand for coal, either as a raw material or in the form of the export of manufactured articles from this country, will be fully maintained for at least five years after the war. I notice that the Miners' Federation advocate something of this sort, and I know that a number of hon. Members on this side of the House favour such a policy. I cannot help feeling that its adoption by the Government, the formulation of a miners' charter, on the same basis as the Atlantic Charter, would go a long way towards allaying the frightful spectre of insecurity for the miner when the war is over.
Having allayed that fear as far as we can—and I think that a five-years' guarantee is only a start towards a solution—we have to face up to the miners' reasonable grievances. This is a two-days' Debate, and hon. Members will be able to deal with the majority of those grievances. I will confine myself to one, which was alluded to at some length by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street—the question of workmen's compensation. I know that this question applies to the whole range of industry, but it has particular application to this industry. I know that there are certain proposals before Parliament for improving existing rates. I think it is desirable to state straightaway that the miners look upon this matter as one which affects them differently from other classes of labour. One-sixth of the accidents occurring in industrial life in this country occur in the mining industry. The miners feel that, as they are tied to this idustry by the Essential Work Order, the Government should recognise that they are subject to industrial accidents very much more than any other members of the community are. If a man is laid off, even for a short while, he suffers a considerable disadvantage just when he probably wants extra food and comfort—
791 certainly he does not want to be worried by money matters. He finds his income cut by more than half. In the matter of fatalities we find an even more extreme situation. A miner who may be earning as much as £9 a week is killed. His wife or nearest dependent receives a sum of £400. That can be distributed at the discretion of the court, but inevitably, in a few short years that £400 has gone and that wife or dependent has nothing to rely on other than a widow's pension of 10s. a week. If the miner has children that amount of £400 can be raised to £700.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Lancaster: Under the new suggestion, it is £700.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Lancaster
Even £700, however distributed, is insufficient to maintain a reasonable condition of life for that wife and children. There we have two approaches to this problem—the possibility of allaying this matter of fear and an approach to the matter of grievances.
If we can do those two things and can solve that part of the problem, we have a right to expect an improvement in the vital matter of discipline and of unofficial and lightning strikes. As far as discipline is concerned, I would like to say a word on behalf of the colliery managers. Control inevitably brings about a lessening of direct authority. This possibility would not matter a great deal if the slack could be taken up by the authorities set up under control but in practice that does not actually occur. The mine manager finds himself to-day with the responsibility of attempting to maintain or increase production with one hand tied behind his back. I do not suggest that we can alter the framework of control at this stage of the war but a good deal could be done by the Ministry through their Regional organisations to uphold and maintain as far as possible the authority of the men's representatives and of the pit committees and to see that they in their turn did all that was possible to see that the managers' authority was maintained. Parliament imposes a very considerable measure of responsibility on managers for the maintenance, control and production of mines in the interests of safety, and if we impose that responsibility on managers, it 792 is surely our duty to see that their authority in the matter of discipline is upheld as far as possible.
I have dwelt on the pyschological aspects of the industry, and I would now like to deal with its physical aspects. I would say to the Minister or, in his absence, to the Parliamentary Secretary that it is essential to recognise that as great an improvement can be brought about by an improvement in methods and machinery as by the introduction of additional men into the industry. On the last occasion that we debated this matter my right hon. and gallant Friend made reference to a figure of 1, 000,000 tons as being the improvement brought about by concentration and by improvements in the use of machinery since the Ministry of Fuel and Power came into being. That represents 0.5 per cent. of the whole of our production. It is negligible. We should expect five per cent. or indeed a higher figure, but to put it at its lowest we should expect by now a 5 per cent. improvement in the results to be obtained by concentration and by improvements in mechanisation. I am referring in this connection to improvements in British machinery and in our existing methods.
There is yet another approach to this problem and one to which I have referred to in very general terms hitherto, but to-day I feel it is desirable that I should deal with it in slightly fuller detail. I am referring to the introduction of American machinery into our pits. I am not for one moment suggesting that it is the solution of all our problems. It is no more than a contribution, but it is an important one. So that I cannot be criticised as being over optimistic of the results which we might expect from this means, I am going to confine myself to facts and figures which have already been accepted by the Ministry. Rather more than a year ago a review of American methods was carried out by a mining engineer on behalf of the Ministry, and as a result of that review, he came to the conclusion that 20 per cent. of our conditions lent themselves to the introduction of these machines and methods. But for the purposes of my argument. I am content to cut this figure by half and to limit myself to saying ro per cent.; 20,000,000 tons of our output lent themselves to the introduction of American power loading machinery and its ancillaries. It is con- 793 ceded by anybody who is familiar with these methods that a threefold output can be expected by the introduction of American machinery. Here again, I am going to cut that figure by half and say that we can do no more than double our output. A doubled output of 20,000,000 tons is 40,000,000 tons: a net gain of 20,000,000 tons without the necessity of adding one man to our existing manpower.
We have got far enough in our experimental work in this connection to be satisfied that it is now a practical proposition. Opinion on both sides of the Atlantic is satisfied that we can go ahead the moment the machinery is available. The disturbing feature of all this is that no machinery is available. Quite recently a few machines did appear in this country but the only machines we have had to carry out these experiments were machines ordered before the present Ministry came into being by the late Mines Department through the Board of Trade. I am not prepared to accept this delay as being occasioned entirely by shortages in America or by difficulties in the matter of shipping or time spent on modifications or factors of that nature. I am afraid that I am drawn to the reluctant conclusion that priorities have not been forthcoming because we ourselves or the Ministry of Fuel and Power have not displayed that degree of enthusiasm which was necessary. They have not recognised until very late in the day that this new departure had immense possibilities.
We have heard a good deal recently about the possibilities of opencast mining. This will be a valuable contribution to our tonnage, but I can assure hon. Members that no figures however sanguine which we can obtain by this new departure bear relation to the possibilities of the introduction of this power loading machinery from America, The disturbing feature of all this is that for the last nine months we have not had a Director of Production at the Mines Department. The White Paper, hon. Members will remember, set up dual control of the industry under the Ministry of Fuel and Power, to be exercised through the regions, the Director of Labour and the Director of Production. For nine months we have been without the benefit of this appointment, but an appointment has just been made. Mr. Charles Reid was appointed at the begin- 794 ning of this month. But inevitably during this period all matters of a purely technical nature, matters affecting production and the introduction of machinery, improvement in machinery and questions of concentration, all matters affecting the physical aspect of the undertaking, have had to be considered by the Minister without the benefit of that technical advice which he should have had and which was obtainable. We see aspects of that lack of recognition of the importance of the technical aspect of the undertaking in a number of other ways.
The Minister recently, quite properly, was asking the opinion of the Miners' Federation on the question of production. They are a body capable of giving valuable opinions in regard to the employment of labour, wages and hours, and, in some measure, on the physical aspect of production itself, but by no means as capable of giving advice on the physical aspect as are such organisations as the Institute of Mining Engineers or the Colliery Managers' Association. I would be much happier if I felt that the Minister was prepared to look round and obtain advice on matters of that nature from those most capable of giving it to him. Here, then, is the situation. We have to set our house in order on the material side and on the human side of the industry. We have had an opportunity of debating this question on four occasions since this new Ministry came into being. It came into being with the best wishes of Members of all parties. We extended to the Minister himself, who, quite rightly, has the affection and respect of everyone in this House, our best wishes. But from the day on which he took office there is not the slightest doubt that the position has deteriorated and is deteriorating rapidly. I feel that the time for further warnings to the present Ministry and appeals to reform are past. What I have said and attempted to explain to the House constitutes, in my submission, an indictment of the whole melancholy record of this Ministry and as such it must stand.
§ Mr. Cocks (Broxtowe)
The hon. and gallant Member for Fylde (Lieut.-Colonel Lancaster) has made a very thoughtful and interesting speech. He has, I believe, considerable colliery associations in my own constituency, and as I do not propose to say anything very charming about colliery owners to-day, I would like to say that so 795 far as he is concerned I strongly support all he has said about the question of compensation and especially about a miners' charter—a guarantee for five years of a minimum wage and a guaranteed week. That I am in favour of, and I will say a little more about it presently; my only criticism is that it does not go far enough. The Minister when he spoke to-day appealed to the House for placid debate. Well, placidity is not historically associated with the name the Minister bears, and I trust he will not be upset if I disturb the still and almost stagnant waters of this Debate, as I am afraid I shall be compelled to do. The state of feeling among the miners at the moment is not placid; it is developing into a raging maelstrom, a foaming Niagara of discontent, and the House should be informed quite clearly as to what the position is among the men in the industry at the moment and what grave events are possible. Unless the causes of discontent are removed grave events are possible; unless they are removed I think it is the duty of Labour Ministers to leave the Government.
In my constituency a month ago a lad of i8 employed on the surface at Newstead Colliery was ordered down the pit. He wanted to join the Merchant Service, He was not given the option for that or any of the Fighting Services. It was stated that he was suffering from the psychological fear of working underground, as so many people are. Everyone knows that a lad with claustrophobia is a danger to his fellow workers underground and is likely to cause accidents. This lad refused the direction and was sentenced to a month's imprisonment. All the miners at Newstead Colliery left work as a protest against the sentence. The strike spread like lightning throughout the whole of my division. It was not organised in any way at all. It was spontaneous and orderly. When the lad under pressure in prison agreed, if certified as fit, to go down the pit and was released by the Home Secretary, the men obeyed the orders of the strike committee and vent back to work. But in that week 21 pits. stopped work and 23,000 miners struck because of this incident, and 100,000 tons of coal were lost to the nation. Of course, we saw the newspaper headline, "One boy causes strike." Old gentlemen in Pall Mall clubs went purple with passion and port wine at what they considered the unpatriotic 796 action of the miners, who are as patriotic as any body of workers in the country and as valiant fighters as anyone in the Army List. Indeed, the War Office well know this when they refuse to release ex-miners from the Army. It is obvious that this spontaneous and perfectly orderly strike was not caused by that one incident. To use a metaphor which may have been used before, it was "the match which fired the magazine." In the Notts coalfields there is a feeling of sullen resentment and discontent among the men, and, unless the causes are removed, strikes may recur and coal be lost to the nation.
What is the general man-power position in the coal industry to-day? There are 703,000 workers, and 720,00o are needed. There is a wastage of 20,000 men every year and there used to be more; and men are getting older. Modern mechanised mining requires young, strong, well-fed men who can stand the strain and who will not easily tire. But by a colossal blunder the Government allowed many such men to be taken out of the pits and go into the Services and have perpetuated that error until to-day. Now the Minister has told us that it has been decided to have another comb-out, not of the men on active service overseas or of the men in the Armies at home which are to be launched on the Continent. It is to be a comb-out of men in various odd positions. I would like to know whether it is to be limited to privates. Previously, if a man was a lance-corporal he was not included. If an officer wanted to keep a man who was an ex-miner all he did was to have him promoted to a lance-corporal and make him his batman. Is that going to happen again? At the present moment 40 per cent. of the workers in the industry are over 4o years of age and 20 per cent. are over 5o. They are feeling the strain of long hours of heavy physical labour. Before the end of the year 30,000 new recruits will be needed, and 20,000 more are to be obtained by next April. How are they to be obtained? Not by voluntary recruitment. That has been admitted to-day. The men who have opted for the pits have numbered only some 3,200, and some of these will not be of the kind needed. That will not apply to all, but there will be some. We do not want men in the mines who volunteer only to dodge the Army. As for youths who are being asked to volunteer, no lad to-day will go into a pit unless he is ultra-patriotic 797 or half-witted. Thirty years ago sons followed their fathers into the pits in the natural course of events. Now they know better, and so do their fathers. At New-stead, where the strike occurred, 15 boys from the local school were asked by a Press representative whether they intended to work in the mines like their fathers. Their answer was, "No, our dads would not let us."
Miners' sons saw what happened between the two wars, especially after 1926. They saw no guarantee of decent wages, regular employment or humane conditions in the collieries. They saw their fathers and friends victimised and refused work not only at the collieries at which they had been working before 1926 but at all other collieries in the county. Men could not get work anywhere; they were marked men. I had friends treated that way. They were kicked out of the industry and had to take other employment or live on the dole. I have known many good workers who have not worked in the pit since 1926 merely because they have been victimised. The miner's son sees 20,000 to 30,000 leaving the industry every year, worn out, crippled, with broken pelvises, fractured spines and acute rheumatism and without adequate compensation. Even when they did work on the surface in those days there was no guarantee for miners' sons that at the age of 21 they would be found employment at the coal face. So, to-day, the country is gathering the bitter fruit of those bad years, which the miners fear may come again. At Hucknall, which is in my constituency (it is the town where Byron is buried: we know something about liberty in Broxtowe), a miner said last month, "We are told that we are vital to the war effort, that our skill keeps the war going. No one ever gives us a plan or a promise, so we want our kids to be safe." As my friend Yaffle said in "Reynolds' News" the other day, parodying Rudyard Kipling's "Tommy":It's Tommy this and Tommy thatAnd starve him out the brute,But it's 'Please come down the mine, sir'When the guns begin to shoot.And it's Taffy this and Geordie that,And 'rat get down your hole,'But it's make the mines attractive'Now the mills are needing coal.The Government are not even doing that. A miner's wife in my constituency, at Eastwood, when asked the other day whether.her son was going down the pit, 798 replied, "I would rather see him dead." That is the general feeling in my constituency and, I believe in others as well. We have heard that no miners' leader, agent or Member of Parliament has a son in the industry. I do not know whether that is wholly true, but I believe it is generally true. If so, that can be said of no other industry in the country. That shows how unpopular the mining industry is. Lads employed round about the collieries write to me saying that they want to go into the Services and do not want to go down the pits. They ask if I can get permission for them to join the Services, which I cannot do.
They are willing to go into the Merchant Service or the Navy and run the risk of being torpedoed and drowning in a sea of oil. They are willing to go into the Army, where they will be better treated than they are in the pits, because Montgomery looks after his men, which is more than the coalowners do, and to run the risk of being blown to pieces by a shell. They are willing to fly over Berlin and run the risk of crashing in flames or baling out over the North Sea. But they are not willing to face the certainty of a life of hell in a colliery, because life in a colliery under modern conditions is as near hell as anything in the world to-day outside Germany.
You talk of the Essential Work Order, and say that discipline cannot be maintained until managers recover the power of dismissal. Discipline is not maintained today by the power of the sack. That would be an order of release from slavery. If you abolished the Essential Work Order, half the men in the pit would leave the industry to-morrow of their own voluntary accord. Discipline, certainly in Nottinghamshire, if you call it discipline, is maintained by a system of organised and authorised bullying in an atmosphere of noise, dust, heat, sweat and blasphemy. Woe betide the unfortunate miner who gets into the bad books of someone in authority. He will be sent to a very nasty spot, and there are very nasty places in mines where he could be sent. If he cannot be sacked except by permission of the National Service officer, he cannot leave either, to obtain a more congenial job in a factory or to join one of the Services. He is a blackfaced slave bound to the pit for the duration of the war. That is the position of miners in my constituency.
799 The Minister will not get men by voluntary effort. He will not attract the right type by the advertisements that he is putting out at present, which seem to me a sheer waste of money. At one time I earned a considerable income by writing advertisements, and I have thought of one which, if successful, might attract a very fine type of ultra-patriotic young man, the kind of man who is wanted. It would read like this:England needs coal.Call for mining volunteers.Mining is a highly dangerous industry.If you volunteer as a miner you may get killed, and you will be very lucky if you escape serious injury.The conditions are detestable.You will have no smart uniform to wear, and your clothes and body will be grimed with coal dust.For six days a week you may never see the sun, and on Sunday you will be too tired to do anything but sleep.You will have to work with furious physical energy and you may have to work with your body stripped to a pair of drawers, streaming with sweat, in a cramped position, a horrible atmosphere and cursed by the Deputy until your brain is dizzy and your limbs are almost too tired to carry you home.Only a patriot and a brave man will take on such work as this, but England desperately needs coal and wants you to get it. No weaklings need apply. Help England in her need, and volunteer for the most joyless and unpleasant job in the war.If the Minister would take that advertisement and put it in the "Eton College Chronicle" and the magazines of the great public schools patronised by my hon. Friend the Member for East Hull (Mr. Muff), he might possibly get the type of self-sacrificing young man that he wants, or he might not.
I do not believe they can be obtained by voluntary effort; therefore they have to be obtained by conscription. If that is going to be done, this is what the miners in my division have authorised me to say: "This conscription or direction must be universally applied. It must not be applied to the mining villages alone or to the families of miners alone. Eton and Harrow must send their quota as well as the elementary schools. In the mining villages it must be applied to the sons of coalowners and colliery managers as well as to the sons of colliers. Until it is so applied, the practice of directing youths underground against their will must be entirely suspended."
800 I carefully read the speech of the Minister of Labour on 23rd September and I gather that this represent the Government's policy. He said: "We shall utilise those who have opted or those who have volunteered and if vacancies still exist we shall, in addition, proceed to direct men to the mines whether they have been in that industry before or not. There will be no distinction."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd September, 1943; col. 470, Vol. 392.] I take it that this means that surface workers will not be directed underground against their will until this process of general direction is adopted and that in the meantime any pending prosecutions of boys who have refused to go underground should be withdrawn. I am very anxious about this. Certain prosecutions are pending or threatened in Nottinghamshire, and if any of these boys are sent to prison before the scheme is generally applied, the consequences may be disastrous. If it is generally applied, the miners will not object and will do their best to work the scheme and train new recruits brought in from outside, but they do not want their boys picked out as those who must go down the pit first. There is a corollary I would like to put before the House. Many lads working on the surface write to me to say they would like to join the Forces. There are also many married miners in the Services (I have not heard from any unmarried ones) who would like to go back to the pit for family reasons and because they feel that they do more service at the coal face than in the Army. Could not the two groups be exchanged? If for every experienced miner brought back from the Services we could send a young volunteer from the pits, both sides should be satisfied and mining would benefit.
Miners are working very hard in Nottinghamshire. They are working nearly 6o hours a week, and in many cases more, especially when travelling time is taken into account. There is a general feeling that these men should be exempted from Home Guard parades and town fire-watching. I have a case of a man at Newstead, where the recent trouble started. He works alternate fortnights—days and nights. When on days he gets up at 4.30 in the morning and is not home until 6 in the evening, sometimes later. He gets on an average nine or ten tons per shift by hand and produces 54 to 60 tons a week, so that you cannot say he is not getting his quota of coal.
801 On Sunday he feels the want of rest, but he is expected to do squad drill and march about a field for two or three hours, and because he feels that if he does this he will not be fit for work he is hauled up before the Court and fined a total of £35 for not attending Home Guard parade by a pack of magistrates who perhaps have never done a day's hard manual work in their lives. That is an outrage which should not be allowed. These men should be exempted. A union official told me that town fire-watching is responsible for a great deal of absenteeism. A miner who has to get up at 5 in the morning wants to get to sleep easily. Yet he may be stationed with business men who sit up talking or playing cards half the night so that he cannot get any sleep. Half way through the next day he is tired out and decides that he must take a holiday the day after. My informant believes that absenteeism will increase if this goes on. A miner cannot cut coal to his full capacity and do fire-watching as well. He ought to be exempted.
We have heard that 20 per cent. of the men in the coalfield are over 5o. The work is sapping their strength. They tire easily, and the strength that they lose can only be recovered by food. One miners' leader said he knew of men losing as much as 9 lbs. in a shift. There is a very strong feeling amongst them that the meat ration should be doubled. The Minister compared their lot with that of the Eighth Army. If you fed the miners like Montgomery's Army is fed, they might do Eighth Army deeds. Canteens do something, but there are places where hot meals cannot be obtained, and there is nothing so satisfying to a miner as a good hot meat meal at home. That is one of the demands that they make. We have heard about hours, and the Government have made certain proposals, which have been considered and rejected by the Miners' Federation. In Nottinghamshire they work six shifts a week. In time that leads to decreased production. There has been resolution after resolution from miners' lodges saying that in their opinion as much coal can be got by a five-shift as by a six-shift week. The men in the Eighth Army are not in the front line all the time. They are relieved periodically. They go back for periods of rest. The miners have been working hard all the time since the beginning of the war. If 802 they had two days' rest on Saturday and Sunday, they would be refreshed both in body and mind. There are no cinemas open in many places on Sundays. There are miners who have not seen a picture or football match since the beginning of the war. They are getting bored, as anyone else would be who had to work all the week and come out only on Sundays. Give them a rest on Saturday and Sunday, and on Monday they will work with new energy. It is believed by a great many miners whom I have consulted that a five-shift week would put an end to a great deal of so-called absenteeism.
There is great bitterness and resentment at the savage sentences passed on miners by Tory magistrates, who in many cases seem to have an anti-collier complex. Everybody knows that it is as difficult to get a Labour justice of the peace appointed to-day as it is to get an ice cream in hell. Magistrates may be very useful in trying petty offences like drunkenness and thieving and cases of that kind, but they are not a proper tribunal to deal with breaches of industrial regulations during the war. I suggest that, instead of these cases being dealt with by magistrates, industrial courts should be set up on which working miners should be represented and on which there should be men who understand the mining industry and the psychology of the miners. I believe in Cornwall the Stannery Courts do something of that kind. I do not know for certain, although I come from that part of the world, but I have read it in the papers. Until that is done there will be more trouble in the coalfields. I have said that I agree with the last speaker about compensation. Many other Members will deal with that subject in detail, but I can say it is one of the greatest grievances of the miners. In order to get compensation for injuries they have to fight the insurance companies. The owners do not pay compensation out of their own pockets. They use insurance companies which fight these cases.
§ Mr. Colegate (The Wrekin)
Is the hon. Member aware that of all the compensation cases dealt with by insurance companies only o.1 per cent. are ever fought? That is an official figure.
§ Mr. Cocks
I am not talking about ordinary compensation cases but about miners' cases. They are fought. What 803 often happens is that some doctor gives one opinion and another doctor says the opposite, and compensation is lost altogether. Even if a miner wins his case, the maximum compensation is 35s. a week under the new Act. That figure ought to be greatly increased. The figure of 35s. is much less than the Beveridge Report suggests as compensation. Moreover, compensation should be an obligation of the State. There should be a State scheme instead of a private scheme, and as under the new pensions plan the onus for rejection should be placed on the Government instead of the onus of proof on the man. Miners are thinking of the future. I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend who suggested that there ought to be a charter by which miners would have for five years a guaranteed week, regular wages and regular employment. There might be a guarantee for five years, but there cannot be a longterm guarantee if the industry remains in private hands. Such a thing cannot be forced on an industry under private control.
My final point is that the dual system, as I think most people will agree, has been a failure. Organisational control has been in the hands of the officials of the Ministry, while the financial control has remained in the hands of the owners. Thus you have two controls pulling against each other. The Minister himself has said that of every four production committees only one is working satisfactorily and one is not working at all. Miners tell me that if they bring up proposals before the production committee they are either not accepted or if they are accepted they are over-ridden afterwards by someone higher up. At other times they get black looks, and they are afraid of trouble if they put forward suggestions. Surely the time has come to recognise the failure of the compromise and for the State to take over their industry. For years the miners have made their demands for nationalisation, for years the demands have been rejected, and the state of the industry has got worse steadily year after year. Coal-owners are the most stubborn and intolerant employers in the whole country. Even the Prime Minister found that out. They might be described as the Prussians of England. Berlin is their spiritual home and Berchtesgaden their colliery office. Like their own slag heaps, they are a 804 blot on the landscape, utterly useless, and when heated they emit noxious fumes. Wherever their authority extends they spread a blight over the countryside and the workers are seething with discontent.
For years miners have fought for better conditions. Strike after strike has marked and marred the history of the industry. Every reform has been refused or only extracted at the point of the dagger, at the cost of infinite sacrifices, of the tears and misery of women and children. I can tell you that in Nottingham there is a feeling of enmity and hostility between the two sides which cannot be exaggerated. The collier is a brave man. If he saw a kitten drowning in a canal, he would jump in instantly and rescue it. If he saw a mineowner drowning, I doubt if he would be in such a hurry. Now the country is reaping the result of these long years of stubbornness and strife. The younger generation and their mothers have taken the matter into their own hands. They say that strikes have done no good, and they have resolved to leave the industry altogether, to leave an industry in which toil is not rewarded and in which courage does not gain its meed of honour.
Unless an alteration is made now, then, when the present generation of miners die out, there will be no one left to carry on the industry except the coalowners themselves. The younger men will not go into the industry. I have never met a miner yet who wanted his son to follow him. The only weapon they have is to leave the industry, to leave the pits and the slag heaps to the coalowners. Now is the time for the Government to save the situation. The Minister talked about General Montgomery's Army. If General Montgomery or General Alexander were leading the industry, if the officers in the pit shared, as the officers do in the Army, the toil and discomfort and dangers of the men, there would be a very different story to tell. If you conscript men for the mines as for the Services you must make the mining industry a national service with the Union Jack flying over the head-stocks as if every colliery was a battleship. Only by nationalising the mines can you humanise the mines and make the industry here at home fit for the fathers, brothers and sons of the generation of gallant Englishmen now fighting and winning the battle of freedom and liberty across the seas.
§ Major Braithwaite (Buckrose)
The Minister asked us to discuss this problem in a calm atmosphere, but my hon. Friend who preceded me has really stirred up intolerence and heat. If I do not follow him, he will understand that I wish to obey the request of the Minister. The gravity of the coalmining situation as it now faces the country is really deplorable, and the House ought to be thoroughly ashamed of it. There is no justification for this basic essential industry being in the condition it is in today. The Minister was very fortunate last winter when he appealed to the nation to save coal. Climatic conditions gave him a tremendous advantage. To-day all that we gained then is being lost, and the sacrifices of the ordinary people are doomed to failure unless something drastic is done to improve output. The Government's policy set out in the White Paper published only a year ago has definitely not produced the necessary tonnage of coal, nor has it made the condition of the industry acceptable to the miners or the operators or the nation.
I have said before that the whole psychology of this industry is wrong and has never been tackled. Mistrust and suspicion—the Minister used these words —are dominant in the minds of the miners, and the owners view with anxiety the interference of the Government. They have a feeling of frustration that the discipline of this industry has been seriously impaired. We want honest good will on both sides. The miner who is not doing his duty is as responsible as any one of the coalowners. Most of the miners have worked well during the war. They have worked continuously a six-day week, and when one comes to analyse the position the drop in production this year of 3 per cent. is not surprising. Many people have suggested that large numbers of men should be brought back from the Army and that others should be recruited from the national labour pool for mining work, but my own opinion—it may not be shared by everybody—is that if you had 50,000 skilled miners available to-day and put them into the mines, that of itself would not solve the problem. It would be doubtful whether there would be any appreciable increase in output.
The mining industry, like any other industry, cannot be successful if it stands still. Three years ago I pointed out in this House the definite need for increased 806 mechanisation as the only means of maintaining production. No new pits have been sunk in that time, and there is little easy coal to win in the industry to-day. The industry ought to have a proper priority basis. It may interest the House to know that it has no more priority than the furniture business for getting supplies. It ought to have operational priority equivalent to the priority of makers of shells and guns. It is no wonder that the machinery of the mines has gone to pieces. Conveyors are breaking down, and machines are in a wretched state of repair on account of the long hours they are worked without attention. Something will have to be done, as the supply of machinery is not nearly sufficient to get production on a proper basis. We have been let down by relying on the American machine makers, who promised 800 power loaders this year, whereas we have only received eight. It is not a bit of good talking about men lying on their backs and digging out coal with picks and shovels. Modern methods have to be employed.
If the Government had treated the armaments industry as they have treated the coalmining industry as regards factories for the production of machinery, the war would have been lost a long time ago. I want an answer from the Minister of Production. This is not my right hon. and gallant Friend's job; he is running the mines. The Minister of Production is responsible for this disgraceful state of affairs. We cannot be content to be Lend-Lease spongers on America. We ought to have the proper facilities here for the machines to be made in this country. It is a great disservice that has been done to the miners that they have never been adequately supplied with the proper tools for their work. If the Minister sends men down the mines without proper machinery, it is like sending soldiers to fight the Germans without rifles and guns. Where have we done any modernisation of the coal-mining industry since the war started? I hope that the Minister of Production will give the House a proper explanation of his attitude towards the mining industry. He is a Cabinet Minister, and it is his special responsibility to see that this basic industry is adequately supplied with everything it needs. The industry must work on a proper time cycle. Sinkings, planting, recruitment and training must be properly programmed. There has been no programming of the industry since the 807 war started. It has been a hand-to-mouth existence right the way through. I am informed by responsible officials that it will take three years properly to mechanise the mines of England. That ought to have started when the war began, for coal is more essential than most other forms of production.
Then we must pay great attention to the position of the miner. The prosecutions, persecutions, and ill-informed criticisms have begun to poison the public mind against the miners. This is a gross libel on a gallant industrial body of men, and it must be stopped at once. There is no other industry where there has been so much prying into the personal and private activities of a body of workmen as there has been in the coal industry. The public must never forget that these men daily risk their lives in the production of this essential mineral. They risk their lives just as the soldier risks his on the battlefield. They are entitled to much kinder treatment. I know the miners, having lived most of my life with them, and I know their courage, devotion to duty and sense of national responsibility. If from this Debate no sensible plans are devised for the rehabilitation and establishment of confidence in this industry, the House of Commons will be responsible. The time to act is now if we are not to watch the industry dying on its feet for months to come.
I am going to be presumptuous and present the Minister with a plan for the proper rehabilitation of the industry. Many people from my side of the House may not agree with the plan, but I believe that it will solve the problem.
My family tree for the coalmining industry would then b—Ministry of Fuel and Power responsible to Parliament; royalties owned by the State; coal mined and carbonised by operating companies which would be financially owned and controlled as regards general policy in large groups by central companies linked together in a national association; production regulated nationally by a marketing committee of the national association and regulated in districts by a marketing committee of each central company; the fuel to be sold by the central companies; prices to be fixed and co-ordinated by the national association; research to be carried out by the national association; domestic research carried out by the central companies; wages to be negotiated nationally; disputes to be first dealt with by units and operating authority and finally, if not settled, by the national tribunals. I know that I am presumptuous in putting forward these suggestions, but I hope that they will receive earnest consideration from the Government. Those who know me know that I have no ulterior motives. I only wish to see the industry put on a proper and decent basis. If the Government consider these suggestions and find any use in them, I hope they will act with speed before it is too late.
- 1.—consider that there are far too many operating companies in the industry. It is impossible for the Minister or Government Departments to keep in touch with 1,500 operating companies. It results in a loose system of coalmining development. I want to see the compulsory amalgamation of collieries carried out at once and these collieries built up into units of from 3,000,000 to 5,000,000 tons. I consider that in order to restore confidence and stability to the industry, responsibility on the directorates of those companies should be shared by the work-people. They should be brought immediately on to the boards and given a sense of responsibility.
- 2.—The resumption of a. five-day working week is vital for the mechanised mines. The shorter week will give more coal than the six day week. It will also keep the machinery in a proper state of repair and prevent great labour wastage. It is no good men going down the pits and having to sit about waiting for plant to be repaired. The machinery ought to have a proper routine of maintenance and repair going on all the time.
- 3.—I want to see the provision of an operational mining allowance for underground workers which will not he subject to tax deduction. Men wear out their clothes and a proper operational allowance would be of great use.
- 4.—The Minister has announced that the bonus system is to be made applicable to individual pits. That ought to be made immediately operative. I have had a great deal to do with bonus schemes for a large number of workpeople, and I know that the bonus is a thing for which individual men will work. It is nonsense that because one colliery works hard and one slacks neither of them gets a bonus. It ought to be paid on the results of each pit and put on that basis at once.
- 5.—I want to see the Minister of Production give the industry an operational priority immediately for the establishment of factories for the manufacture of mining machinery and the provision of the necessary engineering personnel to put this side of the industry right.
- 6.—We want to see the concentration and the rapid development of those seams which can be fully mechanised and the transfer thereto of mining personnel. It is not every coal mine that can be mechanised, but there are large numbers of seams from which a large amount of coal can be got, and if we can get a rapid development of the better seams we shall get over our difficulty.
- 7.—I want to see the establishment of a permanent national tribunal to which all disputes which cannot be settled within the industry and the operating group can be brought. I want to have this tribunal in permanent session until we can see a way out of our many difficulties.
- 8.—I want immediate consideration and variation if found necessary of the Essential Work Order as applied to mining in regard to the powers of dismissal and disciplinary action. If workpeople participate on the boards of operating corm-
809 panies, they will themselves look after that side, but someone has to have control. You cannot have an Army without a leader, and the discipline must be back where it belongs. It is no use Regional Controllers thinking that they can exercise discipline when they have not the first idea of it.
- 9.—I want to see a statutory share of profit not subject to national taxation to be allotted to a fund to deal with miners' pensions and welfare.
- 1o.—The setting up immediately of a mechanised training school for mining personnel capable of teaching men who have had mining experience the full mechanisation principles, the objective being to put into the industry within two years, 150,000 skilled machine miners.
I now leave the ordinary mining development and turn to the plan which I believe has been the only successful coal producing plan which has been started since the war began. I refer to the production of coal by opencast methods. I have had a great deal of difficulty about this plan. I thought that I was the father of it, but since it has grown to be a fairly lusty child, many other people are taking 810 the paternity from me. The plan has been a success. I told the House, and nobody believed me, that there were 50,000,000 tons of outcrop coal in the country. The Ministry have already proved 47,000,000 tons of it, and this week they tell me that they will find another 10,000,000. The Government are hoping to get 15,000,000 tons next year. That will form 7½ per cent. of the national production. The House will be agreeably surprised that we have this treasure available and so easily to be got during war-time. It will be agreed that a production of 4,000,000 tons up to date is to be commended; at any rate, it is 4,000,000 tons that were not expected. The fact that a Government directorate has been appointed under the Ministry of Works to carry out this operation and that they are budgeting for 15,000,000 tons next year is a complete justification of the scheme that I presented to the country and to Parliament nearly three years ago. It is no good recriminating on what might have been, but the Government's policy of not providing the plant and, indeed, taking away the plant that we had available and sending it where it has done nothing, has retarded production. To this should be coupled the organised opposition of many coalowners to the scheme and the failure of the coal sales organisation which is run by the owners to handle the coal as it was got out. This has resulted in nearly one-third of this coal being handled twice and vast stocks lying on the ground which the coal sales organisation cannot deliver to the proper areas.
There is a place in the West Riding of Yorkshire where a colliery is operating within 500 yards of an opencast working. On the ground against this colliery are a quarter of a million tons of coal, standing in heaps, some of it getting on fire every day. The miners see it as they are going by in their trains. Some of them have been prosecuted for non-attendance, although they see this coal lying on the ground. There is no sense in that. I think the West Riding coal sales organisation have done a great disservice in not laying themselves out to use their energies to better effect. I have talked to them as well as I can, but every time they say, "That fellow is a nuisance, and the sooner he gets out of the way the better we can get on with our job," and they do nothing.
811 Opencast mining as now carried out by the Ministry of Works is a fine piece of work and represents one of the largest contributions, as a unit, to national coal production. I want to pay a special tribute to Lord Portal's work. He has shown aptitude in taking up this scheme and developing it such as no other Minister has shown. He has done great work for the country. Had it not been for his interest there would have been no question of getting 15,000,000 tons of coal next year, and so I hope the Ministry of Works will be supported by the House. I know that they will brook no opposition and will tear away any difficulties in the way of reaching their target. In spite of criticisms of quality, now proved quite baseless, of cost, and in relation to the inroads on agricultural production, opencast coal mining has proved to be economic. The quality of the coal is good and serviceable and I believe it is making a tremendous contribution to the dire needs of the country and our Allies. As our conquering armies march on in the Mediterranean area our growing responsibilities for the maintenance of railways and power stations and other essential services make increased coal production here vital if the war is to succeed. It is from this source and this source only during the next eight months that we can get any increased national production. We shall have to look to this scheme next year to carry out these new obligations which victory has brought us.
I could tell the House at some length of the progress made in the technique of operation and in matters of cost, but there is one figure with which I am familiar, and I quote it because I have the figures at my disposal. One firm have raised 1,000,000 tons of coal this year, with 350 men, at the cost of 1.53 man-hours per ton of coal raised, which gives over 4o tons of coal per week for every member of the staff—the office staff and all the others engaged in the operation. In the new programme of 15,000,000 tons which the Government are reaching towards we shall require 8,000 men and the necessary machinery to go with them, and the resulting coal will be equivalent to the work of 80,000 miners underground. Is it therefore too much to hope that the House will clive -a general measure of support to the rapid[...] extension of this plan to enable the 812 Ministry to give the major problem of revitalising the general coalmining of the country a chance to develop? The coal of this country is our greatest national asset. This carbon island of ours is the richest mineral yielding area in the world. We cannot afford to neglect any opportunity to keep this basic industry on a proper level. Who can say what value will be obtained from a ton of coal in this advancing chemical age, and as we depend for all our industrial activity on this form of motive power we must work with energy to stop any decline in production.
I would say this in conclusion. The Minister and his officials have worked with great diligence and with great energy. The Minister has endeared himself to the industry by his repeated trips round the country and by his knowledge of what is going on. I lay very little of the blame for the present position on his shoulders, but I would ask him to consider carefully the suggestions I have made, and to take such steps at once to make secure the livelihood of the miners and their families by adopting a bold policy—not a little, piecemeal policy—of development with attention to housing, education and other matters ancillary to the miners' lives, so as to give them confidence and encouragement. No body in the industry, either miners or coalowners, should be allowed to stand in the way of advance. Such a vigorous policy would give new hopes to all who are in the industry, and to all who may be going into it, and we could feel confident that, with our mining population, we could build up on a sound and solid basis one of the greatest industrial assets any nation ever had.
§ Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)
I have the privilege of representing several thousand miners in this House, and I am glad of this opportunity to intervene for a few minutes in this Debate. I have taken the occasion to familiarise myself with their outlook and their views. The importance of this industry is shown by the facts brought out in the recent report of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee. They point out that something like £750,000,000 worth of value comes from the industry every year, and they recommend that several millions a year should be spent in employing several thousand research workers, and I venture to hope that their suggestions will be carefully considered and put into operation.
813 I think it will be generally agreed in regard to the troubles in the mining industry that all the blame cannot be laid upon one side. No doubt there are a limited number of persons who are deliberate absentees in the industry, as in other industries, and no one would defend them, but the miners bitterly resent the suggestion that absenteeism is very widespread and that the major responsibility for what is wrong in the mines at present can be laid to the charge of the miners. The major responsibility for the position must clearly lie upon the State and upon the mineowners, because that is where the primary power rests, the workers only coming in on a different and a lower level.
As a year or so has gone by since the system of controls has been in operation, we ought to review its working. There is a widespread feeling that it has been unsatisfactory. We have the managers serving two masters. They are serving the State and serving the mineowners. The managers, being human, and having to envisage a situation in which the mines come back to the mineowners, are wondering, naturally, what will then be their position if they have not carried out exactly what the owners desire. That is creating a very unsatisfactory position, because they have to look to the situation when the mines may come back under private enterprise. I think the managers ought to serve one master only. I believe it is impossible to imagine that we can ever go back to the state of affairs which existed before the war, with all the the controversy and the bitterness which then existed in the mining industry.
This is the time to take far-reaching decisions, not only for now but for the whole future of the industry—and for war reasons and not on account of political interests. There is plenty of room for both private enterprise and public enterprise to march side by side in this country, and I think there is a strong case now for going a step further and taking the mines over completely for the State, making them into a great public service. I cannot help thinking that there are many of the younger Conservative Members, at any rate, on the other side of the House, who are fully in sympathy with the idea of the public utility company, and feel there is a strong case for going further than my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckrose (Major Braithwaite), who wanted them under private enterprise. We 814 have got beyond that in the mining industry, and I hope the Minister will carefully consider whether, in the interests of getting on with the war, it is not right to say that we will place the mining industry permanently under public control in the form of a public utility service.
In connection with the subject of absenteeism, it is interesting to note what has happened in one colliery which has been taken over by the State, the Clifton Colliery. I am informed that since the State took it over absenteeism has been very considerably reduced and is now quite a minor affair.
§ Flight-Lieutenant Raikes (Essex, South-Eastern)
This is rather an interesting point; could not the hon. Member give us more particulars?
§ Mr. Keeling
Is the hon. Member aware that the output per man at the Clifton Colliery, the only colliery the Government have taken over, has declined since it was taken over?
§ Mr. Mander
I was dealing with one particular point, in regard to which I have taken the trouble to ascertain the facts. It is impossible to quote the figure of output. No figures are available—none which I have been able to obtain.
§ Mr. Mander
They are not available to me, though I have taken steps to try to obtain them. I have been informed authoritatively that there has been a considerable reduction in absenteeism, and that is the point I was making.
§ Mr. Mander
I was dealing with one particular point which I thought was worth taking into consideration. It is not the whole question, but is an interesting point. There may be other sides to the matter, and hon. Members can deal with them in the Debate. I was taking one specific point. The allegation has often been made that owners are deliberately holding back certain good seams for exploitation after the war. Investigations have been made, and tests have been 815 carried out, and I understand there is very little foundation for that statement. Information came to me recently however from a responsible trade union official that there was a particular colliery, the name of which I shall not give, where a particular coal face had been prepared for development but had been placed aside, with the idea of using it after the war, poorer seams being worked now. That case will be investigated through the normal channels, but it is an example of the sort of thing that might occur. It may be said, "Why does not everybody report instances of this kind at once?" My information is that there is fear of victimisation, which has taken place in certain known instances in the area I am speaking of. Difficulties in getting the kind of treatment and employment which would normally come to them have been created for miners who have made such reports.
I am glad that the Government are carefully considering the adoption of the pit bonus scheme. I am sure that it would be wise to accept the Greene proposal and that the nearer you can bring the incentive of bonus home to a man the more likely it is to be effective. There is only one point which must be safeguarded, and that is in connection with pits of poorer nature. If it is suggested that miners there have not such good opportunity for earning bonus as miners in better pits, it might bring a lot of among miners. That point will have to be carefully safe-guarded.
§ Mr. Mander
I am very glad to hear that that is so, and I am sure it is very wise that it should be done. Reference has been made to the work of the production committees, which can render very great service to the industry, but far too often the only subject which appears—I will not say allowed but encouraged—to be discussed there is the subject of absenteeism. I think that is a mistake. From my personal experience of industry, I would say that the wider you open the door in giving facilities to the workers to discuss any problem that is relevant to the particular business concerned, the better and happier will be the results. These workers' committees can be made very much more valuable than they are at the 816 present time. I would emphasise the suggestion that was made by the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks) of the setting up of an industrial court in association with these committees which would deal in a much more sympathetic and humane way with difficulties that arise than would be possible before a bench of magistrates. Peaceful persuasion of workers in the industry is likely to be much more effective. There are possibilities of using the committees in that connection which I hope will be gone into.
No doubt my right hon. and gallant Friend will be making further appeals for economy. He will also be praying for a continuance of the present warm weather. He was very successful in doing so before. His appeals will now be affected, I am sure, if there should come about a feeling in this country that we have to freeze here in order to let the Italians sit in front of blazing fires, because that would be very greatly resented. To my mind, the Italians have not done anything so far in this war to deserve any such special favour, and we should watch that point. We have other good friends who have been with us from the beginning who will, in due course, be asking for help of this kind. The complications and difficulties of the problem are unending, as one looks into the future.
I agree also with another suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe, which is that any direction given to individuals to go down the pits should be applied to all classes, whatever old school tie they may wear. If it should be done all round I am sure that it would produce a very happy psychological effect, in the mines and throughout the country, because people would realise that there was equality of treatment. I hope that my right hon. and gallant Friend will be able to find in the course of this two days' Debate suggestions which will help him to get on successfully with the great task that now rests upon his shoulders of bringing this great and fundamental industry into its true position in our national life. It is a dangerous industry in peace and in war; in peacetime it is much more dangerous than the task of the soldier, and in some cases it is equally dangerous in time of war. The gallant and patriotic citizens who undertake this most unpleasant work should receive the treatment, conditions and status to which they are entitled.
§ Mr. Keeling (Twickenham)
Like hon. Members opposite, I was disappointed with the speech of the Minister of Fuel and Power. I propose to disregard his advice to be placid, and to follow the example of the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks)—though, I hope, without being so abusive. It is a little over a year since my right hon. and gallant Friend took control of the mines, and one rather expected him to give some account of his stewardship, but he did not do so. Last week Mr. Ebby Edwards, Secretary of the Mineworkers' Federation, deplored the fact that in the last 12 or 15 months there had been a substantial reduction of output, in spite of the fact that there had been an increase in the number of men. I wish my right hon. and gallant Friend had been equally frank. In last Sunday's newspaper I found an advertisement over his signature which said:Last year everyone responded magnificently to my appeal, the miners by an increase in output.Does he not realise that there was only a single four-weekly period since he took over control in which the output did not decline in comparison with the corresponding period of the previous year?
To what is this lamentable decline due? The pits are the same, the seams are more or less the same, and the managers are the same. How does it happen that production, so vital to victory, has declined?
§ Mr. Keeling
That is certainly the case. In the meeting which my right hon. and gallant Friend recently had with representatives of the miners, they advanced reasons for the decline, and suggested remedies, and one remedy that they put forward was that the minimum wage should be increased by something like 5o per cent. Now it is over a year since the Greene award gave a large increase in wages. We were then assured by the miners' leaders that there would be an increase in output. Hon. Members will find it recalled in "The Times" this morning that Mr. Will Lawther then said:This increase in wages, a national minimum and the National Wages Board, bring us definite rights, but also new duties and responsibilities, and we have to accept the task and give the nation all the coal it needs. If we fail, it will be a long time before the nation again listens to our proposals.818 The Greene award has affected output, but downwards and not upwards. In consequence I am sure that, as Mr. Lawther prophesied, the sympathies of this country with the miners are very much less than they were a year ago. The figures show without a shadow of doubt that there are two main reasons for the fall in output. The first reason is the very high degree of absence, especially at week-ends and after holidays. The second reason is that output per man-shift has declined. The Mineworkers' Federation themselves recognise this, because in a poster, or a message, sent out a few weeks ago to the men they said:The output is falling per man employed. Absence without reason is increasing.I want to say a few words on the question of absenteeism. The House will remember that when my right hon. and gallant Friend spoke last June he estimated that if the 4½ per cent. who were guilty of voluntary absenteeism—I use his own expression—would reduce their absence by half, the gain would be 4,000,000 tons per annum. His estimate was far too low. His is purely an arithmetical calculation. The number of men "guilty," as he called it, was far greater than 4½ per cent., and the Minister's overall figure conceals the fact that absence at week-ends and after holidays is far greater than at other times. Modern machinery demands the completion of a cycle of work. When the week begins, as it often does, with absences of 30 per cent. or more, the whole cycle of work is deranged. The same is true of absences after a holiday, when the proportion has been as high as 5o per cent. There is the further fact that absences of 10 per cent. can cause a fall of output of 20 per cent., when men have to be taken off the coal face in order to man essential ancillary points.
To what is this absenteeism due? Sometimes it is attributed to the greater age of the miners, but the age, after all, has not increased much in the last 12 months. Moreover, there is definite evidence that absence is greater among the younger men than among the old. The fact is that absenteeism has become much worse since wages were increased, and there is no doubt at all in my mind that the bigger wages are largely responsible for the greater proportion of absences. One has only to look at the facts. It would appear 819 as though, having earned enough money for his needs, and knowing that any further increase in income will attract Income Tax at a higher rate—
§ Mr. Keeling
—the miner stays away in many cases, oblivious of his country's need. The facts about the lower output per shift are very similar. I do not know whether the House is aware that before the war the only flat rate to coalgetters was is. per shift and that, on the average, 93 per cent. of the coalgetter's wages was dependent upon his output. Since the 'Greene Award, the situation is very different, and now only 67 per cent. of the coalgetter's wages is dependent upon output. That means a reduction in incentive. Every time the flat rate has been increased in the last seven years, output has fallen. New proposals were made during the week-end by the Mineworkers' Federation, and they contained this most remarkable confession, that the maximum output which can be expected under present conditions is 3,750,000 tons per week. That works out at 276 tons per man per annum. Six years ago the figure was not 276 tons per man per annum but 310 tons, in spite of the fact that at that time there was a great deal of short-time working. Even two years ago the average output per annum per man was 296 tons. That seems to me a most lamentable admission that, despite all the pledges given last year, the average miner to-day is not working harder but less hard. I personally welcome the guaranteed week, because I know the misery of short-time working, but the Government and the country would be foolish indeed if they relied on any increase of output following on any increase in the minimum wage. I am also all for increased wages, but only if they are dependent on an increase in output. If the pit bonus, which apparently the Government have accepted, is found to be workable, well and good. It was turned down only last year by both sides, but when it is examined again I hope it will be found workable, and I think it is not desirable to say any more until the negotiations have been concluded.
Increased absenteeism and reduced output are only symptons of a much deeper cause, and that is a decline in discipline. While there are very many men, perhaps 820 the majority, who are patriotic and responsible, I assert that there are many others, especially younger men, who are out of hand. My right hon and gallant Friend spoke rather optimistically of signs of unrest. Does he realise what is happening? There are a great many men in the mines to-day who are indifferent both to their own work and to their country's need. There are many men over whom their leaders have no control. Mr. Ebby Edwards has admitted that. Many agreements with the trade union leaders have been dishonoured. The machinery for conciliation is ignored. Every molehill of a grievance is magnified into a mountain. Under the Defence Regulations strikes without 21 days' notice have been made illegal; yet there have been over 400 such strikes in this year alone. Very many men arrive late and leave early. Many men disobey routine and even safety orders. Many decline cooperation. Many take advantage of the machinery of the Essential Work Order whenever they can. Many down tools on the slightest pretext and ignore the advice of their leaders. They do more. They flout the decisions of the National Service officers, the arbitration officers, the appeal boards, the Ministry of Labour and even the magistrates themselves. Under the umbrella of the Essential Work Order such menhave no respect for authority. In some mines, I go so far as to say, there is something very much like mob rule. My right hon. and gallant Friend said he saw signs of unrest. Some of the Labour leaders have been more outspoken than that. The other day Mr. Abe Moffat said that unlawful strikes were a luxury of the minority at the expense of the majority. Mr. Lawther last Sunday said that the menace of strikes must be wiped from the face of the earth, and Mr. Frank Hodges, who has had some experience both as a miner and as a colliery director, said, "There is a new element of anarchy creeping in ".—[Interruption.] I was perfectly certain that what I said would arouse hostility and bitterness, but I think it is time that the public were informed of these things, because they have a really important bearing on the war effort.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chesterle-Street (Mr. Lawson) said there was a great obligation on all of us to support those who are fighting our battles. I suggest that there are some miners who have 821 forgotten that obligation. I shall give a few examples, taken at random, that have come to me as a colliery director, though thank goodness they have not all happened in my colliery. I shall not give any names, but I am prepared to give full particulars to my right hon. and gallant Friend. First I will give a few examples of illegal strikes. At one colliery the brushers claimed extra money for handling coal. The trade union agent investigated the claim and found that it was groundless, but the men went on strike, and 3,000 tons of coal were lost. At a Yorkshire pit—[An HON. MEMBER: "Which was that?"]—I said I did not intend to give names but that I would give particulars to the Minister—an agreement was made on the price for the dirt above the seam. The men accepted it, but when they got their pay packets they were dissatisfied and went on strike for a whole week. At another Yorkshire pit all the men went on strike to demand the dismissal of a deputy. At one pit two men fought one another, and a lot of their comrades went on strike to bring pressure on the management to dismiss the man who they thought was the aggressor. The matter was, of course, in the hands of the police. Last week—and this is perhaps the most remarkable example I have come across--2i men went down a pit in South Wales and immediately came out and went home. They said the horses were underfed. A vet was called and said that the horses were in excellent condition. The next day the men went back to work without saying a word. That light-hearted frolic cost the country 200 tons of coal. So much for strikes.
I will now give a few examples of what I call non-co-operation. One example which is extremely widespread and causes a very large loss of coal is that men fail to maintain the regular cycle of work. This has already been mentioned. If coal produced in one cycle is not completely removed, that causes the next cycle to be thrown out of balance. It was the custom not very long ago for men to work such overtime as was necessary—of course, on payment—in order to get rid of the coal, but now it has very frequently happened that they refuse to work even five minutes. The effect of this is cumulative, and it means often that two days' work are required in order to get one day's normal output. At one Scottish colliery, I am 822 informed, 10,000 tons of coal has been lost through this cause alone since 1st January last. Another example is that when a derailment occurs the haulage men do nothing to put it right; they say it is not their job. What would be said of a ship's crew which showed a similar detachment in comparable circumstances? I could give many similar cases, but I do not wish to detain the House unduly.
I would like to read a few sentences of an article by a colliery worker which appeared in the "Yorkshire Post" last week. He says:The men of the West Yorkshire colliery at which I work have never enjoyed so many privileges, never had their needs so closely studied. … and I have never known them to be so slack, so indifferent and so careless. That the men and women of the Services may be facing indescribable conditions because of the scarcity of what it is in our power to produce in greater quantities seems to stir no good impulse at all in the breasts of some of my fellows. Start work as late as possible; do as little as possible when on the job;' finish as soon as possible; and shout for as much as it is possible to get on pay day. That is what I sincerely believe many of the men of my department have adopted as the war-time rule. … discipline is going fast—and with it the willingness of many mine workers to give their best either as individuals or as a team.
§ Mr. Keeling
Yes. Non co-operation is not the worst of this matter. There have also been examples of sabotage. Plant has been wilfully damaged by malingerers who claim a guaranteed wage for the stoppage. Compressed air valves have been closed, signal wires have been tampered with, rubber hoses broken, horses' harness stolen, derailments deliberately caused, anti-silicosis equipment damaged. I may be aked, Why do not the colliery officials enforce discipline: The short answer is that the Essential Work Order has removed a large part of the management's authority and has transferred it to civil servants outside the industry.
§ Mr. Davies
The hon. Member must know that under the Essential Work Order a person can not only be dismissed 823 but can be prosecuted and convicted for misconduct, and will the hon. Member please apologise for the mendacious attacks he has made on the miners today?
§ Mr. Keeling
I am well aware that even under the Essential Work Order a man can be dismissed, but only for gross misconduct; he cannot be suspended. I am coming to that point in a moment. As I have said, the Essential Work Order has removed a large part of the management's authority and transferred it to civil servants outside the industry. When a breach of discipline occurs what action can be taken? If an official reprimands a man, I am sorry to say that very often he gets abuse in return. If he orders a man out of the mine, the man probably gets paid under the Essential Work Order.
§ Mr. Keeling
Suppose an official reports a man to the manager. The manager fills up a form and sends it to the local investigation officer, and it is physically impossible for the local officer to investigate anything like all the cases. I am told that in one district a request has been received that only 12 cases a week shall be reported.
§ Mr. Keeling
How could order be maintained in this country if the police were so rationed? The result is that action can only be taken in a small number of cases, and the decay of discipline is accelerated. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street rightly spoke of the great responsibility which falls on the managers and of the very great strain which working under these conditions imposes. Early this year a questionnaire was sent out in South Wales to 119 colliery managements, and the replies were summarised like this:The fall in discipline is general.… The companies' officials are powerless, as they are deprived of control. … Their position has become intolerable, and some have expressed a desire to relinquish their posts. The unruly section of the men and boys show open resentment at being directed to their work … they are defiant, and generally make replies in the most foul language. The offenders gloat over the fact that … they are immune 824 from dismissal. They feel secure in the knowledge that the greater the nation's need for coal, the firmer established become their jobs and the brighter the prospect of extorting additional unearned money.
§ Mr. Keeling
I certainly do not. I am coming to my concrete proposals in a few seconds. From another district in South Yorkshire the same view is, more tersely, expressed as follows:The system of control introduced last year has reduced output, increased absenteeism, increased accidents, and immeasurably increased labour difficulties.What is the remedy for this appalling state of affairs? It is vital to restore the authority of the managements. Before the war, and even up to last year, the managements were respected, because they had both knowledge and authority. I suggest that they should have the same power to enforce discipline, and to enforce it promptly, as they had 18 months ago. If the authority of Merchant Service officers is not weakened in war, why should the authority of mining officials be weakened? No industry can be operated effectively without discipline. Indiscipline in a mine is just as dangerous as indiscipline in a ship. My right hon. and gallant Friend said that changes were necessary in operational control, and that that matter is now being considered. Will he arrange that the following suggestions are considered?
Firstly, an amendment of the Essential Work Order by restoring the power of suspension for three days for misconduct or disobedience. This power is enjoyed in other industries. The Union officials would see that it was not abused, and if you liked you could have a right of appeal. It is very important that that appeal, if allowed, should be heard without delay. It should not be submitted to the existing Appeals Board, with its cumbrous procedure. In the second place, I am opposed to police-court prosecutions, except in extreme cases, because of the delay they cause, and I suggest that the voluntary system which has been set up in some areas should be developed and made universal. This is a system by which the regional investigation officer, assisted by two assessors, has the power to fine. Perhaps this tribunal might also 825 hear appeals against suspension. My third suggestion is that there should be an automatic penalty for the loss of more than a certain number of shifts without good reason, of which the regional investigation officer should be the judge. Fourthly, I suggest that the law against illegal strikes should be firmly enforced. What is the good of having a law if you do not enforce it? When my right hon. and gallant Friend says that he does not apportion blame for illegal strikes, I ask, Why, then, does he not annul the law? Fifthly, let it be made obligatory upon men to work a full shift and a reasonable amount of overtime if necessary in order to complete a cycle of work. That was the custom until a very short time ago.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
In the past overtime was a breach of the Coal Mines Act; so it was not allowed in any circumstances.
§ Mr. Keeling
I said that it was the custom until a short time ago. The Mineworkers' Federation do not attach much importance to this suggestion and turned it down: the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street brushed it away, too; but all the evidence goes to show that this is a very important factor in the decline of output. Lastly, I would abolish the dual control of the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Fuel and Power, which causes long delays. I would leave the Ministry of Labour to provide the men, but transfer all other powers to the Ministry of Fuel and Power. Here are six constructive proposals, and I hope they will be carefully considered. One more thing is necessary—that everybody, including officials and politicians, and not least the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks), should give up the practice of blackening the industry. I very much agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street about that. The truth is that it is a fine and outstanding profession, with a good future.
I cannot conclude without suggesting respectfully to my right hon. and gallant Friend that he should consider his own position. Last year he had two tasks to undertake. The first was to reduce consumption. He succeeded to a large extent 826 in that, and we all congratulate him. The second was to increase output. So far output has been reduced under his régime, and he cannot escape responsibility. I think he has been far too easy, too much of an appeaser. Perhaps that is the inevitable result of his having a kind heart. If I were in his place, I would make way for another Minister who could, and would, enforce discipline.
§ Mr. John Wilmot (Kennington)
Is the hon. Member suggesting that the manager of a mining undertaking has not the same power of suspension for misconduct as the manager of any other undertaking has?
§ Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)
We have just listened to one of the most provocative speeches that have ever been delivered on the mining situation and particularly is it the case in this Debate. It is extremely difficult to restrain one's feelings and try to maintain an atmosphere of placidity when an hon. Member makes statements of the character that the hon. Member has just made. It only reveals to my mind, speaking as a miner of 35 years' experience, an abysmal ignorance of the subject matter under discussion in this House to-day. This House cannot escape its responsibility for the situation prevailing in the mining industry. When the Minister of Fuel and Power was appointed we only provided him with what we call in the pit, half a set of tools. The full complement of tools in the pit consists of a pick, spade, hammer, saw and drilling-machine. We provided him with the pick and spade, and we failed to provide him with the drilling machine which would have enabled him to have blasted his way through the obstacles confronting him. We can trace the pedigrees of princes, fill up catalogues of towns besieged and provinces desolated, and we can describe the whole pageantry of coronations and festivals, but we cannot recover the genuine history of the miner. It has passed away. Our most ancient industry cannot put together enough of the fragments to suggest a tolerable conception or representation of the ancient manners and customs of the social and industrial life of the miner. Such words were written by the early historian on the social and industrial history of this country. When the historian of the future begins 827 to write the history of the treatment meted out to the miners and the mining industry during the inter-war period of 1918-39, he will find voluminous evidence and will be amazed at the stupidity, stubbornness and lack of foresight manifested by the people responsible and upon which the industrial life of this nation depends.
What amazes me is that when this nation is in dire and urgent necessity of coal everybody tumbles over themselves to give advice and directions to the British miner. I recall the experience of myself in the Boer War, 1899–1901. The British miner was of no importance during that war. In the war of 1914–1918, we were of some importance, and that importance was only discovered in the year 1917, but in the war of 1939–43, we are all-important. I recall and this House will recall what was attempted by the Miners' Federation in 1922, when attempts were made with all seriousness to arrest the downward tendency of the mining industry. Despite all the appeals and suggestions which we put forward with all seriousness and with a very keen desire to assist in arresting the downward tendency which the mining industry was at that time experiencing, I regret to find in the records of this House that very little, if any, notice was taken of the advice which was then given. The policy has been one of drift, drift, drift, until the position to-day is so acute in the war situation that this House is forced to sit up and take notice if the situation is to be saved. I make no bones about it, it must be saved. Whoever it may be who stands in the way must be swept on one side in order that the coal which is so essential now can be produced for the nation's requirements. No truer word ever fell from the lips of any responsible Minister of the Crown than those which fell from the Minister of Fuel and Power a few weeks ago when he was reported to have said:If I could with a stroke of the pen wipe nut the past of the mining industry, then I would do it.With that expression I am in full agreement. I firmly believe, as one who has been a whole lifetime in the industry, that the treatment meted out to the miners during the last 25 years, and even previous to that time, bears some relation to the conditions, tempers, mistrust and suspicions that we see, to our regret, being 828 manifested in the coalfields to-day. Every inch of reform—and I challenge the hon. Member who has just sat down—industrial, social or economic, has had to be fought for by the miners through the medium of commissions, inquiries and heated Debates on the Floor of this House. The miner not only had to fight dangers in the pits created by mother Nature but, after his days in the pits facing all sorts of dangers, he has had to fight for conditions and wages in a way that those in no other industry have had to fight. He has by his craftsmanship, his skill and his bravery overcome the dangers created by Nature. The difficulties he has to overcome and which this nation will have to overcome are due to human nature. What is wanted in the coalfields to-day is a new spirit in the minds and hearts of the coalowners and of some of the miners, a spirit that will be more concerned with giving and not with getting. I do not mean that in terms of £ s. d., but I mean a spirit that will drive out once and for all that insidious poison which has crept into their minds and hearts and is sapping the moral fibre of their existence—the ambition to become wealthy at all costs.
I want to refer again to the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling), I want to tell him, seeing that he made reference to discipline in the Anny, that while the blood of our sons—and I have one—is flowing freely in North Africa, in Sicily, in Italy and in Crete, there are people in this country who are content to drink it up, and some of the coalowners are not excluded from that section of people. It would be only right to say that some of them are genuine, honest and sincere men, but there are others who are just the opposite. I remember the old quotation, "There is good and bad in every land." There are good and bad coalowners. Their policy has always been one of procrastination and parsimony. They cannot see a hole through a ladder; they have no vision. May I remind them that the Battle of Britain was won by the bravery, courage and sacrifice of the men and women of this country and that while that battle has been won, the Battle for Britain still continues.
What we want is the new spirit. The coal industry of this country has three great assets such as no other industry possesses. It has the best coal that the hand of the Divine Creator has given to any country in the world and the poten- 829 tiality of that coal has not been tapped to the full by the scientific research work which so far has been done. We have the best miners, the best craftsmen in the world with which to win this coal and we have the best trained men produced by our technical colleges and mining schools to assist in obtaining the coal. Yet, despite these great assets and all the inquiries that have been made into the state of the industry you cannot make it a satisfactory proposition. What is wrong? Why is there all this discontent, dissatisfaction, unrest, mistrust and lack of understanding in the industry? We can see the effect on our national war effort. What are the causes? From my own experience, I must confess that there are many. We can talk here in this House until we are black in the face as the coal itself, but when we have done that, we shall have to get back to the coal pits to find the causes. If we do we shall find many things that do not exist in other industries.
As I said a few moments ago, we want a better feeling between men and management. I firmly believe that a correct labour relationship is probably the most important single factor in the welfare of any organisation. It affects not only industrial labour but also every citizen. The suspicion which is manifest in the coalfields to-day was manifest when the Coal Commission sat in 1919. Listen to the words of Mr. Justice Sankey, now Lord Sankey:The relationship between masters and workers in most of the coalfields in the United Kingdom is unfortunately, of such a character that it seems impossible to better it under the present system of ownership.The judgment passed on the coal industry by the Sankey Commission in 1919 stands as true to-day as it did at that time. The time has surely come when we must break away from the unsatisfactory and injurious expedients and improvisations of the past 25 years and put an essential industry of this country on a solid foundation. I know that will take time. What must we do in the meantime? We must get a better feeling between coal owners and men and that can only be done by a correct approach being made by the owners. Be it always remembered that things happen in the pits with dramatic suddenness and that consequently they must have immediate attention by men on the spot. May I be permitted to repeat the words of a former Prime Minister of this country, the father of the present 830 Minister of Fuel and Power, the revered and right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) who descended a pit shaft on 30th July, 1909. Later he said:Have you ever been down a coal mine? I went down one the other clay. We sank clown. in the bowels of the pit half a mile deep and then walked underneath a mountain. We had three-quarters of a mile of rock and shale above us. The earth seemed to be straining to crush us. You could see the pit props bending and twisting as their fibres resisted the pressure. 'When these give way there is mutilation and death. Even a spark can ignite a whole pit and the breath of life can he scorched out of hundreds of breasts by the consuming flame.Those were the words of a former Prime Minister of this country after spending one day under-ground.
I respectfully suggest that the owners should approach all questions with speed and a spirit of accommodation and not allow grievances and difficulties to accumulate until they reach volcanic dimensions. Men do not go on strike for fun. They get tired of being put off week after week with promises that their grievances shall have attention. I refer to what some people may think are only minor matters but they are of great importance to the mineworker. How are we to get this new spirit in the industry? In my opinion the mine manager, who has statutory obligations placed upon him from the day of his appointment, should be given more power to treat men as human beings and not merely as labour units. It is the practice nowadays for directors of large combines to limit the powers of their managers. I challenge those who may have interests in large combines to deny that. They are limiting the powers of their mine managers who ought to deal with men on the spot.
Before I came into this House and when I had to deal with difficulties in the coalfields managers used to say to me, "I know what should be done. I agree with the recommendations that you make as a practical man but my powers are vetoed by instructions from the board of directors." You cannot run a pit from the director's room. My grandfather was a mine manager and my father was a colliery official, and they impressed that upon my mind. You can plan a pit, but there is a vast difference between planning a pit and running it. The mine manager should be given power to deal with men on the spot, where it is possible 831 to assess the value of the work done—which is very often outside the work for which a contract price has been fixed. Many men to-day have to do what we call odd work. That means work done outside the contract price. The bulk of their wage is determined by the tonnage rate, but they are called upon to do other work because of lack of personnel in the pits. The mine manager, or someone over him, takes out 4s. or 5s. or as much as l0s. in respect of the odd work payment. Is there any Member of this House who would like someone to take something out of his wages for work he had done? We had a three days' strike in the district next to mine. When it was analysed and examined, the total amount that had been kept back from wages due to a number of men was in one case £34, and in another £14. How can you expect men to be satisfied when attempts are made to pilfer the wages to which they are justly entitled?
The hon. Member who spoke last, trying to find fault with miners, talked about men doing overtime and seeing that a conveyor face was left at the end of the shift, and said that if it was not cleared, he must stop overtime. But he should start at the other end of the shift. He should ask his manager to see that the face is prepared for the miners the first thing in the morning. On 24th August, 16 men out of 24 were sent back. On 25th August, 24 men out of 3o were sent back and on 27th August eight men out of 21 were sent back because the conveyor faces had not been scufted and blown, ready for them at the commencement of the shift. I could go on reciting cases of men who have presented themselves for work and have found that the coal face has not been ready. I want to suggest that colliery deputies, who have a very unenviable task at present, should be the servants of the State and not of the colliery owner. That would tend to greater safety and so minimise the shrinkage or wastage of man-power. Ther we want greater and speedier attention the problem of transport, which is important in many mining districts. This has become a major problem because of the many different shifts being worked to-day In my early days we had only the one day shift. Now we have 7 o'clock, 9 o'clock, 11 o'clock, 2 o'clock and 4 o'clock, and it goes on all the 24 hours 832 and men are asked to walk long distances after they have done their work. The question of transport is a very important matter.
Coming to the future of the industry, nothing would give the miners greater satisfaction and contentment than the knowledge that the future of the miner was assured. He is very much concerned about the postwar period. The men have experienced years of hardship and bitterness and the iron has entered into their souls as the result of under-employment, unemployment and the intolerable working conditions which followed the last war. They require more than mere promises. They want something more concrete and definite. This is a matter which requires the earnest attention of the Minister of Transport and the Government.
May I say a word about man-power? The peak year for production was 1913, when the figure reached 287,430,000 tons. Since then, slowly but surely, the figure has been diminishing. In 1922 there were 1,163,000 men employed who produced approximately 250,000,000 tons. In 1930 there were 943,000 men, who produced 244,000,000 tons. In 1938, 802,000 men were employed and the output was 227,000,000 tons. From 1922 to 1938 the number of men has fallen by 361,000 but the output has only fallen by 23,000,000 tons. The man-power today is, approximately, 705,000 and we are told that the nation's requirement is approximately 220,000,000. Therefore, to meet the needs of the nation, we shall have to increase the personnel to something approaching the figure employed in 1938. The Minister of Fuel and Power has told us that the Government are prepared to recommend the release of certain middle aged men from the Army. We welcome that but it will not solve the problem. We have a saying in Lancashire that neither wise men nor fools can work without tools, and you cannot produce coal, even in a highly mechanised industry, without men. I beg the Minister and the Government to give further consideration to this vital matter believing, as I do, that the men are prepared to go all out to assist the Government in the prosecution of the war to a victorious conclusion, provided they can be assured of the treatment they so richly deserve now and in the future.
§ Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)
I intervene in this Debate not as one with any special knowledge, nor as one who wants to enter into any controversy between the miners and the coal-owners, but simply as one who feels grave disquiet about the present situation in the industry and whose disquiet has been in no way allayed by the statement made to us by my right hon. and gallant Friend to-day. I want to start by stating what I believe to be certain facts. The first is that there is a national need for coal, not only for our industry, but also for the homes of the people. The second is that, although that need is known, and although the vital part that coal plays in our war effort is known, the output of coal has diminished. In that connection I would just say that it is generally believed by the public that during the past two years the number of men employed in the mines has remained more or less the same, but that to-day as compared with two years ago output is down by some 10,000,000 tons. It is difficult for the ordinary individual to get accurate figures, but we have had figures given to us to-day. We have been told by one hon. Member that so far as things have been going this year we shall be down six and a half million tons. I have here figures given by the "Coal and Colliery News," and according to those figures, comparing August this year with August last year, output is down by 211,000 tons for the month, which would work out at about 4,000,000 tons. So far as Scotland is concerned, the position put to me is that if the men working at the coalface to-day were individually putting out as much as they did in 1942, and if absenteeism were at the same level as last year —which was much higher than in prewar days—the output would be up by 33,000 tons per week. If these statements are in any way materially incorrect, I hope they will be denied and that the public will be informed of the true position so that they may be relieved of the anxieties at present felt.
The third fact I would mention is that mechanisation in the pits is on the upgrade. I find, for instance, that in 1935 51 per cent. of all coal cut was cut by machinery. In 1938 that figure had risen to 59 per cent., and quite recently the Minister told us that 6o per cent. of the pits were mechanised. Thus it appears to 834 me that the fall in production cannot be attributed to lack of mechanisation. My fourth fact—perhaps it should have come first—is that from my experience of miners I do not believe there is any more patriotic body in the country than the miners, nor do I believe there is any section of the community more responsive to good leadership. Having said that, I am led to inquire why at this time of grave national emergency the industry has failed. There is a feeling in the country to-day that this industry has let the country down, and those who have sons in the Fighting Forces are very resentful, although they know perfectly well that many miners have their kith and kin in the fighting line. That is what makes the situation so difficult to understand. We cannot understand seeming indifference and failure to support those who are giving their all.
I say to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that it is not a satisfactory answer to tell the public that the fault lies with the owners. The management, even if they wished, could not increase output with the Government in control, with every move watched by pit and district committees. Neither is it any good telling the country that the fall in output is due to the increased age of the men in the pits. Of course, the age has increased, but the increase is only slight and cannot account for a fall in output of millions of tons. I ask whether miners have any real grievance in remuneration, and I want to remind the House that since 1921 the miners' remuneration has been based on profit sharing. It has been based on a division of the net amount received in the industry from the sale of coal, and the miners get 85 per cent. of that amount against 15 per cent, left as profit.
Let me remind the hon. Member who is laughing over there of the words of the right hon. Gentleman—then Prime Minister—the Member for Carnarvon Burghs (Mr. Lloyd-George). He said:I believe that no such large and scientific application of the theory of profit-sharing has ever taken place in the industry of any country and certainly not of this country.I would also remind the hon. Gentleman opposite that the Mineworkers' Federation issued a manifesto in which they stated that this principle would produce a more just system of payment than ever before in the industry. That system stood until quite recently, and it has only been altered 835 by cutting the amount that goes to the owners in profit and allowing the miners' wages to be increased. So far as it has any influence on output, I do not think there can be any grievance in connection with remuneration, but I do think that miners, together with other skilled men, such as the engineers for whom my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) speaks so eloquently, may have a grievance because the wages structure of the country is upside down.
Boys just leaving school are to-day earning what their fathers with years of experience behind them earned in normal times, unskilled men are being paid more than skilled men, while those who give most and from whom we expect most in the Services are getting least of all. It seems to me to be a system which has neither logic, rhyme nor reason, and I can well believe that it gives rise to a feeling of grievance. But the miner can increase his remuneration if he wants to, and I sometimes wonder whether the miner really wants to earn more money. I wish someone on the opposite benches with real knowledge would give an honest answer to that question. I am told that to-day the worker at the coalface is receiving 20s. 10d. per shift. I am also told that owing to the restriction of spending by rationing and one thing and another, and owing to the operation of the Income Tax, the miner—he is by no means alone in this respect—does not see any necessity to extend himself in order to earn more. He earns what is necessary for his needs and leaves it at that. I do not altogether blame him.
I do not believe that the miner's remuneration is the cause of the reduction in output. I ask myself another question: Is it possible that for the purpose of achieving some objective such as nationalisation the miner is deliberately restricting his output? When I remember that many of the miners' leaders have been exhorting the men to give greater output and to reduce absenteeism, I put that aside as a possible cause. It seems to me that the real cause of the trouble lies in two things. The first is that there are far too many people meddling in the mining business. We have the Minister of Power and Fuel, we have his Regional Controllers, and we have the pit and district committees. Then we have the 836 Minister of Labour and all his officials. Every one of them has a finger in the pie, and neither the miners nor the managements know where they are. The other thing is the deterioration in discipline, which has been completely undermined by the application of the Essential Work Order. Discipline in a pit is just as essential as it is in a ship. I cannot see from my own experience how you can maintain discipline in a ship if you remove all the power of discipline from the captain and give it to some outside body. I do not believe you will get discipline in the pit so long as its maintenance is divorced from the management. Discipline is being undermined in other ways. Some men in the pit are fined for misdemeanours. They do not pay the fine, and the penalty is not imposed upon them. Some other men committing similar misdemeanours are fined, and they find themselves in gaol if they do not pay. You cannot hand out justice like that. You cannot punish one man one day and let off another man another day. That leads to discontent and brings the law into complete comtempt.
If discipline is to be maintained, you have to support the leaders. It seems to me that the miners' leaders have done everything they can to stop what I call the rot, but it is no good leaders exhorting men to get on with the job if next day the Minister comes up with one of his statements that they are doing very well. The miners are not fools. I believe that they know themselves that they can do better and that many of them are disgusted with the results. There are others who see no cause for worry so long as the Minister appears to be satisfied. I wonder that the miners' leaders have kept going so long and have not given up in despair. When I say that, I also apply it to the managements. Their authority has been undermined not only by lack of support but by slighting and unwarranted statements. Do not let hon. Members imagine that you can run a pit or a ship or any unit in industry or the Fighting Services smoothly if you are constantly criticising those who are in direct control. I am not making any personal attack upon the Minister. The situation is far too serious for that. I do say, however, that since my return to this country a year ago the situation of this industry has gone from bad to worse. Production has decreased, absenteeism increased, unofficial stoppages 837 increased and indiscipline increased. The administration has failed to produce the goods and has been devoid of real leadership. What the miners and the public require is to be told the truth, and they do not get enough of it. Further than that they require a lead from the top. I believe that if the miners are given the right lead, they will give all the coal required for victory.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards (Caerphilly)
We have listened to two speeches from the other side of the House which have rather disturbed the more or less placid Debate that we have had. The last speaker said that what the miners want is more truth, but he seems to me to be the last person to whom they should go. Then we had that very libellous speech of the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling). No speech made in this House during the war is calculated to do more harm than that speech. The miners of this country, taking them generally, are as patriotic and as hard-working a set of men as any. They have worked harder in this war and more regularly than they have for a quarter of a century. The men in the industry in South Wales hardly worked more than three days a week from 1921 to 1935 and some as late as 1939. I know colliers who did not do a stroke of work for 15 years. These are the men, who were half-starved for nearly a quarter of a century, who are being libelled in this way by an hon. Member. Let us have a sense of proportion about this thing. I had intended to try to make my contribution to this Debate in as calm and detached manner as I could, but such speeches as we have had from the other side are only likely to incite men in the industry to do things they ought not to do. One would have thought that the situation in the coalfields was too delicate to play with it in the manner in which the two hon. Gentlemen have played with it to-day.
Men in the coalfields, it is true, are suspicious, they are cynical and they have no faith in the Government or in this House. They will not listen to their own leaders on the industrial field, and very many of them will not listen to their representatives who are in this House. That is the position, and it may as well be faced. We may talk as much as we like in this House, but this problem is outside the control of the House in that respect. The problem is in the hands of several 838 hundred thousand men who are down the pits, the men who have been promised many things and so often have been cheated of what they have been entitled to. You tell them to forget the past. You tell these men who lived for nearly 25 years in the direst poverty to forget it all, to forget the experience they had at the end of the last war. Miners are human, and like the Minister they have a vision of the future, but their vision is determined by what happened to them in similar circumstances after the last war, when another person bearing the Minister's family name plunged the industry into the depths of depression, the like of which has never before been experienced in industry. Miners cannot forget 1920 and 1921—de-control over night, wages cut in half—and at the head of the industry to-day is a person bearing the same name as the person who was responsible for that condition of things. So whilst we cannot divorce the present from the past or the future from the present, one does want to realise that it is the intention of everyone in the mining industry who can speak with any degree of authority to render the maximum possible aid to this country in order to win the war. That is the general intention.
We wanted to-day to consider this problem not from the point of view of principles in which we have believed, not from the point of view of political slogans, but from the point of view of getting from the mining industry that coal which determines the life of this country, which determines almost the outcome of the war or the speed of the victory. The Minister must be aware that in every district which he has visited during the past few months there has been a feeling that as a result of those visits something would be done in this House. The men have been looking forward to the speech which he would make to-day, but I think they will be as disappointed with it, as has been every speaker in this Debate. Indeed, in South Wales the miners talk of the Ministry of Fuel and Power as the Ministry of Fuel without Power. That is how they regard it. I am afraid that his speech to-day, coming after that other speech in which there were so many "ifs," will lead to the conclusion that the Ministry of Fuel and Power does not regard the mining industry as being in a state of crisis.
839 If the Minister is really concerned about the state of the industry, why was so stupid a set of proposals made to the Miners' Federation? It was suggested, first, that the working week should be increased. We have been asked not to introduce controversial matters here, because it would upset the harmony of the House, but this extension of the working week is of such a controversial nature that it would upset everything in the pits, and that is of greater consequence. All the speakers from the opposite Benches have asked for a decrease in the working week. From the point of view of efficiency and continuous production, the five-day week is better than the eleven-day fortnight, or a six-day week in which there is absenteeism. The next proposal was that the faces should be cleared each day. I do not know what the experience is generally, but in South Wales the cycle of work is completed almost every day, as a rule. There are exceptions, when men are asked to work four or five hours, but it is the custom, despite the law, for men to stay on to clear the faces if it can be done in half-an-hour or so. The third proposal was that the men should work on the fourth Sunday in every month. I have never heard of such foolish proposals put before an exhausted body of men. According to the Minister there is a wastage of 20,000 a year in the mining industry. I submit that if these proposals were accepted the wastage would be increased by zoo per cent., and his estimate for this year is wrong, in my view, because I think it will be nearer 30,000 than 20,000. There has been such an onslaught of pneumoconiosis that I am told that on one day in one pit in my constituency 16 people finished work on account of it. If that is typical of what is going on in South Wales, the wastage rate will be much higher than the Minister has suggested.
How has the Minister looked at this problem? I am awfully sorry that I have to attack him. As is known, the Miners' Federation have been extremely tolerant and helpful. The Members of this House have been more tolerant of the present Minister of Fuel and Power than of many people who have occupied similar positions. We have always wanted to be helpful, and I am sorry to make this attack upon him, because one realises, to 840 use a phrase of one of his Government colleagues, that in this business he is a political "stooge" for the policy decided by the Cabinet. I should like to know whether the Minister, after having delivered that speech in the manner in which he did, is himself satisfied that the policy he was authorised to announce is one which will produce the results which he desires. The problem, as the Cabinet sees it, is that 720,000 miners must be kept in the industry. At the moment there are 705,000, so that 15,000 more are wanted. It is assumed that there will be a wastage of 20,000 and this will have to be made good as well; and my assumption is that the wastage will be nearer 30,000. How do the Cabinet propose to deal with this position? They say, first, they will comb out the Armed Forces again. That is a good thing, because every skilled miner put back in the pits now will be worth five optants who have to be trained. They will be worth very much more than men conscripted for the mining industry who go into it unwillingly. What is the psychological effect of conscripting a man who is earning £8 a week on munitions and sending him to work in the pit at 4 5s. a week? Is a man so directed to the pits to get a lodging allowance? Is he to have a maintenance allowance for his family? Is he to be given a war service grant, so that he will not suffer financial hardship? All these things apply to certain people who are conscripted. Are they to apply to these new conscripts for mining? If they are not to apply, will men enter the mines with a willingness to work and pull their weight or go in for the purpose of creating more dissatisfaction than already exists?
I think it is impossible to stop the decline in the output of the mining industry, that it is possible only to check the rate of the decline. I am satisfied that we shall have to make up for the missing tonnage by more widely-developed opencast mining. An optant or conscript for the mining industry may soon become 100 per cent. efficient for opencast mining but will not become 100 per cent. efficient for pit mining for six months, or even 12 months. It took me five years to become an efficient miner. Not until I was 18 years of age was I regarded as a skilled collier.
There remains the other part of the problem. In June, 1942, we had the 841 White Paper. I wish to quote from it. It said:What is required is an effective regional organisation charged with responsibility for securing the maximum production from the mines in each region, and exercising, by virtue of delegation, the full powers of direction and control conferred on the Minister.I contend that the Minister has not exercised any full direct control over the operations of the mining industry and that this White Paper was a piece of political deception. It is regarded by the men in the mining industry as an attempt to throw dust in their eyes, and an attempt to convince the nation that the Government controls the mines, whereas, in point of fact, all that has happened is that the structure of private ownership has been reinforced with legal powers.
Let me give the House an example of what happens in my own area. In the constituency which I represent are 16 pits, all owned by the largest colliery company in South Wales, if not in the country. Who is responsible to the Coal Controller? Is it the manager of any of the 16 pits? No. Is it any of the agents? There are three agents, each of them for three or four pits. No. It is the director of the colliery company concerned with production. He is the person responsible under this White Paper. The colliery manager has no contact with the Coal Controller. People talk about colliery managers having the power of management, operating and discipline; but colliery managers are nothing but clerks without power, and they operate policies which are decided above them. [Interruption.] Of course, they are office boys. They cannot decide policy. They cannot settle any wages policy or any matter of principle without consulting the central office. They cannot decide plans of production, but have always to consult the higher authority. The colliery manager in that group of collieries has contact with the Coal Controller only through the director who employs him.
How can the colliery manager play his part in carrying on production in the interests of the State when his contact with the Coal Controller is through the higher authority in the company that employs him? How can he put into operation his ideas of production? How can he co-operate with the pit production committee? He meets the pit production committee, but he receives his instruc- 842 tions from the production director of the company, a much higher authority. The result is that the managers in the vast majority of collieries in this country, in the big firms, have no more say in the planning of the operations of the collieries than has the ordinary collier. Those are the facts. The Coal Controller does not even communicate with the managers. The instructions of the Coal Controller never go to a manager but to the nominated person, the production director of the company. Therefore, every instruction that goes to the r6 collieries in my constituency goes to the nominated person.
§ Mr. Edwards
I agree, why not? But the hon. Member will remember that the manager is supposed not to have a dual responsibility. He is supposed to be responsible to the Controller and to the State, but he does not receive his instructions from the Controller.
§ Mr. Colegate
He receives his instructions from the person nominated by the Ministry of Fuel and Power.
§ Mr. Edwards
Let me put the matter how the miner looks at it. The Minister brings in his scheme of the White Paper. He has as his Fuel Controller and chief adviser a person who has a tremendous interest in the Powell-Duffryn Collieries. He appoints as Controller in South Wales an estimable gentleman who does not know muck from coal, and the only contact our men have with the Coal Controller is when the Coal Controller's labour advisers come round hunting for absentees. If the Minister will ask the Labour Director and Production Director in his Department to give him freely and candidly their opinion, they will tell him that they only come into production when something goes wrong. That is the only time when they are consulted on the management side. When things are going on normally, control never interferes, and never makes contact to see whether it is possible to increase production; but it is always sending its representatives around colliery offices for the purpose of prosecuting men, as has been done in my own constituency. A man, for example, worked seven shifts in the same week, but because he lost time on the last shift he was regarded as an absentee. That is the sort of thing that 843 goes on in this industry. Our men are sick and tired of it all.
I want to put to the Minister our view that if he wants to establish confidence and give our men faith in the future, he must take over the industry, lock, stock and barrel. The Government have requisitioned the men, women and children of this nation. The Government have taken over the royalties: The Government ought to take over this mining industry, upon which the existence of this nation depends. I say to him, "Do that. Give to the pit production committees equal powers with the management. Make available to the pit production committees all the information that the Controller sends out. At the next stage, in the groups of three or four or five collieries, get your agents and skilled supervisers, the men who are drifting to the top because of their experience, knowledge and qualifications, and form a Coal Production Commission for every five or six collieries, grouped not according to ownership but according to the geography of the pits. Have these middle Commissions and keep your supervisory contacts." In South Wales there are nearly 20o pit production committees, and then there is the South Wales Central Production Committee, looking after 16o pits. That is daft and stupid. The Central Production Committee cannot look after all those pits. There should be intermediary committees and supervisory commissions, that can make available to all the collieries the skill which is made available by the various agents who serve the area.
I am sorry I am exceeding my time, but there is one other point I wish to make. You direct a man into the mining industry under this scheme, and you pay him 35s. a week workmen's compensation if he is injured. If he is directed into an ordnance factory he gets 26 full weeks' wages if injured. You direct a man into the mines, and if he is killed, his widow will get enough compensation for four or five years. If he is killed in the Army, she will be looked after for life, and the children will be looked after. This is what my hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. R. J. Taylor) has said: "The price of a single dead man in the pit is £15. The price of a horse is £6o." Men are cheaper than horses in the mining industry If you want to get the best 844 results from the mining industry, give our men a square deal. Now they are cynical, they think they are being cheated, and the treatment which they are getting now leads them to believe that the treatment they will get at the end of the war will be the same as at the end of the last war. You must do things now so that at the end of the war these men, who will risk everything to give you the coal you need, shall not be allowed to rot on the street corners and in the villages of South Wales as they did after the last war.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power (Mr. Tom Smith)
My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) will appreciate that my right hon. and gallant Friend will have another chance of addressing the House on the next Sitting Day and will deal with those points directed to him as Minister and also those criticisms on what may be termed questions of policy. Therefore there is no need for me to deal with some of the points made, but I will deal later with the last point my hon. Friend made about the need for an alteration in workmen's compensation. To-day there appeared to be some little dubiety as to the exact number of men who had come from other industries, from the Army and from the ground staff of the R.A.F. In order that the right information may be circulated, and so that Members can use it, I propose to give the figures. From industry, from mid-June, 1941, to mid-September, 1943, the figures were 48,890, from the Army, from 1st April, 1942, to 31St March, 1943, 9,600; from the R.A.F. from 1st April, 1942, to 31st March, 1943, 1,800, making altogether 60,290. I thought it was best to get the figures clearly on the record so that anyone who wished to refer to them on the next Sitting Day could do so.
With regard to the optants and the men who volunteered, it is perhaps as well to have the correct figures recorded so that we know just where we are. The optants, that is, those who chose the mining industry instead of the Services, number 3,366 —that is the number of men placed up to 25th September, 1943. The number of volunteers to the appeal made has been given—3,500. Surface workers transferred to underground work up to 30th September, 1943, are as follow—
§ It being the hour appointed for the interruption of Business, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Major Sir James Edmondson.]
§ Mr. Smith
I will certainly get that information. The numbers of surface workers transferred to underground work up to 30th September, 1943, are as follow: Transferred voluntarily, 3,067; transferred after direction, 1,327; making a total of 4,394. The number of men who refused to go underground after being convicted of failure to comply with directions—this has had a good deal of publicity, a little exaggerated—was 116. It was essential to have the actual figures before the House, so that we should know where we stand. We have heard a good deal about disputes in the industry since the Ministry of Fuel and Power was set up. It is as well, before analysing some of the causes, to put on record the actual figures. From 1st January, 1942, to September, 1942, there were 432 stoppages, involving a loss of 761,000 tons. This year, over the same period, there have been 742 stoppages, the loss in output being 686,000 tons. The difference in output is due, of course, to the size of the pits and the duration of the stoppages, plus the fact that one stoppage alone in the Nottinghamshire coalfield accounted for more than 100,000 tons. There is nothing like getting the facts straight before drawing conclusions.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
Will my hon. Friend now state the number of tons lost through the inability of the managements to provide work for the men when they have gone to the pits?
§ Mr. Smith
The worst of us mining Members is that we do like to help the other fellows to make their speeches. Let us have a look at these stoppages in mining. I see that the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde (Lieut.-Colonel Lancaster) is here. The first thing to remember is that there have been no official stoppages. The Miners' Federation and the district organisations, and even the local branches, have had a very difficult task. They have worked whole-heartedly to get the coal. Many have done things which 846 have been very unpopular. They have been criticised by their own men, and many have been dismissed when the local elections came round; but a very definite stand they took. In coalmining you have never had a period without a series of unofficial stoppages. It is only fair to the mineworkers to say that in the last war you had more strikes, and you had official strikes. These strikes can be grouped under two main heads. There is what is known as the sympathetic strike, such as the strike in sympathy with the boy in the Notts coalfield who was sentenced to a month's imprisonment. There have been a good many such stoppages in Scotland. Anybody who knows mines knows that the miner has a streak of loyalty, which comes out when he believes, rightly or wrongly, that injustice is perpetrated. As I see it, the object is not to send a man to prison but to get him to work underground. It depends upon how you talk to the man when before the court as to what attitude he adopts when he gets out. [Interruption.] Do not let us dwell on particular things. I want to bring out something different from that. It is difficult to know how to handle strikes of that kind. If a law is brought out arid men disobey it, they get into trouble, strikes may take place, and it may cause bitterness and so on. There are strikes which are caused as a result of wage disputes and the failure to settle them promptly and failure to handle these things at the pit.
I hope that the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) is in the Chamber. He said that my right hon. and gallant Friend had been an appeaser during his 16 months of office. I wish that for a quarter of an hour I could take the strain of a junior Minister away and reply to the hon. Member as a pitman. As one who has had responsibility in settling disputes for more years than I care to remember, I would point out to him one or two things that he said which are not helpful at the present time. When lion. Members talk about flat rates and that kind of thing, I wish they would remember that coalmining is different from either agriculture or the factory, in this sense. If you put a machine inside a factory, you know to a nicety how many products the machine will turn out and with what regularity, as long as the the machine is fed. If you take the land 847 and you gather the crops, you can put something back again and enrich the soil, but in regard to coal you cannot do this. You are fighting with nature all the time. You may have gob swilleys, gas, water, and all that sort of thing with which to contend which you do not have in ordinary factories. There is the method of payment which dates back to time immemorial, and you have as many miners' pay tickets, as Lord Buckmaster said, as would make a crossword puzzle. These are things which cause irritation.
There are those of us who have settled ioi of these things at the colliery. I think I am speaking with the knowledge of my colleagues when I say that I have done a good deal during the last 20 years and have been most successful in dealing with strikes. There ought to be an attempt made to get disputes settled at the pit promptly in the national interest. The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. Tom Brown) put his finger on the spot. There is to-day a limitation of the power of some colliery managers to settle disputes which they enjoyed in the old days. If there was an application in respect of wages in the old days at the Parkgate seam, we would go to the manager and say, "What is your figure?" He would say, "Is. 2d., what is yours?" and we would say, "Is. 4d." We would then go down the pit and get it measured up and see what was a fair tonnage rate. You did this sort of thing and the manager was able to make a settlement, but present disputes hang out for weeks and months. It is not always all on one side. We know the difficulties, and these are the things which we want to avoid.
It is a difficult industry. Please let us try to keep a sense of proportion about it. We had a speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), one of his characteristic speeches. We know the history of mining; indeed, I wish I could forget it. I have lived through every strike and lock-out since 1893, and I do not wish to see that sort of thing again. While we know what has passed, let us face up to this: We know there is great reluctance to go into the pits to-day, but it is a reluctance not born of war-time. It is a natural desire of parents to try and give their sons a better crack of the whip than they had themselves. There has been tremendous educational progress during the last 40 to 45 848 years, apart from the part that there was never any security in mining. The only way that some men, in pre-war days, could get things remedied was by setting the pit down. I remember a resolution passed in 1911 which said that if the hat came up they would go to work but if it came down they would set the pit down for three days. But somebody has to go down the pits.
I want to say to my mining friends that we must recognise some of the progress which has been made; there is no doubt about it, we have made some progress. I will say that anywhere. We have tried to institute a system of training. There was none of that in the old days. There will be six weeks on the top during which safety principles will be taught and at least a month underground, under skilled supervision at every stage. I would like to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly that customs vary in some districts, and South Wales customs are different in that sense from those in Yorkshire. While it took five years in the case he mentioned, it did not take me that time.
§ Mr. Smith
Well, I started emptying dirt along with a relative of mine, and I went through the successive stages. As I was saying, we are doing our best to initiate the new entrants in safety principles. We are doing our best to make their task as light as possible. Do not let us decry everything that is done. We have made considerable progress in health, welfare and safety, and, what is more, there has been no sacrificing of safety measures in the hustle for production. My right hon. and gallant Friend has insisted on that from the very beginning.
§ Mr. Foster
Permission has been granted by inspectors that certain orders shall not apply and the Ministry of Fuel and Power have agreed to the suspension.
§ Mr. Smith
I say, frankly, that there has been no relaxation of safety measures. I know the particular point my hon. Friend has in mind. The results in this, the fifth, year of the war are gratifying, and that speaks very well for the industry as an industry. Supervision is good, and it speaks very well for those engaged 849 in the industry that we have been able to reduce the accident figures to what they arc now.
§ Mr. Lawson
My hon. Friend mentioned my name, and I take it that he is replying to the point that I put. I am very pleased that he has had an opportunity of putting in detail the progress that has been made, and he is quite right in doing it, but the point that I raised is that the miner has had no guarantee of security when the war is over.
§ Mr. Smith
I am coming to that all right. If we take the fatal accidents for this year, there have been to date 542 men and lads killed. That is a big figure. For the same period last year the figure was 689. That represents a very welcome drop. But more can still be done, and my right hon. and gallant Friend will do everything, as his predecessor did, to try to keep the accident rate down. In addition, surely we have made some progress in treating fracture cases. We have rehabilitation. In 1938 1 per cent. of fracture cases were treated on rehabilitation methods. To-day we have eight residential places, and we have facilities provided in every colliery district, and it is very good to hear from patients themselves that they are making remarkable progress towards recovery. It is far easier to rehabilitate a man for selling boots over a counter than for work underground. I know of no question that is causing more controversy among mineworkers than workmen's compensation, and, though it is not my right hon. and gallant Friend's business, but a matter for the Home Secretary and the Government, we are conscious that there is a problem to be faced. This comes up at nearly every meeting. We are conscious of it, because for every man injured in a factory six men are injured in the pit. The question of the inadequacy of workmen's compensation has to be tackled, or there will be no contentment in mining. We have made our point of view known. There is a Bill before Parliament. We know the extent of the problem, and we are prepared to put our views forward in the right quarter. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Fylde put forward a comparison between the last war and this which was based on rather fallacious premises. When he talks about the output during the last war compared with this, 850 and the man-power figures, he should remember how easy it is to manipulate decimal points to whatever point of view you are putting forward. When he talks about output from 1918 to 1921, he must remember that that was an abnormal period of demobilisation with men rushing back to the pits, the period of the Sankey Commission and the strike in 1920. There was general unsettlement in the post-war period until in 1921 the pits were decontrolled six months before the Act of Parliament said there should be decontrol.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Lancaster
If my hon. Friend will allow me to interrupt, I think he is rather confused about what I was referring to. I was referring to the Minister's attempt to prove that the fall in output during the last war was more extreme than any fall that has occurred during this war, and I said that his method of comparison was wholly valueless because his figures had no relation to the number of men employed during the relevant periods. I said the only way in which it could be measured was by taking output per man-shift. Let me make that quite clear—output per man-shift. I gave relevant figures for the two periods.
§ Mr. Smith
There is not much time now, and I would like to follow that up on another occasion. The hon. Member for Twickenham talked about the miners letting the country down. I think that on the whole the mineworkers of this country have done a jolly good job of work. I think that 88 to 90 per cent. have done very well indeed, and I think we ought to give praise where praise is due. If I may say so, the speech of the hon. Member for Twickenham was not helpful.
§ Mr. Smith
Some of those attacks cannot be substantiated. I know that it is complained that men cannot be dis- missed, but I also know what the power of dismissal has meant in the past. It meant men going out of the pit if they were not willing to do certain things, and it caused strikes and the spending of large 851 amounts of money on victimisation pay. It caused much bitterness and many strikes. I would say to my hon. Friend that if one cannot be helpful in time of war, one had better withhold criticism. The hon. and gallant Member for Buck-rose (Major Braithwaite), I think, is entitled to a pat on the back. I have attempted sometimes in the past to give him a straight left, but this time I think it should be a pat on the back. When he first brought forward the question of outcrop coal, I thought his figures were exaggerated, but I think that on the whole the winning of outcrop coal has been very good. If on occasions I have been trying to dispute his figures, I hope he will forgive me. I was pleased to note that he had become an advocate of nationalisation. Some hon. Members have talked about American methods and about the use of machinery. My right hon. and gallant Friend will deal with that side of the question later on. I have met mechanical engineers from America and discussed this question and I agree that where conditions are favourable there should be mechanisation, but all pits are no suitable for power-loading methods. We are not ultra-cautious, but we are conscious of the fact that we must be satisfied before introducing power-loading in a particular pit that it is safe to do so. To-morrow the House will probably hear from my right hon. and gallant Friend that there is a speeding-up of machinery and an effort made to get supplies as fast as possible.
My hon. Friend talked about the future. Let me be perfectly frank. Parents object to their boys working underground because the industry is hard, it is relatively dangerous, and wages and conditions have not been too good, apart from the fact that they like to find alternative occupations. A good deal can be done to make the mining industry more attractive. I believe that a little bit of positive propaganda about mining rather than all negative propaganda would be very helpful. When people tell me that we are weak and uncouth I wonder where I have been for 20 years. Nobody ever 852 charged me with being a weakling. Nobody need be ashamed of being a miner. It is a man's job and those of us who have spent our working lives in it will defend the working miner anywhere with all their faults. We recognise, however, that if we are to bring men into the industry both now and after the war we have to bring mining into its rightful place in the national economy. It has been too much the Cinderella among industries and miners have been looked upon as not being quite as good as other people. I am as satisfied as I ever was in my life that if the structure is all right, if coal coming out of the pit is treated as a raw material and not as a manufactured article, if we extract the wealth from the coal that we know is there, and if from that extraction some of the proceeds find their way back to the pit in order to pay the miners decent wages, we can make mining better than it has been.
Let us make the pits look something decent. There are some very fine collieries in this country, but there are others. There are some where goldfish swim in the pit yard, but some where you tumble over sleepers. Let us have proper washing facilities. Inside the pit there is no reason why men should have to walk underground a mile and a quarter and why roads should be so narrow. The men should be allowed to ride in so that when they get off the tram at the other end they have some energy left. Anybody who has walked a mile and a quarter underground with a lamp in one hand, with half a gallon of water in two bottles and a snap in the other and with a drill under his arm, and then has had to start working knows what it means. In order to get through this war we have to get the coal and I believe that the mine workers will not let the country down. There is a lot being done and more can be done. If all is done that can be done and if the men and lads working underground in future are spared what they went through after the last war, I honestly believe that we can get men to work in the pit and give the country the coal it needs both in peace and in war.
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.