HC Deb 24 February 1944 vol 397 cc1089-106

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Coal (Charges) (Amendment) (No. 1) Order, 1944, dated 3rst January, 1944, made by the Treasury under Section 2 of the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939, a copy of which Order was presented to this house on 3rd February, be approved."—[Mr. Tom Smith.]

Mr. Foster (Wigan)

Before this Order is approved by the House I would like to raise one or two matters in connection with the administration of the fund and certain abuses of the fund by the coal-owners. It was admitted by the Minister of Fuel and Power, in reply to a question I put to him last week, that these abuses exist, and he stated that he was doing his best to check them. I will quote the reply which he gave to a supplementary question, which I put to him on that occasion. He said: I am not denying that there has been some abuse of the system but it has been greatly tightened, and will, I hope, be tightened up still further. Later on he stated in reply to another question: if my hon. Friend had listened to my previous supplementary answer, he would have heard that I said we are aware of certain abuses and are doing our best to check them"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th February; col. 347, Vol. 397.] I have been very much concerned about the abuses of this particular fund which are taking place in the coalfields. Frankly, it has almost become a racket. The managers at the collieries—and probably they have had instructions from their directors—are taking advantage of every opportunity to reduce their costs of production at the expense of this fund.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power asked me to supply him with examples of what is taking place in the coalfields. I have supplied him with one example which is being gone into, but I want to make a general assertion first. It is that when there is a fall in output on any particular day, or during the week, at any colliery in the British coalfields due to any cause—this applies not to one particular colliery but to every pit and colliery in the British coalfields—the management immediately try to reduce their costs of production, or do reduce them, by sending men home in the middle of the shift, and also men who come on the succeeding shift, and then make application to this fund for their wages to be paid. This fund, I should explain, makes provision in the first place for a payment to the coal owners to make up certain average profits, the formulas of which have been agreed upon. If they fail to make those profits, any colliery company or scheduled undertaking which makes such an application is described as a necessitous undertaking.

I want first to deal with the position at those particular collieries. What happens when a colliery becomes a necessitous undertaking? In the first place there is no motive or incentive for that colliery company to produce the maximum output of coal, and they use this fund not to increase output but in order to heighten roads, drive tunnels, buy machinery, or to put the pit into as good a position as they can put it from the production standpoint to prepare for the post-war position. Not only that, but at these collieries no matter what amount of labour the Minister Minister of Labour may supply, whether it be the Bevin boys or anybody else, at those particular collieries they can absorb all the labour that is given to them without showing any increase whatever in the production of coal, and they use that fund for that purpose. This is not a wild or an exaggerated statement; it is a fact, because we have ample evidence of it, and what I am concerned about in the main is that there does not appear to be—I will not say any check, but any effective check upon the applications that are made for this particular purpose.

I understand, from a reply given to me by the Minister of Fuel and Power, that applications are made first of all from the colliery, and that the information as to why the application is being made is supplied by the colliery company itself in the first place. It passes through the accountants to the colliery company, and is submitted to other bodies, and eventually it reaches the authorities in London and the money is paid over. I submit that unless there is some effective check at the source, then the colliery companies can exploit this fund to their hearts content, and, as I said at the beginning, they are doing it. To give the House some idea of the extent of the exploitation of this Fund—again in reply to a question which I put in the House last week—we were informed that there are 84 necessitous undertakings in the British coalfields, and that the money which is being paid out of this Fund is approximately £4,500,000, which has been paid out to those colliery companies who are described as necessitous undertakings. I want to know from my hon. Friend whether the Ministry of Fuel and Power have satisfied themselves that that £4,500,000 has been spent on the purposes for which the Fund has been created. I do not think it has. I believe that the money has been spent to further the interests of those who have made application for financial support from the Fund.

There is another matter I want to deal with, that in connection with the other part of this Fund from which the guaranteed wage to the miners is paid. The exploitation by necessitous undertakings is not to be compared with the exploitation which is going on in the payment of the guaranteed wage to men who are available for work when work is not available. I say again, deliberately, that there is not a pit in the whole of the mining industry which is not exploiting that Fund. Pits are doing it in order to reduce their costs of production and to make the highest possible profits. I could give the House many examples from my own personal experience and knowledge, but perhaps one or two will suffice. Recently at a colliery near my home something happened to the steam arrangements. A pipe had become choked, with the result that the winding engine could not continue to wind coal. This happened at 12.30. Winding would have gone on until 2.30. Two hours' output was lost. What were the instructions the manager gave to the workmen that day? They were that all men working underground, irrespective of what job they were engaged on, must be sent out of the pit. So these men were sent to the surface by the return shaft. But that was not the full measure of it. Even surface workers, employed on stacking timber, tipping dirt, repairing machines and looking after lamps, were sent home. Yet all were paid that part of the guaranteed wage because it was said that work was not available. That was done by the pit in order to reduce their costs of production. However, that is still not the end of the story. By 2.30 this winding gear was put right and a shift of 150 men came on in the afternoon. Still the men were sent back and were paid the guaranteed wage. This was done by the company in order to save their costs of production for that day because they had lost two hours' output.

I will give another example. On two succeeding days recently there was a shortage of coal wagons about 10 o'clock each day, which is about the half way time in the shift. The manager gave instructions, when there were no further wagons to be filled on the surface, that all the men had to be sent out of the pit, and the men on the surface were sent home as well, because they would have had to pay their wages. By sending them home they could recover the wages from the guaranteed wages fund. The fund was never set up for this purpose. The public are paying 8s. a ton in order to create this Fund, which is being exploited by the coal owners for their own purposes. I have said it is a ramp and I still think it is, and I am not satisfied that the check of the Ministry of Fuel and Power on this exploitation is efficient or sufficient. It is a question of setting up machinery so that the Ministry may know what the money is being paid for. The owners say they are not making profits, but they are. Even if they become necessitous undertakings they still have a certain average profit.

I realise fully the responsibility of the statements that I have made, and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will give me an assurance that something effective will be done. It is not sufficient to say that the returns from the collieries are chocked up. You cannot check claims in London. You can check the claims that are made on the information that comes in with them but, if it is to be effective, it must be done at the colliery. The disputes that are arising in the mining industry, these unofficial stoppages have caused a loss of output amounting to 223,000 tons, or at the rate of 2,250,000 tons in a year. That is a very serious state of affairs. I would not have taken up the time of the House if I did not look upon the matter very seriously. I know that what I have said will convince the Parliamentary Secretary and I hope he will convey it to the Minister.

Mr. Butcher (Holland with Boston)

I would like to express the hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will give some information on how this Coal Charges Order affects the ordinary consumer, because the prices paid by him for coal have advanced to an enormous degree since the outbreak of war. There is a feeling that the more money and the more legislation we put into this industry the less coal we get out of it. We are very eager to hear how this Order will affect the ordinary working man and woman. Does it mean that there is to be another increase in the near future?

Mr. Fraser (Hamilton)

My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Foster) has rendered a useful service to the country in initiating a Debate on this important matter. He has indicated that this Fund is being used for a purpose for which it was not intended and shown the folly of allowing people to administer the Fund who have no interest in looking after it. He has proved that managers at the collieries are left with too much latitude in determining how much money they will require from this Fund for their undertakings. They are responsible to the people who employ and pay them, and it is obvious that in meeting their weekly outlays at their collieries, whether it be on the payment of guaranteed wages to workmen who have not been employed, or on other matters, the more they can take from the Fund the less has to come from the accounts of the collieries which employ them. They will not hesitate to send men home if by so doing they can serve the interests of the companies employing them. We have the responsibility of looking into this matter very intimately to see whether the position cannot be rectified. I hope that the Minister of Fuel and Power will make an honest and sincere attempt to do that.

I could, like my hon. Friend, give instances where the Fund has been abused. We hear about stoppages. I can remember a dispute at one of the big collieries in Lanarkshire over the administration of this Fund. The company kept four or six men extra to their needs in case there should be so many absentees out of the colliery. They were sent home every day and they were paid from this Fund. That in itself is an abuse. The Minister told my hon. Friend the other day that there had been abuses, but that they were being checked, that the position was being bettered, and he hoped that it would be further bettered in the near future. My complaint is that under the present scheme the checking can only be done by accountants from the regional offices. That must be all wrong, and I submit that the checking can only be operated at the pit. We have the machinery there to do it. We have a committee set up at every colliery and it is the servant of the Ministry of Fuel and Power. I refer to the pit production committee. It has never been asked to take any responsibility in this matter, but it could be very useful. It could get down single-mindedly, as it is intended it should do, to look after the interests of the industry and anything with which the Ministry is concerned at the pit. The members, who represent both sides of the industry, would apply themselves to preventing any possibility of abuse. They would be able to argue with justification, when there was a breakdown in the pit, that there was no need to send men home merely because they were not going to be able to produce coal that afternoon. They would get them on to a preparatory job, so that more coal could be produced on the following day.

The fact is that the colliery manager is afraid, under the present organisation, that he may find it difficult to get enough from the Fund to pay those men, which makes it more difficult not to send the men home, whether they are five, or 50, or a whole colliery of 500 men. It is easier for him to send them home because he thinks it is impossible to keep them engaged at that pit, as the whole 500 men would be paid out of the Fund. It is a disgraceful state of affairs. This Fund has to be added to from time to time. I think it started at 7d. per ton; it is now 8s., and it will increase. People are wondering what is wrong with this industry. The more money we put into it the less money we get out of it. It is, significant that this Debate should have been initiated by representatives of the workpeople in the industry, because if there is any tightening of the administration of the Fund, the workers will get not one penny out of it. It is a credit to my hon. Friend that he should have initiated the Debate.

I ask the Ministry to use the production committees at the pit and to do something about this matter. Let them take an interest in it and give them some responsibility in it. After all, it is the responsibility of the Ministry of Fuel and Power. Those are the people, the technical and practical people at the colliery, who can check it. If we give these men the responsibility every penny that is claimed from the Fund ought to be claimed in the name of the pit production committee. The claim ought to be signed by the joint chairmen of the pit production committee. Very often one is the manager of the pit concerned and the other someone representing the work-people. Every penny received from the Fund by the undertaking ought to be receipted by the joint representatives concerned in the pit production committee. That is very little to ask. I know that colliery owners and the managers would probably object to any such step being taken, because, in the case of necessitous undertakings, it would mean that the men at the pit would get to know something about the finances of the particular colliery company, and they do not think that that is quite right.

I submit that it is only right, and that we ought not to allow a stupid arrangement to continue whereby the wages received by the miners are everybody's business but the profits that are derived from the industry are the business of nobody but those who are deriving those profits. If there is no need and the undertaking is not necessitous, it will not require to have anything from the Fund and then the workpeople at the pit will not get to know anything at all about those finances. I think the case is crystal clear and the need is very urgent and obvious. I sincerely trust that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to indicate to us that the Ministry will take any necessary steps to see to it that there are no more abuses of this Fund—at least no more abuses that can be avoided by a different administration.

Mr. Sloan (Ayrshire, South)

I think it is a sign of the times that there is nobody here from the other side to make any objection to this Coal Charges Fund. One does not object when it is going into one's pocket, and any constructive proposals or suggestions on this matter have to come from the miners' representatives in the districts. As the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Fraser) says, the more we can reduce this Fund the less likelihood there is that the men would get very much out of it, but it is still true that miners do not want any money out of this Fund. It is true that if they are capable and available for work and no work is found for them then they claim the right to be paid from this Fund. But very often men have done almost the hardest part of their work in rising early in the morning, being conveyed on long journeys, getting down the pit, travelling underneath to the place where they have to work and then finding no work for them and having the whole journey back again. The miner, after he is at the coalface, would rather finish his shift than walk home.

We would very much like some guarantee that this Fund is to be tightened up. The figures that have been produced show 240,000 shifts lost in one month. I wonder if the House has perceived that 240,000 shifts lost, taking the average man-shift at one ton, means that coal production is 24,000 tons down. [Interruption]—well, 213,000 tons through the fact of no work being available for these men. We hear a great deal about stoppages. We hear of the amount of output lost by stoppages—so many men at this colliery stopped, so many tons lost through their stoppage. Yet more shifts and more coal are lost from the men being unable to secure work when they are capable and available for it than are lost through stoppages all over the country. Surely there is something radically wrong here? That is one of the things which the Parliamentary Secretary should have some cognisance of, and we ought to have a guarantee before this extra 3s. is put on to the price of coal that a tightening up is to be carried out in regard to this Fund.

The financing of necessitous undertakings also requires some investigation. When workmen have to be financed because they are necessitous they have to appear at the public assistance office or at the employment exchange. We find that a very searching examination is made before any public funds are granted. There ought surely to be just as searching an examination into the payments to these so-called necessitous undertakings. As we all know a large part of this money is going merely to help the profits of the industry. I wonder whether this House is aware that the profits of the coal owners are higher to-day than they have ever been. In Scotland profits are returned now at 2s. 6d. per ton, and one month it was 2s. 8d. When we are dealing with undertakings such as this, we should have some regard to the finance which is coming to the industry from them. The Government are merely making another charge upon the consumer—because that is where it is coming from. The Government are not making any subsidy to the mining industry in this matter. When we talk about guaranteed wages and the financing of necessitous undertakings, let us understand that it is not done by way of subsidy. It is done here by a direct charge on the consumer.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

The hon. Member has gone very wide. I would be glad if he would connect his speech with the Motion before the House.

Mr. Sloan

Like the famous Texan pianist, I am doing my best, and, like him, I do not want to be shot. I am doing my very best to connect what I am saying with the fact that we are here today passing these charges. We are raising the charge to 8s. per ton. I was trying to make it clear to the House that this 8s. per ton is not a Government subsidy: it is a charge which is going on the consumer. An hon. Member opposite asked how it affects the consumer. It affects the consumer to the extent that another 3s. per ton is being added to the price of coal. If so, we have a right to expect some return for it. It has already been stated that the more money the consumer throws into this industry the less coal we get out of it, because of the action of the coalowners in robbing this Fund, instead of trying to get coal. That is the point we are anxious to clear up. We are anxious to know exactly what the Department intend to do.

There is a case of a man who drew seven shifts at the colliery. He worked one of them, and six were guaranteed shifts, or what are known colloquially as Bevin shifts—he has gone down to posterity like the Belisha-beacon man. We are not opposing these changes: we expect the consumer to be robbed; but we expect that the money of which the consumer is robbed shall be spent in a decent fashion.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power (Mr. Tom Smith)

Nobody could complain of the points which have been raised by my hon. Friends. Before dealing with them, there are one or two things I should say with regard to the charges which have been made against the Coal Charges Order. This Order has been brought in, increasing the coal charge from 5s. a ton to 8s. a ton, and it has been made concurrently with the average increase of 3s. in the price of coal, which was granted with effect from 1st February, 1944. One thing ought to be made clear, and that is that this Order was approved before the recent award of Lord Porter was given, and is not intended to cover that, so that, maybe, as time goes on, it will be necessary still further to increase the Coal Charges Order.

Mr. Sloan

There is no doubt about that.

Mr. Smith

With regard to the consumers, I think the hon. Member is right in raising the point, and my right hon. and gallant Friend is conscious of it. It is true that, as my hon. Friend said, there is not a subsidy; the price is being borne by the consumer. That has been the policy of the Government. We recognise, out of the experience of the last 20 years in mining, that once you put a subsidy on, you can take it away very quickly, and I think that, on balance, we have pursued the better policy. All the increases have gone on to the consumer of coal. I cannot guarantee that there is going to be any reduction, but this extra 3s. is needed because there are additional costs to be met from the Coal Charges Account.

I want, if I may, to deal as fully as I can with the complaints made and give the House an assurance of what has actually been done to meet the charges. I think I am right in saying that, when the first Essential Work Order came before the House, from that Box I pointed out that it would have to be watched in order to see that, as time went on, it was not being abused to pay wages that should come from the ordinary colliery finance. I stressed that point considerably in speaking on the Essential Work Order some time in 1941. My right hon. Friend did say the other day that he was conscious that there had been some abuses of this Essential Work Order guaranteed wage. I think there is no doubt that there has. As a result of information supplied to me, particularly by the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Foster), we have, only to-day, again had a discussion with regard to it, and I have indicated to the Ministry what the complaints are. I want to give the House an assurance that instructions have been sent out to Regional Controllers that their Production Directors and Labour Directors should have an examination where there is the slightest possibility of the Essential Work Order being abused. It is very difficult to deal with a general charge but, if hon. Members will specify the collieries which they have in mind, as my hon. Friend has done to me in the last few days, we can have inquiries made on the spot, and I agree with the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Fraser) that the real place to check is at the pit. I can assure the House that we are endeavouring to see that there is no unnecessary abuse of this Fund.

Mr. Foster

Whilst appreciating what the Parliamentary Secretary has said on the steps being taken, may I ask him to explain what steps they take in the individual case, which is happening every day, and whether there is any check on the number of men that an employer can send home if output is reduced?

Mr. J. J. Lawson (Chester-le-Street)

Why should it be necessary for the Minister to wait until complaints come in?

Mr. Smith

I did not say we wait for complaints. If an hon. Member has a specific case and we get the names, it can be handled quicker than by a general complaint. I asked the hon. Member for Wigan last week to specify the colliery, and an immediate investigation would be made. I want to assure him that it is being made. All that we can do to prevent these abuses will be done.

Mr. Foster

What about the individual case?

Mr. Smith

I do not know quite how we should handle the individual case. We have been in touch with the Regional organisations to have examinations made where these abuses are taking place, and some action will, no doubt, be taken.

Let us be frank. Many hon. Members opposite have worked in the pit, and they and I know exactly what is taking place with regard to "Bevin's window" at some pits. There is no doubt that it is not fair. My hon. Friend mentioned the question of the calling of men back when there is a stoppage of work when the engine breaks down, or there is a shortage of wagons. All that is not fair. Any colliery company that does that should be proved to be guilty of an abuse. My hon. Friend mentioned the position about development work underground. He alleges that colliery companies are getting money from the Necessitous Undertakings Fund and using a portion of it for development work underground for postwar purposes. I can tell him that there were inquiries made months ago with regard to particular pits. The only way in which you can check that sort of thing is not by inspecting colliery books on the surface, but by having men go down the pit to see actually what is being done. I assure the House frankly that my right hon. and gallant Friend has no desire to see any portion of the Coal Charges Account abused in any shape or form and steps are being taken to check these things.

Mr. Oldfield (Manchester, Gorton)

Through the production committees?

Mr. Smith

It needs something more than production committees; somebody should go down the pit who knows what a pit really is and ascertain whether the work is really necessary, or whether it is being done for some future advantage. That can only be checked at the pit. These things can be more effectively checked through the regional organisation than in any other way. There is the basic question to be answered when application is made for money to be paid out of the Necessitous Undertakings Fund. Is the pit necessary in the national interest? That is the fundamental question that has to be asked. In my capacity as a Member of Parliament representing a constituency before the Ministry of Fuel and Power was set up, I had to approach my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell), who was then Secretary for Mines, with regard to certain pits that were likely to go out of production. The one question that had to be answered was, "Are these pits necessary in the national interest?" On that question being answered properly, the money was found, and the pit continued to work. Obviously, nobody wants to see any abuses of the Fund, and I can assure the House again that every effort is being made to see that none of this Fund is being exploited. It is only fair to say that this Coal Charges Fund is the medium through which a large number of things are being paid for. I do not think that the House would desire me to go into too much detail with regard to the actual amounts that are being paid, but I will mention one or two things. The Greene award cost, roughly, about 2s. 9d. a ton. Hon. Members will recall that under the Greene award there was not merely a national minimum of 83s. per adult underground worker and 78s. for surface workers, but also a flat rate increase of 2s. 6d. per shift for adults.

The guaranteed wage payable under the Essential Work Order 1941–43 costs about 2d. per ton. This is a separate item. Contributions towards miners' travelling expenses, allowances to miners returning from the Forces and from other industries, expenses of pit production committees, equal about one fifth of a penny per ton. The output bonus on the entire industry, based on the district principle, costs about ½d. a ton. The price allowance, designed to maintain the datum line credit balance of 1s. 9d. a ton, varies according to the district and at the present time amounts on an average to about 3s. 4d. on a ton of coal. I do not think my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan was quite right in the total he mentioned. The cost of that, as a separate thing, is about 4d. a ton. The Fund has to bear certain deficits from past work, including making up the credit balance to the minimum of 1s. 6d., amounting for 1944 to about 1.2d. a ton. All these charges when they are added together—and believe me there is a large number of them—come at the moment to slightly under 8s. a ton and therefore it was necessary to increase this Coal Charges Order from 5s. to 8s. As I said earlier, it looks as if in the future we may have to increase it still more in order to pay the Porter award.

I am sure that, much as they would like it, my hon. Friends would not expect me to deal with the controversy surrounding the Porter award, but I think I am entitled to say that looking back to the time, 32 years ago, when this House of Commons refused to put 5s. a shift and 2s. for the boys into a Bill, looking to the fact that in 1912 about the highest minimum wage in any district in this country was about 6s. 9d. a shift for eight hours—but before you got that minimum wage of 6s. 9d. you had to work 80 per cent. of your time, you had to give a fair day's work, you had to get to your work when you could, you had to stop there until you had finished, all those qualifications were put in—all the controversy about the Porter award of £5 a week—

Mr. Sloan

You are discussing the Porter award.

Mr. Henry White (Derby, North-East)

Would the Minister kindly remind the House that the average profit which the coalowners received was only about 4d. a ton at that particular time?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

We cannot discuss the Porter award now.

Mr. Tom Smith

I was only showing that we have made a little progress.

Mr. R. J. Taylor (Morpeth)

We are not opposing this: we are very anxious that the fund shall be administered properly and that there should be no exploitation. Apart from the financial consideration, I was staggered this week to learn that there were 213,000 shifts paid in a month out of this fund, which means that 213,000 men and boys were able and willing to work if work had been provided for them. If you put that into a five-shift week, it is equal to 43,000 men and boys, and it goes a very long way towards solving the man-power problem in the pits. Therefore it seems to me that, entirely apart from the financial consideration, if an industry which has claimed the sole right to manage that industry cannot provide work for 213,000 men and boys in one month, then there is something radically wrong. We are balloting boys from universities and putting them into the pits, and it seems to me that we have a right to demand that our men, when they are fit and able and willing to work, should have work provided for them.

Mr. Smith

I would not like it to go out that the 213,000 shifts lost were traceable to abuses of the Fund.

Mr. Taylor

I did not say that.

Mr. Smith

We had a good deal of transport difficulty in November and December

Mr. Foster

These figures are for January.

Mr. Smith

I mean in December and January.

Mr. Sloan

My hon. Friend will have us all in the month of May before he is finished.

Mr. Smith

Many shifts were lost as the result of the shortage of wagons. There has been much discussion with regard to transport for conveying coal, and while on occasions miners are condemned for disputes it is only right to say that a good deal of coal has been lost because of the shortage of wagons and general lack of transport. As I have said, I would not like anybody to get the idea that the great bulk of these 213,000 shifts are traceable to abuses.

Mr. Taylor

I made no charges about abuses in regard to 213,000. I was very careful to say that apart from the financial considerations of this matter there was an output problem.

Mr. Tinker (Leigh)

There are two points I want to raise with my hon. Friend. In my locality, St. Helens, coal dealers have stated that the increase is 3s. 4d. a ton, while my hon. Friend has mentioned the figure of 3s. I quite understand why there should be even money, but I think it would be better if people knew that they were being treated alike. My other point is with regard to lost shifts. If transport is bad what is to stop the coal being worked and stocked at convenient places, ready for filling into wagons? Coal on the surface can always quickly be attended to and I hope the Ministry will pay attention to that matter.

Mr. Smith

I can assure my hon. Friend that that has been done in some cases. The regional organisations and the Controller-General have been facing that matter. With regard to the 3s. that was the average. But the application of it in some cases has meant an increase of 2d. per cwt. It has not been a uniform amount. I think that generally the household price has increased by 2d. per cwt.

Mr. Sloan

The Ministry made sure of that.

Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)

In answering the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. R. J. Taylor) my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary said he hoped it would not be thought that all this money was paid out because of abuses of the Fund. He also said he hoped that that would not go forth from this House, but then he seemed to ride away on the railway wagons on the plea that there had been many transport difficulties. I know for a fact that there have been in many instances exaggerated claims made in respect of failure in the supply of wagons. I do not ask the Minister to reply now, but I ask that it shall not be supposed that anything like the great bulk of this expenditure is incurred because of shortage of railway wagons, and I ask whether it is possible for the Ministry to set out which are the losses due to transport.

Mr. Smith

I will look into it and let my hon. Friend know.

Mr. Fraser

My hon. Friend has said that the checking must go through the regional office. Does he not agree that the characteristics of a pit are only known by the men who work in the pit? A technician going a fortnight or a month after the stoppage would go down with the colliery manager and would not have the evidence before him as to whether it was necessary to send home 500 or 600 men. It seems obvious that the checking can only be done at the pit.

Mr. Smith

My hon. Friend has the wrong point. I was dealing with the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Foster) about money being used in development work for post-war purposes. It is only by going down the pit, and being competent to deal with what you see, that you can prove or disprove the allegation.

Mr. Fraser

Is it not good to know the pit you are going down?

Mr. Smith


Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)

Is there any collaboration between the Ministry of Fuel and Power and the Ministry of War Transport? Two weeks ago instructions were issued by the Ministry of War Transport that they could not accept any more traffic owing to congestion between Manchester and London. If that congestion is known beforehand, some collaboration ought to take place to obviate additional congestion.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That does not arise.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Coal (Charges) (Amendment) (No. 1) Order, 1944, dated 31st January, 1944, made by the Treasury under Section 2 of the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939, a copy of which Order was presented to this House on 3rd February, be approved.

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