HC Deb 03 October 1944 vol 403 cc718-20
12. Mr. Molson

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what steps he proposes to take in view of the fact that the output of coal has dropped by 100,000 tons a week and that the price of coal to the domestic consumer has risen by 4s. a ton.

Major Lloyd George

I am taking all the measures I can on the lines indicated in my speech to the House on 13th July last, to increase output and to reduce consumption by securing greater economy and better use of fuel. I regret to say, however, that the increase of output, which we were entitled to expect from the Wages Agreement of April last, has not materialised. Since then output of coal has fallen materially. Output per man has fallen by 5 cwts. per week mainly owing to an increase of 25 per cent. in voluntary absenteeism. Although there have been no regional stoppages of work there are still every week a large number of local and unofficial stoppages. If the present unsatisfactory rate of output continues, there will be a serious risk both of interference with, the war effort and of hardship in many households this winter. It is therefore of vital importance that all persons in the mining industry should improve output during the critical winter that lies ahead. The only real and immediate remedy for the position lies in their hands.

Mr. Molson

Are we to understand then that the Minister is not proposing himself to take any steps to deal with the situation he has now outlined?

Major Lloyd George

That really, if I may say so, is rather an unfair statement, because a good many steps have been taken. My hon. Friend ought to be aware, if he listened to the Debate on 13th July, that steps have been taken, but a great number of those steps will take a very long time before they come into fruition.

Captain Duncan

Is the Minister aware that the miners are liable to lose the goodwill of the consumers in this country?

Mr. Shinwell

Am I to understand from what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman says in his reply, that the whole of the blame for reduced output is to be placed on the shoulders of the miners; does he not think that he should look in some other directions; and would he not find some information in the Report of the American Section of the Combined Board?

Major Lloyd George

My hon. Friend must not be too touchy on these things. The figures I gave him were only for the six months since the Wages Agreement, compared with the same six months last year, and during that period the day-to-day production per man has dropped by five cwts. That can be remedied and the remedy for that lies largely in the hands of the miners, and he knows that that is true.

Mr. Ivor Thomas

Is the Minister aware that the main problem is that of the increasing age and exhaustion of the men, and that it is no good flogging a tired horse?

Major Lloyd George

I might be prepared to believe that if it were not for the fact that the highest rate of absenteeism is among the younger age groups.

Mr. Colegate

Do not the facts that the Minister states point clearly to the necessity of restoring the disciplinary powers of managers?

Mr. Bowles

How much profit has gone to the shareholder?

Major Lloyd George

In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Colegate), he knows perfectly well that the Essential Work Order must remain, because it is the basis of our war effort; and if you are to restore the full disciplinary powers of managers to the sanction of dismissal, you also will have to restore to the men freedom of movement in the industry.

Mr. J. J. Lawson

Is it not a fact that voluntary absenteeism is considerably below what it was in pre-war time, on the statistics which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman himself has given to the House?

Major Lloyd George

My hon. Friend will know better than I do that there are certain coalfields which in peacetime work only a few days in the week, but there has been a really quite serious increase in the last six months of voluntary absenteeism. While I appreciate his point about the pre-war position, there has been a definitely serious increase, as I say.

Mr. J. J. Lawson

But is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that the figures show that voluntary absenteeism is not half what it was in pre-war time, according to his own figures?

Mr. Speaker

I think we had better get on.

Forward to