§ 5.30 p.m.
§ The Minister of Fuel and Power (Major Lloyd George)
I beg to move,That the Coal (Charges) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order, 1944, dated 27th July, 1944, made by the Treasury under Section 2 of the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939, a copy of which Order was presented on 1st August, be approved.I do not think it is necessary for me to go into a detailed explanation of the working of the Coal Charges Account. The House knows well that it is a machine by which certain war-time costs of the coal industry are spread equally throughout the industry as a whole. It is a levy on each ton of coal sold, and the resultant fund is apportioned by the Ministry as appropriate. The main payments made from the Coal Charges Ac- 1868 count are to meet wages, costs of compensation and additional costs of production, and it is important that the House should realise that as output goes down the cost of production tends to increase. As I have said, the account is only the means of spreading costs equally throughout the industry. The money for this purpose comes, of course, from the consumer, and on 1st August last, as the House will recollect, the price of coal was increased by 4s. a ton. That sum, with which this Order deals, will raise the levy from 8s. to 12s. per ton, and the purposes of that are twofold. Half the 4s. is to meet the additional cost of the wage award in March, plus the agreement come to in April, and the other 2s. is to repay the indebtedness of this fund to the Exchequer. As the House will appreciate, there is often a time lag between the actual making of an award and the imposing of the levy, and that means that money must be borrowed. That indebtedness at the moment is considerable, and 25. of the 45. is intended to repay that indebtedness at an early a date as possible. I am bound to point out to the House, however, that lower production during the latter months of the summer has led to an increased cost of production—
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
My right hon. and gallant Friend will appreciate that there are others in this House, besides those interested in the employers' and workers' sides of the industry, who are interested in this matter. They are interested from the consumers' point of view. In the South of England, where the price of coal is higher than elsewhere, will consumers have to pay an extra amount for coal?
§ Major Lloyd George
That has already been done. This is purely a levy we have imposed. The price was increased by 4s. on 1st -August. This is not an addition.
§ Earl Winterton
But there was no Debate on that matter; it was done by Order. I was submitting that some of us who are interested in this matter from the consumers' aspect would like to know, before the Minister goes into the question of the effect of the levy on wages, whether this will mean a spread of the hardship which has been caused in many cases to poorer consumers by the increased cost of coal.
§ Major Lloyd George
Of course, I have considered that aspect of the matter. I, personally, would far rather put a figure before the consumer and see that he pays what is necessary rather than hide it by a subsidy or anything of that kind, of which we have had experience in the past. I would far rather say, "That is the price which has to be paid," and tell the consumer what it is for.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards (Caerphilly)
The Minister said that 2s. of the levy was for repayment to the Exchequer. Can we have some indication of the amount to be repaid to the Exchequer and what period of time will be necessary in order to repay the indebtedness?
§ Major Lloyd George
The indebtedness to the Exchequer is now in the neighbourhood of £20,000,000. It had been caused by the time lag and, of course, by the increased cost of production. I was hoping—and everybody interested in the industry would, I am sure, wish it to be so—that we should repay the whole sum by this levy by 1st January, 1946. Unfortunately, as I said just now, production has sagged badly, which has naturally increased the cost, and as things are at the moment I am bound to warn the House that nearly the whole of the 4s. will have to go to meet the ordinary running of the Account, which means at an early date having to find more money or putting off repayment, which I, personally, would deprecate very strongly. The House has approved this levy before, and all I have to do to-day is to explain why it has been increased from 8s. to 12s. As I have said, the purpose is twofold—2s. is to meet the cost of awards made in March and April and the other 2s. is to meet indebtedness towards the Exchequer.
§ Mr. Austin Hopkinson (Mossley)
Does the rise of 4s. a ton to the consumer apply to the privileged coal that goes to miners and those who have free coal?
§ 5.55 P.m.
§ Mr. David Grenfell (Gower)
I am sorry that we have been given such a very restricted survey of the ground covered by these charges as they affect both the consumer and the condition of the industry as a whole. The Minister made it clear that this sum, which has mounted by success- 1870 sive increments and additions to the consumers' price, has reached a level of 12s. a ton. All this began in December, 1940, when the House gave consent to the first Order to raise, if required, an amount of 1s. per ton by levy in order to help necessitous undertakings. I want to say straight away that I believe that that was an absolutely essential step, a step which has been pursued in order that the disparity in earning capacity between the good pit and the bad, and the poor district and the good district, should be fully utilised, not only for the purpose of maintaining the highest production but of keeping prices at the lowest possible level. The Minister knows—and the House should be informed of this—that the 12s. a ton is payable by a pit whether it is a good one or a bad one. It is not kept by the undertaking for its own account. It is made available for distribution throughout the industry and, therefore, this is a kind of equalisation plan by which all the highly diversified industrial conditions in the country may be met and production made possible at all pits for the duration of the war.
In the absence of this plan, which has been itemised and set out in successive stages of application, the coal industry. would have broken down long ago. A large number of pits would have been made entirely unprofitable. There would have been no resources from which employers could have financed their production, and production would have broken down. In order that some kind of general basis should be made available for those responsible for the production, and in order that wage conditions could be approximated in all districts to a level which would satisfy the men for the work they do, this system of levy has been adopted and applied.
I am very sorry that the Minister has not himself enlarged a little upon the effect of this levy upon production, because I believe the country is far more concerned with the state of production than even with the price. If this plan had not been adopted, customers in the South of England might be paying in some cases 10s. a ton more for the particular coal that they require than they are paying to-day. I am sure the House, when it comes to understand the application of this principle, will be very pleased that it has come into operation. I take great personal pride in it, I am 1871 the author of this plan. We started it with the consent of the House. No vote was taken, and I feel that to-day there will be no objection to its application.
I should like the House to regard it not as a remedy for our coal troubles—not as a solution of the problem, not as a guarantee that production will be maintained at the level we require nor that wages shall be maintained, because the Minister has told us that there is a liability of some £20,000,000 which he hopes to meet by future charges upon the industry embodied in this Order and which he hopes to discharge by 1st January, 1946, but he knows, and the House should be informed, that, unless output is improved, that liability will tend to accumulate at a very heavy rate and something much more than this will have to be done before 1st January, 1946, unless changes in. the rate of production are achieved. What we are doing now is not endorsing payments already decided upon in (a), (b), (c) and (d). Those payments have already been endorsed. All we are doing is to secure the approval of the House for raising the figure from 8s. to 12s. We are setting forth the Order in this form in order that the 12s. may be fully accounted for, so that whether today or at some other time, the House shall be given an opportunity of discussing the effect of this Order in all its implications, and the condition of things portrayed by these figures.
I am disappointed and the House will be very disturbed. I saw to-day a revelation of public interest at the highest level. I saw what I regard as the best leading article in "The Times" on the subject of coal production that I have seen since the war began. It was a measured statement and consideration of policy. The main lines of policy were set forth and the urgency of the situation was clearly put. I think it is a great abuse, in a way, of Parliamentary rights to allow a situation to develop so far as to give the opportunity, and apparently to cast the responsibility, for public discussion on the public Press rather than upon this House. I am convinced that this Order will not meet the real problem in the coal industry. There is a tremendous problem.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)
The hon. Gentleman must not go into the general problem. The question before the 1872 House is the simple one, whether the charge should be increased in accordance with the Order.
§ Mr. Foster (Wigan)
Surely it is in Order to make reference to the contributory causes which make it necessary to increase the price of coal by 4s. a ton, and one cannot do that without referring to how the industry is run.
§ Major Lloyd George
On that point of Order. I do not think it should be inferred that I do not want any discussion on the coal industry, but I think that this an extremely inappropriate moment to discuss the future of the industry. I do not suggest—and I do not think I gave the slightest indication that it was in my mind—that this increase in the levy could have no effect on the future of the coal industry. It is simply part of the machinery that has to be put into effect to empower me to carry out the scheme which has been agreed to. I am only too willing at the appropriate time, if time can be arranged through the usual channels, to have a 'discussion on the future of the industry, which goes far beyond anything we can discuss on this Order.
§ Earl Winterton
May I point out, without saying anything unfriendly to those interested in the mining industry, that a good many of us have been anxious to have a discussion on the consumers' aspect of the matter, and if we are going into an eternal discussion as to who is to blame, the consumers will have the right to have their point of view put.
§ Mr. Magnay (Gateshead)
I have no doubt that you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, will rule that what the Minister has said is correct, namely, that we may not discuss the future of the industry on this Order, but I submit that we are entitled, and if we do our duty we are obliged, to inquire as to the past of the industry which alone can justify any increase.
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor (Morpeth)
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman mentioned the effect that reduced production would have on the levy to be placed on the coal industry. Therefore, I do not want to talk on the past or on the future, but surely it would be right to talk of the present and to put forward some reasons why production is down.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The question before the House is whether this particular 1873 Order should be made. It is a very narrow point and ought not to be enlarged upon.
§ Mr. Grenfell
I do not want to challenge your Ruling, Sir. I am sure you are trying to advise the House how best to conduct itself in view of all the circumstances. We are now asked to approve an Order which imposes an additional 4s., making the total of 12s., on each ton of coal produced, a charge which has to be distributed according to a well known plan for the relief of various undertakings which are called on to bear a disproportionate portion of the expenses on production. These are not fixed charges, but variable charges. From time to time they go up without any likelihood of going down. The result is that the burden on the consumer will increase and the industry will find alleviation to a lesser and lesser extent as production, declines.
The Minister has startled the country by his grave statements about the position of production. Will he give us an opportunity at an early date to discuss ways and means of avoiding an increase in charges upon the industry and increases in prices, and ways and means of effecting internal changes in organisation which will relieve him of the necessity of coming to the House for additional charges? It will make his position and the position of all those who are interested in the industry far happier than it is at present.
Will the Minister give an undertaking that, if he gets the consent of the House to the imposition of these Orders, he will consult the House before this Session ends? There are two or three weeks to go. Will he give an undertaking that we shall have a full day—and nothing less than a full day would be justified—so that all points of view can he presented? I have a very definite point of view. I do not believe that these proposals are enough. I believe that drastic reorganisation of the industry is required and I and other hon. Members should be allowed to say what we think about that prospect. I am convinced that this House and the industry will come round to the view that reorganisation is vitally necessary and that the charges which are now proposed, rather than being a deterrent to reorganisation, are themselves a step by which that end can be reached. I make an appeal to the Minister for a promise
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ Major Lloyd George
May I, with the permission of the House, answer that question? No doubt my hon. Friend appreciates that it is not in my hands to give an assurance as to a day's Debate. That matter must go through the usual channels. As I said just now, I am far from wishing to avoid a discussion, but perhaps I may remind the House that only in July we had a very full discussion of the industry. I appeal to the House to come to a decision on this matter. I suggest that at this time of day it is not an appropriate moment to go into the points which my hon. Friend wishes to discuss. So far as I am concerned, as the Minister responsible for this Department, I would be only too willing to have a discussion which would, in fact, do what my hon. Friend wishes to do. I only suggest that this is hardly the moment for it.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Austin Hopkinson (Mossley)
I will detain the House for only a moment or two. The Minister was good enough to allow me to ask him a question in the course of his speech. I would like to draw the attention of the House and of the public outside to the fact that this arrangement will result in all consumers of coal paying 4s. per ton extra, except certain favoured individuals. Among those favoured individuals may be the miners themselves. As my right hon. and gallant Friend is well aware the miners have had a right to draw that coal. If there is any justice in the thing at all, a miner who has been paying nothing for his coal—
§ Mr. Glanville (Consett)
On a point of Order. May I point out that there is not a miner in this country who gets free coal?
§ Mr. Hopkinson
I do not accept the statement of the hon. Gentleman on the Labour benches, because I believe that in actual fact miners in some districts do get free coal. [HON MEMBERS: "No."]At any rate, they get privileged coal, at special prices which are lower than those paid by the consuming public. I say that the gravest injustice is done if by Government action and the will of this House an 1875 additional burden is placed on the whole of the rest of the nation of 4s. a ton from which, heaven knows why, the people who are to the greatest extent responsible for the rise in price are relieved. I say that the public ought to know this, so that when they pay their 4s. a ton they will have the satisfaction of knowing that they are contributing to the supply of coal at special lower rates to the miners themselves.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Foster (Wigan)
Before I say what I have to say in respect of this increase of 4s. a ton, I would like to say, in reply to the hon. Member who has just spoken of "miners' coal," that we on this side who have worked in the mining industry know how this coal is wrongly described as being free coal. It is wrong to say that it is free coal, because it is part of their contract, it is taken into consideration when day wage rates are fixed, and tonnage rates are fixed, and in many cases there is a token figure or nominal figure paid to the colliery company. Having cleared up that point—
§ Mr. Foster
Coming to this increase of 4s. per ton on the levy I am a little disappointed that the Minister, in his opening statement, did not go a little further than he did in the reasons he gave for the increase. He made the statement that the fall in output was one of the factors which brought about the necessity for this increase. I thought we would have been permitted to go into the question of production, to have shown to this House, who I think are entitled to know, what has brought about the fall in production. Only yesterday Questions were put in this House on absenteeism in the mines, and because of that, and because of this increase in the price of coal, feeling is growing in the country once again against the miners, in view of the fact that they have had an increase in wages and the Minister has done his best to try to bring peace into the industry, and that despite all his efforts and these increases in wages and so on there is a fall in output. There is an answer to that and I was hoping tonight that we would have been given an 1876 opportunity of giving some explanation. I can only say that it is not right and correct for anyone, especially those who have not the knowledge of the working of the industry, to make this charge against the miners that they are responsible for this fall in output. I make that as a general statement. I would say that the coalowners—
§ Mr. A. Hopkinson
On a point of Order. During your absence from the House, Mr. Speaker, we were given a very definite ruling from the Chair that anything of this sort was entirely out of Order in the present Debate. May we ask whether you confirm that Ruling?
§ Mr. Magnay
On that point of Order. I hope you will be good enough, Mr. Speaker, to allow more than your usual latitude, if I may say so with respect. This is causing the utmost concern in the North of England.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Magnay) knows very well that this is merely a Coal (Charges) Order, and that it is not an occasion on which we can debate the coal situation. I understood that the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Foster) was making a short reply to something that was said by the Minister, and, therefore, I allowed him to make that short statement without going into the whole situation.
§ Mr. Foster
I am much obliged to you, Sir; that was just what I was attempting to do. If I had the time I could show conclusively that the coalowners are more responsible for the fall in output than the men are. It is a libel on the men to accuse them of responsibility for the fall in output. The Minister knows what I mean. I want to direct my remarks to two questions in connection with the administration of this Fund. In the first place, quite a large number of collieries are making claims against this Fund, and they are described as necessitous undertakings. They can claim from the Fund because they have a low output per man-shift. I have from time to time asked what control the Minister exercises over the managements of these collieries, to secure the best use of the man-power available. At these collieries, when the incentive to make profits has ceased, there is no incentive to increase output. As a result, all the labour available in these pits is used by the managements 1877 not in the interests of production but in the interests of the colliery companies. Despite the fact that the output on the coalface and the percentage of absenteeism remains the same, the output falls, although the number of men employed has increased. This is because there is no control, apparently, by the Ministry over the managements, with the result that the extra labour given to a colliery is not put on productive work: it is used for improving the pit in various ways.
Every man who has worked in a pit for any length of time knows how a colliery company can absorb labour in the pit without putting it on productive employment. A pit is not like a factory, where practically all the work is productive. It is easy to absorb 100 men in a pit without increasing the output of coal by a single hundredweight. In my view, the managements of these necessitous collieries are taking advantage of new manpower, the Bevin boys and others, and there is no corresponding increase in output.
This House believed, when it accepted the Bevin scheme, that it would result in increased output. We told the House it would not do so, and it has not done so, because the coalowners have taken advantage of that increased labour power to use it for their own advantage and not for producing more coal. I ask the Minister to tell me what machinery is set up, whether through the Regional Controllers or not, to check up on the use of man-power in these pits. The Minister will find, if he will go into it, that there is no check-up. My right hon. and gallant Friend may tell me that the Regional Controller, through his production officer and other assistants, can examine the management of collieries and is able to see whether man-power is being used or not. I shall watch the answer of the Minister on that point, because I am satisfied, in my own mind, that the answer cannot be that this check-up is exercised over these colliery companies to see that man-power is used to the best advantage.
The other point I want to raise is in connection with the claims made by these necessitous undertakings against this Fund. I made a charge in this House a short time ago that colliery owners who are carrying on necessitous undertakings had for some time been exploiting this 1878 Fund in the interests of their particular collieries. I have no reason to withdraw that charge or mitigate it in any way whatever, because I am satisfied that it is being done continuously by these particular collieries. I want to ask the Minister what check his Department has on these claims made by necessitous undertakings. I understand that the procedure is that a colliery which is a necessitous undertaking has to fill in certain forms, and that there is a series of questions on these forms. When filled in the forms are sent to the coalowners' accountants—not the workmen's accountants, but the coalowners' accountants. In Lancashire, the coalowners' accountants check up these forms, and, if they are satisfactory, they pass them on to the Minister's finance department, and, if approved, the money is paid. When I raised this matter once before, the Minister informed me, and it was only by Question and answer at Question Time, that the workmen's accountants had the right to check up these claims and to go into the circumstances and the reasons for the claims being made. I have it on good authority that that is not the case.
When I raised the matter in the House on the last occasion, I tried, in a supplementary question, to ascertain from the Minister whether any inquiry was made at the pit or whether there was any check on these claims made at the pit itself, because it is at the pit where the circumstances arise that necessitate the colliery making these claims. When they make claims on this Fund, they are making application for public money, just as much as a man applying for public assistance. In a word, the necessitous undertaking is, in one way, receiving public assistance. But there is no inquiry into the circumstances at the particular colliery. There is no means test, in the sense that there is inquiry into the circumstances of the claim, and I am satisfied that they are taking advantage of that. I would ask the Minister whether he considers that it is a proper thing to allow claims to be checked and passed by the coalowners' accountants, who act for the coalowners in other directions. I know that, in my county, the accountants, through whom these claims pass, are the accountants engaged in the ascertainments for the coalowners. It means that the making, fixing and payment of these claims right from beginning to end is in 1879 the hands of the coalowners. The only part that the workers' accountant plays is that he is permitted to know, in the ascertainments, the total receipts and payments, and that is all. He is not entitled to go to the colliery and make a test or go into the circumstances of any particular claim.
I ask the Minister to explain, if it is permitted in this Debate, the procedure of his Department, having regard to what I have said, in order that we may have this matter cleared up once and for all and properly checked. I hope that he will deal with the first point I made with respect to the exploitation of man-power in the interests of the colliery company. I raise these two points because I feel that where public money is spent—and this is a principle which this House has already accepted—this House has a right to know on what it is being spent and if it is being spent properly, that it is not being taken either by the ordinary common people or by the employers or by anybody else wrongfully. I feel convinced—and I would not make the statement if I were not convinced—that this Fund is being exploited by coal owners in the interests of their boards of directors. Under the system which the Minister of Fuel and Power has at the moment, while he may think there is an adequate check, I feel convinced that the check is not adequate, and I hope that the Minister will say whether it is or not, and if not, that he will attend to the matters that I have raised.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Major Thorneycroft (Stafford)
The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Foster) said that in matters of this kind we were entitled to inquiré how the money was being spent, and I believe that that is very true and right. At the same time, within the rules of Order which have been very properly laid down, it is necessary that we should not range too wide on that particular question. I hope that on another occasion we shall be able to do so. The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) reminded us that he was the author of this coal charges scheme and he is a parent who knows the limitations of his own child. While it performs a useful function, everybody will agree that it is not an answer to all the manifold problems of the coal industry. The effect of this Order is to increase the levy by 4s. up to 1880 a total of 12s. Before we part with the Order we ought to consider the position into which we are getting. Since 1940 or 1942, by successive stages, we have built up these levies to a figure of 12s.—not far off the total production cost per ton of coal before the war. The fact is that if we take the total turnover of the coal mining industry as some 300,000,000 a year, no less than approximately £100,000,000, or one-third of it, is raised by this artificial transfer that is going on within the industry itself.
What in fact has happened is this: By this Coal Charges Fund, the rates of which we are increasing to-day, we have built up a screen in front of 'this industry and it is difficult at any time—and probably in this Debate out of Order-to inquire into just what is going on behind that screen. I do not want to go into the production side at all, but I do emphasise this, that when you have built up a screen of that kind, it is the responsibility of this House on appropriate occasions to look behind it and find out what is happening. I believe it was the Minister of Reconstruction the other day who pointed out that these arrangements for stabilisation and price-fixing and so forth may be all very well in their way, but they conceal any kind of inefficiency, and it is the duty of Members of Parliament to watch that that screen is not exploited.
The hon. Member for Gower asked my right hon. and gallant Friend whether, at an early date, we could have a further Debate upon these matters. I would reinforce that request. We have had a Debate, it is perfectly true, fairly recently, but it is fair to point out that in that Debate, though a number of questions and suggestions were put from all sides of the House on matters of reorganisation, not one of those questions or suggestions was in any way answered by the Government. I hope that my right hon. Friend on the next occasion will be fortified by the advice of his colleagues, and will be able to come down to the House and put the Cabinet's constructive proposals in front of us. The hon. Member for Gower referred to the leading article in to-day's "Times," to which he paid what I believe was a well-merited tribute. Perhaps I may quote one sentence:It is the highest possible output, efficiency, and enterprise that matter, not (in themselves) either public or 'private ownership.1881 I believe, if the hon. Member for Gower and those he represents—and he carries great and well-merited weight in the mining industry—approach the matter in this way, and we on this side do the same, that my right hon. Friend will be able to do something which will assure us that this Order is being a useful thing and not just covering something which is leading to inevitable disaster.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Sloan (South Ayrshire)
We have all listened with the keenest interest to the speech from the hon. and gallant Member for Stafford (Major Thorneycroft). We are glad to see the interest lie takes in our industry. I would like to make a reference to the statement made by the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) in regard to the question of free coal. The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Foster) really dealt with the question and said that there was no such thing as free coal. I want to point this out, that out of the Coal Charges Fund where miners' wages are made up to the minimum wage of £5 per week, the first charge taken from the Fund is the price of house coal supplied to miners. In Durham there is a charge of 4s. per week, so that if a miner is made up to £5 out of the Coal Charges Fund, 4s. per week is deducted for house coal. It shows that that statement about free coal was stupid, reckless and dishonest.
I would like to draw the attention of the Minister to the payments made under the guaranteed wage. When he looks at his statement month by month he must be alarmed at the amount of money being paid out to give this guaranteed wage to people for whom no employment can be found when they present themselves at the colliery. I do not know the exact amount that has been paid out just now but I know it is enormous, and much of this money is paid out—
§ Mr. Sloan
But, Sir, surely this money is paid out of the Coal Charges Fund which we are discussing. The payments out of the Coal Charges Fund make up the guaranteed wage to people who cannot be given employment when they present themselves at the colliery. Surely that is in Order? If that is out of Order 1882 we will shut the shop and close up. I want to draw the Minister's attention—
§ Mr. Speaker
That comes under the Porter award and last time the Order was discussed the Porter award was ruled out of Order.
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor
On a point of Order. The Minister said the loss of production increases the charge of the levy that is necessary. Therefore my hon. Friend surely must be right in showing the effect on production by men not being allowed to work and getting the guaranteed wage under the Essential Work Order.
§ Mr. Grenfell
One of the specified purposes of the Order is to provide the money paid out under the Essential Work Order to men who cannot be found employment.
§ Mr. Sloan
It is difficult even for those of us who are in the mining industry to follow this. Anyone who looks at the accounts would have to be a mathematician out of the ordinary to understand them. The coalowners are taking advantage of the Fund. It is the easiest thing for the managers to say, "There is no work for you to-day." If they found work of some kind for the men the company would have to pay them. If they were not in coal production that particular day they could be making preparations for production on some other day. The managers do not use their intelligence to find work for them instead of paying them out of the guaranteed wage fund. I should like the Minister to give some attention to this aspect of the matter.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Magnay (Gateshead)
Before you came into the Chair, Mr. Speaker, I asked whether we could not go into the future working of the industry in this Debate. We must consider what the past was if we are to do our duty as the watch-dogs of public expenditure. We have heard a very interesting speech from the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Foster), who made the most serious charges about the neglect of duty of the Minister in respect of necessitous pits. If half of what he said is true, it is a matter of the utmost urgency and someone ought to be sacked right away. There is the utmost concern about these frequent increases in charges. Not long ago the price at the pit mouth in the North was 1883 12s. a ton. We have been warned by the Minister that we are going to have a very hard winter and very short commons in coal and, on top of that, that we are to have to pay its. a ton in charges. I say to constituents of mine who are miners, "What on earth are you doing? In spite of the Greene award and all kinds of awards, in spite of what Will Lawther and Ebby Edwards have said, that there would be an easement in this respect and that we might expect a better output, what are you doing? "It is not in our countrymen to shirk their work. They are honest working men. They are the very stock from which I come. But far too many people say, "We shall get no peace at all if some of the younger men stop off work, particularly on Saturdays, because of the Income Tax."
§ Mr. Magnay
I will stop there. They accuse us of lack of courage and of being afraid of the votes of the miners. I suggest that we should have at the earliest possible moment a full Debate so that we shall know the truth on every side. The questions and the appeals made by the hon. Member for Wigan should be answered in full, and explicitly, so that we shall know that this is not a kind derelict community. We have to watch this kind of thing and it is about time it was stopped. Let us get down to brass tacks.
§ 6.49 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor (Morpeth)
The hon. Member has spoken of the time when coal was 12s. at the pit head. He might have said that the miners had 6s. 9d. a day, and it was high time that people paid a price for coal which allowed the miners a decent wage. I am alarmed at the reports of men being sent home without doing any work at all, and being paid under the guaranteed wage. I believe the guaranteed wage is the finest thing the miners have got, and when they have got a fine thing, that is what the owners are going to attack. I believe that by deliberately abusing the guaranteed wage they are bringing a charge of absenteeism which cannot be substantiated. I have been in the pits more or less all my life, and I have rarely known, unless there was a big accident, of a time when work 1884 could not be found of a repair nature that would improve the output next day. Now men are being sent home without any reason at all. Surely the Minister ought to inquire into that. All the charges and reports that we are getting from different districts must have some substance in them. Who is going to investigate them? The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has appointed chief production officers. These things are happening in the collieries where these officers are working. We should have somebody else to find the culprits.
A good deal has been said against the miners, and I am in complete agreement with what has been said about a day to debate this matter. Charges of absenteeism and reduced output are being made against the miners. The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Foster) mentioned the case where 100 lads could be brought into a pit without having any effect on the production. How does the Minister base his loss of output on account of absenteeism? He takes a certain number of men as idle and the figure of output per man, and then multiplies it by the number who are absent. That does not show the real picture because the men may be idle and not an ounce of coal be produced. It would be better if we had a full day's Debate on this mater, because it is high time that the charges which are being made against the miners were inquired into. They have done a good job of work for five years and the country ought to be thankful to them. They have worked for five years when a large number of them would rather have been in the Forces.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ Major Braithwaite (Buckrose)
I would like to ask the Minister one or two questions with regard to the administration of this Fund in relation to necessitous pits. I have recently taken an interest in such a pit and have had occasion to go into the way it has been dealt with. When Parliament allowed these Coal Charges Orders to be made, it was clearly understood that, as long as the necessitous pit brought their financial situation clearly before the committee dealing with it, and it was shown that the pit production was vital to the country, the committee would make up the losses in that pit. I think that the committee was ready to give the colliery about 4d. a ton. The necessitous pit to 1885 which I am referring is a Yorkshire pit which is associated with a coking company. The coking company has been successful and making substantial profits amounting to £30,000 odd a year. The colliery is necessitous and is losing money. When the profits of the coking company are brought in to build up the position of the mine, the colliery still shows a loss of £38,000. That is not what was intended when Parliament passed these Orders, and I am not at all satisfied with the conduct of the committees which are operating the necessitous mines fund. I want to see it administered by the Government Department and not by the people interested in collieries all round. It is public money and it has to be administered fairly. It is not administered in this particular case in a satisfactory way, and I want to see that altered.
There is another curious anomaly. It will surprise the House. I want the House clearly to understand that I have a slight interest—nothing substantial—in this colliery, but I want it to be clearly understood that it is not from that angle that I am talking. I am only trying to give an example of what is going on. This colliery is situated in Yorkshire. The men are in the Derbyshire union. The price allowances for the Yorkshire pits, which are all round this colliery within half a mile, are 2s. 11d. more than are allowed for this colliery, because the men are in the Derbyshire union. How can that pit be anything but necessitous when a situation like that exists? It is a perfectly ridiculous anomaly and it is that sort of thing which I think this necessitous committee should try to clear up. It is all very well to dish out money right and left as a sort of dole to people, but we have to try to be constructive with this money. We need to bring in a better spirit, a spirit of team work in the industry. This sort of thing engenders suspicion among people all round, and it is that rotten suspicion that has got the industry into its present position.
This may be an isolated cas—I do not know, but I would like that case investigated thoroughly. Then we can see what the anomalies are. I am sure that correct administration of this fund will do much to put stability into the mining industry. I am at one with my hon. Friends oppo- 1886 site in admiration for what the miners have done and are doing. They have had a darned hard job underground for five years, without that necessary recruitment of new blood which is so vital in any industry. We may complain, but I want to pay a tribute to the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary, for they have brought a better feeling into the industry during these past months than has existed there for a very long time. Let us try to build up this feeling and clear out the anomalies and so put the industry back where it belongs. I took this interest in this pit, although people said: "You have been getting coal out in the open," but now I have gone underground, and I know something about it, and shall be able to tell the House a little more about it in six months' time.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)
I would like to preface what I have to say by a few remarks to the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. A. Hopkinson). He has gone now. He will be putting questions next week about absenteeism. He is the greatest individualist in this House, and is the biggest opponent of trade unionism among the 615 Members who are elected to this House. I wanted to say that to his face. He tried to impress the House, and the public through the House, by saying that the miner got his coal free. The miner does not get coal free from one end of the British Isles to the other. Some of us—the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power, and the Parliamentary Secretary to. the Ministry of Pensions, along with myself—have made out scores of price lists, and in the making of them have had to consult as to the price of coal. I have argued for days on end about Id. or 1½d. per ton for the miner's own coal. He pays for his home coal before he gets it. The hon. Member for Mossley tries to make the nation believe that the miner has got his coal for nothing.
I want to say one or two other things. The credit for following this matter up is due to the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Foster) and myself. We have been after the "Bevin shifts," as some of them are called, for over two years. We can substantiate the statements that we make repeatedly that men, since the Essential Work Order has been in operation, have been sent back from the pits when there 1887 has been work in those very pits for them. I cited a case and I will cite it again—my own brother was in this—where 17 men went down to a district. They were down there for work at six o'clock. At ten past six the deputy came out, and said, "There is no work for you chaps; off you go." They would never have been told anything like that, if there had not been an Essential Work Order in operation. When these 17 men left, and the deputy went to see his coal face and haulage hands, he was 12 men short and he had to bring men out of the coal face to help with the haulage. The 17 men who had gone were getting 17s. 10d. a shift for doing nothing.
I will give another up-to-date case. I was in the branch room at my own branch a fortnight last night and the men raised this question. A lot of our chaps now come out of the pit with their lamp burnt out before they get to the coal face and they are paid under the Essential Work Order. They get there at 4.30, get a lamp out of the lamp hole and before they reach the coal face the lamp has burnt out and they have to come out. Whose fault is that? If these things are investigated as they ought to be—we have told the Minister of Fuel and Power repeatedly about such cases and we say that these are additional charges on this Coal Charges Order—if the Minister will look at the ascertainments for last month he will find where there is stated the amount of money paid out under the Essential Work Order for shifts that have not been worked, money which runs into thousands of pounds.
I put a Question to. the Minister about two years ago asking the number of shifts that had been paid for at Monkton Colliery during the month, at Brodsworth Colliery during the month, and the number of shifts paid for at yet another big pit in the county during the month. I believe it was the Parliamentary Secretary who dealt with it. He said, "You had better come down below and see so and so." I went and saw the person mentioned. He said "I cannot give you the figures for these pits separately." What I wanted to get at was how the Essential Work Order was operating at these pits so that we could bring the matter up, and if too many unworked shifts were being paid for, we should 1888 want to know why. I am asking the Minister to look into these things. I have cited cases not in a general way. I have cited two definite cases about men coming out because there was supposed to be no work for them to do. There was plenty of work, but the attitude was "We can take it out of the pocket of Gwilym," out of the Coal Charges Order. I hope the Minister will answer these cases, or if he cannot, that he will get down to the pits and clear out the managers, if they cannot manage the pits better than they are doing.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards (Caerphilly)
It has been said that this Coal Charges Fund is a screen across the industry, hiding what is taking place. To-night we have had from both sides of the House a slight tearing of this screen. If this House appreciated all that is taking place in the mining industry, and the threat it represents to the post-war prosperity of Britain, Members on that side would clamour even more than Members on this side for reorganisation of this industry. No one has complained about the necessity for a Coal Charges Account. It is highly necessary, to iron out some of the inequalities that exist in the geological conditions of the coalfields. But why has the Minister told us so little about the form of the expenditure under this Fund? One would have thought that with so large a sum of money, with such a grievous burden imposed on the consumer, we should have had a detailed report of the manner in which this money is spent. I know that we have had my right hon. and gallant Friend's digest; but here is a particular section of the industry, a particular sum of money imposed on the price the consumer has to pay, and so far we have had just a bare statement that it is wanted for wages and to pay the Exchequer. That is not the way to treat this subject. My right hon. and gallant Friend will only heighten the suspicions that already exist by treating it in that manner.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckrose (Major Braithwaite) talked about the necessitous pits, but he should remember that the mining industry since 1926 has been run upon this platform: that the lower the income into the actual mining industry, the lower the miners' wages, irrespective of what is made out- 1889 side, the higher the profit that can be made away from the pit by the owners. It is nothing new that the owners of the pit should lose money on the actual production of the coal to the pithead, and that they should go and make a profit outside the pityard. We had the alarming situation of a gas company as a subsidiary of a colliery company in South Wales. [Interruption.] I appreciate that I am treading on ground that I ought not to, and I am not entitled to take advantage of Mr. Speaker. The isolated instance that we have had from the other side of the House, from a very limited experience, ought to convince Members over there that this industry wants looking into very closely. Much of what has been said from this side has been regarded as propaganda, as sentiment, as being exaggerated; but when a Member on that side makes a statement from his personal experience—a very short experience—surely he ought to convince hon. Members on that side that behind the Coal Charges Account there is something which would warrant investigation. This Coal Charges Account covers the expenditure of the officials of the Ministry, I take it, and the expenses of the Ministry. It comes under the immediate supervision in the districts of the representatives of the Minister, and the Minister, in pursuance of his powers of control, has appointed, to look after production, district production directors. What happens? In South Wales the Minister appointed, as his district production directors, the colliery agents who were employed 13y the colliery companies. They work from the same offices, they use the cars provided by their old employers, they have all their own perquisites, their houses, their gardeners, their clothes, for which they do not pay. They have all these things, and they work in the same offices, with the same typists and the same clerks, and in the same region which they previously controlled for the colliery company, they are now called production directors, and this House pays their salaries—and we are told that that is control.
I think nothing has caused more cynicism amongst the miners of South Wales than their being told that certain representatives of the employers are production directors of the Ministry of Fuel and Power. I want to submit that, if we are concerned about the future of this country, no matter on which side of the House we 1890 may be, and we are concerned about the prosperity of Britain, we must tear away this veil and examine this industry, or, I would suggest, the prosperity of Britain will be wrecked again in 1946 by this mining industry as it wrecked it in 1926, and that, perhaps, may be the last chance, to which my hon. Friend referred—the last chance of the coalowners, of the hon. Gentlemen who sit on the other side of the House and of the system they represent.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)
It was not my intention to enter into this discussion, but to wait to a subsequent day when we could debate this matter in its full form. As this discussion proceeded to-day, the veil of mystery and obscurity has slowly but surely begun to lift. I should not have risen had it not been for the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Buckrose (Major Braithwaite), who said, and rightly too, that there is suspicion prevailing in the minds of the miners, the consuming public and many hon. Members of this House who are interested in the future prosperity of the coal industry. It is quite true to say that an over-abundance of anything leads to extravagance, and an over-abundance of funds upon which the coalowners can draw has led to a certain amount of extravagance. Claims have been put forward by coalowners for payments from this Fund which could not be justified by any hon. Member of this House with an impartial mind, but it is there and we have got to deal with it.
Why is it there? I put a question privately to the Minister of Fuel and Power, who, we all admit, has had a very sticky job. I do not envy the Minister his job. My desire, and I think the desire of every hon. Member of this House, is—and if it is not, it should be—to help him in every conceivable way to face the colossal task he has undertaken. I put a question to the Minister privately about how he checked up on the claims that were made to his Department under the Coal Charges Order Fund, and he told me that they were checked up by the auditors in the district and by his Department. But let us start at the source. What do we find prevailing in the district? That some of the auditors for the coalowners in the district are also the auditors for the men, and vice versa. That, to my mind, is a serious state of affairs. 1891 These auditors ought to be independent. My hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths), with his illustrations of the charges that have been made against the Fund, at least convinced me that what is taking place in Lancashire is also taking place in Yorkshire. My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan) mentioned that certain things were taking place in the county that he represents. We must not run away from this, but be courageous and face it. We want the application of sterling honesty in this business and I think we can get it. It will not be by the expression of words but by deeds and actions that we shall get to the root of the problem of the mining industry. I have often said, and I say it again, that there has been a legacy handed down with which we have to deal, and I believe we can deal with it if we approach it in the right mind and at the right time and in the right attitude. We hope that there will be found time in the very near future for a full Debate, even if it is a day's Debate, on the importance of attempting to put the mining industry into its correct perspective not so much in the interests of the owners or miners, but in the interests of this House and the people of the country.
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ Major Lloyd George
The hope has been expressed that we might have a day to discuss coal and, as I have said once before, I certainly would not object to that. We have had many discussions on coal—
§ Major Lloyd George
— and they are intended to be helpful when they start, and I hope hon. Members will forgive me when I say that far too many speeches start, as so many have started to-night, with "I would not have got on to my feet had it not been for a remark made by an hon. Gentleman on the other side." How many speeches in this short discussion have started with that sentence? This is one of the things I wish to avoid. Charges and counter-charges are easier to make in a Debate on this industry than on anything else I know, and they will not get us very far. To-night is not 1892 the occasion for a discussion of that character, but I must refer to one or two observations that have been made. I have been told by the hon. and gallant Member for Stafford (Major Thorneycroft) that there is a screen which covers this industry which I and others are hiding behind and are doing some very funny things. My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards), I think, would be very unhappy if there was no screen he could look behind. But that is an extraordinary thing to say about the mining industry. Is there an industry in the country so exposed to examination in all its aspects as this one? Is there an industry in which information is available to the general public in any way comparable with this industry? Has there ever been so much discussion about the finances of any industry as there has been about this one? Can any hon. Member point to any industry of a heavy nature where there has been so much information supplied?
What is this nonsense about a screen? There is no other industry in the country so exposed to the glare of public opinion. The idea that this Coal Charges Account is the screen or, shall I say, the dope which the Ministry of Fuel puts out to keep Members from discussing the future of the industry is really rather fantastic—
§ Major Thorneycroft
May I interrupt? The right hon. and gallant Gentleman is using words like dope and so forth which I have no recollection of having used myself. I spoke about a screen, and I would ask him to refer to the speech made by the Minister of Reconstruction only the other day pointing out that when there are stabilisation schemes and price-fixing schemes of this type, it is impossible really to see whether any particular section of the industry is being run efficiently or inefficiently. Therefore, when there is a scheme of that type, is it not indeed appropriate that Members of Parliament should inquire what is going on?
§ Mr. Foster
Will the Minister agree that whilst there is a lot of inquiry about the mining industry, and a lot of Committees are set up to inquire into its running, that there is less known about the mining industry than any other because it is an underground industry?
Major Lloyd Georg
I would agree with this, that there is less known, and therefore more remedies are proposed by all sorts of people. [An HON. MEMBER: "But they are not remedies."]The real trouble is that there is less known about the industry, and there is no industry about which so many things have been said to put it right. I took it as my duty to try to find out what it was to which my hon. Friend referred. It is an extremely complex industry and I am asking for the advice of everybody concerned in it. It is easy enough to say it wants reorganising and needs a comprehensive scheme, but first of all let us find out what is necessary. That is not going to be done in six weeks.
Major Lloyd Georg
I can assure the hon. Member that if he nationalises it tomorrow he will not get rid of the responsibility of doing something with this industry. [An HON. MEMBER: "Get rid of the owners."]With great respect to my hon. Friend, it does not matter who owns this industry. I make this prediction, that whoever stands at this Box, whether he is a Minister with a private enterprise or State-owned enterprise, he will have exactly the same problems as those with which I am faced. It is no good putting our heads in the sand about that. The industry has to be economically and efficiently run, whoever owns it. When I said that my hon. Friend behind me used the word "screen," I said that no industry in the country was so open to the glare of the public.
§ Mr. Grenfell
I wanted to speak about some of the things which are now being brought forward by the Minister, and I was told that it would not be in Order to-night. Has not a screen been thrown round the activities of the industry during the last few days? The whole responsibility for the falling of output has been put upon the men and upon absenteeism. I should have liked to deal with that to-night. I think the time has come when we must discuss the larger problems. There will be no industry left soon unless we do tackle it. The Minister is now putting a screen across these matters by raising these side issues.
§ Major Lloyd George
With great respect. I am not doing anything of the 1894 sort My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly said that I had not told the House anything about the reason for raising the levy from 8s. to 12s. But this Fund has been going on for a long time. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary gave a full explanation last time as to the reasons for raising the levy to 8s., and to-night I gave the reasons for raising it by another 4s. It is to meet the Porter award, and the agreement which was signed in April, and the indebtedness to the Exchequer which has been incurred. The vast proportion of this increase is directly due to wages. I share the view of hon. Members opposite who have said that the result of this has been to double the production costs of coal. But nobody would wish to see coal again raised at the price at which it used to be raised, at the expense of the men who raise it. As wages form the largest part of the costs of production of coal it can be said that if the price of coal has doubled then, roughly speaking, wages have doubled. The great proportion of this 12s. levy is to meet wages and other conditions, such as the guaranteed wage and so on.
One or two points have been made in regard to the investigation of abuses of the Essential Work Order. I am most anxious that if there are any abuses they should be stopped. Investigation is made by the director at the regional office and accountants are sent to see what the cause is. Of this 12s., only 2d. or 1½d. goes in this way, but, as I have said, if there are abuses they should be checked, even although only a small sum of money is involved.
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor
I want to be clear on this point. The important thing to us is that when men are sent home and paid under the Essential Work Order they have not produced any coal, so that output per man goes down.
§ Major Lloyd George
There is, it is true, loss of output, and I am anxious to stop that as much as possible. When I get notice of cases I investigate them. I was asked what check there is on questions concerning necessitous undertakings. On the whole, I do not think the scheme is working too badly. From that side of the House it is suggested that they are paid too much and from this side it is suggested that they are paid too little, so, taking the matter as a whole, it is probably not working too badly. An hon. Member 1895 said it was unfair, but we have responsibilities and the undertaking as a whole must be looked at. It is true that a pit may in itself be losing but the undertaking as a whole may not be unprosperous, and so we are entitled to take that into account when we are disposing of money in this way. I do not think it is unfair. Investigation is by accountants. In all cases they act independently and are paid by the Ministry. Our own production people can have their technical inspections. The district committee to which recommendations go has the regional controller and regional production director sitting on it, and there is also the headquarters committee of which the chairman is a member of the Ministry. These committees have the right to impose financial and technical control upon any undertaking which gets this assistance.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
But the committees are not representative of both sides of the industry. They are committees of the owners.
§ Major Lloyd George
A district committee consists of members nominated by the district executive board, with the regional controller of the Ministry and his production director. So there is, at any rate, my representative with his technical adviser on the committee.
§ Major Lloyd George
No, but investigation is by accountants paid by the Ministry, and there is such a thing as the pit production committee, if necessary.
§ Major Lloyd George
But that committee can make up its mind about what is going on. My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly is full of suspicion about group production directors. Where would he go for technical men outside the industry?
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
I am suspicious. I would not do what the Minister has done —take a colliery company representative and let him work in the same office, have the same perquisites and control the same collieries as he did before, and pay him his salary. I should at least have the 1896 decency to transfer him to another part of the country, to collieries in which he did not have an interest previously and would not have an interest after the war.
§ Major Lloyd George
In other words, the hon. Member would transfer a man who knows the district very well to a place in which he has never worked, and that would be for the benefit of coal production. There is a special problem with regard to South Wales that sixty per cent. of the coal is in the control of one undertaking. The purpose of this is to give the best technical advice and the best administration to collieries not so fortunately placed. [Interruption.] The hon. Member must really control himself. [Interruption.] In that case it is no good discussing it with him any further. He thinks it is a terrible thing that these men should sit in the same office. The whole purpose of it was that all the technical advantages which the more efficient undertakings have should be extended to others. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member does not want to be at cross purposes, he is giving an extremely good imitation of it. The fact that in his district there happens to be a large group does not alter the fact that in the rest of the country it is not so in every case. It is an advantage to a small undertaking to get it, and that is the purpose of the whole thing. Whatever the hon. Member says, the purpose is to extend technical knowledge to other undertakings. Whatever the future of the industry is, something of that sort will have to be done. This is an attempt to see how it will work. It is an experiment in the early stages. I am quite prepared to learn by the experience that we gain. If the hon. Member has cases of abuse of this necessitous undertakings grant, I should be grateful if he would bring them to my notice. I shall be very glad, if there are cases of abuse, to come across them, because the purpose of this is very serious—to keep pits producing coal for the national interest which may be losing money. If that is being abused, I shall be more than grateful to have cases brought to my notice and I will pursue them to the end.
§ Mr. Foster
The Minister has asked me for individual cases. How is it possible for anybody to give individual cases of the working of a pit which is underground, where there may be seven miles 1897 of roadways, tunnels, half a dozen faces working, and so on? One cannot give individual cases of the absorption of labour on work other than production. I asked whether, through the Minister's regional controllers, there is any check of this kind on a necessitous colliery. It is impossible for me to bring individual cases.
§ Major Lloyd George
We have the best check that is possible. My hon. Friend has said that there is abuse, and if he does not know of these workings under-ground—
§ Major Lloyd George
But if my hon. Friend does not know of cases how does he know that there is abuse? If he has a case, we will investigate it. If he only suspects a case, it will be enough. The sole purpose of this necessitous undertaking grant is to see that coal is produced, and I am as anxious as anybody, if there is abuse, that it should be stopped.
Question put, and agreed to.
Resolved:That the Coal (Charges) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order, 1944, dated 27th July, 1944, made by the Treasury under Section 2 of the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939, a copy of which Order was presented on 1st August, be approved