§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.29 a.m.
§ The Minister of Fuel and Power (Major Lloyd George)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
Fuel is a highly inflammable material, and one particular fuel is mentioned at the beginning of this Bill which I suppose has been responsible for more controversy in this and other countries than any other, and probably will continue to be for some time. But I believe, and I sincerely hope, that the purposes for which this Bill is introduced will meet with general approval. It is important, therefore, that the House should realise at once what it is that this Bill seeks to secure. It is to continue the Minister's functions, other than the emergency ones, after the period of the emergency is over. The functions which before the war were operated separately will, under this Bill, remain under one Minister, charged with securing their effective and co-ordinated development. Some hon. Members may feel that the Bill docs not go far enough, others may feel that it goes too far. To any hon. Members who feel that it goes too far, let me make this perfectly plain at the outset. The Bill does not provide for the continuance of any of the powers over industry and over consumers given by war-time Regulations, after the period of the emergency is over. It simply gives the Minister powers formerly exercised by other Departments.
Further, this Bill does not give to the Minister any power over industry of over individuals that have not already been given to the Executive by Statute. If there are any who feel that it does not go far enough, I would say this. This is a machinery Bill, and I think it would be out of place in a Bill of this character, to give greater powers than those contained in Clause 1 of the Bill. But that does not mean that the Minister, either in this 1114 Government or in any future Government, would not be expected to introduce policies affecting the fuel and power industries. I have already given answers in this House showing that inquiries have been conducted into the efficiency of the three major industries of coal, electricity and gas, and the results of those inquiries are either before the Government at the moment, or will be put before the Government in the future.
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman mentions the word "emergency." Can he give us some idea of what he means by that? When will the emergency end?
§ Major Lloyd George
I believe there is a technical definition, which I will not attempt to give, but I have a recollection that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gave an indication yesterday which most of us would understand. He said that we should have a rough idea when the war has come to an end. I believe that, technically, it depends on when the Emergency Powers Act ends. That may mean, the end of one war, or waiting until the end of the other war. But powers arc given to the Minister, and when it is deemed by Parliament that the emergency has come to an end, those powers will come to an end.
§ Mr. Erskine-Hill (Edinburgh, North)
Is there anything in this Bill which will make the emergency powers permanent, after the emergency has come to an end?
§ Major Lloyd George
I can give the categorical assurance that all the powers given to me or to any other Minister, as a Minister, cease when the emergency comes to an end.
§ Mr. Shinwell (Seaham)
Will the Minister agree that the emergency exists until the fuel problem is solved?
§ Major Lloyd George
Of course I accept that entirely, but one assumes—and that is the purpose of this Bill—that whoever holds my office, whether one of my successors or myself, will be seized of this fact, and will bring to this House, as he ought to bring to the House, his proposals. That seems to be the proper way to put it on a permanent basis. There is no question of the emergency powers continuing after the emergency comes to an end. Indeed, any proposals which the Minister of the day may wish to see car- 1115 ried out as a result of the inquiries which have been made will, obviously, be brought to this House, and, if the Minister needs any further powers, he can only get those powers by the consent of this House, which is as it should be, except in an emergency period. I suggest, therefore, that the broad question indeed, almost the only question, which the House has to decide to-day, is whether there should or should not be a Ministry of Fuel and Power after the emergency has been deemed to have come to an end. That is all there is in the Bill, and it is all that is meant to be in the Bill. There may be a temptation, which I hope will be resisted to-day, to take advantage of the opportunity to have a Debate on coal. I suggest that it would be more useful—whether it is in Order or not is not for me to say—to have such a Debate after the report of the Technical Committee has been published—
§ Major Lloyd George
—which, as I announced the other day to the House, will be published very shortly. It will be available as soon as possible. When this Ministry was first formed in 1943, it was looked upon by most people in this House, and most of the industries of the country, as a step in the right direction. Indeed, many people went so far as to say that it was a step that should have been taken very many years earlier. Although it was created primarily to deal with matters arising out of the prosecution of the war, nearly all who approved the step at the time were clearly thinking not so much of the war task, as of the post-war task. Indeed, it seems to me perfectly clear that it is in the post-war period that the claim of the fuel industries of this country to a separate Ministry can best be justified. Hon. Members will, I know, appreciate that in war-time it is only possible to devote a certain proportion of a Ministry's resources to post-war or long-term projects. The Ministry was, of course, as the House knows, created to deal with the serious situation that was arising in fuel and power in 1942. It was thus formed at a time of crisis, and it has had to combat, or, rather, it has had to carry on, meeting the same difficulties almost continuously ever since it was formed.
1116 Now, this is not the time to go into any detail concerning what those difficulties were or what steps have been taken to meet them, but I can assure the House of this, speaking now with nearly three years' experience of this Ministry, that, to be able to deal with all the various fuel industries within one Ministry has been of tremendous advantage. Whilst, of necessity, most of the time of my Ministry has been taken up with seeing that the fuel and power industries played their proper part in the war effort, the post-war position has not been entirely overlooked, and I may, perhaps, outline what it has been possible to do so far. As I have told the House before, the Government is now examining the future organisation of the electrical industry as regards both generation and distribution. A Committee, under the chairmanship of Mr. Hey worth, has now been sitting for some time conducting an inquiry into the organisation of the gas industry. The panel of experts which was appointed to re-examine the Severn Barrage proposals has already reported, and I hope that the Report will be published next Monday. The Committee on hydro-carbon oil duties, under the chairmanship of Sir Amos Ayre, appointed jointly by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and myself, has also reported, and its Report is being studied at the moment. The Fuel and Power Advisory Council, under the chairmanship of Sir Ernest Simon, is looking into the problem of domestic heating. Finally, in regard to coal, regional surveys of our coal resources in all the coal-producing regions have now been completed, except, I think, in one instance, and they will be published as soon as possible. The first is actually at the printers at the moment, and the Report of the Committee of Mining Engineers, to which I have already referred, which is inquiring into the technical steps needed to increase the efficiency of the coal mining industry, will be in my hands fairly soon.
There are, as I know hon. Members will remind me, many other matters affecting fuel and power on which work will be necessary. As an example, I may, perhaps refer to district heating, which was referred to yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Haywood and Radcliffe (Mr. Wootton-Davies), the utilisation of waste heat from electrical generation, and in the field of oil the problem of home 1117 refining. There is, too, the question of the efficient utilisation of fuel in the future, and one of the things for which we can thank the position created by the war effort is the fact that it has brought home to many people the need for economising in fuel, both from the national point of view and their own, and there is a great deal of work to be done in future on that. To the post-war Britain, this will be of tremendous importance, both in regard to the problem of the conservation of coal resources and, because of its bearing on production costs, particularly of export goods. I cannot believe that there is any doubt in anyone's mind that we in this country in future will have to make better use of our fuel resources than we have done in the past. Indeed, fuel will be one of the biggest factors, it may well be the biggest factor, in the economic recovery of this country after the war is over. The industrial greatness of this country was built on coal and iron. Unfortunately, the very abundance of coal led to waste, both in its extraction and in its utilisation. The regional surveys, to which I have referred, will show that, while we still have large reserves, they are not unlimited, and, indeed, in some particular qualities, we are actually within sight of exhaustion, and I need not enter here into the problems that will arise as the result of exhaustion in any one particular area. Further, the securing or extraction of coal becomes more difficult year by year. It is imperative, therefore, that we should use this national asset as carefully and efficiently as possible.
I do not propose to go into any of these subjects now. I have already referred to the hope that the debate which we can have following the publication of the regional surveys and of the technical report will not be too long delayed, but I did feel that I should mention these subjects to the House in support of the proposal in this Bill to continue the Ministry of Fuel and Power as a whole into the reconstruction period. Hon. Members will agree that the range of problems affecting fuel and power industries will, at any rate for some time, need the whole time attentions of one Minister. I certainly have found it to be so during the war and in the last three years I have not found it anything approaching what might be called a part-time job. I cannot believe, if the House will consider some of those proposals to 1118 which I have referred in my speech this morning, that it can possibly doubt that it will be a full-time job for a good many years to come after the war is over. The knowledge I have acquired in that period has convinced me of the size and scope of the problems which have to be tackled, and, as I stated before, there is a tremendous advantage in being able to deal with fuel problems as a whole. I need only give one or two examples of the advantages of it in war-time. It was a tremendous advantage, for instance, to be able to deal with fuel efficiency and fuel economy affecting all fuel consuming industries in one Ministry. Many of the things which we had to do in order to increase efficiency and economy could not possibly be done in the time that they were done if they had been under separate control and many other people had had to be consulted.
I want to say once again, whilst referring to the war-time experience of this Ministry, that the war time powers lapse immediately the emergency is assumed to have ceased. Let me recapitulate the exact position in regard to the Bill, and, after all, that is all we can really discuss this morning. The all important Clause, of course, is Clause 1, but I may perhaps say a word briefly on Clauses 3 and 4, as they are the subject of Amendments relating to the number of Parliamentary Secretaries. The Bill, as Members will observe, makes provision for two Parliamentary Secretaries, because, as hon. Members will be aware, that is the position at the present time and indeed, is necessitated by the state of business in war time. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd) has special responsibilities in regard to petroleum and is Chairman of the Oil Control Board. His pre-occupation with these responsibilities leaves my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) with plenty to do in relation to the other industries with which the Ministry is concerned.
§ Mr. Lewis (Colchester)
The Minister has told us that the Bill does not perpetuate any war-time powers not governed by Statute. Is it not a fact that the work done by the Parliamentary Secretary deals with petroleum and is almost entirely dependent on powers not given by Statute? As this lapses after the emergency, why does the right hon. and 1119 gallant Gentleman want a second Parliamentary Secretary?
§ Major Lloyd George
If my hon Friend had waited I might have been able to answer that question. He will observe that the words are "may appoint." At this moment, as my hon. Friend is aware, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood has special responsibilities for petroleum which are directly associated with the war, and what I was going to say was that my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton has quite enough to do in connection with the other aspects of the Ministry, but I do not anticipate that in normal times more than one Parliamentary Secretary will be required. Coming back to Clause 1—I want to emphasise this point, because I know there is some apprehension about it—I want to make it clear again that under this Clause the Minister is not charged with any powers over industry or individuals which he does not already possess, and further, it does not provide for the continuation after the period of emergency of any emergency powers over industry and individuals. Any other powers which may be necessary to the Minister of the day, if he is to carry out the policy of his Government, must be conferred by this House, and under the Bill the Minister is charged with certain duties, the scope of which I have endeavoured to make clear this morning. These duties, I am confident, are those which were in the minds of hon. Members when they welcomed the creation of this Ministry in 1942. In the view of the Government, the task of the Minister of Fuel and Power does not end with the emergency.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
May I ask my right hon. and gallant Friend a question arising out of this matter with a view to clarification? Do I understand him to say that Clause 1 is merely a continuation of the existing powers, of the ipsissima verba used in the existing powers? Is that what he means?
§ Major Lloyd George
No, Sir. They are powers transferred to me from other Ministries which have been conferred by Statute on those Ministries. Other powers are taken by Ministers, including myself, under the emergency powers but all these powers cease when the emergency passes and the only powers that will then remain 1120 to the Minister of Fuel and Power will be those which in fact have been conferred by this House.
§ Colonel Clarke (East Grinstead)
Is it not a fact that the emergency powers come to an end when the Emergency Powers (Defence) Acts expire either by the effluxion of time on 24th August, 1945, unless renewed for a further year, or by Order in Council?
§ Major Lloyd George
I am told that these are renewed from year to year and can be brought to an end at any time.
§ Mr. Shinwell
There is some misunderstanding here and the point certainly wants clarification. As I understand the Minister, in the statement he made in reply to my Noble Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), he says that unless the House grants the Minister of Fuel powers which are now apart from the emergency powers, vested in the Board of Trade and other Departments, unless that happens, then he cannot avail himself of such powers and it is a matter for the House. If that is so, apart from the emergency powers, why is it stated in the Clause that the Ministershall be charged with the general duty of securing the effective and co-ordinated development of coal, petroleum and other minerals and sources of fuel and power in Great Britain"?How is it possible for him to do that, for example, in regard to the generation of electricity and its distribution, the generation of gas supply and so on? These were formerly vested, apart from the Emergency Powers, in other Departments. That is the position. How does he avail himself of this co-ordination unless he has these powers?
§ Major Lloyd George
If my hon. Friend will read the Bill carefully, he will find that Schedule 1 refers to them. It shows what powers are transferred to him, powers which at the moment are vested in the Board of Trade mostly, powers not connected with the emergency but with powers given by this House by statute. All that Clause 1 does is to make perfectly clear that the Emergency Powers are not continued, but that powers which are at present vested in these other Minis- 1121 tries by the authority of this House are now to be transferred to the Ministry of Fuel and Power.
§ Major Lloyd George
The Schedule gives details of what they are; in fact both the First and Second Schedules do so.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I am very much obliged. I see the point now. It is contained in the First Schedule; but, in fact, are not these all the powers that were formerly vested in the Board of Trade and the other Departments now being transferred to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's Department? In that case what is the use of talking about emergency powers—there are no other powers outside these powers?
§ Major Lloyd George
Emergency powers are quite different. We really must try to get these things separated. There is the emergency power under which certain things have to be done to-day—every Minister has an Order for this or the other under the Defence Regulations—that ceases when the emergency is deemed to have passed. All that this makes clear is that we are not attempting by this Bill to do more than take over from other Ministries into one Ministry of Fuel and Power the powers already granted by the House, not under Defence Regulations but by Statute.
§ Mr. David Grenfell (Gower)
Is it not the fact that it is not intended to take on any powers other than those that were given to the Board of Trade before the emergency arose?
§ Major Lloyd George
That is the position. We are not trying to use this Clause for perpetuating powers only given to us for the emergency. In fact all we are doing is transferring powers in order to collect them into one Ministry, powers already granted in the normal way to these other Departments.
§ Earl Winterton
I do not want to keep interrupting, but will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman explain Schedule 1, because Schedule 1 is in conflict with what he has just said? It does not say there "powers conferred only by this House"; it says "under any enactment or otherwise." "Enactment" means by an Act of Parliament, so will he please explain what the Schedule means?
§ Major Lloyd George
If there is any doubt at all on that point, of course I will look at it. I want to make it perfectly plain that the only purpose of this Bill is to transfer powers given by, or under statute, and it is not the intention or the wish to try to get into the Bill something which is purely an emergency thing. If there is any doubt about that, I will consult my right hon. and learned Friend and see that it is all right.
I do not think anybody would deny that the tasks before my Ministry after this war will be pretty formidable. There may be new and quite possibly bigger tasks, and the Government have decided that the Ministry should continue into the period of reconstruction something which, under the Emergency Regulations, the Minister cannot do. With the knowledge that I have gained of the problems that have to foe solved, I personally believe that this step is absolutely essential. The problems of fuel policy are interrelated, often closely, and their solution will demand the whole-time energy of a single Minister who can devote the whole of his energies to the task. In the belief that this view is widely shared, both in this House and outside, I confidently ask for its Second Reading this morning.
§ 12.0 noon.
§ Mr. David Grenfell (Gower)
We have listened with very great interest and with much sympathy to the Minister's explanation of the very indistinct and very uncertain position which his Ministry has occupied. I suppose the position is more difficult because the Minister has come rather late to perform the ceremony of the registration of his own Ministerial birth. Three years have passed since he became Minister, and we have never heard a word from him as to the extent of his powers. Now we are led to believe—and I think the Bill explains that quite fully—that his powers are no greater than the powers that could be exercised by the Board of Trade and the Mines Department prior to the time he took office. He has had no new powers except emergency functions, which will pass when the emergency goes. The Minister, then, is to give himself a kind of lease of life, with the consent of this House, which will carry him on beyond the war to perform only what was required to be done even before the war began. That is not nearly as ambitious a plan as some people had 1123 been led to expect, and I, at this late registration of its birth, wonder why the Ministry was born at all. Why could not the work have been done by the Board of Trade and the Mines Department?
There is really nothing new in this piece of legislation which we are expected to approve to-day. I do not say that because I have any disapproval of the Minister—the Minister is a personal friend, he is a fellow countryman, and we have lots of bonds of sympathy. But I really do not find the justification, if all that this Ministry is to perform is what has been explained by the Minister himself to-day. I do not know why we ever had the Ministry of Fuel and Power. I imagine that the Ministry came into existence in order to perform more efficiently—because of its greater power—the purposes for which the Mines Department was set up and for which the Board of Trade was given much responsibility in the past years. There have been many vicissitudes and many changes in this industry. The functions of the supervisory Departments have varied from time to time; I remember the Home Office was all powerful in connection with the mines for many years. All the legislation touching safety and health conditions, and the several things mentioned in this Bill, was operated under the authority of the Home Office and not by the Board of Trade. Under the Mining Industry Act of 1920 the Board of Trade was given very substantial powers indeed—not such modest powers as the Minister has led me to assume to-day. The Mines Department came into existence under the same Act, and these are the words which justified its establishment:… for the purpose of securing the most effective development and utilisation of the mineral resources of the United Kingdom and the safety and welfare of those engaged in the industry.That is a very complete programme, which refers not only to the production of coal, but to the utilisation of coal, to care and concern with working conditions, and to a proper use of the natural resources of this country. I think that is a very big programme of work indeed, and I would say that if the Minister is content to go on now, after having had three years' experience, with the same powers as were given to the Board of Trade and the old Mines Department before he came into office, then I do not 1124 think he has yet sensed the enormous difficulty of that post-war period to which he has referred several times this morning. I, myself, am convinced that the post-war period cannot be faced successfully without greater power than he possesses. I would compare the functions of the old Mines Department with the functions which are laid down in Clause 1. Not even the Attorney-General could draw the line between the implications of the words used:… the Minister … shall be charged with the general duty of securing the effective and co-ordinated development of coal, petroleum and other minerals and Sources of fuel and power in Great Britain, of maintaining and improving the safety, health and welfare of persons employed in or about mines and quarries therein, and of promoting economy and efficiency in the supply, distribution, use and consumption of fuel and power, whether produced in Great Britain or not.I say that all that could have been done without instituting a new Ministry. All that was in the course of being done, but the Minister says "There was a crisis three years ago, and because of that I and my Ministry came into existence." To-day, there has been established a large staff for purposes which are exactly the same as they were before the Department was set up. What is the justification for all this show and change of authority? I do not suggest that I do not want that power given to the Ministry; I want more power to be given to the Ministry, because they cannot give effect to the functions which justify their existence without more power. Coalmining begins with the getting of coal. It has been found necessary, after a long experience of carefree and irresponsible exploitation of the mining industry, to give authority to a State Department to see that mining shall be carried on under better conditions. If the Minister says it was necessary to bring in his Department three years ago, what will he bring in to-morrow because of the crisis of to-day? The crisis has not been solved, it is here with us now; the darkness deepens, the output goes down. In the main object of the production of coal the Ministry has failed badly in the last three years, and the Minister has made no suggestions how to improve production. What is the use of coming here today with window-dressing, asking for legal confirmation of a programme which, ostensibly, commenced three years ago, but has led to no result at all?
1125 I do not use these words because of any disrespect to the Minister. But why does he not come here and ask the House for the powers he needs? Why does he not say, "I must have more power"? I was a member of the Royal Commission on Safety in Mines from 1935 to 1938. We were a very representative body. Almost all of us knew a good deal about coalmining. There were mining experts, inspectors and engineers. There was myself, claiming to be nothing more than a coalminer. We did know a great deal about mining problems. But we were primarily concerned with safety. This House interfered with the mining industry, first, for the purposes of safety, nearly 100 years ago. You cannot begin mining, unless you have regard to conditions and safety of work. The Royal Commission made a Report on that which is worth reading. I hope the Minister has read it. It is a document which must come before the House one day, and the sooner the better. In our Report we said something which is pregnant with meaning and import to the industry:The basic principle of some of the recommendations we are making in this Report is to give the industry the opportunity of making a new start"—from 1905 to 1938 there were nocrises"—and disciplining those members who are not working to a good standard.We recognised that the coalowners have immense authority, power and responsibility, but the exercise of their powers and authority left many people working their mines at a standard far lower than was necessary for the purposes of good mining. As I have said, you can never have good mining, unless you have safe mines; you can never have good mining unless you have healthy mines. You must plan, and one of the problems of the Safety in Mines Commission was in envisaging the acquisition of mining royalties, whether we could plan the future working of the mining industry in better form than it was, when there were over 4,000 separate undertakings.
We have now reached the point when output is declining and declining. I do not know where we are going to stop in this downward trend, which is going to be very serious for the country. I do not 1126 say that the Minister is complacent, but he must get bustling; he must get people to take notice, with himself, of the danger into which this country is running. You cannot, by pettifogging economies, make up for a loss of 20,000,000 to 30,000,000 tons of coal a year. We are now running short of coal. Economies are praiseworthy, within their limits, but they do not solve the problem, and our condition is getting worse. If the Minister is to give effect to Clause 1, he had better get busy at once, and change some of his ideas. He must get down to the problem as a physical problem, one in which good mining practice offers the only prospect of success.
I wish the Minister every good fortune, and I hope that in the interests of the country he will succeed in carrying out the only thing which justifies his existence as a Minister. If he does not improve output what is the use of continuing his Department? Why give it any prospects of continuing to do nothing to alter the fundamental conditions of deterioration which we have seen in the industry for too long? It is no use throwing across the Floor of the House cheap and shabby gibes at the miners—yes, and sometimes at the coalowners, too. I know how little the responsibility falls on both sets of people, if conditions are fundamentally bad. If conditions are bad, no coalowners or miners can solve the problem. There has been a recent report on the state of our coal industry. A body of people were allowed to come here from the United States. They were supposed to be mining experts, and they were welcomed and given facilities for seeing our mines, and making a report upon them. Extracts from that report have appeared in America. We have been told by the Minister that the report cannot be made known to us. To-day, we see a report. Is it the right report or not?
§ Major Lloyd George
I will tell my hon. Friend how. It is a complete travesty of the report. The Government decided not to publish the report, not because of what it contains, but because of the policy of the Government not to publish such reports. That part of the report which has appeared—I have not had time to study it carefully this morning—that part which deals with the Government, and which is in quotation marks, is a complete travesty of the whole thing.
§ Mr. Grenfell
Does not the Minister now admit that it would have been far better to let us know these comments on the mining system three months ago? The people have a hand in this problem. The ordinary man in the street wants to know the truth about the coal situation, and the truth is that we are in a very bad way; we are falling so far behind America that the comparison seems to be odious. But before I go further I want to enter a caveat against accepting, without qualification, any report from America, whether the one issued is authentic or not. I would say: "Do not make these comparisons between British mining conditions and American conditions, because they are fair neither to the men nor the employers." But there are grounds for comparison, and a comparison must be established between the mining conditions in this country and in the United States of America and in Australia, both countries with vastly greater outputs than our own, and in European countries too. Having regard to the natural conditions here, having regard to our heritage of disabilities built up in this country by bad mining practice, having regard to anything, can anybody in this country conversant with the mining situation be satisfied with the results we have to-day? I say, No.
The Minister really must make up his mind. He will not do anything to change mining conditions. He will not be effective by trying to co-ordinate the development of coal and petroleum—certainly not coal. The Ministry of Fuel and Power began with coal, though petroleum has played a war-time part far beyond its normal part. Then there is electricity, which is under the care of the Electricity Board and the Electricity Commission. The Minister must not claim too much for his supervision of the electricity and the gas industries. They would have run just as well, if he had been an absentee all the time. I do not say that he is not planning for the future, but in the last three years nothing much has been done which would not have been done if the Ministry of Fuel and Power had not been in existence. I am very glad to hear that he intends to bring a Departmental Report before the House. There are technically minded people in the country who are very much disturbed about conditions, and I think they should be allowed to express their opinions and their expectations and I 1128 hope the House will very soon come to an examination of this problem of carrying out the functions which are set out in Clause 1:Securing the effective and co-ordinated development of coal, petroleum and other minerals and sources of fuel and power in Great Britain, of maintaining and improving the safety, health and welfare of persons employed in or about mines and quarries therein.I shall not go into many more details, but I urge the Minister to come to this House very soon with full information. Information should not be held back, because we do not like it. He should not suppress any report, as the American report has been suppressed.
Let us face this problem of the future of mining in this country. I do not like to mention a figure, but I shall be very much surprised if from January, 1945, to January, 1946, we produce in this country more than 175,000,000 tons of coal. That is less coal than has been produced since I was born, or rather since I began work 51 years ago. We are going back. Something must be done immediately to arrest the decline. Something more must be done even in war-time. If three years ago the Ministry, with its greater powers, had made up its mind to bring in as much machinery where conditions are suitable as it could have put in we should have been at the present time almost up to the output in 1941 and 1942. The output rate is down by nearly 30,000,000 tons as compared with 1941. I warn the Minister that he will get no sympathy from this House unless he comes forward with radical measures for the solution of this problem. If he finds himself in a crisis and has not attempted to do something on radical lines the House will say to him, much to its regret, that it would rather see his Ministry dispensed with than have the country left under the impression that there is a large body of people in London and the provinces who are doing something fundamental for the coal industry when, in fact, nothing of importance is being done.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Lancaster (Fylde)
Before the hon. Member sits down may I ask a question about the figure of 175,000,000 tons of coal which he put forward? I cannot believe that he really meant that to be an output figure. I think he must be referring to a net figure. The figure for this year is 194,000,000 tons.
§ 12.23 p.m.
§ Wing-Commander James (Wellingborough)
This is a most topsy-turvy Debate. I find myself listening to a speech by a Minister of a Government which I support which convinces me not at all, and he is followed by an hon. Member from the Opposition Front Bench who makes a speech with almost every word of which I agree. It is most unexpected and peculiar. The first complaint we are entitled to make concerns the draftsmanship of this Bill. Even the front page apparently does not mean what it says. Those who, like me last week expressed anxiety that a Bill apparently so contentious as this should be taken on a Friday, were surely justified when we read the opening paragraph on the front page. Again, the First Schedule has had to be explained. The hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) has rightly pointed out that the First Schedule is so badly expressed as to be unintelligible. The Minister claimed that the establishment of this Ministry had been generally welcomed. It may have been generally welcomed because of the promises which were held out at the time. The White Paper—Command Paper 6364—in paragraph 15 (a) set out the purposes in these terms: that the Ministry was establishedwith a view to ensuring maximum production to meet war-time needs. The responsible Minister will take full control over the operation of all coal mines and the allocation of coal raised.At the time that appeared to be a most desirable and necessary object, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the fact is that the Ministry has fallen down badly on its job, as the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) has said, and the results entirely belie the promises which we accepted. The Minister said in his speech that the Ministry was needed for the post-war period. Judged by the results I pray heaven it will not be allowed to exist in the post-war period. The Minister said that it ought not again to become a mere Department, but the hon. Member for Gower convinced me that it was highly desirable that it should, that nothing else was justified.
I have made the statement that the Ministry has fallen down completely on 1130 this job. Let me justify that statement. I have taken the trouble to get out the official references for each figure which I shall give. The picture is a most gloomy one. In 1943 10,000 more men produced 12,000,000 tons of coal less than in 1941. If we carry the comparison on to 1944, then comparing 1944 with 1943 we find that a further 2,500 more men were employed and that 9,000,000 tons less was produced. The decline has been continuous. Comparing 1944 with 1941 we find that with 12,500 more men nearly 21,000,000 tons less coal has been produced.
§ Mr. Austin Hopkinson (Mossley)
Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman give the House the corresponding figures for the last period of coal control in the last war? Exactly the same results were obtained: The longer control went on and the more men we employed the less coal was raised. Exactly the same thing has happened again. Therefore, it is unfair to condemn the Minister for carrying out a policy which was a Government policy and had already been proved to be rotten.
§ Wing-Commander James
I am referring to the system and not to the Minister. I beg the hon. Member not to try to lead me into making a longer speech than I wish to.
§ Wing-commander James
Not at all. It is the vicious system of Government control which is to blame and not the unfortunate Minister who has to try to administer an unworkable system.
§ Mr. Shinwell
This is a matter of high principle. I am not making any attack upon the hon. and gallant Member. The Minister must accept responsibility or divest himself of it. If he is dissatisfied with the control measures to which the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. A. Hopkinson) has referred he must say: "I cannot accept this position and I resign." Surely, that is the right course.
§ Mr. Erskine-Hill
Is the hon. Member saying that he approves of the figures that have been given and the results that have been obtained?
§ Mr. Shinwell
Not at all. Far from that being the case it seems to me that the whole case rests on this: that if it is desired that the Department should con- 1131 tinue the existence of the Department must be justified and it can only be judged by its results.
§ Wing-Commander James
I thank the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) for giving way to me. I was aware that we were discussing a matter of high principle and that is why I dealt with principle and not with personalities, and I do not charge the Minister—
§ Earl Winterton
I suggested that if my hon. Friend was so fond of the Minister and had such a regard for him he should spend the rest of his speech describing what a marvellous man he is.
§ Wing-Commander James
Let me continue with the catalogue of these gloomy figures which I was presenting to the House. Let us take pithead prices. In 1941 the average pithead price of coal was 24s. 0½d. per ton and in the third quarter of 1944 it was 34s. 5¾d. Then absenteeism, that is to say shifts lost: In 1941, 9 per cent.; in 1943, 12.4 per cent. Take the average earnings per shift. In 1941 they were 14s. 11d. and in the third quarter of 1944 22s. 2½d. Have these increased earnings decreased the number of strikes? Yes, to some extent, but they have continued on a great and disturbing scale. From the beginnings of the Ministry and right through its career assurances have been given by miners' leaders and others, but there has been no case in which a promise has been implemented. The figures that I have given are all taken from official records and are a most terrible commentary on the efficiency of State control. Every assurance has been belied. Why, when this has happened, should we accept more control? Surely the whole development of the war has shown that State control is a failure and the sooner we abolish the Ministry, and revert to a Department of the Board of Trade and give a fair chance to the free play of natural forces, the better.
§ 12.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Collindridge (Barnsley)
When the Minister made his statement asking for continued powers I was amazed that he hid his light under a bushel and did not show how he had used his powers. We had a Debate the other day on the Export Guarantees Bill, and a full case was made out to justify the continuance of the powers, and I felt that on this occasion the Minister would have offered some justification for his powers and shown that he had done something for the industry. A few days ago, one of his own controllers in Lancashire said we had got through this winter, but he shuddered to think what was to happen next winter. The official who made that statement was a most moderate man when he was a Member of this House, and I feel that his language was by no means exaggerated. Indeed, if I knew him aright he was not one for scaring people, but rather for under-estimating a scare. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman ought to have told us more about the outlook for the future.
This question of coal is not merely a war question. Speaking in my own constituency a few days ago I said that if Britain was to be successful after the war, we had primarily to deal with the question of coal. It is the basis of all we produce and unless we solve the problem, we shall be in great difficulties. I expected some explanation of how the decline in output could be dealt with. We have had this brain-wave emanating from the Department that we should go on to a 12-day fortnight, go for the clearing of the coalface daily and work one Sunday in four. If ever there was a case of the mountain having conceived and brought forth a mouse it is to be found in suggestions made to the country and to the mining industry in particular on this subject. By the sheer futility of these suggestions, the Ministry has come into more disrepute than any Government Department that I know of. I am sorry about it, because I want the Department to be a success. I am not asking for its discontinuance.
I have been a miner, and I know too well what the position was when the Home Office had the industry under its wing and then later when the Board of Trade dealt with it. I want a Ministry of Fuel and Power, but I want it to do its job. How does the Department deal with this matter 1133 of dual control. The owners feel that they have to justify their actions in the past. The owner's view also centres round the question how he is going to fare under this arrangement after the war and therefore he is not willing to make concessions. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Wellingborough (Wing-Commander James) speaks of conditions and bad control in the distant past. In 1922 the lowest wage in Yorkshire for surface workers was 18s. 2d. a day. In five short years that wage declined, with the abolition of control, to 7s. 9d. a day, and that was continued until the beginning of this war. It was not 18s. 2d. multiplied by six, but 7s. 9d. multiplied by four, which was the average number of the days in a week worked throughout the whole coalfield, and tonnage rates and various other payments were cut down. When the hon. and gallant Gentleman compares the decline of output during the years of control, with the years when control was done away with, I want him to have regard to that position. Also in an emergency like war, no new development takes place.
§ Wing-Commander James
I made no comparison with the distant past or with pre-war figures at all. I dealt only with the period of the existing Ministry.
§ Mr. Collindridge
The hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to the decline of output during the reign of control, but failed to refer to pertinent facts during the control period. The fact must be faced that, in war, no new pits are sunk. With the rapid development of mechanisation, there are longer roadways to be traversed in the old pits and maintenance men have to be employed supporting the longer roadways, and there is one of the major reasons why output declines individually and in the aggregate. I want the Minister to have regard to the poor transport in our pits. I left a mining district at half-past three this morning, and I have seen men going to their work at 4.15. When I was addressing a meeting some time ago, I was asked if miners were the only people on the face of the earth and I replied "Yes, at four o'clock in the morning." These men had to go long distances to their work and long distances have to be traversed in the galleries underground. The Minister should have regard to this position and arrange for better transport in the pits. 1134 There is a grave shortage, generally, of materials necessary for coal production.
I was alarmed at the wholesale complaints in my constituency of the shortage of timber. I am not suggesting that the management are trying to cut down costs, but if the material is not there, the employers cannot supply it, and the miners cannot continue coal production unless they get the necessary roof supports. I want the Minister to give some explanation. It is nothing to be ashamed of that the increased age of the regular miners adversely affects production. It merely gives an explanation. We are glad about the Bevin boys being selected from non-mining districts and non-mining families to do the national job of getting coal, but let us face facts. If these boys would rather be going over in machines to bomb Berlin, or going down in submarines to do a job for the Admiralty, instead of getting coal, there is no question of absence of courage. But it speaks badly for conditions in the mining industry. The figures are most interesting. In 1920 there were 56,000 boys between 14 and 15 in the pits. In 1938 there were 28,000. Despite what the Minister of Labour has done, now there are only 18,000.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)
This is purely a machinery Bill. The hon. Member must not go into all these details about Bevin boys.
§ Mr. Collindridge
While not wishing to go contrary to your wishes, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, surely if the Minister is asking for new powers, we should ask him how he will use them. In the case of a Bill of this importance, we should want him to tell us how he proposes to use these powers in the future. But I merely mentioned these points in passing and I will now endeavour to keep to your ruling.
It is unfair to be critical in this House or in any place without suggesting remedies. I have made a suggestion with regard to underground transport and I hope the Minister will give his consideration to that. I would also point out to him that in my district, I have constant complaints from the men that they have not the necessary tubs, or small wagons, to transport the coal along the roadways to the pit bottom. I also mention the need for better supplies of timber and roof supports. I further suggest that while we have this system of mechanisa- 1135 tion which has certainly been going on apace prior to and during the war, the continuing shortage of conveyor belts is a most important factor. Then I submit the Ministry has failed in the important question of man-power. We have had a small number of men who have come from other industries and the Forces to work in the pits. Yet on the other hand we have the medical suggestion that where a miner has fallen by the wayside through ill-health or industrial disease, and has been put off work for a short period, he should go out of the industry temporarily while he recovers. These men have been snapped up by the Ministry of Labour and National Service and drafted into the Forces and my right hon. Friend's Department have approved of this action instead of bringing them back into the mining industry. I am suggesting, in common parlance, that the Minister should "stand on his own hind legs" against the people in the War Cabinet, and make a fight for men for the industry.
I would finish on this note. I want the continuance of the Ministry of Fuel and Power but I want the Ministry to shed its hybrid tendency to stroke the backs alternately of the coalowners and the miners. That is not the way to solve the problem. We have to get to grips with this mining question. We have to decide, if more men are required, that we must get from the Forces the people who want to do the job, the people who are also able and willing to do it. I think the Minister ought to be able to suggest to both sides of the industry, particularly the owners, that there should be a new orientation with regard to the people working in the pits. Mechanisation is a heavy strain upon the miner, as compared with the old pick-working conditions that some of us in this House experienced when we were in the pits. Therefore is it too much to suggest that the Minister should be the strongest advocate of the idea that miners should have earlier pensions than people in other industries, because of the stress and strain of their work? When we are promised this report that the Minister talked about—and let us hope that it is not far distant—and when his coal controllers are shuddering as to what next winter is going to be like, the Minister should in all conscience take time by the forelock and deal now with the mining position, so that he 1136 may help in laying a sure foundation in this country for an industry which is so important in peace as well as in war.
§ 12.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Lewis (Colchester)
It seems unfortunate that the first of the wartime Ministries to come to this House and seek powers to make itself a permanent institution, should be that wartime Ministry which, on the whole, has been the greatest failure. I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) that the principal purpose of this Ministry, was to see that we got ample supplies of coal during the war and that it failed to do so. I do not want to go into any detail now with regard to the coal controversy, but I think that as far as the position of the Ministry is concerned it can be summed up in a very few words. At the beginning of this war we had ample supplies of coal and ample supplies of labour. Giving up our export markets because of the war increased the amount of coal and labour available for home requirements, but so little foresight has been shown by the Government, that men have been taken away, or allowed to drift away from the mines, until we have reached a position in which we can no longer supply the coal requirements of industry, or those of our households during the war. That seems to me to be a very lamentable picture, a picture which reflects no credit at all on the Ministry which we are now asked to perpetuate.
§ Major Lloyd George
The hon. Gentleman was talking about the Ministry, but the points he is making with regard to the industry have reference to a period long before the Ministry came into power.
§ Earl Winterton
When the hon. Gentleman is talking about the Ministry I hope he does not mean the permanent officials. Surely the Minister is responsible.
§ Mr. Lewis
The Ministry is responsible in this House through the Minister. I repeat that it is true that much of the damage was done before the Ministry was started, but the Ministry has been in possession of the field for some three years, and I think we are entitled to claim that they have done very little to restore the position which was damaged before they 1137 took over. I cannot but feel sure that they have in no way justified their existtence as a Ministry in regard to this vital question of the production of an adequate supply of coal during the war.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
Is it not the case that the Minister is merely a figurehead, and has no real power for the control of the industry?
§ Mr. Lewis
That is precisely what we are asked to perpetuate to-day. We have now got to a position so farcical in the mining industry that we have this lottery run by the Ministry of Labour, whereby boys are compelled to enter an industry which they have no intention whatever of following in later life, compelled to waste what are to them some of the most critical years of their life, in learning an industry which they do not propose to follow. It is no particular good to them, and I cannot believe that it is any good for the industry. The unfortunate thing is that the position does not appear to cause much uneasiness to the Minister. He always seems to be perfectly satisfied that the Ministry have done a good job of work, and that it is most desirable that they should go on with their existing powers.
I must confess that the other day, when he was being criticised because of the breakdown in the arrangements for the supply of coal during the severe spell of weather that we had a few weeks ago, I was amazed that he was quite indignant that it should for a moment be suggested that his Department should have foreseen such severe weather. Really the Minister and his Department must be the only people in the country who did not expect very severe weather this winter. They do not seem to show any foresight in this emergency whatsoever, and it is most unfortunate that in these circumstances the Minister should appear to be, at any rate, so very well satisfied with what his Department had done. I regard it as unfortunate that, with this Bill before us to-day, we could not have had the benefit of the report of the American mission. It is quite freely rumoured that that very independent body had some pretty sharp things to say about the action of this Government, through this Ministry, with regard to coal problems. I think it unfortunate, to say the least of it, that that report should not have been in our hands to-day, when we are asked to perpetuate 1138 this Ministry for an indefinite period.
While, no doubt, it is true that coal is the principal problem with which the Ministry have to deal, I would, before I sit down, like to make one brief reference to petrol control. I ventured to interrupt the right hon. and gallant Gentleman when he was referring to the question of the two Parliamentary Secretaries, to ask him why it was thought necessary to perpetuate the second Parliamentary Secretary, apparently to deal with petroleum, when the powers which he now exercised would lapse at the end of the emergency, and I understood him to say that he did not really contemplate that when the emergency was over it would be necessary to have two Parliamentary Secretaries. I want to ask him, or whoever is going to reply at the end of this Debate, whether he will now be willing to consider putting words to that effect in the Bill. What I would like to see, if he could arrange it, would be some words which would make it quite clear that the power to have a second Parliamentary Secretary was confined to the period of the emergency. I do suggest to the House that it is a point of considerable importance. We shall be faced with other Bills of this character. We are getting a most alarming number of Ministers, and I think there is a pretty wide feeling in the House that we do not want unnecessarily to increase them. I should like to see something in the Bill which would make it clear that when the emergency is over, one Minister and one Parliamentary Secretary will be sufficient for this Department.
§ 1.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Horabin (Cornwall, North)
We are all deeply concerned about coal production in this country at the present moment, and I think it fair to say that the Minister of Fuel and Power is as deeply concerned as anyone. He has on occasions made that clear in the House in answer to Questions. He showed this morning the extent of his concern because he told us that he had set up a technical committee, which expected to report to him shortly, and that he would let us have the report as quickly as possible in order that we can debate the coal question with all the facts before us. I do not see how we can reach final decisions to-day as to whether we are to have State ownership of the industry, or dual control, or whether the industry should revert to 1139 private ownership, until we see that report and are able to get some idea of the capital requirements that will be necessary in order to organise the coal industry.
The question we have to face this morning is a much simpler one than that. It is vitally necessary, in the view of most of us in the House, that we should have a comprehensive and co-ordinated fuel policy in this country when the war is over. If we do not see that the Ministry of Fuel is carried into the peace, one thing is certain. Coal will go back to the Mines Department, oil will go to another, and electricity will probably go back to the Ministry of Transport. We may, therefore, well have the lack of co-ordination and lack of policy that characterised the fuel situation up to the outbreak of the war. It is a matter of commonsense that we should agree to the Second Reading of this Bill, which merely gives us the machinery for a comprehensive coordinated fuel policy when the war is over. In doing so, we are not in any sense prejudicing the issues with regard to fuel, the fundamental principles of ownership, and that kind of thing. I hope that the Minister will get the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ 1.3 p.m.
§ Captain Duncan (Kensington, North)
The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Horabin) is the first supporter of this Bill, and I shall refer to what he said in the course of my speech. I approach this Bill from the consumer's end. Both I and my constituents are consumers, and I shall not attempt to compete with hon. Gentlemen opposite who approach it from the producer's end. Speaking as a consumer, I would like to tell the Minister that we are not at all happy about the Ministry. It was set up under a Statutory Rule and Order, 1942, under the Ministers of the Crown (Emergency Appointments) Act, 1939. That Act was passed through all its stages in 12 minutes on 1st September, 1939, and, except for the White Paper and a certain amount of discussion in the House, largely at the expense of the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell), there has been no real discussion of the machinery set up in this Ministry since then. It has now had three years in which to show whether it is the best possible form of machinery. Before the war, coal 1140 and oil were dealt with by the Secretary for Mines, who was under the Board of Trade. Gas came under the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade. They were both under the aegis of the Board of Trade, a strong, well-established and good Ministry. Everybody knows from discussions on the Civil Service, that Ministries vary according to the standards they have set up. The Ministry of Health has taken years to set up a real, solid standard for itself, but the Board of Trade, one of the older Ministries, has long achieved that standard of solidity. When the President of the Board of Trade says anything, he gets his way.
In these circumstances, coal, gas and oil were adopted by the Board of Trade, which was a well-established Ministry. Electricity was looked after by the Ministry of Transport. I never saw any lack of co-ordination between the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Transport when any question concerning fuel supply or electricity had to be dealt with. The hon. Member for Gower said that electricity was largely a question of distribution and of Electricity Orders; it had nothing to do with the production of coal and was dealt with quite satisfactorily by the Ministry of Transport. The new Ministry, which has three Ministers, was set up in war-time, as Lord Simon said in introducing the Ministers of the Crown Act, for a war-time purpose only. The Order in Council setting up the Ministry was purely a war-time arrangement. Now we have three Ministers instead of one dealing with fuel matters. It is a question of principle whether, as a result of the experience of the Ministry of Fuel, we are justified in going on with it, or whether the old system is not better. The hon. Member for North Cornwall thinks that the present is a better system. I am not certain that it is.
What is the record of this Ministry? I do not want to go into a lot of figures, for I am not competent to talk about the production side of the industry, but these are the facts. There may, of course, be reasons for them. The hon. Member for Gower will be able to say whether they are accurate. The average output of coal has gone down, the output per person has gone down, the public is short of coal, prices have gone up, voluntary absenteeism has gone up, fewer shifts are worked per week, more money is being paid to the miner for less coal, and the 1141 staff of the Ministry has increased. In 1941, the Mines Department numbered 1,177, and at the beginning of December, 1944, the staff of the Ministry of Fuel was 5,157.
§ Major Lloyd George
Most of those, of course, are petroleum people who are distributing petrol throughout the country and were there before.
§ Captain Duncan
Even if my figures are not strictly accurate, it is clear that there has been a great increase in the staff of the Ministry of Fuel. My primary question is, Is it really necessary that this Ministry should go on? I do not think that there is really any justification for its continuance and that there may be, on the other hand, justification for our going back to the old set-up which, on the whole, worked extremely well. The Mines Department was a very experienced Department which had, at the back of it, the well-established Board of Trade. The Board covered not only the production of coal, which was left, more or less, to the Mines Department, and the question of safety and the development of the working of the mines but the selling side, which is essentially a Board of Trade matter. The vast amount of oil used in this country is imported, and most of the questions arising in peace-time concerned importation and distribution. Oil again is a trade matter and not a production matter. Gas and electricity, too, are primarily distribution rather than production questions. I suggest that gas is a matter for the Board of Trade and that electricity should go back to the Ministry of Transport.
Much is said about co-ordination of fuel and power under one Ministry, but I am not satisfied that it is right. The gas and electricity industries compete with each other. They may use the same source of power or different sources. Electricity may be derived from water or coal. The two may compete in the same district. Is it right that, in such a district, one Minister, looking after both gas and electricity, should, in making an Order for the distribution of one or the other, have to choose between the two competing industries? That problem is likely to arise in peace-time, and for that reason it has not hitherto been regarded as right for gas and electricity to be under one Ministry. I should like an explanation of the change, for I am not satisfied that the 1142 reason for it is purely a desire to co-ordinate. The Ministry now has three Ministers, and there may be an inordinate expectation of results proportionate to the number of Ministers. I have shown that this Ministry with three Ministers has failed to produce results, and I submit that the test of the Government of the country should not be the number of Ministers, but the effective co-ordination of their work. I am borne out in this by an apt quotation from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health. The hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison), discussing the Water Bill the other day, jokingly suggested that there ought to be a Water Minister, although he thought, as I do, that there are too many Ministers. The Parliamentary Secretary said:I thoroughly agree with him. He suggested there might be two Under-Secretaries at the Ministry of Heath. He will not ask me to agree with him wholeheartedly in that. I feel that the idea that there must be a Minister, even a junior Minister for every section of the work, is not the best way of dealing with our work. I feel that in our Departments there should be Separate sections dealing with each particular problem, and that the Minister, with the Under-Secretary or Under-secretaries, should then be able to see that the policy is carried out, give information to the House and supervise that work."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st February, 1945; Vol. 408, c. 899–900.]I thoroughly agree with that view and that it is not right to have three Ministers for this job. It is not right to collect all the functions under one Minister and we should revert to the previous arrangement which, on the whole, worked very well before the war. I agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Gower that the coal industry is in such a state that it will take much overtime on the part of Ministries and Ministers to put it right, and to improve the lot of the miner and the distribution of coal to consumers, as well as to advance the general betterment of the industry. If peace breaks out too soon, the Emergency Powers Act may have to come to an end, in which case the present Minister would be left in the air. If the Minister thinks that some extra time is required to carry out the reorganisation of the industry I would be prepared to continue this Ministry with the present set-up for three years after the end of the war, but if, as is stated in the Explanatory Memorandum, the Minister wants to continue the Ministry permanently into 1143 peace-time, a new situation arises to which I would be very reluctant to agree.
This is a war-time Ministry. There are other war-time Ministries, and this is only the first of a series. We may have demands for the setting up of a Ministry of Housing, and there are also the wartime Ministries of War Transport, Food, Aircraft Production, and Supply. A principle is involved in deciding our attitude to the Bill, and it is important that answers should be given to the points which I have raised.
§ 1.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Torn Brown (Ince)
The hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken was good enough to state the record of the Ministry of Fuel and Power since its inauguration in 1942. It would be as well to remind him that, if he searched the records of this House away back to 1908, he would have a great deal more criticism to levy on the people who were responsible for the mining industry than he can levy on the Ministry of Fuel and Power during the three years of its existence. The question before the House is whether the Ministry of Fuel and Power shall continue to function, in giving the nation the fuel it requires. We have to make up our minds whether we want this Department. I am reminded of the old saying that we used to have in the pits, that "it is better to have the devil you know, than the devil you don't know." I am not, of course, designating the Minister of Fuel and Power as a devil.
In his opening remarks, the Minister made one or two very important points, with some of which I agree, and with some of which I entirely disagree. He said that there was more controversy about the mining industry than about any other industry in this country, or even in the world. With that remark, I am in entire agreement. We have had Commissions and inquiries and investigations, and almost every avenue has been explored in order to put the mining industry into a better position. It has been acknowledged, time and time again, that it is the key industry of this country, yet despite all the time and energy that have been spent in that direction, we are still faced with an industry that cannot give to the nation what the nation requires. The Minister said that the Measure which he was presenting to the House was de 1144 signed to secure more co-ordinated efforts by the Ministry. I agree to a very large extent with that statement. He went on to tell us that it was a machinery Bill. Again, I agree that it is purely a machinery Bill. Previous speakers have tried to make reference to the faults and failings of the control, but they have been called to Order by the Chair.
The Minister also said that after three years of experience he had gained tremendous advantages by getting into the inner workings of this mysterious industry. I agree with another hon. Member who said that it would have been much better if we had had before us this morning the Report which the Ministry had prepared. The two things might have been taken together, Unfortunately, that Report is not available, so we have to content ourselves with the position as it is. The Minister also reminded us, as we have been constantly reminded in the House and in the country, more so during the past two months of this year than ever before in our existence, of the terrible wastage of raw coal. He said no regard was paid to the complete utilisation of coal. On 12th October, 1943, I remarked in this House that an over-abundance of any commodity leads to extravagance unless you have it properly directed and controlled. Therefore, we have to pay attention to that aspect of the matter. We cannot if we look into the future, as we ought to do as a nation, allow this continuous wastage of raw coal when we can utilise it to greater advantage for the benefit of the people of this country.
The Minister also told us that the problems confronting the Minister of Fuel and Power would require the attention of one Minister. We are fortunate in having in this House not only the Minister of Fuel and Power but two ex-Secretaries for the Mines Department. My hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) has told us something of his experiences: no doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), who is also an ex-Secretary for Mines, will tell us something of his experiences, if he can catch Mr. Speaker's eye. The Minister also told us that there were new tasks lying ahead to be tackled and bigger tasks which had also to he tackled by the Government and by his Department.
The question which I am asking myself continually is: How are those new tasks 1145 to be faced? How are we to overcome the big obstacles with which we are confronted? How are we to restore the mining industry to something like the position it occupied in 1913, in respect of production? I suggest that the position of the industry to-day has not fallen from the clouds, and is not the responsibility of the Ministry of Fuel and Power or of the Mines Department since it came into existence in 1908. I repeat what I said in 1943 in this House, that the Government are responsible for the dire situation of the industry. We have to face the position I know that some people take a defeatist attitude but I am not going to accept the defeatist attitude. I am not going to accept the idea, which some people have been proclaiming, that the industry is dead and cannot be resurrected or revived. I say that the right type of mind, the right attitude and the correct policy can restore the mining industry to that position, and, can give to the nation what the nation requires.
How is it to be done? A short time ago, we had a Debate in this House on ways and means of making the mining industry attractive. What can we do within the industry to attract young men and boys? I venture to make a humble suggestion, as an ex-miner. In days gone by we have missed the mark in the training of highly-skilled men as engineers and technicians who could apply the best brains and the best mentality to the industry. Be it remembered that within the last 25 or 30 years there has been intense mechanisation of the industry. We have produced machines to mine the coal but we have never produced men capable of adapting those machines to the geological conditions of our mines. I could never understand why we should go to America and ask the Americans to send engineers into this country to tell us what we ought to do in our pits, and what type of machinery to use. I have worked in about 36 different seams in my lifetime, and I say that there is no comparison at all between American mines and British mines. Why therefore do we spend money in asking Americans to come to this country? I go so far as to tell the House that we do not need to consult any other country about machines to do our mining work. They are here and they can be improved upon, provided the Ministry will spend some 1146 money on the training of highly specialised men who can handle and design these machines.
I was amazed the other day when I read a report of a committee, suggesting that the sum of £2,610,000 should be spent on research into what we call aeronautical science with a view to carrying out extensive investigation. It is only for 300 students and is to cost £8,700 per place. If that scheme is essential, if it is important that that money should be spent on that branch of science, I submit it is essential that some money should be spent on the scientific investigation of the coal industry. I know I shall be told by the Parliamentary Secretary when he replies that that side of the subject is being developed at Sheffield Research Station.
There is a point I wish to put about making the industry attractive to young men. I was amazed the other day when I went through some figures and discovered in the case of one of the largest colleges in South-West Lancashire, which came into existence for the specific and definite purpose of training mining engineers, and of which I have been a governor for a number of years, that in the years 1920–21 the enrolments of full-time students reached the figure of 91, and of part-time students—evening classes and Saturday morning classes—623. That was at a time when we had a tremendous number of young men in the pits. What do I find to-day—and this is a very disturbing feature? Enrolments at that college last year for education in mining subjects had fallen from 91 in the years 1920–21 to four in 1943. There is some reason for such a drop in a period of 22 years. How can the mining industry be expected to be equipped with highly-qualified technicians and engineers, when the jobs that need doing are not made attractive to the men? It is well that we should face up to it. I know we had to beat down a prejudice many years ago against the introduction of machinery in the mines. We find to-day that the British labour movement is now agreed that, commensurate with safety conditions in the pit, mechanisation will help to solve the problem, but the machinery cannot be introduced into the pit without introducing also men capable of looking after the machines.
The British coalfield is split up into 25 districts, which are known to us in the 1147 mining fraternity as coal-producing districts. In six of these districts 90 percent, of the pits are producing coal cut by machinery. In five districts over 90 percent, of pits are producing coal conveyed by mechanical conveyors. Twelve of these districts—that is, over 60 per cent, are producing coal cut by machinery. On the average, 67 per cent, of the coal produced in England and Wales is cut by coal-cutting machinery; in Scotland the average has reached the high figure of 82 per cent. Sixty-seven per cent, of the coal produced in England and Wales is conveyed by mechanical conveyors, as is 67 per cent. of the coal produced in Scotland. I wish to emphasise that we shall require to have a greater number of highly-skilled technicians and more engineers, in addition to coal face workers, and if the future of this industry is to be assured we have to start training them now. We have allowed the days to go by, we have neglected the matter, blundered along with no comprehensive education scheme such as that to which I have been referring. Therefore, we must start now, and I submit to the Minister of Fuel and Power that he should give very serious consideration to bringing forward a comprehensive scheme of education for mining engineers, technicians, and all those required to continue the good work.
No one can deny that there is in this country a great reservoir of ability, as seen in the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. They have made one of the greatest contributions to the successful prosecution of the war. If we can train men for war and the destruction of human life, we can also train men for putting the mining industry on to its feet. The present and future demands of the coal industry will call for the recruitment and training of higher technicians, highly skilled engineers and highly qualified maintenance men, particularly if this broad scale re-organisation is brought about. Broad scale re-organisation of the mining industry is essential if the future of the industry is to be assured. I know there will be opposition to it, just as there has been opposition to all great schemes that have come forward, but I think that if the opponents of any scheme of a broad, comprehensive, educational character will only reflect, without looking too far into the past, they 1148 will see that a mistake has been made in not getting highly qualified men to carry on the work in the mining industry.
I was amazed the other day when I read a speech made by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and National Service. Speaking in Birmingham this month, he said that in 1940, when he was face to face with a tremendous task, and he had an investigation made into how many skilled technicians and engineers there were in this country, the sum total was only 14,000 trained men qualified to do the jobs that had to be done, in a country where there are over 5,500,000 industrial workers. Therefore, this question does not apply solely to the mining industry, but to other industries. There is ample need for the provision of specialised education for such persons. A comprehensive national scheme can be made attractive enough to draw the best men we have into the coal industry which is so essential for the maintenance of our commercial prosperity.
Some people may say: "You are putting forward the view that a comprehensive educational scheme could be evolved, but from where is the money to come—from the industry, from the Miners' Federation?" They begin to let their minds travel in all sorts of directions. My point is that if we have to put this industry, as we must, on a proper basis by means of this scheme, then the purse of the nation ought to be made to bear the responsibility, because the industry will benefit the nation in the days that are to come. Another question asked is: "Who is to supervise the scheme?" We have other schemes. There is the national scholarship scheme, promoted under the Mining Industry Act, 1920. That has not given to the industry what it was thought it would; it has fallen far short of what we tried to secure in 1920 and 1926. I would like to see the scheme I am advocating promoted, encouraged and controlled by the Ministry of Fuel and Power, because that Ministry is answerable to this House for its conduct and work. Break down the system of bureaucracy, deal with the matter on broad democratic lines. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear."] I do not know whether that applause from the other side of the House is ironical or not. Might I tell the hon. and gallant Member for North Kensington 1149 (Captain Duncan) that when I have approached young men who I know are possessed of the necessary ability provided they were trained, they say: "It is all very well for you to invite us into that realm, but when we have reached the peak of our scholastic attainments, and we want a job, we cannot get one, because those jobs are occupied by sons of mine managers and mine directors." We find that in the inspectorate of the Mines Department.
It is on my conscience that many of our young men in the mines would equip themselves with the higher technical knowledge which is required, if they could be assured that when they had gone through that training they would eventually get a job for which their education had fitted them. Therefore, I would like to see the Ministry of Fuel and Power coming forward with a comprehensive national scheme of education, in order that we may get the technicians and the engineers, for however we may try to delude ourselves, the mechanisation of the mining industry is going to be, not the solution, but a part-solution, of the problem of giving to this nation a product it requires.
My hon. Friend the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Collindridge) appealed to the Minister to have regard to the transport difficulties of our men, not only on the surface but underground. Hon. Members opposite sometimes forget that the coal face does not remain in the same position for more than one day at once. It is moving, and moving with greater rapidity now than ever. I was down a mine the other day which I had been down two or three years ago, when the coal face was 2,000 yards from the pit bottom. Now it is two and a half miles away, and the men have to walk all the way. That is what saps the energy of our men. It is not like walking down Whitehall. Walking down the pit is difficult, it is exacting, it takes the energy out of the men. I believe that when the lay-out of pits is tackled in the future—that is another point I would have developed if I had had the time—no lay-out will be considered complete unless it includes arrangements for transporting men underground to and from their work. It would save energy spent in walking, it would give the men a longer period at the coal face, and do away with a lot of obnoxious things which we are experiencing to-day. 1150 Therefore, it would help in securing the delivery of the coal, which is so essential. I desire, in spite of all the criticisms that have been levelled at the Ministry of Fuel and Power, that a Ministry shall be continued for the mining industry alone. I support the Measure, in order that the Minister may be given an opportunity of applying his experience of the last three years, to produce better results in the times which lie ahead of us.
§ 1.46 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel H. Guest (Plymouth, Drake)
This is a very big and grave matter, involving the whole future of one of the biggest industries of this nation. We are asked to judge on the experience of the last few years whether it would be better to administer the industry from a national point of view, under a separate Ministry, or under the aegis of the Board of Trade, by which it used to be administered through the Mines Department. That seems to me a very big decision to have to take, in a small House, on Friday afternoon, without a great deal of mature consideration. The experience of the Ministry of Fuel and Power in the last three years has been a war-time experience, and it has been subject, as we know, to a good deal of criticism from the coal industry itself. There has necessarily had to be considerable interference from the centre, for the purposes of the war. We are asked to decide to-day whether we wish this centralisation of control to continue for all time. We have to make up our minds what is to be the eventual situation regarding the coal industry. This seems to me to be putting the cart before the horse, because we have not decided what are to be the administrative arrangements for the coal industry in the future. If questions of bigger policy arise at a later date, as they must, the question will then arise of whether we have to have a special Ministry of Fuel and Power. But to come to such a decision to-day would be prejudging the great decision that the nation has to take later, on nationalisation or not nationalisation. I would very much prefer to retain the old system until we have made the big decision on the future of the industry, rather than perpetuating for all time the Ministry of Fuel and Power.
There are arguments in favour of a Ministry of Fuel and Power. The Board of Trade are going to be one of the busiest 1151 Departments in the State, and whether they will be able to administer fuel, light, power, gas, and so on, in addition to their ordinary trade and commercial responsibilities, is undoubtedly a matter for consideration. It is very likely that we shall come to a Ministry of Fuel and Power, but I think that to try to set up such a Ministry for all time, by a vote to-day, until we have judged the great question of nationalisation or not nationalisaton, would be most unwise. I do not think that the experience of the last three years, either from a production point of view or from the point of view of the general mining situation, has been a happy one. But we are not considering the results of the last three years; we are considering what is to be the result over the next 10, 15, or 20 years. It is not fair to judge by our first three years of war-time administration. I do not feel inclined to support this Bill at present. I think we should leave matters as they are until the big decisions of the future in regard to the industry are made. Then it may be necessary to set up a permanent Ministry of Fuel and Power. I hope we shall not he asked to come to a decision on this matter to-day. It is too big a decision to make, as to whether we are to have a certain amount of freedom in the colliery workings, or whether we are already to come under a system of control from the centre, such as we have had during the war. I would prefer to await the great decision on whether we are to have nationalisation or not nationalisation in the coalfields, before the decision is made.
§ 1.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
The hon. and gallant Member for Drake (Lieut.-Colonel Guest) and the hon. and gallant Member for North Kensington (Captain Duncan) were critical of the proposed Measure, but I would ask them to consider the position that existed before we created the Ministry of Fuel and Power. The coal industry had got into a terrible plight just before and at the start of the war, through our own fault—the fault of Parliament, and of the Government in particular. We saw men drift away from the coalfields, because there was no work for them, and the collieries were closing. Men were trying to get work wherever they could, yet no effort was made to organise the coal industry. The colliery owners were 1152 not prepared to go to the expense of putting coal on one side when they had no sale for it. Men were put on short time and low wages and starvation were resulting. When France went out of the war we had not coal enough, because of the policy followed by Parliament and by private enterprise, which was not prepared to risk losing money. Something had to be done. Those men who had gone away to seek other jobs were told to get back into the mining industry. Hon. Members should realise that once men get out of the mines and find jobs anywhere else, very few will return to the mines, because they find conditions anywhere else so much better than in the pit. Do not blame the Ministry of Fuel and Power for what happened, but base comparisons on the position just before and at the start of the war. If we do that, I am satisfied that we must agree to continue some form of control.
I am not entirely in favour of what has happened. I have much criticism to offer of the present Ministry. But the question that one has to ask is, What would one put in its place? I should have difficulty in answering that question. My complaint is that the Ministry did not seem to grasp the position as they ought to have done. I know the difficulties they have had. In production there has been a difficulty, because we have not had sufficient men, because, as my hon. Friend has said, the seams are getting farther in, and getting deeper, and also because of the hardship suffered by the miners through their having to keep continuously at work. When we speak of the fall in man-shift production and of absenteeism we should keep these things in mind. Before the war the men did not work regularly—the average time would be four or five days a week. Therefore, the miner would be able to recuperate, and to return to his work reinvigorated. Continuous work tells on the miner, and he is not able to attend as regularly as he would otherwise have been able to do. All these factors have to be taken into consideration in deciding whether it is wise to continue the present Ministry. My criticism is that the Ministry might have done better with distribution, and I think that that point is worth going into. If one looks at the top of the Explanatory Memorandum of the Bill one sees thatThe purpose of the Bill is to continue the present Ministry of Fuel and Power into 1153 peace-time and to give the Minister of Fuel and Power the necessary powers for the exercise of his functions both during and after the war.We should consider carefully whether we have a right to do that, or whether we could do something better. I am satisfied that we must continue the present system of the Ministry of Fuel and Power, unless any Member can suggest a better alternative. In the House of Commons it is not sufficient merely to criticise the present administration; we have to put forward something better in its place. If the Ministry of Fuel and Power are to continue, I want them to watch very carefully the workings in the coalmine. I do not think sufficient precautions are taken.
Let me give one or two instances. No attempt is made to shorten the distances that the miners have to go to the workings, or to make it easier for the miners to get to them. My hon. Friend has pointed out that the coalface is always moving onwards. Yards are taken off the coalface every day, and the workings are extended. What attempt is made to render it easier for the worker to get to the coalface? That requires machinery. Something has been done in that direction, but not enough. The Minister of Fuel and Power should have direct regard to that matter. We get constant complaints from the mineworkers that the coalowners are not taking the fullest advantage of opportunities of working the best seams. The Minister has a right to say to me, "Can you give me proof of that?" It is very difficult to give proof, and I can only repeat what has been told to me and suggest what is the feeling prevailing amongst the mineworkers. That is a feeling that the mine owners are, deliberately, not working the best seams, anticipating that, before very long, when the war is over, the mines will revert back fully to private enterprise. I ask the Minister to examine this matter carefully, and satisfy himself whether there is any truth in it or not. If there is any truth in it, regardless of what the coalowners may feel, the Minister must see that the best seams of coal are worked for the benefit of the nation at the present time.
Those are the points, which I wanted to emphasise, and, if I may give a word or two of advice on the future of the mining industry, I would say it should not be run by private enterprise under 1154 control. I think more shafts should be sunk. May I give an illustration? The division which I represent is in the centre of a coalfield, and I daresay that the miners who work there have as long a distance to travel to the coalface as is the case anywhere. There is a limit to that, and it is felt that the remedy is the sinking of shafts near the extreme point of the coalfield. The initial expense will be tremendous, and I do not see how private enterprise could deal with that. To my mind, it will only be under conditions of State control that that can be done, but it will have to be done if the fullest value is to be obtained out of the coal industry. These are practical lessons to which we have the right to draw the attention of the Ministry, because the public to-day want to know what Parliament intends to do. In view of the discontent and the trouble about production and distribution, the public is anxiously awaiting an indication whether we are doing anything about it to-day. If we allow a Measure like this to go through without comment, the Minister will be able to say, because there was little comment, that everybody was satisfied. The public are not satisfied, by any means, and I trust that, before very long, we shall have a clear and definite statement from the Minister on how he is going to deal with distribution by the end of this year, because there is much fault to be found with that.
Comments are everywhere made that distribution is not watched as carefully as it should be, that some people are getting an advantage, and others are not getting what they ought to get. If statements are made that so much coal will be allocated to each person, and if when the time comes for the coal to be claimed, there is no coal for some people, one can understand the feeling on this matter. I ask the Minister to tell us to-day, whether it is the intention of his Ministry to meet, before the end of the year, what is, I admit, a great difficulty. We are told that the dumps are practically empty now. When hon. Members talk about poor coal, I can tell them where it is coming from. It is coming from the dumps. When coal is stacked in great quantities for a considerable time, deterioration sets in, and great waste is caused, and this causes disturbance in the public mind. Will the Minister tell us how he is going to deal with this, 1155 before the end of this year, so as to give the public some idea that attention is being given to such an important matter? Although we know that my right hon. and gallant Friend is doing all he can to allay public fears, I think he ought to tell us something to-day.
One word which appears in the Bill many times is the word "function." I have gone through the Bill and have found that this word appears 20 times, and I have gone through the dictionary to find a definition. According to the dictionary, the word "function" means "performance, execution, discharge, exercise," and it appears so many times in the Bill that I ask the Minister to try to bear out that dictionary definition. In plain language, it means "Get on with the job." I hope that the Minister, when he receives this power to carry on for a further term, will do all he possibly can to make his Ministry a success. I am not prepared to criticise what is happening, because I know his difficulties. He is asking Parliament for powers to continue his task; we put our trust in him, and hope he will succeed.
§ 2.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Wootton-Davies (Heywood and Radcliffe)
I think my hon. Friend who has just spoken has put his finger on what the country expects as the result of this Bill. The country expects more action and more coal. The ordinary man and woman of the country cannot understand how our greatest raw material, our most valuable raw material, remains underground, and we cannot get it out. But I do not think we can expect any Ministry of Fuel and Power to be magicians. This coal has to be won largely by the sweat of men's brows, and we must be quite honest with one another. I am not a miner, and so I do not speak with authority, but I think that there is a limit to what mechanisation can do, and I must say that my hon. Friends on the other side, with all their experience, have suggested nothing to-day which is going to bridge the great deficiency.
This is not a party question. We are talking about something which is going to affect the whole future of the country—full employment, insurance and everything else, because all these things are going to be based on this vital material of coal. It is up to us, if we can, to suggest means 1156 of getting this coal in quantity and at a reasonable price, and I want to say, quite frankly, to my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), to whom I have always listened with the greatest respect and from whom I expect something very near the truth of things, that it is no good to-day repeating the charge, which is often levelled at the owners, of keeping the good coal back. I live in North Wales, and I have taken some very considerable trouble to inquire into this charge, and, as an ordinary man, whose life has been spent investigating things, weighing and measuring, I tell the House that I cannot find the slightest foundation for it. I think the Minister has said on more than one occasion in this House that we have no proof of it, and, if he had proof of it, I think he has power to examine that suggestion and take action. If it can be proved, for goodness' sake let him do it and let us have the truth. If anybody is holding coal against the country, I do not think anybody would say that any penalty was too big.
I cannot give any help to this House on the question of winning coal, but the country expects that some action will be taken, and I hope I can read into this Bill an indication that, at last, the Government themselves realise the serious situation in which we are placed. Up to now, I have found no great realisation of that fact. My right hon. and gallant Friend, following my talks on negotiations with the former Minister, the present Minister of Supply—whom I look upon as a first-class Minister, one of our best—told me that my suggestions for the saving of coal were all right, but the Government could not put up any case on a shortage of coal. This was three years ago. The wheels of Government grind slowly. That was the attitude of the Government then. Some hon. Members may remember that I was pursuing a lone course and had a lot of cold water thrown on my suggestions—[Interruption]—though not, I agree, by the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell). As I could not produce coal, I thought the next best thing was to save it. This Bill will help the Minister in his enormous task, for my right hon. and gallant Friend has not only to find coal, but to use it, and this House has to ask itself if he is going the right way in regard to the best use of coal.
1157 In connection with science and development, we find that every Ministry sends us a different ball—one a full toss and one a leg one, all over the place. I believe that as this material becomes very short, and very expensive, and it is undoubtedly both, we must get the best scientific brains in this country to work on how to use it. The Minister knows that, on more than one deputation, I have referred to this. I am not hostile to my right hon. Friend or to his Ministry. The country is not hostile to him, but the country is extremely anxious and the country wants the goods. I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us, when he replies, what is going to happen. We have heard that we are to have more and more Committees, but this situation is desperate. The ship has sprung a leak, and we want a collision mat to stop the leak. We have got to develop on the right lines. If you go to Liverpool you will find the gas company competing with an electricity company for the domestic cooker trade. This sort of thing wants tackling. The disease is now so serious, that any drug, any serum, any nostrum, has to be tried. The present Ministry, I regret to say, is not, in my opinion, an instrument to recover coal from the mines. I think it largely prevents the recovery of coal from the mines. The thing is top-heavy, and officials are defeating the object in view, I have been to one or two production committees. We will forgive mistakes, but if you get the Bill through we must get coal, and remember, it must be at a reasonable price.
§ 2.15 p.m.
§ Colonel Lyons (Leicester, East)
I do not think that any of us, whether we represent mining divisions or not, can close our eyes to the fact that this is a Bill dealing with a national problem. That is one of the reasons why I intervene in the Debate to-day. Like the hon. Gentleman the Member for Heywood and Radcliffe (Mr. Wootton-Davies) and others who have spoken, we must all realise that the whole community is affected by a thing of this nature, and no one can afford to sit down and fold his arms and say: "It does not concern me." This is a nation-wide subject and it has to be so regarded. This is an occasion when we have to consider continuing to the Minister of Fuel and Power the powers that he has had for a number of years. 1158 There has been general criticism to-day, and I am not impressed with the way in which those powers have been exercised or by the results obtained, and if the Minister has not sufficient powers to enable him to do the job, why should he not come to the House and say what he wants? An hon. Friend said the position was serious. It is, and it is idle for the Minister to say: "I inherited all the trouble; I did not make it." The Department was established to deal with it. What has he done to overcome the trouble? Has he ever come here and said: "I have no power to deal with the situation. This is the position with which I am faced. Give me some more powers"? Whatever he had asked for, it would have been considered, whether it was against one's theory of private ownership or not.
This has been a Ministry of complacency one day, and the next day one of apology. I fail to see one thing that has been done to ease the situation in the years that the Minister has been appointed. The failure to deal adequately with coal supply is a really serious matter for all the people. Speaking for myself—and I think that many others take the same view—I was appalled the other day to read a statement made by the Coal Controller of the North-Western Region, a man who before he accepted that position was well-known in this House, who was never given to immoderation, and who would weigh what he said in his present position very carefully. He said, in effect: "Grave as the position is now, I shudder to think what it is going to he like next year." That was not said by a Member of Parliament trying to put over one view against another, but by a representative of the Ministry, and probably one of the men best suited to express an opinion on the matter about which he was speaking. I hope that we shall have some observations on that matter from the Parliamentary Secretary. I would rather accept the view of that officer, as representing the true position, than the complacency exhibited in any White Paper published by the Ministry in Whitehall.
I listened with very great care to the observations of the hon. and gallant Member for North Kensington (Captain Duncan), who said that this was the first of a series of attempts to perpetuate a war-time Ministry. We ought to be very careful. We might not he giving the 1159 Minister sufficient powers. I was surprised the other day when he spoke of this being the sixth winter with which his Department had had to contend. The war has brought difficulties to this country, but there have been only two or three really severe winters in that time. He has been fortunate. Therefore, the trouble has never come to the surface, and the inference is that nothing was done to provide against the difficulties of a severe winter which might reasonably be expected at any time. We are perpetuating this war-time control and I endorse the opinion of the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis) that some limitation ought to be put upon the period during which a second Parliamentary Secretary is to be allowed to function. When my hon. Friend interrupted to point out that the figure of officials had now risen to something like 5,000, the Minister said: "Yes, but that has largely to do with distribution of petrol." That really will not do. We do not need all those officials in order to turn out the thousands of stereotyped letters saying that one cannot have petrol. Never have harassed travellers been put to such trouble as they are to-day in their effort to get the small amount of petrol to enable them to discharge their duties. I endorse the plea that the limitation of time should be placed on the appointment of a second Parliamentary Secretary.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), with whom I agree entirely, said that it is not right to criticise unless one can put up some better proposition. It is difficult for those who have seen the trouble, and know how the community are dissatisfied with the position, and of how the Ministry has failed for years, to put up concrete proposals. It is not our job to do it. We have not the ability to do it, but we can say that something should be done by those who have the skill, technique and vision to remedy the position. The Ministry should embody and mobilise all that. If they cannot do it they should say so. The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell), former Secretary for Mines, had much experience of applications that were made for skilled miners or skilled distributors to be allowed to come out of the Army and to go back to their nationally important job. A man getting coal or distributing coal is employed on a job of first-class 1160 national importance and he should take second place to nothing. That was recognised years ago. But my hon. Friend was hamstrung and I know had no power to say: "I, as Minister, say that this man should go back to the mines." These skilled men ought to be regarded as doing work of prime national importance and go back to the mines. We have put letters in time after time urging that he should do this, that or the other and he has had to go to the War Cabinet, of which he is not a member.
We should stop blaming the technician. He appreciates the seriousness of the situation. Those who are charged with handling and facing up to the situation should have the power to take action and remove from the country the grave anxieties it has suffered in previous years. It is not sufficient to say, "Do not use so much coal" or "The transportation of coal is bad." It was an appalling excuse for the Minister to say that he expected the position to arise, and that it was not the coal that was missing, but the transport. I would commend to him the volume of transportation of coal effected by the troops in Italy where they have succeeded when facing difficulties which this country has not experienced at all. I urge the Minister to take these powers, and if they are not sufficient, he should come for more. He should put an end to the series of delays and procrastinations and of apologies and complacencies that we have had to face in the last few years, and resolutely deal with this problem in the general interests of all, Let us remember that in peace or war this is a vital commodity and let the serious problem be tackled and treated accordingly.
§ 2.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
When the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis) was criticising the Department of the Minister I interjected to say that probably it did not have sufficient power. He said that all this Bill was doing was to continue the existing power. That is not the case. This Bill contains the very important principle that the Ministry should continue after the war is over. I support that principle, but all the time will go on demanding that actual power be placed in the hands of the Minister. The Ministry will never be able to function until the Minister gets such power. I have had discussions with the Fuel Controller in 1161 Scotland and his associates. He controls all the pits in Scotland, but who controls the men? The managers. And who controls the managers? The coalowners. When the men are not at the pit and the manager is away, when nobody is there, then the Fuel Controller is in full control and he can get all the coal he wants or can dig. The Fuel Controller has no control whatever as far as production of coal is concerned, and the Minister has no control. Until we get rid of dual control we will not be able to do anything with the Ministry. Clause I of the Bill is very ambitious. Look at the general duty of the Minister. It is the dutyof securing the effective and co-ordinated development of coal, petroleum and other minerals and sources of fuel and power in Great Britain.It reminds me of the story of the lad who had an aspiration to be a lion tamer. He got a whip, he got a well-braided uniform, he had a look at the lions and he decided to keep tame rabbits. The Minister has a first Clause of the most far-reaching character, but when he comes up against the lions, the coalowners, he has no proposition to make at all, nothing for dealing with them. We can never get the coal that is necessary until we get the coalowners out of the picture.
Major Lloyd (Renfrew, East)
The hon. Gentleman has used the simile that the lions are the coalowners. Perhaps he would admit that most of the roaring has come from the miners.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Here is an instance of the utter lack of understanding of this industry on the part of Members opposite who go round the country, as the hon. and gallant Member has been going round the country, talking in the most voluble manner about subjects which they do not understand in the slightest degree. I am not concerned whether a lion roars or a rabbit keeps quiet but I am very concerned about which of them tears, rends and eats up the food when food is very limited. I do not care whether the hon. and gallant Member suggests that the miners roar more loudly than the coalowners. If they do, it is because they are hungrier than the coalowners, for the coalowners are continually grabbing everything that is available from out of the industry. They are the lions all right as far as voracious appetites are concerned.
1162 The Minister comes along and says that this Bill is a step in the right direction. I believe that I have heard that somewhere before. I have recollections of my boyhood and of the politicians going round representing the now vanishing Liberal Party, because I was brought up in a strictly Liberal town; I have a recollection about 50 years ago of Liberal politicians coming round and the old folk telling me that So-and-so had said such-and-such a thing, and that that was a step in the right direction. How do we know that it is a step in the right direction unless we know what the direction is? Will the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary tell us what the direction is? After the Minister told us that it was a step in the right direction, the hon. and gallant Member for North Kensington (Captain Duncan) asked: "Why do we not go back to the old conditions?" I say, and hon. Members on this side say, that the ultimate and the best solution is nationalisation. But what is the direction in the mind of the Minister? Will the Parliamentary Secretary tell us whether it is backward, to the old conditions, or forward to nationalisation, or does the Minister want to do a balancing act between the two of them? If he is doing a balancing act, he had better watch his step unless he is sure there is a net below him. The situation at present is utterly untenable. Dual control will never produce results, single control is essential. Are we going back to the old conditions, or forward to nationalisation? The hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis) criticising the Ministry, said that it was utterly wrong to put Bevin boys into the pits because it was undesirable to have them spending the best years of their lives in an occupation they would not follow when the war is over. How is it possible that an hon. Member can come to this House with such—
§ Mr. Gallacher
I will deal with that in a moment. At present I am dealing with the hon. Member for Colchester. How is it possible to put forward such an argument when we have put millions of lads 1163 into an industry, the military industry, where they are spending the best years of their lives, though they are not going to follow it when the war is over? In those circumstances, why is it wrong to take some lads from public schools and put them into the pits? It is useless and shameful for hon. Members to come to this House with such arguments.
As regards the maximum output of coal, the industry is not organised, and the mine owners have prevented it from being organised for generation after generation. Do hon. Members not know that they have demanded the retention of a feudalised organisation of the industry, one district quite separate and different from others? There is no national mining industry. The Minister is a national Minister, but there is no national mining industry as there is the national cotton industry, the national engineering industry, the national transport industry, and it is because the mine owners have refused to allow the industry to be organised that we cannot get the maximum output. I say it is good that the Ministry should continue to exist after the war and, sooner or later, another Bill must be brought in to give the Minister the powers that he knows are necessary, and that he would be happy to use, in order to ensure that this industry is organised, and the best possible result obtained from the industry for the people and the country as a whole.
§ 2.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Shinwell (Seaham)
We have been asked to accept a Measure which provides for the continuance of a Department created during the war, and which it is intended should be carried over into the peace. One would have thought that in those circumstances the Minister would have sought to justify the present existence of his Department. Moreover, we had a right to expect that the Minister would enter into some detail as to the operations of the Department and its cost, and whether or not certain modifications are necessary. But on those heads we have heard hardly a single word. Judged by positive results, I would say that the existence of this Department should be terminated at once, but judged by the possibilities we, on these benches—and I am in full accord with their views—without reservation or qualification support this Measure. When I say "without qualification or reservation" I am not 1164 unmindful of the proposals contained in Clause I of the Bill, and the carrying out of those proposals. There, it is not a question of reservation, it is a question of direction.
Nobody in the House wants to attack the Minister. That has been obvious; everybody is so anxious to be polite to him. I have sometimes thought that one of the worst things that can happen in this House from the standpoint of beneficial legislation and progress is to have a popular Minister. We cannot get our teeth into him. If he shows the slightest sign of being brusque or rude in his replies to hon. Members, we can get much more out of him, but when he is nice and pleasant and non-combative and popular, it is very difficult to shake him out of his ordinary complacency. I am bound to say this, however, to my right hon. and gallant Friend, that it has occurred to me—for what it may be worth—that he has been a little casual about the work of his Department, as if he were not really interested, as if he were just a passenger. There is a precedent for that—so many people associated with the Mines Department have been passengers, flitting from one Department to another, taking the Mines Department in their stride, so to speak. It may be his manner—I hope it is—and that it conveys nothing more, but that was my impression. Another thing is that if we seek to criticise the Minister, particularly if we have had any previous association with his Department, we may be accused of seeking his position. One has to be mighty careful.
It is not easy in a Debate of this kind to disclose the inner details of some of the discussions that have taken place with regard to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's position and the position of some of us, but I beg the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to understand that anything I have to say to him, and about his Department, has nothing to do with personal ambition. I notice that my hon. Friend the Member for Moseley is not quite certain—but then, as he is always suspicious of everybody else, and is always ready to impute sinister motives to everybody, as, in fact, he has a cock-eyed mentality, one does not expect anything else from him, so I dispose of him, I consign him to the dustbin—
§ Mr. Shinwell
I think we are in entire agreement, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. The question of friendship between the hon. Gentleman and myself is certainly a matter which requires careful consideration; in fact, it would lead almost to a metaphysical discussion. I will leave it at that.
Let me make the position of hon. Members on this side plain beyond any possibility of doubt. We want the full coordination of all forms of fuel and power in this country. We want it because it is manifestly impossible to utilise our fuel resources, to restore our impaired trade, and, what is more, to build up a full export trade unless on the basis of the co-ordination of fuel and power. That is not merely coal production, or even coal distribution; it means electricity, it is gas and the production of oil from coal, and also the production of a great many derivatives which are consistent with modern needs. It also relates to transport. I cannot go into that, obviously, I merely mention it by way of illustration. It is so highly important that we should, as soon as possible, effect a large measure of co-ordination, not split the Department up into several pieces. That is not progress, that is going back. I beg hon. Members opposite to understand that I say this with the best will in the world, and with as much desire to restore British industrial prestige as anybody on the other side. I beg of them to believe that there is no going back to 1939. Does anybody want evidence of that? I cannot discuss the Report published recently by Mr. Foot, but I mention it to illustrate my argument. The very fact that Mr. Foot and 95 per cent. of the mine owners in this country have accepted his Report, which is such an advance on the position of 1939, proves that there is no going back. Everybody recognises that we must go forward
1166 What was the position, not when my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) occupied the post of Secretary for Mines in that truncated Department, but before the war? I was myself Minister for Mines in 1924 and subsequently, after a short period at the War Office, in 1931. I had no Parliamentary Secretary; the work had to be done by the Minister. Incidentally, may I observe—this may dispose of one of the points that has been raised—I am satisfied from my experience of the Department that even at the highest peak of operations, it is not necessary to have more than one Parliamentary Secretary.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I notice that my right hon. and gallant Friend approves, and I am glad that it is not obligatory, that it is permissive. I hope we shall take advantage of that. But what was the position before the war, when the Minister was the Minister for Mines, or Secretary for Mines, or whatever he cared to call himself? Sometimes he was called the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade by those who wished in some way to denigrate him and his position. Usually he described himself as, "Minister for Mines." The position was this: He was responsible for coal production, but only in a limited degree. He dealt with safety and welfare, but still only in a limited degree. He had no powers worth talking about and in the adumbration of policy he had no say at all; he always had to go to the Board of Trade.
When I was at the Ministry of Mines—and perhaps the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. A. Hopkinson) will accept this from me—I had certain ideas, but I could never get them across without the consent of the President of the Board of Trade. Nothing could be done. Electricity, gas, and even oil, were matters that were the concern of other Departments. I can remember the trouble we had in 1924, when we tried to revive the Fuel Research Department, which was set up in the last war, and was starved afterwards. Do hon. Members opposite say that we must not go on with our war-time experiments? I beg them to realise what happened then. We set up that Department in order to discovered oil from coal but after the war, through the Geddes "axe," economy scares, and the like, we deprived that Department of much needed money 1167 for experimental purposes. Look what Germany did, and see how she profited by the production of synthetic oil. We might have done as well. I had to go to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, then Mr. Philip Snowden, and beg him to give me £30,000 to restart the Department. The Treasury officials said, "No," which is, of course, customary with them.
Now that we see an opportunity for coordinating the various activities—coal production, distribution and, possibly, the production of oil from coal, the generation of electricity and its distribution, and the production of gas—in one field, because they are closely related, I do not see why hon. Members should object to it. I can hardly believe it is political prejudice; I believe it is due to a complete misunderstanding of our national economy when peace comes. We shall have to face formidable competitors throughout the world after the war, and we cannot afford to neglect any of our resources. Now, the Minister comes along, as he did to-day, like a modern Columbus, and tells us about the committees which have been set up, the discoveries which have been made and the experiments which are going on. One would have thought that this had never happened before. We have had a plethora of committees of investigation, Departmental and otherwise, Royal Commissions and the like, over and over again. There is as much evidence, accumulated before the war, on the subject of the technical, commercial, and other needs of the mining industry, associated with fuel and power, without resort to any of the new committees and their operations and inquiries, as would enable the Minister, if he had the power, to proceed wholeheartedly in the right direction. We do not require more evidence.
There has been some reference to-day to the American report. At no time have I asked for the production of the American report. That may be noted. One reason is that, quite frankly, I do not care two hoots for American opinion. I am not going to take my instructions from America. I am prepared to rely on the opinion of British technicians. The fact that Americans come to this country and tell us how to run our industries is a piece of first-class impudence. What would they say if we went to America, and told them how to run their industries? 1168 It is going a bit too far. However, that is probably a matter of high controversy, and I will leave it. We do not need to have recourse to these reports. We have all the information at our disposal. When the Minister comes forward and talks in a "high falutin" way of the number of committees he has in being, and how he is going to produce reports, I say that that does not impress me a bit—
§ Mr. Shinwell
I cannot tell how many reports I have read on the coal industry, but to read them now bores me stiff, because they are just repetition. Still, one hopes for the best. Now I come to what is the crux of the whole problem. The Minister produces a Measure, and Clause 1 says:It shall be lawful for His Majesty to appoint a Minister of Fuel and Power….who shall be charged with the general duty of securing the effective and co-ordinated development of coal, petroleum and other minerals and sources of fuel and power in Great Britain, of maintaining and improving the safety, health and welfare of persons employed in or about mines and quarries therein, and of promoting economy and efficiency in the supply, distribution, use and consumption of fuel and power, whether produced in Great Britain or not.That is a healthy undertaking. The Minister did not tell us to-day how he was going to carry this out. How is he going to effect this co-ordination? Does anybody imagine that it will be done simply by disposing of the emergency powers he has acquired during the war, and upon which the existing co-ordination is based? Take those powers away and there is no co-ordination at all, unless the Minister gets legislation from this House. Is he coming forward to ask for powers to effect a healthy co-ordination? Does he understand what it involves? I will tell him. You cannot get healthy and effective coordination of all forms of fuel and power of this country unless you think of it in terms of a public service. I will give one reason why. It is because of the immense financial commitments that are involved. How do you think you are going to tackle production of oil from coal, build up the various plastics industries from coal and its derivatives, build up a healthy electricity supply which will cover not only industrial users, but which can be brought within the reach of every agricultural village and cottage and can be used for the purpose of transforming our agricultural industries?
1169 What about gas? Consider the almost unlimited possibilities of a gas grid on a huge scale. Consider, also, the rivalry and competition between the gas and electricity industries. That has to be resolved. Does the Minister imagine that by dispensing with control in any of its forms you can build up that co-ordination? What do hon. Members opposite want? They must make up their minds. I can understand their reluctance to accept controls, and their desire to throw them off because they impose a feeling of restraint. None of us likes controls. We all like to be independent, free and careless, to be allowed to do as we please, but, unfortunately, in the situation we envisage after the war, in the building up of our national economy, it will not be easy for us to be allowed to do as we please. We have to conform to a national pattern and, therefore, there must be some control. Even in the scheme propounded by Mr. Foot and the Mining Association, which involves a measure of co-ordination of the coal industry, there is going to be a large measure of control. The question is whether the control is to be invested in private hands or in the State. That is the issue. Obviously, from the standpoint of the community, and in order to safeguard ourselves against the vices of monopolies, it is far better to leave these matters, in view of modern tendencies, in the hands of the State, providing you can guard against the drawbacks of a bureaucracy. Nobody is more conscious of that than I and my right hon. and hon. Friends on these Benches.
The misconception that underlies the objections raised so often by hon. Members opposite to this idea of public service in relation to coal or anything else is that we are going to place these matters in the hands of civil servants. For instance, it is said that fuel and power, and all the co-ordinated processes involved in this Measure, will be run by the Minister and his officials. I have a great regard for these officials. They are all right in their place. They are able people—sometimes, as I have discovered when in office, too able. You have to be able to argue with them, and sometimes tell them off, and that is not so easy as it appears, especially when they know that you will not be there for long. Still, it has been done. But while I have a great regard for them I want to repeat what I have said else- 1170 where a hundred times: whether it is shipping, fuel and power, agriculture or anything else, if it is to become a public service I would never leave these matters in the hands of civil servants. It is experts who have to run them. I know that sometimes the word "expert" is a term of opprobrium with some people, but I mean people who understand the industry. Those are the people to run it, but there has to be some measure of Parliamentary control in the public interest. The Minister must be there to answer. That is a good thing. But you get as much bureaucracy in monopolistic firms as in the State services. You have it in I.C.I., and other concerns. So do not let us talk too much about bureaucracy. The question is whether this Department should go on or not. I am amazed at hon. Members opposite. Suppose I said, "Let us dispense with the Ministry of Agriculture." Agriculture is very important indeed. I only wish that the people of this country, particularly those in urban areas, fully realised the importance of this industry. Surely, fuel and power is as important as agriculture.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Do not let us judge the importance of an industry merely by its output. You judge it by its relation to national needs and development but even in output, if you take pre-war considerations into account, fuel, power, electricity and gas, are just as important as agriculture. But do not let us proceed on that basis at all. Agriculture is as important, therefore you must have a Ministry. Fuel and power are important, therefore you must have a Ministry. When my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) was dismissed, almost at a moment's notice, in a most summary fashion, and the present Minister was put in his place, in as summary a fashion, and for reasons which have not yet been disclosed, I thought that on the whole that was a good thing, not because my hon. Friend was displaced or because my right hon. and gallant Friend was put in his stead, but that he should have a Department with some conception of coordination. It was a grand thing and I want it continued. My hon. Friend was doing as well as the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has done ever since, except that he has a costly organisation, some 1171 of it very unnecessary. Moreover if a statement is to be made about the coal position next winter it ought to be made by the Minister. We are always told that we cannot criticise civil servants. If we cannot criticise civil servants, civil servants ought not to make political pronouncements.
I listened with great interest to the speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Ince (Mr. Brown) and Barnsley (Mr. Collindridge) about the need for skilled labour, better educational facilities, safety and transport. We know all about those matters, but they are not what is being discussed in the Bill. What are you doing about fuel and power in the future? Will you show some imagination, or are we going back to the old system? I beg hon. Members not to allow this industry to return to the past. The country cannot afford it. If we mean to make the industry something really worth while and remove discontent, clear away the mess and muddle and give the people of this country a sense of satisfaction and gratification in the knowledge that they possess a great industry, you must have effective co-ordination. This is but the beginning. The consummation will depend on the legislation that the House passes in the future.
§ 3.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Austin Hopkinson (Mossley)
It is pure Fascism that is being suggested now. A solution is being advocated which depends on the supposition that the State knows best, and should direct what the citizen should have, and that he should not have what he happens to want—a system under which every wage-earner becomes a slave. For what is a slave? A slave is simply a person who has only one possible employer. The difference between a slave and a free labourer, is simply that the free labourer can have some degree of choice as to whose orders lie shall obey, whereas in the Fascist National Socialist State he has only one employer, and if he offends that employer he is done for. I do not think that our people will ever put up with that. They have fought six years of bitter warfare to prevent that system being imposed on them by the Germans, and the alliance of the Labour Party with the National 1172 Socialists in Germany, who are their brothers in thought—
§ Mr. Hopkinson
I thought that, as a certain amount of that sort of stuff had been allowed from previous speakers, a certain amount might be allowed in reply. The Bill, presumably, is to continue, at any rate for a time, certain powers of the Minister, and even to add to them. In order to try out the policy of the Government thoroughly, perhaps it is advisable that those powers should be given, but it does not follow that the fact that one thinks those powers should be given, and even extended, for a time so that the experiment may go on a little longer, involves acquiescence in the main policy of the Government.
I interrupted a previous speaker who had been giving some account of what has happened under State control of the industry, how as numbers had gone up production had gone down, and I reminded the House that that is exactly the experience that we had in the late war, until coal control was taken off, a year or two after the Armistice. One would have thought that after that experience the Government would have learnt something, instead of making the same mistake again, but Governments are like the Labour Party—they never learn anything, and they never forget anything. Look at their policy with regard to housing, where we are going to repeat the mistake that we made after the last war. There is to be a period of control, during which we shall have no houses. Eventually we shall drop State interference, and we shall get the houses. Sooner or later, control of the coal industry will have to be dropped, and possibly in the course of a few years we shall begin to get coal again.
However, let us try the experiment to the bitter end and give the Minister as much power as we can. It has been suggested that he ought to resign. I do not agree. He ought to hold on for a long time yet, but he ought to resign when he has proved conclusively that the Government policy is wrong and is based on a complete misconception of industry. When he has proved that, it will be time to resign, and not before. Nor do I think 1173 it likely that, in spite of what the "Express" newspapers say, the successor which they advocate will be able to make a much better show. Let us get down to the actual facts. We are getting a continually decreasing production of coal. We are getting a continual increase in the discomfort and discontent of the mining population, I know something about the coal industry and working conditions underground. Perhaps, while I have not such long actual experience, I have a wider experience, inasmuch as I worked in the pits from one end of the country to the other for a long period of years and have seen the various districts from Fife to Somerset and the conditions under which miners work. I think my practical Friends above the Gangway will agree that we used to go down the pits for one reason only—not for pleasure but to earn some money and, if we could get the money without going down the pit, we did not go down. We were ordinary, rational, sensible human beings, and the miner to-day is exactly like us. He does not go to the pit for pleasure but to earn money. The unusual thing about the miner is that he knows when he has got enough and, when he has as much as he wants, he does not go down the pit—very naturally and rightly to my mind. If on a Thursday he looks out of the window and sees that it is a fine day, being a sensible fellow, if he has enough money to come at the end of the week, he takes the dog for a walk instead. He is a free man, and he appreciates the beauties of the country and the gifts which a beneficent Providence has bestowed on mankind.
§ Mr. Glanville (Consett)
Where are the men who do that? I will start work with them to-morrow if the hon. Member will only tell me.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
Did the hon. Member go down for the pleasure of the thing, or for the reason that his hon. Friends and I went down?
§ Mr. Glanville
Where are these men who can earn so much money that, if they look out of the window and see sunshine, they will not go down the pit?
§ Mr. Hopkinson
Perhaps the hon. Member dropped out of active participation in the industry a bit too early. I believe that the Top Hand seam in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire the average with which the men manage to 1174 get away is £12 10S. 0d. in a full week. As far as I can make out from my experience, it is quite possible to live very comfortably on that sum, which is exactly equal to what a Member of Parliament gets for his work. If I were living in the country and my Parliamentary salary was dependent upon the number of shifts I put in in this House, I would be tempted occasionally to take a day or two off myself, and suffer the loss.
That is the real problem: how to induce the men to work harder when they have got what they want already. I cannot see a solution. I talked it over the other day with a very experienced old miner in this House. Perhaps he will forgive me if I do not mention his name, for he rather agreed with me that the best way would be to set up a dog racing track adjoining every big colliery and then the miner would have all his money stolen from him as quickly as he earned it.
§ Mr. Glanville
On a point of Order. What is the hon. Member talking about? If he is allowed to ramble on like this, shall I be allowed to answer him?
§ Mr. Tinker
It is a travesty of the facts. The hon. Member ought to have more regard for the standing of the miners and not treat them with such ridicule.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Member now addressing the House may be taking his illustrations a little too far. Perhaps I might suggest that he should now come back to the principle of the Bill.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
I am trying to give this one example of the problem which is facing the industry, and for which I know of no solution. [An HON. MEMBER: "Reduce the wages."] That would be one way. Whether it would be a satisfactory way is another matter.
The next difficulty facing the Minister is that he is expected to control the coal industry, without having any control over the labour in it, which comes under a completely different Ministry. His predecessor undoubtedly realised that difficulty, which is immense. I do not see how the present system of coal control can be satisfactory as long as the control of the labour is in the hands of a different Minister. The Essential Work Order applied to coal mines makes it utterly impossible to run the industry properly, 1175 because discipline can then be maintained only by recourse to the criminal law. The ordinary sanction by which discipline could be maintained and the safety of the pit provided for, in the absence of the Essential Work Order, was the right ultimately of dismissal. That meant that a man who misbehaved himself had to go to the manager, and if it was a bad case the manager would dismiss him. The offender would go to another pit and get a job, and if he did not behave himself there, he would get dismissed again. That was considered by the industry, owners and men, to be the best way of preserving discipline in the pit. That cannot be done now. We have to prosecute.
The miners, quite rightly, extremely resent being prosecuted for such offences. If a man misbehaves in the pit the management have to apply the criminal law under the Essential Work Order and if the fellow is convicted, the rest of the pit frequently come out on strike in sympathy. I can quite understand it, because they resent it. They put up with the old system, whether they liked it or not, because it worked. Now it is found that nothing can be done except to go to the court. There cannot be proper working of the pit under those conditions, which are the conditions which will prevail if the system advocated by Labour Members is brought into force. If the mines are nationalised, every misconduct in the pit will he a criminal offence. It is an offence against the State and, therefore, it is a crime.
§ Mr. Torn Brown rose—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Before the interruption takes place, I should like to suggest that we keep off the subject of nationalisation.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
The hon. Member can count upon the present occupant of the Chair to keep us out of the realms of irrelevance.
Mr. McNeil (Greenock)
I am puzzled by one remark of the hon. Member's, which was that if a man commits an offence, he has to be prosecuted under the Essential Work Order. Surely the 1176 man is still subject to dismissal, but has a right of appeal under the Essential Work Order?
§ Mr. Hopkinson
Subject to a right of appeal; appeal to whom? I have had some of that. I know the constitution of the appeal tribunals. But I must not get into a discussion of this matter or we shall be ruled out of Order.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Yes. I do not think we can go into all the details of control of the mining industry. We must not widen the scope of the Debate.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
I am perfectly willing to be as irrelevant as ever the Chair will allow me. I think I have already shown my good will in that matter. I was describing the situation in Which the Minister finds himself. He has been set an utterly impossible task. Sooner or later, it will be for him to go to the Government and say: "You have set me an impossible task. Your policy will not work, any more than it worked after the last war, and, therefore, you must accept my resignation." That time has not come yet. I hope that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will stick to his job until he has conclusively proved that the policy is at fault, and not so much the way that it is carried out.
An hon. Member put his faith in the blessed word "co-ordination." Surely the time has come when that word should be dropped. It has been bandied about for nearly a generation. Surely we should know in this House that co-ordination means nothing at all, except just messing about with things. He also said that under the way he would manage things the industry would not be run by a bureaucracy but by experts. Who would appoint the experts? The bureaucracy, presumably. Also, if there are to be experts, who are they going to be? If the industry is to be nationalised and run by experts I venture to suggest that it will be run by exactly the same people as run it to-day. The only difference will be that instead of the people having what they want, as they do under a democracy, they will have to have what the State, the Fascist State, tells them they ought to have.
§ 3.19 p.m.
Major Lloyd (Renfrew, East)
I hope that the House will be good enough to listen for the first time in this Debate to a representative from Scotland. We in Scotland have views on this matter. We have not felt by any means content with the work of this Ministry and there will be many misgivings in Scotland if this Bill is agreed to. Indeed I hesitated for quite a while, whether I could say that I was representing the views of my constituents and many others in Scotland by agreeing to the Second Reading of the Bill. I have decided that I can do so provided that I make it clear that I do it with considerable misgivings and rather in the spirit of the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), who said something to the effect that on the record of the Ministry there would be no case for its continuance. He was in favour of its continuance because of its immense possibilities for the future. There may well be possibilities for the Ministry if it mends its ways and in its attitude towards its principal job, which is to see that coal is produced in as large quantities as possible. Let the Ministry be continued then, but not indefinitely, as I gather the Bill proposes, but, as I hope will be insisted upon in the Committee stage, for a limited period of time. I would like to see the Ministry continue until June, 1948. I pick that date because it is the end of the agreement under which coalminers' wages are guaranteed, and it provides a suitable period in which we can face realities and get down to brass tacks, and sell coal at an economic price which will win markets in the world. With that caveat, I do not disapprove of the Bill. Those of us who have to make contracts with some firm with whom we have been dealing, are entitled before we renew contracts to look at the record of the firm.
The Ministry has been functioning since 1942. I would like to make it clear to my right hon. and gallant Friend that what I say is no reflection on him personally. For what purpose was it set up? I gather from the Command Paper which announced its birth that it was set up with a view to ensuring maximum production to meet the needs of the country. It stated that the Ministry would take full control—not partial, but full control—over the operation of all coal mines—not some, but all—and for the 1178 allocation of the coal raised in the country. They are very sweeping and wide powers. My hon. Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) tried to suggest that the handicap from which the Ministry has suffered all along is dual control. That is a piece of nonsense. The powers of the Minister are very full. He has power to take full control over the operation of all coal mines. There is no limitation of power there. The Ministry has had very great powers and has had great responsibilities as well. If the Ministry comes to us and wants to have a testimonial for its past record with a view to getting a job from the country for the future, it is essential that we should look back at its record. "By their fruits ye shall know them." Its record is poor. I do not say that the Ministry has not done its best, and I am sure that the Minister has done his best, but the facts speak for themselves and they are not good.
Since the Ministry had been set up actually more men have been employed in the mines than were employed in the year before it was set up. In spite of that fact, there has been much less production of coal. It is possible to learn from the Statistical Digest that 10,000 more men entered the industry between 1941 and 1943, but 12,000,000 fewer tons of coal were produced during that period. In 1944 2,500 more men entered the industry, but the amount of coal was 9,000,000 tons less. Comparing the situation in 1944 with that in 1941, we find that 12,500 more men entered the industry, but the total amount of coal produced was 21,000,000 tons less. That is not a pleasant or happy record for a Ministry which is asking for a renewal of power. The price of coal has gone up. I do not emphasise that fact because it was, perhaps, inevitable. The average number of shifts per week has gone down. In 1941 the average number all over the country was 5.37, according to the "Board of Trade Journal," as against 4.75 in 1944. These figures really mean that the miners have been working fewer shifts per week, producing less coal per shift than in 1941, and getting considerably more money for doing it. That is one of the results of the Ministry's record. The earnings of the miners have gone up, and I am delighted to know it. That is one of the things I have wanted from the beginning, but the 1179 heavy wages bill upon the industry in a difficult period cannot be ignored. It has gone up in 1941 from £138,000,000 to £192,500,000 in 1944. The miners cannot, therefore, say that they have been ill or meanly treated. Very heavy increased burdens have had to be borne by the industry during that period. Absenteeism is a sore subject, and I do not want to rub it in, but it has increased and it is something we ought to be ashamed of.
What has happened during the three and a half years in which this Ministry has had full control and responsibility for the supply of coal and power to ensure the maximum possible production? Output in the aggregate has gone down, output per person has gone down, and the public have gone short of coal. Does anybody deny that? Coal prices have gone up, voluntary absenteeism has gone up, and fewer shifts per week have been worked. Very much more money has been paid to the miners for very much less coal produced. The staff of the Mines Department, which numbered 1,174 in 1941, has risen substantially. I do not want to emphasise that too much because I appreciate that some of the increase is due to petrol and other subsidiary functions of the Department. I will not mention the present figure, therefore, because it would not be fair. Nevertheless, the staff of the Department, apart from these other factors, has substantially increased. That is the record of the Ministry. I do not want to rub anybody's nose in it unduly but it is not a good record. I therefore feel that, in the circumstances, we dare not, in justice or common sense, consent to this Ministry continuing indefinitely. There must be a limit to it. Its record is definitely bad. It has not been a success. It has not delivered the goods. It has not had the confidence of the country. On condition that the Bill is amended in Committee to limit its life, however, I am prepared to give it a Second Reading, but I do it with considerable reluctance.
§ 3.29 p.m.
§ Commander Prior (Birmingham, Aston)
In the course of the Debate much stress has been laid on the production of coal and, except for the brilliant speech of the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), very little has been said about 1180 consumption, which I consider equally important. The Minister for the post-war period has the terrific task of organising the use of our generating power in the most economical manner possible. Take, for example, the generation of electricity. Here in London we still have within a very short distance of each other A.C. and D.C. supplies, and if any one wishes to move from one district on A.C. to another district on D.C. it is at a very grave disadvantage and must be the cause of a waste of man-power, material and capital in meeting the change of requirements for household electricity. Above all we see in our generating stations a huge waste of the power produced by coal. All the latent heat produced by coal is lost in the cooling water, while those who live in close proximity to the stations are often having to go without any heat at all.
The hon. Member for Seaham spoke about fuel research. In 1920 I worked in a factory which was burning, roughly, 100 tons of fuel a day and by changes in our generating system and up-to-date methods, we reduced it by nearly two-thirds. I had occasion to visit the Fuel Research authorities and found them most useful. The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) spoke about the allocation of moneys for research. There is a huge field for research. Then the hon. Member for Seaham spoke about the gas grid. Everywhere one looks one sees a waste of fuel which is most urgently needed. If this Ministry of Fuel and Power is disbanded and its various functions distributed among other Ministries I fail to see how it will be possible to face the great problems of fuel consumption which must arise. Can it be possible for those various Ministers to negotiate with the utility companies and the local authorities to co-ordinate their supplies of electricity and their supplies of gas? Surely it would be much simpler for all these negotiations to be under one single Ministry. The powers of the Ministry are not, in my opinion, sufficiently wide, and in any case they do not deal with the question of labour. I would suggest that hon. Members should see the other side of this Ministry and give them credit for what they have done in this very critical period of the war. Vast numbers of men, working in this industry, have been taken away. I would suggest that the Ministry be continued.
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Glanville (Consett)
I did not intend to take any part in this Debate following the able speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), but I feel I must after the other provocative speeches to which I have listened to-day. I have been amongst miners and I have been a miner myself for 40 years, during which, on no single day, have I been able to look out of the window and see the sunshine and say to myself, "Ah, there is some sunshine and I do not think I will work a shift to-day." Hon. Members have said that my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham was advocating a Fascist State because he advocated the continuation of State ownership, but this was forced into existence through the exigencies of this horrible war. We should never have got as far as we have done in this war if it had not been for the State taking over control of the basic industries. During the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) I felt like saying to myself, "My dear friend, it will be just as well if you are alive when the Socialist revolution takes place"—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Member is not entitled to express those sentiments and I must instruct him to keep in Order.
§ Sir Leonard Lyle (Bournemouth)
Is it in Order for one Member to threaten another with what will happen to him in some prospective revolution state?
§ Mr. Glanville
I ant not threatening him. I would like to see him end his days peacefully. If he delivers a speech similar to the one he has delivered to-day amongst the miners I do not think he will get a very attentive hearing, shall I say; but let me finish with him. I have consigned him to his fate.
The hon. Gentlemen opposite make exciting comments about the attendance of miners and diminished output, but they are talking about things of which they are ignorant. It has been said that figures cannot lie, but liars can figure. Figures have been put before this House to-day which do not take all the circumstances into consideration, but let me explain the conditions in the mining industry. Where are the young miners to-day? They are fighting on every front there is. The men in the coalmines to-day, or at any rate the 1182 vast majority of them, are men who have worked for six years under the most arduous conditions and under high pressure. Many mines in this country are like the miners themselves—they are dying out. The opportunities for production are not there. If hon. Members look at the figures in a proper light they will be talking about something they understand.
§ Mr. Erskine-Hill
Is the hon. Member really admitting that these deplorable figures that we have heard to-day are dependent on the age of the workmen, because I do not think that that will carry much conviction with the public?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
That has nothing whatever to do with what we are discussing, for we are discussing whether the machinery of the Ministry of Fuel and Power shall continue and that is the matter to which I hope the hon. Member will direct himself.
§ Mr. Erskine-Hill
With respect, surely if we are discussing the powers of the Ministry we are entitled to discuss them in the light of the Ministry's record for the past year.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
If the hon. Member addresses himself to the Bill under discussion his remarks will be in Order.
§ Mr. A. Walkden (Bristol, South)
I would point out that many very bitter attacks have been made on the hon. Member's fellow workmen, the miners, and not actually on the Minister, and surely as the hon. Member has himself lived and worked in the mines for 40 years he should be allowed to reply to those statements which are dishonourable attacks on the miners.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
As I have said, it would be as well if the hon. Member confined himself to the real issue.
§ Mr. Glanville
It is not very often that I speak and not very often that I clash with you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I do resent any implication that the situation as regards the reduced output and all that sort of thing is the sole responsibility of the miners. I am quite definite that it is not. To-day men of 60 and over are trying to adapt themselves to the mechanical means used in the mines, which is an extremely difficult thing for men to do who have been accustomed to lying on their shoulders and on their 1183 backs working with a pick in a two-foot seam. All these things tend towards a reduction of the output. All our men who are away at the front would gladly come back, but we could not win the war without them. I have nothing more to say. I would not have spoken at all had not these statements provoked me. I could go on at length and justify the miner's position, but I do not intend to do so. I am anxious, like my colleagues, to support the continuance of this Ministry, and to seek for the improvement of the industry in other directions. The concern of the hon. Members opposite is simply that no control whatever should be exercised over them, and that there should be freedom, not as my hon. Friend below the Gangway said, to allow the miner to take a job where he likes, but to allow them the opportunity of sending the miners to the employment exchange, instead of working in the pit.
§ 3.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Colegate (The Wrekin)
I always feel, when I listen to a Debate about the coal industry, that it has one defect, in common with the Irish, of dwelling too much on the historical past. I do not want to do that. I have never seen any advantage come from these Debates, when people go back to what happened in 1926, or in this or that year. What we have to do is to think about the future of the coal industry, and to try and think about it with as little prejudice as we can about what happened in the past. I support the Bill, for this reason. It is quite clear that the coal industry is not to be handed back at the end of the period of control to unrestricted private ownership. We have to face that fact, and the fact that the coal industry is not to be allowed to be in the position of, say, the engineering industry. People may not like that, but it is a position we have to face, and whilst I think that nationalisation would be a great disaster, I realise, on the other hand, that a Ministry such as this has to go on, and in time it has to produce a scheme for the method by which the coal industry is to be carried on in future, which can be accepted by this House and the country. Unfortunately, so much prejudice is imported into these discussions that, as I said, we talk about the past instead of the future, and we get a series of statements made which really have very little relation to reality.
1184 My hon. and gallant Friend has referred to the brilliant speech of the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell). I cannot call it in the least brilliant. It was a series of ridiculous, rhetorical questions, carrying an implication which was wholly wrong. He mentioned, for example, the production of oil from coal and said it was destroyed by the Geddes "axe" in 1932. That is totally untrue. I was a member of the firm which started producing oil from coal in this country without any cost to the State, but it was only done, and it will never be done on any other basis in this country, as a possible defence measure. Oil from coal in Germany is not a German triumph, it is a damnation of German finance. It is due simply to the fact that they mismanaged their affairs so badly that they could not afford to import petrol. It is not, and will never be, so long as there are any reasonable reserves of oil in the world, an economic proposition. There is one plant—I think now two—in operation in this country purely as a defence measure, but for the hon. Member for Seaham to imply that there was some lack of foresight or interest on the part of the owners, and failure on the part of the Government, because oil from coal was not developed, is a total misrepresentation of the situation.
§ Mr. A. Walkden
My hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) was only describing how experiments carried on under the aegis of the State were stopped owing to what was called the "axe," when other useful work was being destroyed. That did happen, it is a fact. Had it not happened, our experiments in the production of liquid fuel from coal would have been much further advanced by the time this war broke out. I am sure the hon. Member opposite does not wish to misrepresent my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Colegate
I cannot agree, but really it would have made no difference, because the actual experiments were carried on with far larger expenditure of money by private enterprise, with striking results.
The hon. Member implied that, if only owners had appreciated three years ago the importance of mechanisation, it would have been a wonderful thing, and we should all have been better off to-day. The hon. and gallant Member who has 1185 just sat down answered that in part. The real truth was that three years ago, the coal industry had large orders for machinery outstanding. They were not, and could not, be delivered, because the resources of the engineering industry had to be turned to more urgent needs—munitions. During this war there has been no unlimited market for mining machinery. There has been the greatest difficulty in getting even the minimum requirements, and to talk as though the coal industry were lacking in capability, because it has not mechanised on a vast scale during the war, is to ignore the war altogether, and utterly to mistake the whole position of the supply of mining machinery.
§ Mr. A. Walkden
The hon. Member must remember, as we all do, that this mechanisation of the mines was advocated by the Samuel Commission in 1926. I have yet to learn that the mining industry did anything from 1926 until the start of this war to carry out the recommendations of the Samuel Commission.
§ Mr. Colegate
That is a very serious admission on the part of the hon. Gentleman. Actually, he is ignorant of the published figures, which show that over £100,000,000 was spent in that very period during which he says nothing was done, in the introduction of mining machinery. The hon. Member should bring himself up to date. That really is the fact, These half-truths are part of the curse of the industry.
I quite agree that we should pass the Second Reading of this Bill and establish this Ministry, but do not let us complain that the Bill which establishes the office of the Minister does not include the whole of his future programme, which is what it seems to me some of his critics require. All we can do in this Bill is to set up the Ministry. Later on, my right hon. and gallant Friend will have, I am sure, views and plans which he will bring forward from time to time, so that when the control period ends, this House win have adopted some scheme, by which we hope the mining industry will be carried on in the future for the prosperity of this country. One thing which the hon. Member for Seaham said which I was glad to hear was, "Let all connected with the industry make their contribution." I hope he speaks for that particular section of the industry with which he is more closely 1186 associated. Everyone, mineowners, as they are called, though they do not own the mines to-day—they are leaseholders from the State—the colliery leaseholders and the mining unions must get together. Let us hope the Ministry will be able to help them to put the organisation of the industry on a satisfactory basis, to produce adequate quantities of coal at a price which the consumer can afford to pay. I hope the Bill will be given a Second Reading.
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Lancaster (Fylde)
In introducing this Measure, my right hon. and gallant Friend described it as a machinery Bill, within narrow limits; and I wish to keep within those narrow limits. However, there are one or two observations that I would like to make in regard to speeches which have been made to-day, particularly the speech of the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell). We have had the advantage of his views, which presumably are, in general, the views of his party, on nationalisation. I am not sure that this is the occasion to discuss nationalisation, but I am grateful to have had an advance copy of those views. I was not very impressed with the case the hon. Gentleman made, but there was one point which seemed to be the crux of the situation. He said that we must be organized—presumably under nationalisation—to deal with the competition with which we shall be faced after the war. There, I think, he struck at the root of the matter. We have to decide in due course what form that organisation shall take. I suggest that when we do that we should recognise that in the overwhelming majority of cases we shall be up against competition from private enterprise. We should be very certain that under the form of nationalisation which is advocated we shall be in a position to compete with private enterprise in the rest of the world. The case for nationalisation rests, so far, on a very slender basis. It is not possible at this moment to turn to any part of the world, except Soviet Russia, and to say that State enterprise has proved itself, whether as a co-ordinator or in any other form, as a competitor to private enterprise.
Now I would like to turn to the main purposes of the Bill. Hon. Members on all sides have shown concern about the results of this Ministry on the industry, 1187 during the three years since its inception. I do not think it is fair to attribute all that has happened either to the Minister or to his Ministry. I think that these things are, in great measure, due to circumstances over which the Minister has not full control. But we should be doing less than our duty if we ignored them. There are two to which I would specifically like to refer. The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) suggested that the output for the current year would be of the order of a net 175,000,000 tons of coal. I think he was very near to the mark. I suggested last year that the year under review would show an output of 185,000,000 tons, which would approximate to the internal requirements of this country. In the event, the output has been rather less than that—of the order of 183,500,000. We have been in fact producing rather less than our internal requirements. One other prognostication that I made was in regard to the cost of production. I suggested that it would be around 32s. The indications are that it will be slightly in advance of that. Those are two figures which we must bear closely in mind when considering the situation with which we are confronted. They are grave, and it is no good ignoring them, but I do not think that a decision about the continuance of this Ministry should be made purely on those facts.
I think that the reasons for continuing this Ministry fall, roughly, under two heads. I do not think that this House or the country would be satisfied that this important industry should be, at the present moment or immediately after the war, dealt with in Parliament by a Parliamentary Secretary, or by anyone below the status of a Cabinet Minister. Secondly, I think there is a sound reason why we should support the continuance of this Ministry. I think that, in two directions, the Ministry has taken steps which hold out a reasonable hope for the future. I would sooner withhold judgment on the record of the Ministry until I see how it is able to turn these two satisfactory portents to account. I refer first to the report which is pending from the Technical Advisory Committee. Hon. Members will remember that this Committee was set up in July last year, and commenced its work in October, and with the duty of reporting on and advocating measures for the technical improvement 1188 of mining in this country. That is certainly the most important step that the Ministry has taken since it came into being. I think that the decisions come to by this Committee will have a most important bearing on the future of the industry. The Committee itself is a distinguished body, though I may say that I should have been happier had there been one or two younger men included in its composition. Their deliberations will not affect the immediate future, because no one can suggest that the Report can be put into operation immediately, but the recommendations will affect the results of the industry for a great many years ahead. I think the Ministry ought to be congratulated on setting up this Committee, and I, personally, would like to suspend judgment until I see how far and how quickly the Ministry turns this Report to account.
This is only the first stage of the matter. There will have to be a review of the industry in detail to see how far the various recommendations in this Report are applicable to the separate undertakings, and means will have to be found of implementing those recommendations in those undertakings, and it is in connection with that aspect of the matter that the Ministry will stand to be considered by those who are concerned that there should be a technical reorganisation throughout the industry. The hon. Member for Seaham was completely right when he said that we cannot stand still in this matter. We have got to go forward, but the particular form under which we go forward is possibly, I suggest, not as important as the technical efficiency with which we tackle the problem. That is one aspect which I think does justify us in supporting the continuation of this Ministry.
The other, which is not unrelated to it, is in connection with the experimental work which has been undertaken during the last three years, and is continuing, in connection with the introduction of American machinery. There, I am not at all in agreement with the hon. Member for Seaham in his attitude to this matter. I think we should be very unwise to discount the value of what we can get at this moment, whether from America or from the Continent. I think there have been advances in technique in many countries in the last 15 or 20 years that we would be well advised to 1189 take advantage of them. I never found that, in the approach of the Americans to this problem, there was anything but a desire to be helpful to us. It did not strike me that they came here to tell us how to run our industry. It is no more than the application of a new technique, through the medium of mechanisation, to the well-established practice of mining in this country. In fact, up to the year 1874, practically the whole of the coal in this country was won under what is known as the "board-and-pillar" method of mining, and this American technique in regard to coal extraction is nothing more than the application of mechanisation to that particular method of mining coal. There is nothing revolutionary in it. All that they have perfected is the production of rather better machinery than anyone else, but there is no earthly reason why we should not produce just as good machinery. In fact, at the present moment, we have produced a machine which, in its restricted application, is as good as anything that America has produced, and I am perfectly convinced that, in the course of the next few years, we shall produce as good machinery as they have, and meanwhile should be most unwise not to benefit from their experience.
Nor have they restricted themselves to the mere extraction and winning of coal. Their technique comprises everything which they embrace in their rather cumbersome word "transportation," which comprises the subsidiary matters of haulage, winding coal or bringing it to the surface by means of drifts or slopes, and the whole of the lay-out of surface equipment. In all these matters, they have gone ahead fast during the last few years. Perhaps they have had opportunities which were possibly denied to us, particularly recently, but we should be most unwise not to benefit from it.
Here, again, I would like to support the Ministry in the efforts they are making in this direction. I do not suggest that the Ministry has not made mistakes in this connection. I found the Minister rather unprepared to take advice in the first instance, when, undoubtedly, mistakes were made and we have suffered from them. But I think there has been a recognition of these mistakes, and it seems to me that, at this moment, the 1190 Ministry is doing what it can to rectify those others and to give all the support it can to the introduction of these methods into British coal mining. I am firmly of the opinion that the application of these methods can be of very general advantage to the country. The figure originally suggested by Mr. Watson Smith, who made the initial report in connection with the application of this machinery, was of the order of 25 per cent. of our conditions. I would not be at all surprised if, in the next 10 years, we find that something nearer 50 per cent. of our undertakings are suitable in varying degrees for the application of this new technique in mining.
I do, however, qualify my support by saying that I want to judge the Ministry, in regard to both these factors, during the next year or so, by the manner in which they implement the developments which have occurred through the work undertaken by this Advisory Committee and the experiments undertaken in regard to the application of American methods. If they do these two things, I feel that they may regain some of the ground which has been lost during the last three years of the Ministry, and, in the hope that they will succeed in so doing, I give my support to the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power (Mr. Tom Smith)
Before this Debate started, I had the privilege of addressing a Conference, at which the Chairman, in introducing me, referred to the wonderful work which the Ministry of Fuel and Power had done, and I could not help retorting that I hoped somebody would say that in another place in the afternoon. There have not been many kind things said about the Ministry of Fuel and Power. If I might say so, I think the attack which has been made upon it has been rather too narrow and too limited in the sense that it has focussed attention upon the important consideration of output and forgotten altogether some of the other things that have had to be done since this Ministry was created.
Both the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) and the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell), who spoke on this Bill, know that I happened to be with them as Parliamentary Private Secretary when 1191 each was at the Mines Department, and they know at that time how we were limited by being a Department of the Board of Trade. On many occasions when the hon. Member for Seaham wanted to do things he found himself held up simply because he had to get the permission of the President of the Board of Trade. This Bill is essential, in the Government's opinion, because the postwar situation will, I think, demand a Ministry which can handle coal and all that coal means in the broadest sense, as it could not be handled simply by a Department of another Ministry.
On 3rd June, 1942, when this Ministry of Fuel and Power was created, my right hon. and gallant Friend and I sat quietly listening to a two days' Debate, recognising that that policy was not ours, but that the policy laid down in the White Paper was our terms of reference. If hon. Members carry their minds back to that time, they may ask themselves, Was all peaceful in the mining industry? Was output satisfactory, was there tranquillity, was there anything like a possibility of getting all the coal that we needed? There were about 37 or 38 strikes in the country when the Ministry was set up, and it was because the position was unsatisfactory that the Ministry of Fuel and Power was created. Can anybody tell me that we have not done anything during those two years and nine months? The hon. and gallant Member for Wellingborough (Wing-Commander James) referred to miners' wages having gone up, and rightly so. Is there anybody in this House opposed to that policy? The wages were so low at that time that it was causing discontent. The Greene Award offered for the first time in the history of this industry a national minimum wage of 2s. 6d. a shift increase, and later it was altered to £5 a week, which my hon. Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) said was a step in the right direction.
I have a record of what has been done with regard to health, welfare and safety. We were asked to institute a medical service in each of the coalfields. That has been done. We were asked to set up a rehabilitation service. We have set up centres all over the country and they are doing marvellous work. We had to tackle the new disease pneumoconiosis in South Wales. This has now been recognised. 1192 We got this on to the Statute Book. We have done much more than has been recognised or appreciated in the realm of welfare and safety. You very seldom hear of the things you have done, but you usually hear of the things you have omitted to do or what somebody else thinks you have omitted to do. Is that fair in the sense that we have accomplished a good deal of what is of value to that industry?
On the question of output—and I agree that that is the basic thing—it was recognised by all who know the industry that as time went on there would be a decrease in output. I do not think that anybody in this House put the need for having an adequate labour force in the pits more forcibly than I did before I became Parliamentary Secretary. I pleaded at that time for men to be allowed to come back from the Forces to the pits, and we have had some men back. My hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) and my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Collindridge) pointed out two or three things which were bound to happen. Men are getting older. The age group that would have been of most use in coal production was taken out of the industry. Pit work is hard work, and there are some colliery managers who would say frankly that the great bulk of their workmen have done a good job of work. I have great sympathy with the middle-aged and older men for the way in which they have worked in the pit. When I ask those men how they are getting on they say: "Frankly, Tom, I am tired." They have worked hard week after week right throughout the war, and one hates to hear them being attacked, because it is not good policy.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gower made a rather general statement that we must have more mechanisation. I said at this Box in October, 1942—and experience has proved it—that if anybody talked about bringing American mining methods into British pits in general they were going to be disappointed; it just could not be done. I do not think that anybody appreciated that more than the Americans themselves. Some of them when they came over here admitted to me that they had not the vaguest notion of working conditions in this country. To put cutting machinery into the pits—and we have made progress in that direction—we must have men trained to handle 1193 those machines. The mining industry is very conservative, both the men and the managers. Some were not keen on the new methods.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ince rightly asked what we are doing to train men. I am very pleased to say that there is a training centre at Sheffield which is well worth a visit from any hon. Member who is interested in the industry. Let nobody tell me that there are no brains among British pit lads. I addressed 250 of them from all over the country and they were keen and alert. The objects of this centre are to train a body of mineworkers to become competent to deal with the maintenance, running, repair and overhaul of all equipment and technical appliances in use at the coal face, and to give further training to personnel already concerned with the handling, maintenance and repair of mining machines in so far as it is necessary to ensure that they keep abreast of the most up-to-date methods. With regard to the question of machinery, it is interesting to note—and my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham was right when he said that we have machines of our own in this country—that in March, 1944, there were 21 installations at work, giving an average weekly output of approximately 10,000 tons of coal with an output per manshift to the main haulage of about three tons. In January, 1945, there were 31 schemes in operation, producing approximately 20,000 tons per week, and the output per manshift had risen to four tons. On the longwall work, the Meco-Moore Cutter Loader now seems to have established itself as a successful British designed and manufactured longwall power loader. One cutter loader has been in continuous operation since June of last year and has loaded over 55,000 tons with an average of nearly 300 tons per working day.
We are doing all we can to encourage mechanisation, but there is no one particular machine that can generally be applied. May I put this point to the non-mining Members of this House? One has to have some regard to the safety of mineworkers. There is not an hon. Member of any party in this House, whether he agrees or disagrees with us, who wants to do anything which will jeopardise the lives of men working underground. It should always be remembered that where there is a big seam of 1194 coal, a deep gassy pit so that one is even afraid to fire a shot for fear of what might happen, there is a risk of spontaneous combustion even in normal times. If we bring in machinery of this kind, which necessitates repeated shot-firing at the coalface, and some morning something serious occurred it would do more than anything else to injure the progress of the mechanisation of the pits in this country.
I would say, without going into too mach detail, that there is a let to be done yet in British mining. My right hon. and gallant Friend was right when he said that we shall have the report of the Reid Committee and then we can have a general discussion as to the best thing to do for the mining industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Seaham rightly said that there have been hundreds of committees, but there has not been a committee like this before. Right from the year 1800 there have been humanitarians and politicians dealing at various times with mining matters mainly from the angle of safety. We have had Royal Commissions composed of representatives of both sides of the industry, but this is the first time that a Committee has been set up composed of technicians and given the broad term of reference, "What is the best thing to do with the British mining industry?" I do not know what they will report, but I do know what needs doing now, penultimately, and ultimately if this country is to live as an industrial nation.
There is no development work being done to-day. There are no new sinkings. There will have to be new sinkings if we are to get the maximum amount of coal and conserve that coal, and in my opinion there should be large-scale modern mining engineering, based on long-wall retreating, which means keeping good roads going in. You have to wait a little to get profits but, when you start coming back you get the stuff all right. I spent three years and nine months on that system. Again, mechanise the coal face by all means, but the coal must be got out of the pit a little more quickly than is the case to-day. It is no use getting the coal from the coal face unless it can be brought out of the pit, yet I have known pits where men have been lying down without tubs at the coal face, although the pithead was waiting for coal, simply because of a congested transport system.
1195 Another thing: In my opinion there will be more skip-winding in this country in future than ever before. In order to make the pits more attractive we must eliminate all the hard, unnecessary physical labour from mining—what they call "tramming" and "putting" in some counties—deterrents to production, where men, stripped to the waist, lamp in mouth, have to push a tub up to 3 or 4 cwt. and bring it back. All that has to stop if we want to attract men to the mines. With regard to transport, the hon. Member for Barnsley spoke of men walking from two to five miles. One man told me last week, "Tom, I went down so-and-so pit and those men are walking nearly three miles underground." As one who had to walk for fifty-five minutes—there and back—lamp in hand, with two bottles, I know that one is almost physically beat by the time one gets to the coal face. Up-to-date collieries ride the men in—my colliery did years ago—but some say that the roads are not big enough and they cannot afford to spend the money. With the best will in the world all these things cannot be done with a kind of magic wand—
Before my hon. Friend leaves the things which he says need to be clone, he has omitted one for which I was waiting—that is, discipline in the mines.
§ Mr. Smith
I intended touching on that side of it. Let us face up to it straight away because, after all, there are two sides in a pit. My right hon. and gallant Friend met deputation after deputation from nearly everybody in the mining industry. Some wanted the right to sack men again. But is the lack of discipline limited in war-time to mines? Is it not in other industries as well? If we gave managers the power again to sack men, it would not be a remedy, because the thing goes deeper than that.
My right hon. and gallant Friend has been attacked; well, we have nothing to hide. We went into the job and we made up our minds to do it. I remember saying to him one morning when we had not been in the Ministry more than about three days, "If you take advice from me do not worry unduly, because this industry is crazy, and if you start worrying unduly it will drive you to the grave." 1196 That craziness is not limited to one side in mining. We have done a lot of the things which have been pointed out this afternoon. With regard to the question raised by the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), if he has a particular case in mind I hope he will let us have it. Every case put to us charging colliery companies with working the worst seams, and keeping the best for after the war, we have had investigated. It is no use investigating such a charge unless a competent man can go down the pit and see what is taking place. I will give an example of what actually happens. We visited a pit one day when the pit production committee was meeting, without letting them know, and on the table was the plan. The manager was pointing out to the committee why it was necessary for him to do what he was doing. The ordinary observer of that plan would have said that he was working the bad seams, and reserving the good, but as a matter of fact he was not. I do not mind telling my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh that in the past we have inquired into any allegations such as this and will continue to do so.
§ Mr. Colegate
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, will he say if he has yet had a proved case of any such action on the part of the mine owners?
§ Mr. Smith
I think I am right in saying that, on the whole, in the majority of cases we have not been able to say that the charge was true but, at the same time, it is so difficult to prove that it is hard to say if it has not been done, or at least that some of the owners have not their minds on the post-war position.
§ Mr. Smith
On the whole, I think the hon. Member is quite right. Now these things cannot be settled by a magic wand, they take time and a long-term policy as well as an immediate one. A great deal of preparatory work has been done. In addition to this committee of technicians there have been regional surveys. When they are published, as they will be, they will make very interesting reading and give hon. Members information about some of the difficulties which have to be faced in the various districts if we are to plan the mines such as questions of mining subsidence, 1197 draining and water generally, the higgledy-piggledy way in which coal has been cut in the past and the difficulties arising from that fact. My right hon. and gallant Friend can take some credit for having done a good deal of preparatory work.
For two and a half years we have had quite a lot to do with gas and electricity, and that has been more or less my work. On the whole I think we can say we have got through exceptionally well. We had difficulties in that industry with regard to man-power at one time, and we had to take action in order to get more labour, but we have done fairly well. With regard to the gas grid, there is no doubt there is plenty of room for development. The only grids we have of any size in this country are in South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire. I remember the first day that gas from coke ovens was pumped into one grid. There were millions of cubic feet of good coke-oven gas being wasted in the air. It was then brought into Sheffield in a gas grid. The gas grid is a good thing for the pits, for the consumers, and for everybody concerned. My right hon. and gallant Friend appointed the Heyworth Committee to go into the question of the gas industry and he is awaiting their report. There has been a good deal of policy with regard to electricity, more than I dare say at the moment. Therefore, I do want to assure hon. Members that in two years and nine months, even though output has gone down recently, we have not been lazy.
Do not let the House think that we have ignored these problems. I know that the figures have been far too low, but we have done our best. We do not expect thanks. My hon. Friend the Member for Seaham knows that he was not so popular when he was Secretary for Mines. I know that he did not expect thanks, but that he did what he believed to be the right thing. We have done the same, and we are not ashamed of it. I am prepared at any time, anywhere, to justify the existence of the Ministry of Fuel and Power, with its limited powers. Whether the administration of the Ministry has been good, bad or indifferent during the last two and three quarter years we have felt that after this war there must be a separate Ministry for Fuel and Power, and that it must not go back again as a Department of the Board of 1198 Trade. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] Because of the problems which we shall have to face. If Members are so "dumb" from the chin upwards that they cannot visualise what will happen in this country after the war in relation to coal and our prosperity, then I cannot educate them.
I can tell Members what is the statistical position with regard to production, and what I foresee is likely to happen. We shall have to conserve coal after the war more than we ever did before, and extract from it some of the wealth we have been wasting. Then we shall have to put some of that wealth back into the industry, in order that it can occupy its rightful place in our national economy. But, as I have said, we have no need to be ashamed. Members said to me when I came to this Ministry, some time ago: "Good luck, but I think you will be out in three months." Some people seem to live in a perpetual state of mental crisis and we have lived a little too long for some of them, but at any rate we are still there, and we are not ashamed of what we have done. I hope, therefore, that this House will give this Bill a Second Reading.
§ Mr. Smith
When I was thinking about this matter last night I thought it would be rather indelicate for a Parliamentary Secretary to deal with it, and that when we came to the Committee stage we could have a more thorough discussion about it. I think the House will appreciate that I cannot very well deal with this matter myself.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House.—[Mr. Pym.]
§ Committee upon Thursday next.