HC Deb 16 March 1945 vol 409 cc536-57

12.15 p.m.

Captain Duncan (Kensington, North)

I beg to move, in page 1, line 13, after "power," insert "except electricity."

For the convenience of the Committee perhaps the last two Amendments, dealing with the First Schedule, could be considered at the same time, for they relate to the same point—on page 5, line 14, leave out sub-paragraph (c) and on page 5, line 20, leave out from "1940," to end of Schedule.

I do not move this Amendment on the basis of prejudice or party politics but on the grounds of administrative efficiency alone. In my previous political life, I have had experience of the Board of Trade and of the Ministry of Transport, and studied administration to the best of my ability when I was in those Ministries. I would put the position as to electricity as briefly as possible. The Board of Trade used to look after electricity from the passing of the Act of 1882 until 1919. On the setting up of the Ministry of Transport there was a very big division of opinion as to the Ministry to which electricity should go. There was a great deal of coming and going and of discussion and argument, and it is interesting to remind ourselves that it was the Government of my right hon. and gallant Friend's father which was responsible for placing electricity under the Ministry of Transport, and that it was my late leader, Mr. Neville Chamberlain, who opposed it. Let me give one or two short quotations from the very long Debates in the House and in Committee in 1919 when this matter was being settled. I do it to show that it was not a haphazard decision and was taken deliberately. Mr. Shortt, who was then Home Secretary, speaking in the House on 26th February, 1919, on the Ministry of Ways and Communications Bill, which was subsequently withdrawn and replaced by the Ministry of Transport Bill, said: Transport is the greatest and most permanent customer of electricity."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th February, 1919, c. 1803.] Again, in discussing the Electricity Bill of the same year, he said: Indeed, there is hardly any form in which one seeks to better the 'conditions of the country that does not require as 1.0 essential transport above all. Equally, transport without power is of no value. A little later, on 20th November, 1919, he said: These are the two great essentials for progress in this country—transpots and electricity. There is one more short quotation from the same speech: Transport is co-ordinated under the Ministry of Transport, and the only way you can have co-ordination between power and transport is by putting them under the same Department."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th November, 1919, c. 1198 and 1202.] It one reads these discussions of 25 years ago one sees that the whole basis was that power and transport must go together in order to get the best development of transport, of electrified railways, tramways and trolley buses. Therefore, in those days it was an established and deliberate policy and it was not a haphazard decision that was taken.

My next point, speaking as a consumer and a representative of consumers, is that it is not in the public interest that the Minister of Fuel and Power should have coal and electricity under his own hand. A lot has been said about co-ordination, and, no doubt, my right hon. and gallant Friend will talk about it this morning. I submit that it is not in the interests of the consumers—who are the vast majority, if not the whole of the population of this country—that there should be co-ordina- tion between the production of coal and the consumption of electricity. Let us take the position that will arise if the Clause goes through in its present form. The Minister of Fuel and Power will be qua coal Minister the Minister in charge of the mines. His interest will lie towards keeping up the wage-rates of the miners, increasing their earnings, increasing the profitability of the mines and improving the conditions of the workers. That is a very laudable ambition, but it will be seen that the pressure from that side will be to increase the cost of coal. The pressure on the other side will be from the producers and users of electricity, who will want to have large quantities of coal of the right quality and at reasonable prices. The pressure from the power companies, the Central Electricity Board, the Electricity Commissioners and the users of electricity who, as I have said, are really the whole population, will be to have coal, which, at the moment, is the main basis of the production of electricity, at a cheaper price.

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman will be faced with these two pressures and I submit that that is an impossible position in which to place a Minister. I repeat that I am arguing this matter from the point of view of administrative efficiency, and the right method, as I believe, is to make the Minister of Fuel the coal Minister and let him devote all his efforts to improving the industry, re-organising it and making it more profitable—whether it is under nationalisation or private enterprise makes no difference. Let us say that the Minister has coal to himself and the Ministry of Transport is left responsible for electricity. There will, no doubt, be inter-Departmental disputes and if they cannot be settled they will go up to the apex of the pyramid of the governmental machine, whether the War Cabinet, the Peace Cabinet or the Prime Minister, and a decision will be taken. If the Minister of Fuel, as the coal Minister, is dissatisfied with that decision he can resign as a protest against not getting his way, but when he has both these pressures exerted from diametrically opposite directions he cannot, in any way, deal with this dilemma.

In the second place, I regard it as important that there should not be coordination between the production of coal and the distribution of electricity. The Minister is the gas Minister as well as the electricity Minister. These are competing industries, and in my opinion it is to the benefit of the community that they are competing. Consider the case of a local authority which wishes to develop a satellite town or a housing estate where there are, at the moment, neither gas mains nor electricity. Under the terms of this Bill the Minister will have the right to order that the housing estate or the satellite town shall have only gas or only electricity. That will be the position when he is in charge of both gas and electricity. Again, I submit that that is a wrong position in which to put the Minister of Fuel. There should be freedom for the local authority, and if possible for the tenants on the estate, to choose whether they will have gas or electricity, and that choice will be made on the basis of price and convenience, but mainly price. I have been interested in the housing question for many years. Whenever a new block of flats goes up the question is always raised whether to put in gas or electricity or both. In some cases gas is cheaper and in other cases electricity is cheaper or more convenient, but there must be freedom to choose between the two. No local authority, big or Small, ought to be placed in a position of inferiority to the Minister in this connection. For these two reasons I submit that it is not right that there should be this close co-ordination, this over-lordship, of coal, gas and electricity under one Ministry.

Judging by the record of his Ministry up to now the Minister of coal has sufficient to do in re-organising the coal industry. The co-ordination required is between the production of coal and its sale both at home and abroad. We are hoping for a big extension of the export trade in coal. That appears to me to be the job upon which he will concentrate in the next few years and that he will have no time for electricity at all. In any case, there are the Central Electricity Board and the Electricity Commissioners, the one looking after generation and the other after distribution. They could quite easily continue to work, as they have worked for 20 years, under the Ministry of Transport, with ease, comfort and satisfaction to all. I submit that by leaving electricity out of this Bill we shall be acting in the public interest.

The Ministry of Transport is a well-established Ministry which has been going for over 25 years, and industry has faith in it, but the Ministry of Fuel is, at the moment, only a war-time Ministry, and I think it may be fairly said that for the time being industry is watchful of it if not doubtful. When new Ministries are set up they take a long time to establish themselves and gain the faith of those engaged in the industries with which they are concerned. These Amendments may not be acceptable in their present form, but I most earnestly ask my right hon. and gallant Friend to consider the case I have made, because I honestly believe that it would be in the public interest to accept them in principle, and to amend the Bill at a later stage, if he agrees with the view I have put forward.

12.30 p.m.

Mr. Shinwell (Seaham)

I hope the Minister will resist this Amendment, and will not be guided by something that was said somewhere—it is not quite clear where—25 years ago. As I understand the proposal, it is that electricity, presumably in its generation and its distribution, should-be left to the Ministry of Transport. It is not clear what is to happen to the present Ministry of War Transport—whether it is to be subdivided when peace comes, taking shipping out of the scope of the Ministry. If the Ministry of War Transport emerges as a Ministry of general transport after the war, there will be, presumably, a large measure of co-ordination. I suspect that they will have enough to handle without dealing with electricity. But, taking my hon. and gallant Friend's argument, transport uses coal. Then, why not put coal under the Ministry of Transport? I presume that my hon. and gallant Friend never thought of that. He says he did, but it did not emerge very intelligibly in his speech.

I think that is a complete answer, but there are other answers if that is not conclusive. Before I present some of them, I must say that I suspect my hon. and gallant Friend and those who may consort with him in this matter of taking the long view. They are less concerned about administrative difficulties, as alleged, than about the possibility of coal, under some national organisation, being linked up with electricity, thus thwarting the endeavours of private enterprise in that field—a very profitable field indeed. Of course, my hon. and gallant Friend, who must have that in mind, was bound to make such a speech, after his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister asked at the Conservative Party Conference yesterday that "private enterprise, bold and large" should be inscribed upon the banner of the Tory Party. This is the inevitable consequence. There will be a great deal said about that in the ensuing months.

Mr. Lewis (Colchester)

Do I understand that the hon. Member personally is opposed to private enterprise?

Mr. Shinwell

I am not certain how far I shall be in Order in developing that theme. I do not propose to develop it beyond making this observation, which I think will be in Order, because we are discussing co-ordination. Wherever coordination is practicable, wherever it appears to be in the public interest, it ought to be accepted. If private enterprise means individual initiative and incentive which promotes the public weal, I accept it. I hope that that will be a satisfactory definition and clarification of the position held by my hon. Friends on these benches. I have done that quite extempore: no doubt, it could be embellished to satisfy my hon. Friends opposite.

I leave that matter, and come to the Amendment. My hon. and gallant Friend remarked, and this seemed to trouble him considerably, that the consumer must be left with a free choice of gas or electricity. He left something out. It might be paraffin oil. What is the use of talking about free choice? There are scores of villages and hamlets in this country where there is no free choice at all, and where it is not possible for the tenants of domestic dwellings to determine whether they will have gas or electricity. They take what is there, and usually it is neither gas nor electricity. One of the principal purposes of this co-ordinating proposal, when it fully emerges, is that everybody in the country, high or low, poor or wealthy, shall have access to electricity. I understood that that was one of the ideas which concerned hon. Members opposite—that agricultural labourers and farmers in isolated districts should have the opportunity of using electricity. We shall discover before long that unless we promote the use of electricity in agriculture it will be very difficult to face up to competition or to improve our standard of living. We must not discuss these matters in an academic way or imagine that these ideas are promoted in foreign lands, or by alien minds"— to quote the Prime Minister yesterday. They are appropriate to the circumstances which confront us, just as several years ago, when the Prime Minister suggested railway nationalisation, he had in mind not ideas promoted in foreign lands, or by alien minds but the circumstances which confronted the nation at that time. It is highly desirable that we should bring together all forms of fuel and power in this co-ordinated fashion—

Captain Duncan

Including railways?

Mr. Shinwell

I will come to that in a moment—so that the Department concerned shall have the various activities under its wing and be able to promote the public good as far as possible. My hon. and gallant Friend asked whether I would include railways. I have been in Government Departments myself, and I know how much it is possible for a Minister or a Department to handle. One Department cannot handle everything. The Prime Minister recognised that fully when he created so many Ministries. I am not discussing whether it was wise to create the Minister of Fuel and Power when he did and in the form in which he did: the costly and top-heavy organisation which has emerged is, in my judgment, futile. But we are considering the future. I should not include railways, because railways ought to be co-ordinated with other forms of transport—whether under private enterprise or under nationalisation is not for me to say.

Mr. Wootton-Davies (Heywood and Radcliffe)

On a point of Order, Is all tins germane to the Debate?

The Chairman (Major Milner)

The hon. Member occasionally strays from the straight and narrow path, but I will do my best to restrain him from straying too far.

Mr. Shinwell

So long as it is understood that when I stray it is from the Parliamentary path and no other I do not complain. I have no desire to transgress the Rules of Order. My hon. and gallant Friend seemed to have a great deal of latitude to deal with transport and the Ministry of Transport, and he went into the subject of agriculture, when he talked about free choice. I am replying to that. One does not know how this is going to work out. It may be that considerable emendation and modification will be necessary in time—we cannot tell. But the principle of co-ordination is very desirable, and I hope that my right hon. and gallant Friend will stand by his guns, and resist this very futile Amendment.

Mr. Wootton-Davies (Heywood and Radcliffe)

I am not going to be led into any attempt to make a political speech, as the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) did, but I hope the Minister will resist this Amendment, not because of any political danger but because I think coal is going to become more precious and more expensive, and that it must be used in the best possible manner. I am sorry I cannot agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Kensington (Captain Duncan), because I hope that my right hon. and gallant Friend has got over his teething troubles and is really going to do something. A short time ago I tried to tell him, as nicely as possible, that we wanted coal, and coal at a reasonable price. I hope that he will resist this Amendment, because we want to make better use of our coal. We have had Questions in this House about whether it is only a mad theory that some of these coalmines should be converted into gas-producing places. And I want coal to be burnt more efficiently because after all we are limited in respect to water power, and coal means electricity, and electricity, coal. I think that if electricity were put under any other Ministry it would be a retrograde step, and I hope that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will resist the Amendment.

The Minister of Fuel and Power (Major Lloyd Georģe)

If this Amendment and the consequential Amendments were accepted it would destroy the Bill. The whole purpose of the Bill is to carry into peace-time the idea of co-ordinating our fuel resources, which was implied when the Ministry was first set up in 1942. I find it difficult to follow by hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Kensington (Captain Duncan). If we left the two Amendments on the Schedule out of the matter, and took the first Amendment on the Paper, we should find that— the general duty of securing the effective and co-ordinated development of coal, petroleum and other minerals and sources of fuel and power … would still remain, yet the Clause would end— and of promoting economy and efficiency in the supply, distribution, use and consumption of fuel and power, except electricity. I find it difficult to understand how any Minister could secure the effective and co-ordinated development of any fuel and power unless he could have regard to economy and efficiency. Therefore this Amendment, apart from destroying the Bill, would make nonsense of the Clause itself. The extrordinary thing is that my hon. and gallant Friend does apparently believe in co-ordination. He said so on the Second Reading. He does not want co-ordination in one Ministry, but in several.

12.45 p.m.

Apparently what worries my hon. and gallant Friend is that the Minister responsible for the electricity industry and the coal industry is in this difficult position—that he will be encouraging decent standards of life—at least, I hope he would—in the mining industry of this country, with proper wages, which my hon. and gallant Friend thinks will put up the price of coal, and, at the same time, there would be industries like the electricity industry wanting coal as cheaply as possible; and my hon. and gallant Friend does not think that these two things can possibly be reconciled. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has to reconcile something very similar. He is asked to reduce taxation and, on the other hand, is asked from all quarters of the House to give more money to some particular object or another, and yet he still manages to co-ordinate very well. If my hon. and gallant Friend wants this co-ordination to be carried on in several Ministries the danger he fears, surely, is just as great, because if it happened that there was a very powerful Minister in charge of coal and a Minister not so very powerful in charge of electricity, I know what sort of co-ordination there would be. Electricity would come off second best. As the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) said, on the basis my hon. and gallant Friend argues, I cannot see why the Minister of Transport should not take over coal. Equally if the consumption of fuel is the test, there is no reason why the Minister of Fuel should not take over all consuming businesses in this country. The purpose of this co-ordination is to make the most efficient use of fuel and power, and, to me, it seems quite impossible to utilise our fuel resources to the best possible extent, and to the advantage of this country, unless all the industries that consume fuel for the purpose of pro-clueing power are co-ordinated.

A report was issued the other day with regard to the Severn Barrage. Under my hon. and gallant Friend's idea, that would be considered by the Minister of Transport and whoever was in charge of electricity, but it has a very direct effect on the consumption of coal, to the extent of something like a million tons a year. I suggest to my hon. and gallant Friend that we should not make the most efficient use of the fuel and power resources of the country unless there were someone capable of seeing the whole picture. The idea that the Minister has the power to come down to the House and state whether a municipality should take gas or electricity really is not the case. I do not understand that I have any powers of that sort at all.

I come to another point. Who would be responsible for electricity in this country if my hon. and gallant Friend's Amendments to the Schedule were carried? Until the repeal of the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act these powers would be with the Board of Trade. After the repeal of that Act, they would then revert to the Minister of War Transport. But my hon. and gallant Friend has another Amendment on the Order Paper that my Ministry should come to an end in 1948. Electricity would then presumably be under the Minister of Transport, and gas, petroleum and coal would be under the Board of Trade. I honestly cannot believe that the people, and the industries of this country, on the whole, would welcome the idea that in the postwar period particularly the fuel and power resources of this country could be utilised intelligently and efficiently in the national interest if they were to revert to the position in which they were before. The purpose of this Bill is mainly to be found in Clause 1, and, if this Amendment were passed, it would wreck the Bill, and, therefore, I hope that the Committee will reject it.

Amendment negatived.

Major Markham (Nottingham, South)

I beg to move, in page 1 line 14, at end, insert: and with the abatement of smoke and other nuisances arising from the consumption of fuel or utilisation of power. The purpose of this Amendment is to make the Minister of Fuel, in what one might regard as his permanent capacity, responsible for measures towards smoke abatement, and I should like, if the Committee will permit me, to explain what the present position is. At the moment, there are four Departments of the Government interested in this question of smoke abatement. The Ministry of Health, under the Act of 1936, was given certain powers, which, in turn, may be passed on to local authorities. The Department of the Lord President of the Council is responsible for scientific research. The Air Ministry is extremely interested in all measures dealing with the purity of the air, and is responsible for all meteorological investigations. Finally, the Ministry of Fuel comes in as being interested in the origin of all these nuisances, and the question is which is the best method of ensuring that rapid steps are taken to abate the smoke nuisance.

I think it is generally known to every hon. Member of the Committee that our great cities lose one-third of their sunshine through the unnecessary smoke produced domestically and by factories. A loss of sunshine, in its turn, creates illness and disease, which lay a very heavy toll on the nation. I do not think there is anyone who will disagree with me when I say that probably the greatest boon that could be given to the people of this country would be the boon of clear skies. In the past the Ministry of Health has certainly been interested in this matter, but not very forcefully. Under the Act of 1936 they carried out their duty by methods of persuasion and not by compulsion, and I think it is true to say that in general, over the last nine years, persuasion has failed. I should like to give three examples—a village, a great city and the nuisance of slag heaps.

Near my home is a village of only about 500 or 600 people. A small red lead factory was set up there just before the war, and, since then, it has produced for six days a week great volumes of putrid yellow-ochre smoke, which settles down, one-sixteenth of an inch thick, over all the surrounding countryside. In spite of continued protests by the villagers and others concerned, nothing has been done to stop that smoke pollution of one of the smaller villages of Northamptonshire. If we take the case of Manchester, I think it could be shown from the figures of sunshine that smoke pollution in the centre of that city has grown over the last nine years. Therefore, I think it can be said that the Act of 1936, passed to limit the nuisance in these great cities, has only decreased the increase. Finally, there is the example of the slag heaps, which, before the war, were great smouldering conflagrations. Time after time local people interested in this question came out with proposals that these slag heaps should be doused and the fog of smoke stopped, but they were told that nothing could be done. When the war came along and it became necessary to put these slag heaps out, it was done within a very short time. That is a very good example of how- powers of persuasion fail and how there must be powers of compulsion to deal with a public nuisance.

It may be asked why the Minister of Fuel and Power should be saddled with this extra responsibility. I think my right hon. and gallant Friend will agree that he and all his colleagues are as interested as anyone in seeing that this great curse of pollution is stopped, and the reason why I suggest that he should be saddled with that responsibility is that he is responsible for the origin of the smoke. He is responsible for the fuel and for the apparatus which either creates or dissipates this air pollution. If we are to stop this trouble, as I hope it will be stopped, in a short time, it must be stopped at the source, and the only way to stop it at the source is for the Minister of Fuel to be given power to control the apparatus that is put into both houses and industry, and in selecting and, indeed, compelling, the use of the best fuels for all occasions. I need hardly say that that argument has already had considerable support in this House.

In short, I put my argument in this way. In the past four great Departments have been playing about with smoke abatement and very little has been done. The time has come for a single Department to be responsible, root, stock and branch, and for making sure that there is some progress. Therefore, I suggest that the Amendment should be accepted by the Committee, and that the Minister should take over this responsibility and embark immediately on a policy of compulsorily producing smoke-abatement in this country.

Mr. Wootton-Davies

It is a great privilege to support what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Nottingham (Major Markham) has just said. Smoke, in the opinion of many people is one of the most serious disadvantages under which we people in this country live. One sees in the newspapers advertisements for different kinds of sun-lamps, but there is no lamp as good as the sun. This is a matter which can be tackled by the Department. I cannot help the Committee in assessing whether smoke comes from factories or from houses. I know that Manchester is a smoky place, but Liverpool is just as bad. To-day, coal has become so scarce and so expensive, that factories and manufacturers will, for economic reasons, be compelled to do away with smoke. I think I know something about this, because it is something like 4o years ago since I began to experiment and walked about with Hempel's apparatus which I used to analyse flue gases and I think I was one of the first in the country to erect a fan for inducing draught thus making a smoke-consuming plant.

1.0 p.m.

My hon. and gallant Friend gave almost perfect examples in support of his argument. I would like to quote the case of Port Sunlight. I frequently go along the main road which passes it and usually stop and watch the factory. I estimate that there must be burning something like 5,000 tons of fuel a week, and there is never a waft of smoke coming out of those, not chimneys, but very low stacks of some 60 feet high. This smoke nuisance can be tackled and I hope that the Minister will take these powers. Industry can put its house in order as soon as he can give them the necessary plant; they can do it, in the end, without any cost to themselves; of that I am satisfied. Before I came here or was interested in this question, we had two Lancashire boilers, the care of which could always be considered as one fireman's job. We put furnaces down, with stokers, and our Smoke disappeared. I am satisfied that, even during war time, we have saved the cost of these furnaces and stokers, and we consume the smoke. My right hon. and gallant Friend will remember the deputations which have been to him, and I hope that he will insist on more improvements in the technical design of domestic grates. I believe that, in the near future, most of the smoke in big cities will be from the domestic grate and not come from the factory because the cost of fuel will make its economic use a necessity. I therefore hope a at the Minister will agree to insert these words in the Bill.

Mr. Shinwell

Although the Minister may have difficulty in accepting the precise wording of the Amendment—I am not sure what his position is: I have not been informed—I hope he will, at least, give hon. Members a sympathetic reply. There is general agreement in this matter. It could not be otherwise. Anybody who has examined the problem and many who have not examined it are only too acutely aware of the obnoxious smells, the pall of smoke that overhangs our great cities, and even our villages and small townships, and of other objectionable features that have emerged from the wrong utilisation of coal. That is the fundamental problem. Therefore, the Minister can do a great deal. Take, for example, the unsightly slag-heaps that one finds all around mining areas. I am not sufficiently informed of the technical aspects of coalmining practice, but it appears to me that, if there could be an improvement in mining practice, it would not be necessary to have slag heaps at all. The waste could be stowed away in the pits by a method similar to that adopted, I understand, in Germany to a very large extent, and, I believe, in some parts of the minefields of this country. If that were done, we might be spared these terrible sights that we see in the mining areas. As to removing the existing slag-heaps, I understand that a good deal of research on that subject was undertaken by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and that a good deal was done before the war in the utilisation of much of the material comprised in these slag-heaps, but obviously since the war, it has not been possible to do very much.

I do not know whether the right hon. and gallant Gentleman can say anything about the plans that the Department has in mind for dealing with this matter. I estimate—and I have no doubt that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Nottingham (Major Markham), who is very well informed on this matter and has made it a special study for many years will agree with me—that, with the loss to industry by the wrong use of coal, the effect on health and in other ways, the nation must be losing millions upon millions of pounds. I venture the opinion that if we had conserved our coal resources effectively before the war, and used coal efficiently and scientifically, we might have had no coal problem at all during the war, many of our Debates would have been unnecessary, my right hon. and gallant Friend would have been spared a good many headaches, and indeed, the question of setting up a Ministry of Fuel and Power might not have arisen. There are some advantages and some drawbacks, but we did not face this problem before the war. I remember that when I was at the Mines Department myself in 1924, the matter was being considered by some committee. Committees, however, talk and talk around the table, and at large, on these matters, but seldom is anything done in a practical way. Fundamentally it is a question, of coal conservation and utilisation. What the hon. Member for Heywood and Radcliffe (Mr. Wootton-Davies) said about the provision of domestic appliances for the burning of fuel and the general use of fuel is very important indeed. A good deal of study has been given to that problem, and there are a great many new devices and appliances now in use but there is a great deal more to be done on that line, and I hope that it will be done as soon as we can provide ourselves with the necessary appliances.

I am going to be quite blunt with the Committee on this matter. For many years it has been my view, and I even met with a certain amount of opposition among people in mining areas who are so accustomed to burning coal in its raw state that, if I had had the power myself—I mean real power, the sort of dictatorial power one would like to assume on certain occasions in order to get something done —I would have prevented the burning of coal in its raw state in this country. Some people like it. I think it is an abomination, and, in the long run, from the standpoint of health and of fuel conservation, it would be one of the finest reforms in which this country could ever engage if we could prevent the burning of coal in its raw state. Smokeless fuel has emerged in a variety of forms and the burning of coke above a gas-pipe, and the burning of anthracite in anthracite stoves have been very useful but we have to get some standardisation in these matters, something which can be purchased cheaply by consumers, and, what is perhaps just as important, to get clear ideas among the people as to the importance of this issue.

Some people are wedded to the burning of fuel in certain forms. Some like to burn coke, some coal in the raw state and some prefer gas and some electricity. There is a great deal of waste in all this. I know that in some quarters they prefer the "free choice" but you can carry this "free choice" idea too far and as a result the community suffer in the long run. I am not certain how far it is possible for the Minister of Fuel and Power to deal with this matter and whether it really is not a question for the Minister of Health. My hon. and gallant Friend pointed out that it is the function of the Ministry of Health but they do not tackle the matter thoroughly and adequately.

I do not want to suggest that we should set up a separate Ministry for this purpose; that would not do at all. In any event, one must be careful about that because, if you make a suggestion in favour of the setting up of a separate Ministry, you may be met with the remark, "You are looking for the job." One must safeguard oneself against such an accusation. Some liaison between the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Fuel and Power appears to be essential, but, in any event, what we want from the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is an assurance that this matter is being earnestly tackled, and that he will not be handicapped by sentiment or old-fashioned ideas or traditions about the burning of fuel but will face this matter, and that in due course schemes will emerge which will promote better health for the people of this country, and assist industry to conserve its resources and make headway because we are not wasting our resources. That is the essential point. We should not waste our resources but use them efficiently.

Mr. Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

I should like to, say a few words on this matter. It was quite unexpectedly that I happened to come into the Chamber while this Debate was going on. I underline one aspect which has not been sufficiently emphasised so far. I represent a constituency in the country which, I believe —and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power (Mr. T. Smith) will bear me out—has the heaviest sootfall in the whole of Great Britain. In that particular constituency, not only is hardly a blade of grass to be seen, but in practically every house there is someone suffering directly or indirectly, as a result of the bad atmosphere in which they have to live due to the smoke from the chimneys of the big steel-works and factories.

On the surface it would appear evident that this is a matter for the Minister of Health, because the immediate superficial reaction is that upon health. I am wondering to what extent it is desirable, if not even necessary, that the Ministry of Fuel and Power should have much greater powers in this matter even than the Ministry of Health. The question I ask is: Why all this is necessary? There is already general agreement amongst all sections in this House that the smoke nuisance is a curse in this country, and should be tackled very effectively. I have never yet seen a satisfactory answer to the question of why the smoke nuisance continues, and has continued for such a long period, in view of the fact that everybody knows that most countries in Europe, even industrial countries, are not affected by this nuisance to the same extent. They find ways and means of overcoming it. And it is not beyond the powers of British science and research and of the British fuel and power industry to find ways and means of overcoming the trouble in this country. Therefore, the question is, Why has it not been overcome?

Mr. Wootton-Davies

Does not the hon. Member realise that we burn more coal in this country than is burnt on the Continent of Europe where coal has always been so expensive and has to be burnt in combustion stoves? The difficulty in industry has been that it is only within the last generation that we have developed technical devices to burn coal.

Mr. Hynd

I realise that the question of expense comes in. If these methods are expensive, so is the bad health result- ing from the burning of raw coal in this country. I have another question to put to the Minister. I have been told on pretty good authority that before the war, the coalowners in this country spent many thousands of pounds in publicity, it order to discourage the effective economic use of coal and its by-products and to encourage an increased turnover from the sale of raw coal from the pits in this country. I believe that a certain amount of that sort of thing still lingers with regard to deep-mined coal as against surface coal at the present time. I do not know whether the Minister agrees or not. I am also not sure he knows how far there might be some truth in that. I have it on very good authority that that was the case before the war, and it is not out of keeping with the general practice operating under private enterprises, as everybody knows, where the impulse is to earn quick profits at any cost—

1.15 p.m.

The Chairman

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman but he is going far too wide. The question is whether the Minister shall have the functions set out in the Amendment, if he has not already got them. That is really the question.

Mr. Hynd

I agree, and the point I am trying to make is the distinction between the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Fuel and Power because, if left entirely to the Ministry of Health, this particular aspect would have no attention at all. I submit that if the Ministry of Fuel and Power take some interest and some powers in the matter, they are in a better position to apply—and I make no apology for using the words—some form of control where necessary, even some form of interference with private enterprise in these matters. For that reason, I believe it is desirable that, at least, some power should be given to the Ministry of Fuel and Power, even if some of the interests in this matter are left with the Ministry of Health. I would like the Minister in replying to give me some information on whether there is anything at all in the allegations to which I have referred, and which I have submitted in all good faith, because they have been given to me by people who are in a position to know.

Major Lloyd George

I would like to say this at the very outset, that I, and everyone in my Ministry, have the greatest possible sympathy with the object which the words of this Amendment seek to achieve. The hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. Hynd) referred to a part of the world which he said was about the worst for smoke pollution in the country. I can confirm that, because I remember some years ago being on the moors miles away and very high up on a beautiful summer's day and, in a very short period, it became almost night and I found that even the heather was practically covered with soot. I do not think there is really anybody in this country who would be other than sympathetic to this objective. However, I do not think that it is really necessary to put words of this sort into the Bill. As a matter of fact, if I may say so, they go a little far in that they seek to give the Minister powers with regard to the abatement of other nuisances arising from he consumption of fuel or utilisation of power. That would make the powers of the Minister so wide that, for instance, a motor-cycle making too much noise, would come under this definition, or a pneumatic drill, and so on, and that would go far beyond anything the Minister of Fuel and Power ought to have. The reason why I say it is not necessary to put it in the Bill is that the Minister of Health has certain powers already under the 1936 Act, and I keep in the very closest touch with him. I think the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) really gave the indication when he said that so much of this smoke is due to the wrong utilisation of fuel, and in the Bill which is before the House at the moment the Minister is charged with the duty "of promoting economy and efficiency." Whilst it is not 100 per cent. true to say that once you eliminate smoke, you have eliminated nuisance from combustion—for you still can have certain objectionable things even if all the smoke is eliminated—I should say that the basis of most of the nuisance is the wrong utilisation of fuel, as my hon. Friend said. That is why this general duty is given to the Minister of Fuel ant Power.

I can claim that during the war a very great deal has been done with regard to fuel efficiency, a great deal more than many people think. My hon. Friend referred to the possibility that if we had taken up this matter even more enthusiastically than we did before the war, it might not have been necessary for us to have difficulties with our coal supplies, but we would have had very much greater difficulties even than we have to-day if we had not pursued this efficiency campaign as energetically as has been done. We have had the campaign, in industrial centres particularly, we have panels of engineers who visit the works, stokers are given courses of training in the right way of stoking, films and other information, and every possible method that can be used in war time. Of course, the shortage of instruments has a bad effect, but all these methods are utilised in order to create as much efficiency as possible, and there is no doubt at all that the effect, when the savings are se en by manufacturers are, in some cases, very remarkable. Even if we did not pursue it, which we intend to do, these savings would have a great effect even after the war is over.

The chairman of the National Smoke Abatement Society at a meeting only the other day paid a very generous tribute indeed to the work that the Ministry had done in regard to smoke abatement, and Dr. Dobson, who is the chairman of the Atmospheric Pollution Research Committee of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, attributed it entirely to the work of the Fuel Efficiency Campaign that there was an observed reduction of it per cent. I think he said in the sulphur-dioxide content of the atmosphere in one year—in 1942–43. The policy of the Government in this regard, if I may quote from the Housing Manual, which was issued last year, is as follows: The Government and the industries concerned are alive to the need for developing domestic fuel appliances and installations designed to give greater efficiency and to produce the omission of smoke. Recently, both together and Separately, they have sponsored an increasing volume of research work at this end. There is now a wide-spread demand that the evil of atmospheric pollution shall be resolutely attacked, one of its principal causes being the inefficient combustion of raw bituminous coal in the home. The Government attach particular importance to smoke abatement in view of the injury to health and to general amenities caused by atmospheric pollution. The extra labour for the housewife is another evil result which must not be overlooked. That is the policy which the Government intend to pursue. It is being pursued as far as is possible under the limitations of war but I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend of this. I have visited the research centres and a tremendous amount of their work is concerned with this question of the right use of fuel in order to reduce the smoke nuisance as much as possible. That is not confined to the industrial appliances but, indeed, one of the important sections of the research station was entirely concerned with domestic fuel appliances, and there we had a very remarkable range of fuel burning appliances of all kinds and the most careful researches were being carried out. This work will go on. In view of the assurance I have given him, in view of the fact that the words here "economy and efficiency in the use" will cover the question of smoke as far as any Minister of Fuel and Power is concerned, in view also of the fact that this is a machinery Bill which charges me with general duties and that if I wanted any powers such as he suggests I would have to get them from the House, I hope my hon. and gallant Friend will withdraw his Amendment.

Mr. Lewis

I must confess I am a little disappointed at the Minister's reply, particularly having regard to the unanimity of the Committee on this matter. It seems to me that even if this Bill, as the Minister says, only outlines his duties, it is desirable that included in that outline of duties should be some words, placing squarely upon the Minister an obligation with regard to this smoke abatement problem. I want to make a suggestion to the Minister. He will have no opportunity of considering this matter further before Report stage, because I understand that we are to take the Report stage this afternoon. But he will have a further opportunity of considering the matter before this Bill is considered in another place. Having regard to the unanimity on the subject in this Committee this afternoon, will he undertake, between now and the consideration of the Bill in another place, to look at this problem again, to have a word with the Minister of Health about it, and see whether some words placing some such obligation on the Minister of Fuel and Power as we desire might not be inserted in the Bill in another place?

Major Markham

I would like to thank the Minister very much for the co-operative way in which he has met this Amendment. In view of his assurance that he thinks he has sufficient powers already in the Preamble of the Bill, I shall ask leave to withdraw the Amendment. Before doing so, may I say that I am still not satisfied that the Minister now, or under this Bill, has power to make a single factory in this country adopt smoke-abating appliances? He has not got it, the Ministry of Health possibly have it under the 1936 Act but they do not proceed under that Act. I know the Minister is well intentioned but what we want to see are definite results.

Major Lloyd George

May I make it plain that, even if these words were in the Bill, they would not give me the power to do anything? Whatever I have to do, whether it be on coal or electricity, this simply gives me the general line of duties which a Minister would have to pursue. Whatever new, measure I propose, whether gas, electricity or coal, I would have to present to this House. These words would not give me the power to do anything. The Minister of Health already has power under the 1936 Act but, if we find that we need powers to insist an certain things being done, I would have to come to this House.

Mr. Wootton-Davies

I think it is true that the Minister has power to direct coal to certain places. He can make Lancashire people use Lancashire coal and Yorkshire people use Yorkshire coal. If he has power to do that under this Bill, why cannot he use the additional powers suggested by the Amendment?

Major Lloyd George

I think my hon. Friend is under a misapprehension. I have no powers under this Bill of that character. I made it clear on Second Reading that the emergency powers which enable me to do what he referred to, come to an end when the emergency ceases, and therefore this Bill is to take the place of that, but it does not include any of those extraordinary powers.

Major Markham

On the assurance given by the Minister I beg to ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.