§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn." [Mr. William Whiteley.]
§ 3.36 p.m.
§ Captain Crookshank (Gainsborough)
Perhaps it is unusual for a Member of this House to be surprised at anything, but, quite frankly, I am surprised that the Minister of Fuel and Power has not thought fit to start this Debate with an explanatory statement. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition asked that an opportunity should be given in this remaining part of the Session, to look once again at the coal situation, and I thought that the Minister would be the first to welcome such an opportunity, and be grateful for a chance of explaining to us what is the position today. After all, we are in the same position as the Lord President of the Council who stated that he was worried about coal. We are also in the same position as the President of the Board of Trade who, a few days ago, said exactly the same thing. I imagine that both those right hon. Gentlemen, like ourselves, are completely confused by the speeches which the Minister of Fuel and Power has recently made. They were speeches which, whatever else may be said about them, certainly reached a world record in self-contradiction.
However, as the Minister has not seen fit to open the Debate, I shall proceed to put the usual questions. But, first, I should like to remind the House of what we, and the public, think must be the situation, judging from what the right hon. Gentleman has said. Three months ago, before we rose for the Summer Recess, on the 18th Allotted Supply Day, the Minister saidthat there may be some stoppages in industrial undertakings in the course of the winter."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th July, 1946; Vol. 426, c. 68.]That, of course, was a great shock to all of us. We had anticipated that he would have to say something of the kind, owing to the general trend of production and consumption during earlier months. The Minister feared, in July, that there might be some stoppages. Fortunately, perhaps, for everybody concerned, during the month of August the Minister kept quiet, but by 13th September he was making a speech in which he said: 906There is a danger that next winter industrial production will be seriously curtailed"—from which one deduced that he was getting a little more worried, but by 26th September, only 13 days later, he was saying, in a rather airy way:What stands between us and success this winter? A matter of 5 million tons of coal. That is what all the fuss is about. Things are not as bad as some people think.Therefore, hopes rose again, but dear me, by 8th October he was saying:We run a very grave risk of breakdown.Probably the Minister remembers the effect of that speech. It caused considerable discouragement in industrial circles. The Stock Exchange, and those who follow these affairs, found some lack of confidence in the Minister; and share values dropped. Then, two days later, the Minister went to the Connaught Rooms, where he hoped to have dinner, but only managed, in spite of the fact that he was photographed in full evening dress, to eat, rather like Henry VIII in the film, some chicken in one hand and a biscuit in the other; he told a reporter, as it appeared in the "Daily Mail" the next day:I had intended, before I knew of the contretemps"—a very pretty word to use about the lack of fuel—to make a really serious speech, the kind of speech that would have skyrocketed the Stock Exchange.What did the Minister mean? He is a Cabinet Minister, and a responsible person in this country. Did he really mean that he was playing about, or wanted his friends to play about, on the Stock Exchange? If he makes one speech in which he says:We run a very grave risk of a breakdown";and then says:I had intended to make a speech which would have skyrocketed the Stock Exchange,What are we to deduce from that? Is it perhaps that in point of fact—I wish I could think it were possible—he has some more consoling news to give us today, and that things are really better than we had feared from his previous speeches? I do not know why the Minister makes so many speeches. He is not paid by piecerates nowadays. He seems to have adopted the technique of comedians, who mix up pathos with comedy, and get results; but the Minister 907 is not Tommy Handley or George Formby, he is a Member of the Cabinet, and as, so far, we have had no Press relations officer reporting that any jocularity was intended from the Minister, we can only take it that he is completely confused about what is happening in the industry for which he bears responsibility today. Is the situation still serious? Is there a risk of breakdown, and if so, what can be done about it? With what stocks are we beginning the winter? I must admit I am not quite certain when the winter does begin, because we seem to have had it most of the summer, but technically in the coal trade—at any rate, before the war—I think it used to be 1st October. Is that still so?
§ Captain Crookshank
Then, perhaps, the Minister's chances are a little better. In July, the Minister estimated in the Debate that we would start the winter, not with 16 million tons in stock, which was considered the minimum requirement, but with 11 million tons in stock. The figures for the end of August, according to the Statistical Digest, show that on 31st August we had 9,300,000 tons in stock. Will he be able, in September and October, to change that 9,300,000 into 11 million? I should have thought the chances were somewhat remote, and to the extent that he fails to begin the winter with what he calls 5 million tons less than what is really necessary, we get some picture of the gap, and of the danger into which we are running, because let it be borne in mind that, when the Minister was saying in July, in this House, that there might be some stoppages in industrial undertakings in the course of the winter, he was saying that in the light of his statement that there might be 5 million tons missing. To the extent that, in September and October, he does not bring the stocks up to 11 millions tons, the risk is therefore the greater. Does the Minister think it is likely to happen that we shall have a considerable industrial breakdown? When the Minister said, as he did in September—There are only 5 million tons between success and failure. What is all this fuss about? Things are not as bad as some people think."—908 does he agree with the statement made by another distinguished person in the industry, Mr. Horner, with whom in my time at the Mines Department I had the most agreeable relations, and whose judgment in these matters is perfectly sound? Mr. Horner said to a coal production conference in Edinburgh, on 6th October:We are unable to give a firm guarantee that existing factories will continue to function through this coming winter. For each 5 million tons—that is, the 5 million tons in regard to which the right hon. Gentleman says, "What is all the fuss about?"—of coal of which the industry might be short, there will be a consequential loss of employment to more than one million people.Who is right of these two spokesmen for the industry? While Mr. Horner has not the responsibility and authority of the Minister of Fuel and Power, he is the secretary of a great union, he is a person of some consequence, and his words must be heeded. I hope, therefore, that on this issue, in such forecasts as the Minister can give us today he will be perfectly explicit. It was regrettably the case that the Minister did go to one of these conferences recently in London and call for a voluntary cut of 10 per cent. in fuel consumption. I dare say that people who read the statement casually merely thought he was talking about a domestic cut, but he was not, for he said:This saving of 10 per cent. which is needed in coal, gas, and electricity, must apply to all consumers, not only in industry, but also in the home.Surely, a 10 per cent. cut in fuel for industry must lead to a tremendous dislocation and disruption of industrial production. Surely, a 10 per cent. cut in industry is something that is very large indeed, and if that is the position, it is all the more alarming. If one looks at specific industries, the future does not seem to be any too good.
Take, again, the end of August stocks, and consider the position in the electricity industry. It is all set out in this admirable "Monthly Digest of Statistics," so that I do not think anyone can contradict what I say. At that date, the electricity stocks were given at 1,800,000 tons, and the corresponding figure in the previous year was 3 million tons. As the Minister pointed out in the last Debate on this subject, and as we all know, electricity consumption 909 has been going up all the time in this country. To be on anything like a comparable basis with 1945, instead of being 3 million tons at that time, they ought to have been considerably more, whereas they were less than two-thirds of 3 million tons. The Minister earlier, had some self-made trouble about the possibility of restrictions because the spokesman of the electricity industry warned the country that there might have to be some form of rationing. The Minister pinned on that word, and said it was quite out of the question, that there was a most villainous campaign, and that a lot of nonsense was being talked. That was merely because he was taking the narrow word "rationing" instead of the more general word "restriction." I do not suppose that whoever made that speech had in mind the technical difference between rationing, and restriction, or voluntary reduction in consumption, but he meant to imply somehow or other less would have to be consumed during this winter, if we were to get through.
Take iron and steel; their stocks were 440,000 tons instead of the 550,000 tons they had in the previous year. Take all other industries as a whole; at the end of August this year stocks were 2,500,000 tons instead of 3,500,000 tons in the previous year and—what is rather ominous from the point of view of all of us, as consumers and individuals—the Government dumps had stocks of 420,000 tons instead of just under 1,000,000 tons. I imagine that the dumps are the last cushion or the last reserve to which the housewife and householders generally look in time of difficulty. Over and above that, not only are the dumps and the stocks so much down—at least they were at the end of August although if the Minister can say that in September and October there has been such an increase of production that things have righted themselves, so much the better—but we have to remember the very awkward fact that quality also is down. Electricity undertakings have said publicly that they require 2,000,000 more tons to generate the same quantity of electricity because of the bad nature of the coal. We know also that the same applies in the case of the railways, the Great Western Railway, for example, today use 54 lbs. of coal per engine mile, whereas before the war they consumed 43 lbs. We are faced with this inferior quality and the demand for 910 greater quantities just at the moment when production is getting less.
Yesterday in the Press we saw that the motor industry is worried over the fuel position. One firm, I believe, said that there might even be a 40 per cent. reduction in production next year. That, of course, is largely governed by the coal situation. This morning the newspapers—with what truth I cannot check but no doubt the right hon. Gentleman will tell the House—are reported to have only about one week's supply of coal in sight. That is in the Press and it is in order to give the right hon. Gentleman an opportunity to deal with these problems that my right hon. Friend asked for this Debate, and I think it is all the more unfortunate therefore that we had not had the authentic information before we discussed the matter. I am told that in Cardiff now, bunkers are only taken on ships sufficient to enable them to reach the first foreign port of call where they can buy coal. Is that true? It is not because we are exporting anything, because Lord Hyndley, in answer to protests, had to tell the National Union of Manufacturers that we were not exporting coal. That is, I suppose, the greatest tragedy industrially that this country could suffer. Among other things, the hand of the Foreign Secretary would be much strengthened in his international discussions, if he knew that something like a million tons of coal were being exported a week, as was the case as recently as 1937. And when one looks at all the smaller countries that used to rely upon us, the Scandinavian countries, the Low Countries, and even France who used to draw from us a great deal of coal in those days, it is deplorable, apart from the loss of foreign exchange, that the Chairman of the Coal Board has to say in public to the angry customers that we are not exporting any coal. I do not suppose that the right hon. Gentleman can give us today any consolation on that part of the picture, or that he will be able to say that we are going ahead very shortly with the export of coal.
What is the domestic situation? Are we safe there through the winter? In one of his September speeches the right hon. Gentleman said that although he knew that some were going short of coal, people today over the whole field of domestic consumption were getting more 911 coal now than before the war. I must say that I was astounded at that statement because to the best of my recollection before the war, in 1938 when I had to do with these matters, the domestic consumption was about 46,000,000 tons. Last year it was only 32,000,000 tons. By what kind of machination 32 can be more than 46 I do not know, but, whatever the figure, is the right hon. Gentleman reasonably satisfied that in spite of his fears of industrial stoppages, there will be coal in all the households of the country through the winter months? I am sorry, but I warned him that there would be the usual questions and these are the usual questions, although they may be dressed up a little differently. Is he satisfied about the manpower position? If he has been confusing on the industrial issue, he has been absolutely confounding on the manpower problem. In the Debate in July he said:On this subject of manpower, I am bound to say that it is a very distressing story.A little later in the same Debate he said:We must have more men at the coal face, and have them as soon as possible."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th July, 1946; Vol. 426. c. 63 and 66.]That, we thought, was the situation, but in a speech on 26th September the right hon. Gentleman said:It is an entirely erroneous conception that more men are required.Where are we, and what is more important, where are the men? At the railway tribunal's investigation, I understand the right hon. Gentleman's Department estimated that by 1948 the manpower in the industry would total 665,000. Today it is just a little under 700,000 so there is apparently a prospective gap within the next 18 months. How is that gap to be filled and how is the coal which would have been produced by these men to be made good? The right hon. Gentleman was a little vague in July with regard to the prospects of making use of any considerable number, or indeed of any at all, of the Poles in this country. I hope that in the meantime he has looked at this problem again. These Polish soldiers who are now here, deserve well of us. They have a most wonderful record. It is a very romantic story how, having been imprisoned in Russia for months, if not years, and then having almost circumnavigated the globe, they were retrained and re-equipped to become one of the 912 spears of our advance all through Italy. Now, because for reasons of their own they are unwilling or unable to go back to their own country, they are here, and it seems incredible that out of these tens of thousands of men, there are not some or many who could be employed in this way.
They may not have been miners in the past, but the right hon. Gentleman has all sorts of training arrangements—or at least he has told us he has—and I do not see any reason why these could not be extended. And let the Minister remember that when there was a corresponding deficit in the French coalfields in 1919, a great number of Poles went to France to the great advantage of the French mining industry, and so far as I know, they or their sons are still there. Is there a possibility that these men will be employed? I do hope that that step is being favourably considered by His Majesty's Government. After all, when we have been discussing manpower the right hon. Gentleman has had some advantages in that there have been remarkably few industrial stoppages. Yet production is not good with the existing manpower. As I understand it, one of the things the Minister had in mind was to upgrade as far as possible at the coal face. How is that proceeding, and are the incentives, monetary or otherwise, sufficient to bring forward the required number of men? What is happening about the question of more meat? The question was raised whether miners should not be given more meat and I believe a favourable decision has been taken, but I think this decision might have been taken a bit sooner, in view of the lamentable drop in production.
What is happening about the five-day week? When the right hon. Gentleman spoke in July, he said that the matter was being discussed. That is now three months ago. Have the Government come to any other conclusion? Do they think that if there was a five-day week there would be greater production? If so, and if that is their reasoned decision, why. do they not set about putting it into force? Are they delaying for purely political window-dressing reasons? Are they hoping to make it come into force under nationalisation itself, on the vesting date?-Are they "playing politics," in other words? That is the sort of question to which we would like to know the answer. 913 Has the right hon. Gentleman any ideas or views about how to get output back to what it was in the not so very dim past? According to his own Statistical Digest—which we are very glad to have, however belated, for 1945—in the two quarters of this year the output per man shift was 1.02 tons. Yet, in the years immediately before the war, in 1938–39, the output was 1.14. Has he any hope of getting the output back to that figure? If it did get back there, most of our problems, excepting the export trade, our internal problems, about coal would be settled. What has the right hon. Gentleman to tell us about absenteeism?
I do not want to delay the House upon a subject which we have discussed so often, but I want to call attention to one rather striking figure. On page 26 of his Digest, we see that during 1945 and the two first quarters of this year there was a drop in absenteeism over all. In the second quarter of 1946, absenteeism was 15 per cent. That is a high figure, but it was lower than it had been. What is striking in this column is that, for the first time, voluntary absenteeism is higher in percentage than involuntary. That has never happened before till the second quarter of this year. What is the explanation of that? We all know the definition of absenteeism, because it is written here:Voluntary absenteeism means absence for which no satisfactory reason is given.We take no account in this figure ofrecognised holidays, disputes, accidents, transport difficulties, etc."Etc." may cover a lot of things, too. Would the right hon. Gentleman like to give us any view of what has happened? It seems very remarkable that, for the first time, voluntary absenteeism has gone above all the absenteeism which is due to accidents, sickness, transport difficulties, and all the rest of it. I hope the right hon. Gentleman can say something about that matter.
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will expect this question, so I might as well put it: What, if any, progress has been made with regard to the major recommendations of the Reid Committee's Report? More particularly, what has happened about the comprehensive survey which my right hon. and gallant Friend the former Minister put in hand before he left office? Are all those great problems, in the pigeon-hole waiting for 914 the National Coal Board to take over? I hope not. I assume not, from what the right hon. Gentleman used to tell us when we were discussing his Coal Nationalisation Bill in Committee. Our general impression was that everything would go forward full speed ahead, in spite of the fact that those great structural changes were to take place. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can tell us something about that matter.
If we are in a parlous position, and if there is grave risk of breakdown—to use the right hon. Gentleman's phrase—while I know that they would not necessarily make very much difference in the tonnage, there are things which could have been done and which would very clearly have brought home the difficulties psychologically to the public. Did the Government ever consider postponing the end of Summer Time? I am glad they did not do so because I am an agricultural Member. Why, among the many Orders one gets, are we given Nos. 1645 and 1646, which this year allow central heating to begin on 13th October instead of 31st October? Things may be bad, but that kind of thing makes people think that they cannot be so serious after all. How much, if anything, are the Government doing to try to bring the situation home to the people most concerned? I have another interesting document, received no doubt by hon. Members as I got it, from the Government, printed and issued by them. It states:Extra effort now means better living sooner.We hope so. The headings are:The Start from Behind Scratch. The efforts of the past. Two tasks of the future.I looked eagerly to see what sort of appeal was going to be made about coal. This is all I found:Lastly"—It comes last, if you please, instead of first—it"—that is the Government—calls for a special response from the great mining industry, the source of industrial power.How frightfully platitudinous.Coal production in 1945 was 182 million tons, compared with 226 millions in 1938.I am sorry they did not put down what I may call one of my other years, 1937, when it was 240 million tons. 915 That would have made it even more clear. The document goes on:Unless output rises, there is real danger that coal shortage may act as a brake on reconversionThere does not seem much sense of crisis and urgency about that tepid sentiment. If it is necessary—and I hope we shall learn from the exposition which the right hon. Gentleman is to give us, and for which we are all waiting with such eagerness, that it will not be necessary—I trust that steps will be taken to drive home to the country the difficulties in which we appear to be standing. I hope that the Government will do all they can to bring the seriousness home to all concerned. Of course, the way in which influence can best be exercised is in trying to find ways and means by which the miner can produce more. After all, there has been a great increase in mechanisation and there have been many aids and changes. The right hon. Gentleman boasts about it from time to time, and so much the better, but I am afraid that the trouble goes deeper than that.
I am afraid that all the forecasts that we made and all the comments which came from my hon. and right hon. Friends on this side of the House were right. The Government have spent 1946 playing politics in the mining industry. We told the right hon. Gentleman time and time again that instead of spending his own time, his officials' time, the time of the leaders of industry and of Members of Parliament, discussing the changes which his party wished to see brought about in the structure of the industry through nationalisation, they should devote the earlier years in which they were in power to getting the industry right and looking after the problems of reconversion. They must have known that in the great export drive we should need the maximum fuel production. Instead, they have, in point of fact, by all their actions, been doing the very opposite. Many people in the industry and in the Department must obviously be spending all their time thinking out the programme of structural change, how nationalisation is to work, and setting up the board and its organisation, instead of devoting their full time to the fundamental question of getting more coal now.
As a final point—if I may be allowed one more—I would express the hope that 916 the Minister may give us some views of the Government's intention about the vesting date under the Act. I know that contrary views are expressed. Some people tell me that an early date would be very desirable because everybody is uncertain and does not know where things are. Other people tell me that a later date will be better because there is so much work to be done before it can happen. There is condemnation of the Minister because, after all, he let the cat out of the bag when he said they were going in for nationalisation without having made any plan to carry it out. To the extent that that is true, obviously, they want more and more months to make the plan. But it would be a good thing if the right hon. Gentleman could say, one way or the other, if not today, very soon, what are the Government's intentions.
I do not know, in all this welter of contradictory expressions of opinion, exactly what we are to make of the present situation, but certainly, statistically it looks as if we are in a bad way. Mr. Horner, speaking in Birmingham, and reported in "The Times" of 23rd September, said:The nation was heading for bankruptcy. Without a solution of the coal problem the whole structure of British economy must fall. That was the responsibility which rested on the mining community.If Mr. Horner was right, if it rests on the mining community, it rests in a sense in which it has never rested before on the shoulders of the Minister himself, because he has got responsibilities now. He has not taken them all over, because the vesting date has not come, but they are very near, and he is, therefore, the spokesman of the mining industry, and the mining community—the word Mr. Horner used—in a sense in which none of his predecessors have been its spokesman. Let us hope that he can give us some words of consolation, because, if not, I am afraid that he will go down in history as the Minister without fuel, and without power.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ The Minister of Fuel and Power (Mr. Shinwell)
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman began with a complaint about the procedure associated with this Debate. In his view the Government should have made a statement on the coal position which, no doubt, the Opposition would have devoured in due course. But on 917 24th July, on the occasion of the Debate in Supply, I requested the Opposition to allow me to give an account of my stewardship at the Ministry of Fuel and Power on which, as I assumed, the House could raise a Debate and express an opinion, but the Opposition then declined to allow me to begin the Debate. They insisted that they must begin; of course, we concurred, and now the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, who was associated with the demand that the Opposition should begin operations on the last occasion, suggests that we should have-assumed that role in this Debate.
For several weeks and months, in contrast to the right hon. Gentleman's speech. which I must say was temperate and reasonable in tone, and about which I make no complaint, the Tory Press in the most scurrilous and, indeed, disgusting fashion, which is on the whole customary and which should not have surprised us, has attacked the Ministry of Fuel and Power and the whole range of Government policy. [Interruption.] If any evidence is required, consult those organs of unimpeachable veracity. Naturally we assumed that some day there would emerge a demand from the Opposition for a Debate—[HON. MEMBERS: "For coal"]— and that, consistent with the expressions of opinion that were common to the Tory Press, they would have stated their case. That is what we would have expected and that is exactly what has happened, except, as I say, that the case, as put today, is not scurrilous in character but is temperate, moderate and, apart from inaccuracies, very reasonable indeed.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has asked many questions, and he has a right to ask questions. What is an Opposition for, anyway? And Heaven knows this Opposition has not too many luxuries. Even after its sojourn at Blackpool, it is entitled to ask questions, but, be it noted, there will be answers, and these answers in the nature of the case may take up a little of the time of the House. I take it that hon. Members in all quarters of the House are seriously concerned about the coal position, that is to say, they are all anxious to assist the Government in procuring more coal. Or are hon. Members on the Opposition Benches more concerned about lambasting the Government, for, after all, if we should secure all the coal we need, then there will be no case for the Opposition at all? That 918 would be fatal to their interests, and I sometimes wonder whether the Opposition are as anxious that the Government should secure the coal as they pretend to be. At any rate, there will be answers to the questions which have been put.
What is the case against me, as Minister? It amounts to this—that there have been contradictions in the speeches I have made in the last eight or nine months, that there has been no consistency in my utterances, as a result of which the Opposition have been confused and bewildered—as if it required my speeches to do that. Let us consider the evidence. The evidence is all to be found precisely where one would expect it to be—in the speeches themselves, not in the snippets, the excerpts that have appeared recently in the Tory Press, divorced in almost every case from the context. It is an old trick with which we are quite familiar. We have even tried it ourselves and we are under no illusion about it. But let us glance at some of these utterances, not because it matters personally, for, after all, personal considerations are of no consequence at all, but because it has a bearing on the whole situation. "The Times"—a very reputable, respectable paper indeed—has itself engaged in this controversy. In a series of ponderous leading articles, it has occasionally assailed the Minister of Fuel and Power. In a leader on nth October—only the other day—it said:On Tuesday Mr. Shin well made for the first time"—note "for the first time"—a serious and specific appeal to the public to reduce fuel consumption during the months ahead by at least a tenth.It goes on in the same strain, indicating that the action I took was belated, that I appeared to be unaware of the true state of affairs. Yet, strangely enough, on nth February of this year, many months before, there appeared a leading article in the same paper in reference to "Mr. Shinwell's Appeal" in which these words appear:The complaint cannot indeed be made against Mr. Shinwell, as it has been made against Sir Ben Smith, that he has given them inadequate warning of the impending crisis. He has been vehement in exhortation to the mining industry for many months past.Make your choice. But that is not all: the same applies to leading newspapers, like the "Daily Telegraph," the "York- 919 shire Post" and many others. Why is it that these newspapers have occasionally directed attention to what is a fact, namely, that I have regarded the coal situation as very grave indeed? It is because throughout all the speeches I have made, wherever I happened to be, since I became Minister of Fuel and Power, there has been a constant theme running through them all. namely, that as a result of steady deterioration in the coalmining industry, the decline in the manpower position, and above all, rising consumption of all forms of fuel, the position was very grave. I have made that statement over and over again. I have made it, as the evidence will reveal, at miners' conferences, speaking to my friends the miners in the most forthright fashion. I have made the same statement to the persons associated with the electricity supply industry, and I have made the same statement in the House on more than one occasion. Never, at any time, have we at the Ministry of Fuel and Power endeavoured to conceal from the public or the House the facts of the situation. There has been no inconsistency whatever.
Of course, it is perfectly true—and I make the ready and frank admission—that when one is speaking to a miners' meeting in an area where the men have, by their efforts, produced more coal than before, one speaks in an encouraging fashion. I have had to address letters to various coal districts when they have achieved their target figure, and the substance of those letters has appeared in the newspapers, and the leading articles of the newspapers convey the impression that the Minister of Fuel and Power is satisfied with the situation. On the contrary, every time I have suggested an encouraging view and an appreciation of the efforts of the miners, I have, at the same time, indicated that the position was far from satisfactory and that we wanted a greater effort still.
I will not occupy the time of hon. Members further by dilating on these personal matters. It is customary for the Opposition to oppose and criticise and it is usual for the Government to defend themselves, but on this occasion I propose to do a little more than to defend the position of the Government. We must put this mining problem in its proper perspective, and I begin with what is undoubtedly the most vital issue of all. The right hon. Gentle- 920 man, quite properly, addressed himself to that aspect of the problem—I refer to the manpower position. You cannot produce coal, it is obvious, unless you have the requisite amount of manpower. Consider the position in which I found myself when I arrived at the Ministry of Fuel and Power. In 1940, as a result of the French collapse, thousands of British miners were disemployed. I am making no complaint against the Coalition Government. Of those who at the time happened to be at the Department of Mines, as it was called—the Ministry of Fuel and Power as it subsequently became—I make no complaint at all. They were faced with unpleasant facts and they took a certain course of action, but that divested the mining industry of some of its youngest, most lusty and vigorous miners. Hon. Members who were in the last Parliament will recall how often attention was directed to the state of the manpower position. My hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) was obsessed with this problem, and frequently, speaking from this Box, demanded that more manpower should be provided to enable him to provide the coal.
What happened? As a result of pressure exerted by the House, and because of the facts of the situation, the Coalition Government decided to liberate a number of men from the Forces, in all about 60,000. However, the position became so serious that in 1943, 43,000 Bevin boys were introduced into the industry. If I may say so—and here again I make no complaints but we have to face facts—the introduction of Bevin boys untrained, frustrated from the beginning, discontented, capable of causing serious trouble in the pits, was perhaps the most serious aspect of the deterioration to which I am referring. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has spoken about absenteeism. Are hon. Members aware of this fact: that the absenteeism among Bevin boys has been more than twice as high as the absenteeism among regular miners? Some time ago I made a speech in connection with the Bevin boys' position, and said how glad I would be to release them. Even now, it is not possible to release them all. I am bound to say in parenthesis—although it is exceedingly important—that many of the Bevin boys have done exceptionally well and they will remain in the industry. Some of them are training as mining engineers, and more 921 power to their elbows. Surely we shall not always rely upon boys from mining villages.
However, the position has been so bad that we are now engaged in the process of shaking out the undesirable elements, and I beg hon. Members to note this. In the last five weeks we have lost nearly 5,000 men from the coalmining industry. Many of them have been dismissed because of the modification of the Essential Work Order, as incorrigibles, that is to say, regular absentees. One would suppose with this declining manpower, due to the shake-out of these undesirable elements, that production was declining. On the contrary, in those five weeks, although the manpower was less, production increased. I will give the House some figures which are conclusive in this regard. In the week ended 14th September, the output was 3,440,000 tons; in the week ended 21st September it was 3,538,000 tons; in the week ended 28th September, 3,631,000 tons; in the week ended 5th October, 3,657,000 tons, and in the week ended 12th October, with actually 5,000 fewer men than for the comparable week of 1945, 3,687,000 tons. Some 100,000 tons more than last year were produced. The output per man shift has gone up, absenteeism has declined.
My critics can make the most of this, because it is an apparent inconsistency, the kind of inconsistency of which I have been constantly accused. While I appreciate the improvement in those figures, I say at the same time that I am far from satisfied. All along—hon. Members are aware of this—I have demanded another 100,000 tons a week at the very least. Not that 100,000 tons more weekly would enable us to revive exports, not that it would give the domestic consumer all the coal we are anxious to give the domestic consumer, not that it would make us completely secure, but that it would enable us to face the winter with a real prospect of survival, and without any dislocation of our industry. I have been supported in this—there has been no lack of cooperation—by the National Union of Mineworkers, who have spoken in precisely the same terms. It might be argued, and I can understand this as quite reasonable in the circumstances, that if this is the best we can do, it is a very serious matter, because it means a shortage of stocks, and a serious 922 situation for the electricity and gas companies, and for industry.
Here I come to the bones of the question. However anxious we are to promote the export trade—and we are certainly anxious to give the domestic consumer more coal because they have gone long enough without their full quantity—the last thing we want to do is to impose any restrictions of any sort or kind on electricity and gas consumers. We want these amenities; we want more of them. But if this is to be achieved, it is not merely a question of manpower. It is much more a question of reorganisation in the pits. Whether we like it or not, that is a long term problem. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to what the right hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd-George), my predecessor at the Ministry of Fuel, had done in the preparation of some reorganisation schemes. Whether we accept those reorganisation schemes or the schemes propounded by Sir Charles Reid, and now under review by the National Coal Board, they cannot be applied at once. At the same time, we are proceeding with a substantial measure of mechanisation, and this has a bearing on the subject of manpower.
The other night I attended a function at Nottingham, about which there has been quite a fuss. What was the nature of the function? We had gone there to celebrate the production of the millionth ton of coal by the Meco-Moore machine, the most modern piece of machinery in the mining industry, and a British machine, be it noted, probably the best in the world. Those machines are coming along at the rate of about three a month. That is very small, and we would like to step up the production. What is the position about these machines, and the effect on output? Where the Meco-Moore machine is in operation output has gone up to 13 tons per manshift, as against an average of six tons per manshift. It has doubled the output and it can do better still. It has yet to be utilised in the thin seams of which there are far too many in this country. I am informed on the highest authority that before long, a machine will be produced capable of tackling the thin seams, and we shall get a much higher output. The sooner these machines come along, the better it will be. It is not merely a question of manpower. Sometimes there is 923 not pit room. Sometimes we try to up-grade men from the surface and haulage to the coalface, and there is not room for them. Sometimes there is, but very often there is not. It is a question of machinery plus better haulage arrangements. Are hon. Members aware that in some of the most modern pits men are walking three miles to work, and three miles back again underground? Consider the waste of time, the coal lost, and consider the effect on output, and the effect on the health of the men.
All these problems have to be resolved, and it takes time to resolve them. I could spend a great deal of time castigating those who were responsible for this neglect. But what is the use? We have to address ourselves to the future. That is what we are doing. The right hon. Gentleman asked me what was being done in regard to reorganisation. I can tell him that Sir Charles Reid and Mr. Eric Young, two of the highest experts in the country, are busily engaged with technicians considering the layout of pits. I have ventured to suggest to them—in a friendly way, not directing them as that is not my function—that we have to consider not only the long term problem, but the short term problem, because if we do not solve the short term problem, we may never have an opportunity of solving the long term problem. But we are not relying entirely on the deep mine coal position.
We believe that the output will increase; the trend is in the right direction, and we are making up to some extent the weekly wastage, although not as rapidly as we would like. One of the reasons is that the mining industry is not an attractive industry. Boys are not rushing to join the mines. We have had a high powered propaganda campaign for some time, a lot of money has been spent, and a great deal of work done, to induce boys to come in. A great many are coming in, but not as many as we would like. We have been attracting men from other industries, and as we attract them there is a manpower shortage in those industries. Our efforts are being related with the efforts of other Government Departments. We have tried to enlist Irish labour, and have had some considerable success, but the amount of untrained, green labour that can be absorbed into 924 the mining industry is, to some extent, contingent upon training facilities and hostel accommodation. These matters are being dealt with as rapidly as possible. Nothing is being overlooked.
On the subject of manpower, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman asked about the Poles. I can assure hon. Members that the question of Polish labour in the mines has been under review for many months, I will not seek to deny it. Unfortunately, as it appears to me, the National Union of Mineworkers are not willing to have the Poles in the pits. I will not go so far as to say that the matter is finalised, but up to now, we have not succeeded in convincing the National Union of Mineworkers that the small body of Poles who are now available, and who are mineworkers, should be absorbed. Hon. Members opposite may say, "Why not force them, why not put them in the pits?" There is one achievement to the credit of the Government in connection with the coal problem. It is that there has been no serious industrial disturbance since the Election. The amount of coal that has been lost through disputes is infinitesimal. Where unofficial disputes have occurred, I have taken drastic action, for which I have been censured. I have closed down pits and said frankly that I would stand no nonsense, and I have acted in cooperation with the National Union of Mineworkers. There must be discipline, there must be the acceptance of leadership, otherwise the whole industry would go into chaos.
Therefore, when I was faced with a problem of whether I should force into the pits 200 trained Polish miners, who were all that were available, or defer, at any rate for the time being, to the views of the National Union of Mineworkers, what would hon. Members expect me to do? Take the risk of a dispute, by splitting the mineworkers from stem to stern? I will do nothing of the sort. We might have been able to find another 1,000 or so more Poles who could have been trained, but it does not seem that this can be done. Might I correct an impression which seems to have gained considerable ground in the country? Newspapers have been talking and writing about Polish labour in the mines as if every Pole were a miner. They talk about 40,000 or 50,000 Poles. The percentage of miners in Poland was always 925 low. There is not a big mining industry there in proportion to the population—nothing like ours. As it happens, after the closest possible analysis and investigation, I have discovered that there are not a great many of these Poles.
At the same time I would be glad to have more labour. On the question of whether I have been inconsistent in saying that 700,000 men in the industry would be adequate, in view of what I had previously said about our needs in respect of labour, I have only this to say: Give me 700,000 miners with an effective employment—not 700,000, because there are always some absenteeism, some compensation cases, and difficulties, that lead to men remaining away from work, but an effective employment of round about 660,000 men, who will attend their work regularly—and with, not complete reorganisation but some measure of reorganisation, we will produce all the coal the country needs. If hon. Members doubt my views on this subject—I have long held those views—I direct their attention to what has been said by Mr. Joseph Hall, the President of the Yorkshire area of the National Union of Mineworkers. Hon. Members may be interested to know Mr. Hall's views on this subject. He said, only the other day—a report appeared in the "Sheffield Telegraph," of 7th October—he had always contended that there was sufficient manpower in the industry. The Minister had said 700,000 men were required, but he contended that 550,000 could give this country all the coal it needed.He was thinking, of course, in terms of mechanisation. Mr. Horner has expressed the opinion that a minimum of 700,000 men would be sufficient for our purpose. What I want to do is to repair the weekly wastage, a most difficult problem. We have to make the industry more attractive. That is why we talk about statutory holidays with pay. That is why we talk about a five-day week, which will come into operation before very long; the conditions are now being negotiated between the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers. That is why we talk about incentives. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman spoke about incentives. When there is an unattractive and an unpleasant industry, which men dislike, when even at the best it is not a congenial industry in which to work, it has to be made more attractive. We have 926 done everything possible in that direction.
May I say this about the miners? One cannot generalise about them. Much of this industry is incalculable. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) knew something about it when he was at the Ministry. So did the right hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George). It changes from day to day.
Like the seams in the pits, it varies, and one runs up against faults time and again. But I do say that 80 per cent. of the men in the mining industry have done a really good job. There is a minority who have not been doing so well, but I detect an improvement. We have waited for it for many months. I have talked about it and hoped for it. I thought we had it in May last. I direct attention to another apparent inconsistency. Last winter, we were in the throes of trouble just as now. I was hoping for the best. All the facts and figures were against me, but I said that we would get through the winter. I am not saying that it was easy for consumers, but we got through with a minimum of disturbance. I have here the actual facts and figures about stoppages of industry. In the month of May a remarkable thing happened. The weekly average for the five weeks in May was 3,700,000 tons, the highest for a considerable time and in a period of declining manpower. I thought that at last the trend was in the right direction. Then came June, July, August and nearly the whole of September, and I hope my miner friends will excuse the term, an orgy of holidays. The miners—and who are more entitled to holidays?—have had better and longer holidays than they have ever had previously; they have had more money and enjoyed themselves. Now they are coming back to work, and I can see that the trend is again in the upward direction.
It is not enough. We have to get open cast coal. We are working as hard as we can to step up its production. We have been hampered by lack of machinery. Many of the machines came from America. Many were no use, there were no spare parts, they broke down frequently. All sorts of difficulties and handicaps have been encountered, but we have recently been getting about 200,000 tons a week. 927 Open cast coal, apart from that on the perimeter of the sites, is coal of the best quality. We want more of it. It may be that we shall require to continue with open cast operations in order to supplement the production of deep mine coal so that we might assist in the slow revival of our export trade. That is the idea.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman asked several questions and shortly I will endeavour to give him replies. He asked me about evening dress. [HON. MEMBERS: "And the chicken."] I was not aware that the Tory Opposition had a monopoly of evening dress. They have had a monopoly of so many things in the past that they think they are always going to hold on to them. They had a monopoly of the Union Jack. The day of Tory monopoly has passed—even extending to the subject of evening dress and chicken, if indeed it was chicken, and I have my doubts. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman talked about the effect of my speech on the Stock Exchange. If the Stock Exchange is such a tender plant that it can be disturbed by an utterance of the Minister of Fuel and Power then the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is not entitled to say, as he did at the end of his speech, that I have no power. I have remarkable power even if I have very little fuel. I understand, however, that the Stock Exchange has revived. Of course, I know the right hon. and gallant Gentleman too well. He was not serious when he suggested that I was anxious to effect fluctuations on the Stock Exchange for personal reasons. He did not mean that, I know.
§ Mr. Shinwell
He did not mean it any more than I would suggest he would be guilty of a misdemeanour of that kind. These things we do not do in whatever party we reside. Otherwise, we ought not to be in this House. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman asked me, quite properly, what are our stocks for the winter. I am not happy about them any more than he is, but they are better than we thought they would be. It will be remembered that I produced a Budget in July. There was some confusion about the figures, but on analysis we find the figures were quite sound. The position remains pretty much as it was except for 928 two factors, one of which is disturbing and the other encouraging.
I will be frank with the House. The disturbing factor is that our estimate of the savings to be effected by converting boiler plant from coal to oil is somewhat out. We expected to save round about 3,000,000 tons. There is ample fuel oil and there is no difficulty about purchase. The rebates have been effected and that is all in train. Nevertheless, we have our difficulties about plant. The railways have had difficulty about tanks and the like, and it looks now as though we will not do any better. I hope we shall do better but it appears that we shall not do any better than effect a saving in the coal year, ending in April, of 1,000,000 tons. However, the saving is progressive in character and we shall accelerate the rate of progress in the summer months. That is the discouraging factor. The encouraging factor is that our estimate of output was too low. We expect to get 2,000,000 tons more, so these factors are balanced. The stock position, the position of all stock, is this. It was 9,300,000 at the end of August. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman doubted whether it would come up to 11,000,000. In September it was 10,320,000, and we expect that at the end of this month it will be 11,000,000. I will admit that it is 3,000,000 short of what it was last year and, in fact, 5,000,000 short of what I wanted it to be at the end of October when I spoke about 16,000,000 tons stock. That was perhaps an extravagant figure I doubted whether that was possible.
§ Mr. Jennings (Sheffield, Hallam)
If the Minister does not get this 3,000,000 tons, will that put industry out of balance?
§ Mr. Shinwell
As the hon. Member will understand, I am bound to say something on the topic before I sit down. That is the position. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman asked me about the state of electricity stocks. They are very bad. I should like them to have been five weeks at this time. They are running into four weeks. What we are aiming at is a cushion at the end of the year of an amount, which need not be stated because it is merely an assumption, which will carry the electricity companies through the rest of the winter period; but whether we can do that or not I am not certain. We have met the Central Electricity Board 929 and the Electricity Commissioners and taken soundings on this matter. Consumption is excessive, far in excess of last year and far in excess of what it was before the war. We have considered whether it would be possible to adopt a restriction scheme. A rationing scheme is out of the question and quite impracticable, but the matter has not been finally settled. I spoke of a 10 per cent. cut and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman expressed the view that it was a little bewildering as to what was meant. I will tell him. Of course, if there was a 10 per cent. voluntary cut on the part of all consumers, it would mean a difference of about 17,000,000 tons of coal, and that is not intended. Many consumers have economised to the limit and we expect no more from them. Many industrial consumers have adopted fuel efficiency methods and effected a considerable coal saving. We expect no more from them. But if the remainder of the industrial concerns and domestic consumers economised or promoted fuel efficiency methods, as the case may be, to the same extent that others have done, we should save sufficient coal to enable us to get through the winter without any disturbance whatever.
Broadly, therefore, the problem amounts to this. We shall have a gap, as I said in July, of about 5,000,000 tons. It may be less than that. Some of my advisers think that it will be 3,500,000 tons, but I prefer to say 5,000,000 tons. How can we meet it? We can meet it (1) by increased output, and we are doing our best in that direction; or (2) by asking consumers to economise. If we find in the course of the next month or so that our appeal for the promotion of further fuel efficiency methods and economies has not resulted in further saving, we may have to come and tell the House of further more drastic steps, for the one thing we must avoid at all costs—and this is our full intention—is any dislocation of our industrial activities in the coming months. I believe that additional savings can be effected. The recent fuel efficiency conference in London, which was the greatest conference of its kind yet held, proved conclusively that much can be done in that direction. I will not enter into that subject this evening.
On the question of iron and steel, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman was a little inaccurate. The position about iron and steel is that on 28th September there 930 was stock for 2.4 weeks as compared with 2.2 weeks last year; but I am advised that iron and steel never stock on a higher level than about two weeks. The position is not quite so bad as it seems, yet, at the same time, we should like to see—and I beg hon. Members to understand this, in spite of what I said—iron and steel, engineering, general industry and the merchant yards more fully stocked than they are.
§ Captain Crookshank
I accept what the right hon. Gentleman says, but I hope he will not charge me with inaccuracy, because the figures I gave were quoted from the Statistical Digest.
§ Mr. Shinwell
If anything is wrong, I will communicate with the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, but I am advised that that is the position. I have endeavoured to put the case plainly. There have been no inconsistencies. We have drawn attention to the gravity of the situation. We have warned the mineworkers when necessary, and we have encouraged them when we felt it was right so to do. We shall escape from this problem, not in the next few months, though we shall do our best to mitigate the harsh details, but we shall escape from this mining problem for the first time—because it is no new problem but one which has faced this country for many years—when we have, as a result of nationalisation and the establishment of the National Coal Board with its technical staff, secured full co-operation between mineworkers and management in the organisation of the mining industry. What I have said is pretty much what I said on the first occasion, though perhaps it is a little more emphasised. I hope that, now I have explained these matters, hon. Members will feel convinced that, even if the position is still grave, at any rate, nothing has been overlooked by the Ministry of Fuel and Power in correcting the position.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Colonel Lancaster (Fylde)
We are in some difficulty this afternoon in debating this matter without the advantage of the quarterly figures at our disposal. It is important that the House should note what the Minister said about the stock situation, and, indeed, the recent figures he has given of production. The crux of the situation, however, is whether or not we can strike a balance between production and consumption, and I want to give 931 the Minister a few figures in regard to this very important matter.
At the present moment, production is running slightly ahead of consumption. That is to be expected during the summer months but, if we are to take last year as a fair analogy with what is likely to occur during the winter months, I think it is fair to say that consumption, including that very small figure of exports which we are at present sending abroad, is likely to rise in a gradual curve to a figure of about 4¼ million tons by next March. Even if we take the very best month of this year, to which the Minister referred, the month of May, and we attain the same figures, and I hope we shall, nevertheless, we must budget for a monthly deficit of about 2½ million tons. It is unnecessary to over-emphasise the gravity of that figure. About a year ago, the Minister was appealing for 8 million tons. I never expected him to get it and I told him so, and, on 24th July, he disclosed to the House that he had not succeeded. His words were, "Of course he did not get 8 million tons; he only got 2 million tons." I hope that all the Minister's calculations are not based on wishful thinking. This is much too serious a matter, and we must try to take a balanced view of it.
If the figures I have given prove to be correct, we shall face a crisis in February of next year. One of two things will happen. Either we shall have to discontinue entirely our exports, or some considerable sections of our industry will have to go on slow time and there will be a great deal of domestic distress. It is profitless to attribute blame for this situation wholly to the Government. There are all sorts of factors, to which the Minister has referred, which impinge on this situation. I do not want to go into questions of absenteeism or the fall in production. There are a whole number of reasons why the situation is what it is today. I think, however, that there is one satisfactory aspect, to which the Minister also referred, and that is the effect of the withdrawal of the Essential Work Order, which has enabled managements to make certain adjustments from which results are beginning to be seen. There is no doubt that the difficulties encountered in the transitional period are aggravating the position. It was in- 932 evitable, if this change over was to occur. Quite naturally, certain steps had to be taken by the Coal Board and by the new divisional boards. They had to staff the central board and set up their organisations on a divisional level. It has been necessary for them to call upon the senior members of the staffs of undertakings to fill these positions. Some of these men have already gone and others are going shortly. This results in a very real gap in the administrative staffs of their undertakings. The industry does not know from one month to the next who is going next and where, and, meanwhile, additional work falls upon the remaining members of the staff.
It seems to me that one of two decisions has now to be taken. Either the Minister is going to take his courage in both hands and say "Although we are not, administratively, in a position to take over the industry at this moment, nevertheless, all this upset is such that, on balance, and with the improvement which I may reasonably expect, psychologically, from the men, I think it worth while bringing forward the vesting date and announcing it immediately," or he will have to say, "We are in no position at present, administratively, to take over this industry. What is happening meanwhile is causing such disturbance that if the vesting date should coincide with that period of the year when we shall be approaching the crisis, the disruption will be such that I see no alternative to putting it back to some date further on next year." On balance, I believe that would be a wise course, and I shall attempt to indicate why I think so. At one time I was of the opinion that it was in the national interest that this transitional period should be cut down drastically. I anticipated that the National Coal Board would come into being and would set about its task. It would create the divisional boards and they, in turn, would set up their staffs. That was feasible.
I did not anticipate that any attempt would be made to reorganise the entire framework of the industry at this juncture; I did not think that was possible. I thought that, having accomplished those first two tasks, the setting up of the National Coal Board and the divisional boards, there would be a period during which the position would be assessed and that some time would elapse before the next stage was undertaken. Apparently 933 I was wrong, for the further stage is being embarked upon. In the time that elapses between now and the end of the year, I do not consider that there is the slightest chance of the organisation being in a fit condition to take over the industry. It seems to me that the only wise course is to call a halt at this moment to any further withdrawals from the industry, and to allow existing managements to carry on, at any rate until the crisis is over. There is a great quantity of work for the Board to do meanwhile in perfecting their organisation, in active consultation with existing managements, in the preparation of plans to which the Minister referred, and in the dissemination of their policy.
What is the present position? Although the Board have been in active existence for three months and most of the divisional boards are formed, no indication of an immediate policy has been vouchsafed to existing managements. However anxious they are to cooperate, and to ease the difficulties of the changeover they have not so far been taken into the confidence of the National Coal Board or the divisional coal boards. How can they attune their policy to that of the new control? That is something which I feel should have the immediate attention of the Minister. In my opinion, the administrative aspect of this matter has, all along, presented us with the biggest problem. The Minister and the Coal Board will have at their disposal a fair number of men of real technical ability to deal with the problems of production. Where the gap will arise will be in regard to men confronted with the problem of integrating a number of separate entities which, in the interest of tidy planning, have been hastily thrown together and require to be coalesced into a workable whole. It is a most delicate problem, and one which can be solved only by the soundest administrative methods.
What are the immediate possibilities in regard to the improvement of production? It is the duty of the Opposition to be constructive, and I want to put forward four general lines of endeavour which I feel can profitably be pursued at this moment. The first is planning. The Minister has referred to that, and, in my opinion, it is the most important of all. If the country is to get value for what it is paying for this industry, and if we are 934 going to see that the £150 million of immediate capital wisely spent, plans must be prepared throughout the industry. All that can he done before the vesting date. The Reid recommendation should be in the blueprint stage now. I wonder how much we have achieved? In that connection, as the Minister mentioned, the question of haulage must loom very large. Plans in regard to haulage—after all, all underground plans are, to a great extent, based on haulage—are, at present, being held up in certain directions while awaiting decisions in regard to the various types of motive power which can be used underground.
Power loading shows an encouraging story in regard to the particular development to which the Minister referred, but if we look at the Statistical Digest, the figures are still deplorably low. In August, 1942, when Mr. Watson Smith returned from America, having carried out his survey on behalf of the Minister of Supply, he gave as his opinion that 25 per cent. of the conditions in this country lent themselves to the application of power loading. Subsequent to that, technical opinion was inclined to raise that figure even higher, and something in the neighbourhood of 50 to 80 million tons was eventually visualised. We have gone but a very little way down that road. The manipulation of these machines does not present us with the main difficulty. Continuous experiment is needed to find how this technique can be applied to our varying conditions. There is no standard method; it varies from seam to seam, and until managements are familiar with the use of the machines and the effect they have on the various problems of roof control and the like they cannot expect to make any headway. Unless a most vigorous campaign of education of managements is undertaken and they are encouraged to experiment with these new methods, we shall not make the strides that are so necessary. In my opinion and, no doubt, in that of the Minister also, the most immediate result we could obtain at the coal face lies in the direction of the introduction of these power loading machines.
The third point which I think merits immediate attention and one which need not await the vesting date before it is embarked upon, is that of personnel management. The Parliamentary Secretary 935 has, I know, been investigating the problems of education, training, men management—call it what you will. Here is a wide field to be surveyed and cultivated. In that regard, I would point out that, meanwhile, welfare schemes are pretty well at a standstill throughout the country; and we would like to see this matter got under way again. My fourth point lies in the direction of proving our unrecorded coal resources. Boring for coal and subsequently sinking is, inevitably, a slow process. But if we are to develop our resources and find both pit room and face room to take the place of measures which are gradually being exhausted in various parts of the country, we cannot lose any further time.
I have dealt with these points because I felt that the value of today's Debate lay in the short term approach to this problem. In view of what we are confronted with this winter, we are bound to take a short term view. But there are other matters which we cannot ignore. Some of them have already been mentioned, others will doubtless receive the attention they deserve in the course of this Debate. The hectic nature of the Minister's pronouncements on production is not really very important. They vary from one week to another, but he has his reasons and, although they are not convincing ones, I do not think they will mean the difference between success or failure.
The disturbing fact for me is the lack of clear thinking. It seems that we are living in a world in which we move from one week to the next, on a basis of improvisation. Why does State planning, of which we have heard so much, stop at the national level? Can it not descend to the level of industry itself? The thing seems so pointless. No guidance is forthcoming. The necessity for sound administration appears to be overlooked. I will give the House a simple illustration of my point, in which the Minister has innocently taken part. A few days ago, the Minister decided to send a letter to each of the men in the industry. He is quite entitled to do so, and I have no quarrel with that, although I do not think he was very wise to go over the heads of the Coal Board at this moment. But see how the thing is done. Instead of sending these letters through the normal channels these are ignored. 936 Now Field-Marshal Montgomery very often wanted a personal message to go out to his men and, quite properly, he made use of his commanding officers to distribute those messages. But the commanding officers received their instructions through the normal chain of command—brigade, division, corps and Army. Not so the Minister. He sent this letter direct to the colliery manager with a note asking him to insert the letter in the men's pay packets. The colliery managers are not concerned with the men's pay packets. Pay is a function of control which is administered through the costing and accounts department. What happened was that the colliery managers had to send those letters to the accounts department where the matter had to be referred back to the general managers and through them to the agents.
It may be thought that this is a small matter not worth bothering about. But is it a small matter? As long ago as 1942 there was set up a very definite chain of control in the industry, through the regions to the appointed person of each undertaking, the appointed person usually being the managing director or the manager. Administration was geared accordingly. If we cut across that machinery it means additional work for all sorts of people. It may be a very small matter on this occasion. It is the inefficiency of the method that matters. Without sound administration the system simply does not work. At the bottom of all our problems is the application of sound principles; if we ignore them we shall not see the improvement which nobody wants more than the Minister. There is at the moment a sense of hurry which operates against the very efficiency which the Minister seeks to secure.
Mr. Platt-Mills (Finsbury)
Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman suggest that the Minister should get the permission of the "gaffer" every time he wants to speak to a miner?
§ Colonel Lancaster
No, it is not a case of asking permission. It is a case of sending the letter to the appropriate authority. If it is sent to the wrong person, it has to go through additional hands and causes additional work. The Minister is entitled to take what course he likes. He need not contact the "gaffer" if he does not want to. The hon. Gentleman 937 could not have been listening very carefully. I was trying to show that the Minister cut across the very system of control set up by his own Ministry.
§ Mr. Platts-Mills
I was following the hon. and gallant Gentleman's remarks very carefully, but I have no conception of what the comparison is between Field-Marshal Montgomery and the Minister. One is concerned with miners, and the other with soldiers.
§ Colonel Lancaster
The commanding officer in a like case would receive his instructions through the normal chain of command—brigade, division, corps, and Army. In this case, had the letter been sent direct through the normal channel to the appointed person, the appointed person would have sent that letter to the accounts department who would then have advised the colliery manager of what was occurring. In fact, as the result of what did occur a great deal of extra work was caused. It is only a matter of the method of chain of control, and I will not take up the time of the House any longer on that point. I feel, as does the Minister, no doubt, that discrepancies in administration lie at the root of so many of our problems. The reason I spent so long on that point was because I thought I should elaborate my thesis that the Government are not in a position to institute an early vesting date. I think it will have to be postponed. If we ignore first principles and if we go on with this lack of plan and purpose neither the sincerity of the Minister, nor the good will of this House, neither the cooperation of the present managements nor the efforts of the Coal Board will avail. If true it be that the men in the industry sense a new Jerusalem as a result of this Measure and the nation expects coal in abundance, both are on the brink of a bitter awakening.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
I ask the indulgence of the House today not merely as one addressing it for the first time, but also as one who cannot, like so many hon. Members, claim to represent a coal mining constituency or to have any specially intimate knowledge of the industry. I do, however, speak as one who first joined the Labour Party out of resentment at the way in which the coal miners in this country were treated in 1926 by the coal owners and by the 938 Conservative Government of that day. I think now, however, that we have had enough argument about the past and the responsibilities for the past. What we ought to do today is to survey the present dispassionately and lay constructive plans for the future. It was, I think, the present Minister of Health in his Opposition days, when the Coalition Government were in power, who said that that Government had performed at least one miracle; they had created a coal shortage in Great Britain. I think it would have been a miracle indeed if the present Government had overcome that shortage in no more than 15 months. Therefore, I do not think the most dispassionate survey of the present serious situation need imply any reflection or blame on anyone. The Minister himself said that everybody in this House was seriously concerned about the coal shortage, and he hoped that all would approach the problem in an endeavour to assist the Government. It is in that spirit that I approach it.
We must admit that the situation has serious elements. It has serious elements both internally and internationally. I think the simplest way to measure the seriousness of the internal situation is to look at the figures—some of which have already been quoted today—of distributed coal stocks as they appear in the "Monthly Digest of Statistics." Two years ago at the seasonal high point, August—that is to say, August, 1944—stocks stood at about 17,000,000 tons. They fell by the subsequent May to 10,000,000 tons, and recovered in August a year ago to 12,000,000 tons. From that figure they had fallen, by the present spring, to only 7,000,000 tons. The recovery this August took us, as we have been told today, to only 9,300,000 tons. The Minister has informed us that there has been a normal recovery since then to something like 11,000,000 tons by August. Nevertheless, I am afraid it follows from simple arithmetic, if we assume a normal level of consumption this winter, that is, a level of consumption similar to that of last winter, and the present level of production, that stocks will fall by next spring to something like 4,000,000 or 5,000,000 tons. That, of course, is not much more than one week's consumption at that time of the year. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to assure us that measures are being taken to economise 939 stocks this winter, and perhaps even that there are some hidden stocks not revealed in the figures. Even so, I find few experts—and I think my right hon. Friend implied agreement with this—who think that we could operate at all easily on stocks of not much more than one week's consumption without some sort of breakdown. That, I suggest, is the internal situation.
Unfortunately, however, the present British coal shortage is not merely a British problem, but is also an international problem. As we all know, the disappearance of 40,000,000 tons or so a year of British coal exports, which was normal before the war, is one of the factors—one of the main factors, I think—hampering the recovery of France. It is, in turn, compelling the British zone of Germany to export coal to France, so giving rise to many of the troubles which this House has recently discussed in relation to Germany—the shortage of coal, the shortage of steel, the shortage of food and so on in Germany. Our failure to export is also causing unemployment in Italy; it is interfering with the proper use of timber supplies in Scandinavia, grain supplies from Argentina, and so forth. Whatever the cause—and, of course, the war is one of the most obvious causes of all this—the plain fact is that the collapse of British coal exports is causing a vicious circle of evil repercussions all round the world. The Minister and the Government have already taken many measures to correct that vicious circle. I think the question to which we should all address our minds is: what further measures are there which we can take?
I would like to suggest, first, that we should not take refuge in the counsel of despair, of abandoning all hope of reviving our export trade altogether, and of converting British industry and the British railways on to an oil-burning basis, or even on to the basis of imported coal. The present Minister of Fuel and Power is a person of originality, and not bound by convention. But I am sure he would not wish to be remembered by posterity as the man who not merely had to have coal carried to Newcastle, but had it hauled there in an oil-burning locomotive. What we want is not less consumption of coal, but more production. And it seems to me that the first essential short-term route to more production is an 940 increase in the labour strength in the industry. As I understand it, the Minister today accepted that view of the short-term problem. I believe that to some extent harm has been done by an over-concentration on the long-term problem. That is a natural reaction from the past. However, I believe that to some extent too much concentration on mechanisation, modernisation, higher output per head, and so on has diverted attention from the plain, simple fact that we cannot, in the short-term, get a lot more coal with a lot fewer men. The fact that the present labour force ought to, or perhaps might, produce more coal is no reason—and I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary will agree—why we should not attempt also to have more men. Surely it is possible to do both. Therefore, I think Mr. Arthur Homer is perfectly right when he states, as he has again stated in the past week, that we need more manpower in the industry.
What, then, are the immediate facts of the manpower situation? Throughout the summer months the industry was running on a labour force of 699,000 men. That has now dropped, owing to the abandonment—and the quite right abandonment—of the Essential Work Order to about 695,000, or 696,000 in the last few weeks. The normal weekly wastage in this industry is somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 men. That is a low figure compared with other industries, and one which I am convinced it is not possible seriously to cut down. It therefore follows, if we are to build up a labour strength in the short-term, we have to achieve an intake into the industry of about 2,000 men per week at least. Unfortunately, in the last four or five weeks although we are extremely glad to hear that production has been going up—and obviously that is a very encouraging sign—the labour force has been dropping by 800 or 900 men per week. We also have it on the authority of an official of the Ministry of Fuel and Power, speaking publicly before the Railway Charges Committee the other day, that the strength is likely to fall to 687,000 men by the end of this year. That is the immediate manpower prospect, and, we must agree, it is not a very encouraging one.
What further steps can be taken to check this fall and to set an increase in motion? I would like to suggest, first of all, that some definite targets might be 941 set in the middle-term, as it were, both for production and for manpower in this industry. The very attempt to set targets is salutary, because it brings home to one how serious the outlook is. I would suggest we should set targets for the end of 1947 of exports at the not very ambitious rate of, say, 10,000,000 tons a year. That would require a total output of about 215,000,000 tons; and that, in turn, would need a labour force, even allowing quite liberally for increased efficiency, of something like 730,000 or 740,000 men. That, in turn, would, of course, require an intake into the industry, from now until the end of next year, of something like 2,500 men per week. That, I admit, is going to be a very difficult task, but I suggest that that is the sort of target that we should set ourselves, and the sort of criterion by which success should be measured in the short-term.
What other steps are there which can help us to achieve that figure? I should like to express here a view which, I think, is considered unpopular and, perhaps, even eccentric. That view is that we shall never wholly solve this problem as long as the wage level in the coal industry remains where it is now. In my opinion the root cause of the coal shortage in Great Britain today is that wages and earnings are uneconomically low. I know they are higher than they were before the war, and I know they are higher than in some other industries; but I suggest that the margin over other industries is not high enough at present to induce young men willingly to enter the industry in preference to other industries. As long as that remains true, I do not myself see how all the other measures can be completely successful. I do not pretend to be able to say how that difficulty can be overcome, except, perhaps, to observe that the introduction of the five-day week and of other improvements and conditions contained in the Miners' Charter, with the maintenance of weekly earnings, would, of course, amount, in fact, to an improvement in wages in the industry.
Next, I should like to say that when we look at this problem of recruitment, undoubtedly, the nationalisation of the industry has been the most essential psychological condition of success. I am convinced, myself, that we could not have avoided disaster, and an almost complete collapse of recruitment, if 942 the Minister had not already taken that step. The Minister has also announced—and I take this to be a definite Government decision—that an increased meat ration is to be given to underground workers in the coal industry. We should warmly congratulate the Government on that decision. The underground worker has a particular claim, over and above the obvious arduousness of his job, for an increased ration, for the reason that he is not able, like the ordinary factory worker, to eat his canteen meal in the middle of his shift; and that gives him a strong claim to an extra ration of the kind that has been given. I was also glad to hear from the Minister that his Department have now organised the recruitment of men for this industry both from Northern and from Southern Ireland. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary may be able to tell us that that is being pushed forward energetically, and that it is yielding some results. We should not despise any of these individual lines of attack, even though it may be said that the number of men each one separately is yielding may not be very large. We really want all the fit men we can get from almost any source.
I should also hope that the Parliamentary Secretary can assure us that the whole Ministry of Labour machine is being geared up as a top priority job to accelerate recruitment into the coal industry, and, in doing that, it is supplementing the excellent recruitment drives which the Ministry of Fuel and Power have been carrying out. I believe that the Ministry of Labour machine, when it is really geared up to a job like that, even without the wartime powers of compulsion, can be a very powerful machine, with its exchanges in every part of the country and with all sorts of opportunities for encouraging the right type of man to enter a vital national industry like that of coal.
Finally, we have had mentioned today the question of the Polish workers in this country. I do not think anybody would dispute the Minister's statement that there can be no question of the Government trying to force any Polish ex-coalminers or other Poles into the industry except in agreement with the representatives of the industry. I was sorry to hear that that agreement had not been reached yet. I understand that it is part of the Government's policy to get some of these men. at 943 any rate, to work in the industry; and, again, however few they are, I suggest that they should not be despised. The difficulties in this particular field are obvious, but, surely, the plain fact is that some hundreds or, perhaps, some thousands of these men are living in this country, in any case—are going to live here and be supported by the British community—and it seems plain common-sense, in the end, that they should be allowed to work in their own trade as members, of course, of the appropriate trade union, earning the usual full rates of pay, and, after a period, as I should hope, learning to talk English, and to absorb English ideas, and to contribute to the recovery of the country and of our national prosperity.
There is the problem as I see it. There are some possible targets, and there are some steps that may be taken. When all is said and done, we have the coal in this country; we have the pits; and we have the men. It will, surely, be only a failure of organisation if we cannot somehow bring the three together, and do it before the short-term is over. I think my right hon. Friend and the House as a whole will agree that what we all want to see is a steady flow of fit, young, willing workers entering this industry at a sufficient rate to restore home production to the level of home demand, and, also, to restore a really thriving export trade.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Major Lloyd-George (Pembroke)
It falls to my lot—and I am very glad it does—to congratulate the hon. Member for North Battersea (Mr. Jay) on the speech he has just delivered to the House. I am certain that every Member of this House will agree with me that it was a very valuable contribution to this Debate. Those who have known him, or have known of him, have not been surprised at that. I am happy to be in the position of congratulating the hon. Member because with a very great deal of what he said I thoroughly agree. There were one or two things said by him with which I do not agree, but I shall not discuss those at the moment. He departed from what is nearly always the practice in this House in Debates on coal, of confining one's remarks to the home industry. He showed the international repercussions of any failure of the coal industry within our 944 boundaries. I am certain that the House will agree with me in saying that we look forward to hearing the hon. Gentleman again in future Debates.
I do not propose to be very long tonight, because a great deal of the ground has already been covered. But I must recall that the last time we discussed this question, the temperature was not such as tended to bring home to people the urgency of the fuel position. A very different story can be told today, and not only with regard to temperature. We are within 14 days or so of the beginning of what is always regarded in the industry as the "coal winter," and the closer we come to it, the more vividly stands out the seriousness of the position.
I shall not be critical of the Minister or the Ministry, except to this extent, that I want, even at the risk of wearying the House, to examine very carefully the budget which was prepared and given to us last July and which the Minister said today, he still regarded as sound. Figures are rather wearying, but it is essential, especially in relation to this industry, to know at the beginning of the winter exactly what is likely to be the intake and what is likely to be the output—or, I should put it the other way round, and say what will be the output and the consumption. Of course, it is impossible to give an exact figure, but I can say, after all my experience, that it is remarkable how accurately the officials within the Ministry are able to forecast production and the various forms of consumption.
I, therefore, want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry to follow me through the budget. My own recollection is that mined coal was then expected to bring in 177,000,000 tons. There has been an alteration today, but I will deal with that in a minute. Open cast mining was to bring in 8½ plus 1½, that is 10,000,000 tons. Then 2,100,000 tons was to be recovered from the pit banks and the various open cast dumps, and 400,000 tons from briquettes. That brought it up to 189,500,000 tons. Now a very extraordinary bit of accounting, if I may so call it, appears. The stocks left at the end of last winter were added, to bring the production figure up to 196,300,000 tons. All the stocks on the ground were put in, and made to appear as part of the actual production. Having reached that figure, the consumption is 945 estimated at 196,000,000 tons, and on that basis, there is, therefore, a surplus of 300,000 tons. Those are the figures we got. I hope I am quoting them correctly.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power (Mr. Gaitskell)
If I may interrupt the right hon. and gallant Gentleman on one point, I think he has confused two things. He was taking the stocks from pit banks as 2,000,000 tons, but actually it was the net reduction in stocks as a whole that was put at 1,500,000 to 2,000,000 tons, which included all that came from the pit banks. There would not be enough, as he can readily see from the figures, from the pit banks alone.
§ Major Lloyd-George
Could the hon. Gentleman explain how this figure was made up then, because there were 6,800,000 tons left in stock at the end of the last coal year? The total amount of production is 189,500,000 tons, yet the figure which the Minister used, reported in HANSARD last July, comes up to 1156,300,000. If the hon. Gentleman looks at HANSARD, he will find that the 6,800,000 tons of stocks are taken in for the purposes of accountancy—
§ Major Lloyd-George
Certainly. That gives a balance of something like 300,000 tons, which does not matter. We then come to the measures to be taken by the Ministry.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I think I understand what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is getting at. To that 300,000 tons, of course, is to be added the stock it is thought essential to have at the end of the coal winter, which amounted, even on our expectation that we should get below 6,800,000, to about 5,000,000 tons, and that was the gap—a 5,000,000 ton gap.
§ Major Lloyd-George
It is only a question of how the accounting is done. I think the way the Ministry have done it is a little peculiar. It has never been done before. I have been responsible for many of these accountings myself, and stocks on the ground have never been added to the assets side of the year.
§ Major Lloyd-George
But they are not. The hon. Gentleman has done something here which is a little bit naughty from the accounting point of view. We then come to certain savings which can be made. The saving effected by the change from coal to oil was 3,000,000, and may now only be 1,000,000, but I am not surprised to hear it, because I have definitely suspected that there would be none for a very long time. Less benzole from gas was to produce 1,000,000. Then there was the extraordinary figure, which the Minister referred to in the last budget, of 1,500,000 by better distribution, and when he was asked by an hon. Gentleman below the Gangway what he meant by that, he said that it meant a running down of stocks left, by 1,500,000. But the whole of the stocks have already been taken into the budget figure.
§ Mr. Gaitskell indicated dissent.
§ Major Lloyd-George
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but believe me it is in HANSARD, in the Minister's own speech—6,800,000 tons put down and included to make the total available production of 196 millions. It is there. I estimate, therefore, that if you took these figures out altogether and made a simple calculation, you would have a deficit. I know the hon. Gentleman's point of view is that the deficit, offset against stocks, would leave so much. In the end we come back to the same thing. Leaving out for the moment the 2,000,000 tons likely to be got by increased production, which is cancelled by the 2,000,000 tons less from conversion to oil, the situation will be that we shall come out of this winter with something less than 4,300,000 tons. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman agrees or not, but a situation in which a total of 4,300,000 tons is left in stock at the end of the year is disastrous. It is not only not distributed; it is not difficult to distribute it, and it will mean industries and public utilities all over the country going out, because there is not an even distribution of the 4,000,000 throughout the country, as the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well. If he can say that my calculation, forgetting for the moment the Minister's 2,000,000 for and against this afternoon, does not bring him down to something like 4,300,000 tons at the end of the year, I should be very glad to see where I have gone wrong. In any case, 947 even if it is back to 6,000,000, it is an extremely serious position, in view of the possibility that we may not be as lucky as we have most fortunately been for so many years.
I think the position was put, if anything, rather too optimistically. On the question of this 2,000,000 tons extra output, the Minister today gave us figures which show a very happy increase; quite rightly he said it was not enough, though it was a substantial increase. Is he satisfied that, having the output he has had up to now with that increase, he will get his 177,000,000 tons, remembering that from now to Christmas is the best period of the year but that we shall then come to the difficult period of January, when there may be sickness and weather difficulties? There are two holidays to be overcome,, and I should think he would be very fortunate to get 177,000,000. I think he would be far better advised to stick to that figure and err on the conservative side, rather than be too optimistic in such a situation.
The only other thing I want to ask about is open cast coal. In his budget the right hon. Gentleman said he hoped to get 1,500,000 tons extra, making 10,000,000 in all this year, and that they had reached 200,000 tons recently. I want to point out to the right hon. Gentleman that the average for open cast production up to now has been only 140,000 tons a week. Therefore, to get his 10,000,000, he must average 190,000 tons a week to the end of the coal year. But the same thing applies here to an even greater degree than it does to mined coal—I mean the weather. After January you generally get a very serious decline, because so much of it has to be transported in wagons, and bulldozers and scrapers and so on are in difficulties. I am bound to say that as far as that is concerned I think he is being slightly optimistic, in view of the difficulty, in winter weather in this country, of keeping output up to that level. If he looks at the figures he will find that very rarely, from the end of January to the end of the coal year, does output approach the figure he must have, if he is to get his 10,000,000 tons.
I pointed out during the last Debate that hitherto, though there was a seriously declining output, it had not been manifest because distribution had greatly 948 improved. We had pretty considerable stocks and also emergency stocks into which we could and did dip. When the right hon. Gentleman came in, the stocks were lower than they had ever been before the war. What is the solution for this admittedly terribly serious position? We all know about the long term policy, and that the only possible solution is a complete reorganisation of the industry. The question is, What are we going to do now? It is not only during this winter, but next winter that we shall be up against it? There are two possibilities, and two only, to get over this difficulty referred to by the Minister this afternoon. One is to decrease consumption, and the other to increase production. It is very easy to say that, but what are the chances of a decrease in consumption this winter? The Minister referred to industry, and rightly referred to the fact that a great deal had been done by industry under very great difficulties—the difficulty of getting materials, and particularly of getting instruments for gauging heat. A great deal has been done, and the fuel saving committees of the Ministry deserve great credit for the organisation. I am inclined to agree with him that there is not much to be looked for there on a short term policy.
We come to the domestic consumer. As far as domestic saving is concerned, I am entirely in favour of it, but I am doubtful about its achievement. The Minister has not been terribly helpful on this point, and showed himself a little impatient of criticism. There is no one in this House who can land out better than the Minister, and occasionally he must expect to get one or two back. I am bound to say that his speeches have been inconsistent. He says that he has always sounded a warning note, but it has not been a persistent warning note. One day it is this, another day it is that. The warning is rather like the siren during the war—the warbling note is sometimes up and sometimes down.
§ Major Lloyd-George
I could give plenty. The right hon. Gentleman is talking to the public, and they may not be initiated in these things. He said, for instance: 949I recognise that industry is under great difficulties, but I am not so alarmed about coal supplies as some people. One might imagine from what one reads that they are getting no coal at all. We are getting quite a lot of coal.No one is suggesting that we are not getting any coal.
§ Mr. Shinwell
All I have done, when I have addressed the miners, has been occasionally to encourage them. I have expressed the view in some districts that they have done very well, especially when output was rather on the high side, and when there seemed to be an improvement in the position. At no time have I expressed the view that I was satisfied with the position.
§ Major Lloyd-George
That is a different thing from the Minister saying that he is not so alarmed about coal supplies as some people. Imagine the effect on a person who knows nothing about coal output. Of course the Minister has to go to a colliery, and congratulate the miners when output goes up, but that is a very different thing from saying to the electricity industry about rationing, "It is a lot of nonsense." It is not a lot of nonsense. If he had appreciated that, he would have realised that they were trying to save trouble. Does he not appreciate that this winter it may be necessary to ration supplies? He has said tonight that it may be necessary—
§ Mr. Shinwell
What I denied on that occasion was that we were contemplating adopting a rationing system. As for the private electricity supply companies being helpful, I am bound to say that I have yet to notice any desire on their part to help the Minister of Fuel and Power.
§ Major Lloyd-George
It depends what the right hon. Gentleman is talking about. If he is talking about politics, I agree, but speaking with three years' experience as Minister of this industry which ran machines which should have been scrapped ten years ago and achieved what it did in getting electricity for the war effort, no one can say that there was not the utmost cooperation. If the right hon. Gentleman is talking about what he is 950 going to do politically, that is a matter into which I do not propose to enter. At any rate they are alarmed about the position, and I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would have been delighted to have their assistance. As usual he went in at the deep end.
The domestic consumer before the war had 45 million tons of coal. That includes coal for offices and for other purposes below 100 tons. For our purpose of comparison, 45 million tons is the figure. By the end of 1945, that figure was down to 32 million tons. That is a cut of 30 per cent. While it is true that it affects different people in different ways, it is a tremendous cut for domestic consumers to have to make in solid fuel at their disposal. They have done it, and they have done it with tremendous courage and very little complaint. It explains, of course, the alarming increase in the consumption of gas and electricity. Gas is essentially a domestic fuel, and the increase in the consumption of gas at this moment is most alarming. We are told that the stock position for gas and electricity is something like four weeks. That is a serious thing. In London, with tens of thousands of houses destroyed, the increase in consumption is something in the nature of 7 per cent. compared with prewar figures, and it is likely to rise very much higher. I ask the Minister whether he will be in a position at the beginning of the coal winter, to say that he has more than four weeks' stocks for gas and electricity. I should like also to have some encouragement from the Parliamentary Secretary in regard to the labour necessary for the repair and maintenance of plant in both industries. It is one of the greatest troubles we had during the war. I know that there are hundreds of men wanted for repair work, and I should like to know what steps the Government are taking to put this right.
I am not going to repeat the remarks that have been made about what will add greatly to the difficulties of the Minister this winter, and that is the reversal of the policy of previous years which allowed people to stock up in the summer when transport was easy. I think it will be found that this winter there will be more people on the market for coal than the normal number, and that there will be great difficulties in supplying them, 951 despite the fact that the stocks in merchants' hands are slightly improved over last year. The Minister would have been better advised to have done what I suggested in July—delivered as much coal as possible in the summer in order to get people off the market in the winter.
What is the other alternative to lower consumption? It is more production. Obviously, more coal will eventually be produced through mechanisation, but it is now that it is wanted. Everybody is agreed that, in time, we shall be able to produce all the coal we need with far fewer men. But what I am concerned about is this winter, next winter, and, possibly, the winter after that. What is to be the policy of the Government? The Minister said something which rather staggered me, that he thought 700,000 men would be sufficient. That brings his absenteeism to a rate which has never been recorded, including voluntary and involuntary absenteeism. It brings him near that figure of 5,000,000 which he has talked about such a lot. Is he satisfied that the figure of 700,000 men is sufficient? I suggest that we ought to be looking for something in the neighbourhood of 720,000. I am sure that he does not need reminding that the figure was 780,000 just before the war. Is that figure of 700,000 the figure which has been fixed by the Government for the coal industry? This is an important point, because the problem of manpower is not confined to the coal industry alone. Coal happens to be the basis of the prosperity of our people, but the manpower problem spreads far beyond the coalfields—to the Army and Air Force for instance. Despite the fact that we are not fighting anybody—I agree on the need for occupying places—conscription still exists to keep the Army and Air Force alive. But when it comes to the mines—and the problem there is our real enemy—what happens?
It is true that the Minister has had more men back from the Services, but that is not something which can be repeated. His juvenile intake is slightly better than that of the previous quarter, but the Minister has lost, in one quarter alone, 11,000 workers, including those who came from Government training centres, Bevin boys. I thought the right hon. Gentleman was a little unfair on the Bevin boys. I know that he has had trouble, but I think that 952 the matter could have been handled a little more firmly—
§ Mr. Shinwell
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman is a little presumptuous. He was in control of the Bevin boys long before I took them over. They were my legacy from him.
§ Major Lloyd George
I did not have the trouble that the right hon. Gentleman has had. How many thousands have disappeared since he took office? I did not have that trouble. When I did they were prosecuted. Thousands have disappeared. Does the right hon. Gentleman deny that? He has said so himself. What did he do about that? He has treated the Bevin boys today as if they had not done very much for the industry. So far as working at the coal face is concerned, that may be true of many, but those boys were useful to us in keeping up the percentage of workers at the coal face in relation to the total number employed. We used Bevin boys on the roadways, and they were a tremendous help in keeping the percentage at the coal face at a high level. That has lost the right hon. Gentleman so many thousand intakes. He will not get a repetition of his Service intakes. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman is altogether responsible, but I should like to know what is his policy. This is a matter which concerns the Government, and we ought to have a Government statement about it. What do they intend to do to face the immediate manpower problem in the mines? We are entitled to ask for a statement about the position. Everybody is agreed on the long-term policy, but it is important that the whole question of manpower, not only for the coal industry but for the Services and everything else, should be stated by the Government.
I do not think anybody will accuse me of exaggeration when I say that the problem facing the coal industry today is one of the most urgent which this country has ever had to face. It is so urgent that if it is not solved, our whole future wealth and prosperity may suffer a lasting blow. It is vital that at this time we should get from the Government a statement on how they propose to get the necessary men 953 for the coal industry, so that we can survive the winter with some degree of comfort to our people, and without too much interruption of our industries, and can start the following year on that recovery of industry which will lead us to the position we occupied in the old days.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Murray (Spennymoor)
For a long time now every Member of Parliament interested in mining has been faced with the question: What is wrong with the mining industry? It is a fair question, and needs an answer. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power is an eloquent and brilliant man, a very clever debater, I think a good Minister, and I enjoy listening to him whenever I get the opportunity. I know he has a colossal task and a tremendous responsibility and I do not envy him in the least. I believe he can do many wonderful things, but I am positive that he cannot make small mines into large mines, or thin seams into thick seams; nor can he make old mines into new mines. Even if he had a magic wand, he would not be able to accomplish that.
The Minister has inherited 823 small mines, which produce only 10,000,000 tons of coal a year, and employ 40,494 people. In 1943, the Ministry of Fuel and Power revealed that there were 615 collieries employing 250 men or more, and that of that number 407 had no facilities for riding men to their work at the coal face. Those men have had to walk and carry their own gear. On many occasions—I have done it myself—they have had to strip at the shaft, and walk two or three miles. Further, the Ministry's survey revealed that out of the seven and a half hour shift, two and a half hours were spent in travelling, crawling, to the coal face.
For that one-third of a shift of wasted energy we have no production, and not a thing to show for all the efforts of the men in the bowels of the earth. The Reid Report says that it is not unusual for a man to spend as short a time as five hours at the coal face. These are staggering facts and very difficult to get over. Let us remember that this survey was in 1943 and that the pits today are three years older; not only that, but the working places are further from the shafts. That means of necessity that haulage and maintenance costs will be higher, and that men will have less time at the coal face to pro- 954 duce coal. As the pits travel from the shafts, one is bound to have a reduction in output and an increase in cost.
The Minister's difficulties are very definite. In this country 1,230 mines provide no riding facilities, and only 208 mines, or one in six, give the men a ride. I doubt whether the Minister of Fuel and Power, or even the Coal Board, can overcome that difficulty at the present time, and it is a great handicap for the Minister. When I was in the pit, I thought that some of these roads were made for caterpillars and not for men, because one had nearly to crawl on one's belly to get in. We may put the best British machines on to the coal face, but if we have no method of transport to get the coal out, we may as well save our money. It is terribly difficult for anyone to make a new road into an old mine, especially if that mine has been worked on the advancing system as we know it in this country. It is uneconomic; the cost is absolutely prohibitive. If a surface contractor carried on like that, and walked his men to and from a job, wasting two or three hours in a shift, he would be considered "cracked," and very soon he would be out of business. Yet, every day in 1,230 British mines the energy of miners is wasted in travelling, in a greater or lesser degree, on foot to their places of work. The Minister cannot make old men young again. During the last 14 years, 162,000 young men between the ages of 14 and 35 have left the mining industry, driven out, in many instances, by members of the Party opposite.
I need not remind the House that at this age men are strong and vigorous, and that those are the most important producing years in the coal mining industry. The loss of such men to the industry is a tragedy of the first order. In 1931, we had 335,000 men between the ages of 36 and 60 years in the mining industry, but in 1945, we had 345,000 men of that age. In other words, we have 10,000 older men in the industry. From 61 years to 65 years, there is another increase of 5,000, over a period of four years, and it gets worse. From 65 years and over—I do not know how much over—there is an increase, during the four years period, of 6,000 men, making a grand total of 21,000 older men in the industry, and 162,000 younger men have gone out of the industry; and then we ask the Minister of Fuel and 955 Power to give us all the coal we need. The Minister needs a lot of sympathy instead of a lot of the things that are being said about him.
I shall be glad to give the Minister all the help I can, and he will need it, before he gets through these difficult days. I think that he ought to be encouraged not only by hon. Members on this side of the House, but by Members opposite. This is not a party question; it is a national question, and the sooner we realise that, the better for everyone. I am not suggesting that there is any disgrace in old age. I have a great reverence for old age, and these older men have done a great job of work in the industry. Some of them are prepared to go on doing it, but they have never been adequately rewarded for all the services that they have given to the industry. Many of these men have worked in the mine for 50 years and longer and have gone out of the industry with nothing except the paltry 10s. a week old age pension. There is an old saying in Durham to the effect no person can beat a good "old 'un" better than a good "young' un."
There is not an hon. Member on this side of the House who ever thought, or said, that when nationalisation of the mines became law, the miners' Eldorado had come, but during the previous Debate on this subject I heard a reference to that effect from an hon. Member on the opposite side. Anyone who talks like that is talking sheer nonsense. The miner is an intelligent human being. He knows that nationalisation will not cure all the ills of the industry, and, on a short-term policy, will cure none at all. He knows that a coal mine under nationalisation will still be a coal mine; that water will still be wet; and that a fault will still be difficult to overcome. He also knows that production cannot be increased by touching an electric button. He knows that however good the Minister or the Coal Board may be, a coal mine will still be a dark, dirty place where hard work has still to be done.
I have recited a few of the things which the Minister cannot do. I now suggest one or two things that I think he can do, and which I hope he will do. I hope that he will adopt the miners' charter of the National Union of Mineworkers, because 956 I believe that there is nothing too good for the men who work in the mines. I would remind the House, if that is necessary, that the man who goes down the mine every day is at war with nature all the time. He must be encouraged to become an evangelist for his own industry and not for an industry that belongs to someone else. I believe that if we can persuade men in the industry to become our advertising agents, they will do more good than all the speeches of trade union leaders, politicians or anyone else. There is one thing which, I think, needs doing, although I may be wrong. I understand that we have spent a lot of money on recruiting, but I still think that now that we cannot have machines readily, it forces us back to the one problem, that of manpower.
I think we need a whirlwind recruiting campaign to get more men. We ought to have pamphlets printed and distributed, particularly among young men up to the age of 35 years, for these are the men we have lost, and who ought to come back. We ought to print large posters and display them on every hoarding. What ought we to put on those posters? What have we to offer? What can we put in our shop window? We have been too quiet about the mining industry. Everybody in this country wants coal, and everybody ought to help to get coal. In this recruiting campaign we ought to endeavour to bring in churches and chapels, clubs and pubs, cinemas and theatres, and every other organisation it is possible to bring in. We ought to make it a really live issue for everybody in the country. We must display our goods in our own shop window. What can we display?
I believe I am speaking truthfully when I say that the miners today have better wages than they have ever had before in the history of coalmining in this country. They have better canteens, better compensation rates, and better educational and training facilities attached to the mines. There are fewer disputes in the industry. There is to be an extra meat ration—not before time. It is long overdue. It is four years since I asked for it in this House. The miners want something more than the meat ration. They want greater variety of diet in the mining industry, such as tinned fruit, etc.; they want more consumers' goods in the shops, 957 they want something on which to spend their money. Moreover, they have had their Income Tax reduced. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has been very reasonable in this matter. The Minister has conceded the principle of a five-day week. Great efforts have been made in the very important matter of safety in mines. The Minister of Fuel and Power need not be ashamed of the figures. In 1945, there was a reduction of 308 in the number of fatal accidents in the mining, industry, and there was a reduction of 804 in the number of seriously injured miners. Surely, these are good things to display in our shop window in order to encourage young men to come into the industry? These are some of the dreams, gradually coming true, of some of us who have been in the industry since the day after we were 13 years of age.
How different the story after the last war. Then there were strikes and disputes, and massive wage reductions. There was mass unemployment during which I had four years of signing on the dotted line, not because I could not work, for I was considered to be as good a worker as any in the pit, but because I was one of those agitators, a union leader. I was kept off for four years. However, all that has changed now. But hon. Members opposite have some responsibility for what happened after the last war. They are not free from blame by any means. I ask the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary to examine again the Statistical Digest. During the first six months of this year, only 6,192 young men came into the industry, whereas 33,233 men of all ages have gone out of the industry. These figures show that the recruiting campaign must be stepped up, for without young men it will be impossible to succeed. We must help them to realise that in the mining industry there is a life of adventure. We must help them also to realise that there are marvellous revelations awaiting the scientific mind down in the bowels of the earth. I want to pay a tribute to the miners' leaders. They get more kicks than ha'pence. The loss of tonnage as a result of trade disputes has been tremendous in this country at different times, but in 1944 we lost, through trade disputes, 662,000 tons, in 1945, 215,000 tons, and in the first six months of this year, 104,000 tons, so that the trend is in the right direction—it is 958 going down—and, therefore, we ought to say to these men that we appreciate their efforts in keeping peace in the industry, for without peace there can be no production.
I understand, with regard to the meat ration, that in the Ruhr the German miners have had their rations increased, and not only have they had their rations increased, but I understand that in return they have given an increased production of coal. That is a grand thing. I do not believe the British miner will be beaten by any German miner. As we have beaten the Germans in war, so we will beat them in the pits. But will the Minister have a talk with the Minister of Food and endeavour to get for the workers in other heavy industries an increased meat ration as soon as it is possible to give it? When the Parliamentary Secretary replies will he also deal with the fact that in 1945 there was an increase of 45,071, compared with 1938, in the number of persons injured and disabled for three days or more? Will the Parliamentary Secretary note that there was a severe increase for every one of the last seven years? These figures are very disturbing and disquietening. Can the Parliamentary Secretary tell us why there has been this increase? If not, will the Minister set up a committee of inquiry, because the resulting loss of production must be tremendous?
I ask the Minister—I was glad to hear him say something about this—when we shall commence operations in a new large area of surveyed coal? I long to see the day when the shaft is placed in the most economic position of the coal area, where large haulage costs underground can be balanced, where good seams and poor seams can be worked together. I do not want to see coal extremely cheap today and uneconomic tomorrow. That is one of the legacies of the past from which the Minister, the miners, and the country are suffering. There are millions of tons of waste coal lying in the bowels of the earth, lost for ever because of the silly position that has been taken up by the mineowners. I long to see a perfect system of ventilation. I long to see the day when British machines, and plenty of them, will be installed in the mines, when large modern wagons will be there to take away the coal, when plant for the manufacture of by-products will be established at the pithead, with plastic industries, the gas 959 industry, and the electricity industry. I long for the day when we shall have an opportunity of comparing a real example of nationalisation with the past system, the old with the new. The old seams are fast running out, and new seams with high productive powers are greatly needed. I hope the Minister and the Coal Board will treat this as a matter of great urgency, for delay is not only dangerous, but disastrous.
I should like to say to the Minister, as kindly as I can, that there are many miners who are very disturbed about some of the appointments which are being made in the areas near the coalfields. We do not want a disturbance of that kind. I will cover myself by saying that we do not know whether the Minister or the Coal Board is responsible for this. If it is the Coal Board, then we ask the Minister to deal with the Coal Board, for we cannot have this shuffling about, or "passing the buck" as we sometimes say. I mention this matter and I hope it will be noted. It is causing disquiet among the miners, because they are terrified that, as the result of such appointments, they may get some of the "hangers on" into these positions who know nothing about the industry. We do not want this, and we are not going to have it. We intend to get rid of all the "hangers on" and we hope that the Minister will very shortly deal with the question.
Finally, I would ask the Minister to note that in Durham the area managers are being informed that they have to take on Irish labour. We know of collieries where men are still unemployed and we want the Minister to make certain that we shall have no disturbance at any colliery in the county of Durham on account of the acceptance of Irish labour into the mining industry while British miners are signing on at the employment exchange.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Bowen (Cardigan)
I do not share either the enthusiasm of the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Murray) or his admiration for the Minister of Fuel and Power.
§ Mr. Bowen
Those of us who are extremely worried over the present fuel situation have derived very cold comfort indeed from the statement of the right hon. Gentleman today. The hon. Mem- 960 ber for Spennymoor told the House that this was not a party question; the Minister said something quite to the contrary. For myself, I take strong exception to the suggestion which he made that those of us who are concerned over the coal situation derive any satisfaction from gloating over it. The Minister has given us figures of increased production during the last few weeks, and I am sure we were all particularly delighted to hear them. But do they amount to anything like the improvement which we can reasonably expect and which would be sufficient to meet the immediate danger ahead of us? I venture to think that the Minister's statement will not inspire very much confidence as to the possibility of diverting industrial dislocation or domestic discomfort. He gave us figures, as I have said, for increased production during the last few weeks. I ask the House to compare those figures with those for 1941, because I think the situation today is as grave as it was then from the domestic point of view. Whatever statistics one looks at, whether it be of the average number of shifts worked, average output per man shift, or the amount of absenteeism—whatever test one applies—the best figures the Minister has been able to produce today, compare very unfavourably with those for 1941.
I thought the hon. Member for Spennymoor did far less than justice to the older men in the industry. The truth is that the improved figures have been largely brought about by the efforts of the older men, and it is equally true that the immediate problem would be met if the younger men in the industry were doing their share. [An HON. MEMBER: "Shame."] An hon. Member says "Shame." The present absentee figures of something like 15 or 16 per cent. are largely contributed to by men under 30 years of age. I am informed that absenteeism is three times as high among men under 30, as it is among those of 30 and over. As a young man, I think I should give these facts. In January of this year the Minister was talking about the coal situation being better. At that time the absentee figure was 19 per cent. I respectfully suggest that the only immediate solution of the coal problem is the tapping of the potential output reserve in the industry—that is increased production.
Why are we not getting that increased production? One obvious reason is the 961 lack of manpower and I suggest that there is no immediate prospect of improving the position in that regard. If this industry is to survive, indeed, if the whole of our industry is to survive, the problem of obtaining additional recruits for the mines will have to be solved, but it will take time to get those men, and train them. What is to happen in the meantime? The only solution I can see is increased output in the mines in their present conditions. How is that to be brought about?
I believe that the problem is a psychological one and that the immediate answer to it is confidence in the Minister and in the Coal Board. Do the statistics today suggest that that confidence exists? They indicate the opposite. The country has no confidence in the Minister nor, I suggest, have the colliers.
§ Captain Peart (Workington)
Has the hon. Member any evidence that there is no confidence in the Minister? Does he know organised mining opinion? I venture to suggest that he does not.
§ Mr. Bowen
I will give one indication. Have the young men who contribute so largely to the absentee figures in the industry confidence in the Minister? If they had faith in the Coal Board and the Minister, would they be working an average of only two shifts a week? Would they be behaving in that fashion if they realised that they were contributing to a national disaster?
§ Mr. Osborne (Louth)
It is a long time since the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) was there.
§ Mr. Bowen
It has been said that these comments are due to political bias. Is it suggested that when Mr. Horner talks about what is at stake as being the fate of a great part of the British people he does so from political motives? I do not think he does, and it is not right to suggest that any one else does either.
§ Mr. Bowen
I do not want to repeat myself, although I could find a precedent in today's Debate for doing so, but the only immediate prospect that I can see of a solution of our coal difficulties is a better spirit, a spirit of cooperation, in the industry. I do not think that the Minister is contributing towards that spirit. The criticism of the hon. Member for Spennymoor, with regard to the Coal Board, will create difficulties. Miners in South Wales are already, rightly or wrongly, making up their minds that the Coal Board is an unhappy marriage between the boys of the old brigade, and unwanted ex-Ministers of the Socialist Government. One of the factors that contribute to the absence of faith in the coal industry is that there is not yet—I know the time has not been long—any evidence of the implementation of the promises which have been given to the mining industry. I want to see the five-day week introduced as soon as possible. I do not know that any industry which has introduced the five-day week has suffered from a drop in production. I do not know, but I am told, that the union was prepared to accept Polish labour if the miners' charter had been implemented.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Why does the hon. Member make a statement for which he has no evidence? Does he know what is going on inside? Has he any inside information? If not, why does he make such statements?
§ Mr. Bowen
As I understand it, this is the position. A number of trained Polish miners—not a large number, certainly a 963 very small number—are at present available for the mines. Their services are not being used. In my constituency, a week last Saturday, I visited a camp where there are 500 Poles. I understand that very shortly there will be 1,500. They are strong, able-bodied, and well behaved men. Those men are eating British rations. They are on the British payroll, and they have nothing to do from week to week, except to play football and learn English. I suggest that in the circumstances a great effort should be made to train those men who are suitable for the mining industry. The Minister has said about the Bevin boys one of the few things in which I agree with him. Why not bring the whole scheme to an end as soon as possible? It is easy to be wise after the event, but it is clear now that the whole Bevin Boy scheme was a great mistake. Why not get these boys back into their civilian jobs, or into the Army? They are only causing discontent and dissatisfaction in the industry.
In the last coal Debate, in July, I ventured to suggest that one of the great problems was the absence of consumer goods in the shops. I suggested that there were low output and low figures of production because the miner earning good money had nothing on which to spend it. What I said then is certainly true today. There is low output because of the absence of consumer goods, and not sufficient goods because of low output. The whole thing is a vicious circle. In that respect I now venture to make a suggestion which is of a wider character. It applies not to the coal industry only but generally. I have just been examining figures of direct taxation upon wages. Figures were recently supplied to me by the Government, showing that in 1938 the total amount of direct taxation by way of Income Tax deducted from wages amounted to £2 million. In 1945, the total was £241 millions. In 1941, the total amount was only £28 millions. That is to say, deductions in respect of direct taxation have gone up from £2 millions to £241 millions since 1938.
I think that that is one of the deterrents to greater production. Miners feel—it may be illogical and inaccurate but it is certainly disastrous—that after a certain stage they are no longer working for themselves but to provide funds for the Chan- 964 cellor of the Exchequer. I respectfully ask the Minister to examine, in conjunction with other people responsible, the possibility of treating wages, from the point of view of direct taxation, on a different line from that adopted at present. I do not wish to pursue this topic, as you might well say, Mr. Speaker, that it is outside the scope of the Debate. But I suggest that the question of increased consumer goods, and the loss of incentive due to the Pay-as-you-earn system which results in a heavy direct taxation on wages, are related to the immediate problem of under-production which the Minister has to face.
Before I close, I would mention one other matter. The speech of the Minister was particularly depressing to one who comes from South Wales. He made hardly a reference to the export trade. His speech was a picture in which people were urged to cut their consumption of fuel by 10 per cent. and to switch over from coal to oil. I hope that the efforts of the Minister to obtain the good will of the industry will be more successful in the future and that the result of his efforts will be marked not only by a solution of the coal problem but by a substantial contribution to our future export trade.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. West (Pontypool)
I rise to address the House for the first time, and I crave that indulgence which I have observed is so generously accorded to one who is making his maiden speech. Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for North Battersea (Mr. Jay), I have some associations with the mining industry. My earliest association was gained from my life in a miner's home in a mining valley. My knowledge is of the experiences of father and brothers and friends who have suffered much—experiences which have resulted in such bitterness in the past. Unlike the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen), who said he was of the opinion that the country had no confidence in the Minister of Fuel and Power, I can say with some evidence that the country has confidence in the Minister. That confidence was enthusiastically and decisively shown in July last in the by-election at Pontypool when the issue of nationalisation loomed large in the campaign.
I am glad to be able to take part in this Debate because the constituency I represent is a mining constituency. It 965 has experienced the evils of low wages, the suffering caused by unemployment and the bitterness engendered by depression. I suggest, in common with many who have already spoken, that the problem with which we are confronted today is indeed a problem of manpower and of output. The difficulty is that the roots of the present lie deep in the past, and as coal is vital to our national well being it is the key that can open the door to industrial prosperity. We realise that without it, we cannot hope to succeed in maintaining or increasing our export and home trade upon which depend the great schemes of social security, full employment and unproved standards of life, which the Government have taken such active steps to promote. Coal is not the concern of the miner alone. It is the concern of every person in this country. Yet although it is of such paramount importance to the national wealth, and the provision of decent standards of living for the people, the coal industry has declined steadily over the years, particularly over the years between the wars. This fall in manpower and loss of output is revealed in the fact that the number of workers on colliery books declined from 1,227,000 in 1920 to 709,000 in 1945. I was a fairly constant drop over the whole period. In my view, this can be explained partially by the fact that the industry has a black record. It was an industry in which only a precarious livelihood was given to the miner for the hazards of his heavy and dangerous occupation His wages averaged, in 1926, no more than £2 4s. 5d. a week.
Furthermore, the coal industry has always reacted sensitively to general trade fluctuations, and the miner was the first to feel the cold blast of trade depression. The industry was unable to hold its own against the increasing productivity of its American and Continental competitors for its owners lacked the courage or the vision or the resources to maintain, develop and improve it. In my own Division, a large productive colliery, with mineral resources estimated to last for 80 years, was closed down and the machinery dismantled, smashed and sold for scrap. The miner had no security. Long periods of unemployment, great distress and hardship were experienced by the whole community in mining areas, and large numbers were forced to leave the coalfield to seek employment in other fields of 966 labour. No fewer than 400,000 left South Wales alone.
The wastage of manpower in the industry has been enormous. Last year the outflow was 66,019. of which 3,206 represented deaths, and 39,780 the excess of new compensation and medical cases over old cases recovered and returned to work. In the same year the intake was 48,668. a loss of 17,351. The recruitment of juveniles under 18 amounted to 9,571 as against 30,000 in 1934. This problem of juvenile recruitment is a serious and difficult one. It was dealt with in the first Report of the Committee on the Recruitment of Juveniles in the Coalmining Industry. This report emphasised that the drop in the recruitment was due to the sad record of unemployment, the lower wage levels of the coal industry as compared with other industries, the uncongenial conditions of work, the high accident rate prevailing and the influence of parents who encouraged their boys to seek employment in other spheres which became possible through the development of transport facilities.
The output of coal in 1945 was 183 million tons, a reduction of 10 million tons from 1944. The loss in output can be explained in part but not entirely by the reduction in manpower. The Reid Committee inquired into this and other problems relating to the industry and its report exposes the inefficiency of the industry. The committee found that the chief causes of the loss of output were the inadequate financial resources, diffiused ownership, circuitous roadways, lack of locomotive haulage, lack of standardisation of qualities and sizes of coal, lack of cooperation between owners and men, shortsighted employers, and conservative or handicapped engineers, Some of the mines are over 100 years old and the distance from the coal face to the shaft is long, requiring large numbers of men to work on haulage and repair work. Workers employed on haulage and tub loading in 1944 were 25 per cent. of all the underground workers, and the saleable coal handled per haulage and tub loading worker was under five tons.
It is therefore clear that the industry is in a parlous state and that a most serious situation faces the nation. Our export trade, once of great importance and benefit, has largely disappeared, while home requirements are not being met. The total available coal for inland 967 consumption for 1945 amounted to 175 million tons compared with 187 millions for 1944, 191 millions for 1943, and 197 millions for 1939. At the same time our home requirements were increasing while the level of consumption of public utilities remained high, partly due to the continuing high demand from industry for gas and electricity. How is the situation to be dealt with? There is, as the Minister has said, the long-term view and the short-term view. The Government have brought the mines under national ownership, and South Wales and Monmouthshire, from which I come, have had the bitter experience of economic distress during the interwar years. I am glad to say that in spite of those experiences, the constituency of Pontypool decisively endorsed the policy of this Government.
The effect of public ownership of the mines is that it at once removes the fear of unemployment and oppression. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Fuel and Power has stated that there is work for 30 years without unemployment. In regard to the long view, the right hon. Gentleman the Minister in the Debate on the Second Reading of the Coal Industry Nationalisation Bill said that a complete reorganisation of the industry was contemplated, and for this purpose advances are to be made up to £150 million for the first five years in respect of capital expenditure and the provision of working capital. Vast sums are rendered necessary because reorganisation of the industry is essential and new pits must be sunk. Machinery of the most modern kind must be installed. Haulage facilities at almost all the pits must be remodelled, and the ventilating and lighting arrangements must be vastly improved. Better mines, safer mines, mean more production and happier and more contented workers. If the National Coal Board makes an early start in the great schemes of reorganisation, it will give great encouragement to all. Both the Committee on the Recruitment of Juveniles and the Reid Committee expressed the view that it was essential to have proper initial training of new entrants, general wage levels for underground workers at least as high as in other industries demanding an equal degree of skill and effort, security of employment, and the exercise of proper care for safety and health.
968 The future of the mining industry is bright. The miner's status is being raised considerably. He can now see that his employment is contributing greatly towards the prosperity of the nation and the raising of the standards of life for the whole community. His labour and his efforts give him a position ranking high in status and in quality. He must be assured of his five-day week. He must be assured of his longer holidays and of conditions that will compare favourably with employment in any other industries. There is a shortage of manpower and a shortage of coal. These are vital problems. We need the coal now. The country needs that great spirit of willing cooperation of all people which characterised the British nation in the time of greatest peril. During the war years the miner, no less than other citizens, played his full part in Civil Defence and the Home Guard in addition to performing his heavy daily work. The great efforts he put forward then, sustained over long years on inadequate rations, were bound to result in fatigue. I suggest to the Minister that if the five-day week, which he has already approved in principle, is put into immediate operation, it will have a stimulating effect on the miner, who will be able to restore that strength and energy which his heavy labours sap. Furthermore, steps should be taken to place the industry in a position as regards wages and conditions equal to the best of other industries. In this way, I feel the recommendations of the Committee on Juvenile Recruitment on this point will be accepted, at any rate in spirit, with the result that new entrants will be attracted to the mining industry. Security of employment is assured, proper initial training is given, and I am glad to know that from next January every colliery will have its own basic training course, by which new entrants will be taught the elements of their work, and the care of their health and safety.
I believe that if the policy is immediately put into operation of improving the present conditions of the miner, if he has the opportunity of knowing now that the five-day week is given to him, he will be stimulated to great efforts, we shall have that increase in production to which we are looking forward, and we shall have those new entrants into the industry. I appeal, therefore, for the five-day week 969 and for the improvement of general working conditions at the present time. It that is done, I feel we can look forward to a bright future for the industry.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Colonel Clarke (East Grinstead)
We have all listened with great interest and attention to the speech of the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. West). I think we all appreciate his reasoned scholarly approach to these problems, because we know that it is only by studying the history of the industry that the reason for some of the things that have happened and are happening will become apparent. I congratulate the hon. Member on his excellent maiden speech, and hope that on many occasions in future he will join in our Debates.
I want also to refer to one or two other speeches made from the other side. The hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Murray) and other hon. Members mentioned haulage in the mines and lack of locomotives for haulage. They rather suggested that this was the fault of the owners and the managements, but I understand that on certain occasions the managers have asked the Ministry to be allowed to use locomotives for haulage and have been refused. Therefore I do not think they can altogether be blamed for that. Also, I want to refer to something which was said by the Minister. Not content with being asked a great number of questions, he propounded one himself. He asked whether we on this side were more bent on "lambasting" the Government or helping them to get coal. I do not think he realised that those two processes work together. They are indeed two stages in an industrial process; unless we "lambasting" the Government, there is no chance that they will get the coal. Also I was not quite clear on one thing he said, which was that during the current year since his party have been in power there has been a considerable reduction in the number of industrial disputes. I think that was what he indicated. However, I understand from the "Ministry of Labour Gazette" that between January and August, 1946, there were 899 stoppages involving 162,000 odd workers, and in the corresponding period of 1945 there were 788 stoppages involving 173,800 workers, so that there were rather more stoppages though they did not involve 970 quite so many workers in the first half of this year as compared with the first half of last year when the Coalition Government was in power.
Before going further I think I ought to declare all interest in this subject since I am a director of a company concerned in the coal industry. I want to take up in detail the question of stocks, which has been dealt with only broadly, first, from the point of the household consumer. Judging from merchants' stocks, the position is better than it was last year, but that is to a certain extent illusory because it is due to coal having been kept in merchants' yards instead of being sold. That gives a little more flexibility, but at the same time if the coal of each town could be put into a heap, I do not think those heaps would be as big this year as they were last year. Consumers of house coal are also a little worried because while gas, electricity and fuel oil are all unrestricted, their fuel is very much restricted and they know that when extra coal is wanted for gas or the railways and some industries, that will come off the allocation of house coal. I think the merchants have warned the Ministry on some occasions about this. It is a matter which is giving a good deal of anxiety. Again it has been easy enough to get all kinds of gas and electricity consumer appliances and that probably has added unnecessarily to the problem. If one wants to get an alarm clock so that one may save daylight one finds the utmost difficulty. I spent a long time the other morning trying to do so, but the Board of Trade are sending them all abroad.
The Minister referred to electricity and I am glad that he is anxious about the stock position. He says that the position is that the companies have about four weeks' stock. I thought that in London and the neighbouring part of the country the stocks were rather shorter, the average being somewhere between three and three and a half weeks. Stocks are rather larger on the South coast, but some companies in the south of England have even less. Some are down to two weeks. The seriousness of the position is that most of those companies take the greater part of their supply by seaborne means and it is not so easy to help them in an emergency as it is to help companies who are supplied by railborne means. At this time of the year we have fog and storm and other natural conditions to endure and the 971 stoppages involve units, sometimes, of 4,000 tons and often of 2,000 tons. Some of the companies take coal in ships of 4,000 tons.
I am glad to see that stocks have been increasing in the last month or two, and we still have a few weeks in which they might increase, judging by other years, but there is not a long time. When one reflects that before the war those companies thought six weeks' stock a minimum for safety and now some have only two-thirds of that, one realises that the position is grave. I know that ships can turn round quicker now that there is no export to speak of, but the Ministry have exhausted another safeguard which they used to have. With the gas companies when stocks ran low water-gas plant was put into operation, but now, by order of the Ministry, that plant is being used practically all the time. If I may put it that way, we have one life boat already in use. I have spoken of the difficulties of rapid stocking and discharging plant is, of course, a limiting factor. Also the effect of fog or storm continues for sometime after the fog or storm has passed away. Once the normal sequence of the running of ships is interfered with, they cannot get back into a smooth running sequence for some time afterwards.
I wish to make one or two constructive suggestions. We hope that science and machinery and organisation will solve our problem in a certain number of years. I hope that time may be rather shorter than was anticipated. I think that seven years was perhaps longer than the time we need envisage. When we reflect on some of the great engineering feats, such as the "Mulberry," during the war it should not take us so long. On medium length planning, this winter and the next, it is hoped to increase open cast coal production. It is hoped that in two or three years the output by open cast mining will rise to 15 million tons. I hope that other Ministries will help with systems of district heating and in other ways make really large comprehensive schemes of economy.
Taking the short term policy, I am sorry there is this difficulty about Polish labour. In the past in this country we have benefited very greatly by foreign labour coming in to help us. In the textile industries the Flemish and French people have helped us. Irishmen have come in for a great many years, and 972 Dutchmen helped in digging drains which put the Fens into cultivation. We have benefited in the past, and I thought we might have benefited again. I am wondering whether as the public utilities are short, imports might be of some help. We do not want to pay a lot of money for coal from America, which costs about twice as much as our present coal, but if, on the other hand, we have to go short of coal for factories making goods for export, their output is reduced, and we lose sterling anyway. I should have thought that possibly some import of highest quality fuel suitable for public utilities might be considered.
I fear that the voluntary 10 per cent. cut which has been asked for, will not really be obtained. I feel that the spirit of voluntary rationing has been rather seriously discouraged by six long lean years of war and the present regime of enforced austerity and regulation. I hope I am wrong, but I rather fear that is the case. I fear that today's attitude is more one of sailing as near the wind of regulation as can be managed, or unblushingly taking advantage of the ever increasing black market. I do not think that enforced Fabian Socialism, which might raise our ideals, is having a good effect on the practical morals of this country. It is a great pity, because we used to have a reputation for being a law abiding and honest race. I believe that there are still in some parts of the country old dumps of small coal, some in the Black Country. They are hidden away beneath trees and other places, but coal could be obtained from them.
Our danger is clear, stocks and anticipated output are short, and there is a grave danger that heating, lighting and power may have to be reduced during this winter. That will mean suffering and unemployment, and a set-back to our exports. I have suggested some possible ways, and the Minister suggested others. But I am not really satisfied in my mind that we have yet found a way of replacing the 3 million odd tons of which we seem to be short. We want immediate relief over the next two months, up to Christmas when we reach the peak consumption and stocking is so difficult, when in fact all stocks are on the down grade. I believe there is one remedy which really transcends all others. That is if we can get a change of heart in the approach and attitude of the miners 973 themselves to the service, the national service, in which they are now engaged because today they are engaged in a national service, not just an employment. We were led to believe, though some of us did not believe it, that the change from private ownership to a State industry would bring about that change of heart. If one reads the Second Reading Debates on the Coal Nationalisation Act one finds that referred to a great many times—that the miners would not be working any longer under private enterprise, and that nationalisation would produce more willing, more cheerful and more industrious workers. I will not read any of those quotations. We all remember those Debates, and to my mind there is nothing more boring than a Member reading long extracts from other people's speeches in this House. We can all look them up if we wish to do so, as I did last night.
Have those hopes been realised? After all, we have practically had nationalisation from July, 1945, when this Government came into office with their enormous majority and stated that they intended to nationalise the industry. It was quite obvious that unless something unforeseen happened they would do so. We did our best to prevent it. I went through the Division lobbies at least 40 times in that effort, but it was inevitable from that date that nationalisation would take place. The men knew that the industry was as good as nationalised. After all, if they had been worrying about it so much previously, they were rather like a girl who wants to get married and is nervy because she is not allowed to, but once she is told that she can be engaged she is all right at once. In this case nationalisation was promised on the day the present Government came in. Has there been less absenteeism since July, 1945? Has there been asking for a great deal and offering little or nothing in return? Has the number of those involved in disputes dwindled?
I rather dispute the figures which the Minister put forward on that subject. I do not think that one can escape from the fact that the moral effect, or the effect on the moral of the workers, produced by nationalisation has made no difference to output at all. The idea that it would was a pure illusion. I agree that possibly there are other benefits to be found in nationalisation, many of them are long term ones, but psychologically there are 974 none. That is the great central factor that arises from this first experiment in nationalisation. It applies not only to this industry but to others the nationalisation of which is contemplated. There is no great psychological improvement to be derived by workers from the performance of work in a nationalised service in place of private employment.
I am not trying to blame the miners for everything. I am trying to speak dispassionately. If I blame anybody, it is those who misjudged human nature, and thought that this was possible. Many of us had grave doubts about it, and these doubts have been realised. Many of the men appear not to have had explained to them what nationalisation meant. Even today some of them rather think of the mines as belonging to them, in the sense of belonging to the workers in the mines and not to the nation as a whole—a Syndicalist point of view—and are wanting more of the share in the management. Many of them feel that they are no nearer to that than they were. In the old days, in certain pits, it was possible for any man to see his chairman, or one of the directors, quite frequently, not in all but in a certain number of pits, mostly small ones. Now, the opportunity which a man will get to talk to one of the mine members of the Board will be rare. Once they started doing that it would never end.
I hope that the Minister will continue his efforts to get some change of heart. I agree that some kind of inducements would be a help also. I am glad that the meat ration has been increased. I hope that consumer goods will also be provided in greater quantity in mining areas. I do not know whether anything can be done about taxation. That is perhaps a little too difficult, but I feel that in these days, when the young men are all turning to pleasanter, cleaner, lighter occupations, and when people do not want to use their muscles, to sweat and get their hands dirty, those who are prepared to do it should have some advantages, perhaps the physical advantages of more food and other things that are definitely required. I think that they will have to be given. Other men who are not working so hard get advantages in other ways.
I do not see why, if we can get that change of heart, we cannot get 5 million 975 tons or more this winter. I base that on the following argument; in the first six months of 1946 the output was 89,500,000 tons, of which just over 4,250,000 tons were open cast. In 1941, which was a year after we had lost a great many men to the Army, they having been allowed to go there when our export trade had gone, conditions were not so different to those of today. Almost the same number of men were engaged in the pits as in the first half of this year, and 206 million tons of deep mine coal were produced—no open cast at all. Over the whole of 1946 the output, therefore, looks like being some 25 million tons lower than in 1941, including open cast. Why is this? Mechanisation has increased, if anything. Some war troubles such as the blackout have been reduced. Why, with the same number of men, can we not get the same output today? I think we know the answer. It is largely due, in fact, almost entirely due, to the factors we have spoken of—absenteeism, lack of discipline, a decline in morale. Moral is to physical as is three to one, Field Service Regulations say in one of their early paragraphs. I think that that applies to mining as much as to anything else. I appreciate the immense burden which rests on the Minister—no less than the economic future of this country for the next decade. The Coal Board have not yet taken charge, and will not do so until the vesting day. The owners have been more or less pushed into the background, as was inevitable after the Act was passed. It is the Minister's responsibility alone. I do not want to be unduly controversial. This is a matter of such seriousness that it transcends party politics. I hope that the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary will now, and hereafter, in other speeches, not be unduly defensive, that they will take people into their confidence as much as they can, put the cards on the table, to use the old hackneyed phrase. If they do that I believe that everybody in this country will do a lot to help them, when they learn of the seriousness of the situation.
§ 7.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Timmons (Bothwell)
Unlike most hon. Members on the other side of the House, I have spent all my life, since I was 12 years of age until June, 1945. in the mining industry. I do not like to hear my workmates being assailed in the 976 fashion that we have heard on the Floor of the House tonight. When I look back to see what has taken place, and see what is taking place, I have also to remember that the state of the industry today is such as it is because of private enterprise. Twelve years ago I could see that the present state of affairs was approaching. I had a discussion on the matter with our colliery manager and we envisaged the situation as it is today. Young men are not entering the industry to be trained. The reason why is simply that those young fellows know what happened in 1926 when all the forces of the Government of that time were arrayed against the miners, and after eight long, weary months of bitter struggle they were compelled to capitulate by sheer force of circumstances. The conditions that were imposed at that time continued to operate in the industry until 1939. Hon. Members opposite cannot be exonerated from blame for the state of the industry today. I note that there has been an increase in output of approximately 100 tons per week. Unlike most hon. Members who are pessimistic about the future, I am optimistic. I think that the new spirit in the industry is beginning to manifest itself, and confidence has been inspired in the minds of the men. I have not the slightest doubt that we will overcome our difficulties.
Recruitment is a problem which raises more difficulties than most hon. Members appear to realise. In the past manpower for the mining industry was recruited from mining families. That is a fact which should not be forgotten. I had four boys and I have always said that I would sacrifice anything rather than allow any of my boys to enter the industry and undergo the experiences which I and my father endured. Other miners and their wives also made up their minds that the time had come when their sons had to break with the mining industry and that those who are planning to take the coal out must make some contribution in the way of manpower towards achieving the necessary output. Consequently over a period of years, and particularly since 1926, the sons of miners, instead of drifting to the mining industry automatically, have gone into other professions and trades with the result that we are faced today with this serious problem of manpower.
977 I do not envy the people who have taken on the job of trying to recruit workers for the industry. No encouragement was given to miners in the past. When I left school slightly over 12 years of age, I drifted into the mining industry. I wanted to keep pace with progress in the industry and, as I knew I had to continue to earn my livelihood at that work, I wanted to make myself efficient. I spent weary nights after coming from the pit—remember there was no such thing as an eight hour day then—in studying at a technical college. What was the result? What reward did I get? Whenever I tried to claim justice for my fellow workmates I was kicked out. I want the Parliamentary Secretary to note that young men who show an aptitude for the technical side of the industry should be given encouragement and allowed to attend colleges during the day and have their training at the expense of the industry.
§ Mr. Erroll (Altrincham and Sale)
Would the hon. Member say whether he was thrown out of work because he went to a training college, or because he was an agitator?
§ Mr. Timmons
I thought I had made that clear. I was kicked out because I was not prepared to give my technical ability to the employers. I gave it for the benefit of my workmates in the industry, and because I claimed justice for them, I was kicked out. There is one factor which has been overlooked during this Debate. I refer to the fact that 20 per cent. of the manpower is over 50 years of age. Those hon. Members who have had experience should know what it means when we have men aged 45 to 50 trying to carry on at the pace which is expected.
I also wish to draw the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary to some of the problems with which we are faced in the Scottish coalfields. In that part of Lanarkshire which I represent, the mining industry is more or less on the decline. As a result, large numbers of our men have been uprooted and transferred to other parts of the coalfield. A number have been transferred to Fife and East Lothian. Many are young married men with small families from whom they have been separated for a year and a half or more. At the moment nothing can be done in order to prepare houses for them. Consequently, a number of these young men are 978 drifting back to Lanarkshire and entering other industries. In 1939 when the war started, the Ministry of Aircraft Production set up factories in various parts of the country. In my area the Ministry obtained compulsory powers and requisitioned houses to accommodate the workers. Something like that ought to be done in order to house the men who work in the mines. In a short-term policy, these are facts which would help to some extent to stimulate production.
Another difficulty in Lanarkshire is that there are men who have to travel over 20 miles a day to work. They work on varying shifts and last Sunday I was approached by a number of these men. They travel from Lanarkshire to West Lothian at a cost of 7s. 6d. a week for a weekly ticket which does not include Sunday. On Sundays they have to pay an additional 2s. 9d. to get to work. That sort of thing is fairly general. Other men travel from Bellshill to Stirling under similar circumstances. These men ask, not unreasonably, whether it is fair that they should lose 10s. or more per week because of the long distance they have to travel. There was an arrangement during the war in which a maximum price was introduced. I think it was about 3s., or whatever was the cost of the fare before 1939, and the balance was paid by the Ministry. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to consider whether some arrangement can be made to assist these men.
I now wish to discuss the question of our immediate programme. For some time before I became a Member of Parliament, I had occasion to visit a number of pits, and I am in constant touch with miners in all parts of Lanarkshire. One general complaint is that there are not sufficient transport facilities for the removal of the coal. It is bordering on the miraculous to see colliers, as I have seen them, taking 300 or 400 tons a day out of a road not much more than four feet high. A sum of £150 million is to be spent in the re-equipment and reorganisation of the industry, and quite a lot of that money could be spent now to help to give us transport facilities in order to take away the coal from the coal-face to the pit bottom. I have spent whole days stacking coal near the coal face because there were no facilities for taking it away from the coal face to the bottom. That is one thing that could be done immediately.
979 In conclusion, I want to say that, to some extent, a factor which has been militating against improvement and has been upsetting the young men considerably is the question—and it is one, perhaps, for the Chancellor of the Exchequer—of Income Tax. Do hon. Members think that young miners, who are called upon to work overtime, possibly at night in order to clear the coal face and secure the complete cycle of work the next day, or, probably, have to go on duty on Sundays, should be taxed to the extent of about 50 per cent. of what they get? These are some of the things that are irritating them, and I believe that, if some consideration was given by the Chancellor to the question of relieving these lads from the tax on their overtime, it would stimulate and inspire them to do their very best.
§ Mr. Osborne
Is the hon. Member pleading that this should be given only to young miners and not to everybody?
§ Mr. Timmons
No, generally, but coal is the lifeblood of this nation, and we have got to deal with first things first. If we have to help to stimulate production, we are at least entitled to give consideration to the problem of overtime and to the conditions under which these lads work overtime. It is quite a different thing working overtime in a spacious factory to working overtime in a pit. I do not think it is unreasonable to clear these lads of the Income Tax on the overtime they work. But, when they do get their wages, and wages are inclined to be good just now, better, in fact, than ever, what is the use of these wages when they take them home to find that there is nothing to purchase? I believe that austerity can be carried too far, more especially in the mining villages, where life is drab at the best of times, and I think that some encouragement ought to be given to these men in the way of a better distribution of consumer goods in mining areas. That, in itself, will help and will give the younger men opportunities of spending their money in their best interests. On the whole, I have not the slightest doubt that the miners will respond. This nation has been up against it many a time. We have had our backs to the wall, as we had in 1939–40, and no one in this country responded better to the call of the nation than did the miners, and they will do it again.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Baker White (Canterbury)
The hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen), in his speech, made some reference to the problem of absenteeism. I want to say straight away that I do not approach this question in any reproachful or critical spirit, but I wish to say that the real problem for the Minister is how to find an additional 10 million tons of coal before April. To put it the other way round, the right hon. Gentleman would be very thankful if output went up by 10 million tons in the period between now and the 1st April next. If the National Coal Board, the Minister and the miners' officials could do away with avoidable absenteeism at the coal face, they would not only get that 10 million tons of coal but would have something to spare for export. One per cent. of avoidable absenteeism at the coal face means a loss of 2¼ million tons a year. In the month of August, the rate of avoidable absenteeism was 11.11, which would mean a loss of 24 million tons a year if it went on. I believe that, since then, the rate has gone down, and I am very glad that it has.
I suggest that this is a human problem—a problem of human desires and human frailties. I have been connected with the mining industry for 22 years, and, on the basis of that experience, I venture to say that the four major causes of avoidable absenteeism are: first, shortage of consumer goods; second, the cumulative effect of seven years of food rationing; third, Pay-as-you-earn; and fourth, lack of discipline among some of the younger miners.
§ Mr. Platts-Mills
Would the hon. Gentleman not agree that the main cause is 100 years of the hideous history of the hon. Gentleman's supporters?
§ Mr. Baker White
The hon. Member has forgotten the advice of the Minister in the last coal Debate. I put those four causes in the order of their importance. I wonder if this Government realise the tremendous factor which the shortage of consumer goods constitutes in restricting output in the mining industry. The miners and their families want new household goods, new furniture, and, above all, new clothes for themselves. But if it can be made possible for the miners' wives to buy new curtains, new linoleum, new kitchen things, new dresses for themselves and new suits for the miners, absenteeism would go down 981 with a bang.—[Laughter.]—Hon. Members laugh, but that is exactly what is the trouble. A beginning has been made. The Government are releasing quantities of sport jackets and flannel trousers for the mining areas, and that is a sound move, though I have a small grievance in connection with it. I come from Kent, where we are very proud of our coalfields. No allocation of these clothes has been made to either Canterbury or Ramsgate, which are the main shopping areas in my part of Kent. I am afraid that the Board of Trade has forgotten the Kent coalfields.
Then, the miner's work means a considerable and continual expenditure of physical energy, and the only way in which they can put back that energy is by more meat, fresh vegetables, sugar and fats. There is no other way of doing it. Miners are to get more meat. Well and good, but there are other things to be done which, though small in themselves, have a considerable effect. I would ask the Minister of Food to increase the allocation of frying oil in the mining villages. At present many fish shops can only fry on two or three nights a week because they have insufficient oil. If they could fry on five or six nights a week, the miners would be able to get more fish. After all, they get tired of boiled fish. I would also like to see a ration of bananas given to miners. I think I am right in saying that before the war the miner was the biggest individual consumer of bananas in the country. Bananas are filling, nutritious and fit well into the snack tin. There should be a better distribution of imported and home-grown fruits and tomatoes in the mining villages. They go to the big towns, but the miners are unable to buy them. I hope that I shall not be out of Order when I say that I believe an equally good case could be made out for giving the same increased ration to farm workers. Miners produce the fuel for industry, but the farm workers produce the fuel for our bodies.
I do not agree that Pay-as-you-earn is such a big factor in absenteeism as some hon. Members try to make out. I believe it is a factor, but a decreasing one. As regards indiscipline among young miners, the cure for that is leadership, and the responsibility rests on the miners' leaders, not on a national level, but on a local level. After all, they have got what they have demanded for half a century—nationalisation. They are now responsible 982 to the nation, and on them lies the heavy duty of seeing that the nation does not lose coal through indiscipline. If a union official said to me that this could not be done, my reply would be that they say in the Army that there are no bad soldiers, only bad officers. The first step should be to tackle the question of consumer goods in mining towns and villages and then to tackle the question of food. If this were done, I am certain that the result would be beyond expectation. In Kent production is going up, and the miners are nearing the target figure. One of the reasons for this is that the Kent miners have an increasing access to consumer goods, fruits and other foods.
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ Mr. William Paling (Dewsbury)
In the opening speeches of this Debate a number of questions were put to the Minister and the House waited very anxiously to see how he was going to deal with them. After hearing his reply, I believe that the majority of hon. Members accepted what he had to say, and were pleased to know that he had such a hold on the situation and had done and was doing all he possibly could to meet the seriousness of the situation. But since the Minister's statement was made, there have been a number of speeches dealing with such matters as co-operation, change of heart, psychology and a host of other things. It is very interesting to hear about these matters, but when one has argued and discussed them, one must come back to the pit, for it is there the problem lies, and it is upon the situation in the pit, that I am going to base my few remarks.
One of the criticisms made was that of absenteeism. I would say, first, that absenteeism in the mining industry is no greater than in any other, and that, approximately, only half of the absenteeism in that industry is avoidable. Therefore, it is not such a great factor as some people and some newspapers try to make out. Are not the miners entitled to take the same pleasures as other people in the country? If we are going to criticise them for attending race meetings, football matches, dog meetings, or anything else, and are going to tell them that they cannot do so, then we should close down these sports altogether and prevent other people from enjoying such pleasures which the miners think they have a right to share.
983 As regards indiscipline among the young miners, my belief is that they are as well disciplined as the youngsters in any other industry. The young miner is doing his job well, and feels that he is entitled to the same pleasures of life as other young people. He feels that he is entitled to have a half day holiday on Saturday such as the other youths and girls in his village enjoy. He has to forgo that pleasure in order to work at the pit. That state of things must be altered. If there is to be more cooperation, that must come from the other side. For years past the miners have been prepared to cooperate on the question of producing coal and have cooperated very fully. They have attempted to pull their weight, but they have not found an equal response from the owners.
One of the big difficulties is that, in most of the pits at the present time, the old-fashioned method is still being carried into effect. Whatever happens, costs must not rise beyond a certain figure. If there is a danger of their doing so, the likelihood is that when they receive their pay packets at the weekend a good many miners find that certain kinds of work have been left off. Quite a lot of this kind of thing has gone on from time to time and cooperation is impossible when there is pinpricking of that sort. In order to balance the cost sheet, items are cut out at the expense of men who have earned the money. That must cease.
We also hear of grievances arising out of the fact that in a coal mine where men have been earning good wages, the contract is broken and a lower price offered. Perhaps there may be a faulty face, and men are asked to go in and clean it up so that coal production can be started, and when they have done the job they are paid far less than the wage which they were earning previously. These are all pinpricks which eventually turn into sores. If the men wish to get these matters rectified they often have to go through a very long process. In many of the collieries, including those in Yorkshire, if a man has a grievance he first goes to the over-man. The over-man cannot do anything, so he goes to the under-manager, and as he cannot do anything the matter is reported to the union. The union contacts the manager, but the 984 manager cannot accommodate them. It goes from the manager to the agent, and from the agent to the general manager, and sometimes to the managing director. The whole thing is a farce. If the manager had the power to manage a mine, he could get through the majority of these complaints very quickly. That is what I mean when I say that on the managerial side of the mining industry there is no cooperation to the same extent as there is on the men's side. Until we get an equal response from the managerial side, there will not be much pulling together.
It has been said that this is a psychological question. It certainly is psychological. If the men continually have grievances and suffer from these pinpricks, of course it is psychological. It has the psychological effect of making the men kick. All these problems of a change of heart, lack of cooperation and psychological questions should be surveyed from a new angle. Those who are so fond of criticising should try to look at !:he matter from the new angle which I have explained. If the managerial side pull with the same weight as that with which the men are prepared to pull, we snail be able to make some progress in obtaining the extra coal required. During the last 12 months the coalowners have been aware that the country needs coal desperately. Yet, despite that fact, and despite the experience of last winter, a number of coal-owners in the country are refusing to put into their pits new machinery which is available.
May I interrupt the hon. Member, and ask him whether he will specify a single undertaking to which his remarks can be applied?
§ Mr. Paling
I do not think it is customary to give names in this House. Colliery owners are refusing to put new machinery into the pits, first, because there are only a few more months to run before the collieries change from private to national ownership, and, therefore, they will not pay the price.
§ Major Peter Roberts (Sheffield, Ecclesall)
Does the hon. Member not 985 know that the Ministry of Fuel and Power are, at the moment, paying for this machinery?
§ Mr. Paling
secondly, the makers of this machinery which we want in our pits are exporting it. That is probably news to some hon. Members. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to look into this question and ensure that machinery which is required in our pits is not exported from this country but is installed in our pits so that the miners may obtain the output which is so badly needed here.
There are hosts of other questions equally important, but when hon. Members opposite put the whole of the blame on the miners, I ask them to remember that the Minister is carrying a legacy which is inherited not from those on this side but from those on the other side of the House. If hon. Members opposite want to help the country and the Minister to get the extra coal, they should study the whole of the facts and get the people they are supporting to pull their full weight in the corporate effort.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Jennings (Sheffield, Hallam):
I rise to speak for a short time in this Debate because I am very concerned about the immediate future of this industry. We must not deal with this question in a heated or an impassioned way, if we are to get the best out of the material we have with which we are dealing. The mining industry has been thrown about for so many years—I will not say by any one particular party—it has been thrown into the political arena for far too long, and the present situation was the only possible outcome. If hon. Members on both sides of the House have the interests of the country at heart, they will fling aside all political and party interests in this matter and view it in a perfectly fair and impartial manner. I have lived in a mining county near pitheads for 52 years, so that I have seen the game from all sides. There are faults on both sides. I want hon. Members opposite to realise that when any criticism is made of their people, that criticism is not always wrong. Some of the criticism may be perfectly right. I would like to correct something said by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dewsbury (Mr. William Paling), when he said that certain colliery undertakings were refusing to put new machinery into 986 the pits so that the production would not be achieved I beg of the parliamentary Secretary, when he replies, to answer that charge specifically because if it is taking place it is a tremendous slur on the Minister of Furl and Power. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] He is in charge of the show; it is his affair, and he must know where this machinery is going. If that is untrue, let the Parliamentary Secretary deny it straight away so that a false impression does not go out to the country, that the wicked Tories are again doing all they can to stop the industry. What a grand political stunt.
Let us stick to the businesslike situation with which we are faced today, a situation for which I feel I need not apologise. The position on the coal front in this country today is very black indeed. It is due to a variety of circumstances. What we have to try to do is to offer some constructive criticisms. One item of constructive criticism I would like to suggest to all hon. Members is this: If new recruits are wanted for the mining industry hon. Members should not go up and down the country running down that industry from top to bottom. If I were a young man and heard some of the criticisms being levelled at this industry—and the Minister himself, from time to time, is not guiltless when he takes it into his head—I would say to myself: "That is an industry I am not going to enter. They do not even know how many men they want to produce the coal needed in this country." Today we have heard three estimates—650,000 men, 700,000 men, and 500,000 men. If I were a young man looking for a career I should look at those figures, and I should wonder which Solomon was right and wonder, "Am I going to be wanted if the number is 550,000? I do not think I shall go into that industry."
Why cannot hon. Members go out telling the country of all these benefits these young men are to get? I make no apology for saying—the Minister has said it today—that miners are now enjoying better holidays than they have ever enjoyed. Talk about it in the country. Tell the people that if they go into this industry they will get guaranteed holidays. Tell them the miners are getting more money than they have ever had in their lives. Let us put it across in the proper way, that the mining industry is the best paid industry, on an hourly productive basis, in this country. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is not true."] Hon. 987 Members can compare the pay, and I see the Parliamentary Secretary confirming me. Hon. Members should accept his nod, and I say that it is the best paid industry, on an hourly productive basis, in the country. Tell that to the young men, and tell them there is a chance of better conditions in the mines generally. Do not run the industry down from top to bottom. Then we shall get the recruits.
I want to say one or two things with regard to what the Minister said. I am very concerned indeed about full employment in the industries in Sheffield, where coal is a very important raw material. I want to feel certain—and I am far from feeling certain today after what the Minister said—I want to feel reasonably, certain that those industries are going to keep the men employed. But for that the supply of coal must be there, and I want to feel certain that it will be there. Another of my chief concerns—and it is a grave concern indeed—is the position of the domestic consumer, who looks like having to take a back seat in the supply of coal this winter. I raised the question of the supply of coal with the Minister last winter, and he told me that Sheffield was getting a fair share of what was going. I can assure the Parliamentary Secretary that some very sad cases were brought to me of people who were going without fires. I advised them to see the regional officer, and they did, and it was almost impossible for them to get coal—even, in one case, where there was sickness in the house. I do beg of the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary to deal with this matter now, and to take every possible step they can to avoid any undue hardship to the domestic consumer, and, particularly, to the old people of the country. All these people have stood a very great deal, and I think we ought not to ask them to undergo any more hardships, if we can avoid it.
I was concerned because the Minister said that the steelworks had on stock about a week's supply of coal.
§ Mr. Jennings
I hope the hon. Member will put his knowledge at the disposal of the Minister of Fuel and Power, so that he may benefit from it, and put some of the hon. Member's propositions into effect. If I were the hon. Member and thought such a thing I should not sit down here, but go straight away to the Minister of Fuel and Power, because this is very important. I was speaking to a man in the steel industry last night, and he told me with regard to stocking—I will not quote him, but I am assured the information is authentic—that in three steelworks, in particular, there was only one day's supply. If that is so, I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will cause inquiries to be made. It may be that these are merely isolated cases arising from transport difficulties, or some other cause, and that the coal is available. But if there are any steelworks in this country with only one day's supply, the position is precarious, undoubtedly. So I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to give us an assurance on that, because I am particularly interested in that side of the picture. The Minister said that steelworks usually carried a fortnight's stock, but that now they were allowed to carry only a week's stock, so I think that hon. Members on all sides of the House will agree, that if a week's stock is being carried, it is low enough, and that if there are any steelworks with only a day's stock, then we are in a very sad position. I hope it is not true. There is another and psychological side to this.
§ Mr. Jennings
No, you cannot, you must make a speech if you want to make one. I cannot give way all the time. I thought I would allow you one "go." I gave you one "go," and I do not intend to stand down.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)
I wish hon. Members would not bring me into the picture so often.
§ Mr. Jennings
I apologise for my lack of courtesy, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I was 989 carried away by the great fervour of the hon. Gentleman opposite. I apologise.
There is another side, I feel, that must be viewed, without heat and in a proper, businesslike manner. That is the question of absenteeism, and I make no apology for mentioning it. There is absenteeism in most industries, but it is absenteeism in the collieries that is drawing the limelight. I do not agree that it is not higher in the collieries than in other industries; in the engineering industry it is very small indeed, very much smaller than in the mining industry. We have to be sensible. People who criticise absenteeism have not vicious party views about it; they want to see if they can do something in a constructive way, and I believe that the percentages which have been quoted with regard to absenteeism have meant very little to the people in the colliery districts. I think the time has now arrived when we must speak in terms of manpower, the number of men who are absent from a particular colliery. I heard of a case—I speak subject to correction—of a colliery company where 6,500 men are employed.
§ Mr. Jennings
Of course, it is a group of collieries; surely the hon. Member understands what I mean.
§ Mr. Jennings
The hon. Member is one of the clever ones. This group of colliery companies employs 6,500 men, and I put this to the Parliamentary Secretary as a specific case. The absenteeism on a Monday was not very high in percentage. On Tuesday it was less, on Wednesday and Thursday it tended to get a little higher, and on Friday and Saturday there were very alarming figures. I want to be fair to the industry, and I admit that there was unavoidable absence through sickness and so on, but the effect of it all was that, out of a total of 6,500 men, there were on an average, 1,000 men per day who did not go to work for one reason or another. I believe that if the miners themselves saw these comparative figures they would realise what a grave loss they are to the industry; and I think the miners' wives, particularly those of the miners who are good, hard, solid men, 990 doing a good job of work—and there are many tens of thousands of them in the mining industry—would turn round and argue with the wives or sisters of the men who are doing an injustice to their job, because they are doing an injustice to the other men's job as well, I believe that would have a psychological effect on a certain number of people, because the limelight would be turned on to them. Today the figures are just shuffled out in percentages. Let us know exactly where the bad districts are. Let us see how many men are staying away from one particular group of collieries or one particular pit-head as compared with another, so that we can get the culprits coming out into the limelight. I think that would have a psychological effect.
If we review the incidence of absenteeism, it will give us some idea of the remedy. If absenteeism is largely on a Saturday, we should see what the attraction is in the area, and deal with the area as a whole—do not let us have flesh for one and not the other. I am pretty certain that if we threatened to close down some of the attractions, they would go to work. I feel that a strong line has not been taken with them in the past. I think we have been far too lenient with them. It has been suggested that they might be sent into the Army. These are hard facts for Members on the other side of the House. They have the medicine to take, because they have now got the industry. They have taken the industry willy-nilly, and now their answer to lack of production is past history.
I was particularly interested in the maiden speech of the hon. Member for North Battersea (Mr. Jay). The sincerity with which the hon. Member put his difficulties could not but have touched the hearts of all Members. We sympathise with the difficulties, but talking about past difficulties and past evils will not get the coal. It is coal we want today, and the Government have to deal with the situation in a proper businesslike way, otherwise they will not get it. They should look at the position psychologically, and give the miners more consumer goods; give them something upon which they can spend their money. What have they got today? Pots and pans, and things which do not interest the men. It is all wrapped up with the ambitious Socialist policy. It will do them down in the end. It is having a snowball effect. I hope that 991 before they have any more acrobatic plans in the shape of iron and steel, they will have had a very good lesson on the fallacy of their theoretical policy, which will bring them down 100 per cent. and dissatisfy the whole country.
§ 8.33 p.m.
§ Mr. D. J. Williams (Neath)
The speech of the hon. Member for Hallam (Mr. Jennings) strikes me as being a distorted echo from Victorian times. It is pretty evident that it is precisely the philosophy behind that speech, which has brought this industry to its present state. This is the second Debate we have had on coal in a period of four Parliamentary weeks. On 24th July, a few days before the House adjourned for the Summer Recess, we had a very full and frank discussion upon the mining problem. Today, a few days after our reassembling, we are debating the same ever-recurring theme. This indicates that coal remains the most serious of our domestic problems. The frequency with which the subject is ventilated in this House is a measure, both of the seriousness of the position, and of the concern which is felt on all sides of the House about the affairs of the mining industry. These frequent Debates help to throw some light on the problems. They give us facts, but unfortunately they do not give us more coal. Coal is not produced in this House, nor is it produced in Millbank just across the road. Coal is produced at collieries, and unless those collieries are reorganised, and placed on a proper foundation, the coal crisis will go from bad to worse.
During the last 25 years, coal has been the theme of innumerable Debates in this House. I listened to many of them from the Gallery long before I became a Member of Parliament. I believe it is true to say that no other industry has received so much attention here. In addition, coal has been the subject of investigation, inquiry, and recommendations by Commissions and committees of all kinds. In spite of this, however, the condition of the mining industry, over a long period, has continued to decline. It has moved from crisis to crisis and from crisis to the verge of catastrophe. The position today is desperately serious, from whichever angle we look at it. The present crisis, however, is basically different from all the other crises-through which the indus- 992 try has passed during the last 25 years. The history of the mining industry has been a succession of crises of varying periods of duration and varying degrees of intensity. But none of the crises of the past has been quite like this one; this is different in character, and in form, from all its predecessors. It is unique in the history of the mining industry, and something entirely new in the economics of British coal mining.
All the old crises sprang from overproduction of coal in relation to home and overseas demands. The problem in the past was that we had too much coal; today, there is not enough coal. The country is now facing a really critical winter, because of a possible shortage of coal. Acts of Parliament were passed to encourage and facilitate the selling of coal. Today, we are looking for means to save coal. Then we were alarmed because oil was displacing coal as fuel. I still have very vivid recollections of the consternation which spread throughout South Wales when some of the capital ships of the Navy went over to oil burning. It meant disaster for South Wales: the closing of collieries, derelict villages, and unemployment for thousands of our people. In the past we had too many miners. In every mining village and town in Britain we had long queues of men whom the industry did not require. Indeed, between the two wars the mining industry had the highest incidence of unemployment. Skilled men lined up outside employment exchanges, because the industry and the nation did not require their services. Now, there are too few miners. We are trying to find miners all over Europe.
A great deal of nonsense has been talked about the use of Polish miners in the industry. One might have imagined that every Pole is a potential miner, anxious to come into the British mining industry. When we examine the position, the actual potentialities and possibilities of Polish labour in the mining industry are infinitesimal The German, Englishman, Welshman, Scotsman or Irishman has to be a skilled miner before he is of any immediate use in the mining industry. It is no use bringing a peasant from Poland to work in a Welsh colliery. When we have sifted out the Polish workers who can speak English, those who are skilled miners, and those who are prepared to join the miners' union, there are left not more than 200. I do not know where you 993 are going to put them. There are no homes for thorn in the Welsh villages You cannot expect a Welsh miner, a Scottish miner, or an English miner to accept them as lodgers, The introduction into the old-fashioned mining communities of these Polish miners will do more harm than good. Two hundred Polish miners will not mean a tremendous increase in production. If a stoppage in a colliery, employing 1,000 men, is brought about through that, we shall lose more coal in one day than 200 Polish miners could produce in a week.
One of the main difficulties of the mining industry now is that we cannot recruit boys. In every crisis which afflicted this industry in the past, we had too many recruits; there were too many boys, and nobody wanted them. In my own district it was a common sight to see 40, 50 or 60 boys outside a colliery office every morning asking for jobs. The parents begged colliery managers to give their boys a start. The industry did not require them. Now we are desperately short of boys, and the Government have to employ a team of officials, with varying degrees of success, to get schoolboys and other juveniles to go into the industry. They will not go into the industry; they do not want to go into the industry. In the old days, there was always keen competition for jobs in the mining industry at very low rates of wages. There was always a queue outside the colliery gates, even though a niggardly, miserable wage was paid. Today, although mining wages are practically doubled, there is no competition for jobs. No one wants the jobs. The increase in wages brought about by legislation and negotiations has failed to provide the attraction necessary to bring more labour into the mining industry.
In the old days, there was the difficulty of the price of coal. The coal owners were always arguing that the price of coal was too high to enable them to sell it; the miners complained that the price of coal was too low to give them a living wage; and the general consumer always complained that the price of coal was too high. Today, no one worries about the price of coal. Everyone is concerned about getting the coal. If we can get the coal that is the only thing that matters. In the present situation, therefore, all the prewar problems of the mining industry are standing on their heads. We are now meeting in reverse all the old traditional 994 difficulties associated with this industry. Instead of too much coal, there is too little; instead of too many men, there are too few; instead of a surplus of recruits, there is none, it is not simply the case that the wheel has turned full cycle; it has almost ceased to turn at all.
The present crisis has continued for some time. All the authoritative statements which we have had from the Minister, the Parliamentary Secretary, and other people indicate that there is no improvement in the situation. There are no encouraging signs from any direction that the position is better than it was. We have to face the fact that the situation in the mining industry is deteriorating very rapidly. Only the other day, the secretary of the miners' union warned us that the whole of British economy is delicately poised on the razor edge of the coal crisis. A fortnight's stoppage in the British mining industry from any cause—an epidemic, a breakdown in transport, or climatic conditions—will bring the whole of British industry to a standstill. That is the measure of the crisis that is upon us.
I want to say a few words about the causes of this crisis. It is no use blaming the miners. This crisis is too deep and too serious to find scapegoats to take the blame. We have to find the causes of the crisis in the organisation, structure and history of the industry. First, the British mining industry is an old industry. It is a 19th century industry, and it is incapable of meeting the needs and requirements of the 20th century. The overwhelming majority of our pits were sunk and developed in the 19th century. I represent a mining constituency in which there are about 33 pits. Only three of those pits were sunk and developed in the 20th century. All the rest belong to the 19th century, and some of them to the very early days of that century. I remember that some time ago, in the Debate on the steel industry, the Chancellor of the Exchequer referred to some of the tinplate mills in my Division as simply old junk. That same description might with equal truth apply to most of the collieries in my Division. It is characteristic of all the collieries in the anthracite area of South Wales.
Secondly, the industry is technically backward. In my lifetime we have lived through a second industrial revolution. 995 This second industrial revolution has bypassed the mining industry; it has had no effect upon it, and the mining industry has had none of the benefits of the enormous technical advances that have been made by science in the last 25 years. More than half the manpower employed in British mines is employed in collieries where the output per manshift is under one ton. When we talk about the output per manshift we have to remember that output is determined not simply by brawn and brain; it is determined by technique and machinery. Only one per cent. of the entire manpower of the British mining industry is employed in collieries where the output is two tons or more. That is the measure of the serious technical backwardness of this industry.
Thirdly, there is the age of the miners. The miner is at his best between 25 and 45 years of age, and yet more than half the manpower in the British mining industry is outside that age group. Only 42 per cent. of British manpower comes within the age group 25 to 45; 158,000 miners—22 per cent.—are over 50 years of age. When we expect miners to produce coal, we have to remember that men of 50 or over are not so efficient, not so energetic and not so capable as men between 25 and 40. One of the main problems facing the industry is to increase the number of miners in the age group 25 to 45.
Fourthly, there is the question of wastage, which is really an alarming problem. I am sorry to bore the House with these figures but I think they indicate the core and kernel of the crisis in this industry. Wastage is caused by deaths, retirements through old age, accidents, and disease. I come from the death pool of the mining industry as far as disease is concerned, where we lose thousands of men every year because of chest complaints caused by dust. In 1942 the industry lost 32,441 men; in 1943, 37,998; in 1944, 44,175; in 1945, 66,019 and in the first half of 1946, 33,223, or at the rate of 66,446 for the year. In other words, in four and a half years the mining industry has lost 213,856 men, skilled men experienced men, good men. Let us see how that position is balanced by the inflow into the pits. According to the Minister's own figures, the recruitment of juveniles under 18 falls far below the requirements 996 of the industry and below the figures for wastage in the industry. In 1942, 12,945 juveniles under 18 came into the industry; in 1943, 12,139; in 1944, 10,389; in 1945, 9,571 and in the first half of 1946, 6,192 or at the rate of 12,384 for the year. In other words, in 4½ years we have gained 51,236 juveniles.
Now let us make a balance sheet of the position. In the last 18 months this industry has lost 99,242 or nearly 100,000 men, and it has recruited juveniles to the number of 15,743. Each week 1,334 miners go out of the industry, or 222 per day; and each week 210 lads come in to take their place, or 35 per day. That is the appalling and alarming arithmetic of the mining problem from the standpoint of manpower. If the present rate of wastage continues, we shall have no miners left in ten years. That is the magnitude of the crisis and the measure of our responsibility in this present mining situation. I agree that it is a gloomy picture, but it is true, and it is borne out by the Minister's own statistics and confirmed, I believe, by the experience of everybody who has lived in a mining community in the last 25 years. The causes of this calamity are very well known and I need not deal with them here. I only wish to say that there has been a tendency in much of the criticism of the Minister and of the new Coal Board set up to assume that all the ills and evils from which the industry is suffering date from 5th July, 1945. The Minister is taken as a scapegoat. The miner is regarded as a scapegoat. Nationalisation seems to be the new omnibus term to explain all the troubles of the mining industry.
The tragedy of this industry is that it was not nationalised 25 years ago. That, too, is the tragedy for this nation. Then, at least, the Minister would have had a live body to take over. Now I do not know whether he is taking over a patient on the way to hospital or a corpse on the way to the cemetery. In any case it will need a miracle or a major operation to put it on its feet again. And not only a major operation; it will need too a long period of convalescence. There is no single, simple solution to this mining industry problem. There is no universal panacea. Now that the mines have been nationalised—I hope that the vesting date will be speeded up—there is the possibility of dealing with the problem 997 as a national one. It is a national problem. There is now the possibility of applying a comprehensive plan for the whole situation. It is a big job. How can it be done?
First of all, it cannot be done by threatening the miners. That sort of philosophy is dead, and any attempt to revive it will simply cause further disaster. It is well known that youngsters remained tied to the industry during the war because of the Essential Work Order. Most of them would have left the industry to join the Forces if they had been allowed to do so. I remember my own experience on a pit production committee. A young lad who was a persistent absentee was brought before the committee. He was warned, censured and lectured. I met him one day, and I told him, "Unless you attend work you will have to go into the Army." His reply was, "Good Heavens! I have been trying to get into the Army for the last two years but the manager won't let me." If you threaten the young miners with the Army today they will certainly say "We will accept." That is no solution. The miners are sick and tired of lectures and exhortations. The policy of the Coal Board of getting managers and miners together in conference to discuss and analyse the position is sensible, and I welcome it. By all means let us examine the position, but let us not regard the miners as children. There is an unfortunate psychology prevailing now in the pit and outside the pit. There has been a revolution in mining psychology. In place of the old pride of craft, and pride in the industry, a revulsion of feeling has taken place against colliery life and colliery work. The gigantic task facing the Minister and the Coal Board is to create a new psychology in the mining communities and a new attitude towards the industry, a new spirit. We must make the mines more attractive.
I would utter a word of warning, however. Mining can never be made a physically attractive job. You can whitewash it, streamline it or gild it. It will still be mining and coal will still be black, dirty and dusty. The suggestion has been made that we can make it attractive by machinery. I do not accept that, for it is a remarkable fact that in areas which are technically advanced there is the same reluctance on the part of the youngsters 998 to go into the industry as there is in my own district which is technically, the most backward in Europe. Under certain conditions, machinery can make a colliery a mechanised hell. I have seen a few of them. To make it attractive, we must make it attractive from the outside. The attraction has to be social. We have to give the miners a five-day week, and later, a six-hour day. We must revive pride in the industry. We must improve the social amenities of the mining communities. Above all, every section of the British public bears a responsibility for finding the manpower for the pits. Miners no longer accept that responsibility. For generations miners came from miners' families, but that cannot go on. This House has the responsibility of impressing on the entire British nation that everybody has a responsibility for making up the serious deficiency in manpower now facing this industry.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison (Glasgow, Central)
Speaking on 24th June Mr. Will Lawther remarked that the present situation had all the elements of industrial catastrophe. These are grave words, and nothing that has been said in this Debate today has in any way reduced their importance or gravity. The Debate has, on the whole, been remarkably free from past recriminations. When a ship is sailing the sea rudderless, only fools stand on the deck and argue about who is to blame. The nation requires something more serious from us today than to waste our time on past history and past recrimination. Hon. Members on the other side should realise that both sides can cast stones and elevate one contributory cause to look as if it were the whole cause. I believe that the country is looking to this House today to arrange, in common, remedies for the whole of the community. The less heat we generate in this Debate, the more heat are we likely to get in the country.
This question is surrounded by a mass of statistics, dull things to which we cannot avoid some reference in a Debate of this kind. I have here some figures given in the Statistical Digest which has just made its appearance, and it is to this I want to refer throughout. We have heard figures given, but figures thrown to us across the Floor of the House without comparison with previous years are difficult to assimilate and it is difficult to 999 adduce an argument on them. In this Statistical Digest I find that the production in 1945 was 183 million tons. Of that, 8 million went in export. The consumption during the same period was between 187 and 188 million tons, leaving this famous gap of 5 million, or as the Minister has frequently referred to it, 100,000 tons a week. This was partially made up during the past winter by a reduction of stocks from 15 million to 9 million tons. I say "partially," because we were informed earlier in this Session of Parliament, in reply to a Question by the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) that already in the first three months of this year, no less than 100,000 tons of steel production has been lost owing to insufficient coal supplies. We have also heard that already there have been periods when, to employ a euphemism which the Minister has himself used, power stations have shed their load and gas companies have reduced their pressure. So while this gap exists, a gap the subject of which has been in all our considerations and in all the speeches today, we are already suffering from a measure of industrial starvation. The Minister has told us that at present we are running at the rate of 100,000 tons a week more than last year. That is good hearing, but I ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether it is not an historical fact that in the months of September and October, there is always, normally, an increase in production.
I want to deal for a moment with the general export trade of the country, not with the coal export trade. We heard the other day from the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, that the export trade of this country has already attained its pre-war volume. That is a considerable achievement, let us admit it; but he went on to say that if we are to make ends meet and if we are to be able to pay for the imports necessary for this country, those must be stepped up to 75 per cent. over what we have already attained. How can that be done unless we get a further increase in the production of coal? There again the gap widens, and this 5 million tons minimum gap which we are facing now may easily swell to something like 25 million tons or, if not, the whole of our industrial economy is, as Mr. Lawther has said, gravely threatened. How are we to meet 1000 this gap in the requirement for exports of our general merchandise? Is it possible to take anything from the already denuded and limited consumption which is available to our own people? Clearly that is not so. One speaker after another on all sides of the House has united in urging that so far from the present consumer goods in the shops being sufficient we ought, if we want to cut down absenteeism, to increase them very considerably. So we shall not find any solution of the problem of this extra 75 per cent. export trade in plundering the small supplies available to our own people at present.
Now a word on unemployment. We have already heard the grave words which the General Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers has used in that connection, to which I would like to draw the attention of the House once again, namely, that each 5 million tons of coal short for industry this winter will lead to a consequential loss of employment of more than a million people. I cannot quite believe in that figure, but if it is only half true, just think what a grave unemployment situation is facing the Government.
What then are the prospects of closing this gap? It is clear there is nothing to be drawn from the coal export trade, because that great trade, which once was the pride of our country, which once contributed so enormously to the general welfare and industry of Britain, has in fact dwindled until it is insignificant. In the first six months of this year our total exports were 2.6 million tons, and those 2.6 million tons consisted of the poorest possible quality of coal—of slack, of duff, of coke breeze. I have just returned from the Continent and people there ask, "What has happened to the British export trade? Here we are crying out to re-establish our industries. We are in urgent need of coal, and what do we find? We ask for coal; you give us a few stones. Is this a plot to keep down the industry of the Continental countries?" I think it has had mild international repercussions. I heard them myself only a few days ago.
Then let me draw the attention of the Minister and the House to one other grave feature in a trade with which I was connected, the question of ships' bunkers. Ships are sailing from the Clyde, and no 1001 doubt from other port?, with only sufficient bunkers to take them on the first half of their voyage and, when they get to the River Plate, they are there forced to pay £6 a ton for the same quality of South African coal that they buy in this country for £3 a ton. That involves not only the loss, since there is no coal to carry, of the outward freight—and consequently the homeward cargo has to bear the whole cost of the voyage—but it increases the cost of bunkering the ship by an estimated sum of £3,000 a voyage. I do not need to ask anyone in this House upon whose pockets ultimately that increase falls when the maize or chilled meat from the Argentine eventually reaches this country. The Clyde is stagnating and I have no doubt that every other port which in the past—the bad old days we hear so much about—was accustomed to ship cargoes of coal from this country, is stagnating likewise.
§ Colonel Hutchison
May I quote some words from the Principal Assistant Secretary to the Ministry?The estimated output in 1947 is 186,000,000 tons, that is, 3,000,000 more than in the previous year.He went on to say that these figures had now been readjusted to between 187,000,000 tons and 200,000,000 tons. That readjustment is immensely important. I urge the Parliamentary Secretary, when he replies, to say whether he can confirm those higher figures which, in effect, would solve our immediate problem, although not the long-distance problem. Would he also say by what black magic they are to be brought about?
Where else can we look for some partial alleviation or solution of this question? We have heard a great deal about absenteeism and the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. William Paling) says that it is not so bad as elsewhere and is really not serious. I do not know, but I would like to call the attention of the House to the extent to which some reduction in absenteeism would bring in production of coal. In July, according to the same statistical digest, it was 14.76 per cent., and its history is that it has risen from 6.4 per cent. in 1938 to 16.3 per cent. in 1945. That is a very serious increase. If hon. Members tend to argue that 1002 absenteeism is normal and that the miners are entitled to it, I would ask what was happening to 6.4 per cent. in 1938? I wonder if the House realises that a reduction of 6.8 per cent. in absenteeism would mean an extra 15,000,000 tons of coal for the country? Surely, this is not a very good advertisement for nationalisation? It may be said that full nationalisation has not yet been brought about, but all these constant promises and hopes that were held out and the political aims which were preached, culminated in the Act, which was passed by the House of Commons not long ago. One would imagine that if by that the miner was going to be satisfied, and would see the whole of his horizon changed, he would have reacted in such a way as to bring about something more than he has in fact brought about. A reduction of 50 per cent. in the voluntary absenteeism at present would increase production of coal from 7,000,000 to 8,000,000 tons. Surely, their ears are prepared to listen, in the gravity of the situation, to these figures, or are they closed to such persuasion, and only open to darker and more sinister counsels?
We have heard from the Minister that long-term production machinery will help and we all realise that that is so. But he goes on to say that power loading is in its infancy, and will take some years to come into full play. We hope that he will see that this infant gets all the possible nourishment which he can give it. It is a little surprising to find—and he may be able to remedy this in the not far distant future—that the proportion of machine-cut coal in thick seams is lower than in thinner seams. As an outside layman, I would have expected the contrary to have been the case.
I would like to deal for a moment with the vexed question of manpower. I find it difficult, as I think the House and the country have found it difficult, to reconcile the optimistic and pessimistic sides of the Minister's mind. He reminds me of the man who looks at a glass of wine one day and says, "It is half full," and who sees the same glass the next day and says, "No, it is half empty." The question of manpower has been fairly clearly dealt with, again by the Principal Assistant Secretary to the Ministry in his recent reported statement. There he estimates that by the year end the net wastage of manpower will be 9,000, leaving in the industry 687,000 men. He goes 1003 on to say—and these are the significant, pregnant words—that during 1947 the figure will have fallen to 665,000. At the same time he estimates that the output per, manshift may be expected to rise from one ton to 1.02 tons. If the manpower is, in fact, going to fall by these considerable figures, and the output per manshift is to rise by that very inconsiderable figure, it does not look as though the Principal Assistant Secretary of the Ministry of Fuel and Power has a very good basis for having stepped up the production of coal to between 187,000,000 tons and 200,000,000 tons.
Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to enlighten me. The Minister has said, and it is almost a famous remark—I do not apologise for mentioning it again because it is a statement of such tremendous significance:It is an erroneous conception that more men are required in the industry. Only 5,000,000 tons stand between us and success this winter. Things are not so bad as people think they are.Whichever way one looks at that, knowing the circumstances, and knowing the views of the mildly increasing output which have been mentioned by the Principal Assistant Secretary, that must be a farrago of nonsense. If our export trade is to be revived at all, if our industry is to be able to expand at all, how can the Minister expect that with those manpower figures and without a tremendous increase in manshift output, we do not require a very much greater number of men in the industry.
The numbers in the industry have fallen steadily since 1937, and the Minister finally, on 8th October, settles down in his mind as to the need for further manpower. He delivers himself of this remark:Without emergency measures to secure recruitment the decline must continue.I would like to ask the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary just what emergency measures he has in mind. Clearly, those words would not have been used lightheartedly. I believe that they mean something more than ordinary recruitment facilities. As has been said on many occasions, the problem is a psychological one of reversing the preaching of almost a generation of which the theme song has been, in fact, "Don't go down the mine, 1004 sonny." That is the whole problem which the Minister has to solve.
The hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Murray), in a whirlwind speech, counselled a whirlwind campaign. I have no doubt that that would help tremendously, but if the Minister is to embark on this campaign, I beg of him to remember two factors of great importance. The first is the question of pithead baths. Only 40 per cent. of the pits of this country are, in fact, equipped, although they are the larger pits, and consequently the number of miners making use of them is greater than that proportion. The second is the question of housing. I know of young men who would come into the mining industry in Scotland if only they could be assured of a house. It all comes back to the housing question. There is no bait which the Minister could dangle so successfully before prospective recruits for the mining industry, or for any other industry, as the assurance that the recruit will get a proper house to live in.
I want to refer to one remark made by the Minister upon the Polish question. I would like to be quite clear on the words he used. I understood the Minister to say that hon. Members might perhaps have advocated that the Poles should be forced down the mines. If that is intended as a piece of propaganda against hon. Members on this side of the House, I wish to get equal publicity for the reply that no such advocacy has ever been preached by any hon. Member to my knowledge. It may be that the Minister was taking an imaginary, and perhaps rather useful, illustration. I would like to know if that is so, or whether he definitely stated that that had been said by members of my party.
Then there is the question of conversion from coal to oil. It is a tragedy almost equally great to that of the complete loss of our export trade, that we should have to consider the purchase and installation of oil burning machinery in order to replace our natural product of coal. What does it cost the Chancellor of the Exchequer in foreign exchange? What I know is that it costs the industrialist who tries to produce steam from oil instead of coal a very much greater sum, even at today's prices, than it would to produce that steam by coal. There, with some darker patches which one might add to the picture, is the whole sombre outlook.
1005 What then are the remedies? In my view they are entirely psychological. There have been eulogies offered to the Minister by one of his. adherents. He has been equally violently criticised by the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen). I should be inclined, if I had to take sides, to side with the hon. Member for Cardigan when he said that on the whole the nation have lost confidence in the Minister of Fuel and Power. They have lost confidence. I can understand it and I can sympathise with him in his unenviable task of trying to make an unworkable scheme work; but the fact remains that the nation who have expected coal to be produced by his Ministry finds that the coal is not being produced. While, of course, it may be necessary for the Minister to add certain nuances to truth and fact according to the audience to whom he has to speak, I beg him to realise that that is not very clearly understood in the country, and that what looks like optimism on Monday—hot on Monday and cold on Tuesday—is not the sort of thing that adds confidence to the minds of the people. Violent swings from optimism to pessimism do not create confidence. If the Minister will learn something from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill)— and there is much that he could learn—he would at least learn that this nation, miners and all, if they have put before them truthfully and clearly a situation of emergency and an appeal is made to them, will react. That has been proved time and time again. The nation will play their part. The Minister intends to ask for a ten per cent. voluntary reduction in the consumption of coal. I beg him to remember that it is the patriotic and unselfish who respond to these appeals. He will get that response from the patriotic and unselfish if there is a proper appeal to them.
The Minister appeals also to industrialists to modernise their coal burning plant. That is all very fine, but who is going to take that step when, all the time, there is the threat of nationalisation, and, not only that, but when many hon. Members of the Opposition are parading the country saying that the compensation which has already been given is far too high? If they do instal this new plant and save coal, and also make profits, round the corner comes the sinister figure 1006 of the Chancellor to take the profits away in penalising taxation. If we are to be able to compete in the world market, which today is a sellers market, but which will not continue, I beg the Minister to realise that he must instil some spirit of confidence into industry. I urge him to consider seriously a five year plan for leaving industry alone.
Then there is the psychological question of the men themselves. Do the men really know what they want? Is the Minister satisfied that he knows what they are now asking? They have their national representatives on the Coal Board, they have their labour representatives on the divisional boards, and they have the nationalisation of their industry. In my view, the men are extremely unsettled", and, from what I have been able to find out about them in Scotland, they are not themselves clear on what they want. Nor are we, nor is the nation. Further, I would like an interpretation of the enigmatic words pronounced by the Secretary of the Mineworkers' Union: "If a man will not work, neither shall he eat." Also, some explanation is needed of the statement that the situation "requires the implementation of the Government's policy of full employment for every willing and unwilling pair of hands." May I underline the words "unwilling pair of hands"? Will the Parliamentary Secretary tell us what is meant by them, because they constitute an extremely uncertain factor in the nation's mind. My final question to the Parliamentary Secretary, to which I hope he will reply, is the question which was put earlier in the Debate: "When is the vesting date going to be?"
We hear a lot about the mandate of hon. Members on the Benches opposite. They have received one clear and obvious mandate, and that is to govern, and that no caucus, committee or congress shall deprive them of that right and duty. I would wager that there is not one voice from these benches which would be withheld from the support of the Government in the carrying out of that higher duty, and, when they do carry it out, I beg them to remember the famous last words of one whose name they, no doubt, well know:Danton, no weakness.
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power (Mr. Gaitskell)
The hon. and gallant Member for Central Glasgow (Colonel Hutchison) began his speech with the declaration of his intention to refrain from controversy. I am afraid the hon. and gallant Gentleman was not able to stick to that admirable resolution, and if in the course of my speech, I feel bound to defend the Minister, the Ministry and myself, I hope he will not object.
§ Colonel Hutchison
I do not want to interrupt the hon. Gentleman but I said "past recriminations" and not "controversy."
§ Mr. Gaitskell
The hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) said it would be a good thing if we put our cards on the table. That is exactly what we have done, and what we are proposing to do. There is no doubt that it is desirable, in view of the gravity of the situation, that the country should know exactly where it stands, because it can be said with confidence that the British people, when faced with a difficult and dangerous situation, and when told of that situation, will always respond.
I believe that to be the case, and that is why I want, once more, to make perfectly clear what the present position is. We have had a good deal of figures thrown about today, and I make no apology for reiterating what the position is as we see it in response to requests from the right hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George) and to references made by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Glasgow. When my right hon. Friend presented last July what has come to be known as the "coal budget," he estimated first of all, consumption plus exports at 196 million tons, and, secondly, to meet that, production of deep mined coal at 177 million and open cast and briquetting at a further 9 million, making 186 million in all, thus leaving an initial gap of 10 million tons. He then proceeded to outline the measures to be taken to close that gap and, without specifying in every case how much he expected to get from this, he repeated at the end that there would still be a gap of, perhaps, 5 million tons. In the light of what has transpired in the last few 1008 months, can we now revise those estimates?
My right hon. Friend has already given the answer. On the production side we are very pleased to be able to announce that we consider we have under-estimated the production figure for the year, and that an increase of at least 2 million tons is now reasonable. In a moment or two, I propose to explain, in response to the request of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, just why we think that increase which he called "black magic"—which I do not think was particularly appropriate—is reasonable. We also admit that on the economy side—the measures taken to close the gap—we cannot now expect so large a saving from oil conversion this winter as we had hoped for, and we have put that down from 3 million to one million. The upshot is that we are left with a gap of perhaps 5 million tons.
I say "perhaps" because, as my right hon. Friend mentioned, some people think that it is only 3,500,000 tons and others that it may only be 2 million tons. I agree with the right hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke that, however good those who estimate them may be at their job, we cannot be exactly precise in these figures. However, something between 2 million and 5 million is still left as a gap. I must make it quite plain that that includes some further running down of stocks at the end of this winter as compared with the end of last winter. It allows for a reduction of something like 1,500,000 tons. I quite agree with some comments that have been made that it will certainly not be easy to manage, even at the end of the winter, with the level of stocks as low as 5,500,000 tons. That is the position, and I wish it be clearly understood that even when we allow for that we still face a gap. The country must realise that.
§ Major Roberts
The gap, I understand, was 10 million tons, of which 5 million was closed by increased production. That is what was said in July. What I want to know is whether the increase of 100,000 tons a week, which adds up to 2 million tons, is an increase in production. Is it going to make the figure 7 million or only 3 million tons?
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I am not sure what the hon. and gallant Member means when he 1009 refers to the 5 million tons. The 5 million tons was due to a series of measures—an increase in open-cast production, the conversion to oil fuel, the running down of stocks, some changes in the production of gas which economised coal, and so on. It did not involve any allowance for increased production, and I would like to make that perfectly clear. That is the situation. Of course, in those circumstances stocks are bound to be low. Reference has been made to coal stocks for steel. There was some dispute about the figures. I am advised that, in fact, the stocks for the steel industry at the moment, on the average, are just under 2½ weeks. They were three weeks last year. I think the hon. Member for Hallam (Mr. Jennings) quoted a case in which there was only one day's stocks available. I can assure him that, if that is the case, it is exceptional. The position is not as bad as that, but of course the stocks are low. We are starting this winter with 11 million tons compared with about 13½ million or 14 million last winter, against 16 million tons which we would like.
I said just now that I would explain why we estimate an increased production. One reason is based on the experience we have had up to now. The results of the summer months have been better than we expected. There has been a lot of gloomy talk about the failure of the miners. On the whole, the output that they are now making is a good deal better than we might have expected. I notice that the hon. and gallant Member for Central Glasgow spoke in what I thought were somewhat disparaging terms of the miners' efforts. He might be interested to know that in Lanarkshire this week the miners beat their target.
What do we assume when we say that there will be a gap of say 3½ million tons? I will take that figure, if I may. We assume, on the production side, that the average manpower for this winter will be 680,000. That is to say, we are assuming a drop of some 20,000 men in the industry over the full winter. Hon. Members may say that that is unduly gloomy, but we have to recognise that we have removed the Essential Work Order, and, although there is a ring fence around the industry, it does not apply, for example, to lads under 18, and we have to recognise that there will be some Bevin boys who 1010 will be released, and so on. It may be too gloomy, but there is another aspect to be considered. Much of the labour which will go, as my right hon. Friend said, is not particularly good quality labour. It is probably desirable that it should go. A man who does not want to be in the industry, who is longing to get out of it and hates the whole business, is probably more a source of trouble than of value. I think, on the whole, there is every reason to be satisfied, even though of course when one sees that the net loss to the industry at the moment is running at somewhere round about 1,000 men a week, one is bound to be anxious.
Secondly, we assume that during this winter absenteeism will be running at about 14½ per cent. That is a lower figure than that at which it stands at the moment. During the last week, for instance, it was at 15.3 per cent. But we believe that that was a reasonable estimate to make, for the reason given by my right hon. Friend that the people who are leaving the industry are, on the whole, the bad attenders, and secondly because the trend at the moment certainly is towards a reduction in absenteeism. Thirdly, we assume an output per manshift of 1.035 tons. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Glasgow spoke of the output per manshift as being I ton at the moment. I do not know where he got that figure. Last week it was 1.04.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
It is not really relevant to the argument. Last week it was 1.04 which, incidentally, is only 10 per cent. below what it was before the war, compared with 15 per cent. a year ago. Hon. Members may say that we are optimistic with that figure of 1.035. [Interruption.] The right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) says he cannot follow the figures. I am trying to be as plain as possible. Even if he cannot follow them, perhaps some hon. Members can. Perhaps he will be able to study them in quiet afterwards.
Those are the assumptions we make. I think that on the whole they are reasonable ones. Some may be more optimistic, some may be more pessimistic, but on balance I think they are fair. The next point is this. How can this 3½ million gap be closed? What is necessary in order that it can be closed? We can take the three factors again. Obviously, 1011 it depends on manpower, it depends on absenteeism, and it depends upon the output per manshift. Suppose we take the assumptions I have made here on absenteeism and on output per manshift, to close that gap we would need 26,000 more men. If we could get that, instead of having 680,000 men, we would have over 700,000 and the gap is closed. Suppose the manpower was what we have assumed it would be, 680,000 on the average, and that the output per manshift was what we have assumed, then, if the absenteeism falls to 11 per cent. and no other change is made, again the gap is closed. Finally, if the manpower and the absenteeism are what we have assumed, and the output per manshift rises to 1.075—still, I may say, well below the prewar level—the gap will be closed. My right hon. Friend has been accused of being inconsistent because he said the gap was a small one. It is a small one. In a sense, that is the tragedy of the situation: it needs such a little effort from all concerned to put us out of danger. I think he really cannot be fairly criticised for pointing that-out.
What can we do about it on the production side? There are three factors again; output per manshift, absenteeism and manpower. Let me take them each in turn. First, output per manshift. Here we must face the fact—as my hon. Friend the Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Murray) in his very invigorating and penetrating speech made clear—that this industry is an ageing industry, that there are certain physical and technical factors working against us. There is the percentage of thin seams, contained in the Statistical Digest, 26 per cent. under 3 feet compared with only 19 per cent. in 1913. On the whole it is harder to get coal out from a thin seam than from a thick seam; it is more expensive and needs more manpower. Only 6 per cent. of the output now comes from shafts sunk in the last 20 years; the vast amount comes from old pits. There has been a continuous increase in the number of miles of underground roadway per ton raised; which means, in other words, that all the time we are moving further away from the pit bottom. Finally, as several hon. Members have said, there is the age distribution. All these are working against us. Output per manshift has not 1012 merely fallen since the war—still less since the Labour Government took office. It began to fall in 1936, a fact we cannot overlook—and which, incidentally, even the Reid Report was scarcely able to explain satisfactorily. There is a second major factor in this declining output per manshift and that is this: the influence of the war. We had better face this. What happened last time, after the 1914– 18 war? Output per manshift fell by 25 per cent. between 1914 and 1921. It did not reach the 1913 figure again until 1927, nine years after the end of the war. This time we have done better. It has only fallen 15 per cent. and it has gone up; it went up in the autumn of 1945, and, as I have said, just now it is only 10 per cent. below.
That is at least something by which to be encouraged in what is, as we all recognise, a very difficult situation. What is the reason for it? Everybody can have their own views: war strain, physiological factors, lack of food, labour turnover—which is, I think, immensely important in both cases, but it is there. It is all very well to speak about control and nationalisation, or lack of control, or lack of nationalisation. I think there is something more fundamental than any of those things. It is the war situation that is behind this, plus the earlier factors I mentioned. There is one other thing which, I think, must be mentioned in connection with this fall in output per manshift, and that is this. It is quite clear that this time, at any rate, it is very much tied up with the declining percentage of workers at the face. That is a natural result. We take men away from the face. We have to keep a certain minimum number on haulage and on the surface, and so, in the last resort, they come off the face.
What can be done to raise the output per manshift? It has been said many times that there is a long run solution. We all know it and we all agree. The Reid Report lays it down, and nationalisation will carry it out. I do not want to be controversial tonight, but we believe nationalisation can carry it out. We also believe that there must be a better spirit in the industry, and better welfare conditions. That will all take time.
The hon. and gallant Member for Central Glasgow twitted the miners and twitted us with the fact that they had not responded so rapidly to nationalisation. Why should they? They have got to 1013 learn what nationalisation will mean. They are suspicious, after 20 or 30 years of the treatment they have had. Of course they are. One cannot overcome that sort of feeling in a night or a week. But nationalisation lays down the right foundations for the new spirit to be developed upon, and already it is developing. Can anybody suppose that trade union leaders would have spoken, as they have lately spoken, if the industry had remained in private hands? Can we imagine the "get-together conferences" with managing directors, and all the same old people in the industry—all coming together with the miners? Has it ever happened before? Of course it has not. It will be some time before the results are achieved. We must emphasise that. People must realise that. It takes time to reorganise the pits. As to the additional power-loading machinery, we shall do all we can to speed it up, but it is no good expecting speedy results.
What can be done in the short period? As I say, we are already one-third of the way back to the prewar level. Output per manshift at the face is only 3 per cent. or 4 per cent. below the prewar level—a very good figure. We need, certainly, one thing that can be done, and to which everybody in the industry should contribute, and get together to help forward. We need up-grading to the face. Everything that can be done to overcome the men's reluctance and the managers' reluctance must be done in that direction. We need to encourage cooperation. The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. William Paling) referred to the difficulties there were, the pinpricks. It is perfectly true, that some managers have not yet learned to manage the men. Some do. They vary greatly. But we must ask all those responsible, in these coming months, to exercise the utmost possible restraint and tact in handling these difficult problems of friction which so easily arise in the mining industry. Perhaps the outsider—I do not feel myself any longer to be an outsider in this matter—does not realise how, in the conditions in which the men work in the mining industry, friction can arise. It is inevitable. We must ask both sides to do everything they can to exercise restraint to prevent friction developing.
1014 Now for absenteeism. Well, here again, we see an improvement. Recent figures show some reduction. Let us remember this, too. When we speak of absenteeism percentages we are apt to forget that the actual number of shifts worked, on the average, is very nearly the same as before the war. What has increased is the number of possible shifts. Now, the causes have been referred to by many hon. Members today, and I do not propose to go into each of them in detail. P.A.Y.E., certainly, I am ready to admit, does very likely have some influence. Shortage of consumer goods have been mentioned by several hon. Members. I want to tell the House what we have done about that. Six months ago we asked the Board of Trade to look into the matter and they did so. We asked them to put additional goods into the mining areas and they have done so. I can assure hon. Members that that is exactly what has happened. The various trade associations, and the firms and wholesalers, have been asked to increase the rate of supply of docket-free consumer goods to the mining areas. Government surplus clothing, to which the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Baker White) referred, is being sent in large quantities to those areas. Indeed, the mining areas are getting all the surplus boots, coats, trousers and raincoats from the demobilisation programme at the moment, and as regards food—I entirely agree it is important—the Ministry of Food have already been asked, and have agreed, to increase as far as they possibly can the variety and quantity of goods on points.
§ Mr. Baker White
May I interrupt the hon. Gentleman for one moment? Since I spoke this afternoon I have received a letter from the Board of Trade in which they have refused to send clothes to the Kent mining areas.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
Obviously there are certain difficulties. Kent is not purely a mining area, as I am sure the hon. Member realises, but I am prepared to look into that later on.
Thirdly, I turn to manpower, and I would like first of all to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Batter-sea (Mr. Jay) on his admirable maiden speech. His hon. Friends on this side fully expected that he would make most valuable contributions to our Debates, and 1015 he certainly started by making one this afternoon. First of all, what are the difficulties? We all know what the difficulties are in the way of recruitment to the mining industry. There are the inherent defects—the three "D's," darkness, danger and dirt. We cannot get over those. We can reduce the danger, certainly, we can introduce main road lighting, which we are doing, and we can improve conditions, but we cannot get round them. Secondly, there is the past history of the industry. Many hon. Members on this side of the House have referred to it, and it does have an effect. Of course it does. The ordinary miner still feels very bitterly about this industry, and he is not prepared, in many cases, to advise his children to go down the mines.
But there is something even deeper than that. There is the whole question of status. In this country we are, I believe, encouraging too much what one must call a "white collar snobbery." We are raising on a pedestal, through our educational system and through our attitude, the white collar worker, with his clean conditions and, shall I say, relatively easy life. One would think it would be exactly the opposite. Here is coalmining; it is a dangerous job, a hard and dirty job, and precisely for that reason the community ought to value the men in that industry very highly. We have got to have a revolution in our attitude to these things. I heard a trade Union leader say this, and I think it is profoundly true: "When a woman says, 'My daughter is going to marry a collier' with the same pride as she says 'My daughter is going to marry a teacher,' we shall have solved the problem." We are doing as much as we possibly can, and I wish I had time to tell the House in detail of what we have done, but I can honestly say that the Recruitment Department in the Ministry of Fuel and Power is doing a first-class job, and has produced results. The increase in juvenile recruitment is 50 per cent. above last year. It is still too low, I agree, but it is well above last year, and the Department is doing its best to overcome the prejudices and wrong ideas which are very prevalent about the coal industry.
I was asked about Irish labour. From Northern Ireland and Eire, we have now placed about 1,100 men. We expect and hope to get about 250 men a week over 1016 the next three months. That is largely the result of a cooperative effort on the part of the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Fuel and Power, and I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for North Battersea that we are working very closely and very well with the Ministry of Labour on this whole business. If I had time, again I could go into much greater detail.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
My right hon. Friend proposes at the end of this month to announce the vesting date. He is not in a position to do so tonight.
May I now turn from production to consumption. We have, I think, the right to ask consumers, not so much to impose a hardship upon themselves, although we may have to do that, but that they shall not waste. I am not thinking so much of the domestic consumer, because, frankly, I think that the allocations which they receive are sufficient to make them economical in their use of fuel. It is a fact, however, that in industry there is a great deal of ground to be gained here. We must ask every industrial firm to make quite certain, in its own interest, that it is using fuel in the most efficient manner possible. I can say, with the full authority of the Minister, that those firms who will not make themselves efficient will be forced to, and if cuts have to be made, the cuts will be imposed on them, and not on firms which are efficient. We have a lot of information in our office, and I hope that that will be taken seriously.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
Are the Ministry taking particular steps to safeguard the supply of coal to hospitals? As one connected with hospitals, I warn the Parliamentary Secretary that in some cases stocks are extremely low, and that it is extremely difficult to obtain new stocks.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I can assure the noble Lord that we are watching that situation very carefully, and that we have a machine fully adequate to cope with a situation of that kind.
We are inheriting in this industry at this time an extraordinarily difficult problem. We can argue about the responsibility, and other Members have done so, but, frankly, I do not think it is worth going over that ground, so long 1017 as there is no attempt made by the other side to put the responsibility on this side. If hon. Members opposite think that they can get away with it by trying to make us responsible for their misdeeds in the past, we are not going to stand for that. It will take years to put the situation right. It is comparable, in some ways, to the situation at the time of Dunkirk, when we knew that we could not turn out vast bomber fleets over night, and when we knew it would be two or three years before the munitions were really being turned out. There was not a great deal of argument then about responsibility for the past. Just as then we had to improvise, and improvise, and improvise, so we have to improvise today, and that is my right hon. Friend's answer, and my answer, to the accusations that there is a lack of clear thinking.
§ Major Roberts
With regard to the question of clear thinking, the figure which was given of 177 million tons, which I have here, was for the ensuing year. For the last year, on which I am basing my argument, the figure is 172 million tons. The point is that there are five million tons missing, and that is a frightfully important point.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
Believe me, I know the figures backwards. I thought that I had made them perfectly clear. There are only two minutes left, and I am not going to be drawn into an argument now about figures, because I really have more important things to say. What are we doing in the circumstances? I have listened to pretty well every speech in this Debate. I have listened to them with interest, and to the suggestions which have been made. I can only say that no constructive suggestions have been made which have not been considered, and in many cases already adopted. I am not blaming anyone, because I doubt whether there are any easy solutions to this problem. We must rely here, in this question of closing the gap, on the British people who are concerned, on the British people as consumers, and the British people as producers in the industry. We have seen signs of hopeful development.
The output per manshift has been rising, and absenteeism has been falling. If we can only keep that up, if miners can continue to respond as they have been responding, we shall get through this winter. On the production side, I urge, 1018 once more, that every man, whether he be a miner at the coat face or on haulage work, or whether he be a manager, agent, or member of the regional board, should consider one thing, and one thing only, irrespective of cost, and everything else—how can we get more output? Every decision must be governed by that, and that alone. If consumers realise that the coal they burn so easily is bought at great expense of physical labour then I am sure that we shall get through the winter.
§ It being Ten o'Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.