§ Question again proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ 4.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I was saying that the right hon. Gentleman had addressed to me a large number of questions, some of which are within the province of other Ministers. Nevertheless, I shall do my best to give him a reply.
2053 To begin with, on questions of export of mining machinery and wagons, although it is true that last year a substantial amount of mining machinery was exported, it is not the intention of the Government to permit such exports to continue this year, other than those exports which are on order, and which, in the judgment of the Government, are necessary so that we may receive essential imports in return.
As regards the export of wagons it must be understood that large orders for wagon supply for oversea countries were placed many months ago. Many orders were placed towards the end of the war. For the most part, those wagons are intended for gauges different from the gauge in operation on the railway lines of this country. Those contracts must be complied with. So far as possible, however, the Government intend to discontinue exports of that character. We are aware of the essential needs of the mining industry in respect of machinery, and of the railways of the country. Indeed, I say by way of digression—although it is a point of substantial importance—that there is not much use in our producing large quantities of coal this year unless we have increased transport facilities. The Government have the matter in hand. In this as in other matters there is, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman, a sense of urgency.
As regards the staggering of the load in electricity supply, because of inadequate generating facilities, this is a matter now in the hands of the Minister of Labour. He has had frequent consultations with the appropriate organisations on both sides, and I understand that a scheme has been prepared. It now appears that certain modifications of that scheme will be required for the purposes of summer requirements. The requirements of the summer are somewhat different, so I am informed, from those of the winter, but, be that as it may, the Minister of Labour is giving constant attention to the matter.
Now I turn to the subject of the quality of coal, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. I say at once that he is pushing at an open door. I am fully conscious of the inferior material that sometimes passes for coal. I have to use it myself when I can get coal, and I am in precisely the same position as other coal consumers both as regards quantity and 2054 quality. The facts are these. Before the war there was an inadequate number of washeries for the cleaning of coal, and those washeries have not been increased. Over and above that, some of them were disused during the war and they require reconditioning and the replacement of essential machinery. That is not always possible. In the old days when coal was got by hand, there was very little dirt; the miners picked the coal and, more often than not, picked it clean; occasionally some dirt was sent up out of the pit, but there were very few complaints and when there were complaints they could be rectified. Now, however, when more coal is got by mechanical means, the coal comes down along with the dirt, the rock, the shale and the like, and it is not possible for the miner, particularly when he is dealing with small coal, to separate the dirt from the actual coal itself. So both coal and dirt come up the pit, and unless the coal is cleaned and screened adequately, obviously some of the dirt finds its way into the hands of the consumers The National Coal Board are very conscious of the difficulty—
§ Mr. Shinwell
I will come to that in a moment; may I just complete my sentence? The National Coal Board are giving this matter their attention, but it can hardly be expected that the National Coal Board, who have just had the assets of the mining industry transferred to them, should be able to deal with every one of these problems as soon as hon. Members wish. As regards the price of coal, it is very difficult to fix a price for coal which is different from other prices, because there happens to be a certain amount of inferior coal or dirt in the supply the consumer receives. It would be impracticable to adopt a system of that kind, and that is the answer to the hon. and gallant Member.
§ Colonel Lancaster (Fylde)
I do not know why the right hon. Gentleman says it is impracticable. Prewar sales of coal were based, in great measure, on calorific value, and there were penalty clauses if that value was not maintained. Now that coal is sold by the State, there can be precisely the same penalty clauses. It is not a new problem; it is a very old one.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is quite right, it is an old problem. But he had to deal with it as the general manager of a group of collieries during the war, yet we received many complaints during the war about the inferior quality of coal and its low calorific value. He was quite unable to deal with it. The matter cannot be dealt with until, as I have said, we get the machinery essential for the purpose. [An HON. MEMBER: "And more manpower."] At the same time, I agree that the coal is not always suitable, and that is particularly so as regards the coal supplied to electricity undertakings. Undoubtedly, if the coal supplied to those undertakings were of the right calorific value, we should be able to save a considerable amount. There the matter must rest for the time being.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr)
Will my right hon. Friend see to it, through the Coal Board, that more attention is devoted to the condition of the screening plant in many collieries in this country?
§ Mr. Shinwell
No doubt the Coal Board will take note of that observation, but I assume they are aware of these difficulties. There are high-powered technical experts associated with the Coal Board, and they are fully aware of the nature of the problem.
Now I come to the question of electricity generating plant. Undoubtedly there is a shortage; there has been a shortage for some considerable time, for the obvious reason that during the war it was impossible to proceed with the construction of the necessary plant, and it will be some considerable time before all the requirements of the electricity undertakings are fully met. Over and above that, it is obvious, because of the high consumption of electricity as compared with prewar years—there is a great disparity—that more generating capacity is required. We have discussed these matters with the Central Electricity Board and the Electricity Commissioners, and recently the Prime Minister with other Members of the Government had discussions with the managing directors and other persons associated with the electrical plant industry. They promised co-operation in order to ensure a speeding up of the manufacture of the necessary plant. The matter is now being dealt with by the Heavy Electrical Plant Committee, and, in addition, arrangements are being 2056 made for progressing at each of the works where electricity plant is being manufactured, in order to ensure that there should be no delay or bottlenecks. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that nothing is being left undone to ensure that, as soon as possible, the necessary plant will be at our disposal.
§ Mr. Shinwell
We have made inquiries and have discovered that there is some electrical gear in the British zone in Germany, and we shall take steps very shortly to acquire it, but it may well be that it is not altogether suitable to be placed in generating stations in this country. The matter is, however, being closely inquired into.
I think that covers the rather minor points raised by the right hon. Gentleman, and now I turn to the more substantial issues he presented to the House. The first is the question of production, because that is vital to our future fuel prospects. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising the matter. From the first moment I entered the Ministry of Fuel and Power I have never sought to conceal my opinion that production was the vital element in this problem. Indeed, that is obvious to everybody; we can attempt to secure savings by this means or that, and I shall show later that we are endeavouring to secure savings in certain directions, but the essential prerequisite of supplying industry and the domestic consumer, and providing a surplus for export, is that we should attain the highest amount of production. As the right hon. Gentleman remarked, the Government have set a target figure which was referred to in the recent Economic Debate. That target figure is 200 million tons this year.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Yes, deep-mined and open-cast. There has been some confusion as to what is meant by "this year," and perhaps I might remove that confusion, or attempt to remove it. When we speak of the coal year we mean the year beginning on 1st May and ending in the following April. It may be that when the right hon. Gentleman and others have 2057 spoken about the amount of coal to be produced this year, or the target set for this year, they had in mind the calendar year. We prefer to take the coal year, because it may represent a difference. I will venture to indicate where that difference lies. In the last three months, in spite of the severe climatic conditions—no one will dispute them now, though there was some doubt on the subject some six or seven weeks ago—[An HON. MEMBER: "Rub it in."] I am not going to rub it in; with respect to my hon. Friends behind me, I am very much more concerned about the future than I am about the past, and though a great deal might be said about the past if I had a mind, I will leave it there. Undoubtedly, in spite of the severe climatic conditions which have had the effect of making some collieries inaccessible, and preventing miners getting to their work, and in some cases have closed down collieries entirely, the trend of output is favourable. Output last week, in the circumstances, was excellent, for several collieries are actually closed down because of flooding.
I do not want to be misunderstood. I am not suggesting for a moment that the output is satisfactory: it will not, in my judgment, be satisfactory until it enables us to meet all our requirements. But the trend is satisfactory having regard to all the circumstances. We have to face certain adverse factors in relation to coal output, and it is no use trying to conceal them. One is that we are not certain whether the five-day week which has now been agreed on between the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers, and which is to come into operation at the beginning of May, will have an adverse effect on production.
§ Mr. Shinwell
We are aware that an average of 350,000 tons is produced on a Saturday when coal is won that day. If we were to base our calculations exclusively on the statistical information available, then the outlook is far from favourable as to its effect on production. We have, however, to concern ourselves with another very vital factor in regard to the five-day week. I put it to the right hon. Gentleman, if he were in my place, responsible for the administration of the mining industry, and in particular 2058 —I emphasise this—for creating a favourable atmosphere in that industry, would he, in face of the quite proper demands made by the National Union of Mineworkers, having regard to the arduous nature of their occupation, have denied them this privilege in such circumstances? Moreover, if we sought to deny the miners this long-awaited and long-demanded reform, it might have an adverse effect on production on a six-day basis.
Furthermore, now that the Essential Work Order has gone and we cannot direct labour, we have no means at our disposal of compelling the mineworker to work on a Saturday. I can now disclose the fact—it was very unpalatable at the time, and it presented me with considerable anxiety—that in many of the coal districts, the mineworkers took Saturday off, and in some of the coal districts they worked a short Saturday. We did everything possible to dissuade them from taking that course, but the men said, "We have worked five full shifts, and look at the coal we have produced. This is a hard job, you cannot expect us to work on a Saturday." I would add that the miners feel that they have as much right to have a Saturday off as have those workpeople who are employed in other industries where the work is less arduous. In those circumstances, it is quite impossible—indeed, quite impracticable—to deny the miners this reform.
The question we have to consider is whether, when the five-day week operates, we can secure the coal we need. The National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers have not only agreed to a five-day week to commence in May, but they have attached stringent conditions to the operation of the five-day week which, in my view, are satisfactory, and are all the more satisfactory because I myself laid down these conditions with the consent of the Government last year, when the matter was under review. One of the conditions is this. The men are to receive a bonus for the sixth day, but they will not receive it unless they work a full five shifts. In other words, they will receive six days' pay—with a certain deviation in the wage limits according to the class of worker—but only on the condition that they work five full shifts. The only exception is in the case of a man whose accident is of 2059 a serious character and is, therefore, reportable. In the case of sickness or absence on local authority business, where the men formerly did receive some payment, that no longer will obtain. In addition to that very stringent condition, the men have agreed to work longer shifts, which means they will remain longer in the pits in some districts than was previously the case, and, in consequence, we believe that if those conditions are fully applied there is every reason to believe that we shall get the coal we need. On the other hand, if men do not turn up for work, thus losing the extra day's pay, obviously output will correspondingly reduce.
If we promote the right atmosphere in the industry, and if the men are properly handled by the officials in charge—I am glad to say there is evidence all round the coalfields of a better spirit of comradeship among the men and managers than ever there was—I believe we are likely to have at least as high an output as we have had in recent weeks. I readily admit that even that would only represent a figure of about 4 million tons a week, and that may not be regarded as sufficient for our purpose. I have in mind the figures stated by the Trades Union Congress—a figure which, in my view, is essential if we are to provide for all our needs. Frankly, I do not believe we can achieve that figure this year. What I do say is—and this is the point I was leading up to when I spoke about the difference between the calendar year and the coal year—that whatever disadvantages we may suffer from during the summer, or immediately following the beginning of the five-day week, there is no doubt that with the increase in the rate of recruitment at the present time, after October, all things being equal and everything proceeding smoothly, we shall be producing coal at the rate of rather more than 4 million tons a week, and to that extent it may make up for the short fall preceding it. At the present time we have got 705,000 men in the industry; we expect 710,000 by the beginning of May, and the Government hope for 730,000 by the Autumn.
§ Major Lloyd George (Pembroke)
May I ask a question with regard to the coal year, in order that we can make some examination of it? Does the figure of 200 million tons which appears in the 2060 White Paper, refer to the calendar year, or to 30th April next year?
§ Mr. Shinwell
My impression is that it is the calendar year, ending 31st December. There is a further point which I must make in this connection, which affects the coal year. We expect that if the trend is as favourable as I have just indicated, when the autumn begins it will carry over into the three or four months following the end of the calendar year, before the end of the coal year. That will give us a higher production and will assist us in meeting our requirements. But it does not solve our problem. The real problem to which the right hon. Gentleman referred—perhaps the most substantial problem of all, and one that presents the greatest difficulties—is, how are we going to raise stocks of coal in the summer in order to make a beginning in the winter which will carry us through?
§ Mr. Eden
This is very important, and what the right hon. Gentleman is saying is very valuable to us. If all the assumptions he makes are correct—and I do not dispute them; I hope they are all correct, with regard to the consequences of the new recruitment and so on—I cannot see where the President of the Board of Trade gets his very low figure for the six months of this summer of 89 million tons. It does not appear to make any sense in relation to what the right hon. Gentleman has said.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I think I can explain it. When I spoke of the favourable factors, which I hoped would operate after the beginning of the five-day week in May, I had in mind, first, that there is a possibility that it might not operate as I have indicated. The second point is that the miners will take their holidays in the summer months—
§ Mr. Shinwell
As happened last year in the summer months, they took rather longer holidays titan was anticipated. I make no complaint about it; they had very few holidays during the war years, and certainly few holidays during prewar years, because they could not afford it. Small blame to the mineworkers when they found themselves, perhaps, with a little more money and decided to have a fortnight's holiday, even if one week was at their own expense. Therefore, it may 2061 be that if holidays are rather more extensive this year than we hoped they would be, there will be a reduced output accordingly. We shall do everything we can to avoid that situation, but we must be prepared to face it.
My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, in arriving at his figure of 89 million tons, had in mind, first of all, 83 million tons of deep-mined coal and six million tons of open-cast coal. The right hon. Gentleman asked why the disparity in the estimate this year, as against the actual output during the summer months last year. Let us look at those figures again. The estimate for this year, according to the President of the Board of Trade, is 89 million tons, deep-mined and open-cast. Last year we produced in the summer months 94 million tons—89 million tons of deep-mined and five million tons of open-cast—a difference of five million tons. Why the disparity? —asked the right hon. Gentleman. I am bound to admit that the disparity appears to be because, having regard to the factors I have mentioned—the five-day week and the holiday periods—we are not quite satisfied that we can reach the figure which we reached last year. We had better face the facts. When I say "face the facts," I mean let us face the situation as it appears to us. It may be, on the other hand, that this is much too cautious an estimate. But we have been accused—I, at any rate, have been—of being much too optimistic, and on this occasion I prefer to be a little conservative.
§ Brigadier Peto (Barnstaple)
Could the right hon. Gentleman tell the House to what extent taxation will absorb the pay of the sixth shift?
§ Mr. Shinwell
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) addressed a large number of questions to me which, as I remarked, ought to be dealt with by other Ministers. I certainly cannot take on the mantle of the Chancellor of the Exchequer this afternoon. I prefer that to be left to him. Undoubtedly, all this means that we shall have great difficulty in reaching our stock target by the end of the summer period. That stock target is 15 million tons, and there are some who believe it is too low a figure. Nevertheless, there it is. It is a minimum figure of 15 million tons. We shall end the coal year at 2062 the end of this month with five million tons. We might end the coal year with 51½ million tons.
Now I have to say something which bears on what the right hon. Gentleman said about the condition of industry. He is quite right; industry is suffering severely because of the shortfall of coal. The steel industry, the textile industry and many others want more coal. They are receiving 331 per cent., 50 per cent., some 75 per cent., and so on. I think before long it will be discovered—perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will not ask me for the details—that those industries are able to receive a higher allocation which, if it will not enable them to resume their previous full-time operations, at any rate, will relieve them of some of the difficulties which present themselves. But the position will be that we shall be left at the end of this coal year with a bare five million tons—the lowest stock figure we have ever had. We have to build up that stock figure to 15 million tons by the end of the summer period; that means to million tons. As the right hon. Gentleman rightly said, we shall be able to effect some savings with oil fuel conversion to the extent of two million tons. I would like to say this about oil fuel conversion. It may be that because of the rate of progress, we shall be able to reach a figure in saving of round about eight million tons of coal by this time next year, but, of course, that depends to some extent on whether the materials, tankage and so on are available. How are we going to meet this deficit of 8,800,000 tons? Clearly, we cannot expect industry to bear the whole of the burden.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The right hon. Gentleman is quite right but his right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington has dealt with the point. There is a 10 million gap, but we expect some savings, one of which I have just indicated. Another is, there will be a saving of 250,000 ton on the railways, and there may be some minor savings. The deficit with which we are faced will be 8,800,000 tons. How is that to be met? It can he met partly by increased production—and I emphasis that. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not regard me as optimistic when I say that we are going all out to get that production. If we get the men, if the present 2063 rate of recruitment continues, if we get the right spirit into the industry, and if mining machinery comes along, as we hope it will come along—there is at present a great scarcity, but we are stepping up production as fast as we possibly can—it may well be that we can get some further production which will enable us to cover a part of that deficit. But I am bound to say, that is speculation; we can have no firm conviction on that head. All I can say is, the miners are in good heart; they have offered us full co-operation, and they are well aware of the facts. We must, therefore, hope for the best so far as output is concerned.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson
I have the Prime Minister's statement here. The two million tons saving of coal was additional to the 10 million, and not part of it. The Prime Minister said quite clearly that from the deficit of 10 million tons could be deducted two million tons. He then went on to say:The deficiency may amount to as much as 10,000,000 tons."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th March, 1947; Vol. 435, c. 1416.]
§ Mr. Shinwell
I should like to look at those figures. There is no difference of opinion between my right hon. Friend and myself on this, or with my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. We are all agreed that the actual deficit, subject to the savings I have just mentioned, will be 8,800,000. Perhaps the point could be dealt with further by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary.
I come to the question of restrictions on the domestic consumer. I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman, that if it is at all possible, we should not impose any further burden on the domestic consumer. I have no desire to weary the House by furnishing statistics relating to the gradual reduction in the amount of domestic coal consumed. There has been a very steady reduction—a drastic reduction, in fact—in solid fuel. Although, to some extent, it is made up by increased use of gas and electricity, undoubtedly the domestic consumer has suffered very severely in recent years, and continues to suffer. The position was aggravated this year because 2064 of the severe weather conditions. Hon. Members may be interested to know that we provided a higher allocation of domestic fuel for London and the south this year than had ever been allocated before, and we built up our stocks last year. Unfortunately, it was far from sufficient. In a normal winter we might have got through; but because of the abnormal weather conditions, it was natural that the domestic consumer should consume more. The result was that his supply was inadequate; he suffered inconvenience, and, what is even worse, our stocks have diminished considerably, and we are in a worse position than we were in this time last year. Although we actually built up stocks and provided a larger allocation, we are worse off this year as regards stocks than we were last year. Therefore, it is not our intention to impose any further restriction on the domestic consumer as regards solid fuel. That would create an impossible position.
In his statement on 27th March the Prime Minister told the House that we could not count on a coal production during the summer months sufficient to meet current need and to build up stocks; and he said that the deficiencies may amount to as much as 10 million tons. Now industry, as I have already remarked, cannot bear the whole of the deficiency, and, therefore, domestic and non-industrial consumers must make a contribution towards closing the gap. I am very sorry to have to say that, but it is inevitable. What is the Government's aim? I want to emphasise that it is only an aim, and no more. It is to save 2½ million tons from this source during the coming summer months. This might be achieved by adopting a scheme for rationing domestic and non-industrial consumption of electricity and gas. Ever since February we have considered several schemes, but in no case were we satisfied that a solution of the many difficulties had been found. This problem of rationing is very difficult indeed, particularly as regards electricity and gas. It is quite otherwise with clothes and food, in regard to which the consumer can be issued with coupons, which he can present at a shop; if the supplies are there, that is very well, but if they are not there, then the consumer goes without. But when electricity and gas are laid on, and it is very difficult to impose a check, that is a horse of another colour.
2065 We first considered a ration based on a proportion of the previous year's consumption of electricity and gas by the householder. That was the first scheme we considered. But it was open to criticism, because it allowed those who had been extravagant to benefit from their previous extravagance. It may have been said, "We will use a certain amount of electricity and gas this year, and we can use 50 per cent. of it in the following year." If they had consumed in excess, obviously they would be better off than those who had not consumed in excess. On the other hand, it would operate very unfairly, in our judgment, against the poorer consumer. We also considered rationing on a scale based on the size of the household. This scheme avoided the difficulty of placing a premium on previous extravagance and a penalty on previous economy; but it presented the difficulty of a scale which, while low enough to secure a saving from the average household, might be far below the requirements of those with special fuel needs. Without experience of the nature of those special needs the Government feared that they might be faced with the impossible administrative task of dealing, individually, with millions of cases. We have to deal with 11 million consumers on the domestic side. If the scale is set very low, as a result of which there is gross violation, the administration becomes impossible.
Another scheme suggested was a combination of the first and second schemes, under which the general ration would have been on a household scale, with the alternative, if more favourable to the householder, of a proportion of previous gas and electricity consumption. We might have set a scale which, although very low, might have met the case, providing an alternative, namely a certain proportion of what they consumed last year, whichever was the greater. This appeared to lessen some of the disadvantages of the other schemes. But, again, in the absence of experience of the nature and extent of special fuel needs, it was impossible to judge whether injustice could be avoided without great administrative difficulty. We considered a fourth scheme, which might be described as a price "disincentive" scheme, providing for a steeply graduated tax on gas and electricity consumption over a certain minimum. This scheme has been widely 2066 canvassed, but it was open to the criticism that at one end of the scale, the well-to-do might, notwithstanding the tax, be able to enjoy far more than a fair share of the nation's fuel resources, whereas on the other hand the poorer family—and in particular those with large fuel needs—might, if the family was large, find the tax too burdensome.
All this does not mean that a compulsory fuel rationing would be entirely impracticable. It could be done, imposing hardships, of course—indeed, severe hardships. But there is insufficient knowledge at the present time to enable anyone to say, with any degree of certainty, whether a scheme of rationing could be worked fairly as between different households. Moreover, it would impose an impossible burden, as we think, on the, local fuel overseers, and would require the recruitment of additional staffs, some thousands strong, at a time when manpower is required for other purposes. Having said all that, I must tell hon. Members that two things are urgently needed. I have remarked on them already, but I must emphasise them. We must save fuel this summer, and gain the experience needed to say whether a rationing scheme can be applied later on—it may be necessary to do so; it depends on what happens this summer as regards production and the needs of industry—and, in the light of such experience as we gain, to decide which scheme is the most practicable.
The Government, therefore, are now considering an alternative plan in the hope that the fuel saving will be sufficient to make it unnecessary to introduce a compulsory rationing scheme. But should that hope be disappointed, we hope to gain experience that will be needed to frame a rationing scheme which will work. Before finally deciding upon the details of this plan, including such statutory and other restrictions as may be required, we are, at the present time, holding discussions with representatives of the gas and electricity industries. At this stage, I should say that all along we have had discussions, if not with the individual electricity and gas undertakings, with the Central Electricity Board and the Electricity Commissioners. We had frequent discussions with them last year on the subject of consumption, of their coal needs, and other matters. We shall also be meeting representatives of the various classes of consumers, not least the women's 2067 organisations. Hon. Members will see the need for this. We have to ascertain the views of the women. They have to do the washing and the cooking, and have to remain at home—
§ Mr. Shinwell
I can assure hon. Members we shall meet the appropriate women's organisations. There will be no question of political bias in this matter. We want to obtain the necessary information, and we shall cover a wide field. We want to ensure full and active co-operation of the people I have mentioned, in what is a most vital national task, and I am confident that that co-operation will be forthcoming to the full. When we have completed our consultations, and considered the advice given to us, we shall announce our plan in full. I hope we shall be in a position to do this as soon as possible after the Easter Recess. Meanwhile, the existing restrictions on the use of electricity will continue until the new scheme is announced. We did consider whether we should reconsider the existing restriction scheme, but in the circumstances we thought that, as it might only last another week or two, it was hardly worth while either amending or revoking the Order. That is the position as regards restrictions.
§ Captain John Crowder (Finchley)
Could the Minister see his way to allowing electricity and gas to be used by the domestic consumer on Sundays, when the factories are not necessarily working?
§ Mr. Shinwell
I can tell the hon. and gallant Member that we have considered that. Indeed, we have considered all such suggestions, but that would require a variation of the existing Order, and we think that for the remainder of the period it is hardly worth while. But it is a point to bear in mind, if we should impose a restriction scheme not unlike the existing one. That, I think, disposes of the question of rationing and restrictions.
Now, I must come to the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman respecting imports of coal. If we cannot fill the gap by economies, restrictions, or imposing hardships on certain industries, or by further production, can we fill the gap 2068 by importing coal? I have made some rather caustic remarks about this question of the importation of coal—
§ Mr. Shinwell
The right hon. Gentleman will see that my right hon. Friend and myself are not at variance in this matter at all. We are in complete accord. Perhaps, I may go further than that—in anything I do I act under his instructions, which is the right thing for a Minister to do.
§ Mr. Shinwell
But there is no difference of opinion at all. It was suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Assheton), the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bromley (Mr. Harold Macmillan) that the gap between requirements and supplies could have been filled, if we had imported a certain quantity of coal. I need not state the coal amounts. The Prime Minister, it is true, made a statement on this subject on 12th March. He said that, if we could get the coal from abroad to relieve our necessity, we should by all means do so, but he gave no indication then that coal would come from the United States or elsewhere, and his statement was limited to the practicability of obtaining coal from abroad. He also said in his statement on the fuel position on 27th March that this question would depend on whether it wouldprove possible to import coal into this country without unfairness to our friends in Europe."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th March, 1947; Vol. 435, c. 1416.]That is a consideration we cannot get over.
As I said on the 20th March, in a speech which has been heartily criticized—the right hon. Gentleman described my remarks as derisory, though I detected nothing derisory in them—this question has been under constant examination. I said the matter would remain before us; that practical difficulties had been encountered, but that it would remain before 2069 us. I can now inform the House that I have discussed this question with the United States Ambassador, and with the South African Minister of Mines and Economic Development. At the time I made that speech, that was my intention, but it was probably better to have my discussion with the United States Ambassador before I informed the House. I have now had that discussion, and can inform the House of it.
In my discussion with the United States Ambassador the question of obtaining coal through the European Coal Organisation, through which this country could receive a share, was considered. The United States authorities have shown every desire to help us in our present difficulties, and they have made special inquiry into the possibility of stepping up their coal exports to Europe as a whole. But they have now reported that, in view of the limitations on movement within the United States, arising particularly from a serious shortage of wagons, they believe that any significant increase in the present export rate to Europe of 2,600,000 tons a month in the second quarter of the year, is highly improbable, and that, in any case, this quantity has already been allocated by the European Coal Organisation on a basis agreed with the United States, to European members of the organisation whose needs are no less pressing than our own.
The position can be explained in this way. The programme through the European Coal Organisation for the first quarter of the year was 2,100,000 tons. For the second quarter the programme was 2,600,000 tons. That takes us up to the end of June. I frankly tell the House that there appears to be no hope whatever of getting anything out of that allocation. I can say that the matter of receiving direct supplies outwith the European Coal Organisation was considered, but there were plain indications that there was no hope of receiving direct supplies.
§ Mr. Shinwell
After June. When I say "after June" I must qualify it to this extent—immediately after June. It may be that next year some new arrangements may be made or proposed. It depends largely upon the attitude of the United States authorities, and their relations with the European Coal Organisation. In spite 2070 of this, the United States authorities are continuing vigorous efforts to increase coal exports to Europe to the highest possible level in the third quarter of this year, and in the event of additional coal being made available they emphasise that their policy continues to be, that coal exports to Europe will be in accordance with recommendations from the European Coal Organisation, whose recommendations are made by mutual agreement among the various coal importing countries. It will, therefore, be necessary for the United Kingdom to make a bid to the European Coal Organisation for a share of any additional United States coal. It may be that if the United States authorities step up their allocation from 2,600,000 tons in the second quarter to 3,000,000 in the third quarter, we shall be able, as a result of arrangements with the European Coal Organisation, to get something out of it. For the moment that appears to be the best we can do, except that I would say this: We are not unmindful of the possibility of other arrangements being made, if there are new developments. I cannot go beyond that. But the Government will do everything possible to secure coal from the United States of America, in order to assist in filling the gap.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, Southern)
Can the right hon. Gentleman say what countries get this 2,600,000 tons of coal through the European Coal Organisation? Is there any prospect of our getting a portion?
§ Mr. Shinwell
I have answered questions many times in the House and given details. France, Belgium, and the other European countries that are members of the European Coal Organisation, and that are in short supply, receive their share of the United States exports. As regards South African coal, the Union Government are already providing valuable assistance by means of coal exports to certain bunker depots, which, hitherto, have been supplied from the United Kingdom. After all, if our bunker depots are supplied from abroad, from whatever source, to that extent we are relieved of the burden. I took the opportunity of the presence in this country of the Union Minister of Mines and Economic Development, Mr. Waterson, to discuss the matter with him last week. He was very sympathetic, very anxious to help; but it appears that, as in the case of the United 2071 States, South Africa is unable to expand her coal exports without additional wagons. The position in the Union is that the mines are about 200 or 250 miles from the coast, and that they are very short of wagons. Mr. Waterson informed me that they have 8,000 on order, some in this country, a large number in Canada; and that if we could expedite delivery of the wagons, they might be able to assist us. It almost appears as if the wagon problem is indivisible. At the same time, this aspect of expediting delivery of the wagons is being explored with the Ministry of Transport, and I may say that the Minister of Transport was with me when we met Mr. Waterson. But I am bound to say the prospect of any success from this quarter is not hopeful.
§ Sir Frank Sanderson (Ealing, East)
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that, some while ago, certain industrialists who were prepared to convert from coal to oil burning, were promised that the oil would be forthcoming. Can he possibly give an assurance to other industrialists who are prepared in those circumstances to convert from coal to oil fuel?
§ Mr. Shinwell
The position is that we programmed for a saving of 8,000,000 tons of coal by next year, providing the equipment was forthcoming, and we think there is a reasonable prospect of securing it. It is doubtful that we can take on any more orders. We expect to save 2,000,000 tons during the summer as the result of oil conversion. As regards supplies of fuel oil, I can give the assurance. Within the limits of the programme to which, I have just referred, fuel oil will be forthcoming.
Questions were asked as to whether we could obtain coal from other sources. In fact, there is very little prospect. For example, the hon. and gallant Member for Basingstoke (Squadron-Leader Donner) said we should import coal from Nigeria, but the hon. and gallant Member was not aware that the total coal output of Nigeria is less than 700,000 tons per annum, the whole of which is required for internal and coast wise bunker consumption. The same might be said about other suggested sources of supply. I have dealt at some length with these matters because I have been very anxious to furnish information for which the hon. Members asked.
§ Mr. John Foster (Northwich)
On the question of direct supplies, does the right hon. Gentleman exclude the possibility of direct supplies from America? He will probably remember that I wrote to him in January giving a quotation for American coal, with an analysis, in terms of British units and gas content. I have not had an answer on that point. Would the Minister consider it once again, or will he treat it with the same contempt?
§ Mr. Shinwell
I am glad the hon. Member agrees with me. There is a little dispute between us about soda ash—
§ Mr. Shinwell
But it is not really vital, or germane to the argument. However, I can tell the hon. Member that in this subject of arrangements between industrialists in this country and United States coal producers, one of the difficulties is that coal cannot be exported from the United States of America unless under licence, and that is a matter upon which I am not able to comment. It is not for me to make any suggestions to the United States authorities. But hon. Members might have taken notice of the remark I made when I was dealing with imports. I said that there may be some developments; and if those developments are favourable, then, obviously, we shall take advantage of them.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I have occupied the attention of the House for a very long time, and have tried to deal with interjections.
§ Mr. Foster
On a point of Order. Is it in Order to misrepresent my question? I did not raise the question of soda ash. My question had no reference to that. The right hon. Gentleman misunderstood the point of my question.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)
I cannot help that. The hon. Member must not remain on his feet if the Minister does not give way.
§ Mr. Shinwell
It may be that, unconsciously, I misrepresented the hon. Member, and if I did I am sorry. I had no intention of doing so. I thought he was on something which had been the subject of a controversy between us—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
If the right hon. Gentleman gives way, of course, the hon. Member can ask a question, but if he does not give way, the hon. Member is not entitled to get up.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I should like to conclude my remarks. I did, in courtesy to the hon. Gentleman, sit down, but, if he will allow me, I would now like to complete my speech.
I said, when dealing with the more substantial points raised by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, that production was the vital consideration, and on that note I conclude. If we cannot secure, in a coal-producing country, the coal we need, then, obviously, there is something very far wrong. No one, no matter in which quarter of the House he resides, can dispute that one of the difficulties in recent months, indeed, in the last 18 months, has been the fact that certain elements were introduced into the mining industry towards the end of the war, who were of little value to that industry. Over and above that, many pits were closed down. What is even worse—and this has a direct relation to the question of recruitment and I hope hon. Members will take note of it—if coal faces are closed down, as so many were, either because men were not available for face work, or for some other reason, which was in the hands of the colliery companies, then obviously, these coal faces must be re-opened before we can absorb the men now entering the industry.
It is no use hon. Members talking about putting 100,000 new men into the industry. We must be able to absorb these men and at the right kind of work. Opening up new coal faces is a matter which we have taken up very urgently with the National Coal Board. They have recently conducted a manpower survey, and they have had a report from every one of their districts as to how many coal faces can be re-opened and how many others can be opened. This problem requires labour, 2074 and that is another consideration. If, in the next six months, we are able to absorb a large number of additional coal face workers, with the good will of the men, we can get the coal we need. I rely on that, and I say to hon. Members that, anxious as I am to promote the utmost economy, and the utmost fuel efficiency—because far too much coal is wasted in this country, in industry, some of which is obsolescent and requires new equipment, and also in the domestic sphere—anxious as I am to promote economy and efficiency, I ask hon. Members to understand that my primary task, my responsibility, is to get the output. I may fail at that, but, at any rate, I am going to make the effort.
§ Sir Arnold Gridley (Stockport)
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to reply to an important question put to him by the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) regarding the staggering of hours? Has any progress been made with that? Then I would ask, following the question put by the hon. Member for East Ealing (Sir F. Sanderson), although the Minister says that oil fuel will be available, does that include an adequate supply of tankers and also oil wagons for delivery to the places where it is needed? This is a question which many industrialists have asked me to put.
§ Mr. Shinwell
On the matter of staggering, so far as it affects industrial operations, this question is in the hands of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, who is in consultation with both sides of industry. As regards the question of oil fuel supplies, the oil fuel will be available. There is a difficulty about equipment, particularly tankers, but we hope to be able to save two million tons of coal in the summer, and, as tankers and material come along in the autumn, I think we can save at the rate of eight million tons by this time next year.
§ Mr. Bowles (Nuneaton)
I found, in my constituency last weekend, that apparently there is a bottleneck in the provision of training facilities. Can my right hon. Friend say something about that?
§ Mr. Shinwell
We have recently had to revise our training arrangements. We had to impose very stringent training arrangements before the end of last year, and we have modified them in order to bring in more entrants into training. We had a 2075 difficulty about instructors, and a difficulty about hostels, but the matter is being closely examined at present, and I hope we shall make adequate arrangements.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ Colonel Lancaster (Fylde)
From the Minister's remarks, one thing seems to be abundantly clear, and that is in relation to the question which my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) posed as to the accuracy or otherwise of the Prime Minister's forecast of 89 million tons, made up as between deep-mined and open-cast coal. This figure unfortunately is the one we have to consider this afternoon. Despite the difference of computation as between the calendar and the coal year and details of that sort, nevertheless, it is apparent that during the six summer months, starting on 1st May, industry and the domestic consumer, according to the perfectly conservative and reasonable assumption which the Minister made today, cannot look forward to any appreciable figure over and above that very modest one of 89 million tons.
I would like to take a leaf out of the Minister's book and deal with my points in something like the same sequence as the right hon. Gentleman. I want for a moment to revert to this matter of the inferior quality of the coal, which is exercising the minds, not only of industrialists, but of domestic users throughout the country. The Minister gave the impression that he attributed it, in great measure, to the condition of the surface plant which was handed over to the National Coal Board, and, in particular, to the inadequacy of the washing arrangements. Maintenance during the war was not an easy matter, but I do not think it is fair to say that, by the end of the war, there were less washeries in existence than at the beginning of the war. There were quite a few cases where new ones were installed. However, on previous occasions, the Minister has attributed this inferior quality to the inadequacy of the surface arrangements. This afternoon, I suggest, he put his finger much more accurately on the crux of the situation. Dirt arises in the pit, not on the surface, and the deterioration started, as all deterioration in our conditions started, in 1941, not because the seams suddenly got dirtier or because there was a different 2076 method of winning the coal, but because—and this is not a contentious point—of the lack of discipline. I mean discipline in the highest sense in the pit. [Interruption.] The hon. Member knows as well as I do that a man who wants to fill dirt at the coal face can perfectly well do so. The men did so, and, progressively, from 1941 onwards, we got a higher percentage of dirt with the coal.
§ Mr. Glanville
Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that there is a system whereby the miner sends nothing to the surface which is not good coal? It would be of no advantage to the miner to fill dirt deliberately.
§ Colonel Lancaster
I know that perfectly well, and I am not trying to make a contentious point. I am dealing with cause and effect, and I say that, with this slackening of discipline, there came a greater amount of dirt. Admittedly, we would get an improvement with more washeries, and, as the National Coal Board gets hold of the situation, these improvements will arise, but it will not be, in great measure, because of the reason which the Minister has previously suggested to the House. This improvement will take place in the pit, and will develop in course of time.
I pass to a far more important matter, that of the 89 million tons. I want, in my turn, to pose one or two questions to the Minister in this regard, because this seems to me to be the essential factor arising out of the Minister's statement this afternoon. I understand that, in the opinion of the Mineworkers Union, a matter of 18 or 18½ million tons is at stake in regard to the five-day week; that is to say, the loss of Saturday production is of the order of 18 million tons. Therefore, I assume that, in his calculations, the Minister has budgeted, in the first instance, for a loss of nine million tons during the next six months. The right hon. Gentleman hopes to make up that nine million tons by other factors. If the right hon. Gentleman has done so, then he is hoping, within the orbit of the five days left to him, by tightened discipline, by the good will of the miners, by a longer actual working shift at the coalface and matters of that sort, and by the introduction of additional machinery, by additional face men, and therefore, a higher percentage of face workers, to make good some part of the loss of nine million 2077 tons for which he has, inevitably, to budget in the first instance. I would invite the Minister to interrupt me to tell me if my assumption in regard to budgeting is a correct one.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I think I can say that the hon. and gallant Member is not far out. His assumptions are, on the whole, reasonable. Obviously, there must be some reason why we have budgeted at so low a figure, and we have had to take into account all those possibilities. Of course, it may not happen. The hon. and gallant Gentleman is aware that estimates can be falsified.
§ Colonel Lancaster
Then we have arrived at a definite approach to this problem. We know now what the effect of the five-day week will be.
§ Mr. Shinwell
As the hon. and gallant Member is apparently going to make observations on the basis of what I said, I would like to correct him, if he will allow me. The hon. and gallant Gentleman says we now know what the effect of the five day week will be. I think what he ought to say, if he will allow me to put it this way, is that we know what the effect of the five day week may be.
§ Colonel Lancaster
What I am suggesting is that we know now from where we have to start. We know that we have to face a loss in one direction, and we know that we have to make it good in another. There is no time this afternoon to debate the desirability of the five-day week. Whether the Minister would not have been wiser in the first instance to have tackled the problem by a halfway stage of 11-days fortnight, is now no more than a debating point, but personally I wish he had. Nevertheless, he has taken one bite at the cherry by accepting the proposition that a five-day week from the 1st May is desirable in the full circumstances of the case—the overwhelming demand coming from the men and the benefits which he hopes to obtain from it. So we are now to embark on this great experiment, attempting to get in five days what we got previously in a six day week.
I suggest straight away to the Minister that whereas he will get all sorts of advantages from the good will of the men, I hope he does not rely on getting any considerable advantage from applying penal conditions. Hitherto they 2078 have never served their purpose. They have been tried time and time again. During the war, whenever there was ever a variation in wage rates, nearly always some penal condition was attached to the general rise allowed at any given moment and, on balance, I think it can be shown that it was of very little actual material advantage. Where I hope he will get the advantage is from the good will of the men and the increased effort of the men. I hope, also that from the better physical condition which they will be able to maintain, and from the general enthusiasm for what is an experiment which they have wanted and asked for and which has now been granted to them, we shall see a tightening up of their effort and an improvement in the tonnage. Those factors, even though they are not negligible, nevertheless have to be very considerable if they are to achieve two things: to make up a deficit of 9,000,000 tons in six months and, during that six months, build up the 15 million tons or 17 million tons of stock without which we cannot get through next winter.
Those are two formidable targets, and nothing the Minister has said this afternoon, I am afraid, will go very far to filling industry with any sense of confidence as to the future. The summer is a short period in which to lay down stocks. As the Minister said, we shall have a holiday period probably not less than we had last year and, as the Minister well knows, from August to the middle of October we shall be lucky if we keep output pretty well in line with consumption. Therefore, his margin gets less. During May, June and July he will be dropping coal in one direction as the result of no Saturday work, and, in the other direction, hoping not only to make up for that but to put by a million tons of coal stock for winter purposes. As the Minister very rightly said this afternoon, and as I have said previously, there is only one way in which we shall manage either to bridge that gap or to attain to either of those targets. It is by coal production; and coal production as an immediate and short-term matter can only be achieved by three methods. It is the same old story—face room, men, and machinery. Face room inevitably comes first. I think the Minister was a little too conservative in suggesting that he required six months. I still think he can get his additional face room quicker than that.
2079 In the matter of recruitment of men, we are getting satisfactory figures at this moment but we cannot expect to go on getting a very high percentage of recruits who have had previous face room experience. That well is beginning to run dry, and the Minister, in great measure, will have to rely on the intake of boys and youths and young men to be trained for coal getting. I do not want to take up the time of the House again this afternoon on the matter of training; no doubt the Minister has had an opportunity of reading some remarks on that matter which I made during the Economic Debate. I hope, in his own interests, that he will look at the question again. The decision arrived at on 1st January was not a sound decision; it went back on a great deal of ground we had achieved during the previous 12 months and, so far as I can see, it was a decision arrived at more than 12 months ago and, therefore, took no advantage of the ground that had been gained in the interim period. The other aspect of the matter is, of course, machinery. Machinery in certain directions is coming along satisfactorily; in regard to heavier machinery there is considerable delay, but that heavier machinery has more regard to the long-term programme.
There is one aspect of this matter which I referred to last time but which I would like to mention again. The Minister took a great deal of reasonable interest in the development of the British Mecco-Moore machine, which has brought about such very satisfactory results in the North and East Midlands. At the same time I would like him to show an equal enthusiasm for similar efforts applied to shallower seams which will bring about just as relatively satisfactory results if they are given the encouragement and the support they require. I refer to the use of power-loading equipment in shallower seams under the board and pillor method of extraction. If that is to be a success, the Minister will have to chance his arm in the sense that he allows considerable expenditure and possibly wastage of money in the continued experiment and development of that process. It is an expensive experiment in the first instance. Pits attempting to adopt this method will make a great many mistakes, and will be subject to loss gauged purely from the point of view of the cost of production. 2080 Individual pits and individual areas should be allowed to carry on these experiments under their own auspices, and with a reasonably free hand in regard to expenditure, instead of being under too tight a control of either the National Coal Board or the Divisions in this matter.
Finally, I would ask the Minister to keep a very watchful eye on how administration is working out under the new régime. I have not time to embark on a review of the National Coal Board's activities, nor do I want to say what few words I do say in a spirit of criticism. However, undoubtedly a tendency is arising which will be inimical to coal production, either in the near future or taken as a long term view. That is that the authority in the pits is tending to be taken out of the hands of the colliery manager. There is no one else who can exercise that authority, and any tendency to pass certain aspects of pit discipline to any other authority will, in the long run, be against coal production. I have particularly in mind the question of recruitment, training and safety. Recruitment in the first instance may be undertaken by another authority, but so far as recruitment is bound up with training, and so far as training is bound up with safety, those in the last resort must be the responsibilities of the colliery manager. They cannot be welfare matters in any sense of the term. There are a host of welfare matters which require to be undertaken, and in that regard I would say to the Minister that one of the disadvantages we are under at the moment is that there has been almost a standstill of new developments in welfare during the last few months. I wish he would look into that.
However, as I say, welfare may be undertaken by another authority, and recruitment, in the first instance, by another authority, but training, so far as it is bound up with safety, so far as it refers to the pit, must be the responsibility of the colliery manager. I hope the Minister will exercise his authority in this matter to see that that development is canalised into the right channel, and not into any other direction. It is an important matter and it is one which arises immediately. It is a tendency which has shown itself even in these early days, and it is one to which I hope the Minister will turn his attention.
I am afraid I have made a very ragged speech but I have tried to take up some 2081 of the points to which the Minister has referred. I hope that my doubts about the tonnage to be obtained will not be realised. We want to see success in this matter, but I think it was necessary to put it in its proper context, to recognise that there is a definite loss in one direction, and, therefore, if we are to make up that loss and provide not only the requirements of industry but the stocks which we want for next winter, the effort at this moment must be supreme.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Hobson (Wembley, North)
I know many hon. Members wish to take part in the Debate, so I will endeavour to be brief. I want to make a few criticisms and, I hope, a few positive suggestions. I want to deal with the domestic allowance of 34 cwt. which householders may receive if they are lucky between the period of 30th April in one year and 1st May in the following year. I think everyone is agreed that that allowance is very small and causes grave hardship; but the real trouble is that very few people, particularly in North-West London, receive their 34 cwt. All they have received is 26 cwt., and what I am pleading for is that householders should get their coal allocation in their own right, in precisely the same manner in which they can get the rationed commodities. The present arrangement causes grave discontent and, further, makes a householder's coal supply dependent on the whim and fancy of the coal retailer. That is something which I am sure we are all anxious to avoid. Further than that, many abuses arise—questions of over-payment, and of large tips being given in order to get priority of supplies, and there is very often exercised by coal retailers discrimination against weekly coal payers. Hon. Members will be aware that in working households it is common to have coal clubs, and for payment to be made each week in order to ensure supplies.
I have come across cases in my own division where there has been discrimination against the weekly payers. What redress have the consumers? They can go to the local fuel overseer. Some overseers are good and some are indifferent, but, in any case, they are all overworked, and tremendously long delays ensue before priority of coal supplies can be secured, during which time the consumer may be without supplies. I have not yet 2082 heard a case made out by the Minister why it is impracticable to ration household coal. I can understand the difficulties in regard to gas and electricity. It is almost impossible to ration that, and we have to rely on people's honour not to use current and gas during the switch-off periods. But, I fail to see why coal cannot be rationed. It may be argued that apart from the 34 cwt. we are nominally allowed, we can receive two tons of boiler fuel. But that boiler fuel is no good to the average workingclass home. It is no good for burning in open grates. This makes it unfair, and those who are better off benefit. Blocks of flats in which coal is used for central heating are licensed to receive a certain amount of coal, and in most cases which I have personally investigated I find they are granted the same allocation as they had before the war. To me that is fundamentally wrong, and I hope that something will be done in regard to it.
Then there is the contentious matter of divided houses. Where houses are divided between families under the existing regulations, the allocation is made to the whole house, and only on special application to the local fuel overseer can an extra fuel allowance be given to the sub-tenant. Why cannot the person who has an independent rent book receive a full allocation, even though living in a divided house? Why should they be dependent on the mother-in-law both for shelter and warmth? The whole thing is ludicrous. Even if it is a divided house, there should be a separate allocation. Why on earth cannot public utility corporations be allowed to buy fuel according to the calorific value? If they were enabled to do so, there would be considerable saving in coal. In a power station where I used to work I was given to understand by the chief that if we were allowed to buy from the same collieries as prewar there would be a saving of 15 per cent. Whilst I am on the question of public utilities I think it will be appreciated that the recent failure was due to the fact that public utilities were not able to build up their stocks. In normal winters, even in prewar times, it was the usual practice for power stations to take off from their stocks of coal.
I think a lot of criticism directed against the Minister of Fuel is utterly irresponsible, and ought to be directed 2083 against other people. The breakdown in February was, in my view, largely the responsibility of the Railway Executive Committee. They had a shortage of wagons, but what were they doing to rectify the shortage? The railway companies have stated that they are able to make all wagons required, with the result that the private wagon manufacturers are making solely for export. I must admire the loyalty of the Minister of Fuel and Power to other colleagues. We have had a situation in which collieries have had to lie idle because of the shortage of wagons. I think some of the criticism directed against the Minister should be directed towards others I have named.
I am given to understand that it is against the advice of the Central Electricity Board that boilers at generating stations are converted for the use of oil. I can understand it being done on pulverised fuel boilers, but I am wondering how the engineers are to equip them for oil burning in boilers with water walls. It would be a very long process. I happen to know one power station where it took six months to convert one pulverised fuel boiler for the use of oil fuel. It would be far better to employ that labour in constructing new boilers and in expediting the erection of boilers under construction. I am not at all convinced that even as a short-term policy that is worth while.
I was interested in the question asked by the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll) in regard to the increased costs at one power station—I believe it was Neasden. The increased cost for six boilers in that power station was going to be no less than £45,000 a year. In my view, that will reflect itself considerably in the cost per unit. I would like to see the labour which is being used on this conversion used for the erection of new plant. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) referred to shortage of generating plant, which is very acute. I believe there is something like 1,700,000 kilowatts short in the equipment of power stations. Are we sure that all the firms—and there are not many—which can make turbo-generators in Britain are all working a double shift? I doubt it. What steps are being taken in conjunction with the Ministry of Supply to see to it that we have more than two furnaces capable of making large enough castings for high 2084 pressure turbines? That is the sort of avenue which I think ought to be explored in order to rectify this grievous shortage of plant.
The question of shedding the load has been mentioned, particularly by the hon. Member for Stockport (Sir A. Gridley), and it was suggested that night shifts should be worked as a solution. Apart from any complication of trade union rates of pay I do not know when maintenance work would be possible in the power stations if that were done. Maintenance men have to do their work when the plant has been shut down. I think whoever gave that advice must have given it without considering that factor at all. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will give some answer to the criticisms I have made. I wish to stress that full attention should be given by the Minister of Supply to seeing to it that generating plant is given top priority.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ Major Lloyd George (Pembroke)
I am afraid the House is getting rather used to statements of a fairly serious character, particularly in recent months, when we are discussing coal. But I doubt very much whether we could possibly have had a more serious statement than we have had from the Minister this afternoon. In addition to its seriousness, I am bound to confess—and I am sure I am not the only one in this House—to being a little bewildered by the statement of the Minister, taken in conjunction with statements made by the Prime Minister and the President of the Board of Trade on the same subject. It is important that the House should know the real position. But I defy anyone in this House, having read the speeches of the Prime Minister, the President of the Board of Trade, and the Minister of Fuel and Power today, to know what the actual position is at the present time. I hope I have not been stupid when looking through the speeches, but so far as I can see, when the President of the Board of Trade gave his coal budget on 10th March he came to the conclusion that our requirements would be 89 million tons—that is 91 million tons, minas 2 million tons. In that requirement budget, I notice that the first item is, "Stocking up, 10 million tons." The President of the Board of Trade's statement, according to HANSARD, was that 89 million tons requirement includes the 10 million tons stocking up.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power (Mr. Gaitskell)
§ Major Lloyd George
The Parliamentary Secretary shakes his head. This is a matter of tremendous importance. I will read the statement:I will now give the House the rest of the budget figures. In millions of tons stocking up, 10; electricity, 11.8; gas,…And so on. Later he said:making 91 million tons, from which should he deducted a saving by coal-oil conversion of 2 million."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1947; Vol. 434, c. 982–3.]I think it is accepted that he has included 10 million tons stocking up in the budget of 89 million tons. Then we come to the Prime Minister's speech last Thursday. He said:Total requirements for consumption during the six months 1st May to 31st October, 1947, are estimated at 92,000,000 tons. To this must be added a figure of 10,000,000 tons required to rebuild stocks by 1st November."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th March, 1947; Vol. 435, c. 1415.]There is, therefore, a difference of 10 million tons between the statements made by the Prime Minister and the President of the Board of Trade on our coal position. That makes a tremendous difference in budgeting, especially when we are talking in terms of saving 250,000 tons here, and 2 million tons there. Unless I have wrongly read the OFFICIAL REPORT, the Prime Minister's figure is 10 million tons different from that of the President of the Board of Trade. Which is right I do not know. Perhaps we shall know later. The fact is that two responsible Ministers, one the head of the Government, have given amounts varying by 10 million tons from each other. Let us assume that the Prime Minister's figure is correct, as experience of the past shows it better to take the pessimistic, rather than the optimistic, view.
Let us assume that there is 10 million tons to be got this summer somehow, if we are to start the winter with 15 million tons in stock. The railways are going to save 250,000 tons. The domestic consumer must again go into the breach with 2,500,000 tons of coal used in electricity and gas. There is to be no rationing, and I am glad to know that what I thought in 1942 the present Minister thinks in 1947. The matter was very carefully examined at that time—it was the first duty I had— 2086 and for exactly the same reasons as the present Minister, I considered it was quite impossible to have a rationing scheme. That was the only reason that was not done, and the present Minister has obviously been given the same advice which I was given.
I want to come back to this 83 million tons figure for production this summer. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) pointed out, this is 6 million tons less than the deep-mined coal got last summer. When the Minister referred to the five-day week which is to operate shortly, he said at first that we did not really know whether it was going to affect output or not; he could not say. It is quite obvious from the fact that he has put down the estimate from 89 million tons to 83 million tons, that he expects it to go down. He went on to say that it was important, in order to create a better atmosphere in this industry, that the five-day week should be given. There are many people who know the industry far better than I do who agree that, under mechanisation, the five-day week is essential for the sake of maintaining equipment. I do not think there is any doubt about it. But if there is a doubt today as to whether the five-day week will reduce production. I can hardly think of a worse time to do it than at present.
Let me remind the Minister, when he talks about a better atmosphere as a result of agreeing to this proposal, that it is only right to remind him and the leaders of the mineworkers of this country that there is in existence an agreement, which has still over a year to run, in which the mineworkers of this country pledge themselves, in return for a guarantee of their minimum wage for 4½ years, not to raise any questions of conditions and remuneration during the currency of that agreement. That is signed by the president of the Mineworkers' Union, by the secretary, and indeed, if I remember aright, it was signed by all the leaders representing that industry. It was to be a safeguard for the miners as much as it was for the country, because I wanted to prevent what happened after the last war. Therefore, it is not a question of having to maintain a good atmosphere, when all that one is doing is to ask for the continuance of an agreement which was signed. It is quite obvious that the Minister expects a decrease in his output as 2087 a result of it, and he has fiddled about with saving 250,000 tons here and a little there, when it is quite obvious, taking everything into consideration, that he will lose six million tons of deep-mined coal this summer, with a greater manpower than he had last year.
Before I come to the domestic consumer, I would like to say that it is a little difficult, but it is important that we should have these figures correct, because the whole safety, almost, of this country, depends on this House now having a clear idea what they are.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
May I point out where the right hon. and gallant Gentleman was wrong in the comparison he made? The total of the President of the Board of Trade included 17.6 million tons for industry, which is not the full requirements of industry but only what he thought they would get if total output was raised to 89 million tons. The Prime Minister's figure was the figure of total requirements, assuming that industry got what it needed.
§ Major Lloyd George
That is, he was assuming two-thirds, not three-thirds. I am much obliged. The Prime Minister's figure was 10 million tons and the 8.8 million tons is the net figure. I am glad that has been cleared up; it was very confusing. We know the difference between the calendar year and the coal year. I understood from the Minister today that the 200 million tons is the figure for the calendar year—that is, to 31st December.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
It is the figure in the White Paper, which I understand relates to the calendar year.
§ Major Lloyd George
If one takes six months of any period, and says that during that period 89 million tons are produced, that is 83 million plus six million, there must be 111 million tons to be raised in the next six months. Assuming that open-cast production is to be the same in winter as in summer, six million tons, perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary might tell us when he expects to get some of the new machines which have been ordered, and when he thinks they will have an effect on production? The average production of deep mined coal was 3.4 million tons, and this year the average was about 3.6 million tons. We had a very good 2088 week last week, but do not let us have too much hope about that.
If the Minister gets the same production of open-cast coal he will have to average four million tons of deep-mined coal per week in the six months after 31st October. Does he really think that is possible, because it is vital to the figures on which we are budgeting? If I might remind him, it is a figure which everyone regards as a basic minimum. I am really afraid that it is on the optimistic side—I hope I am wrong but we have to average four million tons per week in the six winter months. Does the Minister think we can get enough men or enough improvement in man output to get that output of four million tons? The answer to that is extremely important, because even with the zoo million tons I gather we shall be on two-thirds production in certain industries. That means one of two things—either that all our industries will be on part-time, or certain selected industries will be on full-time. That is a thing we ought to know, and we ought to have a clear indication from the Government, not a week before it happens, but in plenty of time, so as to have discussions as to how it will least affect industry, on the basis that 200 million tons is what we are to get. I hope that the Government have in mind the attitude they intend to take on the basis of the Board of Trade figures.
Even this figure is contingent on savings by the domestic consumer, of 2½ million tons of coal consumed in electricity and gas—which, may I say, is a slightly more efficient use of fuel than burning solid fuel. That is to be saved by this unfortunate section of society again. The Minister has just told us today that the allocation of coal to the domestic consumer this winter has been higher than in any other year. Those were the words he used. That is not even true of the year before last, and there is a great deal of difference between allocation and what is received by the consumer. I heard many times, in statements made by the Minister, that the allocation of coal during the winter was higher than the winter before. I am certain that receipts were not higher. It is what one has in the cellar in the summer which counts, and the Minister, for some reason best known to himself, did not allow the freedom in that respect which we had before. In any case, the domestic consumer saved, as a result of the appeals made in 1942, four million tons of solid fuel—as a result 2089 of a voluntary effort. Since 1942 they have saved another seven million tons of solid fuel, and they are asked to do it again because of the difficulty here, because of the five-day week, possibly, knocking down output by five to six million tons. This section of society has had all this burden to bear, and believe me there has been a great deal of hardship this winter, which people have not heard so much about in the Press.
Now what is to happen? I come back to this point which I heard an hon. Member making about there being tremendous waste of electric current among domestic consumers. It is because they have Nothing else to burn. In many cases an actual saving of coal by the allocation to domestic consumers in the last two or three years has been practically equalled by the increase in consumption in gas and electricity. I agree that does not prove the case, but what is happening? All over the country, in summer months, people are turning on gas and electricity. In no circumstances, if they can avoid it, will they use a lump of coal, assuming that they have got one. These people are to he cut again this summer. They are worse off today than they were in 1944, at the height of the German flying bomb attack, and the most fierce period of fighting which this country has had. They have to save yet another 2½ million tons.
Another serious position to which I would like the Minister to turn his mind is the coke position. The hon. Gentleman talks about space heating. That is an efficient way of heating large premises, but coke is used for other purposes of which not all members of the public are aware—in making gas, for example. I do not know whether gas concerns could have met the load they have had to meet during the last few weeks if they had not made gas out of coke. I should say that coke is used to an extent five times greater than it was before the war. In certain areas in this country there are distinct signs of a shortage of coke. I do not know what the effect of that is to be on the gas position next winter.
There is, obviously, this year a serious danger of another set-back, which will mean short time and further hardship and it will certainly mean that our export target will not be reached on the present basis. Many of us felt, most reluctantly, that it was important to import coal. The 2090 Minister has told us today that that is not possible, at any rate for the second quarter, but that perhaps something might be done in the third quarter. I was surprised, as it is two months since the great crisis, that it was only a few days ago that the Minister saw the American Ambassador. I think he might at least have seen him earlier. In his own words he only saw the South African High Commissioner a day or two ago. Is that the way to handle a situation, one of the most serious situations we have ever had in this country—that two months go by before even an approach is made, as far as I can understand? The Minister made observations about a shortage of wagons in South Africa. We know that there was a shortage during the war, but we managed to send to South Africa several hundred wagons under conditions of great difficulty, which enabled South Africa to make a valuable contribution to our war effort in the Middle East, and in taking a burden off our hands in Brazil and the Argentine. According to the Board of Trade returns for this year, we sent to the Union of South Africa—where before the war we sent an average monthly figure of about 1,400 wagons—about 100 per month. For British India, where we used to send about 200 wagons a month, the figure has now reached over 2,000 a month.
Does not this show that there is no real thought being given to this matter far enough ahead? This crisis was very plain long before last February, long before last year, and it was surely possible for the Minister to have seen the European Coal Organisation? He has not seen them yet, by the way. I gather that he hoped to talk to the European Coal Organisation, but that he had not done so. I should have thought that that was a good thing to do as a start. Therefore, I think the House is entitled to much more information about the actual position. I think they are entitled to have it now, because we want to avoid, if possible, the sort of panic that took place last February. The bunkering of ships was to stop that night; the order was cancelled the next morning. I wonder who was consulted in the shipping industry about that order? Orders were given about electricity which were impossible to carry out. I would like to know who was consulted in the electricity industry before the statement of 7th February, that the sup- 2091 plies of certain people were to be left on and others left off? That was technically impossible. Yet the Minister said it at that Box. We are entitled to ask what consultations there were with these industries before those steps were decided upon. I am perfectly certain that there was no consultation with the shipping industry before bunkering was stopped, and the reversal of the order next day.
Therefore, I hope that while there is time—and two months have gone since the crisis burst upon us though the signs were there years before—the Government will inform us of the steps they are taking to deal with the position. I think the House is entitled to know that the Government are approaching this problem in a manner commensurate with its magnitude. We are also entitled to know that the action they propose to take, will, at any rate, avoid some of the difficulties and hardships which were brought about two months ago.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge)
I have been very interested in that part of this Debate which affects the domestic consumer. I noticed that it is expected that the domestic consumer will help to bridge this 10 million ton gulf with a contribution of 2,500,000 tons. I also have observed that the emphasis throughout, both by the Minister and several hon. Members who followed, has been on the word "domestic." What about the offices, hotels and Government buildings? I hope that all these are included in the word "domestic" and that, in any survey to discover where savings can be effected, hotels, Government buildings and offices, town council and corporation offices and business establishments will be scrutinised very seriously with a view to making savings in the consumption of fuel, particularly of gas and electricity.
It is within my own experience, and that of a great many housewives who have tried always to live within the domestic ration, to go to offices on some errand or other, even to the fuel office, and to find no one in unless, perhaps, the fire. The fire would be burning hot and merrily, with no one there to appreciate its heat. It has been my experience, sometimes in business offices, to see both a fire and an electric radiator on the go at the same time. I have walked into hotels, particu- 2092 larly in London, to see a scale of lighting and heating that was quite unnecessary. I do not refer to the period of the weather blitz and since, but to the time before the cuts. Often my fingers twitched with the desire to turn off switches wherever I went. I hope that the Minister will keep a very keen eye on that form of extravagance. I do not think that he will find much extravagance in households. We have had a very severe test. The householder is affected personally by the bill, and in most cases householders like to keep their bills within reasonable limits. In these places where no one is personally affected by the bill we get the greater extravagance.
I am very glad, and I think householders generally will be glad to notice that there is to be no further cut in the domestic ration of coal. Honestly, I do not see how there could be any cut. The ration has gone down to the bare minimum. I ask the Minister if he does not think that, even under the present scheme, there is a good deal of waste in the burning of raw coal in our fireplaces. I was at home recently suffering from influenza. I had another invalid in the house and for almost three weeks I had not a solitary piece of coal to burn. My sons, who are doctors, came into the room and wanted to know if it were not possible to have a fire. I was sorry I had no coal, and I felt that my February and January ration could have lasted out for that period in March if I had been supplied with dross or briquettes instead of coal. There are some domestic ranges, particularly where there is a water heater, which simply roar when a fire is lighted. They roar away good solid lumps of coal. If we had dross we could "back" with dross and so spin out the ration a little longer. I hope the Minister will turn his attention to the possibility of allowing us supplies of dross or briquettes so that we might make gentler use of the precious lumps of coal.
I would like to review the Minister's plan for saving electricity and gas. The first point is to ration people on the lines of their previous consumption. The Minister, quite properly, said that this is open to the objection that those who have been extravagant previously can continue to be extravagant. Further, it is open to the objection that one might have an invalid on one's hands, and it would not be right to ration one on the figure of a 2093 previous year, when there was no invalid in the house. The second point was based on household need, and I think that is fair. The third point gives the householder the choice of either No. 1 or No. 2.
I come to the fourth point, which I hope will be rejected. That was the suggestion of steeply grading the price for everyone when they go beyond a certain ration which shall be the minimum. It is suggested that if they go beyond that they shall pay more. Coupled with that statement, the Minister said that he intended to consult housewives. If he consults the Housewives League, which is an auxiliary of the Tory Party, he will find that they will plump for No. 4, the steeply graded prices. If he consults the housewives who have always had to ration because of their limited income, he will get far better advice on how we can "make do and mend" under our present difficulties. I think there is a possibility of the two branches of housewives meeting in the near future. The real housewife, the one who has had to battle on a small income, is already aroused. She is not aroused against the Minister. She does not join in the cry, "Shinwell and Strachey must go." What she is crying out now is that these pseudo-housewives must go. I think the battle will be joined between the two sections long before the auxiliary of the Tory Party reaches London.
I know of housewives who have rebelled. I was one of those who rebelled against rent increases and means test impositions. I know of none of these new housewives who have ever joined in these struggles; nor did the old housewife threaten to march to London, braving the elements of snow and storm, inside a first-class sleeper with a cheque for £100 in her pocket. That is the new Tory auxiliary housewife, who will find herself up against strong opposition in the near future. I beg the Minister to rely upon his old friends, the old-brigade housewives, if he wants advice about how to make this saving of 2,500,000 tons.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Spence (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Central)
I will not detain the House by replying to the remarks of the hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge (Mrs. Mann), or attempting to refute the charges which she has made against the Tory housewives. I do not want to waste the time of the House. I want to confine myself 2094 to the problems that we must face today. The particular problem in which I am interested, and which I know, is that of how we are best to distribute to industry the limited amount of coal which we have. This is a problem which will need wide knowledge and experience. It is an unenviable task, because cuts there must be and they are bound to hit somebody including the workpeople. The important thing is that the cuts should be made as intelligently as possible by people who know the intricacies of the industry, and preferably, in full consultation with the industries concerned. I am afraid that, so far as we know the position in regard to the allocations which are made to industries, in some cases a wise policy is not followed, particularly where one finds that one industry consumes the finished product of another.
Having made that definite charge, I propose to give an exact illustration of what is happening. I will quote the case of the weekly periodicals and the trade and technical papers. In the autumn of last year they were running along fairly smoothly with a balanced economy. The mills which produce the paper which they use were able to supply their needs. Then, as hon. Members know, the publications were suppressed; and now they have received their new allocation. Naturally they expected a cut, and I will give the figures. The papers are allowed by licence to buy 85 per cent. of the paper which they bought in November. However, the mills which supply that paper are receiving only 331 per cent. of the coal which they got in November. Here is a first-class crisis, of small magnitude, which is approaching. Sooner or later—probably sooner—unless something is done, in general, our weekly publications will be put out of action. They will have to be drastically cut, because the fuel allocation to the mills which make the paper is not balanced with the licence for the purchase of paper by the various periodicals.
I know from my own experience in the textile industry that manufacturers are given permits to buy raw materials of various types when those who make those raw materials are not receiving the allocation of coal which is necessary to produce the raw materials. If one is in a certain section of industry, one makes plans on the allocation received from the Ministries and one may be completely let down because the right hand in the Ministry does 2095 not know what the left hand is doing. It is most important to re-establish the confidence of industry in what the Ministry is doing to run the country under these difficult circumstances. I hope that the Minister will give an assurance that these problems will be studied.
I wish to return to the question of paper making. This is a very wide point which illustrates my argument. In the allocation of fuel, we have to study the type of industry to which we are allocating fuel. Some industries can run and stop, but others have to work all round the clock day after day. If once they stop, the cost of starting up again is so tremendous that it is uneconomical to run for one or two weeks and then stop for one week. We have to make our choice. The choice can best be made by consulting the industries concerned.
Another point touched on by my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) was the production of electric fires. There is no doubt that the production of electrical goods helped to increase the current consumption enormously. I do not deny for a moment the convenience that those electrical goods gave, but during the last year or 18 months these goods were produced which consumed current and used coal instead of the clothing which would keep people warm and save coal. The fault lies with the policy of the Government in relation to wages inasmuch as the price standards of utility textiles prevent the return to the textile trade of nearly half a million people who went to light engineering and have never come back.
It is a long-term proposition which I am putting forward, but it is one which I hope the Minister will accept. I urge the Minister to look carefully into the question of the industrial allocation of coal and to see that every side of industry is consulted, not just in vertical columns but laterally, following a particular article through to its finished state so that what is provided in one stage is balanced in the next stage and so on to the end of the story. In that way I hope every effort will be made to use what we have in the way of fuel in order to get through this summer with the minimum of loss and unemployment to the industries concerned.
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Jack Jones (Bolton)
I want to refer to the Minister's speech today as being a heartening speech but only in spots. I listened to the greater portion of his speech, and I am certain that anyone who listened carefully and has the capacity to assess the position will be satisfied that as things are we shall not find ourselves this year with the amount of coal we require to maintain full employment and to keep everybody working to full capacity. I am interested in this problem, because, as hon. Members know, I want to see coal available to those people who have signified their intention to use it to the fullest capacity in the interests of the State inside the steel industry. I listened with interest to the Minister's statement. I was not surprised to learn that it had been found impossible to buy coal from America. I never believed that we could. The hon. Member for Northwich (Mr. John Foster) seems to have the idea that if one walks down to the telephone with a bundle of British pound notes and rings up New York, one can have coal in three or four days. He ought to know that such things as coal cartels are operating in the world. Members of the party opposite when that cartel was built up were anxious to see that it operated in their interests. It remains in being, and we have to face what is happening because of that international position.
I am not so foolish as to imagine that America will let this country have a shovelful of coal. The ideology expressed from these benches is diametrically opposite to that of the Government now operating in America, who are more concerned with using their raw material to advance their interests in places like Japan than in sending to this country coal with which we would get our textile industry on its feet. America may have been very friendly towards us when in the same boat as this country while being attacked by a common foe, but today America is an entirely different proposition. Let us not fool ourselves into believing that they want to help us by readily agreeing to sell coal at our prices to this country.
I want to refer to the question I raised the last time I spoke in this House. There is only one way out of this difficulty and that is for the coal in our own country to be brought to the surface to be put to the 2097 use of industry by British coal miners. I have every respect for these men, and I repeat and reiterate that they deserve all they have got and that it has been long overdue. But they themselves, and their leaders in particular, should face up to this problem in a statesmanlike manner. I am not asking that the coalminer should do as he used to do. I heard the Minister explain to the House that when we get mechanization—if and when—we shall get increased man output. That is agreed, but that is some time in the distant future. It is not tomorrow, and that is the point.
The textile industry is agreeing to a 12-shift week. That is a two-shift system for six days a week. The woollen industry fears that it will not be able to keep that great Yorkshire and Lancashire industry on its feet. The steel industry wants to do all it can humanly do to pass out steel to the various light engineering industries. Only today I heard from the hon. Member for East Coventry (Mr. Crossman) that he is gravely perturbed about the shortage of steel in his constituency. The shortage of coal is holding up the export of cars and other things we require to send abroad in order to get the food we so sadly and badly need.
The miner is, quite rightly, getting his fair share of what there is. It is a parlous problem when we learn that in these drastic times, the worst period of our history economically, nobody seems to have put the proposition to the mining industry that for this year at all events they should stay on a six—day week. Is there anything shameful in asking for that? I have heard today the splendid report, about which I am very happy, that the spirit in the mines is better than ever in history. We expected it would be. Of course, we could expect it. It is our natural right to expect that. Those men are saying to themselves:Breathes there the man with soul so dead,Who never to himself hath said,This is my own, my native coal!There is a slight parody there, but those men have a right to say that.
The spirit in the industry is such that the country should exploit it to the fullest extent. If the industry is at long last happy and the miners are contented—God knows, it is 40 to 60 years overdue—it is time that we should expect some response to the request I have made. There are hon. Members present who have 2098 been associated with the mining industry, and I respect their point of view. I know what it means to ask them to go into the bowels of the earth and work there at all, and to ask a man to work a six-day shift when it has just been agreed that he should have a five-day week is a big thing. It is a great sacrifice to ask of a man, but no sacrifice is too great to ask in this country's present emergency. Had we in the middle of the war decided to have a five- or six-day week and not to fight on the seventh day, we should not be here at all. This war we are fighting today is a different type of war, but the results are the same. It is a matter of life or death, and this House knows it.
I want to ask the Minister, if I am the only hon. Member who has the courage to ask the Minister—why is it that nobody else seems to ask him?—to put to the Miners Federation the suggestion of a sixth shift from the young men only on certain Saturdays of the year. I have one or two novel suggestions to make. I was in America during the war, and I saw production flags everywhere as a result of inter-departmental, inter-State and inter-works competitions. Why cannot we have the champion miner or the champion pit of Britain—and pay them for it? I do not want hon. Members to become impatient with me. This thing is vital. We have 110,000 men in this country in the steel industry prepared to give up their Sundays and Saturdays—two Saturday afternoons out of seven at least—and rumblings are coming from the provinces that they may refuse because there is no sign of the coal they need. Coal means steel, steel means machinery, machinery means textiles, textiles mean exports and exports mean food. From coal we go through the whole gamut of industry. It is still not too late to ask for the six-shift week, at all events for the rest of this year.
I want to refer to the statements made in regard to generating plant. Hon. Members opposite know better than hon. Members on this side what the real position is. The right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) and the right hon. Member for the City of London (Sir A. Duncan) are men who have experience and are unrivalled in their knowledge of these affairs so far as the steel industry is concerned, and in regard to the right hon. Member for the City of London this House should be big enough to recognise ability when it exists. The position is 2099 such that, no matter how we try, we cannot expect to get new generating plant within the next two or three years. That should have been seen to when the war was coming to an end. This problem can be overcome by seeing to it that every facility is given to the miners—everyamount of food and clothing and all the incentives possible—and I repeat, and I shall repeat it till the people are tired of hearing it, that they are entitled in the interests of this country to give to their fellowmen what they are getting. There is an old saying in Lancashire "that what is good to get, is not bad to give."
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Colonel Clarke (East Grinstead)
I have listened to the speech of the senior Member for Bolton (Mr. J. Jones) with the attention I know it deserves and I hope he will forgive me if I do not follow him at once, though there will be several occasions in the course of my remarks when I shall refer to what he has said. I would like, as I always do in any Debate concerning coal, to declare an interest in consideration of the directorship I hold.
This Debate is concerned first and last with the present shortage of coal and the "Economic Survey for 1947" made it absolutely clear that this shortage of coal is the root of the economic problem. It says:The 1947 industrial problem is fundamentally a problem of coal.The people of this country must never forget the fundamental seriousness of that problem. Our whole industrial life and our standard of living are concerned because they are based on coal, and for the last century even the existence of quite a large portion of our population has been based on the fact that we had a cheap and abundant supply of coal. I agree that it was possibly much too cheap, but that is another story. Cheap and abundant coal has added enormously to the numbers of our population and it has supported those numbers, but the reduction in that supply is today leaving them without means of support. The reduction in the supply of coal is to a large extent removing their whole means of livelihood. I want to refer once more to a passage in the White Paper which really sums up what I want to say. The loss of our prewar coal exports is really the loss of the money we received from abroad in 2100 sufficient quantity to pay for the wheat we imported into this country.
How can a sufficient output of coal be restored to get back to that position? At the present time the population of this country is living perilously unsupported. The process will have to be done in stages, and it is only with regard to the first stage that I wish to speak tonight. That stage is the building up of sufficient stocks in the next six months in order to avoid a crisis next year, similar to the one through which we have just passed, a crisis which caused everyone great discomfort, produced widespread unemployment, and seriously set back our whole economic recovery.
I believe that there are several lines of approach. Increased production, as the Minister said, is the first and most important one. As the hon. Member for Bolton said, the miners in this country really have it in their power to solve the whole problem quite quickly if they choose to do so. I see in the Press today that we have got back to the production level of 1943. If we can only get back to the production level of 1941, the problem will be solved. I do not propose to say more about that particular approach, because the hon. Member for Bolton has already put it forward very adequately, and better than I could. Economy is the next subject about which we have principally been talking tonight—the rationing of electricity and gas. I feel that this is an unfortunate necessity, and one that is going to bear very hardly on the domestic consumers, who have already suffered a lot.
There are three other lines of approach, one of which is the possible importation of foreign coal, and to which I will refer again in a moment. The next is the increase in opencast coal which, according to a report in this morning's paper, is likely to be accelerated through the acquisition of more engineering plant, which will produce a quicker answer than any other form of coal-winning development. Then, lastly, there is the question of an improvement in our transport system. I will take these points in rather more detail, and will speak first on the improvement of the transport system. I believe that our wagons and ships are not making as many journeys as they might, and that if those journeys could be increased, a number of collieries could 2101 increase their output. Compared with prewar, the collieries, I believe, are only doing some three voyages, as against five in 1939. The reason has largely to do with loading and discharging, and the men engaged in those services, but the fact remains that that increases the need for ships. We want more than we had before the war. I believe that the lack of transport slows down the work of the pits on quite a number of occasions, particularly in those districts which, before the war, relied on exports.
In that connection, I want to make a rather novel suggestion. I believe that it might pay some of those exporting districts to allow the coal to be shipped as it was before the war, and as the coalfields were laid out to do. Wagons used in the pit-port service could be got back much sooner than on inland hauls. I know that we cannot afford to export coal at the present time, but I suggest that the coal is put into the ships and sent to some European countries mainly to keep the pits working and that an equivalent amount of coal from America or Europe is taken instead, so that, on total balance, there is no loss to the European Coal Organisation, or to the country.
I will now revert to the question of the domestic consumers who, as I have said, have already been cut down very severely. I make the plea that, whatever allocation is made to domestic consumers, they should get it. It often happens that the allocation in the area is not enough, and house coal supplies are the ones that always get raided, in the interest of gas, railways and industry. I would also suggest that alternative fuels should be considered. There are many countries in the world which have no coal. For instance, very little coal is produced in Central Europe. The fuel there is mostly wood, which is burned in large closed stoves. We burn a certain amount of wood in this country, but we burn it most extravagantly. No effort has ever been made to provide economical grates or stoves for burning wood, and I think that something of that sort might be looked into.
In the early days of the war, the A.R.P. provided rough, made up instruments for its work, and I believe that, in the same way, some form of wood stove could be produced in large quantities which might help a number of householders to overcome the fuel difficulty in the next winter 2102 or two. The whole question of wood prices should be examined. The retail price, of course, is not controlled, but the wholesale price is. That is not satisfactory. I think that the retail prices charged for wood in the recent cold spell were often excessive. It should be sold by weight and not by volume or by number of logs. The organisation for providing the raw material should be improved. The main bottleneck, I understand, is in the transport necessary for getting the wood out of the forests and on to the hard road. Once it is cut and got on to the hard road, it can be distributed, but the gap lies between those two operations. In other parts of the world, other forms of fuel are used. During the war, the Army in the Middle East used heavy oil and water in home made appliances constructed by R.E.M.E. and by the Sappers, which worked most successfully. I believe that, if something on those lines could be improvised, it would be of great help to people, particularly in the country districts.
As to the question of importation, I listened to all the Minister said, and I fully realise the difficulty. However, I am still a little puzzled because I believe that there are very considerable quantities of American coal which are being exported today outside the amount controlled by the European Coal Organisation. I understand that, in February, the scheme of American exports comprised some 258 cargoes of 9,000 or 10,000 tons each, of which 49 went to countries altogether outside the control of the European Coal Organisation, such as the Philippines, the Middle East, Brazil, and other South American countries. I cannot see why some of that coal, not necessarily a great deal of it, could not be obtained.
Another point discussed with regard to the importation of coal was whether it could be discharged in this country. There is some difference of opinion about it. A day or two ago the Minister of Transport said he believed that from 250,000 to 400,000 tons could be discharged in a month but other speakers have rather contested the possibility. On the side of those encouraging importation from the United States of America it has been said that in 1926 we imported some 10 million tons, but the matter is not quite so easy as that. Ships have increased in size since 1926, and in the strike normal coastwise trade was in abeyance. Today arrange- 2103 ments would have to be made to discharge big ships as far as possible without upsetting the normal discharge of other coastwise traffic.
We could discharge some 4½ million tons per year, I think. Ships are available. We had experience in 1926 which will help us in this regard. One important point is that big ships cannot lie aground like small colliers can, but must keep afloat. That limits the number of places where they can be discharged. The fact of expense must be remembered. It might cost up to 10s. per ton more for discharge. American coal, anyhow, will cost some £5 a ton, so 10s. will not matter very much. At the moment, this discussion is rather academic because no coal appears to be available. I believe it will be available and that some may be forthcoming as time goes on.
I want to refer to one other thing that the Minister said on the subject of clean and dirty coal, in answer to my right hon. Friend who opened the Debate. The Minister mentioned washing facilities. The fact that coal is coming forward in a more dirty state than it was before makes the job of working the washeries very much harder. These machines were intended to deal with an ash content of say five per cent., but if coal comes into them containing 10 or 12 per cent. of ash, then the machines are overloaded from the start, and they become very much harder to work. This matter of clean coal is vital, especially to electricity supply undertakings. Some of them take their coal in colliers of 4,000 tons, and the normal number of trips from the collieries to the companies is about 50 a year. Today the high proportion of ash probably means that 12 trips a year are spent carrying useless material.
The country is engaged in a desperate fight to obtain industrial recovery. During the recent crisis industries have been subjected to the greatest setback they have ever had, and it has been something like Dunkirk or Singapore during the war. Perhaps the psychological set back is worse than the actual one. I felt at first that everything had been damped down and frustrated because the coal was not forthcoming. I have rather changed my opinion. I believe the crisis was in itself only a symptom of what is really wrong, and that is that the fundamental shortage of coal in this country has had a sobering, and perhaps a salutary, effect 2104 —another step in the process of disillusionment through which we have all got to go, a process in which we English have got to realise that we are no longer the spoilt children of economic circumstance and that we have now to fight to retain some of the standard of living which our forefathers fought so hard to gain. Our economy is linked indissolubly with coal and the output of coal. During this fight all those who have anything to do with coal—the Minister, the Coal Board, the miners, the distributive branches, the railway men, the collier crews—are all in the forefront of the battle. They are the spearhead of the attack to regain our old economic position. Coal production must have priority over everything, including housebuilding and export. All those connected with it must work together.
I believe they will work together, particularly if the Minister will take the country into his confidence as far as possible. Let him tell the country when things are right and are improving, as they are, according to this morning's newspaper, and let him tell us when they do not look so good. We are going to be asked for some form of voluntary rationing, I understand. I believe that, for it to be a success, the people must be trusted and must be told the facts. If the Minister tells them, he will find that they will do their best to help him.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Mr. D. J. Williams (Neath)
During the last few weeks we have had innumerable Debates in this House on the general economic situation of the country, and coal has been the central and dominating theme of all of them. All the speeches this afternoon have led back to that dominant and paramount problem that faces the country. We have heard recently a great deal about shortages—of consumer goods, of raw materials, of capital equipment and above all of coal. I think it is generally agreed that the supreme problem for this country now is to increase the production of coal. I have listened to most of the speeches that have been made in this House on the economic situation in the last few weeks, and to most of those made this afternoon. I find there have been really three positive suggestions as to how we might increase our coal production.
First of all, we have repeatedly heard the suggestion that we should import 2105 foreign labour. Secondly—and we have heard a great deal about this of late—that we should import coal from abroad. The third suggestion, and I am surprised that it should have been made from this side of the House, is that the miners should abandon their claim for a five-day week and continue to work a six-day week.
§ Mr. Jack Jones
If the hon. Member is referring to what I said, that is untrue. My suggestion was an extra shift, for this year at all events, with never a word about abandoning the five-day week.
§ Mr. Williams
The suggestion was—shall I put it this way?—that the miners should waive their claim for a five-day week for the present emergency. I was very pleased to note this afternoon that the Minister emphasised that there has been a decided improvement in the atmosphere of the mining industry. As a representative of a mining community, may I say that that bears out my own experience in my own Division? It is certainly true that there is a decided improvement in the spirit in the industry, and, I think this is important as well, there is a growing realisation on the part of the British nation that the mining industry must occupy a higher place in the strata of our economy than it has ever occupied before.
The problem of increasing coal production is, in the last analysis, a problem of increasing manpower. To get more coal we have to get more men into the pits, and we must realise that fundamental fact. I heard the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) talk this afternoon about the narrow margin which exists between the possibility of a crisis and the possibility of prosperity in our British economy, and he said that it was simply a matter of a negligible quantity of coal. I would suggest that it is a matter of getting a few thousand extra men into the pits. We must realise that we cannot get more coal unless we get more miners. If we want to improve the possibility of getting more coal, we must continue to improve the atmosphere and the spirit prevailing in the mining industry, and the policy of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power is the right one in that direction. If we want to destroy this spirit, this new atmosphere which is now beginning to make itself felt, the way to do it is to tell the miners they cannot have the five- 2106 day week but must continue working a six-day week. That is the way to destroy the spirit the Minister has been trying to create, and all the evidence shows that he is doing it very effectively.
For the first time for many years, more men are coming into the mining industry than are going out, and in the course of the last 12 weeks there has been a net increase of 800 men per week. I agree it is not a very spectacular increase, but at least it is a step in the right direction, and it indicates the trend inside and outside the industry. I agree the increase is not enough. We must improve it. The Government have fixed a time limit in saying that by the end of 1947 they hope to have 730,000 men in the mining industry, and that means that we must get at least 100,000 new entrants. I am very pleased to note that large numbers of miners are coming back into the industry, people who had turned their backs on it for many years; they are coming back because the mining industry has acquired a new status in our economy and a new atmosphere has been created inside it.
I believe we need to aim at a target of somewhere about 750,000 miners. In order to do that we shall have to continue to improve the conditions in the industry, raise its status in our national economy, and give the miners a better status in our social life than they have ever enjoyed before. The problem, therefore, is to get more men, and I believe there are four courses which are open to us in attempting to get the necessary manpower. First of all there is the very tempting suggestion of the direction of labour. We have heard it hinted more than once from the other side.
§ Mr. Williams
A question was put in the manpower Debate as to whether it would not be a feasible solution to get men from the development areas to go into the basic industries outside the development areas.
§ Mr. Marlowe (Brighton)
The hon. Gentleman has made a serious charge that hon. Members on this side have advocated the direction of labour. I would be grateful if he would point out to the House any occasion on which he could say that any hon. Member on this side has done so.
§ Mr. Williams
What I was saying was that we have heard the suggestion that the direction of labour is a tempting one, and we have heard hints to that effect from the other side more than once in the course of the last few months. However, it is the declared policy of the Government, and rightly so, not to resort to the direction of labour—though I cannot help contrasting that attitude with the decision taken in this House last night to conscript men into the Armed Forces. Next, there is the other method, of allowing the free play of economic forces to drive people into the mining industry. We have had that for generations. An ex-Member of the Opposition benches made a suggestion quite recently—it is true, on the other side of the globe—that the way to man the mining industry is to create mass unemployment and poverty in Britain, so as to force men into the industry because there will be no other jobs available for them.
Thirdly, there is the suggestion, in fact there has been quite a campaign about it, that we should import foreign labour. It has been suggested here more than once, and there has been a big Press campaign about it. I have been amazed to read the suggestion that with full employment we shall have to man our unattractive industries with labour imported from countries with lower standards of living than ours. If we are to man the mining industry on that basis, we have to face the fact that we shall have to import somewhere about a million men in the course of the next to years, merely in order to make up the wastage and build up the manpower to 800,000. Fantastic figures have been suggested in this connection. I have read the figures of 100,000, 200,000, and 250,000; and one might imagine that there are armies of qualified miners wandering all over Europe, eager and anxious to come to Britain to produce the coal which Britain, Europe and the world so badly need. Eminent economists have written to "The Times" and to other newspapers suggesting that all we have to do is to get 100,000 men from abroad, send them down the pits, and next day we shall have 100,000 tons more coal. I do not know where these figures come from. Certainly, 100,000 is a nice, round, convenient figure. It looks well and sounds impressive. If it is a figure we want, it is as good as any other figure we can think of. But there is one draw- 2108 back, namely, that such a figure has no reality at all; it has no meaning, no factual content, and is completely devoid of significance when related to the realities of the British mining industry. We cannot pump 100,000 men into the British mines tomorrow. It sounds simple; statistically it is a perfect proposition. Theoretically it is an ideal solution, but in practice it simply does not work.
Between 1938 and 1946 the manpower in the mining industry declined by 82,000, but that does not mean that there are now in the mining industry 82,000 vacancies which can be filled up with Poles and displaced persons tomorrow morning. In the course of the last eight years, hundreds of collieries have closed down; seams inside collieries and colliery districts have been closed down; large numbers of working places inside those districts have been abandoned, and, in all probability, have become completely derelict. The question of manpower in the mining industry is not merely a matter of adding up figures. It is not a question simply of bringing 100,000 people from Europe or elsewhere. It is a technical problem of finding pit room inside the colliery where these people can work. I do not know where these 100,000 hypothetical miners are to come from.
According to all the latest information I have been able to find, there are about 250,000 displaced persons in the British zone in Germany. More than half of those are women, and of the men I think the least said the better. Many of them are ex-quislings from their own countries, who are afraid to return because of their past misdeeds, or they are semi-Fascist elements who dislike and disagree with the liberal and radical régimes now existing in their own countries. Many of them were collaborators; many of them are of very doubtful political antecedents. I doubt very much whether there are more than 1,000 miners among the quarter of a million displaced persons in the British zone. I have just been informed that the figure is 800. I accept that figure. Even with those 800 men, we cannot use them immediately. There are all sorts of difficulties. For example, we have no housing accommodation for them in the mining areas. The President of the South Wales District of the National Union of Mineworkers said the other day that if two 2109 dozen families went to South Wales tomorrow we would have no housing accommodation to offer them.
Then there is the question of language. I know some of the right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen opposite are inclined to belittle the importance of language in the working economy of this country, and I agree that in a factory or a field the spoken language is not so important, because there one can resort to the language of signs. But in a colliery, in darkness, where one depends on the faint glimmer and flicker of an electric lamp or an oil lamp, one cannot use the language of signs. One has to rely on the spoken word. I have no information to indicate that the 800 or 1,000 miners among the displaced persons are able to speak English, and certainly they will not be able to speak Welsh if they should come to South Wales. Even if we had these 1,000 men immediately, and if we assumed that they were qualified and skilled miners, we would be entitled to ask what concrete contribution they could make towards the achievement of the Government's coal target in 1947. Their contribution would be negligible. If they were to produce at the highest rate of production at the moment in British coalfields, and if they started to produce at the beginning of this month, their entire contribution to our coal output for 1947 would be 180,000 tons; it is.09 per cent. of the Government's target; the other 99.91 per cent. of the target would have to be produced by British labour.
The situation in France and Belgium has been used extensively as an argument to persuade the Government to bring these people over. I have heard the suggestion from the Liberal benches some time ago, when my right hon. Friend was asked why we did not emulate the example of France and Belgium by bringing displaced persons from Europe to produce our coal. If we examine the coal situation in France and Belgium, we find that it does not speak very highly of the productive qualities of these displaced persons. In September, 1946, the manpower in the French mines had gone up to 141 per cent. compared with 1938, production had gone up to 102 per cent. and the output per man shift had fallen to 73 per cent. In Belgium the manpower had gone up to 114 per cent., production had been reduced to 76 per cent., and the output per man shift was 74 per cent. 2110 Those are the elementary mathematics concerning the production by foreign labour in the French and Belgian mines.
I agree that in course of time we could employ 100,000 foreigners in our coal mines, but that would involve training, the removal of the language difficulties and the provision of adequate pit room. If we import foreign labour on a mass scale into Britain, it will have tremendous psychological consequences on the mining community. The miner himself will not object to work with foreigners. He is too politically intelligent and conscious to object; he understands the serious manpower situation. But it will create in the minds of the people of Britain the impression that mining as an occupation is something terrible, that it is fit only for unfortunate and inferior people from abroad, who are afraid to go to their own countries and who accept employment in the British mines as a last resort. It would brand our mining industry as something inferior, degrading and contemptible. I am afraid it will act as a sort of inverted Gresham's law, under which foreign labour will drive our British labour and make it far more difficult to man this basic industry with the kind of labour we want. For those reasons, I suggest that the importing of foreign labour on a mass scale is no solution to the coal problem. The only sensible policy is to make mining more attractive for British labour.
§ 7.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Bowen (Cardigan)
I wish to make only a few observations, as most of the points which I intended to make have already been made by previous speakers. This Debate, as I understand it, arises out of a statement made by the Prime Minister on 27th March. That statement was certainly sufficiently objective and gloomy to satisfy the most pessimistic critic. During the course of that statement the Prime Minister asserted that all possible measures designed to increase production were being taken by the Government, and thatthe National Coal Board, with the cooperation of the miners' leaders, is taking all possible steps to secure increased output per man-year."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th March, 1917; Vol. 435, c. 1416.]I had hoped that when the Minister of Fuel and Power spoke this afternoon he would give us further and better particulars of the measures that were being 2111 taken, and of the steps taken to secure increased output per man-year. However, to the best of my recollection the only information on those points given by the Minister related to the opening of new coal faces and to mining machinery. Incidentally, I would suggest that the statement with regard to mining machinery was certainly non-committal.
I should like to deal with one or two of the observations of the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. D. J. Williams), while they are still within the recollection of the House. With respect, I take exception to two or three of his statements. First, he asserted that if we are to get more coal we must have more miners. I would not quarrel if he had said that better manpower in the mines in highly desirable, and indeed essential, if our industrial recovery is to proceed on anything like the lines we wish. But I do heartily disagree with the assertion that more coal cannot be produced with the present manpower position. The whole of the facts and history of production are contrary to that assertion, and I hope, in a few moments, to give some of the figures on which I base that statement. The hon. Member for Neath was most contemptuous with regard to foreign labour. I do not wish to follow him on that in any detail, but my observation during a visit to Belgium last month was certainly in conflict with the argument he advanced. As far as the quality of foreign labour is concerned, particularly that of displaced persons, we have rather missed the boat. We certainly missed the boat with regard to Polish labour in this country. Now, after a delay of about 12 months, we are training a very small number of Polish personnel for the mines. If proper steps had been taken with regard to foreign labour, and Polish labour in particular, nine or 12 months ago, it might have resulted in better production figures. Belgium is certainly making very successful use, not only of displaced persons but also of foreign labour from other quarters, in her industrial recovery. I must say, I was amazed to find the hon. Member for Neath raising difficulties. There is at least one right hon. Member in this House who can say that, within his recollection, monoglot Welshmen and monoglot Englishmen have worked side by side in the 2112 Welsh coalmines without any difficulty. I suggest it is quite wrong to assert that the providing of adequate training in order to secure safety precautions in the mines presents a substantial difficulty.
I wish to make a few observations with regard to the domestic side, particularly the prohibitions and restrictions on the domestic user. It is certainly very distressing that all this disarrangement and disturbance of the normal life of the community should be necessary in order to save the amount of coal which could be produced in two or three days—because that is the position as I see it. I am sure the Minister will correct me if I am wrong. I say this as one who has advocated, and still advocates, the five-day week in the mines. The reason why the domestic user is to be subjected to prohibitions and restrictions is, to my mind, as a measure of insurance against the possibility that the miners will not produce as much on a five-day week system as they will produce at the moment, and against the fear that this summer the miner will take a longer holiday than he did last summer. That, as I understand it, is the reason why the domestic consumer of this country is to have prohibitions and restrictions imposed upon him. They are prohibitions and restrictions that will cause a substantial measure of hardship, particularly to the worker whose hours of work are enormous.
The Prime Minister told us, and the Minister of Fuel and Power has confirmed it, that many rationing systems were considered but rejected. I do not quarrel with that decision. I should like to associate myself with the observation of the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leaming-ton (Mr. Eden), that the Minister and the Government as a whole should have put greater value on and greater faith in a voluntary appeal—although, I must say, I was a little amused at the sudden conversion of the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington to the value of a voluntary appeal since last night. It should be remembered that the system which is to be introduced is convenient to the Government, because it will place upon the electricity and gas producing undertakings a very substantial burden which would otherwise be borne by the Government. I associate myself with the right hon. Member's plea for voluntary appeals, partly on the ground that what is envisaged will undoubtedly result in the setting up of another enforcement staff. I anticipate 2113 the setting up of what might be called "M.I.5 Fuel."
I should like to make one or two observations with regard to the target laid down in the White Paper. The Federation of British Industries and the Trade Union Council have already expressed dissatisfaction with that target. Frankly, I cannot agree with the statement we have had today, and the figures we have now got, in regard to increased production and increased manpower by attracting volunteers to the industry. I fail to see why the Government take such a hopelessly pessimistic view of the prospects. Granted, one has to be a realist, particularly in view of the experiences of the last few months. But in the anxiety to be realists the Government have adopted a completely despondent approach to the problem. The "Daily Herald," if one can place reliance on the captions in that newspaper, today has a heading, "Coal Output Leaps." While we should be pleased that the present figures are on the up-grade, and should pay tribute to the men who have brought about that recent change in the position, we should remember that if output per man year last year was at the same level as prewar, our immediate difficulties would have been solved. If the output per man year were to continue during this year on a prewar level, then, again, our immediate difficulties would be solved. Consider the years 1941 and 1942. During those two years we had less manpower available in the mines than we have at present, and yet the target achieved was well above that envisaged in the White Paper. Indeed, I am reminded that they were older men. What has been happening during the last 12 months with regard to mechanisation? What possible satisfactory explanation can there be for a drop in the output per man year in 1947 as compared with that of 1941 and 1942?
§ Mr. Murray (Spennymoor)
Is the hon. Member not aware that production in 1946 was 259 tons per man, and that in the latter part of 1946—the last quarter—it was 272 tons per man, and that in January and February of 1947 it ranged to 279 tons per man?
§ Mr. Bowen
I am grateful for the interruption. I believe that the last figure the hon. Member gave was 279. Let me give another figure, that for 1937. Output 2114 per man year was 308 tons. If the output per man year in 1947 were the same as it was in 1937 we should have a minimum, not of 200,000,000 tons of coal, but of 230,000,000 tons of coal. I was particularly disappointed at the right hon. Gentleman's failure to deal with the attempts of the Government to get over that difficulty. It seems to me we have two difficulties, not only the difficulty of attracting new people into the industry, but that of maintaining the standard of production amongst the people in the industry. It is not a question of fault finding: it is a question of solving a problem. I was particularly disappointed that the Minister gave us no indication of any great and practical efforts on the part of the Government to face the problems. I do not wish to follow the familiar ground with regard to the difficulties of Pay-as-you-earn, the absence of consumer goods, and questions of that kind, but I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will tell the House, because the House is entitled to know, whether all these schemes, all these possibilities, have been examined. If they have been examined, which have been accepted and which have been rejected, and why?
There are other points I have in mind. First, there is the possibility of providing a scheme similar to that in operation in Germany today—a points scheme. It is true that, so far, it has not been in operation in Germany for long enough for any judgment to be formed of it, but has the possibility been considered here? It would be some means of providing an incentive, and some guarantee that the men who work get the fruits of their labour. Has the possibility been considered of a system whereby a target—incidentally, a rather more ambitious target than some targets laid down by the Ministry of Fuel and Power in the past—a reasonable target is laid down for production, not for over-all production, but for production on the part of the man; and whereby, when a man has exceeded that target, any further emoluments earned by him for extra production are free of tax. Has that point been entertained? If it has been rejected, why has it?
I should like to know also whether any other steps have been taken with regard to fuel economy. The Ministry during the war did good work. The House should also be informed what further 2115 progress is being made in that direction. Further, I would ask whether the right hon. Gentleman or the Parliamentary Secretary has any information with regard to the prospects of underground classification of coal. We have been told on several occasions that research is proceeding in these matters. Has it reached any practical stage? I welcome the evidence indicated by the announcement regarding the F.B.I. and the T.U.C., that on the matter of a coal target, there is a substantial measure of agreement; but I hope that, when the question of the fixing of the allocation of coal for industry comes to be considered, the small industrialist, perhaps doing vital work, although the size of his plant may not be considerable, is not going to be cast aside. There is a danger that the F.B.I. and the T.U.C. may work together to the detriment of the small man outside those organisations.
I am sure the news the right hon. Gentleman had to give was disappointing. We were reminded that in 1926, during the coal strike, this country was able to import 20,000,000 tons of coal. I hope that further explorations will be made by the Minister with regard to that subject. While I welcome the announcement with regard to new incentives, such as lodging allowances, and payment for removal from a non-mining area to a mining area—while I welcome those further incentives to attract new recruits to the industry, I cannot help asking why those new incentives were not provided long ago. I should like the Parliamentary Secretary, when he winds up this Debate, to tell us in further detail, whether any further incentives, on the lines I have indicated or on other lines, are planned by the Government, first, to get an increase in production per man-year in the mines, and also to attract more personnel, from home or foreign labour, into the mines.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Marlowe (Brighton)
I entirely support what the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen) has said with regard to output per man-year, because that is a matter which the right hon. Gentleman carefully avoided in everything he had to say today. This issue has been shirked. Obviously, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, an increase in output per man-year would be a solution 2116 of the problem; but the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Fuel and Power has no intention of taking any steps to achieve that. I think the speech with which the right hon. Gentleman opened will cause gloom and bewilderment throughout the country, because it amounted really to this: that he had no solution to offer to the difficulties in which he finds himself. The fact that the right hon. Gentleman was unable to present a case does not arise from any lack of Parliamentary skill on his part. It arises either because he has not a case, or because he knows that he is in the grip of forces he is incapable of controlling. The right hon. Gentleman has completely failed to answer many of the points put to him by my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will try to remedy that omission.
Let me take first this question of a target of 200 million tons. Although the right hon. Gentleman calls it a target, it is not a target at all, because a target is something which we set and which we want to hit. The right hon. Gentleman has not based his figure on what he wants to get; indeed, he admits that it is so, and that he wants much more. What he calls his target is what he thinks he may get, and dozens of hon. Members have pointed out that his figure is an extremely pessimistic one. Why has the right hon. Gentleman chosen it? Is it that he has deliberately chosen a figure which he knows he is going to exceed, perhaps comfortably?—because he pointed out that there were certain circumstances and certain factors which he could not take into account, but which led him to believe that things would work out all right and that he would exceed that 200 million tons. Is he putting it to the country that his target is 200 million tons so that he can then exceed it and be able to say to everybody, "Look how wonderful nationalisation is; we have got much more than our target"? Is that one of the objectives of the right hon. Gentleman? If so, it is not a very fair way of dealing with the country at a moment like this. I think there must be some motive of that kind behind his so-called target.
I am rather concerned about this matter of the five-day week, which was introduced, as it were, rather on a side wind. Hon. Gentlemen will remember that no 2117 specific announcement was made to them about this. It was mentioned rather casually today by the right hon. Gentleman himself, and by the President of the Board of Trade in a previous fuel Debate, when he suddenly referred to the effect of the five-day week. That was the first time anybody had heard of any Government announcement on this matter. The right hon. Gentleman appears to have arrived at this five-day week without regard to what I have always believed was a strong consideration in the Government's approach to this question. I had always understood that the attitude of the Government with regard to reduced working hours was that they could not be justified unless it was ensured that they did not reduce output. It is a rather remarkable fact that the right hon. Gentleman has not taken that fact into his calculations at all. [An HON. MEMBER: "How does the hon. and learned Member know?"] Because the right hon. Gentleman said so himself in his speech. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman who interrupted was here, but the right hon. Gentleman the Minister said he did not know what the effect will be. [An HON. MEMBER: "No-body knows."] It may very well be that they do not, but it has always been understood as a principle of Government policy, which has been stated on a number of occasions by the President of the Board of Trade, who is more sternly realistic in these matters, that there could be no reduction of working hours unless it could be ensured that it did not result in decreased production.
The Minister of Fuel and Power has completely blown that away today. He has said "I have not the faintest idea what the effect. of this is going to be, and I cannot say precisely what my target will be, because I do not know what the effect of the five-day week is going to be." Hon. Gentlemen will remember that the Minister spoke of the 350,000 tons loss of Saturday coal. He said, "I do not know whether we shall lose that, or whether the five-day week will increase it or not." I am bound to say that I do not know, either, and I speak in these matters without any technical knowledge at all. I try to take an objective view, though I have no technical knowledge of the mining industry, but if I do not know how to get coal I am certainly in no worse position than the Minister of Fuel and Power. 2118 Sometimes I think it is the one who is not entirely engrossed in these matters who can take the more objective view. I reiterate that it is an extraordinary position that the right hon. Gentleman has completely gone back on general Government policy in agreeing to a five-day week without knowing what its effect will be.
It is said, and I accept it, that there is a greatly improved spirit among the miners now. If that is so, ought not advantage to be taken of it? Ought not the miners to be asked to postpone their five-day week until we are out of this crisis? I am entirely in sympathy with the objective, and I would not stand for a moment between the miner and his five-day week. As evidence of that, I say that I would not choose to spend one day down a mine myself, and that I am not justified in asking anybody else to do more. Is this not the moment to ask those who have made mining their careers, at this time of undoubted crisis, and in view of this new spirit, of which I am glad to hear, to make this sacrifice as their contribution towards helping us out of this crisis?
There is one other contribution which could be made, also as a result of this improved spirit, and I do not think this is a matter on which hon. Gentlemen opposite ought to be touchy, because I only look at it as an outsider. This point is n relation to concessionary coal. I do not grudge the miners this coal, but, in relation to what other people are getting at the moment, it seems to be very large. Naturally, representing a Division in the South, I am chiefly concerned with the difficulties which the domestic consumer will have under the limitation of 34 cwt., which is very small. Hon. Gentlemen opposite know much better than I do how much concessionary coal the miner gets.
§ Mr. Murray
May I interrupt? I want to clear up that point. I do not know whether the hon. and learned Member is aware that in Durham, with all the free coal which the miner is getting, there are men going out to collect coal from the waste heaps and then going to work to produce coal because they have no coal either in their Coal houses or in their grates.
§ Mr. Marlowe
I quite accept that from the hon. Gentleman, who knows better than I do, but there is no doubt that there 2119 is a very considerable tonnage of concessionary coal. As I understand the figures, if that were cut by only 25 per cent., it would provide the 2,500,000 tons which the household consumer is now being asked to give up in order to fill the gap. That was what the right hon. Gentleman has said—that the household consumer is the one who has to contribute to the filling of this gap—and the demand which he is making on the household consumer is 2,500,000 tons. As I understand it, at a rough calculation, to cut off 25 per cent. of the concessionary coal would avoid that sacrifice by the household consumer altogether. Perhaps I speak bitterly on behalf of the household consumer, but the hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge (Mrs. Mann) has told us how sorry she was for herself when she was ill and could not get any coal. I am also sorry for her, and I am sorry for myself when I cannot get any coal. I feel that the South is being badly treated in this matter. Because we are not in the coal districts, because there are difficulties of conveyance, we are put on the lower rate of 34 cwt., which I assure the Parliamentary Secretary is quite insufficient for people living in the South.
I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to deal with these points and to approach this as a practical problem. I think it is completely wrong to believe that we shall get higher output by the suggestion of creating a sort of privileged class of miners. I believe the miner to be the same as the rest of us, and I believe he will make his contribution towards solving our difficulties exactly the same as anybody else. I do not believe that you will get more coal by saying you will give nylons to his wife, and even if you did, I believe it would be a bad principle. I believe, if we have a crisis, it is one which we have to meet by an equal share. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will answer those questions, which his right hon. Friend completely failed to answer, which came from my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington. Particularly, I would like him to answer the question I put to him: have the Government changed their policy on this quection of shorter working hours without any reduction of output? I believe it to be a fundamental part of our industrial policy.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Shurmer (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)
Both right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House have dealt with the means for more production of coal. I shall confine my remarks briefly to the question of both the domestic and social effects upon all the people of the country. I do not want to strike a note of discord, or even to delve into the past, but I would remind right hon. and hon. Gentlemen, when they try to make a lot of propaganda about the suffering of the people during the crisis, that, having had experience as a member of a City Council in Birmingham for 26 years, and by choice living in the heart of slums for over 20 years, I know the homes and the lives of the people of a large district in that city. Between the two wars I knew homes where they could not afford to buy three pennyworth of coal—there was coal but no money. It is no good their trying to make propaganda and to stir up the people on this matter.
On the question of the rationing of the domestic consumers, I want the Parliamentary Secretary to realise that it is difficult to ration electricity and gas in the home because, in some homes, you have both man and wife going out to work and they are able to buy much of their food outside whereas, in many others, the whole of the family have to be cooked for all day. So it would be impossible to ration on any scale the consumption of gas and electricity in the home. The hon. Member for North Wembley (Mr. Hobson) spoke of the delivery of coal to the homes of the people by retailers. There is no doubt that in many districts there was no real supervision over delivery to the retail merchants or to see that the retailers were giving a fair share to everyone in the districts they were serving. I hope that this year the Minister will see that the retailers get a fair share of coal. I feel also that, in the voluntary appeal to the housewives, the position as far as it affects their husbands' means and employment and their very future should be stressed in order that they try to secure coal during the summer months so as to have a decent store for the winter.
There is one point that is worrying me and which I have tried to deal with for the city of Birmingham, though it must be happening all over the country. I suppose many people will be stocking up 2121 again this summer with a substitute which was partly used for fuel during the winter. I refer to wood logs. The position of wood logs has been outrageous. Poor people have been exploited over the price because, while there is a wholesale prices Order, 1946, there is no retail prices Order. In the city of Birmingham wood logs have been sold at a cost of between £9 to £10 per ton when the wholesale prices Order fixes the wholesale price at 45s. per ton, plus delivery charge. I worked that out for the city of Birmingham for a radius of 25 to 30 miles, and found that it would be about £3 19s., which would give the retailer a good margin at £5 per ton. Yet we had a few logs put into a bag for 9s. and people have been asked anything up to £9 to £10 a ton. I hope the Minister will consider this, and will put out a retail prices Order to protect the purchasers of wood logs.
With regard to holidays, we know that in prewar days, when quite a small percentage of the workers were lucky enough to go away for a holiday—very few compared with the number that went last year and the number who hope to go this year—there were far more trains on the ordinary service than there are now. To cut the train service by 10 per cent. is panic economy, because it represents only one day's production of coal. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is less."] It will have a bad effect, not only on the miners and their families, but upon the other workers who are hoping to have a little relaxation and rest, and we shall not benefit from the production which we would get from their work as a result of that rest. A holiday to many people is a great thing, and some will be having their first holidays with pay. I stood yesterday all the way to Birmingham with a first-class ticket, and in the corridors people were packed like sardines. That will give no encouragement to people to go away, and if it meant saving hundreds of thousands of tons of coal I would not mind, but it will not.
My last point, but not the least, concerns another bit of panic economy—the blackout. I have the figures for Birmingham, and I know for a fact that it is saving very little coal, while the psychological effect upon the people is bad. I live in the heart of my Division and I go home every weekend. I move around amongst the people and I know the position. It is all very well for us to look after the big things, but it is the little things 2122 which irritate the people. Only 30,000 cubic feet of gas and 11,000 units of electricity would give modified lighting in the City of Birmingham, yet there they have a blackout. I would ask the Minister not to panic. From 5th June to 5th September lighting-up time is not until 11.15, which means it is not dark until nearly 12 o'clock at night.
In conclusion, I am optimistic about the production of coal for this year. I believe the early start has proved that we shall get the production of coal from the miners, and that, at the end of the year, we shall have far above the 200 million tons suggested by the Minister, both in the Press and from this Box. Nevertheless, I hope that the saving will not be made at the expense of the social and domestic life of the people through panic economy. I hope the Minister will take these matters into consideration, and that we shall have some reply on the question of trains, the blackout, and a retail prices order in respect of logs.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson (Southport)
I suppose this House has rarely listened to a more depressing speech than we heard this afternoon from the Minister of Fuel and Power. The picture he painted was really black and pessimistic in the extreme. I think everyone will agree that the country is faced today by the fact that supplies are insufficient to meet demands, and it is clear there are only two alternatives. Either we have to increase the supply substantially, or take steps to reduce consumption. The right hon. Gentleman paid lip service to the need for increasing production, but he was at pains to emphasise in various parts of his speech the need for reduced consumption. He did not seem to realise what the result would be of reduced consumption on the scale he anticipated—and I propose to try to show from his own figures that that scale even was optimistic, and it would be very doubtful whether we shall reach that scale on his assumption. I do not think he realised the appalling results to the country as a whole, to our individual and national economy, of a reduced rate of consumption of coal during the summer, such as he outlined.
There can be no question that unless we get more coal than the 83 million tons the Minister forecast during the summer six months, there is bound to be actual unemployment on some scale this summer, 2123 and, what is of even greater importance, there is bound to be widespread underemployment. It is going to be a question of firms working three days a week, or four days a week, a week in and week out, or the equivalent work of two full weeks, and then a week out. Whatever alternative is adopted, it means a substantial lowering of the earning capacity and the wages taken home at the end of the week for millions of our fellow citizens this summer. What is worse is that even today, within four weeks of the beginning of the summer period, if my information is correct, industries as a whole—in particular important industries such as steel and cotton—do not really know what are to be the probable supplies on which they will be able to rely on 1st May. There was nothing in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman which gave us or the country any enlightenment at all.
In addition to that, supplies on this small scale are bound to affect adversely our exports. I cannot see industries which must be responsible for increasing exports to bring us up to the target of 140 per cent. at the end of the year, achieving that result. Above all, there is the complete cutting oft of the export of coal, which is bound to have repercussions on housing, because of the shortage of timber, and the absence of exchange for food, and for feeding stuffs, by means of which our own farmers could produce more food at home. This is bound to have a serious effect on the Minister of Health's housing programme, not merely through the delays which occurred through the bad weather, but by the reduction of fuel available for making cement, burning bricks, and the manufacture of various iron components required in a modern house.
It is going to inflict untold hardship on tens of millions of our fellow citizens, who travel every week, and on hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, who during the course of the summer want to go on hard-earned and long-postponed holidays. Last of all, but not least, it is going to inflict further hardship on the housewife who, as the Minister and the President of the Board of Trade admitted, has already had a cut of 30 per cent. in domestic fuel, and now during the last few weeks has had to put up with a cut in electricity. There is not one word of 2124 thanks to her from the Minister of Fuel and Power, or from the Prime Minister in the statement he made the-other day. All she gets today is a threat that if she does not make further voluntary savings, the right hon. Gentleman will bring in a compulsory rationing scheme next winter.
Quite rightly, the hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Shurmer) talked about panic economy. One of the tragedies of the present situation is that the margin between adequate supplies and what we are going actually to get is so small in so many of these cases. Take the savings made as a result of the cut in railway traffic. I do not know what the actual figure is. The Prime Minister gave one figure, and the Minister of Transport gave another. One figure was 120,000 tons, and the other 250,000 tons. We should like to know what the actual figure is. But, whatever it is, it represents about three hours' production on one day by the miners of this country. The people who suffer untold inconvenience this summer had better realise that that inconvenience is due to the failure of the right hon. Gentleman to get the miners to work the three hours extra for one year. What does the domestic reduction of 2,500,000 tons represent? It represents six Saturday mornings in a year. If the miners worked for only six Saturday mornings in a year, we would not need the domestic cuts. The Parliamentary Secretary smiles, but it is not a smiling matter to the housewife.
The Minister admitted that the calculation made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) that the target for this summer was six million tons less than the output of last summer was right, and at the same time he gave some very illuminating information about what happened last year. He told us that last year, at a date when we were criticising the miners for absenteeism, they had actually come to him and said, "We have worked five days. We are not going to work another day, and, what is more, we want longer holidays." That was not what he told us last year, when defending absenteeism in the pits. He talked today about a better trend of production in the last few weeks. There certainly has been a slightly better trend of production in the last few weeks, compared with the weeks before, but it is not anything like what it was in 1941, and still less good than it was 2125 in 1938. He said that he hoped to continue to get a total output at least as high as in recent weeks, but from what he said—because he coupled with it figures showing a steady increase in the total of men employed in the pits—he is evidently counting on increased numbers of men, not increased output per man-shift. If the right hon. Gentleman and his Parliamentary Secretary will take the trouble to read the economic White Paper, they will see there, the emphasis laid on the fact that this country can only be saved if we can get increased output per man year. The Prime Minister the other day said that the Coal Board were taking steps to get increased output per man—year from the men. There was no mention of that by the right hon. Gentleman in his speech today.
§ Mr. Hudson
I was dealing with the right hon. Gentleman's speech, and I would point out to the hon. Member that it is still well below what it was in 1941, and still more below what it was in 1938.
§ Mr. Hudson
It is rising so nicely that we shall have six million tons less available this summer than we had last summer. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, in a speech the other day, said that coal output must grow from one year to another, that we have to consider this year as growing from 1946. It is an odd definition of "growing," to expect an output of six million tons less than that of the basic year from which the calculation is made.
The right hon. Gentleman then went on to confess, in what I think was in some ways the most ominous and serious part of his speech, that he did not know what was to happen as a result of the five-day week, and he was not certain that the five-day week, when it was introduced, would make good the loss of the Saturday morning shift. From such calculations as I have been able to make, I think that the situation is a good deal worse than that. According to the White Paper too million tons is the figure required during the six summer months. From that has to be taken to million tons for stock. That leaves go million tons. There are to be two weeks' holiday with pay this year—
§ Mr. Hudson
That improves the position a little. That accounts for four million tons. The right hon. Gentleman admitted, in answer to questions during the Debate, that the miners themselves had estimated a loss of 18 million tons, representing Saturday morning shifts. A half of that, taking a six months' period, is nine million tons, which make a total of 23 million tons. That means that if these calculations are correct, and unless something quite unforeseen occurs in the way of increased output, instead of having 83 millions tons, the hitherto anticipated target, the country will be faced with the prospect of having only 78 million tons available for all purposes—five million tons less than the pessimistic target about which the right hon. Gentleman was talk ing today.
If these figures are correct, even the right hon. Gentleman's present distribution scheme will break down before the end of the six summer months, a very grim outlook. I think that the message that goes out from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman in the House today is that the consumer in this country and industry in this country are to go short for the next six months, probably for the next 12 months, in order that miners can take a five-day week instead of a 5½-day week, and in order that they make take longer holidays this year than they did last year. That is a fair summary of what the right hon. Gentleman said. We on these benches think that that is an appalling message to go out to the country from the Minister of Fuel and Power.
I do not think that it is unfair to say that a Prime Minister who had his hands perfectly free would have shifted, before now, a Minister of Fuel and Power who had made such a mess of the situation as the right hon. Gentleman has done. He might even have gone so far as to sack so inefficient a Minister. But he has not done so, and rumour, that lying jade, tells us why. But I believe that the trouble today is very largely that the right hon. Gentleman is making the wrong approach. I ventured to say it in the last Debate. I believe that he would be well advised to take the hint suggested today in a notable speech by the hon. Member for Bolton (Mr. J. Jones). I do not believe 2127 that the miners of this country are so unpatriotic as the right hon. Gentleman today made them out to be. I believe that the miners of this country need to have brought home to them that in their hands lies the choice today. They can, by continuing production at the level which the right hon. Gentleman anticipates, inflict untold hardship on individuals, men, women and children, and on industry, and bring down our standard of living for the next five or ten years. It is not next year or the year after, but what is to happen this year, on which the standard of this people, for the next five or ten years, depends. That is what the miners can do if they continue as the right hon. Gentleman tells us they are going to do. But I believe that if the choice is put clearly before them, and an appeal is made to them as patriotic Englishmen, they will in this critical year, make that extra little bit of effort—I have shown it is not a big one that is needed—
§ Mr. Hudson
Not on a big enough scale—that extra bit of effort that will put this country on its feet and enable us to see round the corner. I am sorry to say that as long as the right hon. Gentleman is where he is I do not believe that that appeal will be made.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power (Mr. Gaitskell)
For the most part this has been a serious and restrained Debate. It is right that it should have been so, because the problem we are discussing is at once the most serious and most difficult which faces the Government and the country. That it is the most serious will, I think, be agreed by all, in view of the widespread repercussions which a shortage of coal produces on industry and on the domestic consumer. That it is the most difficult problem I maintain for these reasons: I know of no commodity the consumption of which it is more difficult to restrict without creating grave dangers, and I know of no commodity the production of which it is more difficult, in a short period, and quickly, to increase, except when there is heavy unemployment. That is the measure of the situation as I see it.
It is not surprising, in those circumstances, that most of the speeches which 2128 have been. made have contained objections to one proposal or another, or general complaints about the situation, and few, if any, serious constructive suggestions. I am bound to say that I was disappointed in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden). I associate with him a certain statesmanlike quality. I had rather hoped that he would have something constructive to put forward. I was not disappointed with the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) because I did not expect anything. Seriously, although hon. Members opposite may say that it is not the business of the Opposition—I have heard the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport say this—to put forward constructive suggestions, it weakens any attack they may make upon the Government if they are not able to make suggestions.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
If hon. Gentlemen opposite want to go on record as saying that they have no constructive suggestions, that is another matter.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
And I said "serious constructive suggestions."
I turn now to the more specific issues of the Debate. Much of the discussion has turned on the figures given by the President of the Board of Trade and the Prime Minister. Attention has been drawn by several right hon. Gentlemen opposite to the fact that the President of the Board of Trade gave an estimate of 89 million tons as the probable production of open-cast and deep-mined coal during the summer, and pointed out that that was lower than the production in the corresponding period last year. My right hon. Friend dealt in some detail with that point and I would only say that estimating future production and consumption of coal is not an easy matter. It is particularly difficult when there is a change like the five-day week coming in at the very beginning of the period, on 1st May.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
It is being brought in. It is, in these circumstances, obviously a matter of doubt, and we admit it, what precisely will be the rate of production in these months.
The difficulty in the situation is that if we are 10 per cent. wrong in our estimate, of course, it makes all the difference in the world. That is part of the coal dilemma. [Laughter.] It was part of it last year, and it was then a question of 2½ per cent. one way or the other. Hon. Members may laugh, but this is a perfectly serious point. If they were to try to work out these things themselves they would run into precisely the same difficulties. We may be wrong. I hope we are wrong. I think that this estimate is a particular cautious one. It is based on manpower figures which looked like being a good deal lower than they are. That is to say, it did not take into account the rather encouraging trends which have recently developed. As my right hon. Friend said, it is better to be conservative in these matters. If he was not conservative, what would the Opposition be saying? They would be only too pleased to say that he was being optimistic.
What can be done in these circumstances? I turn first to the consumption side and answer, in so doing, one or two questions put by hon. Members. My hon. Friend the Member for North Wembley (Mr. Hobson) asked a number of questions about domestic coal allowances. He complained that many people in London did not receive, the full allowance, as he called it Probably it will be known to most hon. Members that the 34 cwts. in the South of England, and the 50 cwts. in the North, are not allowances but maxima. They are the maximum amounts which may be obtained without a licence. There is no suggestion on our side, we freely agree, that we can provide for every household that full amount. There are many households in London which, quite frankly, do not need it. They consume gas and electricity and they have managed to do without the full amount. Then the hon. Gentleman complained that there was discrimination on the part of coal merchants. I have had a good deal to do with this. I have examined a great many cases. I consider this to be very rare indeed, but if the hon. Member has any evidence that merchants are discriminating against par- 2130 ticular customers and giving more than they should do to others, will he, or any other hon. Member, please let me have that information and I shall be very glad to follow it up.
The hon. Member also suggested that we should ration house coal, with specific quantities. It is perfectly true, that, being a physical commodity sold by a seller to a buyer, that would be, administratively, not an impossible proposition. But, of course, the difficulty is in assessing what the ration of house coal should be. That cannot be done without taking into account gas and electricity consumption and all the other complications which arise in trying to devise a scheme for rationing gas and electricity. Finally, he referred to the question of sub-tenants. This is an old friend and I have had a great many letters from hon. Members on this topic. The hon. Member asked that all subtenants should be allowed to have separate registrations and should be given full allowances. Frankly, we have not got the coal to do that. We cannot do it. Supposing it was said that anybody who had a separate rental could claim separate registration, it would be possible for members of one family, in effect, to split themselves up in that way. Certainly, in the case of in-laws they would do that. It would be impossible to prevent abuses. If we had enough coal to enable us to supply everybody who managed to get a separate registration in this way, it would not matter, but the only effect of granting separate registration to sub-tenants now would be to reduce the amount available to other people.
§ Mr. Shurmer
Would the hon. Gentleman agree that this system does operate? It is in operation in many households in Birmingham.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I am not quite sure what my hon. Friend means. It is true that the local fuel overseer may grant extra amounts to households with sub-tenants. In certain circumstances, sub-tenants are granted separate registration. What my hon. Friend the Member for North Wembley was asking was that all should be granted separate rations automatically. We cannot agree, to that. The hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge (Mrs. Mann) mentioned the position of offices and hotels, and so on. I assure her most decidedly that they will be included in any plan that we may formulate. Indeed, as 2131 she may be aware, discussions with representatives of the bodies concerned are now proceeding.
On the question of domestic consumption, I wish to refer to wood fuel. I agree that there is, in some parts of the country, nothing less than a racket in the sale of wood fuel. We have given a lot of attention to this, and have considered whether we could introduce an effective form of price control. We have not finally discarded the idea, but I want the House to know that it is an extremely difficult thing to do. It is difficult to do it because the costs of retailing wood fuel differ widely in different parts of the country. One can readily understand that. Transport costs are different and the extent of the area covered varies. More important is the difficulty of enforcement. Here we have a commodity which is not sold by weight in every case. It is not sold merely at so much per ton. It is sold by the barrow, by 'the load, by the sack, and in every conceivable way, by thousands of small merchants whom it would be practically impossible to control. Although it would not be out of the question for us to make a maximum price Order, I must tell my hon. Friends that if we were to make it, I will not say it would not be worth the paper that it was written on, but it would be extremely difficult to enforce.
We have not finally made up our minds however. We have been going into it with our regional officers and it may still be possible to do something. What we have done is to get the regional coal officers to agree maximum retail prices with the reputable merchants in the area, and if the hon. Gentleman will consult the Regional Coal Officer for the Birmingham region he will find out from whom he can buy wood fuel at a reasonable price and what that price is. We shall give more publicity to that than we have done.
§ Mr. E. P. Smith (Ashford)
On the matter of alternative fuel, is the hon. Gentleman aware that peat is being sold at the exorbitant price of 3d. per turf?
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I am not aware of that, but I will look into it: Reference was made by the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marlowe) to the issue of miners' coal. Perhaps the hon. and learned Member will do me the courtesy of listening to me. He suggested that 2132 miners should give it up. I want to correct his figures. He said that if they gave up 25 per cent. it would produce 2,500,000 tons. That is not so. It would in fact produce precisely half that amount.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
My advice is to the contrary. The difficulty is quite simple. It is that the miners' free coal is bound up with wages agreements and does not apply in every part of the country. Some miners have to buy their coal like everybody else does. There will be wage negotiations between, the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers during the year and it may be that that will be considered. Here we are doing our best to attract people into the pits and making this and that concession to miners, to some of which I will refer later on. I am not at all sure it would be a wise move to take away something which the miners have already got. If any attempt were made to forbid miners to have this, it would lead to serious industrial dislocation.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson
Do not hon. Members realise that that sort of argument is putting the miner in the wrong light in the country? The miner is getting on an average more coal than in 1938. [An HON. MEMBER: "Some miners."] Taken as a whole, more miners' coal is being sent to miners today than in 1938, and there are fewer miners. In this time of crisis when we are all short, miners are getting on an average more coal than in 1938. It is in the published statistics and has only got to be worked out.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
It may be negotiated between the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers because it is a matter closely connected with wages.
§ Mr. T. J. Brooks (Rothwell)
Do the Opposition believe that all miners are getting miners' coal? Are they aware that thousands and thousands of men have already sold a good deal of the coal back to the companies? The miner is actually taking less than during the war. The argument which has been put up is quite 2133 wrong. Not 40 per cent. of the miners are getting this coal.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
On the question of consumption, several hon. Members, not only on the Opposition side but on our own benches, have said, "Please do not touch the domestic consumer in any way whatever." If our estimates of output prove unfortunately to be correct this summer, we shall be faced with a straightforward alternative, that every extra ton of coal used directly or indirectly by domestic consumers means so much less for industry. The President of the Board of Trade has already said that industry will only get two-thirds of its requirements. It would be easy and attractive for me to say that we will not touch the domestic consumers, that they need not bother to economise and that we will safeguard them; but I will not do that because the country must realise that it has a choice between using more gas and electricity in the home and using more in industry for employment. Although, for the very cogent reasons given by my right hon. Friend, the Government have rejected any full-scale rationing of gas and electricity, I must emphasise, as he did, the urgent necessity for a reduction in household consumption. He made it clear that we are not intending to cut the actual output, but there has been a considerable increase in gas and electricity consumption in the last year and it must be brought home to the people that they have this choice between using more at home and more at work.
I refer next to industrial allocations, but only to say that the question of allocations to industry is really a matter for the President of the Board of Trade.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I can say that the present Cripps scheme is under review. A good deal of experience has been gained in its working and I do not doubt that a further statement will be made on the subject in the very near future.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I have told the right hon. Gentleman that this is a matter for the President of the Board of Trade
§ Mr. Gaitskell
Perhaps the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will allow me to finish. At the moment the present Cripps scheme is in operation and it will continue in operation until the revision is announced. As right hon. Gentlemen opposite know, in effect that scheme consists of a basic allowance with additions from the pool, the whole thing being flexible as it must be in accordance with the movement of production up and down week by week. If production goes up, of course all the percentages go up, and if it goes down, all the percentages go down.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
Yes. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman knows this perfectly well, and knows that we are bound to have fluctuations week by week.
§ Major Lloyd George
If the hon. Gentleman thinks that industry can manage on an allocation of coal that varies as the coal production goes up or down each week, he had better think again.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
If production does not fluctuate from week to week, the deliveries will be the same. If production fluctuates from week to week, they will not be the same, which is what I was saying. I want to assure the hon. Member for Central Aberdeen (Mr. Spence), who raised the question of the paper mills, that the matter is very much in the mind of my right hon. Friend.
I now turn to production. We all agree that the emphasis must be laid on that. The opportunity for economy on the consumption side is very limited. Naturally, hon. Members are entitled to ask what we are doing about it. If I may, I will, first of all, take manpower.
It so happens that, since the beginning of the year, the manpower in the mines has risen for the first time for a long period from 692,400 to 705,074 on 22nd March, an increase of some 13,000 men. I may say that that figure has also been accompanied by an increase in the number of men effectively employed in the mines, which is very satisfactory We claim that this is not an accident, that it 2135 is not just some chance which has given rise to this position. We think that a number of factors have contributed to it. In the first place, we think the five-day week has had something to do with it. One must consider what the repercussions on recruitment would be supposing one were to abandon the five-day week. We also think that the efforts made by the Minister of Labour have had a good deal to do with it.
For example, we now have an arrangement whereby underground miners are exempted from service for five years, though, of course, if they do not do a proper job in the pits, they can be called up. We have also an arrangement by which all men who have been in the Service for more than six months can be released under Class B, if they have had any previous underground experience and are prepared to work underground. We have also a very complete and thorough scheme for recruiting labour, not only in the coalmining districts, but outside. These measures have been operating, and have been gradually built up, in the last few months, and are now, I think, yielding their results. The sometimes despised instrument of propaganda has had a good deal to do with it, too, and much credit is due to those who have been putting it over.
Then, of course, there is the question of training, about which, I think, the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) asked a question. Here we are expanding the training capacity in the Ministry of Labour training centres nearly three times in order that we may take in the additional numbers of recruits that we are getting. I can also assure the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde (Colonel Lancaster), whose speech I am afraid I missed, although I was told about it, that, in effect, the new training regulations which were brought in on 1st January, and which, I agree, were rather stringent, are being temporarily relaxed in order that we may get the men as quickly as possible to the coal face where they are needed. As he knows, we are in correspondence on his particular problem, but I do not propose to trouble the House with details of that.
Again, there is the question of housing, which is obviously of immense importance, both in attracting people to the 2136 pits and in providing accommodation for new recruits. This is being pursued with the utmost energy, and we have every hope that the target of 50,000 additional houses for miners will be reached within the next year. Some hon. Members have asked why we do not provide still more food for miners. I would like to tell the House what the position now is with regard to that matter, because I think it ought to be known. The following are the amounts of the various commodities which the miners receive in their canteens at the moment. Compared with ordinary restaurants, they receive three and a half times as much meat per man, one and a half times as much sugar, twice as much cheese, three times as much bread, and five times as much bacon. I strongly recommend that hon. Members who have not done so already should pay a visit to any neighbouring colliery and have a meal in the miners' canteen. They would find it extremely good. Hon. Members will, of course, be aware of the additional home rations which miners get in the way of meat, bread and cheese. Also, extra food supplies in the shape of unrationed commodities have been put into the mining areas. The time has come when we can say that we have done precisely what was recommended in many quarters, we have given the miners a relatively better position. They certainly are far better fed than other members of the community today.
Now I will turn briefly to the question of machinery. It is the Government's desire not only to secure recruitment to the mines but to see that the mines are properly equipped. I sometimes think that hon. Members on both sides of the House do not appreciate how very substantially the output of mining machinery has increased. The total output of cutters, conveyors and power loaders in 1945 was 2,110. In 1946, it was 2,915, an extension of something like 40 per cent. Now, as a direct result of the nationalisation of the industry, where we have a single overriding purchasing organisation, we have introduced a new scheme by which the necessary priorities will not only be accorded to the production of mining machinery but the whole business of that production will be progressed by the National Coal Board, in collaboration with the Ministry of Supply. I can assure the House that nothing whatever will be 2137 allowed to stand in the way of the pits getting the machinery they need in the quickest possible time.
Precisely the same, or similar, arrangements are also to be applied to the generating plant programme which has been referred to, in which the Central Electricity Board will play the same sort of role as the National Coal Board, and it will be applied also to the coal-oil conversion programme as well. The fact is that unless we have a progressing organisation going right down to every sub-contractor to see that he gets the necessary priorities for the materials he needs for the particular components he is making, we do not get results. We are adopting in effect a wartime system here, in order to get as rapidly as possible the output of machinery needed for the mines, for the generating plant, and for the coal-oil conversion equipment.
My final word will be upon open-cast machinery, to which the right hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George) referred. In June of last year, I think it was, we saw the representatives of the contractors, the people who actually do the open-cast mining work. We told them that we would make the dollars available if they would go to America and buy the equipment—if they could get it. It was in their interests that they should go and buy it. At the same time, we indicated that the programme would continue for at least another three years. I am bound to say that the result of that scheme was not very encouraging. It may not have been their fault and I am not anxious to place blame. They managed to purchase about 30 machines of a capacity of about 120 cubic yards, as compared with a capacity of about 900 cubic yards from the machines we have in operation.
Therefore we recently sent out a mission representing the Ministry of Works and ourselves, and I am glad to say that, as hon. Members will know from the newspapers, it has been extremely successful. In opencast machinery alone they purchased, or rather ordered, I am advised, 155 machines with a cubic yard capacity of 450, that is to say, 50 per cent. of our present capacity. I hasten to add, as the right hon. and gallant Member specifically asked me about it, that all this equipment will not arrive tomorrow. Delivery will be spread over the next two years. When we get it it should make a very 2138 substantial difference to our prospects of increased opencast production. We may say that over these years we shall rise, at any rate to 15 million tons a year from the 10 millions which we bow have.
May I conclude with one or two more general observations? Reference has been made by various hon. Members to output per man-shift. In a previous Debate I have said quite a lot about it. Of course the National Coal Board are paying attention to this; they are concentrating on getting an increase of output per man-shift as swiftly as possible. I believe they can get considerable improvement there without the larger longer-term measures which we all know have got to be carried out in due course, anyway. But let us face it. Whether or not we get the output per man-shift we want, depends on the attitude of the miners, and unless we have the miners with us, unless they are prepared to do their best for the country, unless they feel sure they are getting a square deal, we shall not get it. I am bound to say that some of the speeches from right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the other side seemed to me to be still slightly reminiscent of the barrack square, slightly "school-roomy" in character. Really you cannot deal with the miners in this way, you will not get the output you want if you behave like that; this problem, I am perfectly certain, can only be dealt with in the way my right hon. Friend has always said it must be dealt with, by creating the right atmosphere in the pits. He is striving day after day and week after week to achieve that, and, in spite of the attacks which have been made—and of course any Minister of Fuel and Power, it does not matter whom he might have been, in this last year was bound to be subject to attacks—I can tell the House that there is no man in the country who has the miners more behind him than my right hon. Friend.
Nobody disputes the gravity of the situation. We know how vital this is, it is the major economic problem facing the country, and I think, in, these circumstances, we must ask not only that the miners should co-operate to the full—it is not so much a matter of toil and tears and sweat, it is a matter of the attitude—but that they should be ready to agree, perhaps, to give up customs which they have been used to for years, to agree to work in different places in the same pit, maybe even in certain cases to move from 2139 one pit to another. It is a matter of agreeing to co-operate in every way with the Coal Board to secure the increased output which is absolutely essential. I personally am convinced that if it is put to them, as it has been put to them, that upon their efforts and upon their attitude depends not anybody's profits or income but the employment of their fellow workers, they will respond and give us the coal we want.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. William Whiteley)
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.