§ Motion made, and Question proposed. "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. William Whiteley.]
§ 3.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Eden (Warwick and Leamington)
I do not suppose that any hon. Member in any part of the House would deny the need for the Debate which I now propose to initiate. Our industrial problems, both 2082 short-term and long-term, are now indeed of the utmost gravity and urgency. When, nearly three weeks ago, speaking in this House on the day when the Minister of Fuel and Power announced the catastrophic cuts in electricity supply, I expressed the opinion that this country was facing the gravest industrial crisis for 20 years, the right hon. Gentleman and others derided the warning. Later, I think I was described as having "vilely traduced" 2083 the right hon. Gentleman. Well, would anyone now challenge the statement which I then made? Unhappily—most unhappily—it was a sober and modest understatement.
In their recently published White Paper the Government have, at long last, sought to set out, in all their grim reality, the problems which today beset us. This is not the occasion to debate those White Papers, nor is it my purpose this afternoon to try to survey the whole economic field, nor even to demand from the Government the statements of policy in that respect which are so painfully lacking in those White Papers. The diagnosis of the Government in those White Papers is admirable; the remedy is wholly absent. On those matters it will be our duty to speak later, and to press the Government further. This afternoon my purpose is a more restricted one. The President of the Board of Trade who, I understand, is to reply, will not dispute, I am sure, that owing to a series of contradictory instructions and exhortations, and the lack of due warning, this country entered upon the present crisis without any preparations having been made to meet it, and industry was therefore subjected to the maximum dislocation. As recently as December last, industrialists were assured that a saving of five per cent. over about half of our industrial field would suffice to tide over our difficulties. Next month, after a disorderly period when allocations of solid fuel to industry were never honoured, the so-called Cripps Plan was introduced. This, in its turn, was swept away by the Minister's statement of 7th February. I think hon. Members in all parts of the House will agree that it is essential that as work is resumed, there shall be no repetition of those events. There I understand we have the Chancellor of the Exchequer's authority on our side.
How is that to be done? First, I say to the Government that the fullest possible information must be given to this House and to the country. Let Ministers be frank and open. It is the best way with the British people. Muddling and indecision will bring disillusion. Misrepresentation and unjustified secrecy will bring resentment. Therefore my main purpose this afternoon is to put to the right hon. and learned Gentleman who is to reply, a number of questions and to try 2084 to elicit from him for the benefit of all consumers of fuel, industrial and domestics some clear picture of what the developments are likely to be on the resumption of industrial activity, as that takes place.
First, I should like to refer to the resumption of electricity supply to industry. Here I can see that the Government are faced with conflicting requirements. On the one hand, it is clearly of the utmost importance that there should be no unnecessary delay in restarting industry in a given area. On the other hand, it would do more harm than good if supplies were restored prematurely with the result that, in a short time, the present difficulties would recur and we should be back again in a period of chaos. In any attempts which the Government make to steer a way between those difficulties, they will, I am sure, have the willing support of the country on one condition, that they make clear, at all times, the grounds on which their decisions are based.
I want to give the Government one example of the sort of problem that I have in mind, which is certain to arise and with which the Government should be prepared to deal. The decision that they have taken already—I am not quarrelling with it—is to restore industrial power supplies to each of the three regions affected, individually, the moment that it becomes possible, and to make the restoration to each area as a whole. I do not say that that is wrong, but certain problems will inevitably result from the decision that the Government appear to have taken. For instance, in the case of the Midlands, many industrial undertakings depend upon raw materials, or semi-manufactured goods, or component parts, which come from other areas, for instance from the North-West area, which starts later. Two examples are yarn for Leicester, and engineering components for Birmingham. Many undertakings therefore may still be unable to resume work when their own power supplies are restored to them, unless their suppliers or their sub-contractors also recover their fuel supply. Alternatively, they may restart and then find in a short time that they have to shut down because they have not the materials or components from some other parts of the country. That is, clearly, a very real difficulty. On the other hand, the areas are large and diversified. What may be true about Birmingham, for instance, may not 2085 be true about Northampton and the boot and shoe industry there.
I think the Government would be right in taking the view that there cannot be a general rule as to whether undertakings in a given area, like the Midlands, can or cannot resume immediately power supplies are made available. If it is impossible to restore supplies on a selective basis—as to which I should like to know the Government's view—it is of the utmost importance that the position should be explained to the nation, and above all to those engaged in industry. Managements will have a very difficult time. They will have to decide whether or not it is right for them to resume full-scale production, or even partial production, when their power supplies are restored. That decision must depend upon the supply of materials and components which are coming from other areas. The result will be that some factories will start before others. There is sure to be discontent among operatives unless the facts of the position are explained to them perfectly clearly This can only be done, I admit, through the established machinery in industry. It is, however, the responsibility of the Government to take the lead, and I ask them to do it. In other words, do not in this period when we begin to work again blame industrial leadership for not doing the impossible.
I have one other question about industrial power. What are the Government's intentions towards the question of staggering the industrial load? I understand, from the Press, that they have expressed themselves in favour of such a plan, which everybody will admit has some temporary advantages. But it is bound to be very difficult to work. It will cause a great deal of inconvenience and, indeed, discomfort to managements and to operatives. Secondly, it is the duty here again of the Government to take a firm lead in this matter. If it is their intention that staggering of the industrial load is, in fact, to be brought about as an emergency measure, then they must give the guidance and the justification.
Here I must remind the House of some facts which seem to have been too widely overlooked. It is not really any sufficient explanation to say now that the electric power crisis in industry has been brought about just by this sudden spell of cold weather. I only wish that were true, because then our problems 2086 would be easier. Unhappily it is not true. If hon. Members will be good enough to look at the "Monthly Digest of Statistics"—the Government's admirable production—for January, they will find the matter set out most clearly. They will find that in November, 1945—these are the only figures with which I have to trouble the House—stocks of coal in the possession of electricity undertakings totalled 3,287,000 tons. That was at the beginning of that winter of 1945. They will also find that the figure of those same undertakings in March last year was 1,176,000 tons. In other words, the expenditure between November, 1945, and March, 1946, was 2,111,000 tons—
§ The President of the Board of Trade (Sir Stafford Cripps)
More than that.
§ Mr. Eden
That is stocks, The stocks at the beginning of this winter—last November—according to the same figures, were already as low as 2,138,000 tons. In other words, had the consumption of electricity undertakings this winter been only as great as it was last year, during corn paratively mild weather, their stocks would still have been zero by March on comparable figures. If there is anything incorrect about that, I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will tell me.
Let me put the figures another way. In November, 1945, the electricity undertakings held about six weeks' stock of coal. Between November, 1945, and March, 1946, those stocks had fallen by four weeks, that is to say, to approximately two weeks' supply. Last November they had managed to stock up again to four weeks' supply, that is to say, they stocked up again to the same amount that they had used in the previous winter. Therefore it is clear that on a continuing use on the same level, stocks must have fallen to zero by the late winter of this year. I am sure that if there is anything wrong with those figures, I shall hear of it from the right hon. and learned Gentleman. At the same rate of consumption, supplies must have dropped to zero before the end of the winter. My object in emphasising these figures is not to point any criticism. But if they are correct, we must draw the lesson from them, and it is this—that the companies were justified in the warnings which they gave last summer, and therefore it was unjust of the Minister to refer to those warnings as nonsense and propaganda—
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House if the supply during this winter to the electricity companies remained the same as last winter, or if it increased?
§ Mr. Eden
What I was pointing out was that the stock position was such that a consumption this winter similar to that of last winter, was bound to produce this situation, not now but in a month or two's time. I am perfectly ready to be shown by the right hon. Gentleman how that is wrong. So far as I can discover from the figures of the Government, it is absolutely correct. If it is not correct, it is near enough to show that the right hon. Gentleman should not have derided those warnings—
§ Mr. Eden
I do not wish to pursue these matters, but to get on to the future. If the right hon. Gentleman wants me to give him another quotation, I will give it. Did he not say that it was a villainous campaign against the Government? The right hon. Gentleman keeps shaking his head, but I do not know what that means. Does he mean to indicate that he did not say that? I am not seeking to exaggerate, but I am saying that these public companies issued warnings to the Government, and I think the Government were utterly wrong to deride those warnings. They were wrong to do so in face of their figures. I shall be very interested to hear any reply from the Government which contradicts that.
I also think it necessary that the country should realise that even without this cold weather, we should have had to face the problem of cuts in electricity supplies, though no doubt later than we are now facing them. I cannot understand, in view of the knowledge the Ministers themselves must have had of the stock position, how it was that in December they made an appeal to industry only calling for voluntary cuts over a section of industry which would have saved 35,000 tons a week. It seems to us that the writing on the wall could not have been plainer. Unhappily the Ministers could not read their own writing. I emphasise all this, because unless we understand the true position, we cannot hope to find the solution.
2088 From that basis, I turn to the question of solid fuel. The difficulties of coal supply to industry in the last week or two have been overshadowed by these physical shortages of electrical power, but I would remind the House that even before the advent of this worse crisis and even before the electricity cuts were instituted, we were facing shortages of coal for industry which, in themselves, looked like causing serious dislocation, if not even a breakdown. I do not think there is any dispute about that. This situation, although it has been temporarily obscured, cannot have been improved by recent developments, in spite of the efforts which have been made. It is quite true that the closing down of industry will have saved coal, and against that there has been some reduction inevitably in output during the worst period of the weather. We must also take into account the dislocation of transport and the diversion of supplies to build up stocks in the emergency at the power stations and gasworks. I say to the right hon. Gentleman that it is of the utmost importance, therefore, that the industrial coal supply position should be clarified as quickly as possible. If industrialists are to have any sound basis for planning the resumption of full-scale production, they must have some degree of certainty about their supplies of coal. So far, this winter they have had none.
There are two questions which urgently need' answering. The first is: Do the Government intend to produce a coal budget which is realistic, shorn of wishful thinking and sufficiently detailed to show clearly the effects of the allocations it comprises upon the different consumers of coal? Secondly, by what means do the Government intend to bring industrial consumption into line with the supply figures to be indicated in the coal budget? It is painfully clear to everybody that supplies will be much less than required, but it is of the utmost importance that the House and the country should know the exact measure of this short-fall, and how it is to be shared out.
Let me remind the House of the position that had been reached before the introduction of the drastic electricity cuts rather less than three weeks ago. Throughout the winter what has been happening? Firms have been working on allocations which, in fact, represented their optimum requirements, and against 2089 these allocations they have received deliveries which have varied widely in quantity, quality and regularity, not only between industry and industry, but between firm and firm. And the situation grew so bad that it was impossible for industrialists to know from week to week, and even sometimes from day to day. what coal supplies they were to receive. They could not even tell sometimes whether the supplies would be enough to meet their minimum requirements to maintain production. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman will deny that that picture is broadly accurate.
In these circumstances, it is unhappily true that the word "allocation" became a farce and so, at long last, we had introduced, after long delay, the so-called "Cripps Plan" based on a realistic appreciation of that situation. But, by this plan, allocations were cut in half and firms were told what they could reasonably expect to get in the way of supplies up to the full extent of those half allocations. Over and above that, there were to be created additional supplies in a common pool in regions from which additional priority supplies would be made available. The iron and steel industry would have additional supplies up to 75 per cent. of their allocation. But what happened? Before that plan could he put into effect, the weather and then the statement of the electricity cuts intervened. I do not want to go over that ground again, but to ask: What is the position now? Will the Government rely on the Cripps Plan, so-called, or is that unrealisable now? I suggest that, as a first measure, the Government should endeavour to introduce revised and, if possible, renamed allocations, which would reflect not the optimum requirements of industrial undertakings, but the quantities that they need as a minimum to maintain reasonably full working throughout the winter. If the Government would act on this basis, it should be possible to produce a realistic budget for the division of the available supplies.
I ask the Government, what are their intentions? For the first two weeks in the Midlands, we know that deliveries are to be 30 per cent. of the original allocation as compared with the 50 per cent. of the Cripps Plan. The right hon. Gentleman knows that that amount in many cases will not permit even warming the 2090 factories to a safe working temperature; it will certainly leave nothing for producing the steam necessary for industrial processes. It is clear, therefore, as I said at the beginning of my speech, that many firms will not be able to contemplate starting again with that sort of allowance-30 per cent. But the right hon. Gentleman may say, "This is a fresh start after a period of chaos, and it is not surprising that the figures of deliveries have to be kept very low in the first fortnight." Very well, I will accept that. But what is to happen at the end of the two weeks? Can we assume that, after that, industry will at least be assured of the 50 per cent, allocation proposed under the Cripps Plan? This, at least, I hope, can be guaranteed. I say "at least" advisedly, for if supplies must be kept as low as this, the result will be continuing unemployment and further hindrance to our export trade. There is no need for me to labour the dangers that situation.
How do the Government propose to mitigate the effects of this deficiency, whether it be 50 per cent or more than 50 per cent., or a little less? Is industry to be allowed, for instance, to work this out in the form of short time of a three or four day week? Or a one week month? This, I am advised, is perhaps the most costly and the most inefficient method conceivable. Is there to be a scheme of priority, or even a scheme of prohibition? If so, what are these schemes to be, and what are the activities to be discouraged? For instance, will the Government continue to supply fuel for the manufacture of electric radiators for the home or, on the other hand, do the Government propose to ration the supply of coal to undertakings making mining equipment, electric generators, power stations, locomotive and railway wagons, and other products which themselves contribute to producing coal? It would indeed be a tragedy if these had to be rationed. Are there td be priorities? If so, on what basis are those priorities to be determined? What is the plan?
I know that in asking the Government to answer these questions, I am setting them a difficult task, but it is immensely important and I assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the questions are framed with no other purpose than to try 2091 to discover what the Government plan means—
§ Mr. Eden
The structure of industry is so complex, with a network of interlocking activities, that it makes it very difficult to say that the supply of products for any particular industry ought to be classified as essential or unessential. These problems, I admit, cannot be solved simply by labelling the products of one industry essential, and calling others unnecessary.
§ Mr. Eden
I was not advocating decontrol at this particular moment. [Laughter.] I do not know why hon. Gentlemen should find that entertaining. What I am seeking to do and, I hope, constructively is to put questions to the Government in order to inform the country how to get out of a most unpleasant dilemma. I am not concerned with trying to make party political points about the last General Election or even about the next one. Let 'me come back to the questions I still want to ask. I now come to the question of domestic supplies. On all these points, I repeat, what we ask is to be told by the Government first what is the position, and then what their plan is. If they tell us truly the position, and we approve their plan, if the plan is reasonable and acceptable, it will be backed and supported by national effort; but if we are not told the plan, the Government cannot expect to receive real national support.
Can the Government give us a frank and factual statement about the position of domestic consumers? According to such statistics as I have been able to find—they are the Government's—stocks in the merchants' yards and recent deliveries have been at a fairly high level. Domestic supplies, I believe, have been maintained at the planned figure at the expense of industrial supplies, which have had to bear the main brunt of the deficiency. Nevertheless—and here I want the Government to tell us their plans—there is only too much evidence of widespread hardship caused by shortage of domestic solid fuel, particularly in the rural districts. Here is a special problem which requires the Government's special attention. There are many country districts, as hon. Members 2092 know, which are dependent entirely upon solid fuel supplies. Families, even whole communities I have heard, find themselves without supplies of solid fuel, and the pictures we see in the Press of all-night queues outside London gasworks, bear pretty eloquent testimony to the shortages that have been borne by domestic consumers in urban areas. In the rural areas there may not even be a gasworks outside which they can queue.
§ Mr. Shurmer (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)
Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that this is the only time they have ever queued?
§ Mr. Eden
No doubt many things have gone wrong since the beginning of time. If it had not been for Adam and Eve, we might not have had this problem at all. The hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Shurmer) knows my constituency, and he knows there is queuing now in respect of coal. I am asking the Government to pay special attention to the question of coal for rural areas.
§ Mr. Eden
Having made my appeal for the Garden, I come back to the industrial position. This question of domestic supplies is important, not only in itself, but in its influence on the consumption of electricity. There can be no doubt that the shortage of solid fuel has contributed largely to the great extension of domestic consumption of gas, and more particularly of electricity. There seems to be no reason to doubt that unless definite steps are taken by the Government, domestic consumption of those kinds of fuel will continue to expand, to the detriment of supplies for industrial and other essential purposes. Can the Government give the House any indication of what proposals they have to attempt to meet these difficulties? Nothing has astonished me more in all this unhappy business, than the surprise expressed by Ministers at the rapidly rising consumption of electricity, when an ever-increasing supply of electrical appli- 2093 ances of all kinds has been made available to the general public, at a time when the supplies of solid fuel were lowest. This month the Minister of Fuel and Power was saying—and I have no doubt that it is true—that he had been thinking for months about how to reduce the burdens on electricity. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer reduced the Purchase Tax on a wide range of these appliances. It looks as if the left hand did not know what the right hand was doing. I ask the Government what are their proposals in that respect?
There is another question I put to the Government. Are they going to continue to put so many extraneous burdens on the Ministry of Fuel and Power at a time like this? I am not dealing with the Coal Board—that is set up—but I am thinking of the nationalisation of electricity. Hon. Members opposite believe firmly that that should be brought about, and we on this side of the House do not believe it should be brought about. But, who can pretend that progress in that direction in the next few months, can have any influence whatever in meeting the situation, the seriousness of which Ministers emphasise every lime they speak? Surely that Measure might be postponed, and the officers of the Department be given time to attend to the more urgent tasks which are facing us. The Minister need not worry; he is well ahead in the "Nationalisation stakes" already. He has one Bill through, another upstairs, and a third coming along shortly. I think it is very largely as a result of that, that the administration has broken down. I ask the Government as a matter of urgency to take off the shoulders of hard-pressed Departments the unnecessary burden of these theoretical Measures which, whatever their merits, can bring no immediate benefit, and only serve to distract the watchfulness and energies of the Departments from essential national duty.
I have dealt this afternoon with matters of immediate importance, and have asked a number of questions. All these are concerned with the problem of mitigating scarcity. But, of course, there is only one real answer to all our difficulties, and that is to increase production of coal. It would be a tragedy if we dealt with immediate problems, but allowed ourselves to forget that for a moment. I have not forgotten it, and I would like to ask the 2094 Government why is it that in the White Paper they have set themselves so low a target for coal production in 1947? The target is approximately 192 million tons of deep-mined coal. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that in 1941, for instance, the total output was over 206 million tons which was produced by 697,000 wage-earners. That is, approximately, the same number as we have today. Since 1941 there has certainly been some improvement in mechanisation, even during war. Why is it that the Government fix a figure about 14 million tons below that which was achieved in 1941? They have the same labour force, and I am happy to say they have in it now a number of men returned from the Forces, who are certainly first-class miners. Why is that figure so low? I think we ought to have some explanation of that.
I am convinced, and I think many hon. Members in all parts of the House are convinced, that the figure of 200. million tons is not going to be enough for the plans the Government themselves laid down in their own White Paper for the expansion of the export trade. Then there is the problem of stocking, which also has to be handled. What stock-pile do the Government aim to achieve for next winter? That we ought to know, and to know soon. I doubt whether the figure achieved in 1941, of 206 million tons, plus opencast coal, say, 8 million or 9 million tons more-215 million tons altogther—would be enough for the programme as outlined in the White Paper. But the Government have set a lower target, and we must know why. If there is some reason, something in connection. with hours or days of work, I think the House ought to be told. I am not here dealing with long range planning in respect of which, no doubt, much could be said; I am dealing with the current year, the urgency of which needs no emphasis in this House.
Finally, on the question of production, are the Government quite confident that they can get this 200 million tons? We on this side of the House think it is not enough for the Government's export plan. But, supposing it were enough, and there is a danger of a shortfall, then we would have to look elsewhere for supply, which is a horrible thing to have to. contemplate. If we do have to look else- where for supply, we had better begin. 2095 to look now rather than in the late autumn of this year. I ask the Government again, whether they are convinced that that 200 million tons is enough for the needs of production they themselves have set forth, and whether they are confident that they can get it. If not, I beg them, now, to take every step in their power to try to find supplies from other sources. We have suffered too much from hand to mouth improvisation. Today we have asked for the truth, and we ask for a plan. This afternoon I have sought to do one thing in opening this Debate. I have not sought to forestall the major discussion on the White Paper but to deal first with those matters which are of urgent practical importance for the life of the country. They must be solved, and I think that answers must be given to all the questions I have asked, if industry, which has suffered so severely through the sudden jolts and dislocations of the past few months, is to have a fair chance to resume that productive activity, on which the whole life of the nation depends.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Sir Peter Bennett (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
I wish to say a few words of a practical nature, following upon the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden). While the House has been considering these problems, it has been my duty to assist in closing down industry and in starting it up again. Perhaps a few words on the practical points which I have gathered from my experiences in the Midlands, might be helpful at the present moment.
I agree with my right hon. Friend that this is not an occasion on which to hold an inquest upon what has happened in the past. That is what we call the "spilled milk" account. No doubt the question of who spilled the milk will be investigated at a later date. What I am interested in today, is the problem which faces us today, the problem which will face us this week and next week—a pretty grim one. In the Midlands, after having been closed down for two weeks, we have started up again. We were given to understand that when we did start up again, the switch-on would be for the whole country. That was an official statement which came to us through the usual channels, but the Government, in their 2096 wisdom, have not waited until the whole country was ready. They have allowed us in the Midlands to start up again, and we rejoice to get the men back to work. After having had their loyal support during the past fortnight, we are glad that they are back at work, and we will do everything we can to keep them going. But this partial start-up will create difficulties which may not have been anticipated at headquarters.
We have been investigating our stock position and we find that we have go odd per cent. of the stocks we require, but we have not got the last little bit. That depends upon areas which have been closed down, and the result is that we shall not have any tempo in production. We have had great success, during the period since the war, in raising that tempo, as workers who have been away have picked up the work again, and as the effect in the turnover has worn off. My organisation lost 8,000 people in six months, and replaced them by 8,000 more. It takes a long time to train workers and it is a costly business. We were getting the tempo up, but how can we expect it to keep up, when we shall have waiting time and materials running short at unexpected moments? On top of that we have been told that we shall get 30 per cent. of our allocation of solid fuel. We recognise that that is a gesture, and we are grateful for it, but it is apparent that industry cannot run on a proper basis on 30 per cent, of its normal allocation of fuel.
We are presuming that we shall go back to the 50 per cent. allocation, but even then we are in a great difficulty. Not only is fuel needed for heating, but for process work. On top of that is the threat during the week-end that we might have to face a shutdown of gas. If that happens, many industries will close down, because their furnaces and processes depend upon a continuous supply of gas. At the moment, the best we can do is to start up for three days a week. That is no good. There is no incentive in three days a week. The worker is only human. He knows that if he works for three days and plays for three days, he would be just as well off on unemployment pay. He must work for four days a week in order to have some incentive. Therefore, industry in the Midlands is trying to get a four day week, extending the hours, while the premises are heated, to enable 2097 as many hours to be worked in four days as possible. That relates to this week. Next week depends on the fuel coming in. If it arrives, industry will continue next week. If it does not, industry will shut down.
We are considering the question of staggering hours, but that cannot be done merely by a resolution. It means a lot of organisation. During the war we did all these things, but we took time and organised them. Transport and canteens have to be arranged. There are women workers with home duties, who cannot work any and every hour. In regard to transport, I am reminded, by friends in the transport industry, that people seem to imagine that buses drive themselves. The fact is that drivers and conductors have to be found and have to work to the garages. A sudden staggering of hours must not be expected. The problem is being dealt with, and will be dealt with, because we realise that it is a method which will help. But it will not come easily.
I have been speaking of general organisations in the Midlands which can switch on the power, and start work. There are other organisations to whom the switch-on of power is of no assistance. While I was abroad, the House discussed the question of the Austin Company. I read the Debate in HANSARD. They cannot take advantage of this switch-on of power. They use part of their power for their own purposes, and instead of wasting the heat which is generated they use it for processes. Consequently, they must have coal to run their plants, in order to do what we all thought was a most economical thing—to use the waste heat for other purposes. They who have taken a great deal of trouble to organise efficiently often feel that the people who have taken the most trouble seem to be the worst off. It is the "rub of the green," I know, but it does not make it easier to bear, and we must put up with the irritation and exasperation felt, at times, by those people who have taken what they thought were long views, which are hurting them more than if they had taken a shorter view.
§ Mr. Blackburn (Birmingham, King's Norton)
I am sure we would like to acknowledge that this matter was rectified yesterday, as the management of Austin's have admitted. The Government do de 2098 serve credit for having recognised the problem.
§ Sir P. Bennett
I left Birmingham yesterday, and I was speaking of the information which was given to me yesterday morning. I am very pleased to hear the information which the hon. Member has just given us. I am delighted to know that that has been put right.
I have been making inquiries in other directions. The chemical industry is located in all parts of the country. The south is completely shut down; the northwest is working to the extent of something like 40 per cent., and the north-east is in full blast. In chemicals, there is an interchange between one district and another. The result is that instead of getting anything like full output, we find ourselves in great difficulty, because here as in the engineering industry, there are shortages. How bleak is the export prospect in the chemical world. Chemicals have been a great source of wealth to this country from an export point of view. They are easily loaded and unloaded. A ship can be unloaded on one side, while chemicals are put in by lighter on the other. The export trade must suffer, because the home country will require to have the first call on the products of the chemical industry. The full effect is not being felt now, either in the chemical or engineering industry. These industries are delicately balanced machines, and are dislocated by such an event as being shut down for two weeks, because the pipe-lines are emptied, and one finds that one cannot switch off and then start up where one left off. We shall suffer from this difficulty for months to come.
I go from that to a rather wider point. My right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington referred to the future. It is pretty difficult for us to imagine the future. We have been working out—and I know that others have done the same—how the coal allocations of the country will be handled. First, there is electric power, gas, railways and bunkers; then there is domestic consumption, and then the poor industries. Electric power, gas, railways and bunkers are all essential services and I take it that they will have their full allocation. Will the domestic consumer be cut? Will the industrial user have to take all the cut? Under the Cripps Plan, steel was to get 75 per cent. We do not grudge that, because steel is the basis of a great deal of 2099 our manufacture. The rest of our industries were to get 50 per cent. Now we are down to 30 per cent. We take it that the 30 per cent. is a temporary measure. As I have said before, we simply cannot get through on 30 per cent.
We want to know when we can get the 50 per cent. and for how long we shall have to put up with it. My right hon. Friend talked about a coal budget. When that budget is prepared, are we to have cuts? If we are to have cuts in industry, we would like to know how they are to be made. Are they to be left to circumstances? Are we to struggle on as we have been doing in the last few months? I can assure hon. Members that production suffers when industry works hand to mouth, working short time or with a few weeks on and a few weeks off. That is not the best way. In that way we cannot plan.
Therefore, we presume that some form of rationing will be introduced. If that is true, we would like to know as soon as possible how the scheme will operate. Who will do the classification? Reference was made by my right hon. Friend to the non-essential industries. Of course, what one man calls non-essential, another reckons as vital because his bread and cheese depend upon it. Classification will call for a great deal of care and attention. I urge that anyone dealing with this job should not attempt to deal with it on a hard and fast line of classifying by industries. It must be dealt with by products. For instance, my industry, the electrical industry which supplies the motor world, is sometimes described as "electrical engineering." We have no connection with ordinary electrical engineering. We are part of the motor industry. If we are classed as "electrical engineering" instead of being put in our proper classification, the firms which we supply might have to stop work. Therefore, any allocation must be based on the product itself, traced back through the main supplier to the sub-supplier. Otherwise, we shall have a continuation of the difficulties with which we are putting up today.
Coal is the basis of everything, and in this connection there is one point which I do not think has been thoroughly appreciated. I refer to deterioration in the quality of coal. I do not speak without knowledge. I have investigated very carefully a report on fuel economy and I 2100 was staggered by the result. The report represents a usage of 15 million tons spread over five years. During that period, the calorific value of the supplies to this organisation dropped by at least 5 per cent. When the Prime Minister talks of producing 200 million tons, I hope he is thinking in terms of calorific value as was the practice in prewar days. If we are talking about 200 million tons of the stuff we have been using recently, we must reduce that figure by 10 million or 15 million to allow for deterioration.
I do not know what are the Government's future plans with regard to coal. If we are short of coal, it seems to me we must face up to the question of importing coal. That would be a terrible thing for this country, but I would sooner we imported coal and went short of tobacco and films, rather than that we should, later, have our people out of work and short of food. I suggest that any and every means must be found to increase the allocation of the supplies of fuel, from whatever source we can obtain them and at whatever cost. I should be taken to task by my colleagues in industry, if I did not remind the House of the enormous loss which this country has suffered as the result of the shut down in industry. That loss is far greater than appears on the surface. Owing to the fact that there is a guaranteed week in the engineering industry and that the decision to cut off the current was not announced until works had closed down, wages were paid for two weeks. As the worker now realises, that is a very serious matter. Staffs have been kept on, but there has been no output to cover the costs. The workers have appreciated the position. They have come to us and said, "Look here, cut out this guaranteed week. Let us go on as we used to in the old days." Unfortunately we cannot do that. The agreement is legally binding and it had been carried through. But industry knows and the workers have said that they understand that there will be no wages if there is no permanent output. We must secure output and maintain it.
In conclusion, I say that we in industry will suffer, the workers and the revenue will suffer, because of the large number of factories that, have closed down. Do not let us rejoice that we have switched on again, and think that everything is all over. It is not. We shall suffer, as a result, financially and industrially as a nation, for a very long time.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ The President of the Board of Trade (Sir Stafford Cripps)
I am quite sure that everyone in the House—one almost wishes there were more—will be very concerned indeed about the subject matter with which we are dealing. There are really two problems here There is what I may call the immediate critical problem, and there is the longer-term difficulty. I want to deal with both of those. I think it will be convenient if I take the sequence of the speech by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), and deal with the points as I come to them. I do not propose to rake over the past at all. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman will find me unforthcoming as regards figures and facts. I have always taken the view that the fullest facts should be given to the country and to industry. I hope that any plans we make as regards rationing schemes for industry, or whatever they may be, will be made in the fullest consultation with industry, because unless we have that full consultation, the plans will not operate successfully.
The first thing the right hon. Gentleman spoke about was the resumption of the supply of electricity to industry. He pointed out, quite rightly, that it is very difficult to decide just the right date. Obviously, everybody wants to get back as quickly as possible. On the other hand, equally obviously, we do not want to get back and then stop again. The difficulties are also quite apparent about having one part of the country shut down, while another part of the country has been opened up. Anyone who was concerned with war production knows the vast ramifications of the sub-contracting system in this country, by which components for a machine made in Glasgow may well be made in Southampton or Plymouth. We have this great complexity of the interlocking of industry. During this shutdown a Committee has sat continuously day by day attempting to deal with that problem. They have been giving a measure of relaxation with regard to some vital services which had to be sustained, in order that some other service could be carried out. That happens, for instance, with a commodity like milk. First, we have to get the bottles, and when we get the bottles we find we have not got the capsules. We are trying to meet this as best we can, 2102 and I think the committee has worked extremely efficiently, to carry out the process.
In regard to the North-Western area and the London and South-Eastern area, we have made further efforts. In the North-Western area, quite contrary to what was said in some of the newspapers about the situation, we are allowing a measure of relaxation this week, in order to prepare industry for next week. That will be helpful and it will not use a great quantity of electricity. There are some special industries which, by. starting off this week, will enable others to get ahead ready for next week, when it is their turn to start. We believe that, in all these matters, we must have as high a degree of flexibility as possible, and we believe that that degree of flexibility can be reached by the regional boards. There, we have the representatives of labour and of the employers, and also of the Government Departments, and they know the circumstances of their own locality far better than anybody at the centre in Whitehall. We believe, therefore, that all this work should be done through the regional fuel allocation committee and the regional boards, and this has been done as regards the North-West region. In the same way, but to a lesser degree, we are arranging a few relaxations in the London area for special cases, and we hope, before very long, to be able to open up in that area as well.
So much for the question of opening up. The right hon. Gentleman asked me to say on what principles we were acting in deciding whether to open up or not. The principle on which we are acting is that the electric generating stations must have, at least a fortnight's supply of coal before they are permitted to open up. That is not necessarily made 100 per cent. and universal. If one of them came up to within, say, 1000 tons of stock of their fortnight's supply, we would not necessarily delay them, but, in many cases, there are special difficulties in stocking coal. There are such places as the Fulham generating station, where we simply cannot unload coal faster than a certain speed and where we cannot accumulate stocks faster than a certain amount per day. It takes weeks to accumulate stocks in places like that. For that kind of case, we are making an emergency dump at Dagenham, which can be 2103 drawn upon if required, and which will be available both for Battersea and Fulham if required. Therefore, we may not need to wait until we get the Fulham stock up to 14 days; we may leave it a day or two short of that amount, knowing that there are reserves at Dagenham in case anything should happen.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the fact that this position could have been foretold from the November, 1945, stocks, and he spoke of the stocks with which we started this period. Of course, that is only one factor in the situation. It depends entirely upon how we allocate our supplies during the winter, and if, this year, we had been able to allocate supplies at the rate which was anticipated by the Central Electricity Board in stating their requirements, we should, in fact, have got through. The trouble was that, against everybody's expectations, there was this phenomenal rise just after Christmas. There was Christmas week, with no industries running, and a consumption of nearly as much as the week before. From 600,000 tons in one week, it went up to 727,000 tons and then to 731,000 tons a week. It may be said that the Central Electricity Board and we ourselves should have foreseen that there was going to be this phenomenal increase in these weeks, but, quite frankly, it was not foreseen. We had budgeted upon what the Central Electricity Board advised us they would require, and, on those requirements, we had to meet the sudden impact of this enormously high demand of an extra 250,000 tons. Of course, this is past history, and I am only explaining it in answer to the question which the right hon. Gentleman put to me.
§ Mr. Eden
I do not know anything about this matter as between the Government and the Central Electricity Board. I do not know on what data the Board were asked to make their estimate for their supply of solid fuel, but it was clear that, if there was a shortage of solid fuel, there would also be a greater demand upon electricity.
§ Sir S. Cripps
They made their estimates from the requirements of the undertakings. On that they based their requirements from time to time and made their demand on the Ministry of Fuel and Power—this would now be for the 2104 National Coal Board—for the amount of coal they would require to maintain their supply of electricity. It is on that information that the Ministry of Fuel and Power has to budget in making its allocation between the different uses to which it can be put.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson (Southport)
I imagine that the Central Electricity Board must have had in their minds some general estimate of what the solid fuel position was going to be this winter. It is hardly possible that they should have been left to make an estimate in the dark. What we should very much like to know is, what estimates were given to them by the Ministry of Fuel and Power on which to base their demands.
§ Sir S. Cripps
They took as the basis of their estimates the same figure of the consumption of household fuel as last year, and there has been the same allocation as last year. I think that this year there have been rather better stocks, and, in fact, people have been rather more fully supplied with household coal than they were last winter.
§ Mr. Jennings (Sheffield, Hallam)
Is not the right hon. and learned Gentleman making out the most perfect case that has yet been established, indicating that almost dangerous line was being followed?
§ Sir S. Cripps
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to make his speech afterwards. It is really more convenient to the House that I should make my speech now. It is a rather complicated matter, and, if one is disturbed too much, it stops the trend of the argument.
The right hon. Gentleman went on to deal with the difficulties of supply of coal to industry, and the need, on which, of course, we all agree, for some degree of certainty as to what their position is likely to be. I think one has to divide the future, as regards these special industries, into a series of periods. There will be the period in the next two, three, or four days, according to how long the blizzard extends —and there is a new blizzard in the north today, where they have had 10 inches of snow, and difficulties are being re-created in regard to the movement of coal. For some period of two or three weeks after the blizzard is finished we shall have to improvise in order to get round the complications created by the diversion of coal to all sorts of different places.
2105 Thereafter I think to the end of the winter season, let us say to 1st May, we hope to be able to get back to the plan the operation of which had just been started in January. That is what we shall aim to do, and, if we get through, we then get on to a new plan for the summer months, which has to cover, of course, the question of stocking up, which is absolutely essential. Then will follow the plan which will run through the winter months. Obviously, the allocations to different purposes are different in the summer from those in winter, because we have no space heating in summer at all. We have to provide for industry and for the domestic consumer, but the object, so far as industry is concerned, will be to keep the fuel flowing to industry through both summer and winter, so as not to have a great change when the circumstances change. That means we have got to make our stocks such that we are able to carry all our space heating, in addition to our production in winter, out of what we have been able to accumulate during the summer. That matter has not yet been decided in the form of figures. It is obviously a complicated matter, and one about which we shall have to have consultation. However, the right hon. Gentleman can be quite assured that we have that question very fully in mind.
§ Sir S. Cripps
Quite frankly, that figure has not yet been decided. It is a very difficult question to decide, for the following reason. Obviously, we do not want to run down our summer production too far in order to have a high production in the winter. That would not be economical. As a matter of fact, power and fuel will produce more in summer because space heating is not necessary in addition to the power used in production. Therefore, it would be uneconomical to do that. It will depend on how much saving can be made from other sources besides industry, and how far we shall be able to stock up from these other sources without drawing upon industry. When we have found that out, then we must make up our mind whether it is possible to take an extra million tons from industry in the summer, in order to put it into industry in the winter. That is not an example, but an effort to balance summer as against winter production. It 2106 is quite clear, and everybody would agree, that there must be something like 14 million tons, but whether it should be 14, 15 or 16 million, or something a little larger, is where the difficulty arises. Everyone will agree upon the minimum amount, but whether there should be a little bit more or not is debatable, because industry may be seriously affected in the summer by doing more than is absolutely necessary for the winter. That is why I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman an accurate figure.
The right hon. Gentleman asked whether the Government intend to produce a coal budget in detail. Certainly they do. Later, I will give some figures, not of the future, but of the coal budget of the recent past, and make some observations on them which may be helpful with regard to the future. Then he asked whether we were going to bring industrial consumption into line with requirements. Quite obviously, if there is not enough coal with which to supply industry, there must be some form of rationing scheme, either the sort we started in January, or some other. There is a great deal to be said for having a scheme with a basic allocation and a pool from which to supply people who require extra fuel for either the urgency or the priority of their business. We have not yet had time to see whether it will work properly, but we shall be discussing that and other matters with industry, and we shall learn whether they still think it the best scheme under the circumstances.
The right hon. Gentleman also said something about the very wide variety of allocations which took place in the early winter, and what chaos it caused. If I may say so, I think he rather exaggerated the position. I know, from the figures of production, and especially from the export figures which were rapidly rising at that time, that there was no evidence in production of any major inconvenience of any sort arising as regards fuel production. It was not, I think, until after Christmas, or at the beginning of Christmas time, that this major inconvenience started to develop. However, that, again, is past history, and perhaps we need not go into it
The next thing the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, and on this also we can all agree, was that an allocation of 30 per cent. is not a sufficient allocation upon which to run industry. That, of course, 2107 is perfectly true, but we do not want to give figures higher than that if we cannot more or less assure them, until we know that the weather has finished causing these. disturbances, and until we see how quickly we can get back from the dislocation caused by the diversion of traffic in all sorts of places. Our objective, obviously, is to get back, at the very least, to what we had in January, when we introduced the scheme appertaining to industry. But when we can do that, it is impossible to say.
The right hon. Gentleman inquired what steps, in our view, should be taken to mitigate the effects of this deficiency of coal. There, of course, we do not want to dictate to industries how they should conduct their business. Whether they find it convenient to work three days a week, because they have not enough coal to work more, or to work three weeks in four, or to work different hours, must be a matter for the particular convenience of each industry, in the light of the circumstances, and in the light of the purposes for which the fuel is required. If an industry requires coal largely for power purposes, its case would be different from that of an industry which wanted it for space heating purposes. After this cold spell, the demand for space heating will not be so heavy as it has been while the severe weather lasted.
Then the right hon. Gentleman asked whether I could give him some facts regarding the domestic situation. I will certainly give him such facts as I know. First, I think I ought to remind the House of the figures of consumption of domestic coal over the last few years, because there has already been a very large reduction in domestic coal which, consequently, does not provide a very good source of any further major savings. In 1942–43 it was 37.6 million; in 1943–44 it was 44.3 million; in 1944–45 it was 43.6 million; and in 1945–46 it was 28.9 million. It will be seen from these figures that there has already been quite a severe cut. Naturally, the position is different as between the North and the South. The ration, or the allowance, in the North is 15 cwts., and in the south 34 cwts. The difference as regards difficulties of delivery is also there The south, as a whole, lies farther from the coalfields, and the North, as a whole, much closer to them. Therefore, it is always more important to 2108 have big stocks for the South than it is for the North, which has nearer access to the supply.
On 26th October the five Southern regions carried a stock of 1,250,000 tens of house coal, compared with 700,000 tons in the preceding year. As a result of those good stocks which had been built up during the winter period the north had preference in deliveries, because the South could make up its lack of deliveries from its good stocks. So far as winter allocations are concerned, the North is, up to date, 5½ per cent. down on its allocation and the South 8½ per cent. down on its allocation. That is the shortfall of the allocations, and one of the reasons why the South has had difficulty is because there has been a very large increase in the population of London. There has been an increase of about one million in the London population, due to people coming back, and this has led to some concentration of demand in London, over and above what was expected. Up to 15th February, for the winter period, the disposal to the Southern areas amounted to 330,000 tons more than in 1945, owing, no doubt, to the cold weather. The result was that by 15th February the stocks in the Southern region had fallen from one and a quarter million tons to 458,000 tons.
§ Sir S. Cripps
In the South. This compares with 405,000 tons on the same date in 1945. That means that, roughly speaking, there were two weeks' deliveries over all, but in some places there were much less than two weeks' deliveries, and in some places much more. Of course, the unevenness has been emphasised by the difficulties of transport in the last three or four weeks, so that the unevenness has tended to grow.
§ Mr. Pickthorn (Cambridge University)
I apologise for not understanding a word which, perhaps, is a technical term much better understood by those who are well informed in these matters. What does "disposal" mean in this connection?
§ Sir S. Cripps
The position has been made more difficult by the fact that during this last fortnight of emergency, 2109 40,000 tons has had to be taken from the house coal in order to keep the gas going. When the difficulties on the North Sea occurred, the coal could not be obtained by that means and, therefore, it had to be taken from the house coal. Altogether, the stocks, though slightly higher than last year, are probably not quite so evenly dispersed as they were last year, and if this cold weather continues, there will be difficulty about house stocks in London and in the south generally. I think that is really the whole of the position so far as we can give it to the right hon. Gentleman at this stage.
The coal position as regards domestic consumers is, as the right hon. Gentleman has very justly said, closely linked up with gas and electricity. We must consider the three things together, because they are three alternative forms of cooking and space heating, though not lighting, which are the two big factors in the winter consumption. The right hon. Gentleman spoke particularly of the difficulties of persons in rural areas as regards the allocation of solid fuel. We appreciate those difficulties, especially in times of difficult transport. I know that my cottage in the country has been shut off from everything for over two weeks, and we cannot get deliveries of anything. But there is always the fact to be borne in mind that the people in the country do have access to woods while the people in the towns generally do not. I feel that a good deal more might be done locally to try to organise the cutting of timber into logs, and so on, for the convenience of people in the locality. In areas that I know, there are many trees lying in woods, and their removal would improve the woods and provide very good fuel if they were properly cut up. I only mention that by the way.
Though it may be true, as the right hon. Gentleman suggested, that the shortage of coal has contributed to gas and electric power usage by the ordinary domestic consumer, I think it is probably rather the case that the consumer is turning over to that type of heating than that he has been driven to it by any shortage of fuel. I think there is a tremendous movement to get away from solid fuel because of the conveniences of electricity and gas. Whatever the reason is, of course, it is undoubted that there has been an enormous increase in domestic consumption, and that is certainly 2110 one of the points where we have got to look for savings in the coming year. It seems certain that we shall have to adopt some form of limitation or rationing, or whatever we may like to call it, for domestic users of gas and electricity during the coming year; and, until we can decide upon that, we shall have to maintain the present cuts upon them, because we cannot afford to release them until we have some alternative, if we are to give industry any reasonable quantity of supplies.
The right hon. Gentleman also dealt with the question, which, of course, is another very important one, of the limitation placed upon electrical supplies, not by fuel but by generating plant. In the medium long-term, that is a more important and more difficult question than any other. It is not a position from which we can recover quickly. The right hon. Gentleman knows that only too well. I remember the struggles he had many years ago to get orders placed for more plant which, if it had been possible to place those orders would now be coming in to be used. Unfortunately, they could not be placed and so the plant is not coming in, and this will mean waiting two or three years at least before we can get sufficient generating plant to balance even our existing demand, let alone the demand which will arise in two or three years time.
That raises a very serious and difficult question. After consultation with the Central Electricity Board, we have come to the conclusion that there is only one way in which it can be dealt with, and that is by putting a large proportion of industry on night shift or on hours when the rest of industry is not working. There is really no other solution. If we can do that—if, for instance, we can get a third of industry to go on night shift every week—I believe we should be able to get through, so far as generating capacity is concerned, without any load shedding. The alternative is to go on running, but every day through the winter period we shall have to shed the load because we cannot carry the peak load. It is most disturbing for industry to have these constant sheddings. I know all the inconveniences and difficulties of staggering hours to which the hon. Member for Edgbaston (Sir P. Bennett) referred. He and I experienced them in the war; we know all the difficulties of transport and 2111 the rest of it, and we cannot expect to overcome them in 24 hours or a week or a fortnight. It is a thing which has to be worked out. We must get agreement. We must get the workers to agree, but we must start working it out at once because it is the only way in which we can get our industries running at anything like full output, in view of the shortage of generating plant.
§ Sir P. Bennett
I presume the Government will take into consideration the relaxation of the regulations which are hampering us in this respect?
§ Sir S. Cripps
Yes, we have that point in mind. The hon. Gentleman refers to women and young persons?
§ Sir P. Bennett
We do not like asking to do it. We do not like women and young persons to work in such conditions, but if we are to run a factory, balanced as it is, on a night shift, they are part of the formula.
§ Sir S. Cripps
We appreciate that, and we may have to try to adjust matters, but that is a matter which must be considered. We may have to be prepared to face even more difficult things than that if we are to get our economic foundations firm again. However, that is going into questions which should be debated on the White Paper when it comes before us.
The final point which the right hon. Gentleman raised concerned the question of production. We are, of course, conscious that the key to this situation is more production so far as solid fuel is concerned. The right hon. Gentleman asked why we have put our target in the White Paper so low as 200 million tons, when in 1941 there was a larger production. We have tried in the White Paper to be realistic as to what we think is likely to be achieved in the way of targets, and 1947 production grows out of 1945 and 1946. It does not grow out of 1941. We have, therefore, to see what we can do to improve on 1945 and 1946 production, and not what we can do to get back to some other date, such as 1941. Taking it by and large, and with the five day week coming in, probably in the middle of the year, or whenever it is, we shall not be able to get much more than 200 million tons this year.
We shall not, of course, stop if we find ourselves getting there; we shall not put 2112 on any brake. The target in that sense is the sky—"the sky's the limit." But we thought that realistic picture was a much better one, because if once one puts it too high and then bases all the rest of the programme on a wrong figure at the bottom, there are all sorts of complications which make it all very unrealistic. I hope, as the right hon. Gentleman hopes, that this figure will be exceeded, and we have at least the encouraging information that last week's figure was over 4 million tons, including opencast, and last week there was not the best of weather either for mining, getting to work, or anything else. If the spirit is continued which is showing itself now in the mines, I hope we may well exceed the figure of 200 million tons.
§ Mr. Eden
I am obliged to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving such full replies to my questions. The right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned as it were almost in passing, a five-day week in May. I do not think the House has ever been given an open intimation of that before from any quarter.
§ Sir S. Cripps
I think my right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power made a statement some months ago on all the points of the Miners' Charter. I do not remember the date, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman does not either, but I am informed that it was made.
§ Sir S. Cripps
Yes, to the House. I hope I have covered all the points which the right hon. Gentleman put to me, and I would like now to add a few points of my own in order to give him a little more information. I would like to deal with the question of what the problems and the difficulties are as regards the allocation of solid fuel for industry. When the revised allocation scheme, which has wrongly been dubbed with my name[Interruption.]—I thought perhaps it was on the basis that everything that failed should be dubbed with my name—was brought into operation on 10th January, it was done on what was then believed to be, and I think was, as realistic a basis as was possible. At that date about 220,000 tons a week were needed to meet the full requirements of the iron and steel industry, and at least 750,000 tons for the remainder of industry, including engineering; that is to say, taking the two together, 970,000 tons a week were 2113 required at that date. That would have been the allocation, as it was then called, and that was, of course, on the basis of rigorous fuel economy and no wastage; but that would, on the statement of the industrialists, have kept them all going full bat.
Under the scheme, we hoped to supply the iron and steel industry with three-quarters of its requirements. We reduced it to three-quarters because, owing to the reductions being made in other industries, it was no good boosting up the iron and steel industry if the user industries were not going to be able to take iron and steel from it. We calculated then that we should be able to allot about 400,000 tons a week to the whole of the rest of industry, and, in addition, 100,000 tons to the pool which was to be able to serve special cases in the special areas. That made 500,000 tons in all, as against the requirements of 750,000 tons; so that, roughly speaking, it was two-thirds of the requirements which was anticipated would then be available.
As the right hon. Gentleman said, before the scheme came into full operation and we could see how it worked, we had to divert that coal to the power stations in order to build up their stocks because of this sudden load which came upon them, and in the result, during the three weeks ending 1st, 8th and 15th February, the following are the figures of what has actually gone, compared with the figures I have given, to the iron and steel industry and other industries. For iron and steel, 1st February, 178,000 tons; 8th February, 162,000 tons; 15th February, 160,000 tons. That was compared with the 220,000 tons which they required, or 75 per cent. of 220,000 tons which they were promised under the scheme. Engineering has had, in the first week, 64,000 tons; in the second week, 55,500 tons; and in the third week, 57,500 tons. Other industries have had 480,000 tons in the first week, 433,000 tons in the second week, and 424,000 tons in the third week. There was a falling off as the coal was taken to stock up the power stations.
The total for engineering and other industries has been 551,000 tons, 488,000 tons and 482,000 tons, compared, it will be observed, with the 500,000 tons with which we hoped to be able to supply them under the scheme; so that they have had, in fact, more on the average in those three 2114 weeks than they would have had if the scheme had been fully carried out; but there is this great difference, that it has not been distributed in the same way. Works that have been near collieries have, owing to the great difficulties of transport, had much more than they expected; others in difficult transport areas may have had nothing. We have not suffered really from failure to distribute, but from distributing to the wrong places owing to the difficulties of diverting supplies, the actual blockages on railways, and other things. It is, therefore, obviously hopeful that, as soon as we can get back the flow of the traffic in the right direction, we shall be able to maintain that 500,000 tons figure which, in fact, we maintained in quantity, but not in distribution, over the last three weeks.
There is one factor of which I would remind the House. It is that we constantly talk about coal in overall tonnages as if it was one commodity. It is not. It is dozens of commodities. One of the great difficulties is to get the right grades to the right places, and it is a far more complicated plan than merely saying that everybody can have 50 per cent. of what they had before, because it is 50 per cent. of different things, and one cannot swap one person's coal with another person's coal, because probably the boilers will not take it, or it is wanted for a different purpose. Therefore, to get it sorted right again, once it has got wrong, is a complicated process, and it may take several weeks to get it right. That is one of the reasons why we cannot at this time say to any given person that he shall have so much coal. We can say that, in total, industry will probably have the 500,000 tons, but we cannot say who will get it. We can, of course, aim as quickly as possible, through the Regional Boards, to get back to the right allocations.
With regard to the stocks of industry at the present time—and here, again, of course, one can deal only in gross figures, and cannot deal in detail—the stocks of the iron and steel industry in the first week I mentioned were 274,000 tons; in the second week 243,000 tons; and in the third week, 234,000 tons. Therefore, over this period, they have not only had practically the deliveries they would have had under the scheme, but have also been drawing on their stocks, so that their production ought not to be as seriously down as some people may think. Regarding 2115 other industries, the stocks were 1,121,000 tons in the first week, 1,004,000 tons in the second week, and 964,000 tons in the third week. They have been drawing on stocks during that period as well as getting the coal which they have been having allocated, although not always to the right place. Therefore, in total, even during this period industry has been using as much fuel as it would have used under the allocation scheme of 10th January. The deduction I think we can make from that is, that despite the great difficulties and disadvantages a great deal of industry has managed to carry on, otherwise the stock position today would obviously be a great deal better than it in fact is.
The only other matter I want to deal with is the gas position. The gas position is a very serious one. Since the middle of January the total allocation of coal to the gas industry has been at the rate of half a million tons a week; and consumption from the middle of January to 8th February was round about 500,000 to 550,000 tons a week. The result was that stocks were drawn upon. At 8th February the stocks amounted to 915,000 tons, or 1.72 weeks supply. The week following, when the steamers could not come down from the North-East coast, stocks fell to 850,000 tons. The week before last they recovered to 934,000 tons, or 1.75 weeks supply; that was the occasion on which 40,000 tons was taken from the house coal in order to work up the stocks of gas, amongst other things. The position, therefore, is precarious as regards gas at the present time, particularly as these stocks again are not evenly distributed. There are some places with much smaller stocks than others, and there is need for the utmost economy in the use of gas. It may be—though it is not in immediate contemplation—that some measures will have to be taken in regard to gas, such as have been taken in regard to electricity. It is essential that economy should be exercised. We hope that with the fall of space heating, directly the weather gets a little warmer and the days a little longer, we may be able to carry the gas industry without further trouble.
I hope I have given the House the facts which will help them to arrive at some understanding of these extremely complex problems. I can assure hon. Members we are anxious for their co-operation, in whatever part of the House they sit, be- 2116 cause this is a desperately difficult jab. There is no need for people to be unduly depressed by it. It is a very difficult situation; it has been critical, but it is not so critical as it was. However, as long as the present weather disturbances last, it must remain critical. What we have to face is the long-term difficulty which will follow, and we have to be prepared to work out schemes which will be very unpleasant for people if we are to be able to maintain our industries. Hitherto we have taken the attitude—I think perhaps rightly; it has been taken by all parties on this subject-matter—that the domestic consumer must be regarded in advance of industry; that is to say, industry is the residuary legatee so far as fuel is concerned. We must, I think, reconsider whether those are the right circumstances for our present economic situation.
In that respect, I think I should tell the House—as I promised the right hon. Gentleman a little earlier I would—exactly how the coal has been allocated on an average per week over the last month; that is to say, the month from the week ended 25th January to the week ended 25th February. The figures are: gas, 460,000; electricity, 620,000; waterworks, 6,000; railways, 283,000; coke ovens, 350,000; iron and steel, 172,000; other industries, including engineering, 530,000; Northern Ireland, 45,000; house coal, 531,000; collieries 220,000; miners' coal, 100,000; miscellaneous, 192,000; exports and foreign bunkers, 119,000; making a total of 3,628,000 tons, which was the average. That shows the manner in which it has been distributed over this emergency period, quite apart from any precise and planned schemes, in order to keep the various services going. If one observes those figures and takes gas as a priority, electricity as a priority, railways as a priority, waterworks as a priority, coke ovens as a priority, iron and steel have to have a priority, Northern Ireland must be given some, and if house coal has a priority—miners' coal and collieries cannot be touched—there is nothing left to touch except industry.
§ Sir S. Cripps
Export includes foreign bunkers, not home bunkers. Today it is, practically speaking, entirely foreign bunkers. I give the House those figures, 2117 because when we come to the question of trying to arrive at some system for seeing that industry is not always left till last, but does get enough for that production which is essential for our economic life in this country, we will see by studying those figures how variations can be made, so that, though other people suffer, industry will be able to carry on.
§ Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)
Could the right hon. Gentleman tell the House with regard to the export of coal, whether it is entirely limited to bunkering?
§ Sir S. Cripps
There is a very small quantity of inferior coal in addition to that. For instance, places like Eire have to have some coal; that cannot be stopped completely; but it is really nothing; it does not really come into the picture at all so far as quantity is concerned. It is not one per cent. I hope that today, in this Debate, hon. Members will give us all their constructive suggestions, which may help us in the solution of this longer term or middle term difficulty. I can assure the House that we shall pay the greatest attention to everything that is said.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Major Lloyd-George (Pembroke)
The President of the Board of Trade has given us a not very cheerful picture. However, I think the whole House will be grateful to hint for having made it clear, which is what we always expect from him, even on an extremely difficult and complicated matter. He could not have made it clearer than he did. One of the things that has come out of this Debate is, that it has shown how very difficult it is to localise an occurrence of this character, and how difficult it is to put such a situation right, once it has occurred. The Minister said he would not rake over past things; nor do I propose to do so this afternoon. In his concluding remarks the right hon. Gentleman referred to the real problem before us as being the long-term policy as opposed to what is being done at the moment. I agree that all we can do at the moment is to mitigate, as far as possible, the results of the disastrous occurrences of the last few weeks. Therefore, for a very short time I want to deal with the Government's ideas about the long-term policy.
The White Paper shows that in 1946 we mined about 180 million tons of coal, and about nine million tons of opencast. The 2118 right hon. and learned Gentleman said this afternoon that the Government were budgeting for 200 million in 1947. The White Paper goes on to say that even that figure is rather the minimum than the maximum. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that was a realistic figure. I am not sure that it is not slightly optimistic. It is expected that, by measures to be taken, the manpower of the industry will reach 730,000 by the end of 1947, which will, I think, give an average over the year of 712,000. On the basis of the production of deep mine coal today, that should not give more than 185 million tons. That would mean that the right hon. Gentleman would have to look for 15 million tons from opencast or other sources. Does he think that the output per man will be increased sufficiently this year to make up the difference between the 190 million and the 200 million? I would ask him one question. It is a question which always excites controversy and some feeling, but I should like to know from the Government what their view is with regard to the present rate of absenteeism. The rate in 1942 was over 10 per cent.; it is now nearly 16 per cent.; aria the average last year was 15.9 per cent. If that were reduced by five per cent. would it make a difference on present production of about 9,000,000 tons? I should like to know what are the Government's views on the possibility of getting that rate decreased.
Now we come to what I consider to be almost the most important question of all, and that is the question of stocks. Whatever the weather in this country, whatever the interruption of transport, which, in this year particularly, and in other years as well, has been very severe, it is on the stocks that we rely to see our industries and public utilities through. Local disturbances are almost impossible to avoid, because transport may not be able to move at all. We have our sea transport interrupted; we have our rail transport interrupted. That is the reason why it has been the policy over many years to have sufficient stocks to meet that eventuality. 'Therefore, the stock position is vital to any budget that is produced.
I go back to a point which the right hon. and learned Gentleman made in answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) in regard to electricity stocks. We consumed in the winter of 1945 to 2119 1946, a comparatively mild winter, just over 2,000,000 tons of coal in the electricity undertakings out of stocks. We started this winter with almost exactly that amount of coal in stock for the electricity undertakings—just over 2,000,000 tons. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that, if we had not had that bad week at Christmas, and the bad weather thereafter, we might have got through. What I would point out to him is that it was in a mild winter that we consumed 2,000,000 tons out of stocks, and that, therefore, if we had had a winter similar to last year's, stocks would have been down to zero by the end of March or the middle of April. Our supplies last year, or our consumption last year, according to the Minister in his speech the other day, was, I think, based on a weekly average by the Central Electricity Board of 189,000 tons. The Central Electricity Board's estimates for this winter were 575,000 tons weekly. Therefore, there was an increased budget by the Central Electricity Board; and yet we started the winter with a stock of exactly the amount we had consumed in the whole of the previous winter. Therefore, I still say that the situation was dangerous in October.
I refer to that only because the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to it. I do not propose to pursue it at the moment. But the key to the whole position in public utilities or industries must be stocks. I see that in the White Paper it is stated that there are no more stocks to drawn upon. I take it that there is a little licence in that statement; there must be one or two tons knocking about. But I agree that by the end of the winter, as I anticipated before, they will be down to a very low level, indeed. My right hon. Friend asked what the Government's idea was of a safe stock position at the beginning of next winter. If I may take the right hon. and learned Gentleman's own figure of production of 200 million tons, and the consumption last year of 194,000,000 tons, I assume—we hope, at least—that this year it will be the same, and that leaves us 6,000,000 to put into stock. If we are going to do more—
§ Sir S. Cripps
May I correct the right hon. and gallant Gentleman? In the winter we shall consume that stock. We stock during the summer and consume the stock during the winter. We do not leave it there for ever.
§ Major Lloyd-George
Yes, but really the Government are living from month to month, by this budgeting. A proper budget is for a year. I suggest that we start budgeting now for the next coal year, at least. Therefore, we assume that consumption is going to be so much, and we assume that production is going to be so much. If production is less than consumption, we know we have to take so much out of stock. If production is greater than consumption, we can add the surplus production to stock. Therefore, if the right hon. and learned Gentleman says production will be 200 million tons, and if consumption is expected to be 194 million tons, I assume they can add 6,000,000 tons to stocks.
§ Sir S. Cripps
I think we are talking of two different things. That would be the stock at the end of the year. If 5,000,000 tons were saved for the previous year, the total saving would be II million tons, but that would not mean that we should put 10 million into stock to consume in the winter.
§ Major Lloyd-George
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman wants to get a figure which has been attained in the last two years, roughly 18 million tons in stock at the end of October, he would have to put into stock during the summer, a very large amount, of anything from 14,000,000 tons, which is at least two and a half times the rate ever put into stock in this country before. I am putting this point only to indicate the difficulties to be faced if we are to meet next winter on a proper basis. Eighteen million tons, surely, is a reasonably safe figure, if we are not going to gamble on the weather —which I suggest, we had better not try to do again. Can that be done this summer? I do not know.
Then comes the question of distribution. The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the difficulties created by this present weather position, in that we get uneven stocking throughout the country. Some places are cut off, and stocks are reduced there. It is vitally important, when stocking for industry, that stocks should be as evenly distributed as possible. Complete evenness is not possible. But can the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell us whether he thinks it will be possible during the summer—it will be a gigantic task—to restore the level, to remove the inequalities which obviously 2121 must have obtained in many industries as a result of the severe weather? It seems to be an extremely important thing. The White Paper mentioned—and this is one reason why I think that that figure of 200 million tons is somewhat optimistic—conversion from coal to oil. That was mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman in his coal budget last year. He hoped to get 3,000,000 tons of coal saved by that means. He had to come back later to say—it was through no fault of his—that the equipment for this was not easy to get. Can I ask him whether he thinks now that the necessary equipment for that very important conversion will be more readily obtainable in the next few months than it has been in the past? The other point is about opencast. If the Minister does not get the increase in deep-mined coal, there will be a greater burden on opencast mining. Last year he anticipated getting 1,500,000 tons out of it—I do not know whether he thinks that figure will be achieved by the end of April; I should like to know.
§ Major Lloyd-George
I am only asking a question, as it is important to the rest of the budget if he does not get it; I can well understand that difficulties do arise in January and February. If he does not get it, it means that a very much greater production will be asked from opencast mining than was asked last year. I would like to know what is the position with regard to the more modern machinery, with greater capacity, that they have in America, and what is the chance of getting some of that machinery over in time to have an effect upon this year's budget?
The third thing mentioned to balance this budget was what the right hon. and learned Gentleman this afternoon called "drastic steps to reduce the non-industrial consumption of coal, gas and electricity." I wonder whether the Government think they can really do much more in the way of drastic reduction of the consumption of electricity, gas and coal by the domestic consumer? Already the reduction in solid fuel for the domestic consumer, I had thought, had been about 14,000,000 tons since the war, but the Minister's figures this afternoon made it nearer 16,000,000 tons. It is slightly over one-third of what the domestic consumer enjoyed before the war.
§ Major Lloyd-George
Just about a third, then. There are many people in this country, especially among the poorer sections of the community, who have no alternative. In this city of ours there are many people who rely upon their hundredweight a week, and it is the only heating and cooking they have in the whole house. A gas range anyway is no alternative for a heater. In the North of England, in particular, solid fuel is much more prevalent than it is in the South. We have had a cut of 30 per cent.—
§ Sir S. Cripps
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman did understand me to say, did he not, that we were not proposing to cut the domestic consumer's solid fuel?
§ Major Lloyd-George
Yes, and I am. proposing that it should be increased. To come back to my argument, while, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned, there is a certain amount of reason for people preferring other means because they are handier and more laboursaving, there is no doubt at all that the great increase in gas and electricity consumption has undoubtedly been due to the cut in solid fuel. I do not think anybody could dispute that. The Minister himself the other day said that in London the increase in the domestic consumption of electricity was startling, and I suggest that that is entirely due to the fact that solid fuel has been so drastically cut. Wood fuel, which the right hon. Gentleman suggested—
§ Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Erdington)
How can the right hon. and gallant Gentleman say that, when the fact is that the consumption of solid fuel is the same this year as it was last year?
§ Major Lloyd-George
I am sorry, but that is not really so. The right hon. Gentleman was referring to the last month or two, and the hon. Gentleman will see, if he looks at the figures for 1946 in the Digest, that the disposal of solid fuel this year was something like 1,000,000 tons less than in the year before. I dare say that in the month of December last year it was up to the previous December, but it you take the whole year it is about 1,000,000 down, according to the Digest. Therefore, if I may pursue my point, people are being driven to utilising other methods of heating because they are being 2123 deprived to a large extent of solid fuel. We may deplore that, but the fact remains that the domestic consumer has had very severe cuts put upon him in succeeding years during the war. In regard to wood fuel, which we have tried before to get going, the difficulty of course is labour. Transport was a difficulty during the war as well, but labour, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, is a very serious difficulty now because unfortunately most of the wood is not in accessible places. It is a very serious problem, but I think something might perhaps be done about it.
I doubt whether it would be possible to impose any further drastic cuts—and "drastic" was the word used—on top of the present cut of 30 per cent. on domestic users. Would it not be better to try to increase the allocation of solid fuel to domestic consumers? The right hon. and learned Gentleman said there was more in stock this year, especially in the South, than there was the year before. Has not that been at the expense of the cellars of the domestic users in the South, because the intake of the merchants, and the steady rise in the merchants' stocks in the yards in Britain this year has been most remarkable, but there has been a decline in disposal to the domestic consumer?
§ Major Lloyd-George
The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but he must not produce figures if he does not believe them. The fact is that the domestic fuel consumption for 1946 is less than for 1945
§ Major Lloyd-George
Yes, but we must take like for like. Either these figures mean something or they mean nothing, and I sometimes wonder whether they do mean anything. These figures, I take it relate to the calendar year, and the end of the period was referred to. The fact remains that stocks have been built up at a rapid rate, and I suggested to the right hon. Gentleman last summer that the reason for that was that disposal to the domestic consumers was not as great as in previous years. There is no doubt at all that whatever the stocks in the merchants' yards may be, the stocks in the consumers' cellars are much lower 2124 than they have been for many years Therefore, I would like to see a restoration to a certain extent of solid fuel for domestic consumers. I believe it would pay us to do it, because gas coal is a special coal, and anything that can be saved in that direction is an advantage. In view of the plant position in electricity, anything which could be saved there would be an advantage. I think it could he done.
I regret to have to say this, but must we go on for the whole of next year with planned cuts throughout industry and cuts to our domestic consumers? Is there nothing else that we can do to restore the position? One hates to suggest this, but is it really impossible to get some coal from outside for this temporary emergency? [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman has obviously missed my point. If we can get coal it will help electrical power, and electricity can be made out of coal even if it comes from outside this country. The point I want to make is that, if we find we cannot get through this winter, or this next year, except by short time in our industries and at the expense of further hardship for people who have already suffered considerable hardships in the last seven or eight years, would it not be worth while trying to get some coal from outside for this emerge-icy? The question of currency of course arises, but which is the better for this country—to sacrifice some tobacco and some films, or cut our industries? But we do not have to go to America for coal. Is there any reason why we should not explore South Africa? I believe they have a surplus of coal. During the war they developed their coal mines very considerably and increased their production from about 19,000,000 to 29,000,000 tons. Would it not be wiser, taking a long view, to get some coal from outside with a view to avoiding as much as possible the dislocation of our industry which, under whatever plan is worked out, after what the right hon. Gentleman said today, is bound to exist for some considerable time?
As I have said to the Minister before, although there is nothing much that can be done for this winter except to save what we can from the wreckage it is important that we shall know exactly where we are for next winter. Whatever we do, whether the Government think they can get the coal from outside or not, I 2125 beg of them to make up their minds what the allocation is to be, so that people can get used to the life they have to live, and not have these decisions thrown at them as has been the case in the last few weeks. If it is vital to have a cut of 10 per cent., 20 per cent. or 30 per cent., I beg the Government to let the country know at the earliest date, so that the people instead of having to improvise, can adapt their lives accordingly.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Byers (Dorset, Northern)
First, I should like to offer my congratulations to the President of the Board of Trade for the very lucid way in which he dealt with this problem and with the questions put to him. Before I turn to the main topic of this Debate, which is the resumption of industry, I should like to draw attention to one item, which I consider to be of immediate constitutional importance. I am referring to the suppression for the last few weeks of certain periodicals, by the Ministry of Fuel and Power. I am sorry to intrude this subject into this Debate, but I feel it is a matter which has to be ventilated in this House.
It appears that an arrangement was arrived at with a trade association, namely, the Press Periodicals Association, whereby all periodicals were to be suppressed for a period of a fortnight. The question I wish to put to the Minister of Fuel and Power, which is of constitutional importance, is this: Was there any statutory authority for that order? The only thing which has been issued from the Ministry of Fuel and Power has been a Press release. I would not have introduced this subject, in a Debate of this kind but for these reasons: An emergency arose, and the Minister took it upon himself to suppress free organs of the Press for a given time, without any statutory authority whatsoever, by coming to an agreement with a trade association, which represents only 60 per cent. of the journals involved. Is it the case that he can control the publication of these periodicals merely by a piece of bluff or a piece of sharp practice, and I say that advisedly? In the next crisis which may arise, it may well be that an order will be issued from the Public Relations Department of the Board of Trade that all shops are to close for a fortnight, without any debate in Parliament, and with no statutory authority. There is no legal 2126 authority for this at all, and therefore this is a matter which should have the attention of the House. It cannot be laughed off by hon. Members on the other side, who claim to believe in Parliamentary democracy. I say frankly, as far as Liberal publications arc concerned, they will still appear, because there is no statutory authority whatever for putting on this ban. I should also like to ask what right has the Minister of Fuel and Power in this crisis or any crisis to decree that duplicated copies, which do not involve the use of power in their production, shall also not appear. The Minister, to my mind, is responsible for the control of power, and not for the control of publications. I feel it my duty to draw the attention of the House to this very grave inroad upon its privileges as a legislative body.
§ Mr. Skeffington-Lodge (Bedford)
May I ask the hon. Member whether he does not recognise that the matter was raised, in the first instance, from this side of the House by myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg)?
§ Mr. Skeffington-Lodge
I did not do that, but I take exception to the hon. Member saying we on this side of the House are laughing it off.
§ Mr. Byers
I was referring to two hon. Members sitting behind the President of the Board of Trade, who seem to find something funny in this, and I absolve the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeffington-Lodge). I suggest that this is a matter which should be put right now. I ask whether a Bill of Indemnity is to be brought in, and if not, whether these people who had a duty to publish these papers and who by not publishing them have suffered losses, have a claim against the Crown for action taken by a Minister without statutory authority. I should like to have an answer from the Minister on that matter.
I turn now to the main subject of this Debate, which is the resumption of industry. What is extremely worrying to many of us, particularly those of us who regard ourselves as progressive, is the 2127 absence of a plan by the planners. This Government prided themselves upon their planning, and they are 'bringing into disrepute the very word "planning". By "planning," the Government mean one of two things, neither of which is planning. First, they mean the detailed regulation and direction of the affairs of the people, and second, they mean a series of incoherent improvisations, which I do not call planning. I wish to ask whether we have got a real plan, and if we have the machinery to carry it out. While I am referring to planning, I should also like to ask whether we have got the object clear, because having had six years' experience of planning and operations in war at a very testing time, I can claim to speak with a little authority on planning. What is our object in resuming industry? I would say it is to ensure the maximum useful output of goods and services, with the minimum of dislocation compatible with the building-up of adequate stocks by next October, If that is the object, then certain factors which arise deserve consideration. The one thing which worries me about this Debate is that there has not been enough emphasis on increasing the production of coal. I believe that to be fundamental to the whole problem of the resumption of industry. The production of coal must be brought up to the potential demand as rapidly as possible. We cannot do that immediately, I agree, and therefore, in the interim period while production is increasing, demand has to be controlled with the object of narrowing the gap between production and an uncontrolled potential demand.
I implore the Government not to be defence-minded on this, or to think the real object of the exercise is to save, cut down and retrench. The real object of this exercise is to "get cracking" on production of coal. If that is the plan, and the Government accept that abject, it means a continuous review of production, demand and possible savings. One of the most terrifying aspects of the recent crisis was the exposure of the country to the administrative weaknesses of this Government and their machinery. I say "terrifying," because the country had the right to believe that the Government were taking certain elementary precautions and steps to prevent the development of the situation in which we find 2128 ourselves today. I never believed that they were going ahead without taking these precautions, without a continuous review of what was happening, and without taking the necessary steps to prevent trouble.
Perhaps I had too much confidence in the Government. I admit it. But even the elementary rules of planning seem to have been abrogated by this Government in the past few weeks. The tale of the last two months, to anybody who has had military experience, is like that of the third-rate brigade headquarters on its first military exercise. I assumed that the various things which any planner had learnt would have been put into operation. Apparently not. There was no clear picture of what was required; there was no foresight. We had the admission from the President of the Board of Trade this afternoon that perhaps the Government should have foreseen what happened, but did not. There was no coordination of Government Departments. There were, apparently, no alternative plans available, worked out on different assumptions. No one with any military experience would have dreamed of going into an operation without alternative plans being at hand—
§ Mr. Byers
Perhaps I can speak with more authority on this than the hon. Member. For my sins, I happened to find myself, for more than 2½ years, dealing, on the "G" side, with the control of items which were in short supply, including manpower and equipment. I was working about 17 hours a day. I want to ask what machinery is to be set up to ensure the co-ordination of Ministries, a continuous review of these problems in order to achieve the target of stocks by October, increased production and so forth? The system of Cabinet Committees appears to have failed lamentably. Now, a Ministerial Committee has been set up. Is that to be permanent machinery? If so, what is the position of the Minister of Fuel and Power and the Minister of Transport on that Committee?
I cannot conceive a proper system of machinery which bases itself on two or three Ministers who are fully occupied with legislation in this House. Who is running transport at the moment? [An HON. MEMBER: "The railmen."] That may 2129 be so, but from my experience of this type of planning it is essential that the Chairman of the Ministerial Committee should have by him somebody who can give him the latest facts and figures, and be cross-examined upon them in the Committee room. That person would have estimates, and it would be expected that he would have gone into the matter so deeply that he could answer every question. That is the way it should happen. But the Minister of Transport is spending three mornings a week in Standing Committee at present on the Transport Bill, and next week he will spend five periods a week on the Bill. The Minister of Fuel and Power is doing the same with electricity. I voted for the Electricity Bill, but when I look at this machinery I wonder how these Ministers can do their own jobs properly. Further, the senior civil servants of their Departments have to attend these Standing Committees. That is not the type of machinery that will achieve the target we want by October. We should set up a proper economic general staff, and the quicker that is done the better.
I want to say a few words about reliable estimates. The Minister of Fuel and Power told us that the Central Electricity Board had let him down over estimates. Their estimate for the winter months was 587,000 tons of coal for electricity supply. But the average consumption for December was over 600,000 tons. The Minister's job is to check up on those estimates. When you discover that an estimate has been exceeded tremendously you "get cracking," get your experts in, and ask them to look at the assumptions, and so forth. I do not think that the point made by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd-George) was fully appreciated on the Government benches. I think there is a great deal in this alteration between coal and electricity. I wonder whether the Central Electricity Board realised, when they were making their estimates, that there would not be as much solid fuel available as they thought, and that more people would, therefore, want to switch on their electricity. Further, we were told that the manufacture of electrical appliances was increasing, that industry was getting under way. Surely, it was obvious that the estimate of 587,000 tons a week was wrong. What the right figure 2130 was only the experts can say, but somebody should have challenged them at the beginning of December, when the figure went over the estimate.
As regards the production of coal, the Minister of Fuel and Power said, on 10th February, that unless reforms for miners in the unattractive mining industry were conceded we should not get the production of coal which was essential. I agree, but what are those reforms? What is standing in the way? Why have not we had a proposal in the House for carrying out those reforms? There are only two parties to the coal problem, the Government and the miners. That is why the Liberal Party supported the nationalisation of the mines, because we wanted to see these radical reforms introduced. What are the radical reforms which are required to make the mining industry more attractive? What steps are being taken to introduce them now?
§ Mr. Murray (Spennymoor)
Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that the National Coal Board are now negotiating with the miners about these various reforms? It cannot all be done in a day.
§ Mr. Byers
I quite agree, but the reforms have been under discussion for many months. I want to know who is holding them up. Is it the Coal Board? If so, why will they not agree? This House ought to be told. I make a serious demand of the Government that they should hasten on with these reforms, because I believe that the whole country will be behind them. The production of coal is so vital that we cannot afford to waste months. Are we expected to get these reforms finally agreed this time next year? If so, we shall have wasted a whole year's production.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply (Mr. Woodburn)
If the hon. Gentleman will look at HANSARD of 26th June he will find that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power announced these reforms in the House.
§ Mr. Byers
In that case, what is the point of quoting to me what the Minister of Fuel and Power said on 26th June? That is an attitude of mind which is preventing these reforms coming into being. That is one of the things which makes me so worried. I cannot feel that there is any sense of urgency on the Government benches. What we require is more coal now, and a radical approach to this matter; not this conservative approach of letting things drift on. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but I find a great deal of conservatism on the benches opposite—a willingness to sit down and say, "This has always gone on in this slow way, and, therefore, there is not need to change it."
On the question of absenteeism in the mines, voluntary absenteeism is about 9 per cent. and to blame the miner for that is to obscure the issue completely. The Government have the responsibility of getting at the root of that problem. What is it that causes voluntary absenteeism? It is no use saying that the miners do not want to work, that it is an unattractive industry. Has there been a proper investigation into the cause of voluntary Absenteeism, and, if so, what is recommended to prevent it? If recommendations have been made, what has been done to put them into effect? Nine per cent. of the productive forces of the coalmining industry is, indeed, a great amount in terms of tonnage per year, and I think that the country would be behind the Government in recommending methods of overcoming this. It may be a question of overhauling P.A.Y.E., a question of differential taxation or of increased wages for the miners—I do not know. I am quite convinced, however, that the country would be behind the Government in pursuing anything that would solve the problem of absenteeism in the mines.
§ Mr. Byers
I must finish. If it is a question of differential taxation—if it is any of these questions—can these things be solved now? Because if we wait, month after month, we shall lose a considerable amount of coal. I want to end on this note: We realise the difficulties of the short and long-term period, but the 2132 onus is upon the Government to take every step necessary to increase production of coal. The estimate of 200 million tons is fantastically small. I am convinced that the country is behind the Government in their efforts to make the ruining industry attractive. Some people say that this is appeasement of the miners, but I say that that is an unworthy suggestion—it is absolute nonsense. The people who say that should go down -he mines themselves.
§ Mr. Byers
Yes, I would; but I have been for six years fighting for my country, and I have had no time for that. That again is an unworthy interjection. The point I am trying to make is that the Government will have the support of the country in making the coalmining industry more attractive in order to increase production.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Erdington)
The right hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd-George) has said that the estimate of 200 million tons is optimistic. It is rather difficult to understand, in those circumstances, how he comes to the conclusion that it is possible to increase the solid domestic ration of fuel.
§ Mr. J. Silverman
Is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman basing his expectation of an increase simply on the problematical question of how much solid fuel can be imported from outside? If so, that is a most tenuous basis on which to make such a suggestion. I think that it is undesirable to raise the hopes and expectations of ordinary people by suggesting that it is possible to do something which is not possible at the present time. I am glad that in the plan which was published during the month of January the word "realistic" was used. I thought that in tackling this problem the Government intended to be realistic and to base their estimates on concrete expectations, and not merely on hopes that might never be realised. I represent one of the largest industrial constituencies in this country—perhaps the largest. There are many large 2133 units in the Division of Erdington, and I have spoken to both employers and workers on these problems. They have put to me certain questions which I am now putting to the Minister, and I hope that whoever replies will deal with these matters.
In the first place, they want to know what is the basis for the allocation under this plan. I do not think it is sufficient for these matters to be decided in the obscurity of some regional office, and then imposed on people, without letting them know the whys and wherefores. I think that the Ministry will be faced with far fewer problems, and will create far fewer difficulties for themselves, if they inform the manufacturer of the basis of his allocation in the first place; at the present time he does not know what it is. What particular priority is given, for instance, to the question of export? What priority is given to the question of firms who run their own generating plants? What priority is given to coal-cutting machinery? Let me give the example of one firm in my constituency. They manufacture component parts of coal-cutting machinery. The people who assemble coal-cutting machines are clamouring for those parts, and cannot make machines because this firm, on account of the fuel shortage, is working on short time. The position is that, because of the fuel shortage, coal-cutting machinery is held up. In consequence, we get a vicious circle and a hold up of production. Would it be possible to give priority to firms engaged on this work, who find it possible to do a full five-day week, and get the maximum production of these machines to produce the coal which is needed.
Another problem, which I put to the Minister, is this: The right hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade said that the scheme would be flexible, that we do not want a rigid scheme. I agree that we do not want a rigid scheme. But I wonder just how much flexibility there will be. Will it mean further clamour by firms at the doors of the regional office, or that firms will go to the Ministry in order to increase their allocation, simply on the basis of pressure—call it persuasion if you like? In those circumstances, I am afraid that the whole situation will be most obscure and difficult. Firms in my constituency have expressed doubt about what they are to do. They 2134 say, "Do you think that if we press the Minister, we shall get more, when this scheme is in operation?" Every firm has its own difficulties, and each will be conscious of its own problems. Unless they know the whys and wherefores of the plan, I am afraid that we shall have a continuation of pressure and persuasion by almost every firm in the country, which will leave the whole situation in obscurity and difficulty.
Will the flexibility merely be upward; does it mean that there is going to be an increase in the event of an emergency or of unforeseen difficulties, or is it to be a downward flexibility? Firms want to know that the amounts allocated to them are really assured, and that they can work upon that basis. I also want to know on what basis increased allocations are going to be made. Are they to be made on the basis of a sudden emergency or upon matters of unforeseen circumstances in the first instance, unprovided for in the plan.
One problem was put to me in this fashion by a firm in my constituency. This firm said to me, "We have a certain allocation. We are trying as a firm to assist the Government to economise to the uttermost in fuel. We have already endeavoured to do so. Can we be assured that economy is not in the long run an instrument which will be used against us?" Is there going to be any reduction in a firm's allocation simply because it has amassed certain stocks in consequence of its conservation of coal allocation, or are we going to say to such a firm, "Carry on. This is what you are going to get; you will continue to get it and if you secure stocks by economising, you will get the benefit of that." Is this scheme based upon what is called the maximum consumption? If it is, I think it is an unreasonable method on which to estimate, because that means that if a firm at the time when the maximum period of consumption was calculated, was not conserving its resources, it is going to get the full benefit, whereas the firm which was economising is not going to get it. All these are problems with which we are faced. I hope that it will be possible to give firms in my constituency and other firms in the country satisfactory answers.
There is one further point to which I would refer. That is the question of solid fuel supplies against the use of electrical appliances. It is suggested that one is 2135 alternative to the other. Frankly, I do not think so, judging from my experience. I think the two things are complementary at the present time. The public are using additional supplies, and will continue to do so, even if it were possible to increase the supply of fuel. People today want more light and more heat than they obtained before the war. People like to be warmer if they can get warmer, and whatever the position may be for solid fuel supplies, the demand for electricity is going to be immensely greater. That, of course, means that the demand for electrical appliances will continue to increase, and I do not see how in fairness it could be stopped without discriminating against certain people. I do not think it would be wise to base any expectations on the assumption that the increased demand for electricity is merely an alternative supply of fuel for heating and lighting purposes.
The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade has said—and, of course, it has been mentioned in this House before—that one of the main reasons for the lack of preparation for the fuel crisis which has emerged as a result of the weather is the estimate given by the Electricity Commissioners and the Electricity Board. I think that this House is entitled to know the basis upon which that estimate was made. It is going to be a very serious matter if such utter miscalculations in the situation are made again. While I do not doubt that the President of the Board and the Minister of Fuel and Power are entitled to rely upon the estimates given to them by proper authorities, if the estimate is not only given wrongly but is such a serious miscalculation as is obvious in this case, then it ought to be investigated and the plain facts put before this House. Are the people who made this miscalculation competent to advise the Minister on important issues? That is a matter about which this House is entitled to know. I have placed before the Minister issues of complexity which have effect upon my constituency, and I hope he will be able to satisfy not only firms in my constituency, but industrial undertakings throughout the country.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Sir Arthur Salter (Oxford University)
I do not propose to discuss now the crisis measures or the action that is being taken 2136 with a view to getting a resumption of industry as soon as possible. Granting the situation of three weeks ago, I have little serious criticism to make as to what the Government has since done; and even if I had I should hesitate to make it in public, because like other Members of this House on all sides, I am extremely anxious not to say one word which might in any way prevent the full application of the measures which are now being taken. The question to which I want to direct special attention is that of what the President of the Board of Trade calls the middle term, that is the action that is required in the next few weeks and months, in order to prevent a re-occurence next winter of what we have had this winter. That will involve, however, glancing to some extent at the long term problem and glacing back to actions and developments that preceded this great breakdown a few weeks ago.
I shall walk perhaps a little less delicately than my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd-George) and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Northern Dorset (Mr. Byers) upon ground on which Ministers always seem to fear to tread. I want to mention what seems to me to be the most important and overwhelming factor of the middle term, and that is absenteeism, or rather voluntary absenteeism, as distinct from absence due to sickness. My right hon. Friend gave a figure to cover the whole of that absenteeism, and he suggested a possible improvement by a certain percentage; but it is unfair I suggest to apply that to the absenteeism which is caused by illness. If, however, one eliminates sickness altogether, the voluntary absenteeism of last year was still over 10 per cent.
§ Mr. James Glanville (Consett)
On a point of Order. Are we to understand that this Debate has now been widened to include production? We understood that we were to be confined today to the question of distribution.
§ Sir A. Salter
I do not know whether you, Mr. Speaker, wish to answer that question or not, but I understood that this Debate covered production as well.
§ Mr. Speaker
I cannot rule out of Order anything on the Adjournment, unless it relates to legislation. I have no doubt that the Debate will run more or less on the lines on which we started.
§ Sir A. Salter
I think that quite apart from the formal point of Order it is the case that I am going no further than continuing on a subject already discussed by both sides of the House and by both Front Benches. I was saying that the percentage of voluntary absenteeism last year was over roe per cent.—I think about 10.8 per cent. That is equivalent to something like 20 million tons of coal. But even the increase in voluntary absenteeism between last year and about two years before—when I believe it was just over six per cent.—is equivalent to over seven million tons, which is considerably more than the total quantity that would have been required to avert altogether this recent breakdown if everything had been as was.
Can nothing be done to reduce this voluntary absenteeism? I think that many of us were disturbed tonight to hear the President of the Board of Trade indicating that in the near future there is the prospect of a five-day week, although he did not seem to be quite certain about the fact or the date. That of course is an extremely serious thing. It may make the statistical figure of our voluntary absenteeism look better than last year because its effect will be to legitimatise, to perpetuate and, to some extent, to disguise the extent of voluntary absenteeism. It will also increase the real absenteeism because it will bring into a shorter week people who are not at present voluntarily abstaining from work. I realise the delicacy of this question but if the nation and the miners had realised, or if they can now realise the full gravity of the position as it is set out in the White Paper, and as it has been dramatically brought home to every family in the last few weeks, would it not be possible for this change to have been postponed?
I will say no more on that subject at the moment but will come now to what can be done in the future. It is not, I am afraid, possible to discuss that without looking in the past. For it is beyond question, as has been demonstrated both in this House and in the country, that apart from the long-term decline of coal and the effect of the increase in voluntary absenteeism, there has been administrative incompetence. If the Government had taken certain administrative measures which they should have taken, and if they had not been guilty of administra- 2138 tive miscalculations, the complete breakdown—not shortage—of the last few weeks could have been averted. When thinking of the future do not let us mislead ourselves by talking about the weather. It is of course true that the particular moment at which this breakdown took place was determined by exceptionally bad weather. It is also true that it has been prolonged by bad weather in the last few weeks. But at the moment when the breakdown took place there had only been about two days of exceptional blizzard, and about two weeks of the kind of severe weather which usually occurs at some time in the winter, following upon two months of rather less severe weather than the average.
It is perfectly clear that with the stocks as they were at the beginning of November and with everything else as it was and has been there must have been a breakdown before the end of this winter even if the weather had been of exactly average severity from beginning to end. It is also clear that the Government could have done, and should in future do many things that they did not. In the first place there is the plain, ordinary, commonsense co-ordination of action between one Department and another. This has been mentioned but I do not think it has been brought home sufficiently. Take the question of electric heaters.
Why should the President of the Board of Trade have made his one important exception to his austerity for the domestic consumer by flooding the market with electric heating appliances? Why, almost simultaneously, should the Chancellor of the Exchequer have chosen those appliances for a remission of Purchase Tax? Is it not clear that there was no proper contact between the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister of Fuel and. Power representing, as he should have done, to the Board of Trade that this was just the one commodity which should not be encouraged? Reference has been made to the mistaken estimates of the Central Electricity Board. Is it not also true that there was no adequate warning by the Minister that the new products which were flooding the market were bound to increase the consumption of electric power, particularly in homes which were deprived of the amount of coal they were accustomed to in the past? Were the, Central Electricity Board informed of this 2139 big adverse factor when they came to make their estimates of future requirements? It is perfectly clear that there was a very gross failure, not in the sphere of lofty and ambitious planning but in ordinary day to day co-ordination between a few departments of the Government.
There is one other thing that could have been done, and that I hope will be done in the future. The public, as a whole, including the miners, should have regular, sober, objective and illuminating statements as to the facts of the coal situation. We have had from the President of the Board of Trade today an admirable example of lucid and illuminating statistics accompanied by an explanation which brought out their real significance and did not distort them. If we could have regular official statements that had those characteristics and were not cancelled by other conflicting statements I think the general background for influence, either on the miners or the consuming public, would be immensely improved. I say that, if I may, not only to Government supporters and the Government but also to their critics, because what happens—in this as in other spheres—is this, There may, perhaps, be some momentary fall in production. This is then seized upon, exaggerated and proclaimed, whereupon the Government will retort with an equally unfair, selective choice of facts covering a particular week or short period. The first statement by the critics does not matter so much except that it provokes the Government. But when the Government retort with a selective statement of that kind it has the effect of obscuring the significance of a grave warning that may have been made at other times. That is, I think, to some extent the explanation of what are otherwise indefensible contradictions in statements that have been quoted in this House as coining from the Minister of Fuel and Power. I hope that in future the statements will be of such a kind as to keep the public really informed of the coal situation.
Is it not possible—quite apart from the sphere of taxation or of P.A.Y.E., which will no doubt be discussed on another occasion—to do something to increase incentives for the miners by providing them and their wives with just the things they really want to buy but cannot buy at 2140 present? They would then have a real incentive not to use their increased earnings in the form of extra pleasure, but in the form of getting what they want. Incidentally, may I point out that the one thing they do not want to buy is electrical heating apparatus?
§ Mr. Walkden
Will the right hon. Gentleman accept my assurance that as regards the mining area of Doncaster, I can say that we are urgently desirous that we should have all these amenities added to our homes without delay?
§ Sir A. Salter
Perhaps I may amend my statement by saying that they are less in need of electric heating apparatus than other sections of the community—and I am sure that here at least the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walkden) will agree with me—because they have an altogether superior allocation of coal to any other section of the community.
Next, I hope that the Minister will get on more quickly with the question of supplementing manpower by importation of foreign labour. The Government have admitted the principle, and they have made arrangements for some foreign labour. I think however that the whole House realises that the Government have been very slow. I trust that in the atmosphere of this crisis they will be able to get on further with this matter. I hope that they will show less timidity than they did in shirking the question of voluntary absenteeism in the White Paper. In a survey of the whole economic position of over 30 pages, coal is the recurrent refrain from the first page to the last. A whole section is devoted to the coal situation. Yet there is not so much as a single reference to absenteeism. It is most striking that there should be such excessive timidity. I hope the same timidity will not prevent the Government from now going ahead, as the situation requires, with the importation of suitable foreign labour.
There is one last thing to which I would refer. I hope that while the Government are doing every possible thing to avoid a breakdown, they will at least have a plan in reserve, a crisis plan, in case there should be a breakdown. Some of the things which have happened in this crisis can only be explained by the fact that the Government had to take action for which they had prepared no plan at all. One 2141 of my hon. Friends has referred to the perfectly fantastic decision as to the suspension of different classes of publications. Printing was permitted to a weekly newspaper with a circulation of 7 million, while there was suppression of small weekly journals of opinion, with circulations somewhere in the neighbourhood of 30,000. It seems incredible that a single weekly newspaper should have been permitted to use 100 times—putting it very moderately—the consumption of power which would have been required for the printing of all the weekly organs of opinion put together. The only explanation is that the Government had not prepared beforehand. They therefore turned to the producers associations. It happens that there are two organisations, one for the newspapers and one for the weekly periodicals. The Government took their advice as final and did not, as I think a Government should, consider the interests of the consuming public. I give that illustration of the necessity for preparing a plan for a crisis while the Government are, at the same time, doing everything possible to avoid the recurrence of a crisis.
So far I have been speaking entirely on what I call the "middle term" problem. I would now like to make reference to the long-term problem. It will be most disastrous for this country if not only for this year but in perpetuity, we cease to be an exporter of coal. Not only have our coal exports in the past been one of the main factors in our balance of payments, but the present abandonment of them affects the whole of our economy. If we look from one country to another in Western Europe now, we see as the main source of their troubles shortages of coal which are due, above all, to absence of imports from this country and to the inadequate production of coal in the Ruhr in the British zone. The effects upon this country are tremendous. If we cannot get timber now, it is because Sweden is burning timber in the absence of our coal. If we now pay Germany reparations to the order of between £80 million and £100 million a year, the figure is as high as it is because the resumption of German industry has been retarded by a shortage which in turn is partly due to the export of Ruhr coal to countries which can no longer import from us. If we cannot get food, or the exchange with which to buy 2142 it from the Argentine, it is because we are not sending our coal there. It will be disastrous if our production of coal becomes only sufficient for the resumption of industry. I therefore urge the Government in their long-term policy to aim at a production which will not only meet home consumption but permit the resumption of exports.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Miss Jennie Lee (Cannock)
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter) digressed for a moment to express his disapproval of the Government's stopping the opinion-making weeklies. On that issue I find myself in the warmest approval of his remarks. But I hope he will forgive me if I say that, while we listened to him with respect on many subjects in which we feel he has great experience and great erudition, when he discusses the problem of how we are to maximise our coal production, increase output and provide incentives in the mines, there arc many other Members in this House with much greater knowledge of the inwardness of that situation.
From the opposite side of the House we have been told that we ought to have more Socialism, more plans, more controls and more rationing. My right hon. and learned Friend the President of the Board of Trade apparently has been far too gay a fellow in giving us all kinds of luxuries that we ought not to have. Listening, as did, for some more constructive suggestions, I heard nothing in the way of solid contributions to the problem of maximising our output. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd-George) said something which was extremely seductive from the point of view of the housewife. He said we ought to have more solid fuel to burn. That was very pleasing and charming of him, but I wonder whether it was not a little bit irresponsible. He talked about stocks, and knows about stocks as he did a good deal of cupboard raiding in his time. But we are on our best behaviour today. We are not going to go back to the past.
On the issue of household coal let us face this fact. We have not only housewives in Britain using gas and electricity because solid fuel is not available, but the truth of the situation is that there are literally hundreds of thousands of householders in this country who can afford to 2143 have a little electric fire in the bedroom which they could not have before. There was a certain amount of dissent from these benches when the senior Burgess for Oxford University said that in the mining districts, for instance, we ought not to bother about electric heating equipment. It is not universally true that miners have an extra supply of coal. Some have and some have not. But even so, if one is getting up in the grey hours of the morning in a bedroom which is like a refrigerator—a miner is like anyone else—it is pleasant, he feels, to have a little warmth.
§ Sir A. Salter
The hon. Lady will recognise that I amended my statement to say that inasmuch as the miners do get a much bigger allocation of coal than the rest of the community, they at least need electric heaters less.
§ Miss Lee
They do not usually have that coal burning in the bedrooms. They certainly do not have it burning at the most vulnerable moments—when one is making up one's mind to get up and go down the pits, or perhaps when one is getting into cold clothes. I know that the right hon. Gentleman in making that suggestion had no desire to be offensive to any mining household, but the inwardness of mining communities is that if there is gas or an electric heater in the house and if there is any money at the end of the week to afford it, the miners like a little bit of extra comfort the same as the rest of us.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson
I hope the hon. Lady will address her remarks to the President of the Board of Trade, because we thoroughly agree.
§ Miss Lee
I am quite willing to address my right hon. and learned Friend but when the right hon. Gentleman opposite says, "We thoroughly agree" I immediately become confused. I have already heard in this Debate a plea that fewer electrical heaters should be made and used. The House is really in two minds over this issue. What is the substance of the houewives situation? It is that if one takes the country as a whole there is more employment and a steadier level of wages coming in at the end of the week, and therefore there is bound to be more solid fuel or gas or electricity consumed in the homes. Therefore if we decide to make 2144 any changes in the domestic allocation, do not let us delude ourselves into the belief that we can switch from one form of heating to another and thereby achieve any serious saving. It is most difficult to run a household these days with perhaps only three cwt. of coal a month. What does everyone in this House do if we have a little electric fire or gas fire. We obey the law meticulously from 9 to 12, and from 2 to 4 o'clock and then put on a little extra heat when we feel we can do so without being anti-social—
§ Miss Lee
The more optimistic thing to do, therefore, is to see if there is any way by which we can step up coal production so that we can meet the new levels of comfort which all our homes want and at the same time keep our industries fully fuelled. No one will say that we can do that at once. All of us who have been trying to work out the crossword puzzle of how we can spread 200,000,000 tons of coal—assuming we get that this year—over domestic, industrial and possible export needs, know that it cannot be done. Indeed, if we had to conduct our analysis this afternoon strictly on an arithmetical basis, we would say that this country was beaten. It simply cannot be done because, to look at the more optimistic side of our problem, our standards are rising. We are not dealing with under-employment, but a situation in which we want to extend our industries means that the demands from every side are growing so fast that, if we confine our-self simply to arithmetic, we are beaten.
What is there in the situation apart from the arithmetical point of view? We know that our pits will be re-equipped with machinery. No one will say that that can be done in the next month or two. We will be lucky if in our lifetime we can get complete re-equipment, and certainly we will have to be extremely moderate in the estimates we make as to what can be added by new equipment in the pits in the next year. Every practical miner in the House will agree. It is sometimes a little amusing—not so much in this House, where statements can be checked, but on public platforms—to hear that all we have to do is to bring in the Poles and the displaced persons and provide an extra 100,000 or 200,000 miners in order to solve our problems. But one cannot possibly take new labour into the 2145 pits, and turn it into trained coal-getters in a short space of time.
I do not apologise for talking on mining subjects. The background of my early life was a miner's home. Later, I married a miner and I have lived with this problem and I do not speak with only surface knowledge of it. Anyone who knows how miners work and what their outlook is will say that the key point in the next month, and in the coming year, is not the new machinery or the new labour—they are both longer-term problems—but the men who are already in the pits. I see one hon. Member opposite shaking his head. He is an hon. Member whom I have always respected when he talks on mining subjects because he knows his stuff. He knows the machinery. But I wonder if he knows the miners.
There are two problems, the technical problem of the means of getting coal and the psychological problem of the outlook of the miner and of his wife and family. I confess that I get a certain sombre satisfaction out of the new status and importance of the miner. I have done a little sum, which I think is accurate, of the amount of coal lost to this country in the between-war years by industrial disputes when the men were struggling just for bare subsistence wages. We lost 290,000,000 tons of coal in those between-war years owing to industrial disputes when the men were struggling for a living wage. There is no serious problem of industrial disputes now. There is no problem for the miner of unemployment.
That brings me to one issue raised by the senior Burgess for Oxford University —absenteeism. If there is a miner who can give maximum production at the coal face six days a week all the year round, I have not met him. It cannot be done, it is physically impossible. Before the war there was not this problem because men laid off for months at a time either through disputes or idle time. It was common knowledge in the coalfields that it was easier to get a collier to go on strike in the summer than in winter because it gave him a chance to see the sunlight and to gather his strength. When, however, we talk about absenteeism today, it is in connection with a body of men who are growing older. We are beginning to attract the younger men, but we have not got enough of them yet. So you are dealing with a body of men, many of them with 2146 sorrowful memories, many of them who have every reason to be embittered, saying, "Society took its time to attend to me, perhaps I will take a little time to attend to society." Miners are human and have long memories.
If you break down the figure of absenteeism in the coal pits today into men who are off because they are injured, men who are off because they are seriously sick, and men who are off because of age and circumstances, the problem of absenteeism is not quite as serious as some hon. Members opposite make it out to be. It is serious, but too much attention is focussed on this point. So far as there is a problem of absenteeism, of an able-bodied fellow who could quite well be at work but who, for his own reasons, is human enough to think he will take a day off, how can we deal with it? We certainly cannot deal with it by lecturing him, and certainly not by lecturing the fellow who goes out to work every day. Like the kirk situation, it is the people who turn up that the minister can get at and lecture. But how are you to deal with the very small percentage of, if not anti-social, at least indifferent citizens?
§ Sir A. Salter
May I remind the hon. Lady that I first eliminated altogether the absenteeism due to sickness in my figure of 10 per cent.? I certainly did not suggest it could be dealt with by lecturing, but that the President of the Board of Trade, even if it appeared to interfere with equal distribution, might give some incentive by making available to the miner and the miner's wife those things they want to buy.
§ Miss Lee
I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman's figure. I cannot give him an accurate figure because the practical miners break up those figures in different ways. All we can agree on is that there is a small percentage. How can we deal with it? Here is one suggestion which is worth considering. A mining community is a very close fellowship. There is a mood about it, and, if the mood of the community is right, if the mood of his wife, his sweetheart, his mother at home is right, that is one very strong source of pressure on the small anti-social element to bring them into line.
May I ask the indulgence of this House while I express myself as moderately as I can on a subject on which I feel ex- 2147 tremely immoderately—the quite unforgivable psychological 'handling of the miners of the Midlands in the recent period of shortage? If you want cynicism, if you want to increase absenteeism, then you have a perfect example of how to do it in the way the West Midlands Regional Coal Board have handled the miners of the Midlands. I know what is happening in the homes and in the workmen's clubs. There is wisecracking, there is cynicism, there is the turning up of the past that we were all prepared to bury. Why? Because, when the winter weather exacerbated the other shortages there was a movement which I can only describe as "ground swell" among the men. You have to be there to know what it is. It is a comradeship, a fellowship, a banding together. There were the beginnings of a mass movement amongst the leaders of the men, the people who are the sensitive instruments who spread their mood to the rest of the men. They said, "Let us man the pits." It was a wonderful thing for any Coal Board. The local miners, the local transport workers, and other members of the public came along and said, "We will work seven days a week." They are practical miners, they know you cannot do it for more than one or two weeks, but they were bringing a wonderful and patriotic mood to an emergency situation.
What was the response? Was the response from the Coal Board, from men who are supposed to be wiser than the old coalowners in psychological matters, as well as having opened up to them the technical possibilities—greater than ever before; was the response from those to whom we have given authority: "This is wonderful. We appreciate your mood. Stand by and let us get down to the technical problems"? That was all the men asked. No miner wanted to work on Sunday unless the Sunday work was to be a plus factor, and there would be a contribution from his special effort to helping the nation at this moment through a period of crisis. Instead, to the management of every colliery in the Midlands there went this circular from the regional production office:I have decided, with the approval of the board, not to open the pits for coal-raising on Sunday next. Nevertheless, any collier who has worked a full shift and is desirous of working a week-end shift in addi- 2148 tion should apply to the manager of his pit, and he will be found work.Let me make my meaning quite clear. There are two issues here. There are a technical issue and a psychological issue. There are pits where Sunday is required for maintenance. I have already said that miners cannot work more than six shifts a week, but, just as at Dunkirk in the war, there was a time this winter when a lot of the old sores and wounds were healing, and when men who had suffered so much and been so greatly humiliated were ready to do a heroic job. They were ready to man the pits —that meant ready to dig the coal, to wind coal, to have emergency transport arrangements so that they could get that coal to Birmingham, to Wolverhampton, to the surrounding cities where the industries were waiting on it. Do you say "Romantic‡" "Impossible‡"? Perhaps, but was not that mood something precious. Was not that mood something which gave the Regional Coal Board an opportunity to lead the men? Instead of that there was one insulting and discouraging statement issued after the other.
I know the cross-section of the local men concerned. Many are my friends of the Labour movement locally. There is the chairman of my divisional Labour party, for instance, who has what you may call a cautious Labour view—for instance, he disapproved of my criticism of the Foreign Secretary over the foreign affairs Debate. They are men of varying points of view, and temperament. That was the leadership that came forward and formed the Vigilance Council, and that was the leadership that was kicked in the teeth. I say to this House that your most precious asset in the coal pits are the men. If you want, I believe you can get not 200 million tons but more than that in 1947. We argue amongst ourselves on these benches about that—[Laughter.]—a legitimate argument, but the optimistic, not the romantic, not the impossible thing, is that we can get more than that 200 million tons provided that our men have the issues explained to them and are wisely and generously led.
The right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) complained that sometimes the public, and the House, were not fully informed of what was going on. It is bad enough when we feel that we are left outside the door, but how 2149 would hon. Members like to be in the position of the miner? He is the man in the industry who has to get up in a cold bedroom without even the one kilowatt fire, to which reference has been made. He was ready to bring his warm comradeship and enthusiasm to the emergency job. He is rudely told, in effect, to mind his own business. I hold a heartbreaking document in my hand, the report of ten sad days of effort by men who wanted to work in the pits, and the sort of answers they got. Here is an example—"Shin-well" —I am using the gracious language used by officials.Shinwell has been unduly influenced by the activities of a body of agitators who are gaining cheap notoriety by hawking cures for ills they are unable to diagnose.That is the kind of thing which is said to our people. All the time there has been talk of encouraging absenteeism and of the men being mainly concerned with double time on Sundays. I assure the House that nothing could have been a greater travesty of the truth. I hope that my remarks will not be misquoted. I am not saying that men can go on working for seven days a week, but that was a wonderful mood and they should have been brought into close and cordial cooperation. Instead, they were treated as outsiders and scroungers. If there is behaviour like that we shall not get the coal.
The right hon. Member for Oxford University talked about incentives. May I give a word of warning about incentives? I sometimes feel rather angry on behalf of our people, the colliery people, when incentives are talked about rather in the spirit of carrots being dangled in front of donkeys. "Give the work beast more to wear, and more to eat," is the tone of the suggestion. Of course we want more food for the miners. If a man has to do a hard day's work he needs red meat every day of the week. Of course we want more meat for the miners, and more goods in the shops but this House will be making a great mistake if it thinks that men can be rallied into the coalfields to use their maximum energy and bring in their sons and new blood unless hon. Members in talking about incentives remember the spirit of these men, the poetry, the patriotism, the soul and generosity which is in them. The public has a right to know what is going on in the industry but above all these men have the right to 2150 know. Our pit committees must become more real than they are at present. I have been talking about things which are intangible, but it is the intangibles which are the plus factor which can help most in the immediate situation. If we handle these psychological problems properly and do our utmost on the technical side, if we treat miners as men and intelligent citizens and responsible people in their industry I have every confidence that our people will in the future as in the past carry this country on their shoulders through all its difficulties.
§ 7.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Walter Fletcher (Bury)
I am sure that hon. Members on this side, and on the other side of the House, will hope that the really stirring call to leadership and imagination made by the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) will be noted in the right quarters, and that the Minister of Fuel and Power—I am not in a position to refer to him so briefly as "Shinwell"—will give some answer to the very grave charge of lack of imagination and failure to seize on the mood so wonderfully described, which I am certain has caused a set back in the ripple of enthusiasm we all desire to encourage. I join with those who congratulated the President of the Board of Trade—it is unusual for me to do so—on the lucid way in which he made an exposé of the case, and on the obvious trouble he had taken to get right inside the problem, and not just to read out a series of statistics. I would also like to join in the regret he expressed, when making that important speech, that the benches behind him were so ill-occupied.
§ Sir S. Cripps
I really must correct the hon. Member for Bury (Mr. W. Fletcher). I did not even look at the benches behind me. I was looking at the benches opposite.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I do not believe the right hon. and learned Gentleman has eyes in the back of his head, but he must certainly have referred to the benches behind, possibly inadvertently, as they were much less occupied than those on this side.
Planning, when it consists of nationalisation and the gradual assumption of political power by legislation, is a very excellent occupation of the party, and it is nice to come to the House to find it being done. But, when Socialist planning comes 2151 head on with hard realities, such as the present crisis, and when there has to be a confession of lack of foresight and planning, then the listening to it is not so palatable. I represent a Lancashire industrial constituency but do not pretend to be anything but a layman in the matter of coal. I have infinitely less knowledge than the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock. Nevertheless, I think it is in the tradition of this House that it is in order for hon. Members whose constituencies are greatly affected on the industrial side, to take part in such a Debate. One thing has struck me in trying to understand the situation, and that comes out of the statistics presented in the Economic Survey for 1947. In trying to work out what these figures really mean, there is one great question mark. It was referred to by the hon. Member for Edgbaston (Sir P. Bennett) and is whether the output of coal as expressed really gives the true picture. Coal in the White Paper is expressed in terms of output per man year. Surely, the correct way to express it, in order to see whether we are doing better, or worse, than before, and whether, from the industrial and domestic point of view, we are in a more or less perilous position, is in thermal efficiency per man year. If we are today producing 200,000,000 tons of coal and before the war we produced 200,000,000 tons with 10 per cent. greater efficiency we are less well off by that 10 per cent. In making the balance sheet what the Government should put before us—the President of the Board of Trade has been most explicit in saying that he will keep us up to date—is the real comparison, the percentage of loss both on the domestic and industrial side without which figures cannot be of any real value. Until we have that real comparison it seems to me that we do not know where we are.
The history of statistics in this country recently has followed that of painting. We had from the Minister of Fuel and Power, impressionism and post-impressionism and from the President of the Board of Trade we had realism. I suppose we shall have from the nine advisers, surrealism, which will tell us exactly where we stand. An hon. Member opposite brought out an instance of the terrible ramifications of this crisis and showed how difficult it will be to overcome them. He mentioned coal-cutting 2152 machinery and export. I will make a link between that and point out an instance of how far-reaching the effects are. In Malaya, there is a great tin producing industry—tin which is needed in this country, and which is needed to be converted into dollars, the use of which I need not over-emphasise to any hon. Member of this House. Most of the tin dredging in Malaya is carried out by means of coal. That coal has so far been opencast coal but the opencast coal in Malaya has nearly come to an end, and there is a need for machinery for mining. Will that machinery get a priority of any sort? That is the sort of problem which is arising through this crisis. If we do not get the tin we do not get the dollars, if we do not get the dollars we do not get the food, and we do not get other necessary machinery. We must regard this not only as a short term, but as a long term problem, as well.
A layman like myself, when he looks at this problem with some business experience, must say to himself, "There is here a great risk of a shortfall belying the hopes and wishes of everybody in this House and this country, a risk that we shall not achieve our target." What does a prudent man or business do in a situation of that sort? He or it takes out an insurance, and in taking out an insurance there is only one possible golden rule, which is to take out the best insurance, and possibly pay the highest price for it. The insurance may not be necessary, but no one would dispute that a premium that might appear to have been dear and wasted today looks, within a few weeks, when the disaster one has been troubled about arises, about the best thing one has ever done.
The President of the Board of Trade, who was in a mood in which I have not very often seen him—extremely receptive to the ideas of others—asked for practical suggestions. I would like to offer two to him, briefly. One is that he should examine the coal situation, not only in this country but in other countries which have recently passed through a coal crisis, if not the same, at any rate rather parallel to the one we are now considering. The greatest problem in France, after she was liberated, was the coal question. France has employed methods in increasing her production of coal which are worthy of study by the Government of this country at the present time. There 2153 are other countries where the same problems have been tackled. I feel certain that the sincere way in which the President of the Board of Trade asked for these suggestions, will lead him to make a close examination of this sort.
The other problem, which has already been touched upon in general terms, is this: We may be forced, however unpalatable it is, to buy coal as an insurance. I would like to urge a study of this method. On the long-term view, I think that nearly everyone will agree that we shall be able to increase production of coal well beyond the 200,000,000 ton figure, possibly up to a figure of 250,000,000 tons. If the spirit which the Member for Cannock has described in impressive fashion, is intelligently handled and well maintained, there is no doubt that that spirit can achieve things which the statistician cannot possibly imagine. That cannot be done rapidly. Therefore, until the time when we shall have a surplus of coal with which to repay, I suggest the following method. I can imagine the Government's reluctance to use any of the dollar loan for this purpose. That loan is, more than anything else, an insurance against food crises and food difficulties. To have, at this junction, when we all know that it is being used up rapidly, to contemplate reducing by a large amount the dollar loan, is something which the Government must face with real and understandable reluctance.
Surely there is a way out of that. Lend-Lease during the war, based on good fellowship between the United States and this country and other countries, can well be repeated at this moment. I have no doubt that if the right appeal was made, we could say to a number of countries, not only America, but South Africa too, "Lend us, not against cash payment, 10 million, 20 million tons of coal"—whatever is decided upon to be our sheet anchor in great storm that now surrounds us—" for a number of years. We will repay that in coal." In that way there will not be a financial transaction, we shall not eat into our dollar loan.
In the case of America it would not be too difficult to do, because America has not the same number of bunkering stations that we have throughout the world. We could repay her by replenishing her bunkering stations. It would mean later 2154 a sacrifice of trade which we should otherwise have, but it is definitely an insurance which we should take out. We have a favourable trade balance with Belgium. We might have to get some coal from there. It is a distasteful task for this country, which was once described as an island of coal surrounded by fish, to have to go out, and buy and borrow coal at this present juncture. But I believe that there will be great backing in this country for the Government if they come forward with a bold and constructive lead, and say, "We have to go out and make arrangements which will cost us a good deal of shipping, and sacrifices of trade later, but which will nevertheless tide us over the period immediately before us." It will give ease of mind to the Government and to everybody else in the necessary planning they have to do in re shaping industry and cutting industry according to our coal cloth. I would recommend this particular scheme of borrowing coal against repayment later on in coal as a constructive suggestion, which was called for from the Government Front Bench.
Finally, coming down from something of national importance to something of domestic importance, I would like to make one further suggestion. It was indicated to us today that we arc to have a period of rationing of domestic coal. That falls most hardly on the old people. There has been put into operation in this country an admirable scheme of giving free milk to children in schools, because in their youth milk is what they happen to need more than anything else. What old people need, possibly more than food, is a little bit of extra warmth. I believe that with the machinery which now exists, through the old age pensions scheme, and similar social security undertakings, it would not be too difficult, administratively, to say that old people beyond a certain age are to have a slight, if only a very slight, increase in their solid fuel ration. During the few days I spent in the North-West Area last week I saw the terrible effects of the present coal rationing and absence of coal on the old people. I believe that on every side of the House there will be sympathy with this idea. I believe that if the Government are really in a receptive mood to ideas, if they will really listen and have their ear to the ground, through every stratum of society, and if they give a good 2155 and bold lead, they will get the backing of the whole country, and we shall emerge, if not unscathed, nevertheless sufficiently strong, with our great powers of recuperation, to get over this crisis honourably and well.
§ 7.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Baird (Wolverhampton, East)
I have listened with great interest to the speeches of hon. Members opposite, especially when they spoke about the problem of absenteeism. My hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) said that we on this side realised that the real reason for absenteeism is a psychological one. The chief reason for absenteeism is the treatment of the miners in the past by hon. Members opposite, and by their party. The cure is now beginning to have some effect. I believe that absenteeism is already diminishing. But when we think of the history of the mines, and I come from a mining district myself—the Sankey Report being shelved, and 1926, and what came afterwards can we blame the miners for their reluctance, in the past years, to do everything which hon. Members opposite asked them to do. As I said, the cure is beginning, but we must remember that we shall not cure absenteeism in a short period. It will be a long gradual cure, and we must not be impatient and expect results overnight. Furthermore, I would say this to hon. Members opposite, and there are many of them, who have spoken on this subject. Every speech that they make in which they criticise the miners, even mildly, for absenteeism does more harm than good.
I want to follow what was said by the hon. Member for Cannock (Miss Lee). She has said that she is proud of the changed attitude of this House and the country to the miners. I agree. For the first time they have been treated not as parasites but as shock troops. I had the honour recently to attend the ceremony of the unfurling of the flag of the National Coal Board at a pit on the outskirts of my Division. That day the weather, and everything else, was against an inspiring ceremony. It was bitterly cold, for part of the time it was raining, and even the flag was blue instead of red. However, it was a very inspiring ceremony and it was obvious that in South Staffordshire at least, there was a new spirit abroad in the coalfields.
2156 It is, therefore, very surprising and disappointing to me only a few weeks later, after having met these men and felt the new spirit amongst them, to receive a telegram from the miners in South Staffordshire which said: "Urgent. Press Shinwell to permit working of pits in the Cannock Chase on Sunday. All men decided to work. Regional Board and production officer refuse but men are going to work all the same. On behalf of the Working Council…This action of the West Regional Division of the Coal Board during the past fortnight has done much not to destroy but to weaken that new spirit which was so evident a few weeks earlier. There is, as I see the position today, a grave danger that having taken power from the private coal-owner, we will hand it over to bureaucrats who, while they may do it a little better, will not do the job which is expected of them. That is a danger which I am sure we recognise. As a result of this and other similar Debates, I hope that we shall get a much more benevolent approach by the National Coal Board to the whole situation than has been evident in the district to which I have referred.
I would say especially to the Minister of Fuel and Power that I believe that if there had been a closer contact between the West Regional Coal Board, the miners' leaders and the miners, this would not have happened. If we take a lesson from this in the future when we are discussing the relationship between the workers and the industry, we will grant to the workers a larger proportion of control of industry than they have at present. I want to see developed quickly a more effective liaison with more power handed to the miners' representatives.
I wish to make two other points. We are told that the rationing scheme will be flexible. If I might emphasise what was said by the hon. Member for Erdington (Mr. J. Silverman), there is a danger that this scheme may become too flexible. Like myself, many hon. Members must have experienced pressure of all kinds during the last few weeks from firms in our various divisions. The idea is developing that if only a firm can get an hon. Member to bring pressure to bear on the Minister, they will get an increased allocation of fuel or power. That is a grave danger. If this scheme is to be flexible I hope that allocations will not go to the firms who shout most, or for whom hon. 2157 Members shout most, but to the firms who have the greatest need for fuel.
At this time of crisis it is essential that industry should improvise in every way possible. Recently in my Division, which is highly industrial, with coalmining and heavy industries, I have found in talking to the workers that some firms are apt to sit back and to say, "Well, we are not going to do anything. Let's blame it on the Government." On the other hand, other firms I believe who are progressive, instead of taking that defeatist attitude have searched around, improvised and tried to find alternative means of power.
One example was brought to my notice of one of the largest firms in the Midlands which produces a commercial vehicle for which there is a great demand all over the world, including the dollar countries. In an effort to keep production flowing, immediately the crisis arose they searched the country for a generator to produce power to enable them to carry on. Let me here pay compliment to the way in which the application for generators was dealt with by the regional authority which sponsored their application which was immediately sent to London and again approved. They were told that the generator they required was ready to be picked up at Liverpool. They were even told the amount of insurance which they should take out to cover the generator. They were then instructed to collect the generator this morning. This afternoon, however, I had an urgent telephone message in which I was informed that the firm have now been told that they cannot have the generator because power is being supplied to the Midlands area and, therefore, there is no need for them to use an improvised method.
This is another example of the bureaucracy which we on this side of the House must insist shall be cleared out of Government Departments. It has been known for ten days that power would be supplied in the Midlands from Monday. If it is the policy that generators should be supplied only to areas which have no power, that should have been said long ago. The point is that this firm had agreed with the local electricity supply company that during peak periods they would use the generator in order to decrease their demand upon the local supply. In the near future the whole country will be on a rationed basis. I would like to know what is the method by 2158 which these generators are allocated. There are hundreds of these generators lying unused in various parts of the country. There is no shortage of them today. What is the method by which allocation is taking place? Is it a fact that the Midlands will be penalized and not given any generators because they have been the first to benefit from the resumption in the supply of power? I hope the Minister will give an answer to this question.
The hon. Member for Bury (Mr. W. Fletcher) made an appeal that special consideration should be given to old people in any scheme of fuel rationing. I agree with his remarks but those who come from industrial areas, especially those with knowledge of the steel and coal areas, also know that these workers need much more fuel for washing and other purposes than do many other types of worker. I hope that any rationing scheme which is introduced will be sufficiently flexible for the miner, who needs a good scrubbing every night, and the steel worker, who has to change his underclothing every day, to receive an allocation which is adequate to ensure health and cleanliness.
I spent last weekend touring the mining villages and other industrial parts of my constituency. I would not like to conclude without paying a compliment to the spirit of the workers. When this crisis came upon us, many of us were a little fearful of possible reactions throughout the country. I was proud to see, in my own Division, that the spirit of the workers was a determination not to let this thing happen again. I believe that, while the immediate results of the crisis are to be deplored, the psychological results will, in the long run, be good. We cannot blame the workers because, since the war, they have been taking things a little easy. After six years of intense effort, it is only natural that they should sit back and take some rest. Now I believe that we have got the spirit of Dunkirk among the industrial workers of this country. We, on this side of the House, appreciate that spirit, and I have every confidence that, now that the workers know what is the job that has to be done, they will do it, and, among those workers, I place the miners second to none.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Jennings (Sheffield, Hallam)
I could not agree more than I do with the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton 2159 (Mr. Baird) in his condemnation of the inefficiency of bureaucracy as it has been demonstrated in his area with regard to Sunday work and by the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee), who spoke so well before him. We, on these Benches, have been saying for some time, that the very thing of which those hon. Members have complained is one of the great evils in our present system. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Fuel and Power, who was not present when the hon. Lady spoke, will receive full notes of what she said, and will also note what was said by the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton about the great failure of control under the present system.
We have heard how the Minister has put in his official to do a job, how he was acclaimed as a first-class man, and yet, before he is in his new job a few months, we find that he is stopping production at a time when the country wants every ton of coal that it can possibly get. We have heard the telegrams quoted by hon. Members opposite in regard to Sunday work, and I think that we on this side of the House can take some credit there, because we have been telling the Government the same thing for months. We have warned them that that was one of the great evils that was likely to arise. We read reports in the Press indicating the difficulties which the ordinary men and women have in the homes of this country in understanding the present situation. They read about men wanting to work, and not being allowed to do so. The ordinary men and women of this country cannot understand what all this is about, but they know that there is some muddle somewhere, and they think it is high time that muddling was stopped.
I listened to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade today. He is a very eminent King's Counsel who came with his prepared brief, and put forward his case with facts and figures with the greatest possible clarity. Yet I must say that I was far from satisfied. There was a doubt in my mind, and it has been there for some time. There has been a grave lack of foresight resulting in the present situation, although it has to be admitted that it has been aggravated by weather conditions. But I think that we, in this House, must behave as honourable 2160 people, and that, if the Government have made a mistake, they should get up and say so.
§ Mr. Jennings
The President of the Board of Trade dealt with part of the period in his speech today. He gave the time when the Central Electricity Board gave figures and estimates, on which targets were based for the Minister to adopt. For that length of time, there has been a lack of foresight.
§ Mr. Jennings
The Minister said at the end of last year. There has been a great lack of foresight, and I think we must admit it. The Minister himself said yesterday, before the Standing Committee considering the Electricity Bill, that the Tories must have their fun and games. Well, he has had his fun and games, and the people who are now suffering from his fun and games are my steel workers in Sheffield, and I am here to claim a just and fair deal for them. Sheffield is a very great industrial and steel-producing city. Coal is the major raw product for our industry, and this crisis has hit Sheffield very badly. Today, we are putting a great number—tens of thousands —of people out of employment
§ Mr. Jennings
Well, I hope it is going to be the last time, and I am here to try to ensure that it will be. I feel that the Minister of Fuel and Power must get away from the jocular attitude which he adopts with regard to these important matters. This is a question which demands the greatest capacity of a statesman. No levity, nothing but the most serious manner, should be brought to bear upon this subject. I say frankly that people in every section of the country have been placed in very great difficulty in this crisis, because they have been brought up against something of which they had no warning. The Minister has 2161 gone up and down the country making contradictory statements, and, when this crisis came upon the people, it gave them a great shock.
Regarding the measures which the President of the Board of Trade outlined today, I hope we shall be able to place more reliance upon them, and upon the policy to be adopted in future, than we have been able to place upon the allocations we have had up to the present. The President of the Board of Trade referred today to a figure of 700 million tons of coal, but he did not say anything about the effect of the five-day week. Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman will tell us what effect the five-day week might have upon his plans? There seems to be some difference between the two Ministers concerned in this matter, and perhaps they could get together to see where they are at variance.
The time has now arrived when the spirit within this industry should be a happy and human one. True, we did not start off so very well, with the National Coal Board official who apparently has given the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock a very nasty shock and also seriously affected the feelings of the men in that area. We want to get away from all these old sores. I believe that, if there is one thing which is going to have a bad effect on industry in this country, it is the practice of harping back to the old idea that the boss was always to blame, and was bleeding the workers. Although I cannot dwell on it today, I should like to say, in passing, how glad I am that the spokesmen of the Government have had the courage to say that the production per man in this country is not enough, and that we have got to have more, in the interest of the great industries of the country. There are one or two bottlenecks in the mining industry. I have lived in a mining area for over 50 years, and not very far from my home I have seen thousands of tons of coal standing in the coalyard.
§ Mr. Jennings
I suggest to the hon. Member that he might have a word with the Minister about his suggestion of wasting coal.
§ Mr. Jennings
Perhaps he has seen the Minister and perhaps the Minister does not think much of it. At any rate, there is a bottleneck, and, for months past, before this bad weather set in, coal has been cut out of the mines and placed in the colliery yard, and because there have been no wagons to take it away there has been very bad distribution. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am very glad to hear that hon. Members agree with me. I have discussed this matter with people actually connected with the collieries and who are responsible for getting the coal, and they tell me that they are teeming the coal out into the colliery yards. They say that it is a crying shame that they have not the wagons to take it away.
§ Mr. Jennings
I am glad to see that the Minister approves, because I remember 12 months ago standing in this same place and appealing to him to say what was the distribution. I was then appealing on behalf of the domestic users of coal in Sheffield, who were getting a raw deal in regard to their allocation. They were supposed to get a certain ration, but the ration was never there, and those unfortunate people, as has been said both from these benches and the benches opposite, were, in many cases, old people. I appeal to the Minister to tackle the position. With regard to the distribution of coal, I said then, and I still say it, that if we had tackled the wagon position we should have had thousands of tons of stock up and down the country; there would have been no shortage of wagons, and there would have been a better stocking position. I hope that, when the Minister replies, he will refer to that matter.
For some obscure reason hon. Members of this House seem constrained to apologise whenever they mention the question of absenteeism. Absenteeism is a fact. To my mind, the Minister has never taken a very strong stand on the matter of absenteeism, but it is a fact which must be dealt with, and I do not propose to apologise for referring to it. If there had been no absenteeism, there would have been no coal crisis; the coal would have been produced. I want the Minister, when he replies, to give us the exact figure of the millions of tons of coal lost through avoidable absenteeism in the collieries, because that figure has, as far as I know, never been given. It is true that there 2163 have been several estimates, but I want the right hon. Gentleman to give us the actual figure.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
Is it not a fact that absenteeism exists in every industry, in the Army, and, above all, in this House?
§ Mr. Jennings
I could not agree more than I do with the hon. Member, but we do not have to apologise to the engineers, to the Members of this House or to other members of industry when we mention the fact. When we mention absenteeism in the coal industry, we have almost to go cap in hand.
§ Mr. Murray
Is the hon. Member not aware that the only figures of absenteeism given in the country are those for the mining industry, and that no figures are given for other industries?
§ Mr. Jennings
It is a fact which has been stated in black and white on many occasions, and it has never been refuted that absenteeism in the mining industry is greater than in any other industry. If that is not so, I am surprised that the hon. Member has not made his voice heard before now in denying it. It is apparently true, because it has never been refuted in the national Press.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)
The hon. Member should be allowed to continue his speech.
§ Mr. Jennings
Thank you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for your intervention. There is one important matter with which the Minister must have the courage to deal. The miner today is not producing the same output per shift as he was prior to 1939. The output per man has been dropping for years, and we have to face the fact that output must increase somehow or other, if we want these extra millions of tons of coal. I feel sure that, if we view the industry in a fair and humane way, and give the people concerned some of the benefits asked for by hon. Members opposite and, as the hon. Member for Cannock suggested, make the man's home life, and his wife and family happy and contented, we can achieve that extra output. Younger men are coming back to the industry, and it is quite possible to increase the tonnage per man. I believe that if 2164 that matter, coupled with absenteeism, were properly tackled, it would go a long way towards solving the Minister's difficulties.
The figures mentioned today by the President of the Board of Trade took no account of the fact—which we must not forget—that the industry has had the credit in sales of stone, dirt and rubbish, which could not be sold before the war. The comparison between what was produced before the war and since has been based on such figures, instead of on the figures of good, sound, saleable coal. That is another point which we must watch. We must see that we are getting the right sort of coal. The chairman of the Electricity Company in London said yesterday that, last year, the bad coal had resulted in 750,000 tons more ash. That is a very serious matter, and one which wants looking into. The industry should supply the best coal it can procure.
Sheffield plays, and must play, a very important part in the economic recovery of this country. For that reason, it must have fair and proper allocations of coal in order to support and build up the great steel industry. I hope that the allocations to which the President of the Board of Trade referred today will be allotted to Sheffield. I should like to make a special appeal on behalf of the great industries there, and to say that, instead of being allowed to decline for want of the major raw material, coal should be supplied to them, so that the great benefits provided by the industries of Sheffield can be enjoyed by this country once again. Finally, I appeal on behalf of the domestic users who have had a raw deal. I was in Sheffield last weekend, and I heard many complaints which I could not possibly go into tonight. There is very bad distribution and many people, not only in Sheffield but, no doubt, in many parts of the country, are sitting at home tonight with no solid fuel. I do not think the Minister is unsympathetic. He must know the tragic position which exists in the country owing to the crisis. I beg the Government to consider the time, energy and labour which is being spent on the nationalisation of electricity, and I say to them, "Withdraw the Bill; get on with the job."
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ Mr. John Lewis (Bolton)
This Debate has been characteristic, in that Members 2165 on both sides of the House have attempted to put forward practical and constructive proposals to my right hon. Friend in order to make some contribution to the solution of the difficulties in which we find ourselves. It is, therefore, regrettable that the hon. Member for Hallam (Mr. Jennings) took it upon himself to make an attack upon the miners. That is very much regretted, particularly on this side of the House. As the President of the Board of Trade said this afternoon, we have not to correlate the present output with the output before 1939, but we have to examine it in the light of what it was in 1941–1945. In those circumstances, the whole country has been heartened by the news that during last week 4 million tons of coal were produced. It is unfair at this stage to cast aspersions on the efforts of the miners who are fully alive to their responsibilities, but it is obvious that during the coming year we shall not have enough coal to go all round and to satisfy the requirements of the domestic consumer and enable industry to run full speed ahead.
I want to put this point to my right hon. Friend. Whereas it will be a great burden for the domestic consumer to suffer the same cuts that he is experiencing at present, the economic situation of the country demands that every ounce of available coal shall go to the industrial producer so that we can maintain our exports and thus maintain our standard of living and our economic stability. We are told that it will be necessary to consider staggering hours of work. Last week end I was present at a meeting when my right hon. and learned Friend the President of the Board of Trade came to my constituency and addressed a meeting of cotton union delegates from all over Lancashire. The object was to impress upon the delegates of the cotton unions that it was vital in the interests of our national economy to work a double shift system. That is a 'proposition which, I am sure, will meet with a certain amount of opposition, and perhaps quite rightly so, from those people and particularly from women working in the cotton industry who may feel that their whole social life will be disturbed. The first question that occurs to them is how they will be able to put their children to bed and do their shopping. It seems to me that for the purpose of staggering the load, so far as electricity is concerned, precisely 2166 the same problems arise. From my experience—perhaps limited compared with that of other hon. Members opposite—whereas there is a certain amount of opposition among the workers when a double shift or a treble shift scheme is put forward, when, however, it is put into operation it works perfectly satisfactorily and they like it very much. In my own organisation we have worked a double shift for seven years; we are now working three shifts, and the arrangement is very satisfactory. Industrialists will have to encourage their workers, in collaboration with the unions, to accept the principle that it is vital now to even out the load so as to ensure that we obtain the maximum production. I would ask my right hon. Friend to bear in mind the suggestion that those industries which are supplying others with vital raw materials should be kept running, as the output of other industries depends upon them.
The other point to which I would ask my right hon. Friend to give consideration is this. Whereas in industry today my right hon. Friend might issue a directive and say, "I want you to cut down five per cent. or 10 per cent.", in the same way as he did in December, he must remember that facilities are not always available for industrial concerns to know when they are consuming five per cent. more or five per cent. less. One cannot expect that each concern should keep an operative standing in front of the electrical recording meter to determine the quantity of electricity which is consumed at any one time. Firms who are buying electricity on the kilowatt maximum demand basis know full well that during two crucial months in the year—usually November and December—they are assessed for charge for the whole year's electricity on the peak load demand during that period. Therefore, they instal in their factories instruments which are known as instruments for determining the kilowatt maximum demand. Those instruments are very satisfactory, because should they go beyond a certain limit which would impose an overload, they indicate the maximum demand which the factory absorbs over a period of, say, 10 minutes by an acoustical or optical alarm device which makes it obvious to those working in the factory that they have reached the peak load for which the instrument is set As it is vital that industry 2167 should continue to operate to the maximum extent possible, commensurate with the amount of fuel available, it is essential that most concerns should have these maximum demand indicators installed imediately so that they are able to gauge the quantity of electrical current consumed.
I think Government intervention in this matter is required. The Government should say to certain firms which are capable of producing this type of instrument, "Go full speed ahead, on the same basis which applied during the war," and they should insist that every firm which consumes electricity should install a maximum demand indicator within a year, and the peak load of each concern should be regulated.
§ Mr. Henry Usborne (Birmingham, Acock's Green)
Is it not a fact that these instruments which my hon. Friend advocates use ceramics which are in short supply?
§ Mr. Lewis
My hon. Friend may be perfectly right. I confess I do not know very much about the manufacture of these instruments, but I do know that in the majority of firms who buy electricity on the maximum demand basis these indicators are installed, and if they were obtainable at one time they must be obtainable in the future. If there is a shortage of ceramics it is the duty of the Government to ensure that whatever ceramics are available should be used for this vital purpose.
I know there are several other hon. Members who wish to speak and I will, therefore, conclude on the following note. It is obvious that there is a shortage of coal. That shortage is not the result of inefficiency on the part of the miner, neither is it the result of inefficiency on the part of those people who are today responsible for running private enterprise. I think it would be very unfair to say that the people running factories today are responsible for the present shortage. The people who were running factories before the war were responsible for the present shortage in that they had intimate connections with the people running the mines, but I will not go into that matter. It is quite impossible to hope that we shall get over these difficulties unless managements co-operate, and 2168 it is very easy for managements to pretend they are co-operating and not to do the things they ought to do. I know that from my own experience.
If it is a question of getting the maximum production from the minimum amount of fuel available, it is the responsibility of private enterprise to play the game, and hon. Gentlemen opposite know precisely what I mean. You can use fuel in one way—the most economical way—and you can also use fuel in such a way that it is wasted. I think those engaged in private enterprise would be cutting off their noses to spite their faces if they wasted fuel, and I think they have some idea of the form of co-operation I have in mind. I hope that when the Government consider what action they will take to ensure that we shall not be in the same unfortunate position next year, they will realise that if the public have to continue to put up with the privations and the difficulties to which they are now subjected, and if an appeal is made to them on national grounds, the Government need not worry that the domestic consumers will not play the game. I conclude by saying that if only we had realised in the middle of the year that the present position was liable to arise, and if we had planned for it, I think that, although we could not have avoided the stoppage, conditions would have been ameliorated to a great extent by having introduced an early system of priorities. We must be prepared to admit that there was, I will not say an absence of planning—but things went wrong not because of an absence of planning—but due to the fact that it was thought we would be likely to get through. We obviously could not take into account the possibility of such severe weather conditions which, I understand, have been the worst we have experienced for the past zoo years. Hon. Gentlemen opposite must take into account the fact that had we been rationed during the summer—and I speak as an industrialist—it would have been necessary during that period to have stopped production, because we were getting just about enough coal in our industries to carry on from day to day. It was a question of stopping during the summer months or stopping now. I think that in the circumstances, my right hon. Friend was fully justified in allocating to industry what he did during that period in the hope that the abnormal weather conditions 2169 which have thrown everything out of gear, would not arise.
§ 8.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Nutting (Melton)
I am very glad to have the opportunity of following the hon. Member for Bolton (Mr. J. Lewis), particularly his concluding remarks, because I hope to persuade him and the House that industry in the city and county of Leicester has not only played a very big part in co-operating with the Government and doing all that it can to secure a proper and balanced resumption of production, but has responded with speed and efficiency to the Prime Minister's appeal for a resumption. Within one hour of learning of the Prime Minister's appeal, employers and unions were summoned to a meeting by the Leicester chamber of commerce to discuss with the city electrical engineer and transport authorities how best to resume work, and the following day they agreed upon a scheme for staggering hours. Further discussions have now resulted in complete agreement being reached whereby industrial consumers are divided into two groups, A and B, the former working from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and the latter from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. This scheme has been approved by the Central Electricity Board and by the regional board for industry, and I am informed that the electricity department can supply all the power that is needed for industry in the city and county of Leicester, provided this staggering scheme can be operated successfully. So far, so good.
The arrangements are, of course, subject to two considerations, to the union members agreeing, and to satisfactory arrangements being made regarding transport and married women in industry. On the first point of union members' agreement, I think there is good reason to believe that there will be no difficulties, or, at any rate, no insuperable difficulties. It is idle to pretend that it will not mean a very considerable and prolonged dislocation of the lives of working people in Leicester, or indeed, anywhere where these staggered hours are operated. This will be no short-term affair. As far as I can estimate, this will be a matter of 12 months, or it may be even be two years. However, all the unions' representatives, including the transport union, are backing the scheme up to date, and there is good reason to hope that the members will agree. Over 2170 transport and married women, the difficulties are, however, likely to be considerable and possibly will even delay the introduction of the scheme universally by up to two weeks. I appeal to the Government to give all possible help in implementing this scheme as soon as possible wherever they can—and I propose to show in a moment or two where they can—because until this scheme is operated, the peak electricity loads of consumption in the city of Leicester will increase, and continue to be higher than ever. Yesterday the peak load in the city of Leicester was higher than it ever was during the whole of the winter with the resumption of industry at normal pre-crisis hours. I am sure these conditions will apply in other cities and places where industries are resuming. It is vital we should get ahead with the staggered hours scheme.
The difficulties of transport arc obvious, and I will not stress them to the House. There is, for instance, the difficulty of workers who arc far removed from their jobs and for whom the two hours' interval between the A and B groups starting and leaving off may not be enough. Those difficulties are aggravated by the considerable demands upon the transport services of the county made by school children. I respectfully suggest to the Government two ways of getting over the transport difficulties. The first is that the education authorities should, if necessary, postpone school hours. That may not be very convenient, and it may not be a good thing for the schoolchildren, but it seems necessary that that course should be adopted. Secondly, I ask the Government to help in the matter of transport by providing Army lorries and, if necessary, also drivers. I could take the right hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade to Leicester and show him dumps of Army trucks and vehicles which have been standing there for weeks and months, and in some cases for years. They have been unused—many of them are perhaps unserviceable now—but I ask the Government to provide help by means of Army transport where the omnibus services cannot cope with the increased demands made upon them.
As for the married women, the difficulties appear to be rather more considerable. But fortunately, in the matter of the boot and shoe industry, I do not think that the difficulties need be so great as might appear. While married women form 2171 60 per cent. of the female labour force in the boot and shoe industry and in the hosiery industry, the two staple industries of Leicester, in the boot and shoe industry their labour employs only about 10 per cent. of the electric power. I think it is possible in that industry, and perhaps in others—if the same conditions apply, that is if they do not use very much power—they nay, and indeed should, be allowed considerable latitude, whilst at the same time safeguarding against breaking the continuity of production.
So much for the electricity side of the picture. The staggering scheme seems to me to be a sound one. A good job has been done by both sides of industry, and I think Leicester and Leicestershire can fairly claim to be the first to evolve a scheme of this kind. It is the first part of the country, in an area which has been allowed to resume production, which has evolved a scheme of this kind, and one which I hope may serve as a model for other districts which are about to re-start. In particular, I would invite the Government's attention to the fact that that scheme has been worked out by industry itself. The Regional Board delegated the task; they gave general guidance, and left the rest to joint consultation between employers and unions. I sincerely hope the Government will draw the moral for the future from the success of that policy.
I conclude with a question and an appeal to the Government. The question is this. This afternoon we have heard from the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade about the difficulties which the Government have encountered, are encountering and will continue to encounter in the matter of the manufacture of generating equipment. I am perfectly prepared to accept the right hon. Gentleman's statement, which I have heard corroborated by many economic experts and others, that it will take between two and three years for sufficient generating equipment to be produced to meet the needs of industry. I am prepared to accept that statement. But is it a fact—and I think we are entitled to an unequivocal answer to this question—that there are some 500 generating plants belonging to the Royal Air Force which are spare, which could be made available to the Government to meet the present shortage of plant, but which the Govern- 2172 ment have so far taken no steps whatever to secure?
§ Sir S. Cripps
Perhaps it will be convenient if I answer that question now. We have taken steps to secure, not only from the Royal Air Force but from the Army, available generating sets, both in this country and abroad. They have not all come into action, but we have taken steps to secure them.
§ Mr. Nutting
I am very glad indeed to have that assurance from the right hon. Gentleman. I gather it is an unequivocal assurance. Perhaps my information is previous to that of the right hon. Gentleman. But I heard this only the other day, and I must say I was very shocked indeed to hear it. I cannot argue the point with the right hon. Gentleman, because while that was my information, I cannot give him any date upon which the information was based. I sincerely hope that the information and the assurance which the right hon. Gentleman has given the House is a correct statement of the conditions.
Finally, I appeal to the Government to produce some definite plan for industry for the next 12 to 18 months. While the electricity position may be all right if the staggering scheme operates satisfactorily, the solid fuel position in Leicestershire—and, indeed, I should imagine throughout the country—could hardly be worse or more critical. After all, industry is dependent upon both positions being put right. For instance, there is no point in giving power to factories if they cannot be heated, or lighting them if they cannot be given the necessary steam or other coal-produced power. The Government have to give a lead in these matters, and they must let industry know where it stands. I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman, industry cannot be told today exactly how it will stand 12 months hence. However, I hope that, as soon as it is possible to envisage and foresee clearly the position regarding solid fuel supplies for industry, the Government will not hesitate one second, but will let industry know exactly where it stands. They must let industry know; they must let industry know how much coal it can get over the next 12 months, not just the next 12 days.
The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said there must be no repetition of this present crisis. Let the 2173 Government, then, give industry a clear lead, and a clear idea of what its supplies are going to be, and how much stocking they are going to do. Industry will do the rest. What I have said about plans being made in Leicester and Leicestershire shows the spirit and the efficiency with which industry has done its part to meet the present crisis and the present national emergency. I sincerely trust that the Government will now, if now only, do their part as well.
§ 8.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)
I think we can easily say as miners, that for once in our island story we are not to blame for the crisis confronting this country. The hon. Member for Hallam (Mr. Jennings), who is now: I see, filling the ranks of the absentees by his absence from the Chamber, made the point about excessive absenteeism, which, he said, we seemed to ignore in the mines. It is as well that he should fully understand the position in some of our mines today. It is as well that he should understand the position that has been created over a period of seven years. It is as well that he should understand that some of our machines today in the mines at our long wall coal faces have 4 feet 6 inches of a jib, and they are working six days a week which is nine yards of coal taken from the heading and face If we multiply weeks 50 by 9 we get 450 yards, and if we multiply 450 yards by seven years we get 3,150 yards in the mine now, that was not there at the beginning of the war. So men have to travel that distance underground. I have stressed from time to time, when I have had the opportunity, the importance of not only providing travelling facilities for our men on the surface, but improved travelling facilities underground for men going from the pit bottom to the coal face
It is as well that the hon. Member for Hallam should understand, also, in regard to the arguments which he tried to advance about increased or excessive absenteeism, that we have men working "in by" with the temperature at 110 to 120 degrees. It is well for him to understand, in giving consideration to absenteeism, that some of those men, every day that they descend the shaft lose 7 to 14 pounds in weight. That may be a staggering statement to make, but it has, nevertheless, been proved by experiment. We have weighed the men before they have descended the shaft; we have weighed them when they have come 2174 up; and the average lost is about 11½ pounds. I ask the hon. Member for Hallam whether he would continue to work six days in conditions such as those. It ill behaves any man from the Opposition Benches to complain about absenteeism in the mines. Whilst I agree that we ought not to remain silent about what absenteeism there is, whilst I agree that we ought to impress upon our men the importance of attending work every available day, I challenge hon. Members apposite, or even hon. Members on this side of the House, to go to men working in those conditions and say to them, "Work six days a week every week of the year." It is impossible.
I am myself an ex-miner, and I used to claim, in my younger days, that I could go six days a week. I tried it for a long period, but, finally, the conditions under which I worked compelled me to take days off from work to rest. Therefore, I suggest to hon. Members opposite, who advance the argument that, if we can cure absenteeism in the pit, we can cure the problem confronting this nation in respect of coal, that such is not the case. Listening to the arguments advanced by hon. Members opposite, one would be led to believe that the situation confronting the country today has dropped from the clouds, or had come upon us within the last four or five weeks. Any person who has that thought in his mind is suffering from a delusion. The situation confronting the country today has been slowly but surely making headway upon us over a long period, and time and time again, as humble miners in this House, we have warned Governments of the past that unless and until they took the step that had to be taken, a situation would ultimately confront them which it would be difficult to overcome.
In the short time at my disposal I want to ask the Minister of Fuel and Power, and the Government, to concentrate upon two things in order that the situation in the future may not be the same as that in which we find ourselves now. In my judgment the two essential things to which we must apply our minds if we are to prevent a recurrence of this trouble are these: we shall have to concentrate on attracting more men to the industry, and provide more machines to mine the coal. This House should know something about the age-groups in the industry, and how they have declined during the last 2175 few years. In 1937 we had in the mines between the ages of 14 and 15 28,000. In 1945 there were only 12,000. If the 1937 figure of 28,000 in that age-group conk) have been maintained, those boys would have grown to young men, and would today have been the actual coal producers working at the coal face. In the next age-group, 16 to 17, in 1937 we had 43,000. In 1945 that figure had dwindled to 22,000. In the next age-group, which is a very important one from the point of view of haulage, 18 to 19, in 1937 we had 37,000, while in 1945 we had 50,000. What has happened? The war came along and took some of the men, and after appeals had been made in this House they were brought back. There is another important age-group which I do not want this House or the Ministry of Fuel and Power to overlook, and that is the age-group between 20 and 25. In 1937 there were 107,000, in 1945 that important age-group had dropped to 99,000. There is only one age-group between 14 and 65 which has increased in numbers over a period of five years, and that group includes the men over 65; in 1937 it was 16,000 but in 1945 it was over 24,000.
How can you expect men who have worked in the pits for forty odd years to do their best at 65 years? I know the Minister of Fuel and Power is doing his best and that his recruitment officers are playing their part, but we must get the young men and youths in the mining industry and in the mining villages to take a loftier and nobler conception of the dignity of mining. We cannot do it by preaching at them. What we can do is to persuade them and tell them the importance of mining as a national industry. We can tell them the importance of mining in the situation which confronts this nation. If I understand the mentality of the mining fraternity and the young men in the minefields, we have only to convince them that each has a part to play to help the nation towards prosperity and they will respond. But they will not respond if we keep preaching at them and condemning them. A lot of the evils which we now see come from days gone by when people, instead of lending a helping hand and treating the miners sympathetically, poured ridicule and condemnation on a body of men who are the finest in the world. I am much concerned 2176 about the question of machines, because if we cannot get the machines, the men are of very little use. I ask the Minister then to concentrate upon these two points; first, increasing manpower, particularly the young manpower, and, second, procuring the machines so essential in the production of coal for the future requirements.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Sutcliffe (Royton)
Everyone on this side of the House will agree with much of what was said by the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) speaking from his long experience of the mining industry. Today's Debate has been notable for the many tributes paid to the miners and mining community from all sides of the House, and quite rightly so. I want to draw attention to the Lancashire cotton industry, which has not been mentioned so far, and especially to those mills which have to use solid fuel as against electricity. As Members know, the Lancashire mills have been living from hand to mouth for months past, and this is certainly no new thing which has suddenly come upon them. In this connection, there is a complaint made by the regional board—who in their turn had been approached by the manufacturers—that London would not listen to the arguments and repeated requests and appeals made by the board. That is a serious matter. There must be more liaison, as these boards are set up for the purpose of communication within their areas and with London.
A questionnaire was sent out to 15 firms in one of the towns which I know well. It employs 3,181 people, mostly in some process connected with the cotton and woollen industries, although one leather firm and one rubber firm are included. I should like to quote these remarkable figures. The coal required each week by these 15 industries is 942 tons, of which 351 tons is for heating purposes only. The total allocated under the Cripps Plan was 643 tons a week, but the amount received comes to a mere 389 tons, in total. But, above all, what is staggering is this: the man hours lost by these 15 firms, in the seven weeks up to 19th February, have amounted to 389,400. That, from a few firms in one small town, is an astounding figure. It shows what tremendous inroads have been made into a few industries in one town through lack of fuel. The 2177 amount of coal required to start these industries in that town is 1,524 tons a week. All these mills are on solid fuel. They have no electricity from outside sources; if they want electricity they make their own.
Only four or five wagon loads of coal have arrived in the town in recent weeks. Yet those industries see the amazing spectacle of full coal trains going from Lancashire to Yorkshire and vice versa every day while they, although near the West Riding border, have to get their coal largely from Derbyshire. One would have thought that Derbyshire coal would have gone South, towards London, rather than going all the way to Lancashire, when Lancashire and Yorkshire coalfields lie on either side of this town. I beg the Minister to consider this point very carefully. Many coal trains have been diverted at marshalling yards; some before leaving Derbyshire and others on the way. That is what we complain of. Trains have been diverted to what the Minister thinks are industries of greater priority. It is impossible to have an industry of much greater priority at the present time than the cotton industry.
I would like to know what is being done about damage to machinery. The Government assured us that the first thing to be done would be to prevent damage to machinery arising from lack of fuel. There is, in my constituency, an artificial silk works which, due to lack of coal for heating, has lost 25,000 to 30,000 lbs. weight of material, which was in process when the factory had to close. It will take five weeks before a saleable product can be made at that mill. A similar thing has happened at other mills, where pipes and valves have burst owing to frost. This is one of the most serious aspects of the whole problem, in view of the promises that were made by the Government that at all costs this matter would be carefully watched. I ask the Government to pay special attention to this and also to the whole question of fuel supplies to the cotton industry.
§ 8.54 p.m.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson (Southport)
Anyone who has listened to the speeches delivered during this Debate will agree that our request for it was thoroughly justified, and that the speeches have been moderate and have tended to be constructive. I hope that the remarks I have to make 2178 tonight will follow those lines. I think that the House and the country are much indebted to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade for his clear explanation, and the very full answers which he was good enough to give to several of the questions put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden). But I think that the House and the country are justified in regretting that the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not speak a good deal earlier in this crisis, and on more occasions last year. If we had had more speeches from the right hon. and learned Gentleman, then, giving such full information as he gave today, and fewer speeches from his colleague the Minister of Fuel and Power, the country would be in a better position than it is today.
I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will not mind if I proceed to comment on some of the statements which he made, and some of the propositions which he put forward. I am sorry that he thought fit to repeat, what I think must be regarded as the very unfair attacks on the Central Electricity Board, which were originally made by the Minister of Fuel and Power. It is very difficult indeed—in fact it is impossible without betraying confidences—for members of the Board to reply. I think that it is most unfair for Ministers to shuffle off their responsibilities by saying, "We acted on the advice given by our experts." What was the advice given by their experts of the Central Electricity Board? The Board obviously made their calculations on certain assumptions. One of the assumptions was that there would be a normal growth in electricity last year, as there had been in previous years, and, if my calculations are correct, they made allowance for that and suggested that the actual consumption of electricity for this winter would be higher than it was the winter before.
In answer to a direct question put earlier by my right hon. Friend, the President of the Board of Trade said that the Central Electricity Board was told to work on the assumption that domestic fuel allocations would be the same this year as they were last year. Is he quite sure that that was all that was told them? Is he sure that no other indications were given to them, and that they were not led to believe, as the public at large were led to believe, that 2179 the situation so far as domestic solid fuel was concerned, would be much better this year than it was last? I do not know when the Central Electricity Board were given instructions and asked to make their estimates, but I presume that it was some time in the early spring when they made their preliminary estimates, and on 15th March a luncheon was given by the Electricity Development Association at which the Minister of Fuel and Power made a speech, and at which, I assume, Members of the Board and leading members of the industry were present. What did the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Fuel and Power say on 15th March? I was not present myself, but I take a quotation from the speech reported in "The Times" on 16th March. He said:No step would be ignored that would enable the Government to face the public next winter "—That is the winter we are in now—in order to secure ample supplies not only for industrial consumers but for domestic consumers equally.If anyone of us had been present at that luncheon, should he not have been entitled to assume that the right hon. Gentleman was confident that domestic allocations would be all right this winter? Of course he would.
Then what about the question of electric fires? The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Fuel and Power must have known perfectly well what the sale of electric fires was, and he could have calculated perfectly easily what the additional consumption would be. The hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss J. Lee), whose speech we all enjoyed so much, rightly talked about the desirability of people when they had money in their pockets buying electric fires and using them. As I said in an earlier speech on this subject, a person does not buy an electric fire just to take it home and look at it; he buys it with the intention of using it. It is significant that the additional coal consumption as a result of the increased domestic consumption of electricity amounted to over 3 million tons this year compared with last. Obviously, that is the sort of thing that the Minister of Fuel and Power ought to have foreseen. We do not go about the country boasting about the number of electric fires that have been purchased, without foreseeing that every fire purchased means an in- 2180 crease in power consumption. I am not the only person who thinks that this information ought to be obtained, because the hon. Member for Erdington (Mr. J. Silverman) thought that the Government ought to reveal what was the basis of the estimate by the Central Electricity Board.
Then there is the question of stocks. The Central Electricity Board are not responsible for the size of the stocks that are accumulated with which to start the winter. It is the Minister of Fuel and Power who bears that responsibility, and it has nothing to do with the Board. As my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd-George) showed with figures that I will not repeat, it was quite clear that on those stock figures the Government must have known that even if electricity consumption had run no higher this winter than the winter before, we should have exhausted the stocks, and anyone studying the matter would have known that we could not have got through, even with a mild winter and without the electric fires and the abnormal consumption of electricity. That is not the responsibility of the Central Electricity Board, but of the Government. They ought to have known, and taken steps in good time.
The President of the Board of Trade painted a grim picture of the conditions that are going to face industry in the course of the next few weeks. The picture he painted was very fair and interesting, but it is obvious that conditions facing individual firms throughout the country in trying to get their industries going again will be grim. The allocation of coal from one part of the country to another and putting straight the dislocation in the stocks of coal is going to be a severe task. That was not a state of affairs that arose overnight. Does the President of the Board of Trade seriously ask the House and the country to believe that nothing of that could be foreseen and that suddenly it came on them the week after Christmas? It is fantastic to believe that.
§ Mr. Hudson
That is probably why with great care and skill and, if I may be permitted to say so, with great honesty, the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not speak in the last Debate we had in this House although he intended to.
§ Mr. Hudson
How can the right hon. and learned Gentleman reconcile what actually took place in the last week of December—with all the appalling consequences which we now know—with the letters sent out by the Minister of Fuel and Power on 6th December, when he told industry that if only they would agree to achieve a voluntary saving of 5 per cent. no dislocation of industry would be necessary? I wonder how he reconciles this dislocation in industry which we are now suffering with a statement he made this time on 9th December, 1946, when he said:The solid fuel position is better today by far than it was twelve months ago.That will take a little explaining. We were very interested to hear the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade talking about the stocks he was going to build up by the end of this year? What are the stocks going to be at the end of the present year? What are they likely to have dropped to? Is it at all likely that they will be four million tons? I doubt it. I think the Government will be very lucky and that they will regard them: selves as very lucky if they emerge at the end of the winter with stocks that are not lower than 4 million tons. When pressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington, the right hon. and learned Gentleman said that the minimum stocks to start next winter would be 14 million tons.
§ Mr. Hudson
The right hon. and learned Gentleman said, "the minimum stocks." It might be argued whether they were to be 15, 16 or 17 million, but he did not think that it could possibly fall below 14. That, I suggest, is gambling because we know from experience that the last time we were perfectly safe when going through a winter we had stocks of 18 million tons, and I suggest that that figure is the minimum with which we can get through this winter safely. However, let us assume that it is only 14 million tons. That means that in the course of the summer the right hon. and learned Gentleman has to build up 10 million tons of stock on top of the 4 million with which he starts the coal year. In other words, out of the weekly production he has to put aside not less than 400,000 tons of coal a week. That is considerably more than has been done in any 2182 recent year and it compares with the figure of somewhere just over 100,000 tons last year. If the figures of production run at anything approaching what they did last year the consumption, whether by industry, by electricity or gas undertakings, or by domestic users, is bound to be reduced very low indeed in order to enable him to build up those stocks. We shall be very interested to hear when the right hon. Gentleman comes to reply if he can tell us what figure he does expect production to run at, and what is going to be the result in terms of reduced industrial production and, to that extent, unemployment during this summer while the stocks are being built up.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade said that his ambition was to see an even flow of industry through the summer and winter. That may or may not be right; I think that in the circumstances with which we are faced it probably is right, and it is a very much better doctrine, if I may say so, than that preached by his right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power. But if, because of the reduced consumption of electricity and fuel in the summer, and the fact that industry can be carried on in longer hours of daylight and warmer weather, it is desirable to have an even flow of industry through the summer and the winter this year and in general, surely it was equally desirable last year. Similarly, if it is good this year surely it would have been wise for the Government to have introduced this system last year. Once again, the right hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade differs radically from his colleague the Minister of Fuel and Power because the Minister said last week:In the summer and in the early winter, a rationing scheme … would have led to short time in almost every industry … impeding our export efforts which were vital at that time.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th February 1947; Vol. 433, c. 78 and 79.]I do not know how much he thinks those vital export efforts have been impeded as a result of the shut-down that is taking place today. I venture to think that it is very considerably more than it would have been if he had followed the advice of the President of the Board of Trade last summer and had had an even flow summer and winter. Hon. Members opposite are never tired of twitting us that we were responsible for unemployment.
§ Mr. Hudson
I am very much obliged to the hon. Member for that figure. If he looks at his papers today he will see that the figure today is 2,350,000.
§ Mr. Shurmer
It is only a fortnight; then it was five years. Then they were begging for food. They do not need to do that now.
§ Mr. Hudson
If we had to have an inevitable slowing down of industry, we suggest that it would have been much better last summer to have faced that inevitable slowing down, and it could have been slowed down gradually. Priority could have been given to the industries serving the essential basic needs of the country and the export trade, rather than allowing everyone to carry on without any warning and suddenly to be face to face with the shock that we have just had.
I turn now to the point made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman about generating plants. He painted a very gloomy picture indeed of the prospects that will face this country as a result of the shortage of generating plants. He quite rightly said that the shortage had its origins in the war. During the war it was impossible to produce on a scale similar to that of peacetime. In fact, only 38 per cent. of generating plant was produced during the war years, compared with 85 per cent. in a similar period prewar. Of course, in addition we sent a certain amount of plant to Russia which was equivalent in total to two years' installation of new generating plant in this country.
A committee was set up in 1944, I think, to deal with the question of postwar supplies and orders for generating plant in this country, and orders were placed. My point, which I am sure it was inadvertent that the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not mention, is, What has happened to this plant? We are assured by people who ought to know that at present it is taking about four years to build a generating station instead of two, which it took prewar. We would like to know what priorities have been given to it, both as regards the clearing of sites as a result of inter-departmental discussions, the provision of labour and 2184 raw materials. Is there any reason why a successful attempt should not be made to get back to the prewar time of two years, instead of the postwar time of four years? We believe that that is a very worthwhile consideration.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman talked about the domestic fuel position and foreshadowed a further cut. My personal belief, which I believe is shared in a great many quarters of the House, is that domestic cuts are already altogether too severe. The people in this country have put up for five years now with a reduction of 30 per cent. in their domestic fuel consumption. There is a point beyond which people cannot go. It is perfectly natural that people should have attempted to make good that shortage of solid fuel by turning to gas and electricity. The increased consumption of coal as far as electricity and gas for domestic use is concerned comes to a total of 6,000,000 tons against a cut of 14,000,000 tons, and the mere fact that people have done that shows that the British housewife is, quite rightly in my view, not prepared to go on being cold and that there is a point beyond which we cannot drive people. There is a point beyond which discomfort in the home will not pay. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has in the past been twitted about austerity. If we carry austerity to the point foreshadowed in his speech today, the final result will be a lowered efficiency of the country as a whole.
§ Sir S. Cripps
I would like again to correct that. I said exactly the contrary. We contemplate making no cut in solid fuel for domestic consumption. This is the third time I have said that. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman—not because I mind in the least, but from a public point of view—will not repeat that again because it will get into the Press.
§ Mr. Hudson
If I said "domestic fuel," I apologise. I did not mean that. But the right hon and learned Gentleman will agree that he said he was going to maintain the cuts in the domestic fuel ration and in addition impose a drastic ration on domestic gas and electricity—
§ Sir S. Cripps
I did not say "drastic." I said that we must maintain the present cuts until we can substitute for them a rationing system which would give a large saving.
§ Mr. Hudson
Do not let us quibble—[Interruption.] I do not mean personally. I am perfectly certain that the housewife this winter will not quibble in the least about how it is described—she will know. She will not get as much gas and electricity for heating purposes as in the autumn of last year. That is what I am concerned to protest about. So far from having a reduction on last year, she ought, in our view, to have an increase. After all, the right hon. Gentleman and his friends were responsible for raising the production of electric fires from 3,600 to 220,000 a month. That is the sort of planning which is also responsible for allocating only 11 per cent. of those fires for export against 40 per cent. for export of the wagons required to carry the coal to run the fires, and which allotted sheet steel for the manufacture of those electric fires which would, if it had been applied to motor cars, have increased our exports by between 15,000 and 20,000 motor cars. As far as the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech is concerned, it is not unfair to say that the grim picture he painted of what we have to face in the next two months could so easily have been avoided. It is clear also from what he said that the suffering which he indicated that the people of this country would have to put up with is necessitated solely by his Government's refusal to produce sufficient coal.
That brings me to the speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock which we enjoyed so much. She said that no one can step up production at once and, indeed, I thought the right hon. and learned Gentleman said we had to proceed, as far as increased coal production was concerned, from 1945 and 1946. The hon. Lady said that the problem with which we are faced is the men in the pits today. I could not agree with her more. However, it is worth while remembering that the number of men in the pits today is almost precisely the same as the number of men in the pits in 1941 when 206 million tons of coal were produced. And 206 million tons of coal, if produced today, plus the seven million or eight million tons of opencast coal, would provide us with 213 million or 214 million tons, and that would solve practically the whole of the difficulties to which we have been listening today. It would not solve our national difficulties because it would 2186 not leave us sufficient margin for our exports without which, in the long run, this country cannot maintain its existing standard of living. But let that pass. If we had 213 million or 214 million tons of coal, it would solve the problem of the home industry and of our domestic consumption of coal, gas and electricity.
§ Mr. Hudson
The hon. Lady said that no man could be expected to work six shifts a week. She also said that the older the men get, the less they can work. I would only ask her to have a look at the figures in the Statistical Digest.
§ Mr. Hudson
May I finish? I promised the right hon. Gentleman I would, and I was held up five minutes because I wanted to let another hon. Member speak. If she will look, she will find that the number of man shifts worked in 1941 was 5.91, and in 1942, when men had been withdrawn from the Forces and, therefore, on the whole the rest were older, the number of manshifts were 5.96 on the average.
§ Mr. Hudson
I could not agree with the hon. Lady more. [Interruption.] Perhaps hon. Members will wait just one minute because it is only delaying the Minister of Fuel and Power. I give the hon. Lady the' point about absenteeism. I am only taking the Government's own figures. The hon. Lady gave a most striking account of what had happened in her own area of the Midlands and Cannock Chase. She said, and I am prepared to take her word for it, that the way those men were handled last week about the Sunday was thoroughly stupid to say the least of it, and that a potential willingness to work, an anxiety to work, a readiness' to do their best to meet this national crisis, was nipped in the bud and converted into a sullen sense of grievance. I am quite prepared to believe that possible, and I venture to suggest from these benches that the great mistake the Government 2187 is making today, the great mistake it made in the White Paper and I believe I am backed up by what the hon. Member for Cannock said—is that they have set the target too low. I recollect that during the war, when I was trying to get food for this country from the farmers, I did not go about saying, "I am going to give you more money for your wheat." That was not the incentive I held out. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] No, I said they would get a reasonable price.
The miners today are getting a far better wage than they ever got before. What I said to the farmers was, "Here is the target. You all believe it is a target far higher than you can possibly attain, but it is needed in the national interest". What was the result? They beat that target. I believe that if the miners of this country were approached in that spirit, now that they have got what they allege they want politically in the shape of nationalisation, it is probable that they would provide the fuel that we need. I believe that the fact that appeal has not been made is the real condemnation of the present Government.
§ 9.26 p.m.
§ The Minister of Fuel and Power (Mr. Shinwell)
Every speaker who has addressed the House, with the exception of the right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson), has expressed the desire to avoid any reference to the past. I am bound to say that that afforded me considerable consolation. It is a fine spirit, further evidence of which I shall be happy to see recorded in the newspapers of the country.
The right hon. Member for Southport began his speech by promising to make some constructive suggestions. Perhaps he will perform that task on another occasion. But, there are some observations he made to which I shall address myself before I sit down. In the meantime, perhaps I may be permitted to reply to some of the questions that were directed to the Government Bench by hon. Members in all quarters of the House. The hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Byers) asked whether there was any statutory provision for the action taken in the suppression, temporarily, of periodicals. The answer is that there is, of course no statutory provision, but it was possible to gain the consent of those who represent, for the most part, the weekly periodicals.
§ Mr. Shinwell
That is true, but there was a majority. Actually there was some discontent about the decision, but the action had to be taken, having regard to all the circumstances. I think the action taken by those responsible for conducting the publications was, on the whole, quite satisfactory.
§ Mr. Shinwell
We had to rely for the most part on voluntary co-operation, but an instruction of some sort had to be given. The parties concerned naturally sought guidance, but the matter will be disposed of very shortly, as already some arrangement has been made for the resumption of those periodicals.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The hon. Member for Bolton (Mr. J. Lewis) directed my attention to an interesting device for enabling industrial undertakings to gauge the amount of current they were using. I shall be happy to hear more of that device, and if it is possible to have it installed in industrial undertakings, we shall seek to render any assistance that we can.
The hon. Member for Bury (Mr. W. Fletcher) addressed himself to the subject of the thermal efficiency of coal, and other hon. Members spoke about the quality of the coal that is now being disposed of. I have never, at any time, from this Box or elsewhere, sought to deny that the quality of coal has, for some time past, been inferior, but hon. Members will note that that has been the position for several years. In any event, even if it had only existed in the past two or three years, the Government cannot be held responsible, nor has nationalisation anything to do with it, because the colliery undertakings, with the washeries, the screening plant and the necessary paraphernalia, were in the hands of private companies.
§ Mr. W. Fletcher
I asked the right hon. Gentleman if he could express that difference in thermal efficiency in the statistics given, so that we should know the facts
§ Mr. Shinwell
I should be very glad to do so if I could, but it is not possible to 2189 present, statistically, the difference in thermal efficiency resulting from the various qualities of coal. But I am conscious that the coal is far from satisfactory. I have had experience of it myself, and I dislike it intensely. Almost every morning, I receive, either at my home, or at the Ministry of Fuel and Power, an elegantly wrapped-up parcel which arouses pleasant thoughts in my mind until it is opened, only to discover that the contents consist of pieces of slate or shale or' something of the sort. There is too high an ash content in much of the coal now being used, but not until the National Coal Board, who have just taken over the mines of the country, are in a position to instal effective and adequate washing and screening plant, and to conduct the necessary operations, will it be possible to deal with this matter, but I hope it will be dealt with very shortly.
The hon. Member for Bury also asked me whether, if any rationing scheme was imposed, we would consider the position of elderly persons. Certainly, if any rationing scheme for which we are responsible, is imposed at any time, we are bound to consider the position of people of that kind, and, of course, of young persons. I was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Baird) whether I could say how generators are allocated. The position is that we have discovered, in the country, a substantial number of generators, some in the possession of Service Departments. These generators are disposed of by arrangement with the regional industrial boards, which are situated in various parts of the country, which are under the supervision of the Board of Trade and on which the employers are adequately represented, so there is no question of nepotism or anything of the sort. The generators are disposed of in accordance with requirements, but if any difficulty emerges in regard to the disposal of these generators, and hon. Members will inform me of the facts, I will direct the attention of the Board of Trade to the matter.
I was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Erdington (Mr. J. Silverman) whether firms which have been closed as a result of the recent trouble are likely to be indemnified against loss. That is a matter upon which I am unable to express an opinion. I would rather that 2190 the subject was dealt with by the appropriate Government Department. He also asked whether it was possible for an industrial undertaking to obtain increased stocks as a result of pressure. No doubt he had in mind the case of Austins. I can assure him that no firm is able to obtain an increase in the coal allocation as a result of pressure exerted by an hon. Member or anybody else. We take into account all the facts and the circumstances, and the allocation is so provided.
I come now to the speech of the right hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd-George). He suggested that the target figure the Government had in mind for this year in respect of coal output was too optimistic. That target figure cannot be regarded as optimistic if we take into consideration the minimum requirements of industry, including gas and electricity, and domestic consumption, having regard to the need for full time in industry and the need to provide domestic consumers and non-industrial establishments with adequate supplies. It is the minimum requirement if we are to get through with satisfaction. I agree at once with the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, and with others who have spoken in similar terms on the subject of export, that this will not provide a margin for adequate exports. The Government regret that it should be so, but we cannot speak in terms of ample exports until we have satisfied the needs of British industry. That is the primary consideration.
It may be that the target is optimistic in this sense: We may not be able to achieve it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] That is another matter. I shall address myself to that subject before I sit down. If I may say so, it is the vital element in this matter. It is quite useless for hon. Members to speak in terms of maintaining British industry and full employment, to say nothing about exports or providing—as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport indicated—adequate supplies to domestic consumers who are suffering if not hardships, serious inconveniences until we can secure ample production. Production is the vital element. But, as I ventured to point out to the House on a recent occasion, I have, all along, addressed myself to the question of production. While I have been compelled, because of circumstances over which we have no control whatever, to 2191 consider economies and allocations on a limited scale, I recognised throughout the whole of last year that unless it was possible to step up production, economies and rationing would be of little avail. We dislike economies. We are not asking the public or the industrial consumer to accept austerity for austerity's sake. We are not asking the public to accept a rationing scheme, or industrial undertakings to accept fuel allocation schemes, because we like them. We would prefer it to be otherwise if we could gain adequate production, and I take it that hon. Members in all quarters of the House are in agreement on that. But, if we are to secure ample production of coal in this country, to enable us to maintain industry and to provide for electricity, gas and the like, we must consider the implications of that policy.
The implications are obvious. It is no use hon. Members opposite declaiming against absenteeism in the pits. I am far from condoning absenteeism in the pits, and I have spoken in strong terms to miners in various parts of the country, although, at the same time, I understand the causes of absenteeism. There has been some reduction, but there is still absenteeism, just as there is in other industries. As it happens, the: only industry in the country that is subject to statistics in relation to absenteeism is the mining industry. It is in the limelight all the time. Nobody on these benches condones absenteeism, and, if we can, we will take every possible measure in order to reduce it. Hon. Members opposite must be under no illusion. To declaim against the miners in respect of absenteeism will not gain us a single ounce of coal. If we are to secure increased production, the main prerequisite is that we should gain the support, the friendship and the goodwill of the miners. We must be prepared to provide all the necessary incentives to the miners.
I was not aware that hon. Members opposite were always in favour of high wages for miners. Perhaps, if the miners had received higher wages in the past, there might have been a better spirit in the mining industry. But I was not aware that hon. Members opposite were in favour of higher wages for the miners, and I say this with no desire to be controversial. I assure hon. Members of that. This Debate has been conducted in good 2192 temper, and I am not going to throw the apple of discord into the arena. But I say to hon. Members opposite that there is no use in demanding that the miners should work six shifts a week, without exception and without regard to the circumstances, and that there should be no absenteeism when as a result of the conditions
§ Mr. Shinwell
It is very difficult to interpret the speeches of hon. Members, The right hon. Gentleman did not hear all the speeches on the other side, and he might consult the pages of HANSARD. There is no use in talking about miners working full shifts and full weeks, having regard to the fact that, in the past, it was quite unusual in the mining industry to work six shifts a week. Be that as it may, it is production that is essential, but there is another condition. If we are to get ample production, we must have the physical conditions in the pits to enable that production to be achieved. I am only too well aware that there has been in recent years a deterioration in the pits of this country, in spite of increased mechanisation—which is not always adequate to the purpose—and that conditions are by no means suitable for the purpose we have in mind. All these matters are being dealt with by the National Coal Board. Nevertheless, I believe that it is possible for the miners of the country, British miners—and I have no objection to foreign miners, if the men in the pits are prepared to work and co-operate with them—to produce the coal the country needs if we provide the necessary conditions in the pits to enable them to do the job.
Hon. Members might ask what we have done in that connection. I have not time to dilate on the details, but I venture to suggest that much has been done in the past year to obtain the co-operation of the mineworkers of the country. If I have addressed myself more to that aspect of the subject than to rationing or economies, I confess my mistake, but, in all the circumstances it was the right thing to do. In any event, if the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport objects to rationing—because he has spoken about the severity of certain aspects of rationing, which indicates his dislike of it—then, clearly, we must address ourselves more 2193 and more, and as vigorously as possible, to the subject of production.
That brings me to the question of manpower. The right hon. Gentleman the senior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter) spoke on the subject of foreign labour. Other hon. Members in this House and outside have spoken on the subject, and many articles have been written on it. We are not unconscious of the needs of the mining industry in respect of manpower. But, first, we must make up the yearly wastage. Last year, 80,000 men and boys left the mining industry. Why are men leaving the industry? It is obvious; for the most part they are leaving because it is not attractive enough. Men do not leave an industry if it is attractive and if it is congenial. We gained 76,000 as a result of intense propaganda. What is going to happen this year? No one can say. We hope to overtake the wastage. At present, we have 697,000 men on the books, but that does not mean that 697,000 men are engaged in production. In fact, we have far too many men on the surface, and, in the opinion of technicians, who understand this industry, there are far too many men engaged in haulage. Haulage, for the most part is obsolete; we want more men at the face.
Do any hon. Members, like those economists who write to "The Times" and other newspapers, suggest that all we require to do is to get hold of 100,000 men and plant them in the pits, and that the coal will emerge? The men have to be trained, and, even if they are trained, places have to be found for them in the pits, and that is not so easy as some hon. Members suppose. I venture to ask hon. Members whether they think that I would object to putting 100,000 men into the pits if I had them? Why should I object, if I thought that I could get more coal by doing so? The National Coal Board would put them there if they thought it desirable. But we know their views. is it any use putting men into the pits unless the conditions are such that they can be absorbed? But the matter is under constant examination.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I am glad the hon. Member has raised that point. I cannot go fully into the matter tonight, but I have the documents in my possession, and the 2194 hon. Member will be surprised to learn that foreigners who are placed in the French mines do not succeed in raising the output per man shift, and that is what matters. They actually reduce it, and, if the hon. Member doubts my word, I shall be very glad to show him the documents and the figures.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I would not put the knowledge possessed by the hon. Member —and I know that he has some knowledge about some things, at any rate—against that of the French Minister of Mines and the technical experience of the French. But that does not mean that we cannot employ more men if we get the right men and the right conditions for absorbing them.
§ Mr. Shinwell
When the right hon. Gentleman speaks of 105 per cent., he must be able to relate it to something. It is no use speaking in vacuo about percentages. They must be related. As I cannot discuss the matter further tonight, I would be glad if the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford University and the hon. Member for North Dorset would consult together. At the same time, it must not be assumed that we are opposed to the employment of more men or of foreign labour in the pits, if we can get the right men.
I now come to the question of electricity. Even if we were to secure 4,000,000 tons of deep-mined coal per week and another 200,000 or 250,000 of opencast coal, making about 4½ million tons of coal a week, first of all we would have to consider whether we could move it about. It is no use producing coal if we cannot obtain the necessary mobility. The coal has to be moved immediately it is produced. There are always millions of tons of coal in the pipeline. The coal comes out of the pit, it is dumped into the wagons and the wagons begin to move, unless they are left in the sidings or marshalling yards which is no advantage to industry or to the domestic consumer. Therefore, we have to get adequate transport, and everybody must know that transport facilities in this 2195 country are at present far from satisfactory because of deterioration resulting from war conditions.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Hon. Members opposite must decide on which leg they stand. If they are asking for exports they must not complain about exporting wagons. What do hon. Members opposite want—more exports or less? I understood they wanted more exports. They want to be selective in their exports. Let us ask the industrial undertakings who are producing for export whether they want to be selective. A great deal depends—I say this without offence—on which constituency is represented by which hon. Member.
Several other questions have been addressed to me. There was the question of the oil conversion plan. We are hoping that this summer we shall be able to save at least 2,000,000 tons of coal and another 3,000,000 tons in the winter, making 5,000,000 tons in all, as a result of oil conversion. Again, that depends on whether we can get the tankage, which requiries iron and steel and boiler makers to make the tanks. We also require the equipment. We are doing all we can in that direction. I was asked by the right hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke whether we were obtaining sufficient supplies of opencast machinery. We are spending a large amount of money on acquiring opencast machinery from the United States, as a result of which we hope we shall be able to step up the production of opencast coal. I will pass over the observations of the right hon. Gentleman the senior Burgess for Oxford University about the breakdown being due to administrative mistakes. I assure him that is not so. There is no question of any breakdown in administration. I think it was the hon. Member for Hallam (Mr. Jennings) who addressed himself to the subject of Cannock, and said that this all arose out of bureaucracy. As it happens, the only criticism to which I have been subjected in connection with the Cannock affair was from an ex-colliery agent, associated with a private undertaking, who said I ought not to have intervened. If there was any fault at all, apparently, this person does not believe there was any bureaucracy; 2196 and in fact, there was no bureaucracy. What happened was that the representatives of the National Coal Board objected to men being employed on Sunday because, they said—and quite rightly— that, while admiring and applauding the fine spirit of the men who wanted to work on Sunday, it was no use men working seven days a week—six days a week was enough —and that if a man worked six full shifts, one could not expect him to do more; one could not make Sunday work a permanent feature of the mining industry, except for maintenance and repairing, and certainly one could not do it for production alone. As far as I was concerned, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) knows, I was in favour of these men's services being utilised on this particular Sunday, and perhaps for other Sundays in an emergency; but there was no bureacracy about it and no administrative failure, or anything of the sort.
Another point which the right hon. Gentleman raised to which I wish to refer was the question of putting the facts and figures before the public and the miners. As regards the miners, I have been criticised all over the place because I have addressed too many meetings in the country, but these meetings were mainly meetings of miners to which I put the facts and figures. I have done that at public meetings and private meetings, at conferences and the like, never missing an opportunity of putting the facts before them, however unpleasant they were, and, if I may say so, taking a lot of kicks in the process. As for putting the facts before the public, I really am surprised at the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington. Over and over again, in the House and elsewhere—and it is on the records—I issued warnings, in October, in June [Interruption.] Hon. Members will not expect me to give another recital of those warnings; they are on the records, and what is more, "The Times", an irreproachable newspaper, declared that I had given warnings over and over again, as far back as last February. Even if we get 4 million tons or 42 million tons of coal—and we shall work hard to cause that amount of coal to be produced—we have got to turn a large part of it into electricity, and we require generating plant. No accusation can be levelled against the Government because of the scarcity of generating 2197 plant; nor would I utter a single word of complaint about the late Government in that regard.
If the right hon. Gentleman has not blamed me for everything under the sun, including the weather, I would like to know what he has been talking about. Finally, as regards rationing, what has been the case presented by right hon. Gentleman opposite? It has been that we should have rationed last year. The right hon. Member for Southport said that I should have accepted the advice of my right hon. and learned Friend the President of the Board of Trade. I do not accept his advice, and he does not accept mine; we work in collaboration, which is quite different. But hon. Members opposite failed to accept the advice of their Government in 1942 on the subject. Nor was there the slightest collaboration. If there had been collaboration then, we should have saved ourselves a good deal of trouble now.
§ It being Ten o'Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.