§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. R. J. Taylor.]
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Scottish Universities)
The Minister of Fuel and Power, 2236 my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) and I seem to be spending a good deal of our lives together these days. The Debate on the Adjournment, which now opens, enables us to review more widely the position of which the Order which has just been 2237 accepted is a symptom. That Order is one of the signs of the shortages which have become, and which, it is feared likely, will remain a governing feature of our daily lives. To deal with these shortages great powers have been put into the hands of Ministers, and the House is natually anxious to know what use the Ministers are making of them.
At Question time today the President of the Board of Trade indicated, so far as I understood him, that there is a prospect of a rather larger amount of fuel being forthcoming than has hitherto been estimated. That being so, we should like to have tonight a revised version of the coal budget. What is the coal budget now? On 2nd April, the Minister of Fuel said he hoped that after October we should be producing coal at the rate of more than four million tons a week. By a simple sum, that four million tons a week equals 208 million tons a year. If we knock off four million tons for holiday week, the holiday with pay, and another four million tons for what one might call the inevitable wastage of the year, we get a figure of 200 million tons. If we make the necessary deductions for dirt, miners' coal, and other things, it does not seem that we shall reach a figure of 200 million tons, even with the addition of, say, 12 million tons from open-cast mining. It is admitted that that 200 million tons will be insufficient. That has been admitted by both the Federation of British Industries and the T.U.C. and, therefore, we should like to know what provision the Minister can make, and on what he bases his new provision. Does he think that he will reach, and hold, four million tons a week, with 18 million tons to make up for the loss of Saturday mornings? Previously, according to the Minister's recent speech, the industry was working a disorganised five-day week, and the Minister hopes to turn it over to an organised five-day week. He went so far as to say that he had not been able to tell the House the facts of the situation in relation to previous years, but that the industry had really been working a tacit five-day week, and that it was on that account that production was so low as it was. He said that it was hoped to improve this position by recognising these facts, and working an official five-day week instead of an unofficial five-day week
2238 If that is so, there should now be no reduction of tonnage on account of the five-day week, but even an improvement. The figures we have seen per man shift indicate that that improvement would need to be of a very striking character to bring about an additional output of about 4 million tons on this basis, which is what I reckon will be required to implement the President of the Board of Trade's statement of today. We need not only to reach war figures but to surpass prewar figures. This seems a strong assumption to make. The Minister says, "I disclaim the power of accurate forecasting. I am not a prophet, nor am I the son of a prophet." That betrays a proper modesty on his part, but we must press him a little on this point. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George), a former Minister of Fuel and Power, will confirm that in his day the coal budget had to be very accurately laid before the War Cabinet during the war, and indeed before my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), whose motto in all these things was "Hard on the tops"—Dur au grands. As he himself has said, the memoranda which my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford wrote to his colleagues during the war were sufficient to make any of them his enemies for life. He never spared any of his colleagues who was not exact in his figures, or who did not hold to his figures later. He was a man who had small patience with excuses, even successful excuses. Today, the Minister of Fuel and Power must give more exact figures of what he hopes the out-turn of the coal year will be.
There is one encouraging feature which has shown itself lately, namely the increased movement of men into the mines. The Government have made a great effort in this matter, and have now accepted the position that a greater labour force in the mines is desirable, as against its previous estimates that it would be possible to carry out the work with the existing labour force. We must congratulate the Government on the success of their efforts in this direction, but, of course, recruitment alone is not sufficient. Not only must men be trained above ground for work, but also below ground, so that they will be capable of taking their place at the coal face as skilled men. Allowance has not always been made for 2239 that seriously limiting factor. A considerable effort, the recruitment of 30,000 adult men, has been made. But a great proportion of that labour force is "green labour," with which the mines previously did not have to deal. Mining is such a traditional, indeed, almost hereditary, occupation that normal recruitment for the industry has been from boys. Now, 30,000 men, all adults, and a considerable proportion of them "green labour," are coming in.
I wonder whether the Minister could make a further statement about the success of the training scheme. This question was raised in the last coal Debate, on 2nd April, but it was not then very exhaustively explored. We are informed by those closely acquainted with the matter, that for work underground during the training period before up-grading there must be supervisors at the rate of one to one. If we take a normal sized pit, producing 600,000 to 700,000 tons, with 300 men at the coal face—to up-grade something like 20 men per month—that means 60 men in training, which means 60 skilled miners supervising them. Clearly, in those circumstances, any attempt to have a greater throughput of new men in that pit might lead to actual diminution of output through the withdrawal of a larger number of skilled men to work as supervisors alongside that "green labour," where they could not produce anything like the same output as when they were working by themselves. Is that not so? [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] I am asking for information. These things touch the lives of everyone of us. We must all, even non-technicians, take an interest in these matters of recruitment and training.
§ Mr. Murray (Spennymoor)
I understood that the right hon. and gallant Member had received the information from people closely associated with the industry.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I certainly did so but I do not deny that my information may be inaccurate. I am speaking as a layman, and we must rely upon the technical people to instruct us. It is on this question of 30,000 recruits that the great proportion of our expansion of output depends. Now that the affairs of the coal industry are likely to touch each individual household as closely as they touched them in the year just gone through, it will 2240 be necessary not only for those technically skilled but for those not technically skilled to discuss and put questions on the matter, because until the whole House understands it, it is impossible for those who are unskilled to do justice to these questions. I therefore ask the Minister, is the recruitment being absorbed and digested at a satisfactory rate, and would it be possible for it to be absorbed and digested more satisfactorily, if it were fed rather widely over a larger numbers of pits? My information is—I do not know whether it is completely accurate—that the present training schemes do not take into account all that has been learned since the training schemes began; and that other training schemes which have previously been in force have led to a more rapid or, at any rate, a smoother absorption of the labour?
For all that, for one reason or another the allocation of fuel is admittedly short for all classes of consumers. It is short for the domestic consumer and terribly short for the industrial consumer; and it is likely to lead to a considerable amount of under-employment from the fact that there is not enough raw material to employ the whole of the labour force of this country. That is to say that the bottleneck will not be one of manpower but a bottleneck of raw materials. The statement of the President of the Board of Trade this afternoon on the allocation of solid fuel, was therefore of very great importance. He said, as far as I understand it, that they were about to make an allocation to industry which should be at a level equal to the consumption during the summer of last year, less a "clawback" for building up stocks which were to reach three weeks supply by the winter. The "clawback" was of three weeks out of 20 weeks or even of two weeks allowing that the factories are still one week in hand—and that is a very optimistic assumption in the case of some factories which have been scraping the bottom of the bunkers to get fuel enough to carry on with—means a 10 to 15 per cent. cut for this summer.
I should like to know from the Minister if I am correct in that estimation. A 10 per cent. cut over last summer, still more a 15 per cent. cut over last summer, means a substantial reduction in at least one of the key materials for British industry, namely, steel. We were all interested to read the observation of the chairman of the Iron and Steel Board when reviewing the first six months of 2241 the Board's work which was printed in ''The Times" of 29th April. He said there that the production of steel last year reached about 12,750,000 tons. If you make a cut of 10 per cent. that brings it down to 11,500,000 tons, and a 15 per cent. cut brings it down to about 10,750,000 tons. The estimate which he gave of the needs of industry was a demand for 15 million ingot tons; and he said that he was confident that British steel production this year would have exceeded 13 million tons, the raw material being available.
It is not necessary to do more than mention what we all know, that these shortages are reflecting themselves in industry in a hundred ways. One of the big Sunderland shipyard owners has just said that if the present rate of steel supplies continued, his yards would be cut to the extent of about half their normal capacity. His allocation for the first quarter of this year was 7,000 tons and for the second quarter only 3,900 tons. This would mean only about five ships a year instead of nine or 10, and his shipyard employing 3,500 men would have to pay off or put on half time about half that labour.
We have all had this morning protests from the cycle firms about the low allocations, and the result on the cycle industry of the low allocation of materials which has been made to them. The statement of the President of the Board of Trade will, no doubt, go some way to relieving this. We should like to know how much, and secondly from where does he draw the supplies from which he is to make these new allocations. He said that the situation had shown improvement since the statement he made during the Debate on the economic situation on 10th March. How much improvement? What is the figure of tonnage which he expects, and what diminution in the amount allotted to the build up of reserves? It would seem to me that it would require a figure of something like 4,500,000 new tons to enable him to do this. That is a lot under present conditions. From whence does he draw that 4,500,000? Does he draw it from a hopeful sense of increased output, or from the other aspect of his statement, which I was a little alarmed to hear, that owing to the fact that supplies at the level of the previous Cripps Plan, if I may so call it, would cause a great industrial dislocation, the Government had decided to take a risk. 2242 We want to be very sure when we are taking a risk that we are not running into another situation such as we have experienced with such bitterness this winter. The Cripps two-thirds plan is, no doubt, a hardship to industry, but anything is better than a three-thirds cut. We are therefore most anxious to find out from the Minister what is the revised coal budget with reference to the statement made today by the President of the Board of Trade.
§ Mr. Blackburn (Birmingham, King's Norton)
Would the right hon. and gallant Gentleman deal with the fact that if we are to have a shut-down at all, it would obviously be better to have it in the middle of the winter rather than in the middle of the summer? If we have to take a risk, it is a good thing to take it in the summer.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I would rather like to hear that from the Minister. I should have thought, if we were to have a shut-down, that a shut-down in the winter is not less injurious than a shutdown in the summer. I take it that the Minister approves the estimate of the President of the Board of Trade and that he is not gambling with the trade of this country. That would be a very serious gamble indeed. He is saying, I trust, in effect, "I am taking a risk which is what might be called a legitimate risk"; it is what the Minister of Fuel and Power said on another occasion, a risk with all things being equal and everything proceeding smoothly. We cannot see unforeseeable things, but I take it that the President of the Board of Trade at least is not saying, "If I am going to have a shut-down I would rather have it in mid-winter than in mid-summer."
§ Sir Arthur Salter (Oxford University)
I think that the budget question is even more serious than has been indicated by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot). I think that he mentioned a saving of 4,500,000 tons. Actual production up to the end of April has been 64 or 65 million tons and the President of the Board of Trade expects that in the next six months it will be 89 million tons. If the production in November and December is the same as hitherto we will find that we are more than 10 million tons short of the target of 200 million tons.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
What I was saying was simply this, that the President of the Board of Trade had increased his draft upon our coal output by 4½ million tons. The other coal budget given still remains. I was asking the Minister of Fuel and Power how he would balance his budget before this new draft and then in particular how he would balance this extra draft of 4½ million which seems to be envisaged. It is also interesting to note that the whole of this extra 4½ million has gone to industry. Complaint was made tonight—and it was justifiable complaint—from all sides of the House about the hardship to domestic consumers in the saving of 2½ million tons on the previous coal budget. Now this windfall of 4½ million tons has come along. The whole of it is to be given to industry and no portion of it is to be allotted to relieving the position of the domestic consumer.
The position of all consumers in this country is admittedly very acute. The only hope is in greater supplies. On that various factors are moveable. The numbers are moveable by recruitment; production is moveable by incentives; and then there is the third moveable factor which was touched on—and which it is only fair to touch on again—the miners' coal. On that it may be said that these are small figures and that these are allotments which none of us would wish to diminish. However, in these days even small savings are very necessary indeed. The small saving of 250,000 tons, which is to be saved by the cutting down of the railway services, is to be adhered to even although it is a small saving. The amount of miners' coal last year was running at 93,000 tons a week. This year the figures so far are: January, 108,000 tons; February, 100,000 tons; March, 113,000 tons. It is steady at two or three times that of the other domestic consumers. The hon. Member for Rothwell (Mr. T. J. Brooks) in an earlier Debate said that not 40 per cent. of the miners are getting the coal and that thousands of them have sold it back to the companies. If it is possible in some cases to do so, is it not possible in other cases also? No one suggests that the miners should be deprived of the coal. That is, after all, part of their wages, but it is not only part of their wages; it is a material of which the country stands in terrible need. Would it be possible for a greater proportion of 2244 that coal to be purchased or re-purchased from the miners? It seems to be an avenue which ought to be explored.
When that argument on miners' coal was put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Hudson) it was discounted by one hon. Member on the other side of the House who suggested that it should be applied to the case of agricultural workers. But the agricultural worker gets only 630 calories extra on account of his employment, which allocation is also given to other heavy workers. The man producing the food, the man on whom everything rests, gets a 25 per cent. allocation over and above the rank and file of the domestic consumers in this contry. If it were suggested by anyone that they should get twice as much food or three times as much, then I think it would be said by everybody that that was a position which certainly ought to be explored and which could not be allowed to stand even if the workers concerned sold a good deal of the food back. Everybody would say in a time when food was desperately short that efforts should be made to secure as much return into the general pool as was possible. I do not say that with any hostility to the miners but I do think that it is a line which ought to be investigated.
§ Mr. Murray
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) would probably be interested to know that what he is advocating in regard to the miners has been in operation in Durham for a long time, and that the miners along with their employers have done exactly as he has suggested.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I know, but he said that in 40 per cent. of the cases the miners were not getting the coal, which means that 60 per cent. of the cases were still ripe for exploration. I am merely speaking as a layman in this matter, but I do not think the hon. Gentleman would contend that it was sold back in all cases. Is that the contention that he is making?
§ Mr. Murray
This is rather involved. The reference which was made by the hon. Member for Rothwell (Mr. Brooks) was in regard to one house when there 2245 were, say, four miners working. There would be the coal of four miners but the coal of only one was needed for that home. The coal of the other three would be sold back to the owners, and that was what my hon. Friend was referring to when he spoke of the thousands who are not getting their coal although it is part of their wages.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
That may be, but even that one household is drawing coal at a rate very much larger than any domestic householder in this country is drawing it. Of course the wet and dirty nature of the miners' work makes it absolutely essential that in many cases they should have extra coal. I am not denying that. I am trying to give an objective examination of this problem. But there are many cases amounting to perhaps 50 per cent. of the labour force where the pit-head baths deal with that problem. Hon. Members should recollect also that there are many other people with wet and dirty occupations. The agricultural workers are one class, and the people who are shepherding on the hills just now are in a dirty, wet, and extremely exposed occupation. The only extra there is for them is a 25 per cent. allowance over and above the normal rations. There is no extra fuel.
I think the Minister should let us know whether this question of the miners' coal can be further explored. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fuel and Power, replying to our earlier Debate, waived this aside rather airily as one tends to do at the end of a Debate when a Division is coming on. He said that my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport had said, in effect, to the miners, "Come on, boys, let us all produce more coal though we cannot give you as much house coal as you got before." He said that that would be a poor psychological approach to the miners and that we would not get anything that way. But that is exactly what my right hon. Friend did in the case of the agricultural industry. He said, "Come on, boys, produce 50 or 60 per cent. more than before." He also had nothing in his hand in the way of extra rations to give them. But it worked. The Parliamentary Secretary cannot waive it aside like that because, after all, the appeal made to the industry of agriculture is one which could also be made to the miners.
§ Mr. Tiffany
Is it not a fact that in that particular case it was the subsidy to the farmers which worked?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
The hon. Member is telescoping the business a good deal. Does he really think that in any industry it is possible to produce goods without the workers?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
It was the workers who achieved the extra production and they did it on a wage which, even after the improvement following the subsidy, was not any greater than that now being paid to the coalminers. I hope that the hon. Member is satisfied.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
The difficulty in which we are placed just now is that by some means or other an increase of production or, at present, a diminution in consumption, has to be obtained. In today's Debate we have been concentrating very closely on the decrease in consumption, but again I would say that by the Order which we have passed this afternoon—which is now the law of the land and which everybody will have to try to the utmost to observe—we have not rid ourselves of the necessity for fuel. After all, to say that one atom of carbon unites with two of oxygen producing carbon di-oxide with release of heat is equally true of the carbo-hydrates as of the hydrocarbons. It does not matter whether the energy is generated outside the body in a fire or inside the body burning up food. In fact the hon. Lady the junior Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) put it with much more force than I could in recommending the Electricity Bill to the House, when she said that the Bill presented… possibilities … of a sound basis for going forward with the electrification of the home, the setting free of vast resources of women power in this country, and the saving of human energy and prevention of ill health …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 4th February, 1947: Vol. 432, c. 1634.]These are all the things which the Minister asks the housewives of the country to diminish by 25 per cent. in the Order which has just been put on the Statute Book. But that does not mean that we can get along without those things. As has been said by the hon. Member for Sutton, Plymouth (Mrs. Middleton), they 2247 will still have to be done, but by hand instead of by horse-power, as will the other things about which the hon. Lady the junior Member for Blackburn spoke. She said:Electricity can be made to do a great many more things in the home than it has been allowed to do. Not only can it heat water and the rooms—that was on 4th February, but of course we have changed all that—but it can wash dashes and launder the clothes, peel the potatoes, clean the silver and do the hundred and one odd jobs which are the unavoidable necessity of female life."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th February, 1947; Vol. 432, c. 1631.]Well, it can do 25 per cent. less of these things than it could do yesterday before the Order was made the law of the land. And in this the Minister is raiding a larder which has already been raided by his colleague the Minister of Food. After all, the food consumption of this country has already been reduced. The Minister of Food's own dietary figures show that the average intake in December, 1945, was 2,390 calories, and the average intake in December, 1946, 2,300, a cut of between 4 and 5 per cent. On this cut of internal energy is falling this additional reduction of outside energy—the strict rationing of the coal and coke, and the removal of space heating, that is to say, the body warming by means of a fire. All this, let it be noted, falls on a calory consumption which is already below what is given as normal for a householder in this country. The normal calory consumption is estimated at 2,550; in December, 1945, it was already down to 2,390, as I have said, and last December it had fallen still further to 2,330. On top of that falls this additional cut in domestic power which the Minister has put forward and defended today.
The Minister is fighting a campaign and he is entitled to support in so doing, but at present he is losing the campaign. He must expect criticism not only in this House but outside, in common with generals in other campaigns losing the battles to which they were sent. The present position is undoubtedly a gloomy one. A recent article in the American magazine "Life" drew a picture of Britain of almost unrelieved gloom, but it ended by saying, "You never can tell; these English are the damnedest people." They are, but they are working under great handicaps just now. They are worthy of 2248 leadership and, I think, more leadership than they are now getting. Until they get it we have to say and go on saying to the Minister, "It is not enough."
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Henry White (Derby, North Eastern)
The impression we have gained from hon. Members opposite is that we cannot expect from them the inspiration for the mining industry which it is obtaining from the Minister at the present time. What do we get from hon. Members opposite? The appeal that we should inspire the mining industry to produce more coal. But right away the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) complains in an oblique manner about the way the miners receive household coal under their system, and suggests that the amount per person in the coal mining industry has increased. The responsibility for that is not ours. It lies with those people who have governed this industry over many years, and for this reason. The average age level of those employed in the industry is that of those who received the coal, and the number of young boys who have entered the industry has not been sufficient to increase the ratio to that of the higher age level of those who receive this coal and who are the largest age group in the industry. Furthermore, it is suggested that the miner should forfeit his coal. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) suggested that this was a thing that should be investigated. In all honesty I think it is a thing that could be investigated, but those responsible would certainly not have an easy passage if the demand were made that the miner should forfeit his coal allowance and be reduced to the level of the ordinary household ration in this country.
I would remind hon. Members opposite that we have had some experience of arrangements whereby miners should forfeit their allowance. I remember that, in both the wars, when there were suggestions made that the allowance should be forfeited, the miners asked that some recognition should be given to them for handing back the coal. What did they find? Those who sat on wages and arbitration boards in our county, and those who were on the opposite side of the table when the owners were approached on many occasions to make 2249 some allowance for the coal our men were prepared to forfeit, will remember that in some cases companies were prepared to pay for the coal, but in other cases they refused. This happened, too, in the county of Derby. The companies calculated that over the years the miners on an average had received nine tons per year—they were due for 12 tons—but because they received only nine tons before there was any recognition, the men had to have only eight tons. The owners would not shift from that position.
It is regrettable that on occasions such as these, when there is a shortage of fuel, we should have these things thrown back at us by those who ought to be facing up to the position. I resent the inferred allegations contained in some of the things which are being said. We have had Questions from Members opposite regarding slag in coal, the inference being that the miner is responsible. He is not responsible, but the people who are in charge of cleansing operations.
§ Sir A. Salter
Is it quite fair to say that when we ask Questions or call attention to the proportion of dirt in coal we are seeking to criticise the miner? Is it not that we are anxious to know to what extent the calorific value of coal is less than in the past?
§ Mr. White
There may be people with a really honest approach to these matters, but these Questions, in conjunction with the statements that are made, have an oblique reference to the miners. This week a Member, who is not present, writing in the local Press in my area, referred to the fact that the secretary of the Miners' Union was holding the country up for ransom, and stated that no good would be done until he was removed. I would point out that the miners have duly elected that individual by a democratic ballot, and that he is a good man for the job. He will look after the interests of the miners and of the country to a greater extent than some Members opposite are prepared to do. I suggest that these statements are doing no good to the mining industry. It must be remembered that bitterness and suspicion has been embodied in our very soul; but these things are gradually being removed, and there is growing up within the industry a new atmosphere and a better feeling. It must be remembered that any suggestion that the five-day week should 2250 be put off for the time being only creates suspicion in the minds of the mining community, and if that is done we shall not get the production of coal as the days go by.
It is upsetting that these references should be made when there is such need for recruitment. It is regrettable that the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities should show his lack of knowledge on how the position works in regard to trainees. If he had known the industry, he would have realised that supervision and training are two separate things. It takes one man to look after one trainee, and it is not until a man has been trained up to a certain point that he reaches the coalface.
I want to tell the Minister some of the things the mining community are talking about in regard to the National Coal Board and the nationalisation of the industry. There is a feeling that too many people who were investigation officers under the Ministry of Fuel and Power have been transferred to other posts in the new set up and they ought not to be there. I should like the Minister to examine that to see whether it is so or not. Another small point—and it is a very small point—is the reclamation of coal from the waste tips. I think it would give as much output per man as in the case of an ordinary pit. I do not know whether the House is aware of it or not, but up and down the country there are collieries where it is done, and if it were made universal—wherever it is possible and safe, and I make that reservation because there are certain places that are not safe—it would help, if only in small measure, to make up the shortage of coal. Would it not perhaps be possible to engage some of those people whom the industry cannot take on at the present time on the reclamation of coal from the tips? I know of at least two collieries where it is done, and if two men could average something like three tons each per day, spread over the country it would be worth while.
There is one other matter before I sit clown, and that is to urge upon the Minister the earnest desire of those who have suffered some disability, and may have been refused employment, to get back into the industry. Those of us who have worked in the industry almost all our lives are aware that many people suffer certain disabilities or small injuries, as a result 2251 of which they are eventually refused employment because they have in some degree received compensation. Some of them could be put on to jobs which would release others for coal face work. I urge the Minister to look at these two small points. I trust that he will refute any suggestion which may be made in any quarter that the shortening of the miners' working week should be postponed. That would have the effect of making the mining community of this country suspicious.
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Spearman (Scarborough and Whitby)
We discussed in an earlier Debate today the hardships that will fall upon the domestic consumer, and I sympathise very much with them, particularly with the older ones who find it more difficult to keep warm, and those who live in the North of England, where we pay for our healthier and more bracing air with a colder climate.
§ Mr. Spearman
I am including Scotland. I suggest that these obvious and immediate inconveniences are as nothing to the hardships that this nation will suffer unless we can increase production so as to buy those vital raw materials and foods which we cannot produce ourselves. At the present time I do not believe that ordinary men in the street realise quite how serious the situation is, because after all most of them have at least as much money in their pocket, as they had before the war and are able to buy about as much. I do not think they realise that that is because we have at the moment a million slaves working for us, as it were; that is what we get from the American loan. Roughly speaking, I think we are spending abroad round about £1,500 million, and we are producing exports to the value of about £900 or £1,000 million. The gap is being filled by the loan from America, which will not last much more than, say, a year or 18 months. Quite suddenly, therefore, we shall find ourselves in a most drastically different position, when it will not be a question of inconvenience, but almost or quite of starvation. May I quote what was written six months ago by the former head of the Cabinet Economic Secretariat, who 2252 seemed to have grasped the calamity of the situation to a degree to which the Government unfortunately did not:The coal shortage dominates everything. There has been no threat to our economic position comparable to this danger since the worst days of the U-Boats. If we do not surmount it, we shall assuredly run into a colossal disaster.The Government have talked about a target of 200 million tons, and the T.U.C. have said that it ought to be revised to 220 million tons. I am suggesting that that has unintentionally misled people into thinking, with some complacency, that we shall get at any rate about 200 million tons, which will be uncomfortable but not disastrous. I do not pretend to be an expert on coal production, but I have seen and heard no evidence to assure me that we shall very much exceed 180 million tons; we shall have disaster if that is to be the production, unless far more vigorous steps are taken; there will be an enormous falling-off in the amount of steel produced, and if we have inadequate steel, inadequate power and a shortage of coal there is no hope of expanding production, and without that we shall not be able to buy what we need to live.
The hon. Member for West Derby (Mi. C. White) commented, as hon. Members on that side sometimes do, on abuses in the mines in the past. That is as may be, but may I press this point upon them: after all, we here are not historians; our job is the present and the future. The Government have a very bad record in this respect. I am quite sure that when they came into office it was made very clear to them how desperately grave the coal situation was; and I want to ask what steps were taken to recruit for the mines. I give all credit for what has been done in the last few months, but why was it not done 18 months ago? What steps were taken to reduce consumption at that time? I believe that if even a year ago 100,000 workers had been brought in from abroad the situation might have been saved. That would have been a difficult decision to take from the point of view of the Government, but having failed to take it, if last September they had taken steps to allocate coal, to cut down supplies and to maintain stocks, the position would now have been less serious—though again that would have been very unpopular.
2253 I would like to stress the difference between their activities and those of my right hon. Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) when he was in charge during the war. Every sort of step was taken then to maintain stocks at 12 million tons; but I believe that last September the Government were so confident of an increase, in production in January that they overlooked the fact that no increase in production then would make possible proper distribution unless there were adequate stocks in October. I would like to suggest that coal should be bought from America. I have just been in the States and I am very impressed at how strongly they feel, in their own enlightened self-interest, that the economy of this country must be preserved—whatever they may have thought in the past. They feel that they do depend upon the preservation of Europe, and that we are the pivot of that. I believe they would go very far out of their way if it were made sufficiently clear to them how vital it was to our very existence. Just in order to preserve our comforts, I do not think that they are prepared to sacrifice their own coal, and we cannot ask them to cut off supplies to Europe, which is already suffering very much through our own failure to supply them. A very small percentage of coal consumed in America imported into this country would make all the difference to us. The Americans must be shown how vital the coal was, not so much for the saving of our comforts but for the saving of our economy; then, I believe, they would be ready to make sacrifices. I would make the concrete suggestion that the President of the Board of Trade, who is perhaps more acceptable in the United States than are some of his colleagues should go over there and put over, with all the force he can, how desperately we need coal for the preservation of our economy. Many pilgrimages have gone to America on subjects of less importance than this.
I would ask, secondly, that there should be a concentration of all the available coal to industries where the smallest amount of coal will produce the greatest amount of essential production for export or for consumption here. The Government have got us into such a mess that they have now to be ruthless. They have to give up all idea of being kind and fair. They have to concentrate all the coal there is, and it is much too little, where 2254 it will produce the most result. Is there any evidence that there is a planning mechanism which can scientifically weigh up the alternatives and can assess where coal will produce the most results, and which can plan between different Government Departments. We all know that every Government Department tries to get what it wants for itself, that the Department which shouts most loudly gets the most. We want a planning mechanism that will deal with that situation. We are suffering from a hit-or-miss policy. I imagine that the Government have had so many misses lately that they think that on the law of averages they must get a hit soon.
I have tried to put forward four points: That the situation is far more grave now than the country realises; that the worst service the Government can do us is to be complacent; that the Government should, at all costs, go out to find a supply of coal from abroad; and that they should concentrate the coal we have where it will produce the most results.
I read somewhere that during the time when Pitt was Prime Minister news was received in this House of a very great victory. His bitter enemy, Charles James Fox, got up and said that the victory conferred so much advantage to the nation that it was worth having, even at the price of improving the prestige of the Prime Minister. I would suggest that the converse is true today. The failure to plan conditions under which production can expand mean such suffering to our people that, even though it brings the collapse of the Socialist Government, that is a price that we cannot afford to pay.
§ 7.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Sylvester (Normanton)
In claiming the indulgence of the House, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I would tell hon. Members that as recently as February of this year I had been working underground for more than 35 years. I am probably the only representative of a mining constituency who has worked underground since the mines came into the ownership of the nation. Many observations have been made upon the subject of the shortage of manpower. The hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Spearman) said that we could not go back into the past. I entirely agree with him, but, nevertheless, we have long and bitter memories, and a long time will be taken 2255 to wipe them out. They are memories of the mismanagement of the mines, and of the promises past Governments made to us from the end of the 1914–18 war. Only with the advent of the present Labour Government did we who were then working in the mines fully realise that at last a Government was in power which would implement some of the promises which had been made to the miners of this country. One right hon. Gentleman opposite mentioned that recruits were now coming into the mines daily and said he was pleased that it was so. We are all pleased about it, but those recruits did not start to come into the mines until after January of this year. The recruits feel, especially the older men who had left the mine and have now returned, that there is now no longer that fear of unemployment which existed before and, worse than that, the victimisation which had been carried on for many years. Not until the mines became the property of the nation to be run by the National Coal Board did the older men decide to return to the mines.
Another subject to which reference has been made is the deterioration of machinery. It can truthfully be said that very little has been done to the machinery in the mines during the last 10 years. Before coming into this House I was a member of a pit production committee. We used to come out of the pit at about two o'clock, get a bath and then sit as a pit production committee until half-past four or five. Often we had a report that there had been a breakdown and that the men had to come out as there were no tubs. When we asked the deputy or the responsible official for the reason, we were often told that the engine had broken down. He would go so far as to say that the engine was done for and needed to be replaced. This kind of incident was not only typical of one pit but of many. During Question time an hon. Member referred to dirt in the coal. The same conditions apply there. I question whether many collieries have washing machinery. In the area where I live we have no washery plant in operation. These facts are illustrative of how the industry has been run.
Irrespective of what critics of the Minister of Fuel and Power may say about him, I am sure the miners are satisfied that at last someone is in charge of the Department who will give the miners a 2256 square deal. They are satisfied that the Minister will not go back on his word. As was said by one of my hon. Friends, it would have been one of the worst things that could have happened if we had gone away from the promise of the five-day week. I feel that, probably, in the first week or two after its introduction, there may be a slight reduction in output, but when the industry gets settled down to the five-day week, I am nearly confident that we shall get greater output. It will be possible in the weekends to do necessary repairs which it is not possible to do at present. With six shifts of work, it has not been possible to get repairs done. Conditions vary in every pit in every district. When one talks about mining, one is not talking about an industry such as bricklaying, where in the building of a house in London or Yorkshire similar things apply. In mining, conditions vary in every county, in every area, and even in every pit, from one side to the other. We have got to be cognisant of these things.
I want to make one or two helpful criticisms and suggestions. I suggest that the Minister makes an immediate survey with the idea of modernising methods of production. I suggest that because, even in 1947, I know of pits of three feet six seams where the method of production is throwing coal hack eight yards until there is a, heap, and then putting it into a tub. Every time a man fills a ton of coal, he has to handle two tons. Did ever anyone know of anything so ridiculous? It is a relic of the system that has been carried on for years, and it is a definite wastage of manpower. By modern mechanisation the collier's work would be lightened, and it would be possible to get two tons for every ton produced now. I suggest also that the Minister should ask the Department responsible to get an early priority for this machinery, and not leave it to some of the colliery managers to introduce these measures in a very leisurely fashion, as has been done in the past. If we can get modern improvements by the end of the autumn, we shall be on the high road, and we should be able to exceed the target of 200 million tons that has been set.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr Burghs)
I wish to offer to the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. Sylvester), on 2257 behalf of his colleagues and my colleagues, as well as myself, our warm congratulations on the very honest, sincere and well-informed speech to which we have just listened. The hon. Member told us that he has lately transferred his services from the State to the people. I assure him that we are happy in that change, as we have him sitting on these Benches instead of enduring the many discomforts to which a miner's life is subjected. We hope to hear many more similarly well-informed speeches on a subject which he obviously knows so intimately. I would like also to refer to another speech of a similar character that was made by an hon. Member opposite, a speech that was very honest and well informed, and to say that any comment I may make will not be in criticism, because the first time I went down a pit I decided that I would give the miners anything that would make their lives happier, more contented, and sweeter. I hope the National Coal Board will succeed where the private owners failed.
A friend of mine told me the other day that he was offered 10 tons of coal out of a miner's allocation. I do not criticise the miner; he has every right to that coal, since, as one hon. Member has said, it is part of the miner's wages. The interesting thing is that my friend, who wanted to keep within the law, rang up the local fuel overseer and asked whether it would be all right, and the fuel overseer refused to permit the sale. If the coal is really part of the wages of a miner, why should the fuel overseer interfere with the disposition of the man's wages? I would like the Minister to answer that question.
I wish to deal not only with the ban that has been threatened by the Minister in the Order that we have recently discussed, but also with the under-production of coal which has led to the imposition of that ban, for obviously, if there were an adequate production of coal, no restrictions would be necessary. As to the ban, I find it very difficult to discover any arguments that have not already been used against this well-nigh inexplicable decision of the Minister. In studying the Order, I was reminded of two well-known and platitudinous proverbs. One was that those whom the gods intend to destroy, they first make mad. That is, obviously, the only explanation of this Order and 2258 the decision behind it. With regard to the other proverb, we are so often reminded of the last straw that breaks the camel's back that we cease to regard the straw as having any real significance. What I would like the Minister to understand—for I can only imagine that the Minister is solely responsible for this, as I cannot believe the Cabinet would be willing accessories to the well-nigh sadistic design that it discloses—is that this is certainly no lightweight straw that he is imposing, but an almost intolerable burden. One hon. Member after another has said that the burden will fall chiefly upon these wonderful women of ours. That is true, for it is not on the back of the camel, which is usually well covered, that it will fall, but on the worn, wasted, weary backs of the housewives.
Sometimes I think we do less than justice to these splendid women when we refer to them, though occasionally they are given a pompous pat on the back. Many hon. Members opposite, and many of my hon. Friends, were away from home so much during the war that they do not see what was obvious to others—the exacting, wearisome routine, day after day, of getting breakfast for the husband, getting breakfast for the children, getting the children to school, going out to do the shopping, with their heavy net bags and on tired feet, getting dinner in the middle of the day, and so on with the usual aching routine until the evening. The one comfort that these women had was that at the end of this devastating day they were able to come back to a warm home and to have a few minutes of warm relaxation before going to get a little bit of rest in bed. The war over, these people will be in the same old position, except that this time they will have this savage restriction imposed on their comfort, and will have nothing to look forward to at the end of the day—except, possibly, they have central heating—but the bitter cold, which is our usual summer in this country
Now I want to consider the reason which apparently justified the Minister imposing these restrictions. It has been stated, both by himself and by oher hon. Members, that he intends and expects to save 2,500,000 tons. That, of course, means five months of misery in the home, and six months of under-production in the factory.
§ Mr. John Lewis (Bolton)
The proposed saving of 2,500,000 tons is only in respect of domestic consumption, not industrial consumption.
§ Sir T. Moore
I accept the correction but when one sees the devastating effects of this Government, one is sometimes apt to make them even more devastating in one's argument, though I submit that my argument is effective enough without the reference to under-production in the factories. The figure has been mentioned by a number of hon. Members, but in my analysis, this would represent just under four days' production of the estimated annual output of the mines of this country The Minister himself has said that the miners are doing magnificently. He also mentioned, or it was stated in the Press the other day, that new entrants to the industry are coming in at the rate of, approximately, 400 a week. If that is true why is there this difficulty of overcoming four days' production?
Then we are told that 9,000,000 tons of coal were exported last year. Admittedly, a. lot of that was bunker coal, and can be explained as such. Then, again, we are informed that we are now sending coal to Eire. That, of course, is probably in return for beef on the hoof. But I do not think that either of those excuses can possibly justify the infliction of the fantastic hardship which this year is going to be imposed on the people of this country. There is one question which the women of our country are specially asking. I have heard it asked half a dozen times a day during the past week. They ask, Why is it that before and during the war we had coal for export, coal for the factories producing goods for export, coal for gas, coal for our generating plants, and coal to burn, even recklessly, at times? Why is it that today we are in the position which has been described by so many hon. Members that we have none of any of these things? All I ask is, as I said a second ago, if the miners are doing so magnificently—and no doubt they are; I have many miner friends, and have a great respect for them—and if there are all these entrants trooping to the pits, how is it, when all our war factories have been transferred, or are in process of being transferred, to civilian use, we are in the position of being short of this commodity vital to our national economy?
§ Sir T. Moore
I have. That is why I am wondering why the Minister has not accepted the help of the many trained Polish miners who are at our disposal, and who would be delighted to work in our mines.
§ Sir T. Moore
That is for the Minister, and not for me to say. I am told that there are 30,000 or 40,000 of them.
There are two further points on which I should like to get an answer from the Minister. The first is, How is it that he can promise that there will be no snoopers to ensure that the law-abiding people observe his ban? If there are to be no snoopers, how is the Minister going to find out the law-breakers? The only solution to that question that I can find is that the officials of local authorities will be mobilised to examine the gas meters, and that they, in turn, will report to the Minister. They, of course, will be simply snoopers, and very undesirable snoopers, under another guise. Then, of course, I cannot understand why these honest, law-abiding people, who, at the 'Minister's own request, gave up their coal fires over a year ago and installed electric fires at the instance of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who gave a direct encouragement to that end by taking off the Purchase Tax, are now to be deprived of any heat whatever. It seems to me to be a very poor return for the genuine effort made by them to help the country, when, according to the Minister and other national spokesmen, the country was in grave danger.
I only wish to ask one more question. How can the Minister justify asking the housewife to make a voluntary cut of 25 per cent. in her consumption of last year? It simply means that the housekeeper who was genuinely endeavouring to assist the country by cutting down her consumption, is now to be penalised again, whereas the thriftless and the thoughtless are to be let off. The whole attitude of the Minister in this scheme, promoted by him and pronounced by him, sounds to me like "a tale told by an idiot." I would warn the Government that the country will not tolerate being governed by idiots for very much longer.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Mr. McAllister (Rutherglen)
I was interested to hear that the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) thought that this story was "a tale told by an idiot." I can only assure him that his speech sounded to me like the rest of that quotation:full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.In spite of that, I would like to associate myself with the hon. and gallant Gentleman in his tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. Sylvester) on his maiden speech. I wish, too, that the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs had taken his cue from the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Spearman), who delivered a speech which was moderate, constructive and helpful. He said that the people in America were willing to help this country in its fuel difficulties because they believed in Great Britain, and because they believed, whatever they thought of our Government, that this country was a country worth saving. I would have thought that that would have been the view of the hon. and gallant Gentleman and of his hon. Friends. I would also have thought that it was the view of British and Scottish industrialists.
§ Sir T. Moore
The question, "Why cannot we import that one per cent. of our requirements," has already been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Spearman). That is why I did not refer to it.
§ Mr. McAllister
I do not want to go into the particular argument put forward by the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby because that is for the Minister to answer and not for me. What I was trying to get at was the spirit in which the hon. Member for Scarborough put forward the suggestion. I thought it was put forward in the right spirit and in the right way. Industrialists might very well show the same attitude.
I have intervened in this Debate because a substantial group of Scottish industrialists are not showing any such similar attitude. Scottish iron and steel trade employers have issued an intimation that all Scottish steelworks will be closed down next week, and the reason they give for this lockout—because that is what it is, a lockout unprecedented in the whole history of the Scottish steel industry—is that the 2262 miners of Scotland are to enjoy two days' statutory holiday on Monday and-Tuesday of next week and that, consequently, fuel will not be available for the steel industry. But these statutory holidays apply not only to Scotland, but to England and Wales as well. Scotland represents one-eighth of the steel industry of the United Kingdom. If there were anything in the argument put forward by the Scottish steel owners, surely the other seven-eighths would be closing down as well? On the contrary, nothing of the sort. The English and Welsh steel works will be working all the time next week, but the Scottish steel works are to be closed down because this group of industrialists, who place their political interest before the interest of the whole nation, are trying to sabotage not only the Labour Government but the whole economic future of this country, and are attempting to strike a paralysing blow, for propaganda purposes, at the people of the United Kingdom.
Scotland, I think the Minister will agree, exports coal. We are probably the only coal exporting country in Europe today. We export coal to England and Wales. In spite of the fact that we produce more coal than we need for our own purposes, the Scottish steel owners have the audacity to say that there is not enough coal for them to carry on because the miners have, by statute, the right to two days' spring holiday. We have had a good deal of comment in the Press and, not unnaturally, chiefly in the Scottish Press, on the conduct of a group of Scottish dockers in the last few weeks. There have been suggestions that they have not been playing fair with the nation. I would be the last to deny that unofficial strikes and stoppages of any kind are not helpful to the national recovery at the present time. But these Scottish iron and steel owners are endeavouring to sabotage the nation on a scale which no section of the working class has ever threatened or contemplated putting into effect.
§ Mr. Martin Lindsay (Solihull)
What about the general strike? I am not saying whose fault it was, but what about it?
§ Mr. McAllister
I do not intend to pursue that matter, except to say that if the hon. Member can remember anything about the general strike, he will remember that it arose because this nation was not doing' its duty by the British miners. I am glad 2263 to see the Secretary of State for Scotland is in his place, because this affects the whole life of Scotland. It affects the future of the housing policy of Scotland and the shipping industry. There is not an industry in Scotland which will not feel repercussions as a result of this monstrous conduct on the part of the Scottish steel owners. I appeal to the Minister and to the Secretary of State for Scotland to get in touch with the Minister of Supply, and immediately carry out a thoroughgoing investigation into the conduct of the Scottish steel industry. I want them to look into the coal stocks position, because I know that at this moment in the Lanarkshire steel works there are enormous stocks of coal, and there is not a vestige of justification or excuse for this threat to the life of Scotland and to the economic recovery of Great Britain.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Major Lloyd George (Pembroke)
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. McAllister), except to comment very briefly on one or two things he said. I was surprised to hear him say that Scotland is a coal exporting country to Wales, among other places. I had an idea that we in Wales had done a great deal, especially during the war, to transfer out of the country what used to be an export trade, and send it into England in very large tonnages. The other point on which I want to comment is his reference to enormous stocks of coal in, some of the steel works in Lanark. If that is so, it points to an extraordinary piece of maldistribution of stocks, because the stocks in the country as a whole do not warrant any particular industry having enormous stocks. Steelworks do not carry large stocks anyway and, therefore, I assume that it must mean maldistribution of some sort.
§ Mr. McAllister
I hate to disturb any Celtic amity between Wales and Scotland, and I withdraw my remarks about the export of coal from Scotland to Wales. With regard to coal stocks, I cart assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that in Lanarkshire there are at present 2,000 tons of coal, which represents a large enough margin to keep them going without any reference to the miners 'two days' holiday.
§ Major Lloyd George
I wondered what the hon. Gentleman meant by "enor- 2264 mous." If the stocks are enormous, it must mean maldistribution.
I do not propose to detain the House very long, because we have not a great deal of time. What I have to say will be said very briefly. This is one of many Debates we have had on coal, not unnaturally, in the last few months, and I want to express the hope that, as a result of this discussion tonight, we shall know where we are, because nobody can say that the average person in this country has a very clear picture of what the position is as regards coal. That is largely due to the contradictory statements which have been made, and actions which have been taken, from time to time, by Members of His Majesty's Government. They are still continuing. We were told by the Minister himself not so long ago, which was quite true, that the situation was a very grave one. With that we all agree. We then read and hear that output is improving. We see in the Press references to targets having been exceeded. One day a ban is imposed on central heating, and in a few days it is removed. It is not surprising, therefore, that the people of this country are in some doubt as to the actual position. We have heard from the President of the Board of Trade of an increased allocation to industry. Naturally, the sooner industry gets back to its full allocation the better. That statement was made before the end of the coal winter, before the time when stocks normally begin to accumulate, and before anybody knows what the effect of the five-day week will be. I suggest those three things which I have mentioned have a great bearing upon the coal position. We cannot possibly tell at this juncture how the stocking is going—not normally, at any rate. It is very difficult to say what will be the effect of the five-day week.
In the last Debate we had it was quite obvious from the estimate put forward by, I think, the President of the Board of Trade, that the Government did anticipate a certain drop in output. Obviously, it is impossible for the Minister to give any exact indication what the drop or the increase will be, because only actual experience will show. But it does seem to me to show a complete lack of appreciation of the position when, knowing none of those things to which I have referred, it is stated that the allocation to certain industries is to be increased. 2265 There is another aspect in regard to allocation which must not be lost sight of. The Parliamentary Secretary said they hoped to save 2½ million tons this summer from coal utilised in gas and electricity for domestic consumption. What calculation, if any, has been made as to the increased electricity consumed as a result of a greater allocation of coal to industry? We all know of cases where very considerable increases in electrical consumption took place with a very small increase in the allocation of coal. The 2½ million tons which is to be saved is, I think I am right in saying, the biggest item of the lot; the figure for the railways is half a million, and so on. That is to be taken from the domestic consumer. Let us look at how that is to be taken. As far as I can understand the Order, the saving is to be confined to space heating with gas and electricity.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power (Mr. Gaitskell)
Plus the 25 per cent. voluntary cut.
§ Major Lloyd George
Oh, yes. But the actual amount consumed in space heating in normal summer months is not a very heavy item in our consumption. Only fires are specified in the Order. Cooking, water heating and washing—all fairly substantial items—are not to be touched, and, obviously, could not be touched. We have an Order which many hon. Members have said is incapable, or at least extremely difficult, of enforcement. I think that is right. I am sorry that today the Parliamentary Secretary made a remark which, quite frankly, I think is a little unworthy of him, when he suggested that there were people opposed to this Government who were deliberately wasting fuel in order to upset the whole of the economic situation. There may he some of that type about, but I would put this to the Parliamentary Secretary. He made the statement that he had heard that. Why did not he take action and prosecute? Has the Waste of Fuel Order been repealed? I understand it is still an offence—it certainly was an offence—to waste fuel. Instead of making that statement here this afternoon, the hon. Gentleman would have been far better advised to take some action, which he is entitled to take, under Orders which are still in existence.
2266 Reference was also made to certain appliances. True, many people have electric fires and gas fires as opposed to those who use only solid fuel. But the Government themselves have encouraged that unfairness. Everybody knew, long before the war finished, that there was a shortage of generating plant for electricity, and that there was a shortage of generating plant for gas. Yet I believe something like four times the number of electrical appliances have been made since the end of the war. Why, therefore, should it be unfair? Surely, people who, thinking they were doing a service to the country by installing in their houses the most efficient of fuel burning appliances, are not to be criticised on that account? The most inefficient form of heating is the open fire. Housing estates are being put up today, in regard to which the more economical use of fuel appliances has been studied. The Ministry has set up committees to look into these things. Why, therefore, should it be regarded as unfair because somebody has had the intelligence to have a labour saving fuel appliance installed in his house? I doubt, myself, whether the saving of the domestic consumer will be anything approaching 2½ million tons.
What is the alternative, leaving out the question of production, on which I do not propose to touch this afternoon? One alternative, I suggest, is that the Minister should make the position clear. The position is not clear today to the ordinary domestic consumer. How many people are there in the country today amongst the domestic consumers who really believe that the Order issued in February is still in existence? After 7th February we had an Order which prohibited the use of electricity between 9 a.m. and 12 noon, and 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. How many domestic consumers still think that Order is still in operation? How can they be blamed when we get an Order saying that the ban on space heating is to be relaxed, having been banned before? I think the Minister owes 'it to the country to make perfectly clear to the domestic consumer, once more, the position with regard to fuel burning in his house, because he does not know it at the present time. Where is the publicity today? Where is the appeal to the domestic consumer? Where is it?
§ Major Lloyd George
When we had a similar position, not as serious but at any rate as big a gap in production consumption in 1942, the B.B.C. was brought in—
§ Major Lloyd George
But nothing like to the same extent. I beg the hon. Gentleman to believe me—and I am not talking without knowledge of this matter—there are vast numbers of people in this country today who do not know what the position is with regard to cutting off and switching on. A tremendous campaign was waged in 1942; exhibitions were held; demonstrations were given to the housewife how to make less go a little further. Has that been dropped altogether? It certainly has not caught the public eye. There is another matter, which has not been mentioned by any speaker today. What about industrial economies? Tremendous economies could be made in industry today. During the war bodies known as fuel efficiency committees were set up in every region of this country: 650 highly skilled engineers volunteered their services, and formed themselves into panels. Under the instructions of experts from my Ministry at that time they visited 11,000 factories. Those 11,000 factories consumed, between them, 29 million tons of coal a year. Within a year of the new Ministry of Fuel being formed three million tons had been saved in those 11,000 factories. Of course, they had to be followed up. The Minister seems to find that amusing.
§ Major Lloyd George
That is what the Minister is here for, and that is what I am here td ask. I see very little evidence of a campaign on the domestic side. I can read the papers as well as anybody else, and there is no real campaign for domestic economy going on in this country today. Half the people do not know what the Orders are. As far as industrial efficiency is concerned, the right hon. Gentleman is in a far better position now than we were during the war; he can at least get the instruments to a greater 2268 extent, without which real efficiency is not possible. I ask the Minister this straight question: What has happened to the fuel efficiency committees that were set up during the war? What are they doing in the way of visiting factories and encouraging the better use of fuel? What are they doing now in the way of following that up? Visiting a factory is one thing, but it is even more important that those visits should be followed by others to see whether the advice given is carried out. Voluntary saving as a result of one campaign in 1942 resulted in a saving of ix million tons of fuel. That was entirely done by voluntary appeal—but it was done as if we meant it; and whatever the right hon. Gentleman may say, there is no sign that I can see that they are really getting down to the campaign of trying to persuade people to do it voluntarily—although they have this Order, which, however, as everybody knows, cannot be enforced.
One word about miners' coal. A lot has been said about it already. The average amount of miners' coal today, including that sold back, is about seven tons per head—not per family, but seven tons per annum per head. There are 700,000 miners and that means 4,900,000 tons of coal. Has the Minister made, or does he intend to make, a further appeal on miners' coal? It is one that he could make perfectly well, because he is making severe demands on other sections of the community, and there is no reason why, at a time when there are fewer miners, they should be getting more coal than before the war. They are actually getting more coal than they did before the war.
I am not happy about the position at the present time. I am not happy about the announcement made today. I want the Government of this country to face the facts as they are now. The first priority for coal in this country today is stock building. To get the stocks up to the minimum, which the Minister has said is 15 million tons—and it is the minimum, believe me—we have to put about 10 million tons into stock this summer. That is a rate vastly in excess of anything this country has ever done before—vastly in excess: very nearly double.
I suggest to the Minister that it would be better for this country to stay as we were at the end of the crisis, everybody knowing where we are, despite the loss it 2269 would entail, than to take any risk of a repetition next winter of the same thing that we suffered this last winter. Despite all the difficulties, despite the loss, which would be grievous, I think it would be better to face the fact that we have not got the coal. I am not going into the reason for that; we have done it before and will do it again. But it would be better to face the fact that the coal is not there. We have cut our economy to suit that position. If stock building is the big thing for next winter, as I believe it to be, everything should be- concentrated on that. The result of that would be, I suggest, that when winter starts the industrialists of this country would not be living from week to week as they are now. According to the Parliamentary Secretary, as fuel goes up or down, so they get greater or lesser allocations. How anyone plans industry on that basis I have yet to learn. But they would, at least, have stocks at the beginning giving a reasonable margin of safety. Industrialists could then plan. In the long run it would be to the great advantage of this country. I do ask the Government, in conclusion, to do this: I beg of them to make up their mind what they are really going to do, and, having produced a plan, for heaven's sake, let them stick to it.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Timmons (Bothwell)
I do not intend to deal with the saving side but with the production side of the problem. In response to the oration of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George), and since he referred to the fuel deficiencies and the savings he tried to effect, I will tell him that the serious allegations that have been made about deliberate waste are true. I know of a big industrial concern which kept a fuel officer whose job it was to save fuel throughout the works. But when the fuel crisis came they dismissed the officer and, throughout every department, used coal indiscriminately. That is an example of the efforts of people to sabotage the fuel saving campaign and to embarrass the Minister. A stranger coming from another land into this place and listening to the attacks made on the Government about this fuel position would think it was something which had just arisen. But it has not. This is a heritage that has been handed on. It was only 2270 in January this year that the National Coal Board took over the industry. Before that, the Government had no power to reorganise the industry.
I want to put in a word for my own county of Lanarkshire, in which my right hon. Friend said sometime ago the coalfield was dying. But there are vast resources of coal in Lanarkshire—vast resources which are still to be extracted. I want to put this word to my right hon. Friend the Minister. There is coal lying under water which can easily be worked. Schemes for that can be prepared. I can produce a scheme for him. We have vast areas of coal which can be dewatered, and not at the cost of 2S. 6d. a ton. I can show him areas where it was contemplated to put down new pits. There are still ample opportunities for extracting coal in Lanarkshire. There is this point, most important of all—that Lanarkshire made a big contribution to the mining industry in the way of manpower. We find that since 1940 some 15,000 miners left the industry and went to other industries inside Lanarkshire alone. These men are between the ages of 35 and 45.
What is happening? When the recruiting campaign was set a-going I was rather interested in the appeal that was made to these men to go back to the industry. The Lanarkshire men were willing to go back to the industry. An employment exchange manager told me they have more men than they can place. That is the situation inside Lanarkshire, and it is still the biggest coal producing area in the whole of Scotland. We cannot uproot the miners in Lanarkshire to send them to Fife or the Lothians. Quite a number of the younger men who went to Fife or the Lothians to work had to come back because there is not housing accommodation for them there. In the long-term policy I think that the Regional Coal Board, the National Coal Board and the Minister ought to pay more serious attention to future developments inside Lanarkshire, not only to avoid losing manpower, but in order to make new sinkings.
There is another problem we have in Lanarkshire. I want to draw the Minister's attention to this. There are many small mines, particularly in my own Division. These small mines are not working to capacity. They are working under licence, but they are not 2271 conforming to the conditions that prevail in the industry. They are not developing to the extent of producing the amount of coal which they could produce. I know, in my own area, of a number of small mines which could develop and employ far more men than they do employ at present, but they simply refuse to do that. At the same time, I see men going and coming from employment exchanges who cannot get an opportunity of finding work in the mines. I ask the Minister if he will pay attention to this matter and ensure that these small mines which are working under licence conform to the conditions that prevail in the mining industry in the much larger pits.
Another question with which I am concerned is that of the five-day working week. As one who spent many years working a five-day week in the mining industry, I can say that there was a period when, in Scotland, every county had its own working week. Lanarkshire, however, maintained a five-day week, while Fife and Stirlingshire worked 11 days a fortnight, and Ayrshire 12 days a fortnight. During the whole of that period, wages and conditions were determined by the amount of production. The most remarkable thing was. that during that period, output per man-shift was much higher, and the aggregate far higher, for weekly production than in any other part of the coalfields. As one who knows the practical and technical difficulties and problems of mining, I say that I have no doubt that we shall lose nothing by the acceptance of the five-day week. What we get at the moment is a six-day disorganised week. Under the conditions imposed in the five-day week, the country is safeguarded to this extent—that we shall get an organised five-day working week in which we shall get full production throughout the whole week. I know that there are adjustments that can be made, and the miners Members in this House know that, by means of certain adjustments over a period of five days, it is possible to compensate for the loss of the Saturday. I have no doubt that the five-day working week will work out very satisfactorily.
We are told that there is a new spirit manifesting itself in the industry at the present time. I have said here in this House, during the last Debate we had on 2272 this subject, that I had faith in the miners, and I still have faith in the miners. Certain adjustments require to be made and these will be made as time goes on. We cannot expect the miners to produce a psychological change overnight. The time will come along when they will not allow anything to stand in the way of production. An hon. Member said to me tonight that the miners would never get the coal. He was offering me a £100 bet that the miners would never get the 200 million tons of coal this year. I offered to take him on, and then he wanted odds. Nevertheless, I am quite confident that the miners will get that 200 million tons of coal this year.
There is just one other point i want to make. I must refer to the position to which reference has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen (Mr. McAllister). It concerns the development areas. New industries are being built up in these areas. They cannot start production, because they cannot get steel. The steel firms say that they cannot produce the steel because they cannot get coal. We cannot afford to carry 80,000 to 100,000 unemployed in Scotland because we are sending coal to England for her factories. I do not know to what extent our coal is being exported from Scotland to England but I want to say to the Government, and particularly to the Secretary of State for Scotland, that it must be stopped. We must ensure that we have the coal with which to build up a policy of full employment in Scotland.
§ 8.56 p.m.
§ Major Peter Roberts (Sheffield, Ecclesall)
I do not wish to detain the House unduly, but I wish to put a few points to the Parliamentary Secretary. First, I want to refer to the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Spearman), who spoke of the difficulties we should have in future because of the lesser output of industry through the shortage of coal. There is an answer to this problem, a short-term answer, and it is that we should get coal from abroad. The Minister said, in our last Debate, that there was no hope of receiving direct supplies from Europe, that there were other claims in Europe no less pressing than our own. The impression he gave was that there are countries on the Continent who needed coal more than we did, and that we could not, 2273 therefore, enter the lists to try to get any coal for ourselves.
That is not the position, and I want to give the House a few figures produced by the European Coal Organisation, which will repay study. Poland has available an export surplus of 15 million tons of coal. Half of that goes to Europe, and the other half, which is not specified, probably goes to Russia, although I am not sure. At any rate, they have an exportable surplus of 15 million tons, and I should have thought that it was not impossible to get some of that to this country. We have had Polish coal before, and I am sure that we can get it again. France, at the moment, is recovering her coal position rapidly. She is only 12 million tons short of her 1935–38 average, whereas we are 52 million tons short. Czechoslovakia produced 14 million tons before the war, and is now producing 15 million tons. I say this to emphasise that there are countries in Europe which have surplus coal; and I hope that when the Minister himself returns to the Debate—he has not been here so much as he ought to have been—he will not say that he has not heard any constructive suggestions from this side.
I would like to put a few suggestions to him. First, let us take the figures of coal exported. We are now sending from the Ruhr to Berlin 1,500,000 tons of coal a year. Previously, Berlin got coal from what is now the Russian zone, particularly Silesia, and I can see no reason why the whole of this 1,500,000 tons should go across Germany to Berlin from the Ruhr. Marshal Stalin himself suggested, the other day, that we should consider the Ruhr as a place where we could get some coal for this country. Here is a good example of how we might take him at his word.
The second point is on the question of raising the efficiency of coal production in the Ruhr. Ruhr output in the British zone at present shows an efficiency of only 45 per cent. compared with prewar. The French zone not far away has already attained 61 per cent, of prewar. Cannot we somehow raise ours to what has been reached in the French zone? Cannot we use their experience? If wo could do that we should increase Ruhr output by 20 million tons by increasing from 45 per cent. to 61 per cent. Half could go to help Germany and the other half could 2274 come here. This would give us 10 million tons.
I now wish to turn to South Africa. I had the honour of calling on the High Commissioner for South Africa yesterday and he told me the position which in turn I wish to put clearly to the House. At the present moment there are collieries in South Africa which could increase their production by 10 per cent. if it were not for transport shortages. They could, if they had the transport, deliver to this country 2,500,000 tons of coal a year. What do they want for it? They want 1,000 wagons. The Board of Trade, I notice, exported last year 20,000 wagons. Is it impossible to get only 1,000 wagons to South Africa? In the last three months the Board of Trade exported 5,000 wagons to India. Is it impossible to make over one thousand of those wagons to South Africa to get 2,500,000 tons of coal? This would avoid the cuts we have been told of this afternoon. I would like to support the argument as regards America, which were made by the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby. Would it not be possible for the Minister to go or to send some responsible Minister to America. The amount of coal which America exports is something like 50 million tons a year. Could we not ask for 10 per cent. of that?
During, the war we made great sacrifices; would it not be possible to ask America, who sends her exports all over the world, to send some to this country? These are constructive proposals which the Minister should consider. If this sort of administration had been going on during the war, in say, 1940, I think we should have been in a very bad position. We have a great deal for which to thank the right hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George). He did not let this sort of position develop. I am glad to see that the Minister has returned, because I am now coming to this point, and I would much rather say it to him when he is here—I consider that if a managing director of a big concern had had charge of the administration of the coal industry of this country as the Minister has had, he would have been dismissed long ago. I honestly mean that. He has not seriously tried, for instance, with regard to South Africa to get this extra coal. With regard to the European Coal Organisation, he has not tried to find out if something could really be done. 2275 He could have called an extraordinary meeting, for instance. To sum up in figures the instances I have given, there are 20 million tons of coal available which could come to this country if the Minister got on with the job. However, I do not think he is capable of doing it. Is there no one on the Government benches who is capable of taking over this vital task and deal with the coal situation in a statesmanlike way, who can come forward and save this country from what otherwise will be disastrous ruin?
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Heathcoat Amory (Tiverton)
I think that every Member of this House realises clearly the profound gravity of the situation we are debating today. The economy of our nation is poised on the brink of absolute calamity. When it comes to a question of sharing the blame for the situation I do not think that there is a single Member of any party who could find it in his heart to exult or rejoice at the present failures. The issue is far too serious. The economic White Paper that we had the other day told us that the 1947 industrial problem is fundamentally a problem of coal. I am afraid if we do not look out the industrial problem of 1948 will be the same. We started this Debate by talking about certain aspects of domestic summer consumption. Our housewives who have borne colossal burdens in the last seven years have to have a further burden laid on their shoulders and that is very tragic. We know our British summer and we know the restrictions proposed will involve further hardships particularly to the very old and the very young. I hope that the medical certificates provision will be sympathetically administered. I am glad anyway the solid fuel allowance is not to be reduced, and I hope that the Government will see that is fully honoured in the next 12 months and that domestic stocking up takes place in time. I trust also that the coal supplied will be of the combustible, hydro-carbon variety.
I received a heavy and interesting looking parcel the other day that, in a moment of unwarranted optimism, I thought was a delayed Christmas present. On opening it I was confronted with an enormous piece of rock and a letter from a constituent asking me to project it with the greatest possible velocity in the direction 2276 of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Fuel and Power. I declined this dangerous mission, but I did think of sending it to the former Minister of Food as a suitable non-combustible material for the repair of Himley Hall.
When we hear hon. Members opposite who have spent many years of honourable service in the mines speak on the subject we are debating today, we treat their speeches with great respect. Therefore, I certainly do not wish to contradict them unnecessarily, but I think that the hon. Gentleman the Member for North-East Derby (Mr. H. White) did interpret wrongly certain remarks that were made by some of my hon. Friends earlier today on the miners' coal allowance and the dirt in coal. My hon. Friends certainly did not wish to shoot at the individual miners on either point but I think that the figures given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) and my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) are so significant as to require some further investigation—since 1938 the number of miners down by 85,000, the miners' coal up by 5,000 tons a week, and domestic coal consumption down by 282,000 tons a week. I hope a further investigation will take place, but as far as this coal allowance is part of the wages it must, of course, be honoured and any voluntary surrender of coal must obviously be made good in money.
In the few brief remarks I intend to make I am going to deal mainly with the industrial aspect. Whether we are individually directly involved in industry or not we know that in the long run it is that aspect of the problem which affects us most deeply. The present output of British industry is alarmingly low and costs of production are steadily rising. What would happen if the present sellers' market came suddenly to an end one shudders to think. What is the reason for this low output? Obviously there are many factors, but I think that without any doubt the greatest is the irregularity in the supply of raw materials and components and, in particular, of this raw material which we are discussing today—coal. The two points I should like to make in that connection are these. First of all, every possible priority must be used to make sure that the basic industries are able to 2277 work at full production and do not go short—the iron and steel trade particularly, perhaps, because on its production all other industries obviously depend.
The second point is, I hope that those responsible for making allocations to other industries wil follow critically the implications of the quotas they give to ensure that the results are not in some cases nullified. As one hon. Member on the other side of the House pointed out the other day, industry is really a series of interdependent processes. Coal means steel, steel means machinery, machinery means textiles, textiles mean exports, and exports mean raw materials and food. One bottleneck half way up ruins the whole thing. I wonder whether the Government realise the appalling difficulties caused today to those responsible for managing industry by the contradictory and last minute allocations of coal which have been made during this last winter. Large works have not been able to plan their production for two or three days ahead. Modern industry cannot be run in circumstances like that. There is more and more a tendency to go for continuous and semi-continuous processes and they cannot be stopped without the most appalling waste. Industry is scraping along by using up odd stocks, but even with the greatest resource it will not be possible to keep the wheels going from now onwards unless regular and timely supplies of coal are received. No further cushions are left to absorb the shocks from sudden fuel cuts.
We must know what we are going to get. The information which the President of the Board of Trade gave us this afternoon in regard to the allocation of coal for industry for the summer months, as far as it goes, will be very welcome. I assume that the three weeks' stocks which industry has got to make up itself is part of the 15 million tons stock which the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Fuel and Power referred to as a national target at the beginning of the winter. The officials who deal with these allocations are nearly always courteous and helpful, but I think their jobs have been sometimes made almost impossible by changes and contradictory instructions from above. It is as if two bowlers were bowling alternate balls from opposite ends. Sometimes we recognise the style of the President of the Board of Trade. He usually keeps a fair length with a loose one occasionally. Then 2278 the next one comes down from the Minister of Fuel and Power, whose style is a little erratic and impulsive. He puts down a fair proportion of long hops, full tosses, no balls and wides. When he is bowling nobody is safe, not even the umpire.
While I am talking about these coal allocations, I should like to put in a word for the small business man. It is not so easy for these small men. They have not the staff or the contacts to watch up their allocation and see that they get it. They merit the greatest possible consideration and help from those concerned As regards industry as a whole, in spite of the information we have been given recently I cannot see how the next 12 months are going to be got through without very considerable under-employment. It does seem to me that this is going to have most unpleasant effects on the 140 per cent. target which we have to secure by the end of the year. We have been told recently that there is a gap of about ten millions between summer production and consumption. I understand that seven or eight millions of this is going to fall on industry. The Parliamentary Secretary said it was hoped to save about one million of this by the Order we were discussing this afternoon. Can we be told how the remainder of the gap is going to be filled?
The core of the problem is really, of course, production of coal. Until we get substantially more than the 200 million tons mentioned in the White Paper, we are bound to have a continuation of underproduction and under-employment. There seems to be only two other possible ways of getting round the difficulty. One is to accelerate the conversion to oil programme and that may be difficult, and the other is to import coal. I urge the Government to let nothing stand in their way in getting coal from overseas. I think that the right hon. Gentleman is half-hearted about it. I think his flesh has been made to creep by the trades unions. He said he did not consider that it should be necessary to import foreign coal, but later he made a statement which was very guarded, when he said that "the Government were not unmindful of the possibility of other arrangements being made," and there were "new developments." I hope he will tell us now what they are. I ask him to pay attention to the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Spearman) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member 2279 for Ecclesall (Major Roberts). I believe that the Americans in their present frame of mind will gladly help us over the next 12 months and send some supplies without reducing their deliveries to Europe. They know we have lots of coal under our ground and it will help them to help us if we can convince them that we are doing everything to help ourselves.
First and foremost our salvation depends on home production. How much are we going to get? We have been told that the recruiting figures are better, and this is excellent news, and long may it continue. But what about the Poles? How is their training getting on? Is it the case that whatever number of suitable Poles volunteer they will be taken on, or are only a limited number to be accepted? In our present predicament, I do not think increased numbers alone are going to help us quickly enough. There is even the danger that this good news may mask the increasing output per head. If only we could get that even to the 1941 output, how 'many of our difficulties would go. Is that going to happen, and if so, when? I hope the Minister will give us the "late final" estimates tonight of what the prospects are. Will the five-day week eliminate voluntary absenteeism and deliver the coal? The right hon. Gentleman said the other day that he did not know. Perhaps he will be able to tell us something this evening; but if it does not, it will be a crushing disappointment to the nation, and will show conclusively that there is something wrong in the leadership of the mining industry. Mr. Lawther said recently that "recent events placed the British miner in the best position of any in the world." That is where the nation wants him to be. The miner has now got everything for which he asked—nationalisation, the Coal Board, the five-day week, more food and, of course, the right hon. Gentleman, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness or in health until the next Election do them part. Let the nation see what the miners are going to do in the depth of their gratitude.
We now have nationalisation. I, personally, do not believe that nationalisation is an efficient way of running industry, but if it will give us the coal we want quickly, and of a decent quality and not at an excessive price, then good luck to it We have got the Coal Board, and 2280 already one hears of incipient ossification; which some of my hon. Friends foresaw when the Coal Nationalisation Bill was being discussed. One hears of bureaucratic methods, delays, preoccupation with details of administration and remoteness. If this is true, it is very disturbing. I only want to say this on the five-day week. That issue has been settled, and we must now await its result.
I have been down a coalmine only once. [Laughter.] Yes, and I regret that it is so. It was only for a few hours. When I came to the surface again, greatly to my relief, I did so with feelings of real respect for the work that was done below ground. If the five-day week is justifiable for any section of workers in our present precarious position it is justifiable for those who work underground, and I am sure that the nation will not grudge it to them, if the miners will give to the nation the coal that we need, before we lose any more of our industrial strength.
Hon. Members will have noted a rather significant passage printed in the stop press news of one of our evening papers today. It is a reported statement by Mr. Davies, president of the South Wales Miners' Federation. He is reported to have said:We are concerned that reconstruction and mechanisation of coal industry shall be tackled with speed and not in spirit of leisurely experiment. It is time to call on Premier to reorganise his Government so that correct policies may be carried through, and new, fresh forces, from ranks of Labour movement promoted to key positions of responsibility and trust."New, fresh forces." Knowing where power resides today we must hasten to offer our sincere condolences to the Ministers concerned.
The hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. McAllister) referred to the action of certain Scottish industrialists. I cannot honestly believe that men in that position would voluntarily close down their works for two days purely because of political pique.
It is a fantastic idea. One other thing we ask of the mining industry, to return at the earliest possible moment to its prewar standards of quality and choice of grades. Today we are getting much coal unsuited to the purpose for which it is required. Some of it is really frightful stuff. We do not hear much 2281 about the price of coal today, but looking forward a year or two, let us remember that the cumulative effect of the price of coal comes to a substantial element in manufacturing costs. And coal has to be sold in the markets of the world competitively. Today we are paying stiff prices for coal which is not of the average calorific quality which we were getting before the war.
The importance of exports should be stressed whenever we talk about coal in this House. It will be a disaster if the notion takes root that never again is this country going in for exports of coal. The Minister of Fuel and Power has said that a united effort is necessary to solve the fuel problem. I believe that he is right, but that kind of effort must be inspired. The right hon. Gentleman is in a position where the example which he sets is of the very first importance. The right hon. Gentleman has estimated production this summer at six million tons less than the figure of last year. That simply will not do. Industry is profoundly disturbed, not only about what it is to get this summer, but what it is to get next winter, because industry has to plan, whether the Government do it or not, at least six months ahead. Arc the Government at last going to apply foresight and forward planning, or are they going to hope again for the best and for a mild winter? It all comes down to a question of leadership.When the trumpet gives forth an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for battle?The nation wants leadership in which it can feel confident. I feel that, too often, the kind of leadership we are getting is like the rapidly cooling exudation from the top of a moribund volcano caused by spasmodic eruptions and internal strains and stresses. The nation has given the miners what they wanted; it now asks the miners to give a fair return—enough coal to keep the wheels of industry going faster than ever before, enough to keep the houses of the people warm and dry, and to do the washing and cooking, and enough to provide exports to buy those vital imports that nothing except coal will buy today.
Have the Government courage to set such a task? Something more than 200 million tons is needed this year and a good deal more than that next year. If that is achieved, the nation will have its feet set firmly on the road to economic 2282 recovery; if not, then there lies ahead an endless vista of stoppages, dislocations, shortages, under-employment, and uneconomic working. These things will cause an indefinite postponement of the day when this nation once more pays its way, an indefinite postponement of the day when the shops are filled with things the people want to buy, and a progressive paralysis of our whole economy for which history will lay a large measure of the blame with the present Government. I trust that, this evening, the Minister of Fuel and Power will convince us that the Government are equal to this crisis which is of such desperate import for our future destiny.
§ 9.28 p.m.
§ The Minister of Fuel and Power (Mr. Shinwell)
The House has listened with its usual courtesy to a most interesting essay, which bore the mark of careful preparation. Undoubtedly, the composition was impeccable, though I am bound to say that the content was infantile. [An HON. MEMBER: "Cheap."] It does not lie with hon. Members opposite to complain when they get a Roland for their Oliver. I gathered during the course of the Debate that I am cordially disliked by hon. Members opposite. They must not complain if there is a ready and willing response.
This Debate has, in one respect, been a curious one. It began with consideration of an Order designed to impose certain restrictions on the use of gas and electricity by various classes of consumers, and during the course of that Debate hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite referred to the subject of production, distribution, miners' coal, and so forth; but when they came to the Debate on the Motion for the Adjournment, we discovered that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite wished to revert to the earlier Debate, and references have been made to the undesirability, to put it mildly, of promoting an Order which seeks to impose restrictions.
I thought that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary had made a very able reply to the Debate on the subject of domestic restrictions. Ordinarily, I would have said no more on the subject, but, in the circumstances arising out of the latter part of the Debate, I feel this must be said. None of us on these benches, certainly 2283 nobody in the Government, has the least liking for restrictions of any sort or kind. We are as concerned for the wellbeing of the housewives of this country as anybody on the Opposition benches, and we shall seek, as we have always done, to safeguard their interests. But hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite have got a record in this matter. I should not be at all surprised if millions of housewives in this country recalled the many sordid episodes that occurred in the lifetime of Tory Governments. They will not forget.
If I do not present the argument as carefully and as concisely as the right hon. and intellectual. Gentleman opposite, it must be put down to lack of education. But, at any rate, there is no doubt about my reasoning. I repeat that we are as much concerned about the housewives of this country in the matter of domestic fuel restrictions as anybody on the other side. But we are equally concerned about the position of industry in this country. When the fuel crisis occurred, hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite said that we should have exercised more foresight last year; we should not have wasted our substance, by which they meant that we ought not to have wasted coal. We ought to have saved it up, we ought to have resorted to more stocking. At whose expense? At the expense of consumers. As to industrial consumers, if we had resorted to stocking at the expense of consumption, it would inevitably have led to short time and excessive unemployment in the country.
§ Mr. Shinwell
On the other hand, had we resorted to rationing last year, of the use of gas and electricity, there would have been violent and vehement complaints from the Opposition benches. At any rate, I understood that hon. Members opposite thought that rationing would not be a bad idea. It is very difficult to understand what they mean when they suggest that alternative measures, other than those which we have suggested, could be adopted. The right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) spoke about a voluntary appeal for more co-operation. We had innumerable appeals last year, and if I was criticised for one thing, it was on the ground that I resorted to appeals for voluntary co-operation.
2284 We do not mind being criticised by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, because we know them for what they are. At the Fuel Efficiency Conference on 8th October last year, I made an appeal for a 10 per cent. cut. Three weeks afterwards it was obvious that that appeal had failed. It was necessary then to consider the preparation of a scheme of rationing, and we did so. That has been discussed in the House, and it will be within the recollection of hon. Members. Now when, in order to assist in conserving fuel supplies, to enable industry to work at as high a pressure as possible, and to prevent short time and unemployment, we ask domestic consumers and non-industrial consumers to suffer some inconvenience so that industry shall continue, we are told by hon. Members opposite that we ought to have sought alternative measures. The fact of the matter is—and we had better understand it—nothing that this Government will do, whether it is right or wrong, will 'ever satisfy the Opposition. As for the silly, futile, vapid and infantile attacks which are launched against me from time to time from these remarkable geniuses on the Opposition benches, including the right hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George) who, in his pontifical speech this evening, indicated that all was well when he was at the Ministry of Fuel and Power and everything went wrong when he left it, if it was not that I know right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen opposite, because of my lengthy experience in this House, I would probably take them at their word and be a little worried about what they have said. As it is, I am amused and nothing more. If it comes to a war of words, I can assure them that I will be willing to accept their challenge at any moment.
What does it boil down to? It boils down to production. Of course, it does. Who has repeated that more often than myself? I have said it all over the country. I dislike restrictions. I detest prohibitions in the use of this, that or the other commodity—of course I do. So do others on these benches. Indeed, so do we all. But, in the circumstances, it is inevitable. I hope it will be temporary in its duration, and, in so far as it is necessary to adopt modifications, as my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has indicated, we are prepared to consider any reasonable proposal that is made to us. I repeat, at bottom it is a 2285 matter of production. We cannot solve this fuel problem unless we get more coal. [HON. MEMBERS; "Hear, hear."] These modern Columbuses on the opposite benches have made a discovery. We happen to have known it for a long time, precisely because we understand that production alone can solve this problem, however much one cares to promote fuel efficiency, which, of course, is very desirable. I can tell the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Pembroke in parenthesis, that we are doing far more in respect of fuel efficiency than ever he did when he was Minister of Fuel and Power, no matter what he has done. [Interruption.] Of course, I know hon. Members opposite do not like what I am saying. That is precisely why I am saying it. No matter what one does in respect of fuel efficiency, no matter what may be done in the way of imposing restrictions on consumers, it is production we want, and it is production we must seek.
We have tried to increase production, but, obviously, it is not the Ministry of Fuel and Power that increases fuel production. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] It is certainly not hon. Members opposite who will increase production; and, if I may be permitted to say so—because I want to be fair in this matter—nobody in this House can increase production. It is the men in the pits who will increase production. We must depend on them. What has happened? In the three months preceding the end of last year the trend of production was accelerated. There is no dispute about that. What has happened since? Hon. Members are well aware of what occurred when the severe weather set in. Many pits were inaccessible; there were considerable transport difficulties, and, in consequence production was impeded. That had nothing to do with the Ministry, and nothing to do with hon. Members. The miners were not to blame. There were the facts. It was due to the severe weather. But, in spite of the severe weather conditions, in spite of insuperable transport difficulties such as this country has not encountered for a very long time, the miners succeeded in producing about 3½ million tons more coal in the first four months of this year than they did in the corresponding period of last year.
§ Mr. Shinwell
If hon. Members imagine I regard that as adequate for our purpose, I can assure them I do not. We want more. In those difficult circumstances the men did a fine job of work, and I admire them for it. Of course, I understand what hon. Members opposite are trying to do. If they could drive a wedge between my- self and the National Union of Mineworkers and the miners generally, what an achievement that would be for them. Therefore, they come along, in that mealy-mouthed fashion, and ask about miners' coal. They have known all about miners' coal for years. The right hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke knows all about miners' coal. He endeavoured to reduce the amount of miners' coal—by a process of negotiation, I do not deny that, conducted quite reasonably, as one might expect—but he only succeeded up to a point, and it was a minor point. These negotiations have been going on ever since, and the National Coal Board—just as the private owners did under the supervision, or direction, or with the consent of the Ministry of Fuel and Power—will continue those negotiations with the National Union of Mineworkers in order to secure a larger amount of miners' coal being made available for the ordinary consumer.
However, I must say to hon. Members that this is a very complicated affair, and not until a new wage structure is negotiated will it be possible to deal with this matter effectively. We do not want to throw a spanner into the machinery at this moment, although I understand that before long a new wage structure will be negotiated. I prefer to leave this matter—whether hon. Members opposite like it or not—to the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers. Never a word is said about fishermen, and fishermen are a very hardy and fine type of men—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—I know more about them than hon. Members opposite. I have mixed with them, and I understand them. I have not looked down on them from afar, with a superior and condescending attitude. But fishermen always get a share of the catch. Does anyone complain about that? Does anyone say to fishermen returning from fishing in the Faroe Islands, or wherever it may be, "You must not use the fish for yourselves. The poor domestic consumers are going short of fish, and you must share it with them"? The fact of the matter is, that when hon. Members 2287 opposite talk in that fashion they are just humbugs, and it is as well that the country should know it.
I turn to the question of recruitment. If there is one achievement to the credit of the Government it is that we have succeeded—and I hope hon. Members will note the facts of the situation—in securing a net recruitment of about 18,000 men and boys since the beginning of this year. The gross recruitment is 30,000, but there is an element of wastage. I suggest that a net recruitment of 18,000 in the first four months is pretty good going. What does it indicate? It indicates that, at long last, there is a feeling of satisfaction with the present set up in the mining industry; and that there is a response to the goodwill that emanates from the National Coal Board; and there is no doubt about that I know that hon. Members opposite would like the Coal Board to have a row with the National Union of Mineworkers. How they would gloat over it. And, indeed, they do gloat over our miseries, and we know it.
Of course, one can recruit a large number of men and boys, particularly boys, under 18 or over 18, whether ready to be trained for face work or not ready to be trained. It takes some time before boys, even if they are over 18, can be upgraded to the coal face. We have to remember that a large number of the coal faces, the "runs" as they are called, were allowed to fall into disuse under private ownership. They had to be reopened under the Coal Board, and it takes time, and it takes a lot of work, and we have got to take men away from other production points for that job. All these difficulties are well known to people in the industry, though it is quite possible that the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Amory), who has just addressed us in an interesting fashion, and has been down a pit only once, and was glad to get out of it, may not be aware of these important facts.
I come now to the question of imports, of which we have heard a great deal from the hon. and gallant Member for Ecclesall (Major Roberts). I do hope and beg and pray that one of these days I shall hear him say something having sense.
§ Major Roberts
I did not suggest getting any coal from France, although they did export 300,000 tons to Switzerland last year.
§ Mr. Shinwell
If I have made a mistake, I apologise to the hon. and gallant Member, but I was advised that, in his demand for the importation of coal in large quantities, we should seek to get some from France. I assure him there are extraordinary complexities in that regard. What about South Africa? Hon. Members opposite say that I am lighthearted about this question of imports. I met the Minister of Economic Development, Mr. Waterson, when he was here. We discussed their transport difficulties. We had discussions about the possibility of importing coal from South Africa to this country, or, as an alternative, that they should export coal for bunkers and, to that extent, relieve us from the need of supplying bunkers in the Mediterranean and elsewhere. But, I am afraid it has not yet so far resulted in any tangible imports, whether for bunkering or for other purposes. It is not our fault. Neither is it the fault of the Union of South Africa. There are physical difficulties. Their pits are 200 or 250 miles from the coast. They want more wagons, and those wagons are not easily available.
There are wagon difficulties in the United States of America, as the United States authorities have informed us. When it comes to the United States of America, I beg hon. Members to understand that we have exhausted every possibility in order to secure coal from the United States. The matter is not yet ended. But in the next quarter we may get none. We may in the following quarter get some, but that depends on the allocation provided by the United States authorities for the European countries. I must say on this matter that I am surprised at hon. Members opposite when they make the suggestion that we made no effort to do this. It is not entirely in my hands. It is a matter for the Government as a whole. [Interruption.] Certainly. Have right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite never heard about the doctrine of collective effort and responsibility? There are lots of things they have not heard about, and there are many that they have heard about 2289 that they have not understood. This is a matter for the Government as a whole. My right hon. and learned Friend the President of the Board of Trade and the Prime Minister himself have made superhuman efforts to have this matter attended to. So far we have not succeeded, not because we have not made the effort, but because there are physical difficulties.
I come now to two points referred to by my hon. Friends, and, in particular, the startling statement—I am bound to use that expression—by the hon. Member for Ruthergien (Mr. McAllister), fortified by the hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr. Timmons), about the prospective closing of steelworks in Lanarkshire on account of the miners in Scotland taking their two days' statutory holidays next week. As regards these statutory holidays which the miners are taking next week—
§ Vice-Admiral Taylor (Paddington, South)
Would the right hon. Gentlemen turn more this way, so that we might hear what he says?
§ Mr. Shinwell
I am extremely sorry, but I was speaking to my hon. Friends behind me. The Scottish miners are entitled to these statutory holidays. As it happens, they are telescoping two of their holidays, to which they are entitled, and, of course, it will obviously have a depressing effect on Scottish production next week, which I regret, but, on the other hand, they will not take the holidays later on, so that what we lose on the swings in the first week of May we gain on the roundabouts sometime in July or August. I cannot imagine that steelworks owners in Lanarkshire should use this as their alibi in order to close down their steelworks, and we shall make inquiries into the matter. This I must say—if ever there was a justification for taking over iron and steel under public, ownership, it is their action here. It is the sort of thing we would expect from private enterprise, and, no doubt, this illustration will be used on frequent occasions.
And now a word about the five-day week. I have made speeches outside on this subject, and, because I am apprehensive, I speak out honestly to hon. Members. I am apprehensive about this experiment as to its effect on production, but I must say that I am wholly in favour of the five-day week. I believe that the 2290 mine workers underground, if they work a five-day week, are doing a real job of work. I do not ask them to do more, but I ask them to do no less than that, and what I have said to hon. Members I have said to the miners themselves all over the country, and I will go on saying it. Naturally, it is an experiment, and it is impossible to say at this juncture, apart from speculation and conjecture, which is never of value in these matters, what the actual result will be in terms of production. I am hoping for the best. I know the miners are anxious to co-operate, and that is something to go on with and is a very valuable asset
It may well be that we shall get a higher production than is estimated, but I prefer to wait for a few weeks, and certainly until the end of May, before making up my mind as to the effects of the five-day week on production. I will tell the House quite frankly that, if we should find that the five-day week does not work out, even with a better atmosphere, in terms of production, we shall have to come to the House and say so, after, of course, having our conversations with the National Coal Board and with the mineworkers. I am satisfied that the leaders of the mineworkers, some of whom have been referred to in this Debate, are as anxious to promote the highest production as we are in this House, and there the matter must stand.
There is another reason why we must have the five-day week sooner or later, and I think it would be better sooner than later. The five-day week will have a beneficial effect on the minds of the men working in the pits, and that is our purpose. On the other hand, suppose we had said to the mineworkers, "You cannot have the five-day week." What would have been the result? We should have had disputes all over the place.
I believe that it is far better to promote this desirable reform now, because we believe in it, and because the miners want it, than to take the risk of precipitating an industrial stoppage which would impose serious hardship on the whole community. If Members opposite had been in power we should have had stoppages all over the country, some of which they would have precipitated by their own folly, and some of which would have happened, inevitably, because there was a Tory Government. No doubt they would 2291 be delighted if we had a large number of disputes in the mining industry. They have referred to unofficial disputes elsewhere, which we deplore as much as they. They have gloated over these matters, and the miseries to which the country may be subjected.
§ Mr. Shinwell
It does not consist of letting right hon. and hon. Members opposite castigate us, lambast us, and knock us about all over the place while we adopt a yellow attitude in reply. I see my old friend the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) opposite. He is still as "old lace" as ever. He has spoken about politeness; in fact, he has written books on politeness. What he does not know about politeness is not worth learning, yet he complains about me after the lessons in courtesy which I have given him in the past.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot), in one of the best speeches I have/ever heard him make, a restrained speech, without a word of criticism of myself, for which I shall be eternally grateful, asked me to present a revised coal budget. I cannot do that, and I will tell him why. Not so long ago my right hon. and learned Friend the President of the Board of Trade presented a budget to the House and, indeed, came to the House today to tell us that he proposed to provide for industry, during the summer, an amount of coal not less than that which he provided for industry in the corresponding period of last year. The question, naturally, emerges: Where is that coal coming from, and ought we not to have a revised budget? The fact is that we have been luckier than we expected. We thought we would have only five million tons at the end of the winter. As it happens, we have rather more, nearly six million tons. The other week we stepped up the quantities of coal for certain industries, and now it is possible to step them up still further, because we are in a more fortunate position. That is all the better for us, and for the country. We also believe that the additional manpower—we have now 711,000 persons in the industry—and the fine atmosphere that is being evoked in the industry will enable us to produce more coal in the summer. 2292 We therefore feel that now is the time to give industries a chance of working at the highest possible pressure, even if it means taking a risk. In these circumstances, I must be excused from presenting a budget.
§ It being Ten o'Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.