§ 4.1 p.m.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson (Southport)
We make no apology whatever for considering whether we shall propose a reduction of the salary of the Ministesr of Fuel and Power on Supply today. We learn from the Press that some time in the comparatively near future the public may expect to see the first report from the Coal Board. Clearly, that is likely to be a long document containing an abundance of detail, and it will require a certain length of time for consideration and suggestions, and I have not the least doubt that hon. Members on all sides of the Committee, when they have had that time, will, in fact, want an opportunity for discussing it: It will, as I apprehend, deal in a fairly narrow way with the actual activities of the Board. We believe that there is sufficient information available to the public now to enable us to have a preliminary discussion on the results of the nationalisation of the coal mines under the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act passed in the early part of this Session.
1577 I am not going today to discuss the question of the nationalisation or denationalisation of the mines because it would be out of Order to do so. That question was decided, rightly or wrongly, by the country at the last General Election. However, during the Debates on the Bill the attitude taken up by my hon. and right hon. Friends on this side was that the country having decided on nationalisation, we should try to make sure that the set-up finally approved should be one calculated to do the least possible harm to the country as a whole. It was in the light of that, that we made criticisms and suggested Amendments in the course of the Debates on the Bill. With the exception of one or two minor concessions, the Government saw fit to reject our suggestions, and it was the present Minister of Fuel and Power, I think, who boasted, during the Third Reading Debate, that the Bill emerged from its passage through the House substantially as it was when it had been introduced, and that the principles it contained on Second Reading, remained in it as it issued from the Third Reading.
Therefore, the party opposite must take full responsibility for the success or failure that has since taken place. Indeed, I imagine that the right hon. Gentleman will not dispute that. He will, no doubt, remember that the late Minister of Fuel and Power stated only this year that what really matters is that it should be proved to the majority of people, and particularly to the producers and consumers who rely on the products of the coal industry, that success has been achieved. What were the chief objects of the Bill that were set out by the late Minister of Fuel and Power, the present Secretary of State for War, in the Second Reading of the Bill? He said:Our purpose is to raise output, thus reducing costs of productionHe said:It will not create a rigid organisation, either nationally or regionally … The main provisions of the Bill, indicating the provision for flexibility of administration.He said:The country is definitely short of first-grade mining engineers and they must be transferred to districts where they can be of most use to the country as a wholeHe said, too, that the Bill provided safeguards for consumers. Turning to the interests of the men, he said: 1578Much remains to be done in the matter of a five-day week, longer holidays and improvements in labour standards.I would call hon. Members' attention particularly to the next few words. The right hon. Gentleman said:These can be introduced progressively, when reorganisation has been established But it would be foolish to pretend that the costs of these reforms can be ignored; they must be related to production We cannot impose increased charges on coal consumers, but in the measure that costs can be reduced, either through reorganisation or increased output, it is hoped that long awaited reforms can be applied.Finally he said, in the concluding passages of his speech:Given the right men, and the right atmosphere, … we can inspire this great national industry, in terms of abundance and true economy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th January, 1946; Vol. 418, c. 702–716.]Those words were spoken only a short while ago. I propose to apply the test of the Secretary of State to the results as we have seen them so far of the right hon. Gentleman's administration. I pause to remind the Committee in passing, of the words that were used by the Secretary of State since his activities were transferred from the Ministry he formerly held. He said that the nationalisation of the mining industry had been on the Labour Party's programme for 50 years, and he said:We thought we knew all about it. The fact of the matter is that we did not.
§ Mr. Hudson
I have it, if the Committee want it, but I do not want to delay the Committee. However, it would seem pretty clear that the right hon. Gentleman and his friends did not know all about it. Said the Secretary of State:Unfortunately, it has not worked out too well.That is a pretty fair confession, not only of incompetence but of political dishonesty almost unparalleled in history.
Let us take the first test that the right hon. Gentleman said was to be applied, namely, the increase of output and the reduction of costs. I pass over the fuel crisis of last year and turn to the target for this year. The target for this year has been set at 200 million tons of deep-mined coal. I am talking entirely of deep-mined coal. That is less, incidentally, than the Prime Minister suggested 1579 as recently as September last year was obtainable. The Prime Minister suggested that the proper target for this year was 208 million tons. He said, four million tons a week. Four million tons a week multiplied by 52 weeks if my arithmetic is correct, is 208 million tons a year.
But even on the modified estimate of the Minister, the production to date should have been 88,550,000 tons for the first 23 weeks. I take the first 23 weeks because it is only for those weeks that we have available the official figures. A figure has been published for the 24th week, but I am told it is only a provisional figure. For the first 23 weeks, the output should have been, on the Ministerial estimate, 88,550,000 tons. The actual output has been 88,107,000 tons. We have yet to face the Summer months when, owing to the incidence of the holidays, production is much lower. It is clear, therefore, that the target—the miserably inadequate target set up by the Minister of Fuel and Power—the target lower than that intimated as possible by his own Prime Minister—is not going to be reached.
If we turn to the question of output per man, the same sorry tale is to be told. I hope that hon. Members from the mining districts and, indeed, the Minister of Fuel and Power when he replies, will not try to ride the Committee off by pointing out the official figures of output per man-shift because, after all, what the country is concerned about is to get its coal, and the really important figure is the total output per man per year. That is the thing that results in the final target being achieved or not being achieved. These are the very disturbing figures so far available: Output in 1938, the prewar year under private enterprise, per man-year was 290 tons; today, the output per man-year is only 262 tons in spite of nationalisation.
It is worth remembering in this connection that between those two years the percentage of coal cut by machinery increased very materially indeed. As has been stated, if the output per man-year was as good as it was in the last year of private enterprise during the war, 1941, the total available would have been increased by 24 million tons, and 24 million tons extra would have made a great difference indeed, not only to the 1580 economy of this country internally, but to the whole prospect of restoring our balance of trade abroad.
I see in the Press a statement that hon. Members in this House representing some of the mining seats propose to defend the present fall of output and the present low output by suggesting that the average age of the men, particularly those at the coalface, is materially higher than it used to be. Let me disabuse their minds at once of the idea that that is an adequate excuse, because the figures published by the right hon. Gentleman's own Department show conclusively that there has been practically no change in the age grouping of the men employed in the pits; and, so far as the age of the men employed at the coalface is concerned, the right hon. Gentleman, in reply to a question by the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd), told us today that there are no figures available as to the average age of men at the coalface. I make these statements now in order to save hon. Members putting forward arguments later which have no foundation in fact.
The fact of the matter is that one of the causes of the drop in output of which we are only too conscious, and of which the right hon. Gentleman himself has complained, is, as I shall have occasion to show later in my speech, absenteeism. Again, absenteeism is not the fault of the older men; it is due to the younger men. Only last week, Sir Nigel Holmes, the Divisional Controller in the Midlands, speaking at Doncaster, said that it was not the men of 35 to 45, as might be expected, but the young men of 28 and under who were to blame for this state of affairs.
It is clear, therefore, that the target that has already been set is not going to be achieved. Lord Hyndley, in a speech on the 26th May and again on the 4th June, and the Minister himself on the 10th June, all expressed their concern and fear that the target is not going to be obtained. Indeed, the Minister himself said that the whole outlook is not as good as it was earlier in the year. In fact, only 18.6 million tons were produced—over 100,000 tons a week short. The right hon. Gentleman himself bears out what I have been trying to point out.
Let me turn to the sad hope expressed by the late Minister that costs would be reduced. We shall have to wait until we get 1581 the first report of the Board to get the exact details, but if rumour is to be believed, despite the increase of prices that has taken place, the Board has lost something in the order of £20 million. I do not know what the figure is; it is merely hearsay, but we shall no doubt hear. Quite apart from any loss they made, as everyone in the House knows from his own personal experience, the cost of coal to the consumer has been steadily rising, not only to the domestic consumer but to the industrial consumer, and, even more important from the point of view of our overseas balance of trade, to the foreign consumer.
To take two examples: One of the largest consumers in the country in 1939 paid 19s. 8d. a ton for industrial coal, and in 1948 paid 51s. a ton—more than double. The Sheffield Electricity Company, buying a lower quality coal, paid 20s. a ton in 1939 and 405. a ton last year—again double. There is not much sign there of the hopes which the Secretary of State for War expressed only a few months ago being carried out. Finally, let me quote one figure as regards the export trade. I am informed that as recently as the middle of last December, the exporters were told that there would be an increase of no less than 25s. a ton, in one jump, for coal sent abroad, and also for bunkers to date from 1st January. The old price of Welsh large was 52s. 6d. and the new price is 77s. 6d.; Tyne coal 47s. 6d., now 72s. 6d; Yorkshire coal 525. 6d., now 77s. 6d. We hear a great deal about the advantages of bulk buying, but here is a pretty good example of the evils of bulk selling. One of the answers with which the Argentine Government can promptly retaliate when we complain about the increased prices being charged for meat and maize is, "What about the increased price you are charging for your coal?" What is sauce for the goose is obviously sauce for the gander. We cannot have a better example, I suggest, of the evils of the system into which we are being driven.
I turn to the matter of organisation. The Secretary of State for War said that the organisation was going to be flexible; that it was not going to be too centralised or too rigid. Complaints, as everyone knows, are universal today of the set-up under the Coal Board and its rigidity; its excessive centralisation and, above all, so far as the men are concerned, the fact that the ownership is too remote. It may 1582 well be that the individual coalowner had many faults, but at least he was someone who was close and handy—someone whom one could see and abuse and who, at the worst, if a decision had to be taken, could take it reasonably quickly; whereas under the present system, a decision has to go right up to the top and slowly percolate down again. There can be no question at all that one of the causes of the failure today to get better results out of the men is this remoteness of ownership, and they are finding, contrary to what they believed, that the new boss is really the old boss under a new name but slightly more remote.
Another very important point is that of managers. The Secretary of State for War indicated that one of the objects of the Board was to try to improve the status of the managers and to give them more opportunity. The Leader of the House—and I am sorry he is not in his place, because I have several useful quotations from him—said in the Second Reading Debate that managershave been denied by the nature and the character of 'the ownership, freedom of initiative and elbow room in management." [OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th January, 1946; Vol. 418, c. 971.]Well, the implication of both speeches, surely, was that managers would have a better and freer time under the new set up than they had under the old. What has been the result? Everybody knows that some of the best men have been lost to the industry; and only this month, in South Wales, speaking at a meeting of the Colliery Managers' Association, the Association President said:There is a strong feeling of disgruntlement and frustration"—not what we had been led to believe would be the case.It is a lamentable fact that since vesting day we have lost mining engineers the industry can ill afford.That hardly bears out the high hopes expressed by the Secretary of State for War.
I turn now to safeguards for the consumers, which we were told would be brought in by this Bill. Not only is coal much more expensive—of which I have just given some illustrations—but its quality has steadily deteriorated. This affects, not only our domestic consumers and our industrial consumers, but also our export market. Even the miserable 1583 target of 200 million tons will be obtained this year—if it is obtained—only by selling as coal seven million tons of dirt. I wonder what would be said if a farmer, working towards the targets that are being set by the Minister of Agriculture, were asked to produce so many gallons of milk, and boasted at the end of the year that he had reached that gallonage, for the public only to find that a lot of it was water? There would be some considerable complaint. Or suppose a grocer made up the weight of sugar for the ration by adding a little sand.
§ Miss Jennie Lee (Cannock)
Would the right hon. Gentleman like to give an analogy from cabbages, or almost any form of greengrocery?
§ Mr. Hudson
I should be delighted to follow any suggestion the hon. Lady has to make. I am merely quoting those two which affect the housewife, and suggesting that if similar circumstances obtained in regard to milk, sugar and so on, there would be very great trouble among the public; but because this is a nationalised industry, and because it is provided by a Socialist Government, hon. Members apparently do not object at all.
§ Mr. Murray (Spennymoor)
Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware of the fact that it is over 15 years since a colliery washer for cleaning coal was established at collieries?
§ Mr. Hudson
I am glad the hon. Member made that interjection, because again I call in aid the Secretary of State for War. I quite agree about the need for washers; but what I am trying to do this afternoon is to get hon. Members, and above all the public outside, to realise the difference between Socialist promise and Socialist performance. We all know perfectly well about the need for screening; but what did the Secretary of State for War say when he was Minister of Fuel and Power? I wonder if the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Murray) remembers what was said in Committee during the passage of the Coal Industry (Nationalisation) Act? If he does not, I have fortified myself with the quotation, thinking that someone would be kind enough to make the necessary interjection. This is what the Secretary of State for War said on 14th May, 1946, when answering my hon. 1584 Friend the Member for Stockport (Sir A. Gridley):The hon. Gentleman, who is not without intelligence, and who has had long experience, knows full well that the situation today is quite different from what it was before the war, and in the course of, perhaps, 12 months or less, certainly no longer than 12 months, we shall have corrected the position."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th May, 1946; Vol. 422, c. 1699.]I am most grateful to the hon. Member for making that interjection.
§ Mr. Murray
No Minister can correct in 12 months—[Laughter.] He who laughs last laughs loudest. No Minister, however clever he may be, can correct in 12 months what has been operating for the last 15 years, without colliery washers.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
I wonder if the right hon. Gentleman would be kind enough in future to give a reference with his quotations? It is rather difficult to follow them speedily. In various stages of his speech he has misquoted.
§ Mr. Hudson
I am very sorry; I certainly did not do it intentionally. I have the full quotations here. Perhaps the hon. Member will tell me where I misquoted.
§ Mr. Wigg
When quoting from the Second Reading speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, the right hon. Gentleman quoted thus:We know that given the right men, and the right atmosphere … we can inspire this great national industry. …What my right hon. Friend said was:We know that given the right men, and the right atmosphere, together with public good will and organisation …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th January, 1946; Vol. 418, c. 716.]1585 The right hon. Gentleman missed out those last words. [Laughter] It is rather important.
§ Lieut.-Commander Gurney Braithwaite (Holderness)
Is there no public good will with the Socialist Government now?
§ Mr. Hudson
It is quite true that the right hon. Gentleman referred to public good will; hut, after all, I started off by saying that the whole of our case was that we admitted that nationalisation had been accepted by the country, or voted for by the country. All I am trying to do is to show the difference between the promises held out at the time the Act was going through, and the actual performance.
I should also like to ask the right hon. Gentleman a question about distribution. On 26th May he held out hopes in a speech that the consumers might be allowed a free choice of supply. I do not know to what extent he intended that as a serious contribution, or whether he hopes eventually to be able to carry it out; but it is a little odd that on 26th May he should be talking about a free choice of supply being restored, while on the other hand, if our information is correct, the Coal Board are believed to be considering the nationalisation of the distribution of coal. If the distribution is to be nationalised, clearly that destroys any possibility of the consumer having a free choice of supply. We should be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman, when he replies, would tell us what is, in fact, the situation.
We should also be very glad if the Minister would tell us to what extent at the present moment the foreigner is beginning to demand a freedom of choice of supply. We hear that, contrary to what 1586 was the case some months ago when coal was very short on the Continent, and when we could get the foreign buyer to take anything we liked to send, the foreigner is now becoming more discrimiating. If so, we should very much like to be told what are the facts.
Then there is the question of reforms. Again, the statements made by the right hon. Gentleman in introducing the Bill have not been carried out. He said that the reforms—the increased pay, the five-day week and the longer holidays—would have to be related to production. In fact, as everyone knows, they were granted in advance of any increase in production, and they have not been followed by any increase in production.
Members know that Sir Charles Reid, in his famous speech at Edinburgh, definitely said that there was a slackening of effort, that the Coal Board were not getting the advantage of the new machinery, and that after the industry had been nationalised it was not prepared to play the game by the country. I pause to note that Sir Charles Reid is quoted in the Press as saying that he is still in favour of nationalisation. Therefore, he is a first-class witness from the point of view of people who maintain that the experiment of nationalisation, under the set-up adopted under the Act and administered first by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) and now by the present Minister, is not achieving the results in production or the reductions in costs of which we had reasonable hopes.
It is quite clear that at present the scheme is a failure, and it is equally clear that there are two causes.
§ Mr. Bowles (Nuneaton)
The right hon. Gentleman did not quote the whole of the speech of Sir Charles Reid. Did Sir Charles Reid not say that he hoped the speech would not be used in any attack against the Government?
§ Mr. Hudson
I am endeavouring to the best of my ability to give a resume of the facts available to the public. If the hon. Member thinks that the result of those facts, as set out impartially, give any advantage to one party or another, he is free to do so. I am trying, for the convenience of the Committee and for the information of the public, to get the 1587 facts together and show how they compare with the high hopes with which the coal nationalisation Measure was carried through.
As I was saying, the failure is due to two main causes. One is administrative—and we hope the Minister will let us know what he thinks about that—and the other is psychological. It is clear that the existing set-up under the Act—and the Act, with one small exception, gives the right hon. Gentleman considerable latitude to alter the set-up, and therefore it is fully in Order to discuss it, established by the Minister and his predecessor, is not working, quite apart from Sir Charles Reid's resignation. If any confirmation of that is required, we have it in the fact that Sir Robert Burrows has only recently been asked by the Board to conduct an investigation and make recommendations. I find myself in great difficulty in understanding which leg the Government stand on in this matter. We had the Secretary of State for War saying as recently as 25th April:We are determined that there will be no monkeying about with the administration of nationalisation by a set of busy-bodies who would be much better employed promoting efficiency in private enterprise.On the other hand, the Leader of the House, speaking at Cardiff, said:Neither managers nor men were entitled to resent any suggestion or criticism from outside.It seems difficult to reconcile these two statements, and we shall be glad to know from the Minister which view he takes. We do not know what Sir Robert Burrows' Report will contain, but we have some useful indications of the way his mind works from statements he has made in public comparatively recently about what he thinks about the organisation of nationalised industries. He says that he believes oversight is not the job of technicians, but is rather for a non-technical body who would supervise the non-technical side of the industry. Does the Minister agree with that? He believes that the existing set-up is universally over-centralised, and that the worst feature of the present form of organisation is the depressing effect on the responsible officials in the divisions. Does the Minister agree with that? He also suggested that a central directorial supervisory body composed of some part-time directors should be set up, and that 1588 the headquarters staff should be reduced to a minimum. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with that? He also says:Each district or division should be given a target, not only of output and performance, but also a financial one. The efficiency of a division should be judged by its resultsHe states that:Natural laws are not abrogated because an industry becomes nationalised.Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with that? Finally, he suggested that:A hatred of private enterprise should not be taken as a justification for scrapping lightheartedly methods of control and direction that have justified themselves in private industry in years gone by.Perhaps it would be unfair to the right hon. Gentleman to ask him to reply to these quotations without notice, but the Committee will agree that they are pretty widely different from the views the Secretary of State held and expressed during the Second Reading of the coal nationalisation Measure.
I am equally certain that the psychological cause is due to the present set-up. The miners have always in the past regarded nationalisation as a panacea. Members who have been in the House for a long time and have listened to scores of debates will agree with that. As I said earlier, they have found they have only exchanged the old boss for a new one. The Secretary of State for War stated during the Debate—and again I am anxious to know which member of the Government is regarded as expressing the real views of the Government—that the result of nationalisation would be to introduce a new spirit among the men. But the Secretary of State for Scotland, in an article in "Forward" not long ago, said:For myself, I consider it quite unconvincing for anyone to argue that miners will work harder because the State owns the mines.Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will tell us with whom he agrees. Then, of course, we have the Leader of the House speaking at Cardiff on 12th June and saying:While not rejecting individual material incentives, we assert the need for the great incentive of public service.We have not seen much signs of that yet, have we? The right hon. Gentleman also held up the advantages of work. Work was to be praised. Work was a good thing, and without work, you could not increase the wealth of the country and 1589 the individual. But the House will remember that not so long ago the Minister of Food said that work will not make the workers any richer.Hard work will not make the workers any richer, but it will make their employers much richer. Allied with this propaganda, for industriousness, you remember the old Produce more cry. I suppose that we will get it again after this war too.Are we to take the present view of the Leader of the House as representing the Socialist Party, or the view of the present Minister of Food? I am sorry to quote so often from the speech of the Leader of the House, but it was really an extraordinarily good one, and it did not receive the publicity it deserved. "Another thing," said the Leader of the House:we have to learn is to be less inclined to cling to rule of thumb and prejudices and suspicion.I ventured to say in the Coal Debate last July that what was really required was leadership, and I believed that the miners would respond to leadership, and if they got leadership many of our troubles would be at an end. I still believe that. It is pretty clear from what happened that the Prime Minister did not think much of the leadership of the Secretary of State for War when he was Minister of Fuel and Power, and I venture to say that the figures and the facts which I have tried to set forth today show that the present Minister is failing equally in leadership.
I believe that until we get better leadership, until we manage to inspire the men with a belief in the importance of their work, not only to themselves but to consumers, the nation as a whole and to countries abroad, we shall not get the results we require. I am very doubtful whether the present set-up is capable of inspiring that leadership. It is because we entertain these apprehensions, because we believe that the results of the administration to date have fallen far short of the hopes held out and the requirements of the country, that we shall later move a reduction of the Vote.
§ 4.41 p.m.
§ The Minister of Fuel and Power (Mr. Gaitskell)
It is now nearly a year since the last full-dress Debate on coal, and I could not help feeling, as I listened to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson), that if things had really gone quite as badly as 1590 he made out, the Opposition have tailed lamentably in their duty in allowing all this time to elapse without a discussion in the House. The fact is, of course, that the absence of a Debate during the past year reflects the vastly improved position in the coal industry as compared with the previous year.
I do not propose to review in detail the developments in the industry since last July, when we last had a Debate, firstly, because there are many other things I want to say—a good many in reply to the right hon. Gentleman—and, secondly, because I have, at fairly regular intervals, issued statements to the Press at Press conferences—it has not been possible to hold Press conferences, so to speak, in this House—so that the public generally could be kept informed as to how things were going. We have also published full statistics, fuller than for any other industry, so that there can be no possible excuse for any ignorance on the subject.
I think it worth while to draw attention to certain salient features in the developments since our last Debate. What was the position in 1947, at the end of the first year of nationalisation? How had the new administration, which was severely castigated by the right hon. Gentleman, fared in their first and perhaps most difficult year? Let us take output. The output of deep-mined coal in 1947 was just over 187 million tons, compared with 181 million in 1946—an increase of six million tons. The output of opencast coal—my responsibility, not the Coal Board's—increased by about 1½ million tons. So we had, in all, an increase of 7½ million tons in 1947 over 1946.
Output per man shift, about which the right hon. Gentleman also made a criticism, rose from 1.03 tons in 1946 to 1.07 tons in 1947—an increase of 4 per cent. As I will show, only twice in pre-war years, and then in very special circumstances, was the increase from one year to another higher than 4 per cent., and on only one other occasion was it as much as 3 per cent. Output per man at the face increased from 2.76 tons in 1946 to 2.86 tons in 1947. Manpower, which stood at 692,000 on 1st January, 1947, rose to 718,000 by the end of the year, the first really substantial increase in the industry for years. Finally, distributed stocks, which were 8½ million tons at the 1591 end of 1946, had risen to 16 million tons by the end of 1947. I think that any unprejudiced observer would say that this constituted a remarkable recovery.
It was with a good deal more hope than at one time seemed likely that we looked forward to 1948. Although we had climbed, in this first year of the Coal Board's administration, out of the lowest point in the valley, to which we had been forced to descend during the war, we faced a stiffer climb ahead, because the more favourable stock position had only been achieved partly by the complete cutting off of exports and by a certain amount of importing, which was strongly supported by Members opposite. It was essential in 1948 that we should achieve a great revival of our export trade. Hence the need for a really stiff target.
The right hon. Gentleman opposite referred to the target. Why did we decide on 211 million tons of deep-mined and opencast coalȔ200 million tons deep-mined and the remainder open-cast? It was a figure that we put before the Paris Conference, at the beginning of the Marshall Aid discussions, which we hoped we might attain. I must say, quite frankly, that at that time—in August, 1947—I considered this to be a very doubtful proposition indeed. We were naturally anxious to set the target high so that we might make other countries feel that we were really doing our best. The right hon. Gentleman says it was a miserable target. Anyone can say that. I dare say that his targets for agriculture during the war, when he was the responsible Minister, although higher than previously, could be regarded as miserable. Anyone can fix a target of 220 million tons or 230 million tons or 250 million tons. It is just the case of writing down a figure, thinking of a number, doubling it, and so on—
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson
If the right hon. Gentleman thought in August, 1947, that 200 million tons was a very doubtful possibility, can he explain why the Prime Minister gave the figure of 208 million tons in September?
§ Mr. Gaitskell
The right hon. Gentleman arrived at the figure of 208 million tons if I understand him correctly, on a basis of 4 million tons of deep-mined coal per week. It is customary, when speaking of 4 million tons a week, to 1592 exclude the two holiday weeks in the year. There is no difference here.
If we set targets we must not set an impossible target, nor must we set a low target. If it is to be any good at all, it has to be a realistic target, capable of being reached by a great effort. That being so, the figure of 200 million tons of deep-mined coal was not unreasonable. Let us consider what it meant. It meant 14 million tons more than in 1947, or twice as much as the increase in 1947 over 1946. In fact, we aimed at achieving, in 1948, an increase more than equal to the total increase in 1946 and 1947 together. Compare this with the pre-war figures. Only twice in the inter-war years did the increase in output from one year to the next exceed the 7 per cent. which is required to reach this target.
I am showing the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport that this is an extremely stiff target, and something which was rarely achieved under private enterprise. Before the war we had a wholly different situation. How is output expanded? In three different ways: by more men; or by more shifts worked per year; or by more output per man-shift. These things together constitute the statistical methods of increasing output. Before the war, it was not difficult to get more men; they were waiting in colliery yards for jobs. The employer had only to say, "Come on." Nor was it difficult to expand the number of shifts worked, because most collieries were then working short-time.
I have already mentioned that in the inter-war years, taking one year with another, only twice did expansion in output per man-shift exceed 3 per cent. These comparisons were not in fact between one year and the next. The first covered the years from 1920 to 1922, because there were no figures for 1921 for the very good reason that there were prolonged national disputes in that year. The second covered the period from 1925–27, because there were no figures for 1926, for the very same reason. In other words, when the men had been driven back to work by starvation the owners managed to force them to increase output per man-shift sharply. In no other year was the increase greater than 3 per cent., and it was only between 1933 and 1934 that it was as much as 3 per cent. When it is said that this target is too small 1593 the right hon. Gentleman disregards what has, in fact, been the experience of the past.
I want to say something about the way we expect to allocate the 211 million tons. We anticipate that consumption in 1948 will be 195 million tons compared with 184 millions in 1947, and that leaves, if the target is achieved, 16 million tons for export and bunkers, that is to say, 13 million tons as promised at Paris, plus something extra for non-European markets, particularly Argentina. I may say that, in addition, we also had something up our sleeves. We had the possibility of allowing stocks at the end of the year to come down a little, from 16 million tons, which is a very high figure for the end of the year, to 14 million tons. Therefore, we had a margin on which we could fall back if necessary.
It has been suggested that one could expect a much faster and greater increase in output. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned what Sir Charles Reid said, on the occasion of his resignation, which was that an additional 30 million tons could be produced if the men would work properly. Let us for a moment examine that statement. No one can really confirm or contradict it—it is a matter of opinion—but these are the statistical implications. In order to achieve that result, with attendance at its present level, the output per man-shift would have to rise from 1.1 tons, as it is now, to 1.27 tons, that is to say, by 25 per cent. in one year. Compare this with the kind of figures obtained in the inter-war years, of improvements of 2 per cent. or 3 per cent. only. Let us look at it another way. If the attendance for the 5½ days now being worked improved to the 1938 level, when there was a six-day week, the output per man-shift would have to be increased by 11 per cent.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I am allowing for a reduction in absenteeism and a corresponding increase in attendance to the 1938 figures. I can only say that I think it would be a bold man who would agree with Sir Charles Reid that increased production could easily be achieved in this way.
How much progress has been made towards the 1948 target? In his speech 1594 the right hon. Gentleman seemed to suggest that we have made a pretty poor showing. One can, of course, look at this from two angles—compare output now with the output last year, or take a notional weekly or periodic figure of what the target should be. Here are the facts. For the last 24 weeks the total output of deep mined and opencast coal is 97,750,000 tons. The total of the weekly targets for these 24 weeks, which are purely notional calculations which we in the Ministry use for our convenience to see how we are getting on, amount to 97,420,000 tons. In other words, there is actually an excess of 330,000 over the target for those 24 weeks. Compared with last year, the increase in output in 1948 for this 24 week period is 6,228,000 tons or 6.8 per cent.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
Yes, certainly. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that if opencast coal is not going well he would be the first to attack me because it is my direct responsibility as Minister. All I can say is this. How anybody in the face of those figures can say that there is not, in fact, a real improvement since last year I cannot say. I cannot understand either how anyone could say, as the "Daily Express" said, that the Coal Board isan ill-conceived, top-heavy bureaucratic organisation which has failed to secure production.[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] We all know that the right hon. Gentleman and his friends support the "Daily Express." How the "Daily Express" can say that they have failed to secure production I cannot imagine. It does not make sense.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I can give the right hon. Gentleman the figures for deep-mined coal, which are also very satisfactory.
Progress towards the target is therefore reasonably good but what about exports? How far have we got? Here are the figures. In January the weekly shipments of coal for export and bunkers was 155,900 tons; in February, 174,600 tons; in March, 192,000 tons; in April, 280,900 tons; in May, 323,500 tons and 1595 in the first two weeks of June 344,900 tons. I think those figures are pretty satisfactory. The right hon. Gentleman asked about export prices, and rather objected to the fact the Coal Board had put up export prices last Autumn. I cannot understand the right hon. Gentleman. Does he want us to sell this coal cheaper than is necessary? The Coal Board put up the price to get more foreign exchange for this country, and a very good thing too. I thought he was a little unfair to private enterprise, because I am quite certain private enterprise would at least make an effort to get the best price they could.
It may be asked, why, then, is anything wrong? If everything is satisfactory and everything in the garden so lovely, why all this criticism? It might be asked, why did the Minister of Fuel and Power at a recent Press conference express some anxiety. There are two reasons for this anxiety. The first is that the recent output tendencies are not as favourable in relation to the target as the output tendencies earlier in the year. I cannot be quite certain that that is not the effect of our having fixed the target for these recent weeks at too high a level in relation to last year's output, comparison with which is certainly much more favourable. In other words, in recent weeks we are still running not far short of 300,000 tons above last year's figures, but in comparison with the target there certainly has been a decline.
It is perfectly fair to say that because we have done well in the first six months we cannot assume that we are going to do so well in the second six months, although I must contradict the right hon. Gentleman on one point. He seemed to suggest that the second half of the year was normally the worst half. That is not so, because to balance losses which we get during August and the Summer months we get the seasonal gains in the Autumn, and broadly speaking the two halves of the year yield pretty much the same.
Although there has been some disappointment over the output in recent weeks in relation to the target, I should probably not have given the impression that things were difficult if it had not been for something quite different. Even if we achieve the total target for deep-mined and opencast coal—or achieve the total 1596 target with perhaps rather more of opencast and rather less of deep-mined coal—we may still run into difficulties because of the fact that all coal is not of a uniform quality. That is where the difficulty arises. If coal were a completely homogeneous product, there would be no particular cause for worry, but unfortunately it is not so.
The proportion of export demand for certain types of coal does not correspond with home demand nor with the different proportions in which coal is produced here. Our difficulty is that there is a high export demand for what is known as large coal and a low export demand for what is known as untreated smalls. The other grades more or less balance out, and there is no particular difficulty there; but the home demand for large coal, for instance, is about one-third of the total amount of coal produced while the export demand about 45 per cent. of the total amount of coal exported. The home demand for untreated smalls is 20 per cent. of total production, but the export demand is only about 5 per cent. of total exports. In other words, there is a greater demand for one particular type of coal and a lesser demand for the other. That is giving rise to difficulties in allocating large coal while, at the same time, an accumulation of undistributed stocks of untreated smalls is now occurring.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
Yes, machine mining is one of the causes. The right hon. Gentleman might well ask what we have done to deal with the situation. What we have tried to do is to switch the home demand for large coal to smaller coal and to make adjustments to the allocations of large coal. I do not want the Committee to think that these are very large: the total amount is not more than 50,000 tons a week. Spread over a number of different consumers, the consequences are not very serious.
I should mention in connection with this that I have asked the National Coal Board, who for some time now have been working on a revision of the price structure so as to correct the anomalies that have grown up during the war, to speed up that process and if possible to introduce some interim adjustments which will 1597 reduce the price of certain coals and increase the price of others. These adjustments would in any case have to be made because, broadly speaking, the cheaper qualities of coal have for some time now been over-priced on account of the flat rate increases which have taken place during the war, and correspondingly, the more expensive grades have been undervalued.
Incidentally, perhaps I might say here to the right hon. Gentleman who asked about the free choice of consumer, that I stand by what I said. I think it would be a desirable thing that consumers should be free to change their merchants, but I said in the same speech—I was speaking to the merchants—that I realised that there were difficulties about this because one had to see that the merchants themselves were not unfairly treated. I have referred that whole question to the Domestic Consumers' Council. Before any action is taken on it—it is a difficult administrative question—we shall have their views. On the export side—
§ Mr. Hudson
No, about the rumours that the National Coal Board is considering the nationalisation of distribution.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
The National Coal Board has no power to nationalise the distribution of coal. There is no reason to anticipate anything of that kind. Nothing has been said in public about it. The Coal Board is engaged in discussions with the distributors at the moment, as I have announced in the House from time to time, to try to arrange with them what would be the most efficient method of serving consumers. It is very desirable that the Board should do so. The right hon. Gentleman can dismiss the rumour, I think, from his mind. What happens in the future I cannot, of course, say, but there is no basis for it at the moment.
On the export side, I need hardly say that we have been much concerned about this "twist" in the demand of our customers. As a matter of fact, it is due to a large extent to the fact that a good deal of American coal has been imported into Europe unscreened. After the larger and more valuable coals which are wanted 1598 in Europe have been screened out, there is left a substantial residue of untreated smalls, and stocks in Europe of this type of coal are particularly high. We are doing our best in negotiations on this matter, and I will say no more than that at the moment. Various other steps are also being taken to increase the proportion of large coal produced in relation to small.
I now turn to the National Coal Board which has beer severely criticised by the right hon. Gentleman. It is, of course, the target for a lot of criticism. In my opinion, the greater part of this is ill informed and unfair, and inspired by political motives. It is clear that a campaign is being conducted to discredit the National Coal Board and, indeed, the other nationalised Boards—even when they have only just come into existence, and, even before they come into existence, during the passage of the Bills—in order to discredit nationalisation as such. I am prepared to agree that some criticism is inspired by better motives and genuine anxieties, though I believe most of it to be entirely misconceived. I cannot hope to persuade the political critics—they will not listen to me, anyhow—but I think I may do something to allay the anxieties of the second group.
The right hon. Gentleman has spoken of the structure of the National Coal Board, and he has asked a lot of questions about it. I will respond to his invitation and give him my views. There are two main arguments. First, it is said that the Board itself is wrong because it is a functional Board. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) has often made that criticism. Secondly, it is said that the structure—which the Board have set up themselves; it was not the Minister who set it up—is also in some way unsatisfactory.
I will take each of those criticisms briefly in turn. When people speak about a functional board, it is not always easy to understand what they mean. After all, every member of a board must in a sense have a function, for he would not be much good if he did not. There is a good deal of confusion between functional and non-functional members on the one hand and part-time and full-time members on the other. I will clear the part-time-whole-time issue out of the way first.
1599 Of course, the view could be taken that the Board should consist of nothing but part-time members with, perhaps, a full-time chairman. In that case, certainly, I would not seriously suggest that it could be called a functional board. Many companies have boards of this kind, but I do not think anybody seriously suggests that that type of board would be appropriate in this case—
§ Mr. Gaitskell
It would not be out of Order to discuss it because in the Act nothing is laid down as to whether the members should be full-time or part-time, and so there is no question of further legislation. There is nothing binding at all in the Act. It simply says that there shall be nine members of the National Coal Board. They could all be part-time if the Minister so decided.
It is arguable, on the other hand, that there should be some part-time members. There is nothing in the Act to prevent this, and I have in fact appointed one, Sir Robert Burrows. I will say something about his views in a moment. Personally, I think there is a case for having a limited number of part-time members because they bring fresh ideas and experience to bear. They come really as advisers. I will go as far as to say that the present Act is somewhat limiting in this respect because it fixes a maximum of nine, and it may be that that is a pity. I cannot develop that because I would be getting out of Order in discussing matters requiring legislation. As to the full-time members, it is obviously impossible to have people hanging around with no functions at all, all ready to deal with anything.
One or two members, or perhaps even more, should be non-functional, but some degree of specialisation is obviously necessary, and that must be accepted by everybody. How far we should go in specialisation and how many members of the Board should be given specific spheres of activity and responsibility is surely a matter on which there is no need to get very excited. It is a matter which requires adjustment according to the circumstances. Large companies which have had to face similar problems have not always had exactly the same number of 1600 full-time directors and exactly the same number of directors engaged in specialised work. They vary the number according to the circumstances of the business. While initially I think there was a great deal to be said for having a high degree of specialisation, the National Coal Board, as they have made plain, have now come to the conclusion that there should be something of a change. In addition to the chairman and vice-chairman, and Sir Robert Burrows, one or two other members are also, I think, being relieved or partially relieved of their executive responsibilities, so as to be freer to handle the work of the Board as a whole.
I cannot feel that this is a matter on which we should have strong feelings. Everybody in the Committee is aware of the arguments that have taken place for years about the Cabinet, whether or not it should be composed of departmental Ministers, and whether there should be non-departmental people on it. It is exactly the same sort of problem in the case of the National Coal Board. As experience is gained no doubt changes will be made.
As to the structure under the Board, it is deliberately left completely open in the Act. The National Coal Board can alter their complete structure tomorrow without coming back to Parliament. That was done deliberately, and wisely. Their set-up is well-known and I do not propose to go into detail now about it. The Board have always recognised that changes might be necessary. They had to have some set-up and they decided upon what I think most people would say, looking at the matter from the outside, was a reasonable and sensible one. They have now asked Sir Robert Burrows and two outside people with experience to look at the matter again. Is that not a perfectly sensible thing to do? It need not give rise to all this excitement.
I do not want to say very much about centralisation, except that anybody who supposes that there are not questions that must be settled at the national level and others that must be handled at the divisional level does not understand the matter at all. For example, national wage agreements could not be handled at the divisional level, nor could the allocation and distribution of coal and coke, nor the division between the export market and the home market. We could 1601 not leave it to the divisions and the areas to be wholly independent financially because they have widely differing costs and a number of them are obviously suffering heavy losses. We cannot leave it to them on their own to make decisions, without referring to what is happening elsewhere, about how the industry is to be developed. Scientific research is another part of the work which must be handled nationally.
Similarly, although of course the degree of centralisation varies, we must have a good many questions settled at the divisional level. They cannot be left to the areas. Exactly how far we can go in the direction of decentralisation is a matter which can be adjusted from time to time. As I say, all these matters are being looked at by the various committees and I do not propose to pass any more comment upon them. As for the views of Sir Robert Burrows before he joined the National Coal Board, well, they were his views. Whether he will hold the same views when he has seen how the Board is working remains to be seen. He is a man of great experience and is well-known as having been Chairman of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway Company and having had experience of large-scale administration of this, as well as of the coal industry.
I will pass to another matter to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, the question of coal prices and of the losses incurred by the National Coal Board. No doubt there will be an opportunity of discussing the financial position of the Board more fully when the annual report is published. I want to say only a few things now. There has, of course, been an increase in costs since the Board took over. Nobody has ever disguised it. The increase in costs between the third quarter of 1946 and the third quarter of 1947, which is the only one published so far, amounted to 6s. 5d. per ton.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I am coming to that point. To what was the increase due? Well, 11d. of it was due to increased provision for depreciation. In other words, the National Coal Board came to the conclusion that the previous colliery owners had not been putting aside enough for depreciation. Secondly, 1s. 5d. of it 1602 was due to the increased cost of materials. I do not think that that increase can very well be blamed on the National Coal Board. They cannot decide what the price of timber or steel shall be. The third cause was wages, mainly due to the five-day week, which caused an increase of 3s. 1d., leaving 1s. to be accounted for. Of that 1s., 4d. is due to the increased contribution for staff superannuation, which now covers the whole industry instead of only a part of it. Increased National Insurance contribution amounts to 2½d. The remaining 5½d. per ton, not a vast or exorbitant figure, is due to additional expenditure on recruitment, education, training and research. That does not strike me as being wildly extravagant. Those costs having gone up, it became necessary to make price adjustments. The first price increase was made only on 1st September, amounting to 4s. a ton. It did not, and of course could not, prevent losses being suffered in earlier quarters nor in that particular quarter.
§ Mr. Peter Roberts (Sheffield, Ecclesall)
With regard to wages, I have the figures in front of me. Am I right in thinking that in the third quarter of 1946 wages were 25s. 10d. and that in 1947 they were 275. 9d.? How does the right hon. Gentleman get his figure of 3s. 1d.?
§ Mr. Gaitskell
That figure covers not only wages but the whole of the five-day week, and labour costs generally. I think the figures are clear enough. We are left with a loss amounting in those three quarters to about £7 million net. These are trading losses and do not allow for 1s. 5d. per ton approximately which has to be paid to meet compensation to previous owners, the interest and interim income payment. It was clear even then that the price increase of 4s. per ton was not sufficient to cover these increases in cost, and the Coal Board, under the increased minimum wage and extended hours agreement, had to face further costs. A further price increase of 2s. 6d. per ton was made on 1st January, 1948.
There is a current delusion, which appears to possess hon. Gentlemen opposite, that that loss falls in some way upon the taxpayer. It does not. The position is quite clear under the Act. The Board have to pay their way, taking one year with another. If they suffer a loss in one year they do not have the backing of 1603 the taxpayer. They have to adjust their finance in other ways, by borrowing, or using a part of the funds that have been set aside.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I am dealing with financing the actual losses in a particular year, but in fact, what will have to happen is that the consumer will have to pay eventually. That is perfectly true, but it is not a loss that falls upon the taxpayer. There is a loss, and the Board will have to make it up later on. Could all this have been avoided? Of course, the Board could have taken some action. It would have been easy enough for the Board to bring down the costs of production. They could close down, for instance, all the pits in Cumberland where the loss was 12s. 9d. per ton in the third quarter. They could close down the whole of South Wales where the loss was also 12s, 9d. or Durham where the loss was 7s. per ton. Do hon. Members opposite really suggest that that is a practicable proposition? It is fairly clear that if private enterprise had been at work it would have been faced with the alternatives either of having prices for coal sufficiently high to pay marginal costs or of losing output. That is one of the great advantages of nationalisation that we can pool the financial arrangements and so avoid either of those two difficulties.
Of course, this increase in the cost of coal production was not a new feature brought about by nationalisation. Let us look at some other price increases. First, before the vesting date, the cost of coal rose in this country by 119 per cent. between 1939 and 1946. The increase since nationalisation brings it up to 133 per cent. How does this compare with other prices? Take wholesale prices of basic materials. What is the increase there? It is 155 per cent. over 1939. What about mining machinery, produced by private enterprise? It is 125 per cent. over the pre-war figure. What about electricity generating plants? It is 150 per cent. over the pre-war figure, and I am told that in the gas industry the cost of plant for manufacturing gas has gone up by 300 per cent. since before the war. And I may say that in these industries there is not the same important consideration that the coal industry 1604 suffered from exceptionally low wages before the war and it was very necessary for wages to be increased.
Finally there is, of course, a lot of vague criticism of failure and inefficiency. Anybody can make that kind of criticism but they will find it a little more difficult to substantiate. Let us for a moment review the general record of the National Coal Board. I think hon. Members will agree that the conditions in the industry when the Board took over were vividly described in the Reid Report. There were certainly bad conditions at many pits. Mechanisation had begun at the wrong end, at the face, without haulage being improved. There was an appalling shortage of cleaning plant. My hon. Friend is perfectly right—nothing had been done about it for years. The introduction of face mechanisation had fast outrun both haulage and cleaning plant, and there was a dearth of mining engineers. I agree that that was the state the industry was left in but, more important than these things, the relations in the industry were extremely bad with consequences on the attitude to production, both of men and management, which are certainly affecting us now. Therefore, the National Coal Board, as I see it, had two tasks—I do not disagree with the right hon. Gentleman here—a technical task and a psychological one. They had to achieve immense changes in the pits, and they had to change completely the spirit of those working in the industry.
As regards technical change, the figures of the additional equipment installed speak for themselves, and I will not weary the House by reading them. They are published in the "Statistical Digest" and they have gone up in a satisfactory manner. As to long-term plans, they must necessarily be a longer process. When a 10-year old plan is being made for a basic industry one has to be extremely careful before deciding to go in for such a very expensive measure of practical development. In point of fact, each area and division has to settle the way in which it thinks its area and division should be developed; then it has to be considered nationally in the light of the probable demand for coal, especially for export; and then a final decision is made as to what should be done. All that is being done at the moment by the Coal Board, although we have not yet had a 1605 final plan from them. I must tell the Committee frankly that I am not hurrying them about this; I want them to take their time. It would be a great mistake to rush into extravagant expenditure without being quite sure about the results.
Turning to the psychological problems, I do not want to rake over the past but I am bound to tell the right hon. Gentleman, if he starts criticising us, that this industry is suffering from what I can only describe as one of the most difficult social problems of any industry in the country. One remembers, of course, the background—the long years of disputes, the unemployment, the low wages, the heavy accident rate. We know perfectly well that people only stayed in the industry because they could not get jobs outside. We know that discipline was only maintained in the industry because of fear of the sack. Is it surprising that the men felt bitter, not only towards the owners and managers but very often towards the rest of the community?
It is a fact that, because of what they regarded as the raw deal they had from the rest of the community, there was one loyalty only which they respected, and that was to the union which was often negotiating for their rights, protecting them against exploitation. The result, of course, also was that undoubtedly many of them developed in those years an extremely restrictive attitude to their work. We admit that. It is true. It is part of the inheritance and, of course, a deep suspicion of management which was ingrained by their bitter experience. In taking over an industry one takes over not only the men but the managers. That cannot be avoided. Therefore, one is taking over two sides who have been bitterly hostile one to another, and it cannot be expected in a matter of 18 months to change completely the spirit of both sides.
What have the Coal Board done? I claim, first, that they have established—and this cannot possibly be denied—the most cordial relations with the leaders of the National Union of Mineworkers. They have carried out successfully a vast amount of negotiations. Do not let us suppose that the Coal Board all the time have just given way to the men. I can assure the Committee that Mr. Horner would give a very different account of the matter. They have set up a complete 1606 system of consultative machinery, and certainly at the top and, I think, in a large part of the coalfields it is working reasonably well. They have done an enormous amount for the miners. It was right that they should do that, and I say that as consumers we ought to recognise that it was necessary that these concessions should be made. I make no apology for that at all. Although the cost is heavy—it has been estimated that some £60 million has been spent in concessions to the miners and that is money which the consumer has to find—what I am saying is that the consumer would be wise to accept that. He has to do it in order to get the coal, for one thing, and he has to do it if he is to have a contented industry.
I would like to refer to an article in last Sunday's "Observer" by Mr. C. A. Lidbury who was, I think, a fellow director of the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde—at any rate he was employed by B. A. Collieries. He is a distinguished industrial consultant. I will not read out the article but I will mention two things about it. What Mr. Lidbury says in effect is, first, that the miners' leaders have behaved with extreme moderation. Secondly, he says, in effect, that it is to the National Union of Mineworkers that we must look fundamentally to bring about a different attitude on the part of the men. I believe that to be profoundly true, for if the Coal Board had gone about their business in such a way as to antagonise the trade union leadership, where would we have got?
I would like to say a word about the managers. We must not forget them. Theirs is no easy task. They have to be not only technically qualified, they have to be business men in the sense that they have to watch costs. They have to be cognisant of all their obligations under the 1911 Coal Mines Act regarding safety and they have, above all, to provide leadership for the men. It is not easy to get people to do all these things, and it is not easy for these men always to fit in to a new team. That is one of the difficulties of the transition period after nationalisation; there is a completely new set-up, new relations have to settle down and, meanwhile, there is bound to be a certain amount of anxiety and uncertainty.
I have defended the National Coal Board against what I regard as ill-informed prejudices and unfair attacks. 1607 I have shown their difficulties and achievements. No doubt mistakes have been made—they always are, only one does not hear about them in private enterprise. However, in my opinion, their record is a really good one and, I have no doubt, better than could possibly have been achieved under private enterprise. I am not sure what the Opposition are offering as an alternative here. I will not bother the right hon. Gentleman, I do not want to worry him too much, but other speakers might perhaps give us some light on that. Do they really think that private enterprise, which frankly came to a dead end in this industry, could possibly be entrusted once again with the management of the industry? I say that that is quite inconceivable.
If, on the other hand, all they are saying is that the organisation is not perfect and that there should be some adjustments here and there, then that only shows their utter failure to realise the truly deep-seated nature of the inherited problems facing this industry. Certainly criticisms can be made about the organisation of the Coal Board, and the Board are aware that they may have made mistakes. It is a gross exaggeration, as "The Times"—in my view rightly—points out this morning, to suppose that changes in organisation are really so fundamentally important as all that. Let us by all means get the most efficient set-up we can, but do not let us imagine that that will affect the fundamental problem in this industry which, in my view, is largely psychological.
But though I believe that in these 18 months the record of the National Coal Board is one for which they have no need to apologise, I do not wish anybody to suppose that either we or they or the union are in any way complacent. Of course, we are not. We all want a larger output, cleaner coal, lower costs; indeed, the great point is that all these aims are now accepted by everybody, which was not the case before. Our progress towards achieving them is hampered by inevitable technical difficulties and, perhaps even more, because so many people cannot get rid of the ghosts of the past. It is essential that we should persuade men that in present circumstances unofficial strikes are utterly unjustified. We want to bring the greatest possible 1608 pressure of public opinion to bear on them.
It must be understood that mechanisation to raise output and reduce costs is desirable—desirable in the interests of the community, because it enables us to produce more and cheaper coal and also to export more; desirable in the interests of the miners themselves, because out of the proceeds of those sales they themselves can have a higher standard of living. They must understand, similarly, that concentration of production in the most efficient pits must be brought about, although naturally with the minimum of dislocation and without loss of output. This problem cannot be solved quickly. It is bound to take time. Fundamentally it is a problem of morale and, therefore, in my view one of the most difficult which anybody could face.
The National Coal Board is depicted by its enemies as a group of tired, ineffective, over-paid men, remote from the coalfields, indifferent to their jobs and almost battening upon the community.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I speak of the members of the National Coal Board. I see more of the Coal Board I suppose, than most people, and I must say that this sort of picture is quite ludicrous. I see them as a body of able men, extremely hardworking, inspired by a determination to make their job a success, very conscious of the immense problems which they have to tackle and of the difficulties in their path; not interested in politics or in scoring debating points, although they are subject to a good deal of pressure from the Government to increase output quickly.
I regret that some Members of the Opposition—I am not for one moment criticising the right hon. Gentleman—have seen fit for political purposes to make attacks on these men. We can be quite sure it is not the men themselves to whom these critics really object. If, for instance, Lord Hyndley had remained Chairman of Stephenson Clark, I have no doubt the Opposition would go about describing him as a man of immense ability and one of the ablest business men we know.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
He might still be a very able man. When he became Chairman of the National Coal Board, he sold the pass, to the disgust of hon. Members opposite, who look at him in a different light. But it does not affect his ability. And Sir Arthur Street? There must be a few hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite who came into contact with the Permanent Secretary of the Air Ministry during the war. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman met him when he was in the Ministry of Agriculture. Do hon. Members opposite think that since he joined the Coal Board he has lost all the qualities which caused him to be regarded as one of the ablest of our very able civil servants? Whatever they may think about nationalisation, these attacks on the Boards and the members of the Boards are quite unworthy of them as a political party and I hope they will desist from them. I want to quote something which a business man said of the Coal Board on a rather proud occasion recently in addressing his shareholders. These are the words of Colonel Bristowe, Managing Director of Low Temperature Carbonisation, Ltd.:Upon the Coal Board depends the prosperity and future of the country. These men include some of the finest brains in the coal industry in the world. They should be the highest paid men in industry in the world, but no American senior business man would dream of accepting the salaries we pay our men. We have our minor troubles with the Coal Board and sometimes we go out and bang the door, but in the things that matter we have no complaint. They have co-operated with us in our difficulties in a kindly and efficient manner, and they should receive the fullest possible support from everybody in the country.Faced with the immense difficulties of transferring 800 private undertakings into a national organisation, all taken over in one day; inheriting an industry suffering from the gravest technical and psychological weaknesses, the National Coal Board have succeeded within one year in transforming the coal situation in this country. They are now advancing up the steeper slope required if they are to achieve the production and export targets which they have been given. They will have their disappointments and their setbacks. There is no smooth and absolutely certain progress upwards, but in the work they are doing they have the fullest confidence of the Government; they should be given 1610 the greatest possible encouragement by this House and they deserve the support and good will of the nation.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ Mr. McFarlane (Glasgow, Camlachie)
I crave the indulgence of the Committee to make some observations. I do so with more than the usual diffidence because I must confess that I have no special knowledge and no experience of the coal industry. I speak only as a consumer, from the standpoint of the general public and the concern which we must all have in anything so vital as the coal industry. I am fortified in doing this because the coal industry was the first of our competitive industries to be nationalised. Not only that; it is an industry of which, however shortly—as the Minister has said, vesting day was only 18 months ago—we have had some experience, and are in some position to judge the value of the progress made in the nationalisation of the coal industry and the prospect it affords.
The Committee would not expect me to indulge in any controversy. That would be particularly unbecoming in my present position. I would not be prepared to follow the Minister except to say that when he was speaking of the functional system, so to speak, as embodied in the Coal Board, I do not think that the contrast which would be advanced from this side would be anything in the nature of part-time but, rather, that of a system of devolution; and that this functional system is something which has been applied by the Government in all their Acts of nationalisation.
All the criticism of it is not any personal criticism of the National Coal Board but of the system itself, which we believe—and, from experience, can judge—to be far too rigid and without any of the resilience, the adaptability which is essential to the prosecution of any competitive industry. I would say to the Minister, without in any way entering upon controversy, that I think it was obvious from his speech, that, even within these 18 months, he has the gravest doubts about the success of this functional system, which we believe to be a disaster. He has the gravest doubts, after only 18 months, and has promoted the efficiency committees. It would be a good thing for the country, and for our prospects at the present juncture, if coal nationalisation 1611 had been the only such scheme to which the Government had committed themselves. The Minister would have enjoyed what he is obviously enjoying, a period of experience and second thoughts and he, the House and the Government, would have been able to apply that to those schemes which had already been so far advanced. Then we would have had more confidence in the future, if further nationalisation schemes had been corrected by the experience which the Minister and his colleagues are so obviously enjoying at the moment.
In opening the Debate, my right hon. Friend said that the people of this country voted for and clearly wanted nationalisation. I go a step further and say that they had great anxiety for its success and had the utmost good will for this proposal above all proposals of His Majesty's Government at that time. It was not so much that the public despaired of the continual atmosphere of dispute to which the Minister referred and the plain inadequacy of efforts to secure anything like good feeling. All these things failed because the miners were determined to secure the elimination of private control. There is no dubiety about that. There was an instinctive consciousness, in so far as the public appreciated the technicalities of the Reid Report, that the coal industry needed above all, a vast scheme of re-development and re-equipment, and that consciousness influenced the public mind in its demand for nationalisation.
The Minister said that private enterprise had reached a dead end. There is no doubt that a great deal had been accomplished by private enterprise and that many enterprises had reached a standard of efficiency before the war although many were very much otherwise. I agree that the task was beyond private enterprise—at least the task envisaged by the Reid Committee's Report. In fact, I believe that if it had been carried out by a private or joint stock enterprise it would have been carried out with personal responsibility in expenditure, which we are denied under State control, but, because of the political background, private enterprise reached a dead end in the coal industry prior to the war. There was no confidence or security in the layout of capital or enterprise in 1612 the coal industry prior to the war. There was also a certainty that there would be no effective contribution from the mineworkers, unless they secured the complete elimination of private control. These things were uppermost in the public mind.
I do not see any particular virtue in nationalisation as such. I have never been able to understand why in this country it should be a matter of major political division. It has had its values in the past and it has been so used by past Governments, not necessarily Labour Governments, in the promotion of public utilities, but I still think that nationalisation, as such, is completely unsuited to competitive industry, and in fact inherently disastrous. I confess that if the nationalisation of coal were going to secure what was so badly wanted, co-operation and enthusiasm and energetic and adventurous recruits for the industry, and if it were going to secure reconstruction and development, I could suspend any fears I had, although those fears were very much advanced when we reached the stage of seeing the actual terms on which the Government proposed to nationalise the coal industry.
In the Library of the House there is a booklet devoted to the future of the coal-miner with reference to the Reid Committee Report. One passage in the booklet states:The Government have approved of the Committee's proposals, and with the great change-over to national ownership and the setting up of the National Coal Board the way is clear for a big drive to carry out this vital task.I suggest that that is the material question of this Debate, but that it was unanswered by the Minister. Is the road really clear for the carrying out of the vital task by implementing the terms of the Reid Committee's Report? The Minister said that criticisms of the Coal Board were largely a matter of public conspiracy. In all sincerity I do not think I could be included in that description. I have consulted many people in the industry, in Scotland in particular, but I have not heard a single consideration that would advance the prestige of the Board in its work in the last 18 months, or give confidence in its future.
On the question of output, in my inexperience I found it almost impossible to follow the intricacies of the Minister's 1613 figures owing to the rapidity with which he gave them. I hope to make amends for that when I read the OFFICIAL REPORT. I do not think people in this country are concerned with any comparison between one year and another year, but with the singular lack of buoyancy in output compared with the bad years about which the Minister was so concerned. I believe the Reid Report deliberately stated as one of the principal recommending facts, that although it would take many years to secure re-development on such a vast scale as they contemplated, yet with the mechanisation and development of the past and with nationalisation, they were most emphatic that we could look not only for a progressive increase every year, in the output of the workers concerned, but actually for a reduction in costs. The figures the Minister gave appear to be invalid. We are concerned with the comparison between the present state of the industry and all that has been done since nationalisation, and pre-war figures.
The Minister spoke of exports. Everyone rejoices that last month the export figure was the highest we have reached since the war. That fact rejoices every hon. Member, and there is nothing we value more than the promotion of the contribution of coal to the export trade, but the Minister knows that that record figure is only one-third of what we achieved normally, without any particular effort, in 1938–39. That shows the enormous gulf which exists in the productive capacity of the industry compared with the years before the war. That is the material point which governs serious criticism of the industry at present. I am not satisfied that we can conclude that the road is clear.
With my right hon. Friend, I say that nationalisation is singularly unsuited to a competitive industry. It has not the flexibility, resilience and adaptability that are needed, and it destroys initiative. The Reid Committee's Report was emphatic that the industry would never run to a stereotyped plan, but that is what His Majesty's Government set up when they nationalised the industry. The Minister asked what is the alternative to nationalisation. What is it that the Opposition would set against this scheme as it stands, with all its present defects? I have neither the experience nor the knowledge of this trade to venture in any 1614 way upon any expert view as to how things could be altered to secure greater production and a greater degree of satisfaction to those engaged both in the management and productive sides of the industry. But even at the danger of oversimplification, I would say that there are certain broad principles which we should accept in this matter.
We could, I think, get the best of both worlds here—and there is a best of both worlds, with all respect to the Minister—of State ownership and private ownership. To do that demands a great deal of sacrifice on the part of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. I can concede that the best of State ownership is the one thing which the coal trade of this country was formerly never able to achieve—an overall plan and the authority to put that plan into operation. I concede that to be the best that we can get and the most valuable thing we can get from this concept of nationalisation. The function of the Coal Board should be to plan this industry, to organise its development, plan it in the wide and broad sense, basing itself upon the principle of future development, not, as the late Minister of Fuel and Power said during the Second Reading Debate:In the forefront of this Bill is the proposed creation of a central authority to govern this industry."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th January, 1946; Vol. 418, c. 706.]That is the cardinal error which has been committed.
I do not know whether hon. Members opposite will grant me any concession to private enterprise, I doubt it very much; but I would say that in all competitive industries, particularly the coal industry, there is an utter dependence on the individual in every sense of the term. If we are to succeed in getting output, the new conditions and everything which the general public desires for the coal industry in this country, it is by the ability to encourage and reward the individual that we shall be successful. On these broad principles let the Coal Board plan this industry, not to extinguish with its functional, technical control, which reaches from the top to the very bottom, the initiative and enterprise of individuals but to promote them in every sense of the term. That is how this scheme can be adjusted.
Let us remove this gigantic incubus that rests upon the trade at the present time 1615 and break down this system into autonomous units which are mutually competitive and rewarded by results. That can be done. Hon. Members who have practical experience know that it can be done. Let the system be broken down and let the Coal Board take upon itself responsibility for the overall plan. I say with all deference to the Minister and to Members opposite that if they take that way, upon these broad lines of dealing with this situation, they will, in a comparatively short space of time, revolutionise all conceptions of output which we have at the present juncture.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)
I think that Members on all sides of the Committee will join with me when I extend my sincere congratulations to the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. McFarlane) on his maiden speech. He certainly made it with a great deal of confidence, a great deal of courage and with a great deal of experience in connection with the subject upon which he has addressed us. I am sure that we all hope that it will not be long before we have another contribution from him.
It is 50 years ago this year since I entered the coal industry and earned 1/-per day, and for 35 years I was an underground worker. Therefore, I can speak with some degree of authenticity as to what has transpired since the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act was applied to the industry. It is rather too late in the day for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) to come along and complain about nationalisation and its effect upon the mining industry, and it is rather too early in the day for him to judge the effect of nationalisation when that principle was applied to a disorganised, chaotic mining industry. A few days ago a well-known Member of the party opposite gave expression to these words:Many of our present day troubles"—this was at the end of 1947, when a lot of people were complaining about the so-called failure of nationalisation—arose from the fact that leaders of our society in the 19th century were blinded by the rapid progress of science, they were so much concerned by their material conquests that they forgot the individual man. Because of that Lancashire"—1616 he was speaking in Lancashire—became a national memorial to the carelessness and callousness of single-track minds pursuing only material prosperity which had caused the estrangement between workers and managements.He said:Socialism is the alternative to the form of industrial life which we have practised in this country in the past and has arisen as a protest against the conduct rather than the principles of free enterprise.Those were the words of a well-known Member of the other Chamber. So well known is he in the realm of politics that he happens to occupy the position of Chairman of the party opposite. Those words were uttered by Lord Woolton on 17th December, 1947.
I have been searching to see whether I could find any impartial expression of opinion as to whether this Government did right when they took the courage, expressed by the mandate of the country, to nationalise the coal mines of the British Isles. I turned to some of the speeches made by hon. Members opposite. I found a great deal of prejudice, a great deal of political venom. If I searched the Press, again I found the same thing. All of them were attempting to belittle, underestimate, underrate, find fault from whatever point of view, to try to bring down the nationalisation of the coalmines. Therefore, I turned by attention, in order that I could satisfy my own mind as to whether this Government had done right or wrong, to some of the American papers. After all we have occasionally to go across the seas to see what they think about us, about the Labour Government and about what that Government are doing. Here is what I discovered. On 27th February this year, one of the leading Members of the United States House of Representatives, Francis E. Walter, a Democrat who had fought in both world wars, and who had visited country last Summer, gave expression to these words:I have no patience with people who say that the British are not working. They are working, doing the best they can with the tools at their hand. Their Government is a strong Government. I do not think the people would have taken the austerity programme from any other Government.This is the final word:Britons of almost all political views agreed that nationalisation was necessary to save the coal industry.Those are the words which fell from the lips of a leading American senator, and 1617 there we have an impartial expression. I searched again, and I discovered another opinion, that of Mr. Douglas, the American Ambassador, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 12th June, 1948. These were his words:If the problems of the industry are tackled with the vigour of fhe past three or four months, Britain will achieve her target. This"—he added—would be all the more remarkable in view of the neglect of the mining industry and years of mismanagement.There we have the opinion of two outsiders. We also have the opinions of the men who are in the industry. I have only one regret, and I speak with a deep feeling of conviction, having borne what I have borne as a miner. My regret is that the mining industry was not nationalised 25 or 30 years ago. If it had been, a vastly different story could be told.
The right hon. Member for Southport mentioned political dishonesty. He charged us with political dishonesty, after the principles of nationalisation had been in operation for about 18 months. But who was guilty of political dishonesty in 1919, when the Sankey Commission sat, with all its ramifications and the evidence that was taken and with the promise that was made by the orthodox party in this country that whatever were the findings of the Sankey Commission they would apply them to the mining industry? That was in 1919. And it had to be left to the electorate of this country, plus the courageous men in the Labour Government, to take the bold step of nationalising the coalmines.
The right hon. Gentleman made reference to several things, and he asked several questions; but he failed to tell the House of the tremendous wastage that we experienced in the mining industry. After all, that is a great factor. It is a factor that has to be faced, and is being faced by the Coal Board. They are at the present moment attempting to minimise and reduce it. Accidents, disease, the wearing-out process—all these factors play a very important part. There is no industry in this country that experiences the same wastage as the mining industry does. Almost 70,000 men and boys per year are either maimed, broken in health, incapacitated by disease or killed, and 70,000 men want some 1618 replacing in this country. That is a very important factor.
I want to plead with the Coal Board, if pleading is necessary, that they should go forward with scientific research, with their experimenting, and in every avenue that they can to arrest this tremendous wastage which is now being experienced in the mining industry. I referred a moment ago to what happened in Lancashire. Let me refer to what we experienced between the two wars under private enterprise. We experienced the closing down of 232 pits in Lancashire and Cheshire alone during the inter-war years. That is what right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite wish private enterprise to continue. They find fault with us because we took over the mining industry, and because this and that has been done. I ask them very seriously to consider their criticisms of the Government for doing what they have done, when the past history of the mining industry in Lancashire, Cheshire, South Wales, Scotland and the North East Coast is as black as the coal itself.
The National Coal Board was faced with a colossal and very unenviable task. It had to tackle an industry disorganised, upset and chaotic, and put it in order. I am speaking from practical experience in the pit when I say that before we can get what I would describe as operational efficiency, we must have the men, the machines and the tackle to become efficiently operative. When the Coal Board took over they had, first, to examine the men that they wanted—that is, the number that they wanted. They set to work to recruit them by various means. They were highly successful. They were successful to a higher degree than private enterprise would have been, because they had made the industry attractive. How did they tackle it?
I am going to compare two periods, what was done in 1946, under private enterprise and what was done by the Coal Board in 1947, and nobody can make the accusation that that is an unfair comparison. In 1946, a year before the Coal Board took over, there were 1,982 conveyor belts put into the mines. In 1947, the first year the National Coal Board were operating, 2,900 conveyor belts were put 1619 into the mines of this country. That is a tremendous advance, even in the face of a world shortage of material. In 1946, 8 million feet of conveyor belting was delivered and installed in the pits. In 1947, 9 million feet of belting was delivered and installed in the pits. The hon. Member for Camlachie talked about planning in 1948. This year the programme for the National Coal Board means they are going to instal 13½ million feet of conveyor belting.
With regard to machine mining, in 1946, 660 coal cutters were delivered and put into the mines. In 1947, the first year of the National Coal Board's operations, 800 coal cutters were delivered and put into the pits. In the programme for this year, which we are half-way through, the National Coal Board are to instal another 1,000 coal-cutter machines. Take the Diesel oil engine, which is a modern innovation in the mines of this country, so far as haulage is concerned. In 1946 the number of diesel locomotives in operation was 28. There were only 28 in operation in all the mines in this country. But in 1947 the number had increased to 77, and this year, 1948, the Coal Board intend to introduce 150 more diesel oil engines into the pits. Despite all the criticisms, the innuendoes and the pin-pricking, I submit that the Coal Board have done a wonderful job within a short space of time in improving mechanisation in the industry.
I speak from practical experience when I say that it does not always follow that if machines are poured into the mines we will get increased output. To some people that statement may appear strange. The output per man-shift in some parts of Lancashire cannot be increased by one ounce however many machines are poured into the mines. The reason is that the bottleneck is at the shaft. The vision shown by private enterprise in the past was such that instead of developing shafts of a 22- or 24-feet diameter they were satisfied with a 16-feet shaft. I agree that they may make it easier for the men at the coalface, but there remains a bottleneck at the shaft. How are we to tackle that problem? It is not easy. We must either sink a new shaft or strip down the old one, and if that is done, the production of coal from the pit concerned must stop.
1620 Reference has been made to the planning of the National Coal Board. A week ago there appeared in the "Manchester Guardian" a wonderful photograph of the latest development at the Mossley Number 3 pit in Lancashire. I know something about that pit. I have been down it. What is the objective of the Coal Board at that pit? They intend to wind the coal won at three or four pits, up one shaft. They expect to wind 600 tons an hour. Is not that planning? Is not that an effort to meet the situation? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport talked about absenteeism. Woe betide any man, whatever his political philosophy, who pours ridicule and contempt upon men who have to walk 3½ miles underground on six days a week to their work. Hon. Members opposite have got the wrong idea. I do not want to blame them for that, but I ask them most sincerely to take a little bit of notice of those who have experience of work in the mines day by day.
Hon. Members opposite seem to have the idea that the coalface remains in the same place and never moves. Let us make a calculation. Let us take a coalface that was in-by 1,000 yards in 1938. If we examine the mechanism we will find that the gib of the coal cutter is four feet six inches deep. If we multiply that length by six, then by 50 and then by 10 years, we will find that in 1948 the coalface is now 4,500 yards further in than it was in 1938. There is nothing more exacting, nothing which has a greater effect upon the mineworker, than having to walk 3 or 3½ miles underground, with a gradient of one in five or one in seven, and then having to walk back after producing 15 or 16 tons of coal at the coalface. I beg hon. Members opposite not to criticise men if, occasionally, they have a day off when they work in conditions like that.
If the Coal Board are to increase the productivity of man-hours or man-shifts worked, they must turn their attention to the necessity for increasing, improving, and speeding up the travelling facilities of the men, not only on the surface but underground. These men who travel, as they do, half naked, are entitled to some consideration. They are entitled to the provision of additional and speedier travelling facilities not only from their homes to the pithead but from the pit 1621 bottom to the coalface. That is the only way in which the physical strength of the miner can be conserved in order to increase productivity at the point of production—the coalface.
I wish to refer to the reforms introduced in the industry and to their coat. I challenge right hon. and hon. Members opposite to deny, if they have the courage to do so, that many of the reforms brought about by the Coal Board during 1947 were justified. We have been waiting patiently, straining at the leash, hoping against hope that one day some of these reforms in which we believe would take place. Do hon. Members deny the right of the miner to have the advantage of the reforms to which he is entitled? Do they deny that he ought to be treated as an ordinary decent citizen of the realm? I know there used to be a saying when I worked in the pit—I think that it is still prevalent—and I say it in my own dialect. People used to say, "Owt'ull do for't pit." I assure hon. Members opposite that "Owt" will not do for the miner. We are entitled to the best. We shall fight for the best and, having secured the best, we shall fight to maintain it. That is our heritage.
What are the benefits conceded by the Coal Board, when expressed in terms of £ s. d.? The concessions to men employed in the industry on a five-day week cost £24,100,000. Other increases in average earnings per shift not due to increased production have cost £8 million. Additional wages to over-men, deputies and clerks have cost £2,500,000. Payment for statutory holidays—does anybody deny the right of the miner to have statutory holidays?—in 1946 cost £2,285,000. Extended working hours cost £7,500,000. The total expended in these reforms is £44,385,000.
What about other reforms which have been long overdue? Additional welfare expenditure cost £2 million. Pithead baths cost £600,000, and National Insurance cost £1,400,000. The cost of wages increases, all told, was £14,500,000. The total cost in the year 1947 to the National Coal Board to bring about these essential reforms in the industry was £62,885,000. Never in the history of this country have the miners secured a greater number of reforms than they have just secured. In 50 years, they have been arguing and negotiating for improvements, 1622 and the National Coal Board have given them more during the last 18 months than private enterprise gave them in over half a century.
But I do not want it to go forward from here that "everything in the garden is lovely." It is not. I want to appeal to everybody, my own men, too, and to say that we have to play our part and continue to play our part to enable this country to secure a much greater production of coal. As I have said in the House and outside—and I repeat it with emphasis—the cornerstone of democracy is individual responsibility. Whether we are miners or haulage hands, managers or clerks, it is our duty to play our part in this great industry and try to recover the things we have lost after six years of devastation and destruction brought about by war. I appeal to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to stop criticising and to play their part, and not to treat this industry in the hilarious manner in which it was treated at the beginning of the Debate by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Raikes (Liverpool, Wavertree)
The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) always speaks with great sincerity on mining questions, and I wish to cross swords with him on two points only. The hon. Member must not assume that because we on this side of the Committee criticise, we are therefore being either unpatriotic or obstructive. It is the duty of an Opposition to criticise fairly, anything which they regard as being wrong. They have an obligation to do that. Indeed, if that obligation was not upon them, there would be no useful function for an Opposition to perform. The only other point on which I cross swords with the hon. Member is that he accused hon. Members on this side of the Committee of a breach of faith in regard to the Sankey Report. Nationalisation may be right or wrong, but the Sankey Report, after all, was a report of a commission, the members of which voted evenly either way, and the majority report was only made possible by the casting vote of the chairman. It may be a wise or an unwise report, but I do not think we can honestly criticise any Government for failing to act upon a report of a Commission which, in fact, expressed two different 1623 views, and in which there was a keen difference of opinion.
§ Mr. T. Brown
If the hon. Member disagrees with the view that the Sankey Commission did come down in favour of nationalisation, may I ask him if he will turn his attention to what happened at the Macmillan and Buckmaster inquiries?
§ Mr. Raikes
I suggest that it is a question of one at a time. I was only emphasising that, where we get a completely divided report, whether we accept it or not, we cannot be said to be breaking faith if we do not act upon it. I was bound to make that point in reply to what the hon. Gentleman said.
I understand that the Parliamentary Secretary is to wind up the Debate this evening, and I shall listen to him with interest, because, if I may make one passing comment on the recent discussions on the Gas Bill, it is that one useful purpose which they served, long though they continued, was that they did turn the Parliamentary Secretary into not only an experienced but also a skilful Parliamentarian. That is no empty praise, because we all become experienced, but not all of us become skilful. The Parliamentary Secretary will need all his skill if he is to be able to convince us, as his chief tried to do, about the great merits of the National Coal Board up to the present time.
I want to deal, however with what the Minister had to say. I was glad in a way that the Minister left his new style of invective behind, and turned to reasoned argument, and, if he were here now, I would remind him that, whatever his qualities may be, he will never be a success when he tries to out-Bracken Bracken. He did put forward an extremely skilful, but also extremely evasive, argument. He pointed to the figures for the end of 1947, and said there was an improvement over 1946. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that the target which had been laid down for this year—200 million tons—was far from being a miserable figure, but that it could only be reached, in the output of deep-mined coal, as a result of very great efforts on the part of the industry. The picture he gave us was of steady and sharp increases in production under the National Coal Board throughout. That figure of 200 million tons, even with all 1624 the mechanisation and the new improvement in the pits by the National Coal Board, would be, in his view, a remarkable figure to achieve. Let us look back for a moment or two to the cold facts of the past. I think the Committee would be in agreement on one thing, if on nothing else, and that is that the future, not only of this industry, but of the productive power of the nation, depends very largely upon increased output of good quality coal, and with a reasonable cost for that coal when delivered and sold.
What does the target of 200 million tons of deep-mined coal a year mean? It means, to get down to brass tacks, that with more miners and more machinery, we expect, as our great target, to produce less deep-mined coal than we produced in the last year of private enterprise—1941—when 207 million tons was the figure. Were we to calculate on the increased numbers of miners since 1941—and there has been an increase between 1941 and 1948—we could calculate that the number of miners we have today should be able to produce, not 207 million tons, but 214 million tons on the same basis, and yet we are down to a target of 200 million tons as being a remarkable figure to achieve. In the meantime, in the days since the war, indeed, since 1938, we have increased machinery in the pits from 58 per cent. to 74 per cent.
§ Mr. J. J. Lawson (Chester-le-Street)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, in quoting these figures for 1941, he has not said that the men were stripped down to very low wages, and that some thousands of the best men were driven out of the industry?
§ Mr. Raikes
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is not indicating that the only way in which we can get increased output is to strip wages. In 1941, the reduction in the numbers of men at that period was very largely due to the fact that miners had gone into the Forces in the early stages of the war. Let us not forget, whatever one's personal views may be, that when war breaks out many of our best miners, even if they are better employed in the pits, rally to the Colours. The right hon. Gentleman's interjection does not get away from the fact that in those years there were fewer miners than there are today, who were producing not only more coal but a higher overall output per miner. I think the Minister gave the 1625 figure for production in 1947 of 266 tons in the 53 weeks, or 262 tons if one takes the year as 52 weeks.
§ Mr. Raikes
I am obliged. In 1941 the overall average production per man was not 262 or 266 tons. It was 295 tons per man—higher than in 1938 when it was 290 tons, although in 1938 with a larger number of miners we produced no less than 227 million tons of deep-mined coal. We cannot talk with any great confidence of the mining industry having recouped itself until we see some sign of reaching the same output per man under the new method as we had in the days before control when we had free enterprise. Whatever may be the faults of free enterprise, we did get production. Indeed, it is rather depressing that we have this miserable target. When one considers that although mechanisation has been increased from 58 per cent. to 74 per cent., the target aims at 7 million tons lower than 1941 and 27 million tons lower than 1938, this is indeed a miserable target which the National Coal Board are setting.
The hon. Member for Ince, referring to mechanisation, pointed out that there were many pits where mechanisation would be practically impossible on account of bottlenecks. As he has already paid a glowing tribute to the work of the National Coal Board for increasing mechanisation, I presume that we can assume that where mechanisation has been carried out, it has been done in those areas where mechanisation is most suitable.
§ Mr. T. Brown
I do not want the hon. Gentleman to run away with the idea that the National Coal Board are installing machines just for the sake of doing so. The shafts in the Sandhole pits are not in a position to cope with the coal which is now produced because of the narrowness of the shafts, but eventually when the new winding gear starts up at the Mossley Common No. 3 pit, all that coal will come up that pit. Therefore, it is essential that the machines shall be installed in preparation for the end of this year when they commence winding coal properly.
§ Mr. Raikes
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point. All I would say is that mechanisation has been increased during 1626 the last 10 years by about 16 per cent. and it is depressing to see that despite the increase in mechanisation, we have a target of deep-mined coal very much lower than in any comparable period before 1942 being regarded as the best we can get in present conditions.
I pass on to another point which is, perhaps, equally important. I maintain that in output we are attempting what is, at best, a miserable figure, in view of the mechanisation and the number of men. As to quality, we are again up against a considerable difficulty. I think it was the chief preparation officer of the Ministry of Fuel and Power who said that the amount of dirty coal had been increased from 12 per cent. to 18 per cent. since pre-war. If that is correct—and we know there has been an increase of dirt for various reasons—it also means that if we reach the target of 200 million tons, with that increase in dirt, the 200 million tons is 12 million tons less than it would have been ten years ago. I am prepared to agree that the lack of washers has played its part in this respect, but I cannot help wondering whether in these days under the National Coal Board, there is not a tendency rather to encourage as much stuff as possible to be brought up from the face rather than to check it over and see whether there is too much unburnable slate coming out.
I do not think I shall be incorrect if I say that one of the criticisms sometimes made before the war was that the mine-owners were sometimes regarded as being rather oversharp with the men at the face if they produced too much unburnable slate. Of course, at some places it is difficult to produce really good coal.
§ The Chairman (Major Milner)
The hon. Member has already intervened once, in addition to which he has made a speech.
§ Mr. Raikes
If the hon. Gentleman really wishes to intervene, I will give way, but I have taken longer than I intended, and there are others who wish to speak. Whereas in the past the mineowners came 1627 down sharply on the men at the face if they did not produce pure coal, I rather suspect that owing to the anxiety of the Coal Board to show good output figures, there is a tendency perhaps to go the other way and not to check sufficiently. After all, there is this difference between the mineowner and the National Coal Board: unless the mineowner sold his coal he suffered, whereas if there is a certain amount of dirty unsaleable coal the members of the Coal Board will not find that their salaries or their profits are affected. At the same time, the Ministry are desperately anxious to show good figures.
§ Mr. McKinlay (Dunbartonshire)
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that before the vesting date and before the Coal Board took control, the coal sold to the public was pure? Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that there was no dirt in the coal before the vesting date?
§ Mr. Raikes
Of course there was. I never denied it. All I indicated was that the amount of dirt in the coal has very considerably increased in the course of the last 10 years. There has probably been an increase of somewhere about 6 per cent. between 1938 and 1948. Let not hon. Members forget this: the last year of private enterprise and the first year of the Coal Board do not match themselves one against the other, for private enterprise had not really run the pits since 1941. In fact, since 1941 the pits had been under Government control, ending in nationalisation, but whatever the reasons may be, it is clear that the consumers' interests will be effected unless we get the quantity of dirty coal back to what it was in pre-war days. I think that point is a very important one if we are to sell our coal effectively, both at home and abroad.
I do not want to go into the question of price any further. It is true—I ought to make this point—that while there were sharp increases in prices, for which the right hon. Gentleman gave certain reasons, in 1947—and, indeed, we had further increases in 1948—in fact, comparing 1946 with 1945, there had been, if possible, a slight reduction in the cost of raising coal. I think it was only about ½d. a ton, but in any case we did not have, between 1945 and 1946, a rise in the cost. Quite apart from the compensation to coalowners, which 1628 of course has to be met by the Coal Board, we undoubtedly had an alarming increase—alarming both from the point of view of export and the domestic consumer—in the course of the last 12 months.
Instead, therefore, of the rather glowing figures which the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, we see a position where output per man over the year is very considerably less than it was in the days of what was called private enterprise. We see a steady increase in the amount of dirt in the coal from the days which were called private enterprise, and we see in the course of the last year, a very sharp increase in costs. We see one other thing which is alarming, and perhaps the most alarming thing of all if it continues. During the five weeks of this coal summer, we have seen an increase in the consumption of coal by, I think, about 14 per cent., by comparison with the same period last year. If that continues, with the present figures of output, our export trade, for what it is worth, will inevitably become still further behind before the end of the year.
It is a matter, I think, in which the Government should not only not be complacent, but which they should watch and try to remedy. My criticism of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman—and now he is back I shall really deal with him; I have dealt with him a little in his absence, although I do not think unfairly—my final criticism of his speech this afternoon will be this: that in my view he did very much show an air of complacency in regard to the Coal Board. It is a very easy thing to show. After all, these Government politicians do not want to run the Coal Board down. Nobody really believes this has been a sort of glorious success for the Coal Board, when it will produce 27 million tons of coal less, compared with the amount of coal produced in 1938.
That is the position. It is no use saying that because there has been a loss of £20 million, "Well that is all right; that will not fall on the taxpayer, it will be averaged between year and year." If we continue to have losses in the Coal Board they will be paid by the consumer, who is also the taxpayer, and it seems to me, therefore, that it is really a distinction without a difference. If we have 1629 a loss the consumer pays. Costs are going up, production is poor and dirt is considerable. On those grounds we of the Opposition have a right to call the attention of the Committee and of the country to the weakness in the Coal Board, and it is the duty of the Government to put things right. If the Government cannot put them right, then the Government once more have shown the inefficiency at which they are such high experts.
§ The Chairman
May I appeal to hon. Members to do what they can to shorten their speeches. I have a very large number of hon. Members who wish to speak and it will be quite impossible to give more than half of them an opportunity of speaking. I would also remind hon. Members that we are in Committee, where short speeches should be the rule. I hope hon. Members will do what they can to enable other hon. Members to speak.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ Mr. David Griffiths (Rother Valley)
I was very much alarmed, and were it not for the fact that this is a serious matter, I could have been very much amused, by the case so ably put forward, from the farcical point of view, by the right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson). It shows how ignorant and how innocent he is of the exact position of the mining industry. He made a statement—or at least asked a question—in his opening remarks, suggesting that this party and this Government should take responsibility. I assure him and the Opposition that we intend to take full responsibility for our actions. When the right hon. Gentleman quotes the question of difference in ages, it shows how ridiculous is the Opposition's knowledge, with the possible exception of one or two hon. Members. It was a rather silly point to make, because we include on the books of the colliery at the present day a good number of young volunteer workers from overseas. We have imported Irish labour, all of which is non-producing. When the right hon. Gentleman said that the men in the pits today are no older, that is not a statement of fact. The actual coal producers are eight years older. I want, therefore, to submit very seriously how ineffective, illogical and ridiculous was the argument used by the right hon. Member for Southport.
1630 I further wish to challenge another very important point which he attempted to make. I submit to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite that this is purely party policy which is being adopted by them. When the right hon. Gentleman says that the Argentine raised their meat prices because we raised the price of coal, that again is a nonsensical argument, because we had difficulty in reaching agreement with the Argentine for meat when we were not in a position to export coal to them at all. That argument is therefore farcical and to some extent untrue.
The hon. Member for Wavertree (Mr. Raikes), to whom I always listen with great interest, gave us a fairly rational statement, but he endorsed the point made by his right hon. Friend about dirty coal. Neither he nor his right hon. Friend gave the implication behind it, or the reasons for dirty coal. One reason for dirty coal is the intensified mechanisation. A second reason is that our best seams have gone, having been exploited by right hon. and hon. Members opposite and their friends. I mean what I say—exploited. The best seams have been worked out. I do not speak theoretically, but as a young man who has served his apprenticeship, and I know that that is a fact. I do not see eye to eye with the Coal Board about everything, and I shall level some criticism at the Coal Board shortly, but I suggest that they are attempting to do a most difficult job in extremely difficult circumstances. It was an immense undertaking, anyway, to take over a derelict industry such as this and make it a going concern. The fact that it had become derelict, due to the owners and directors of the coalmines under private enterprise, is implied in the Reid Report, which is the Report we are carrying into effect.
§ Mr. Griffiths
Because he could not go on his own road. It would be a good thing if a few more followed him. I am satisfied that there are some people who are wanting to make this nationalisation a failure.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
Is the hon. Member suggesting that Sir Charles Reid was trying to make nationalisation a failure?
§ Mr. Griffiths
I have not said that. I know that Sir Charles did a good job, and I know of his colleagues who sat with him in the preparation of that Report. It is essential that this industry be made to work efficiently. This is not a party issue. It ought not to be dealt with on the basis of one area versus another. We are attempting re-organisation, and that necessarily involves—I point this out to the Coal Board and to the Minister—a lot of displacement of men and of homes. If we are to realise our ambition of making this industry efficient, we must recognise that the task means the transference of labour. Therefore, the workers will have to remove, whether they like it or not. In this connection I urge the Minister and the Coal Board to be sure that they have good public relations officers to explain all these necessities to the miners. I urge them to go to the miners in the villages to make sure that the miners understand these things. I urge them to be sure that there are opportunities for the men to earn their livelihood and to obtain reasonable accommodation when they are moved. These are all factors of the utmost importance.
Much has been said by the Opposition to the effect that there has been no increase in output. On the contrary, there has been a marked improvement in output since nationalisation began. In my speech on the Second Reading of the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act, I charged the Opposition with appointing some of their relatives and friends to positions in the coal industry with two purposes in view—one, the possibility of obtaining posts under the new set-up, and the other the possibility of obtaining compensation. Unfortunately, the position thus created has been aggravated even under nationalisation. Whereas in a colliery there was a manager, and then an assistant manager, now there is an under-manager to the assistant manager. Where there was one over-man, there are now 10. This process of multiplying the numbers in senior positions was begun before the Coal Board was set up, but it has been aggravated since the establishment of the Coal Board. I ask the Minister to take notice of the fact that there is some disquiet in the coalfields about this. There are many people on our side who ought to be producers of coal but are not.
1632 Of course, there were some owners and directors of mines who had good records. The hon. and gallant Member for Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) is one. I know his position fairly well, and I pay a tribute to him. Would to God there had been more men like him in the industry. Today we are working under enormous difficulties. I pointed out in my speech on the Second Reading of the Act that in my coalfield, our men had been sent down for two, three or four hours. The Tory Press inferred from that that I was saying that our men were idle. Those men could not do better or produce more because of bad organisation, bad haulage, and so forth in the colliery. I hope that what I have said will be conveyed to the notice of the Coal Board, particularly the fact that a lot of disquiet is caused by the employment at the collieries of large numbers of staff who, in the opinion of the men, are unnecessary. In view of your remarks, Major Milner, about keeping speeches short, I shall say no more, beyond expressing the hope that the Coal Board will make good progress with its great task.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Colonel Lancaster (Fylde)
In view of your advice, Major Milner, about keeping speeches short, I hope that the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. D. Griffiths) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his interesting speech. I want, in fact, to devote myself almost entirely to the speech of the Minister. I am sorry he is not in his place at the moment. He said that as the Opposition had not called for a Supply Day Debate on coal for nearly a year, he assumed that we of the Opposition were satisfied with the position. He went on to say that such criticism as we had from time to time made, was actuated by nothing but political motives. I propose to take him up on those points, for the record is quite otherwise.
From the very inception of the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act, and during its consideration in Committee upstairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) and others continually pressed the then Minister to consider the matter with very great care; and we pressed on him the fact that unless he set up an organisation which was adequate and satisfactory there would be endless trouble subsequently. The whole Committee will remember how repeated 1633 warnings were given before the crisis of the Spring of 1947, and how they were invariably set aside. Then there was the question of the announcement of the vesting day, of which only six short weeks' notice was given. In that connection I will make my only quotation. Sir Arthur Street, the Vice-Chairman of the National Coal Board, speaking in June, 1947, said:If shortly after its formation it (a public corporation has to take full operational control of an industry, there is a danger that the Corporation will be unable to give sufficient time and thought to the problems of internal organisation while it is concentrating on its vital economic functions. The members of the new Board, as busy as bees, would have to start making honey before they had built their hive.That is precisely what happened. Once again our warnings were brushed aside. The five-day week, which was imposed on the industry without consultation with the National Coal Board and against the advice of hon. Members on this side, occurred in circumstances which resulted in the Prime Minister coming to the House and announcing, shortly after its inception, that additional work would have to be clone. At that time, he said that it should be by way of a longer working day. Hon. Members on this side pointed out to the Prime Minister that that was wholly impracticable as a short-term remedy, and that only by Saturday morning work, would it in fact be practical to bring about an immediate increase in production. The figures show, of course, that ten times more production was achieved by Saturday morning work, than by the half-hour extra, which was never practical in many of the districts Once again, our advice was disregarded, and nine weeks were allowed to elapse before the matter was put to the decision of the areas and Saturday morning shifts could be restarted.
Finally, there was the occasion on 17th July last year when we discussed the first six months operation of the Coal Board. It was quite impossible, at that time, to do more than discuss the situation. It would have been wholly unwise on our part to have come to any conclusions on the matter. There were even at that early stage, symptoms which were giving cause for anxiety to which we made reference, and to which we propose to make considerable reference again today. I agree 1634 with the hon. Member for Wavertree (Mr. Raikes) who said that the Minister spoke today with a degree of complacency which will find very little backing in the country. The position is anything but sound at the moment, and in the course of what I am going to say, I hope to show fully why that is so.
The broad facts of the position are that as a result of the first year's working of nationalisation there has been an increase of 3 per cent. in deep-mined coal, and an increase in production per man-shift from 1.04 to 1.07. That, mark you, in relation to 1946, a year when the coal industry had reached its lowest ebb for a great number of years. However, for the purposes of what I am going to say, I am prepared to restrict myself to the year 1946. It was the first year after the war, with all its inevitable dislocations, but, despite that, the industry had begun to get under way. Towards the end of 1946, a reasonable measure of production was being achieved.
The unsatisfactory feature of the year 1947 is that that rhythm in production was not maintained. Despite three factors, to which the Minister did not refer, the rise was on a disappointing level. We had the enthusiasm which was natural to the inception of nationalisation and of the five-day week; the effect of an additional 15,000 men on the colliery books; and, as hon. Members on the other side have been so ready to point out, there was a very free flow of mining equipment of a short-term nature into the pits. All those three factors go some distance to explain the three per cent. increase. On top of that, so far as the East Midlands division is concerned, 2½ million tons extra coal had been produced, every ton of which was planned prior to the vesting date.
Before I get down to the consideration of the problem, I should like to spend a few minutes on the psychological aspect of the inception of this experiment. Very little has been said from the Government Benches of the smoothness with which the transition took place. Every divisional chairman in the country has, however, acknowledged the help and co-operation which he received. It was very much of a one-way traffic. I propose to give two examples of the state of mind which was in force at that time. There was very nearly a pathological distaste 1635 for the acceptance of either guidance or criticism.
Hon. Members on the other side have very often showed interest in the number of new sinkings occurring in the country. In fact, at the moment, only one large-scale sinking in England is approaching maturity. That is at Calverton in Nottinghamshire. I am sure that hon. Members will realise that, whereas it is practical to hand over technical and physical blueprints, the administrative blueprint is a much less precise and more complex matter. The welfare of a great many men and their families, their housing and transport and the various matters which go to make their life a full and happy one are subject to day to day changes and conditioned by factors which are in many cases uncertain. They can only be passed over by way of consultation between the old set of owners and the new set of owners. In the case of Calverton, not one consultation ever occurred either before or after the vesting date between the administrative staff responsible for that big development and the Divisional Coal Board responsible for the policy of its development. That development was not only one of great importance, approximating in terms of profitability to the launching of the "Queen Elizabeth," but it represented ten years' study of continental and American methods as applied to conditions in this country.
I will give one other example. Hon. Members will remember that in the Summer of last year the National Coal Board brought out a paper, "Coal," which was to be distributed among the men. For the first three or four months, as perhaps was natural, it was confined mostly to articles by members of the Coal Board and other interested parties, extolling each other's virtues. That, I presume, began to wear a little thin, and I was approached with a request to write an article for that paper. I said that I would be critical if I did so, and that perhaps it would be wise to wait until after the Debate in the House. Then, if the editor still wished to approach me on the matter, I would further consider it. He came to me subsequently and asked me once again if I would write an article. I wrote an article which epitomised what I said in that Debate. I altered my remarks only to the extent 1636 that I made my criticism much less severe. The article was due to appear in the October issue. It was never printed, and, in due course, I received a letter from the Coal Board which said, in so many words, "We cannot accept critcism at this stage of our experiment." On top of that, the right hon. Gentleman says that criticism from this side has been of a political and prejudiced nature.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) said, what we are considering today is not nationalisation but whether or not the means by which nationalisation is being applied is proving satisfactory. It is that to which I shall devote the remainder of my speech. If we are to make progress in this regard, it is essential that we should approach it in a very different spirit from the one I outlined in the two examples I gave. The present structure of the industry, and the principles of administration which have been applied, have run counter, not only to the industrial experience in this country but to the experience throughout the world. The administrative machinery has, I think, fallen down, not only because of the functional nature of the organisation, but primarily because administrative emphasis has not been at the point of production but has been assumed on a divisional and national level. Moreover, the administrative control has been vested in managers, subordinate to divisional chairmen—in a sense their managing directors—who had neither experience of production nor, in the great majority of cases, experience of the administration of any industry.
I believe these faults can be overcome, and I shall make certain proposals which aim at eradicating these mistakes while maintaining the benefits of integration and the dissemination of research. Now I mention that in particular, because if we are to see this picture as a whole, we must see what are the benefits which may have accrued from nationalisation, and we must attempt to eradicate the faults which are there and apparent to everybody who is not blinded by ideology in this matter.
I think that the two outstanding advantages which had accrued through nationalisation—although they might have accrued otherwise—have been in the sound integration—or organisation, if hon. Members prefer that word—and the means thereby, of passing knowledge up 1637 and down the industry. We did undoubtedly lag behind both the Germans and the Americans in that regard. A great deal of useful knowledge which should have spread over the coalfields was very often restricted to individual companies, and that was not to the benefit of the industry as a whole.
On this occasion we must build from the bottom up. It is wholly impracticable to create a National Coal Board, and then the divisional organisations, and finally to fit in areas of production. The process must be the other way round; the emphasis must be at the point of production, and the point of production must be where administration occurs. The integration of the industry must be regarded as a problem of horizontal as opposed to vertical organisation. With this point in mind, I recommend that the present 49 areas should be further reduced to 30. My reasons are as follows. They will maintain the continuity of the old 21 producing districts; in certain cases these districts being divided into two areas. I believe that areas of this size, representing, as they will, a capital of some £10 or £15 million apiece, will warrant a board of management and a chairman to conduct their administrative affairs. I believe, moreover, that whereas we are straining ourselves to find 49 production men of adequate caliber, it will be possible to find 30 men with this new arrangement of the areas.
The area chairmen must be men selected for administrative ability, and for their knowledge and experience of this industry. They will be responsible for the control and administration of their respective areas. They should be assisted by a board of management, not all of whom need be full-time. To the area general managers would be left the job for which they are primarily trained and suited—that of coal production and the physical development of their properties. Relieved of their burden of administration—which has so far stultified their efforts in regard to production—these area general managers would once again be free to devote their abilities in their essential direction. The board of management would be responsible to see that these areas carried out the general policy approved by the National Coal Board, acting in harmony with the general economic policy of the Government of the day.
1638 I would scrap the present divisional structure, creating in its place four provisional centres: one for Scotland and the North at Edinburgh; one for Wales and the South-West district at Cardiff; and one each for the Eastern and Western sections of the English coalfields, situated possibly at Doncaster and at Manchester. The purpose of these would be to see that information flowed freely from the areas to the national level, and they would be responsible for the physical development of their section of the coalfield. A board consisting, in the main, of chairmen of the area boards would constitute the provincial centre board, presided over, if need be, by one of their own number, or by a specially appointed chairman. The organisation of provincial centres would be laid down on lines designed to give support to the personnel engaged in the area organisations, and to facilitate, but not to direct, the liaison between the area officials. The provincial executive would require such staff as would be necessary to assist this liaison and give support to the areas; but this support would need to be given with discrimination so as to avoid any tendency for the area organisations to depend upon that in preference to its own.
At the centre, the National Coal Board would remain in London, merely on the score of convenience, concerned not with the functional control of this industry, but as a policy-making body concerned with the co-ordination of the activities of the four provincial centres. Provincial chairmen should be co-opted to the National Board, and the National Board would be required to set out its organisation to assist the executives of the provincial centres. I believe it would be practicable to cut down the staff of the National Coal Board by at least 500 members, and I visualise the four provincial centres having staffs of the order about 200 apiece.
Although area boards of management would, in the first instance, be responsible to their provincial headquarters, they would have access to national headquarters on such matters as experience may show are unnecessary for duplication at the provincial level. There would be yearly budgets covering the requirements and activities of each of these producing areas, within which they would require to conform. There would be short-term and 1639 long-term plans of development, supervised in broad measure at provincial headquarters, but left in detail for their application in the areas. Administrative policy, which would emanate from the National Coal Board, would be the province of the area boards of management. Thereby could be obtained that degree of freedom and initiative at the production level, without which the benefits of enterprise and, in great measure, competition are lacking.
§ Mr. J. J. Lawson
Do I gather that the scheme of provincial areas, which the hon. and gallant Member is putting forward, means dividing the country once more into export and home supply areas, with financial responsibility accordingly, which would also involve wages that follow the export drive, and the same old troubles?
§ Colonel Lancaster
No. The purpose of setting up four provincial centres is merely because experience has shown that the physical guidance and control of more than a limited number of areas is impossible. If we were to concentrate the whole of that in the National Coal Board, cutting out the divisional level altogether, we should create a top-heavy structure; whereas, as I have said, a good deal could be done direct from the National Coal Board level to the areas. Certainly the physical development of the coalfields—which, of course, must be guided, in a sense, from the National Coal Board—would need to be broken down into these four various sectors of the country. It is in that direction that I make the proposal with regard to provincial areas.
§ Mr. Lawson
Is not there a danger that that would precipitate a repetition of the old wages troubles that we had in the industry before the war?
§ Colonel Lancaster
I do not think so, because I do not think for one moment that would be the province or the purpose of this provincial set-up. Possibly when the right hon. Gentleman has had an opportunity of reading my speech in HANSARD and considering it subsequently, he will see the purpose I have in mind.
In this latter connection—and I am dealing with the question of areas—I hope the areas will be designated by names which are familiar to the coal world, 1640 and no longer by numbers as at present. I believe that the enthusiasm and loyalty of all those taking part in the industry could be rejuvenated in areas such as I have outlined, whereas at this moment divisional loyalties, except at very high levels, are almost wholly non-existent. The divisions, moreover, as pale reflections of the National Coal Board, have been merely a means to additional bureaucracy and an extension of the vertical control which strikes at the root of sound management.
There is very frequently in the House a misconception of the meaning of the word "administration." We are too apt to confuse it with the function of management. Administration, although a continuing process, is not a day-to-day matter. It is the deliberate and precise expression of policy, and, as such, must be a function distinct from that of day-to-day management. Decentralisation, moreover, is a state of mind. Unless those at the centre are permeated with the desire to decentralise, we shall get no further in the reorganisation of this industry.
It would be unreasonable to ask the Committee to bear with me in any attempt to outline these principles of organisation in greater detail on this occasion. What I have attempted to do is to apply to the existing organisation such principles of industrial administration and management as might convert it into workable form. We have the delicate task of creating a system which, while maintaining that degree of control and direction which Parliament requires, will set free at the production level those qualities which, for generations, have been inherent in this industry. Coal-mining is a hard, complex and specialised calling. It requires long years of training before a useful contribution can be made either on the administrative, managerial or technical levels. Experience throughout the world has shown that to expect men unfamiliar with this industry to play a useful part is a complete fallacy. On the score neither of politics nor psychology is it wise. The experiment must be scrapped.
Moreover, these are but the bare bones of the problem. We are concerned primarily with human beings, with their reactions and prejudices, their loyalties and enthusiasms. It must be our object 1641 to harness these in the appropriate form. However devoted are the troops and their regimental officers, their efforts are valueless unless the staff work and the generals are of the right quality. One of the patent disadvantages of nationalisation is the risk incurred in the selection of leadership. Errors on this level transmit themselves throughout the organisation. This industry at the moment lacks leadership. It must be our first task to provide it.
We must end once and for all, the con fusion between the functions of the manager and the technician, recognising clearly that their particular attributes are infrequently combined. It is wholly senseless to select technicians on the score of their administrative ability, or to utilise men expert in management in a field for which they have neither the inclination nor the training. Functional and vertical control strikes at the roots of those essentials which have been so vividly described in Mr. T. E. B. Young's paper. The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) has referred to the remarks of American Congressman and the American Ambassador on this industry. He would be better advised to study the Herter Committee's conclusions after inquiring into the working of nationalisation in this country.
Here, then, are the main essentials, leadership and a system of organisation which, while maintaining reasonable financial and directional control, allows of a full measure of autonomy at the point of production; co-ordination in such a manner that guidance, advice and the freest exchange of knowledge and research can flow freely from the producing areas and from the national level; a reintroduction of local loyalties and incentives which will appeal both to men and managements, with the necessary freedom to technicians and specialists to operate in their own spheres; cessation of the practice of placing men in responsible positions or in an advisory capacity who have not the necessary training and experience in this intricate industry and, finally, and most important, a determination to co-opt at every level and through every practical device the help and contribution which men, management, union leaders and administrators can make to this problem. The Reid Committee, in the conclusions of their recommendations, said:But there is no time to be lost.1642 Signs are not wanting that we are falling dangerously behind in the post-war race. The export of coal, as hon. Members have shown, is already giving cause for a great deal of disquiet, both on the score of the price of the article we are producing, and in some measure in regard to quality. As far as quality and the cost of the article are concerned, the whole of British industry is not only dependent on it, but at this moment is straining at a level of price which is militating against its chances and prospects of competing in world markets. If we are to put this industry on its feet again, the Government have to swallow a good deal of pride and face up to the fact that drastic reforms are required without further delay. To-day, Parliament is concerned with an interim review of the situation. In a short time the nation will, in its turn, pass judgment on this Parliament.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Miss Jennie Lee (Cannock)
We listened to the contributions made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) with interest and respect. He has given us the first constructive speech from the Opposition. That is generous of him, and we appreciate it, while not necessarily agreeing with him. I should like to ask whether he has now given us the thesis put forward by Sir Charles Reid before leaving the Coal Board. It has resolved a personal doubt I have had about the hon. and gallant Member. Listening to him in previous coal discussions, I have wondered, whether, if he were willing to become a member of the National Coal Board and I had the power to appoint him, I should do so. After listening to him today I have decided that the answer is in the negative. I say that with full appreciation of and respect for the contribution he has made, and I say it on two grounds.
The hon. and gallant Member in his opening sentences rebuked us for having conceded the five-day week to the miner, and then further rebuked us because we tried to avoid the miners having to work on Saturdays. Has the hon. and gallant Gentleman measured the cost in coal output to the country if he had been handling the situation? We are not dealing with pawns on a chess board, but with men—and as has been pointed out by my hon. Friends 1643 who are miners and know the miners thoroughly, men with very bitter memories who can be led but not driven.
§ Colonel Lancaster
What we recommended at the time was the introduction of the 11-day fortnight as a first stage. Had this advice been accepted we should not then have found it necessary to work a six-day week for the last six months.
§ Miss Lee
I am not quarrelling with the hon. and gallant Gentleman's rationalisations. I am merely pointing out that there is a psychological aspect which he ignores. It is all very well to talk about not enjoying your honey until you have made your hive as the hon. and gallant Gentleman did, but the Government, the Coal Board and the miners' leaders have to do both. We have to re-organise the mines and set aside men and equipment from immediate production in the interests of future production, and at the same time improve present production and meet the demands of the miners. I do not think that the hon. and gallant Member, on the psychological side, has dealt fairly with the problem which the trade unions, the National Coal Board and the Government had to face. We cannot conduct modern mining as if we were still engaged in the Wars of the Roses. We cannot have rival feudal barons, with a nostalgia for the past, who remember how wonderful it was when men were desperate for work and worked with the frenzied intensity of men who knew their spell of employment had been preceded by unemployment and would be followed by unemployment.
Supposing we draw a graph of the figures relating to the mining industry, not centred entirely on the year beloved by Members opposite—1938—but also including the years afterwards, 1940, 1941, 1942, 1943, and 1944. The powers of the private coalowners were curtailed during the war by a Coalition Government dominated by the Tories, and this was done in the national interest, for good reasons. If we draw that graph we find a steady reduction in the number of men and a steady increase in absenteeism. Then we come to 1946 and to vesting day 1st January, 1947, and we see, with gratitude and humility, that from that time onwards all the essential figures move in the right direction. New 1644 blood is coming into the pits, absenteeism is going down; output is going up. I assume that we are all working from the same statistical tables. We had reached zero point but now, at last, the figures are moving in the right direction.
§ Mr. P. Roberts
Does the hon. Lady mean that the number of workers in the industry went down in 1941? From 1941 to 1944 they increased.
§ Miss Lee
I have here the figures of wage earners on the colliery books in 1941. There was a small rise there, I agree, which was artificially induced by Bevin boys and other war measures, but if we take the general graph my statement holds good. Both in increased production and reduction of absenteeism we are at last travelling in the right direction.
It has been conceded on all sides that in the immediate future our problem is not simply technical, but also psychological. I ask the Committee to bear with me for a few minutes while I talk about the psychological side of the problem which, I re-emphasise, is very important. Before I do that, however, no one will advocate as seemed to be implied by the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde that we should ever again divide the coal industry into rival areas, with the level of wages different from one coalfield to another. In the financing of the industry, in deciding which coalfields should be extended or contracted and in dealing with markets at home and abroad, we are bound to have centralisation. If we agree on that I would then agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde that in many respects there ought to be more authority and more explanations to the men at the point of production.
Nothing makes a miner more angry than to see a number of cars drive up to the pit head, and officials getting out, the miner not knowing the purpose of their visit. Sometimes justly, and sometimes unjustly, he thinks there are far too many officials, too many clean hands, talking about how to get coal, and too few dirty hands getting down to the job of producing it. Where there are intelligent pit production committees at work they will see that the men know who visits them, and for what purpose. They would be told, "This is the labour relations 1645 officer," or, "This is the welfare officer, who has come to see about improved pit head baths." The miners, with their sense of fair play, would know what the officials were there for, and would be able to decide whether the visit was justifiable or unnecessary.
I do not say that the industry is at present running at 100 per cent. efficiency. I do not believe it will ever be, because we do not live in a 100 per cent. efficient world. But I do say that in face of the great difficulties which have confronted us we have much to be thankful for now that the industry has been nationalised, and there is no longer the confusion, bitterness, poverty and loss of production which there would have been if Members opposite were handling the problem. This is a tribute to the leadership in the pits. The right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) said that what the industry required was leadership. Has he ever considered the quality, experience and political sophistication needed by representatives of the miners' trade union at the present time, who have to go into gatherings of miners and say, "Boys you must go at it, six days a week if need be. You must be up every morning and do your best." The miners, who are one of the most politically mature groups in the community, and who are aware, not only of their own way of life, but of the lives of the rest of the community, retort with, "Is there to be one standard of social austerity and effort for us and another standard for some other sections of the community?"
What effect do you think Ascot Week had and will have on coal production? I will not venture, in the presence of my miner colleagues, to take the Committee underground, but I will take Members to a collier's fireside where I was some days ago. There was a young fellow, stretched out, resting before the fire, exhausted, after a hard day's work at the coalface. He was reading his paper to his wife, sisters and other members of the family. They were all very much amused by the reports of Ascot, and by pictures of the long dresses some ladies wore. We must of course believe what we read in the Press and the Press talked of those who turned up at the races in different costumes every day.
This miner said, "Where do all these spivs and spitches get it from?" We 1646 know that no woman, however rich she may be, can on her clothing ration have all these changes of dress. It is true that some women get clothes from abroad but, generally speaking, that is not the case. Here we have a man who works hard, who is proud of his home and his womenfolk—and do not forget that they love pretty clothes, and can wear them too—who is told, "The nation is in a situation of the utmost danger. You must do your utmost. You are Casabianca on the burning deck. You have to be little Lord Fauntleroy. You have to remain at concert pitch all the time." This miner discovers that other people in society have nothing better to do in the middle of the week—and this applies to rich men's sports—than attend race meetings. He knows that the rich man's sports, whether it is racing or cricket, go on in the middle of the working week.
§ Miss Lee
I will explain the relevance of Ascot week. I began by saying that the leadership which has been given and accepted by the miners of this country is wise and highly sophisticated in a political sense. We do not want civil war. Our people have suffered enough. We understand the economic disutility of civil war. But this means we are asking one section of the community to work 100 per cent. while other sections are not working nearly as hard. We are going about things in the right way in this country. There is another side to remember. That is the joy of going into mining communities and seeing the glow of health and well-being, not only the babies—we all know about them—not only the younger men and women, but most moving of all the joy of seeing the matron, who has reared a family, and is now wearing a decent pair of shoes, turning up at a social or meeting in her village with a decent dress and with her hair permed. If mother's hair is permed you can be sure that means that the rent is paid and the grocer's bill is met. A great deal is being done for the miner and his family today that was never done before the war.
I want to keep within the rules of the Committee, and therefore, as others are waiting to speak, must leave much unsaid; but this matter must be made plain. 1647 We ought to be grateful to the miners and to the leaders of the miners of this country, who could very easily have conducted their politics and their industry with the kind of self-destroying crudity that has caused so much suffering and so much loss of liberty in other parts of the world. Instead, we here go slowly, but go surely.
I beg my colleague's forgiveness for putting in this final point before sitting down. The Minister of Fuel and Power today in reply to a question about subsidies and the compensation for damage done in mining areas said that it would be the end of the year before that report would come out. Might I beg of him to realise the practical and psychological importance of separating from the wider subsidence problem that of repairs for the homes of the working miners and other workers who are not now covered in law. The miner is not a native of darkest Africa. He does not need missionaries taking culture to him. If he is given a decent home and halls, that is the physical framework in which to build a good life when he leaves the pit, and decent conditions down the pit. You can leave the rest to him. We can guarantee to hon. Members opposite and to the world that the good job, already well begun, will be brought to maturity in succeeding years. We can depend on the miners to do their share if we in this House do not fail to behave fairly towards them.
§ 7.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Wadsworth (Buckrose)
I listened with great attention to the speech of the right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) and I gathered from him that there was no glimmer of hope that we should ever make a success of the coal industry under nationalisation. I have listened to hon. Members opposite who take a very optimistic view of the situation in their speeches. Perhaps as a Liberal I may be more realistic. While supporting, in general, the speech of the Minister of Fuel and Power, I have some criticisms to utter which I trust will be of a helpful nature. My colleagues and I supported the nationalisation of the industry because we believed that under the co-ordination of the pits we could produce coal at a lower price, produce better coal and secure greater production. 1648 While appreciating all the difficulties, let us be realistic about them.
We have not yet succeeded in gaining the position that this country had before the war in coal production. We certainly have improved the situation since the National Coal Board took over the coalmines, and the improvement that has taken place has been entirely due to the work that has been done by the Board. Let us not, however, forget how serious the situation still is, in that it is not only our economy but the economy of the whole of Europe which depends on us increasing the production of coal in this country. It is most important that at the very earliest opportunity we should attempt to get back to something approaching pre-war production. We are told that the production of coal this year will be 200 million tons, and in March of this year it reached 4 million tons. In 1936 and 1937 we know that the figure for the average monthly period was 4,369,000 tons and 4,610,000 tons respectively.
I am not criticising, but I am saying that we must realise that we have not got back to the pre-war production and that we must make every effort to do so, realising the situation which will arise if we do not produce the necessary amount of coal in this country.
§ Mr. Murray
I wonder whether the hon. Member, in addition to giving the number of tons that were produced before the war, would also give the number of men employed in producing the coal at that time?
§ Mr. Wadsworth
The real object of having this Debate was in the hope that it would lead to greater coal production. In answer to the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Murray), I know that there are a number of reasons why we have not yet got back to the pre-war figure, but the points have already been made and I need not repeat them. The real point which I am emphasising here is that we must get back to the pre-war figure, because it is important for us to do so.
§ Mr. Murray
Does the hon. Member realise that the average manpower figure for 1936–1937 was 781,000 against 718,000 at the present time.
§ Mr. Wadsworth
I recognise that. I hope I have made it clear that I recognized 1649 that labour position is an important factor, but I still come back to the point that we must focus our attention on a greater production of coal and get back to something approaching the pre-war figures. To develop my main argument, I want to point out that the main problem that will have to be solved, which will enable us to get back to the pre-war figures of coal production is the output per man-shift, which still has not reached the pre-war position.
§ Mr. T. J. Brooks (Rothwell)
How are we to reach that output unless we get more pits? We have heard this afternoon about the pits that have been closed. Under private enterprise very few new pits were opened in recent years, and it will be years before we shall be able to do anything in that direction.
§ Mr. Wadsworth
I appreciate that there is a short-term and a long-term policy and that it will take some years before we reach satisfactory figures. We know that many of the coal pits are worked out, and in that connection, while I should be out of Order, I hope nevertheless that I shall be permitted without being pulled up to say one sentence—we should at a later stage, in defining our long-term policy, consider taking away some of our mining villages to Southern Rhodesia and utilising their labour there to greater advantage, for instance, in the Wankie district—
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)
The hon. Member is out of Order in developing this point.
§ Mr. Wadsworth
I could not resist that.
I have learned in my business experience that a successful business man must have two qualifications. First, one must define responsibility all up and down the steps of power, and, secondly, one must get the full co-operation of the work-people, the managers, the directors and everybody concerned in the business. To deal with the relationship of the area boards to the Coal Board, there should be much greater decentralisation than there has been so far. I believe that full responsibility in every aspect of producing coal should be given to the area boards, and that the central authority—the Coal Board—should limit itself to the broad, overall planning. We have heard of a good many resignations from the 1650 Coal Board in the last few months. I do not think that matters at all. We may have lost Sir Charles Reid, but he may not have fitted into the picture under this new type of industry. After all, he was a coalowner, and he may have been very unhappy in the position he held. We must have men in the Coal Board whose job will be to co-ordinate activities and get the best out of the area boards. They may not know anything about coal, but they must know something of human nature and human relationships.
As to the relationship between the area boards and the workers, that is the most important problem which the Coal Board has to face. Naturally, the miner is still deeply resentful of much of his past experience. It is also true that certain restrictive practices have grown up in the industry, and the miner himself must realise that working for the State is an entirely different matter from working for a private employer. I can think of no better way of making the miner realise his responsibilities than by giving him more representation and more power to assist in the greater development of the coal industry by placing him on the pit production boards and other committees. Let the worker realise in every possible way that he has a hand in the working of the industry. I am quite certain that it can be done and that if it is done, he will be more co-operative.
It is far better for the miner to impose discipline on himself than for the Coal Board to attempt to impose discipline upon the miner through the agency of all these extra managers and controllers. We have heard from the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. D. Griffiths) that already a good many more managers are seen about the mines than there used to be. That is altogether wrong. If the miner is appealed to in the right way and given responsibility for management, he will help the industry to gain more coal, and he will be a very much happier worker under that system than he was under the old system. We are going forward with a great experiment. This was the first industry to be nationalised. If it fails—let us be quite clear on this point—then the Government itself will be in very seriously jeopardy.
§ Mr. Wadsworth
That will stop any further nationalisation, without any question. But if the Government make a great success of this—as they must do and as I believe they will do—we all shall be in a very much happier position.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Neal (Clay Cross)
The Committee has listened to a considerable amount of criticism of the Ministry of Fuel and Power and the National Coal Board, and a reply has been given by the Minister of Fuel and Power. During my remarks I hope to say a few things in support of what he has said. My main purpose in rising is to reinforce the arguments which have been adduced by my hon. Friends in defence of the miners. The miners have no apology to offer for the present coal situation. They have performed a tremendous task during the past few years in the face of enormous difficulties, and I want to tell the Committee in clear terms that the miners are entitled to the gratitude of the House of Commons and the country for the great contribution they have made towards our economic recovery.
The hon. Member for Buckrose (Mr. Wadsworth) seemed to indicate that there is a measure of undue optimism on these Benches regarding the coal situation. I can assure him that he ought to disabuse his mind of that idea. We agree with him that we must focus our attention upon getting back to the pre-war output, and the miners and hon. Members on this side of the Committee are concentrating their energies in that direction.
I regret that the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) is not in his place. He is always listened to with profound respect when he is speaking of the coal situation. He has rendered distinguished service to the coal industry and his views on this subject are always respected, even by hon. Members on this side of the Committee. However, I was surprised that he should have indulged in a criticism of the Coal Board concerning his own coalfield. I understood him to make references to the lack of co-operation between the Coal Board and the management regarding the development of Calverton colliery. I am not familiar with the circumstances of the development of Calverton, but I cannot think that the hon. and gallant Member is altogether unaware of some of the good things which 1652 the National Coal Board has done in the coalfield with which he is most familiar.
I will give him an instance. At Crown Farm colliery in Nottinghamshire, skip winding has been introduced and mine cars have been introduced underground, and the whole operation has been completed without any interruption of the production of coal. Previously at that colliery 64 men were engaged in operating coal at the pit top and the pit bottom, but through the reorganisation carried out by the National Coal Board the number has been reduced to four only. Let us say some good things about the Board as well as indulging in criticism. That colliery has achieved a record which is unsurpassed in any coal-producing country in the world. The output per haulage worker is 100 tons. Not even in the United States of America is there anything to compare with that.
I always enjoy listening to the right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson). I regret that he is not in his place, but I suppose he must answer the calls of appetite. I have enjoyed listening to him every time I have heard him in the House. He always delivers himself with such vigour and enthusiasm. One can almost see the coal dust fresh upon his boots as he tramples on the efforts of the Coal Board with all the enthusiasm and all the authority of the mining engineer. It would have been better if he had stuck to agriculture, where he at least had the reputation of being a good, "clean-boot" farmer. His association with the coal industry is much more remote. His criticism fell into two categories. First, that there was not enough coal produced of good quality, and secondly, that the cost of production was too high.
What are the facts? Behind all the criticism of low output there is veiled inference that the miners are malingering. That is a charge which the miners strongly resent. It is usually people who do very little work themselves, who are always prescribing more work for others. Some people think that all that has to be done in order to increase output is that the miners should work harder and longer, and the problem would then be solved. Surely some credit is due to the miners and the National Coal Board for the increase which has taken place in output over the last two years.
1653 In giving output figures, I will confine them to the three vital years. In 1945, deep-mined coal output was 175 million tons; in 1946, it was 180 million tons; in 1947, it was 186 million tons. In the same period the output per man-shift has risen correspondingly. In 1945, that output was 1.00 tons; in 1946 it was 1.03, and in 1947 it was 1.07. The right hon. Member for Southport says that what really matters is the output per wage-earner per year. I assure him that there is the same increase over these three years in that respect. In 1945, the output per wage-earner was 246.4 tons; in 1946 it was 259.0, and in 1947 it was 261.2.
Some critics seem to think that it ought to be possible for the British miner to achieve the same output per man-shift as has been achieved in the United States. Anybody familiar with the comparable conditions in those two countries knows that it cannot possibly be achieved. If anybody doubts my statement I would refer them to the report which has just been issued by Mr. T. E. B. Young, following his visit to that country. In that report he says that the only thing in common between American mines and British mines is that they both produce coal. I do not know what the geological conditions are in America. I have been down pits on the Continent of Europe, and I will guarantee that the British miner, given the same conditions, will produce as much output as any other miner in the world.
It might be well to remind the Committee of the conditions which faced the National Coal Board on the vesting date. There were 800 separate undertakings which had to be unified, with 1,500 different pits. Most of the prolific seams had been worked out and only one new mine had been sunk in 25 years. Let those who advocate private enterprise remember that fact. During the six years of war we have been tearing the guts out of the pits—to use a mining term—without any regard for proper development. It was necessary to do so, because we had to maximise the output of coal in order to win the war. We had to face the difficulties which followed. The consequence was that when the National Coal Board took over there were 500 uneconomic pits in this country. Everybody knows it, and particularly hon. Members on this side of the Committee who have served in the mining industry 1654 and who represent mining constituencies. Anybody with any knowledge of the industry knows that when nationalisation became inevitable, the coalowners took very little care about renewing their equipment. All those difficulties had to be met by the National Coal Board.
Reference has been made by hon. Members opposite to the implementation of the Reid Report. I want to say at once that I do not regard the Reid Report as the bible of the coal industry. After all, it was not altogether the conception of Sir Charles Reid. There were six other capable mining engineers on that committee. I agree with the hon. Member for Buckrose that the resignations which we have recently witnessed, including that of Sir Charles Reid, will make little difference in the progress or otherwise of the coal industry. There are young men of ability among mining engineers who can replace those who have resigned. No one man is indispensable to the industry. It would have been quite easy for the National Coal Board to cut their losses when they took over by using capitalist methods, closing down collieries and convulsing mining communities socially and economically. Where would the coal have come from then? If the National Coal Board had not kept every possible point of production open, we should have heard a howl of protest from hon. Members opposite about insufficient coal production.
Inseparably bound up with output is manpower. When the Board took over, there were 697,000 men and boys in the industry, the lowest figure for a generation. Does the Committee realise that no fit man can leave this industry? Despite that fact, the wastage during 1947 by death, accident and disease totalled 71,000 men and boys. Yet, so quickly did the National Coal Board recruit, and carry on their recruiting campaign, that the wage-earners by the end of 1947 were 718,000 men and boys, an increase of 21,000. The increase was mainly recruited from ex-miners who were attracted at once by the better prospects under a nationalised industry. The target for 1948 was fixed at 750,000 workers. In order to achieve that figure, 102,000 new men and boys will have to be brought into the industry to offset the calculated wastage during 1948 of 70,000.
Let me mention here in parenthesis a sad feature about this wastage. When people lament the price of coal, as did 1655 the right hon. Member for Southport this afternoon, do they realise that it costs no less than 8s. per ton in South Wales alone to pay compensation for victims of silicosis? They are men who are the victims of dust inhalation and who are coughing their very lungs out in the coalfields. These men are in possession of a document known as "certification for silicosis," which is virtually a certificate of death. No wonder that the recruiting activities of the National Coal Board are not looked upon with great favour by the students of Eton and Harrow.
I would like to say a few words upon the so-called extravagant expenditure which has been referred to by previous speakers. It is true that the Coal Board are involved in some heavy expense in order to carry on this industry, and one of the outstanding features of their expenditure is training. It is interesting to recall that it costs almost as much to train a new miner now as it does to buy a professional footballer. However, it never was right to send young boys into the pit at 14 without any knowledge of the dangers they were facing underground. I can only heartily commend the amount of money and effort that the N.C.B. have put into the training of new miners to equip them for the dangers facing them in their careers in the mining industry.
The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) referred to the reforms granted to the miners since the Coal Board came into office, and observed that they ran into some £70 million. I agree with him that these reforms were long overdue and that without them the manpower in the industry could never have been built up or the output increased. I want to address a few pointed questions to the Opposition regarding these reforms. First, take the question of statutory holidays, which cost £2¼ million. Are we to understand that the Opposition would deny the right of the miner to get this advantage with civil servants, postmen and policemen? Are we to understand that the Tory Party would save money, if they could, and reduce the cost of coal by denying the miner a statutory holiday?
Then take the question of the guaranteed wage, which costs £1½ million a year. I ask hon. Members opposite, would they 1656 have the miner return to the old conditions where he often descended into the pit, waited the chance whether he might be engaged to work or not, and was sent back home without any pay? Would they have a return to the situation where piece-workers waited at the coal face for tubs for long hours during the day and went home without wages? The question of a five-day week has been mentioned this afternoon. This, again, creates a considerable amount of expenditure. We are told that it costs 2s. 5d. a ton, totalling £24 million a year. Can I go back to the miners in my constituency and tell them that if the Tories get back to power they would prefer to reduce the cost price of coal by taking away from the miners the five-day week? I invite any hon. Member opposite to tell me that.
§ Mr. Neal
A few months after this concession was given, the miners voluntarily decided to loan it back to the Government because of the need for coal output, and it resulted in an extended working hours agreement being arrived at—with varying degrees of success I admit—but the cost totalled approximately £7½ million. I have noticed in the Press from time to time roars of protest about this extra cost, but it produced an extra five million tons of coal, and it avoided undue unemployment which would have resulted last winter as it resulted during the previous winter of 1946.
Another question of expenditure is pithead baths. Who will not say that the miner is entitled to have a wash at his place of work and travel home in the same conveyance as other workers in other avocations? Pithead baths could be built before the war for £30,000, today they cost £100,000, and the Coal Board intend to build them at the rate of 90 a year for the next four years, at a cost of £11 million. Nobody, I am sure, would want to deny the miner the right of these advantages. I repeat that the total of £70 million to which I have referred can be justified adequately by the results it has brought in production, and by the long overdue benefits thus conferred upon the men who are in the front line of the economic struggle.
The nationalised coal industry has come to stay; even the Tories in 1657 their "Industrial Charter" declare that they will not mark it down for denationalisation. Neither have they any constructive plans for producing more coal at a cheaper price—0at least, we have heard of none this afternoon. The Opposition know there is no magic wand the waving of which can produce millions of tons of coal. Even Sir Charles Reid knows that. It is fantastic to speak of 30 million tons more with the same men and machinery in the industry. Pits cannot be sunk and equipped as new factories can be equipped. Coal cannot be produced as goods can be taken from a shelf behind the counter. However, the Coal Board have made a start towards achieving a sufficiency of coal in this country. Plans have been prepared which, when they are matured, will ensure an adequate supply of coal for home requirements and for export. So far from being a failure, nationalisation has not yet been tried adequately. Foundations have been laid which will bring this industry back to its pre-war success, and I aver that in five years' time, coal will not be a debatable issue in the House.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Thorneycroft (Monmouth)
The hon. Member for Clay Cross (Mr. Neal) asked the Opposition a number of questions, as to whether they would spend, this, that or the other upon the miners' welfare, and the rest of it. The answer is simple and straightforward; we can have what wages we like in the mining industry and as much welfare as we want, but it has to be paid for out of the coal that is produced inside the mining industry. There is no difference of opinion between one side of the Committee and the other as to what we want to give the miners, but we cannot do these things unless we produce the coal—[HON. MEMBERS: "We?"] We, as a nation, produce the coal. After all, it is our coal now, we are allowed to say, "We." It is our coal and these are our mines and we might at least take that amount of pride in the nationalisation system.
The problem we are up against appears to me to have been stated rather well in "The Times" this morning. In the leading article, which the Minister quoted with approval earlier in the Debate, "The Times" said:Too little coal is being produced, and it is too dear and too dirty.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
Then from both our points of view "The Times" leader has certain bits which advantage one side and certain bits which advantage the other. I think the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to quote my bit as he quoted his—"too little coal, too dear and too dirty." As the hon. Member for Clay Cross said just now, what we have to do is to try to get back to the pre-war standards of production. Those are the things that matter. The hon. Member for Cannock (Miss Lee)—incidentally, she does not know how fortunate she is but, under the redistribution, I am very nearlya constituent of hers in Cannock—
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
A good deal has been said about the psychological aspect. I am as sympathetic as any man with the miners and the mining industry, as I think hon. Members know, but I am not going to be sentimental about it. One hon. Member today said we must not criticise absenteeism, because a miner had to walk three miles to get to the coalface. But that is no reason for his not attending work. We really cannot use that kind of argument. The hon. Member for Cannock gave us a moving description of the fireside of the Cannock miner and his views about the men who went to Ascot. From my knowledge of the Cannock miner it did not sound in any way realistic. I was born perhaps as close to Cannock as was the hon. Lady. The Cannock miners go off to Dunstall Park whenever they get the opportunity and they always will. They do not criticise other people for getting their Tort in their own way.
Do not let us be sentimental. We must get down to the question of coal production. A great many figures have been quoted, but I think they are fairly simple. In 1937 the output per year per worker 1659 employed was 304 tons; in 1947 it was 263 tons—a drop of 14 per cent. I cannot understand why some hon. Members opposite spend so much time in saying how bad was the private enterprise system. The worse they make that out to be, the worse we are doing today. Let me repeat that we are 14 per cent. lower in output per man per year than in private enterprise before the war.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I am sorry, I cannot give way.
I should have thought the right line would be to pay tribute to the work done in those days and show how difficult it is to reach those figures now. That drop of 14 per cent.—which the Minister or somebody else will no doubt challenge—has taken place despite a very large increase in the amount of machinery which has been put into the pits. Let us face the fact that it is extremely dangerous and serious for this nation to find itself in this situation. Coal is the key to our problems. The 50 million people who live in this country have not come here by accident. They are here because in the middle of the era of the industrial revolution we happened to have vast quantities of this essential raw material here for the winning and some harbours from which we could export it and bring back more raw materials. If we fail to produce coal now, we shall cease to exist as a great nation or, indeed, perhaps at all.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I do not want to take up a lot of time, as other hon. Members will wish to speak. There are, however, three points with which I want to deal—on the technical side, on the organisation side, and about the price of coal. On the technical side I know as little about the practical problems of coalmining as does the Minister himself. We are both ignorant on that matter. I say that because other Members in the Committee who are not ignorant on it, have spoken in this Debate. What I can say about the technical side is this: In 1945 a report was prepared by Sir Charles Reid and certain colleagues who worked with him. They were the greatest experts 1660 who could be mustered at that time. Whatever may be said in the Debate today about Sir Charles Reid, at the time the report was produced it was welcomed on all sides of the House of Commons by all parties. In the Debate on the Second Reading of the Nationalisation Bill Minister after Minister rose from the Government Front Bench and claimed as the great benefit of the nationalisation scheme the fact that the Reid Report would be put into effect. That was the situation then, but what is it today? One thing is perfectly plain from Sir Charles Reid's resignation, and that is that there is little likelihood of his report being put into effect.
I take what is published for the world to read and that is the report in "The Times" at the time of Sir Charles Reid's resignation. This is what he said:I have resigned from the National Coal Board because I have no confidence either in it or in the organisation it has set up.Nothing could be franker than that.I accepted the invitation to join the board in the hope that I might be able to contribute to the carrying out of the recommendations of the Reid Report. These … met with general acceptance and … approval. I saw Mr. Shinwell … and expressed my deep concern about the way things were shaping. I told him that, speaking generally, management was unhappy, uncertain of its position and the extent of its authority.This state of affairs has continued and, indeed, has become worse.I have now come to the conclusion that without the most radical alteration from the Coal Board downwards, both in regard to type of control and personnel, the nationalisation of the mines will prove a disastrous failure.That was the view of the man whose report had been welcomed on all sides. It was that report which the whole House thought would be put through under the nationalisation scheme. Criticism like that cannot be brushed aside by the Minister as ill-informed, unfair and inspired by political motives. Sir Charles Reid was a man who had spent his life in the coal industry. His resignation from a State monopoly meant that his future in that industry was finished. There was no other part of it to which he could go. That was a big decision for him to take. So long as he was there I—and, I think, many other people—thought that although we might not see things working out very well, at least it looked as though the Reid Report was being implemented behind the scenes, although 1661 perhaps more slowly than we could have wished. Sir Charles Reid made a courageous decision and thereafter it became manifestly plain that the report was not being implemented.
If anybody suggests it was merely a whim on the part of one man, I had better point out that he is not the only man who has left. I understand that Mr. John Hunter, who was also a signatory to the report and was employed under the Board, has gone.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
Harry Watson Smith has gone; General Sir Alfred Godwin-Austin left the other day from my own area in South Wales. No fewer than five production engineers have gone—men who can help to raise coal on the scale required.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I am not talking about the miners. I would ask the hon. Member to listen for a moment and to realise this: It is all very well paying tribute to the miners. I have done it myself, and genuinely, but I hope he will recognise that in order to raise coal we need something besides labour. We want extremely fine production engineers. It is a very difficult and technical job. If the production engineers are not present in sufficient numbers no miners can do the job, certainly not with safety.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I am sorry, I cannot give way. I have been given a limited time in which to speak and am trying to make my speech in half the time. The hon. and gallant Member may have been in the same position himself from time to time.
My second point concerns organisation. I will not develop it very widely because it was put extremely well by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) and in a brilliant maiden speech by the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. McFarlane). My point is this: It has been suggested to the Minister that what should happen is that the Coal Board should take responsibility for broad questions of policy and that 1662 the question of dealing with administration should be decentralised down to the place were responsibility really lies. We have had a most equivocal answer so far upon that matter. It has been said, "Well, of course, it might be possible to devolve a little and make them less functional than they were."
Surely it was on that very issue of centralisation and doing away with functional responsibility of the central authority that Sir Charles Reid resigned. He puts it down as one of the principal things, and, according to his statement, he wrote a letter to the Minister arguing the need for de-centralisation. What is being done about that? Some committee is being appointed, but Sir Charles Reid said in his resignation statement that it was perfectly plain to him that it was not the independent inquiry for which he was asking. It was an inquiry to be presided over by the member of the Board.
Take the question of functional responsibility. Is it to be the case that a man somewhere in one of the regions can appeal direct to someone at the centre? That is the very system that this Government seems to love in nationalisation schemes. A man is put in charge of a regional division and others are allowed to go behind his back to appeal to the centre. That is what is happening in the railway industry and it is causing a great deal of confusion and bother. The Minister must have responsibility for a matter of that kind. He said today that it can be dealt with without legislation and is a matter which can be solved by consultation between him and the Board themselves. I think we in this Committee are entitled to a clear explanation of his attitude on the matter.
There is a certain amount of talk going on by which one would be led to believe that it does not matter what the price of coal is so long as some coal is produced. I do not share that view at all. I think price is vital in this question. I imagine that shortly, the report of the Coal Board will be produced and a loss of £20 million, or whatever it is, will be shown. I see that the Socialist Press is already preparing the public for that state of affairs. The "Tribune," which distinguished Members like the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. M. Foot) and the hon. Member 1663 for Reading (Mr. Mikardo) run, published an article which I believe was headed "Baldwin rides again?" in which they say:No task would be more hopeless and futile than to seek to justify Socialism by capitalist tests. The real task is to persuade the nation of the virtues of Socialism, and not, by failing to attempt this to pay homage to capitalism.Do not apply the standards of profit and loss to an industry, they suggest; let them make a loss—£20 million, £30 million, or £60 million, is referred to as something which is justifiable. I want to know the views of the Minister on that, because it seems a most dangerous attitude to adopt. After all, these mines are nationalised and our common concern is to make them run efficiently and apply to them the same standards as one would apply to private business. The danger of the situation is that wages can increase, hours can be reduced, and costs go up, and the consumer, at any rate at home, has to pay. The losses are also to be paid for by consumers by the price being put up, or as taxpayers. I think the Minister's explanation on that was a little naive. The idea that nationalised industries could go on making losses on an enormous scale and borrow money from the banks or anywhere else without creating conditions in which some amount of money had to be mopped up was fantastic. There could not be such losses without some budgetary method being taken to deal with them. I am surprised at the Minister, who is more up to date in his ideas than one would be led to suppose by the answer he gave on that matter.
It seems to me there is no justification for anyone thinking that the recommendations of the Reid Report are being put into effect. None whatever. I see no evidence whatever, either that the necessary decentralisation has taken place, or that a sufficiently independent committee is being set up to examine this matter. On the question of price, to some extent in this Debate, and to a considerable extent in the Socialist Press, there is a great deal of loose talk, as though price does not matter. We think price matters a great deal. It affects the price of every export we make and we cannot expect to hold the markets in Europe and the rest of the world on the prices charged for coal 1664 at the present time. Those are the questions I wish to put before the Minister, and I hope he will make some reply later in the Debate.
§ 8.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Hubbard (Kirkcaldy)
I have listened very carefully to most of the Debate today and, as such Debates usually develop, it has been confined almost entirely to criticism. The coal industry is the most important industry in this country. So much is dependent on it that we ought not to object to criticism, but the type of criticism we have had today has not in any way suggested an alternative, or a solution. That being so, it ceases to be criticism and becomes simply nagging. In my opinion, there has been far too much nagging going on since the nationalisation of this industry—nagging which can only cause disquiet in the minds of those engaged in the industry.
When one says that there ought to be more production in the coalmines than there is at the moment, no matter on whom blame is placed, in the final analysis it simply means that the miners are not producing sufficient coal. It is true that this is an industry where, unlike most industries, it is impossible to see the men at their work, and to see whether they are indeed working hard enough. On the other hand, although it is such an industry, I do not think any other industry is so much subjected to criticism. Every Tom, Dick and Harry, even though he may never have seen a pithead, seems to think he is qualified to pass some criticism or other on the lack of more steady increase in coal production. I do not think this serves any purpose at all.
Everyone in the Committee agrees that we must get more coal. Coal has always been of great importance to exports. So far as I remember, 12 per cent. of the total exports of this country before the war were made up from coal and we were producing large quantities at that time. Today it is true that 19 out of every 20 industries in this country are dependent to some extent on coal. I agree that we must have some regard also to the price of coal. But there are two prices for coal; one the price at which it is sold and the other the price at which it is won. In my opinion, coal under private enterprise was far too cheap and that is one of the reasons why today it appears 1665 to be far too dear. Under vested interests the main idea appeared to be to get coal where it was most easily won and to get rid of it as easily as one could, and all that was needed was a margin of profit.
It seems to have been forgotten completely that at the beginning of the war normal development work in the coalmines had ceased entirely. Coal companies received compensation from the Government for the discontinuation of development. They were paid so much because they did not develop coal seams. If there is no preparatory work for seven or eight years, it is obvious that the working of some seams will be less profitable. The older type of miner, in addition to producing coal, is having to do the development work which should have been done earlier. We have to put these matters in their proper relationship.
We can talk in any academic terms we choose, we can blame the Coal Board, we can blame or give credit to Sir Charles Reid, but when the matter is boiled down and in the final analysis, if we are to get more coal it is the miners who will have to produce it. I agree that we need engineers, we need all these people, but it is the miner himself who produces the coal, and if he fails, this country will continue to be in a mess which may even get worse. But the responsibility for the future economic condition of this country does not rest only with the miners—it should not do so. It should not rest upon whether he is able to produce more coal per shift. The proportion of men who are coalface workers underground is a small percentage of the number of men who work underground. The fact is that the coal is receding from the bottom of the pit shaft and a higher proportion of men is required to convey it from the coalface after it has been won. People must take all these things into consideration.
I appeal to those who are bound to be badly informed, who cannot have any idea of the actual operation of the industry underground, to hold their peace about the matter, because the miners of this country are getting rather fed up with this continual nagging. They are doing their best under difficult circumstances. It is true that there is a certain percentage of absenteeism. None of us condones that. We regret it more than ever because 1666 of the necessity for getting every pound of coal we can. There are some mistakes so far as the nationalised industry is concerned. I, as a miner, believed in the past that under nationalisation I would have to work less hard than I used to do. Mining has always been a laborious and uncongenial kind of job, and we had hoped that we would have a less hard task under nationalisation when we went down below. Since we have nationalised the coalmines, we have asked the miners to work harder and they have done it. We should pay proper regard to that.
There is a certain stage beyond which they cannot be driven to work harder. They are putting forward a particularly good effort at the present time, but it is worth repeating that there will come a time when the miners and their leaders will feel that in sheer self-defence they have to strike back. In a Debate of this kind, while we should welcome criticism, we could at least have expected those who sit on the opposite side of the Committee, some of whom have represented the coal-owners in the past and have done a very good job so far as the coalowners are concerned, to put on the brake. No hon. Member opposite has said during this Debate, as we might have expected, "If you had not nationalised this industry we would be producing more coal today." Nobody on the other side dare say that. They know it is not true. If they wish to speak truthfully they are bound to recognise that the correct statement would be "Notwithstanding the fact that coal production is not as high as it might be, it is far higher than it would have been had we not nationalised the industry."
The very working conditions in the coalmines before the war were responsible for an annual wastage of about 40,000 men. That is one of the adverse factors with which we have had to deal. We have had to make the industry attractive to the men since the industry was nationalised. Men cannot be compulsorily directed to coalmining. The only alternative to direction is attraction, so why grumble about better conditions? It is better to give the miners a five-day week and attract them to the mines to get the coal, rather than to say, as has been suggested, that they should work a six-day week or longer hours or do without holidays. If that is to be the approach, we shall not get miners, and 1667 then, even if we have 600 Sir Charles Reids, we cannot get the coal.
If this Debate is to serve a good purpose and if the main idea is to get more coal, recognising that 19 out of 20 industries must have it, there should go out a message to our miners. Let us condemn the absenteeism, but do not let us forget to congratulate those who are not absentees. With that approach we would find a new atmosphere in the coalmines. I do not know whether the Minister, the Coal Board or the men have considered this point. When we speak in terms of absenteeism we should remember that if one works in an office or a factory and arrives 10 minutes late, one can do one's day's work, but that if one is 10 minutes late in a mine one is an absentee for the rest of the shift. Stated in those terms, absenteeism takes on rather a new look.
The average miner in most parts of this country has to rise at 4.30 a.m. in the morning. In order that he may enjoy a normal eight hours sleep, he should be asleep before 9 p.m. We should try to develop a new atmosphere in the mines. Why cannot the mines start at eight o'clock instead of at five or six o'clock in the morning? That is a more reasonable hour and it is only a matter of facing up to something that is new. We have got into the habit of going to work far too early. It is quite easy to turn over at 4.30 a.m. and have another sleep. That would not be so likely, if the men started work at the same time as do factory workers. It is only a question of getting down to what are the right hours. The job in hand at the moment is to see whether there is any way by which we can attract still more men to the mines—in what way we can best help production. I am satisfied that mere unconstructive criticism which amounts to nagging will in no way assist what we are all anxious to bring about—the increased production of coal.
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Roberts (Sheffield, Ecclesall)
Having listened to this Debate with a great deal of attention, I consider that we are now coming to a very important stage in the process of nationalisation. It seems clear that signs are now appearing that all is not well with the 1668 system. It is a question of whether right hon. and hon. Members opposite are prepared to look for these signs of collapse in all sincerity, or whether they are prepared to carry on their old propaganda and hark back to the past, relying on the theory of Socialism to carry them through. If the latter is so, then I am frightened about the future.
A production industry such as the winning of coal is not a fit subject for nationalisation. It is not the same as running a post office or even a railway. When we are battling with mining problems quick decisions and responsibility at a low level are needed. I am not at all satisfied that the present form of nationalisation is attaining that end. The main constructive arguments for the nationalisation of the coal industry, as put by hon. Members opposite at the last election were the need for central administration; to get greater efficiency; the pooling of certain tasks, and, by cutting out over-lapping, the reduction of costs. Further they claimed that the men would work better under nationalisation and finally that nationalisation would be able to give better service to the consumer. It was those arguments that attracted the electorate two years ago. I feel that at the moment in practically every case, things are going wrong. The tide seems to be drifting away. It is the job of hon. Members opposite, particularly those who represent mining unions and constituencies, to be able to appreciate what is happening, in order to use their efforts to meet it. If they continue to look back on the old arguments of the past, things will become very difficult.
With regard to the question of greater efficiency in administration, I do not propose to go over the arguments we have heard of the decentralisation of the executive, the over-lapping of orders, red tape, and so on. Let me content myself by giving one example, that of conveyer belting, which we have heard something about recently. Two million feet of belting was ordered from America, and the cost of this represented practically half the petrol saving last winter. This belting is not now required. Yet the Coal Board, less than four months before, had said that in this country we would not be able to produce enough belting to supply their needs, and so demanded this extra purchase. Those are 1669 things which tend to disquiet one. Regarding the increased cost of production, let me say that I do not think we begrudge the amount of extra money spent in wages and salaries. I think that extra payment is necessary.
What I want to bring to the attention of the Committee is the extra amount of money that has gone in administrative and other costs. I take the Yorkshire area alone. I have had some experience in the Yorkshire coalfields. Comparing the third quarter of 1946 and the third quarter of 1947, leaving out wages, roof repairs and so on, the other costs have gone up by 3s. in Yorkshire. These are the figures published in reports that we have. The Minister gave slightly different figures which I tried to check. I hope he will either use the figures in the reports which we have, or give some explanation of why he has gone away from them. This works out that in Yorkshire alone £5 million extra has been spent. In the country as a whole, when the difference is only 2s. 6d. a ton, the extra cost amounts to £25 million. This leaves out the question of all the reforms instituted for the miners. It is purely a question of administration. If it is not regarded by the Minister as a red light, I am afraid nothing will be. It is important that we should realise that this form of centralisation has not given us the reduction in costs for which we hoped.
On the question whether the men work better, hon. Members opposite may have their fingers on these matters better than I have, but again the figures are disturbing. Absenteeism has gone down from 15 per cent. to 11 per cent. That is good, so far as it goes, but 11 per cent. is extremely high when one remembers that before the war it was only about 7 per cent. I am frightened that it will go up again this Summer. That, again, is a dangerous sign that the men, after their first exultation on taking over the mines, are now letting their efforts fall back. It seems that that argument also applies with regard to recruitment. In the first year after nationalisation, there was an increase of nearly 20,000 men. I am afraid that this year we shall have a decrease of about 3,000. Again, that is another red light. I hope hon. Members opposite, particularly the Minister, will watch things very carefully.
§ Mr. Daggar (Abertillery)
The hon. Member is very concerned about absenteeism and other things. May I ask him this question? Does he, in the figures which he has given with regard to absenteeism, include unavoidable absenteeism, or does he separate unavoidable absenteeism from avoidable absenteeism? If he cannot do that, his figures are no good.
§ Mr. Roberts
Those are figures given by the Ministry, and they always say they find it difficult to differentiate. I think we may say that these are men who have not a doctor's certificate. I think that the Minister will agree that, although there was an increase of 20,000 men last year, there may be a decrease of something like 3,000 this year. I had got to the question of better public service when I was interrupted. In the Sheffield electricity undertaking, in quantities of slack amounting to over half a million tons, which is no small amount, the moisture went up recently by two per cent. and the ash has gone up by nearly four per cent. in this time. But in point of fact taking this increase in ash and moisture in coal over the whole annual production, the extra amount of non-coal substance is 16 million tons.
The final point I wish to make is that the production of these mines must be centralised at the lowest level and the lowest level is the pit. We must give to the men a sense of belonging to a pit. Let us have pit accounts. Hon. Members opposite say that they do not get constructive suggestions from this side of the Committee. The hon. and gallant Member for Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) has given many constructive suggestions. Here is another. Let the men see what is happening to the costing in their own pits. If they show a profit, let them share in that profit. There is no sense of belonging to a division or an area. Men do not understand that. The smaller the unit, the better the resultant feeling will be. It is only in that way that we shall be able to get out of our troubles. It is only by having some form of direct ownership by those engaged in the pits—a conception of a property-owning democracy, if you will—that we shall be able to see an end to the difficulties before us in this troubled industry. Let us take stock before it is too late.
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Pryde (Midlothian and Peebles, Southern)
Like the Scottish miners I represent, and in deference to your appeal, Mr. Beaumont, I will work fast. To the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) I again extend my most sincere sympathy, as I did a year ago. He was certainly batting on a very sticky wicket. The hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. McFarlane) asked what private enterprise did for the coalmining industry. Briefly, private enterprise absolutely ruined the industry in this country. The hon. Member need only to go to the neighbouring county of Lanarkshire, still our greatest output county in Scotland, and he will see the result of the failure of private enterprise in the coalfields.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite asked in this House last week why it was that we could not get the same output of coal that we had in 1913. The reason is that in that year there were 3,121 collieries in operation; in 1925 the number had dropped to 2,715, and in 1943 it had dropped to 1,782. Last year the National Coal Board took over 1,500 collieries from 800 different concerns. They also took over a million acres of land and 100,000 so-called houses which, in my opinion, were not houses but rabbit hutches. They took over at all too short notice, and since then they have performed a meritorious task. The Minister is expected at a certain colliery in the Lothians on Saturday. I can tell him that the "bush telegraph" has been in operation. He is fully expected at a colliery which shall be nameless but which locally is called the old pit. That is a colliery which is under the management of the sons of miners born and bred in the Lothian coalfields. That colliery has been bursting the target month after month.
I want the Minister to note that the wages of Scottish miners today are over 3s. per shift lower than those paid in the rest of the British coalfields. As late as September of last year the coal worker at the face in Scotland was paid 9s. 3d. per shift less than his fellow in Northumberland, 6s. 8d. less than his fellow in Durham and 4s. 6d. less than the average for British coalfields. I want the Minister to see that in the new agreement the Scottish miner is better rewarded 1672 for winning the Mitchell Hedges trophy, the presentation of which I attended when Sir Charles Reid made a certain speech. I regret that speech, as I am sure the country regrets it. We require all the brains of the country to reconstruct this industry which private enterprise has ruined.
The Minister may stand with his back to the East at the old pit on Saturday and he may look across to the West to the Pentland Hills. Half way across, he will see the colliery which, in the first world war, held the record for Britain, Polton Colliery, now a silent witness to the failure of private enterprise. Further to the West, he will see the depot of the famous Royal Scots, Glencorse, and from there, if he gets his mining engineers to work, he will be able to drive a great adit to the East and another adit to the West and penetrate all the 45 Lothian seams without sinking straight shafts, because straight shafts will not solve the immediate problem in this country. The great Victoria Colliery took four years to sink, and any new colliery sunk in Scotland has to penetrate the densest volume of stone in Britain. So I suggest to the Minister that a little more local knowledge should be utilised in regard to mining operations in Scotland. If, in addition to that, he takes the advice that I gave him a year ago, and offers more inducements to men to go into the mining industry, we shall get back again to that position which we held in 1913, 1914, 1915 and 1916 as the premier area in coal production in Scotland.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Major Sir David Maxwell Fyfe (Liverpool, West Derby)
I hope the hon. Member for South Midlothian (Mr. Pryde) will forgive me if I do not follow him on the special position of the Scottish coalfields, although I have been delighted to hear his description of my native country and my native county. It is my anxiety to come to the broad question which, although approached from different angles, has stirred us and rather worried us on this matter. That broad question is this: Realising that coal is the foundation, not only of our export trade but of the ability of other industries to produce what is necessary both for export and home consumption, are we managing—because it is all our responsibility now—are we managing the industry and have we got the right set-up, and, if not, what can we do to 1673 improve it? That is the approach, although we see it through different coloured spectacles.
I put to the Minister and to the hon. Gentleman who will reply, the tests which I suggest, and I hope they will approve of them, even if they do not approve of the answers which I make. I take, first, production. I am quite prepared to look at it from the three points of view, all of which have been mentioned by hon. Gentlemen opposite, of total production, individual output and absenteeism as it exists at the present time. I take as my second point recruitment, and I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that that is a most important matter during the ensuing months.
I then take costs and prices, because we cannot, as an exporting country, ignore a vital factor in the costs of the exports which we must turn out if we are to have the food to keep up our standard of living and the raw materials with which to keep our people at work. No exporting country can ignore costs and prices, and I, therefore, venture to put them before the Committee. I do so in a very minor way, but we ought not to ignore them. There are also the questions of quality and of stocks—on which there is one point I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to explain to us—and also the broad question of morale at the present time. I hope hon. Members will think these are fair methods of approach. Let us consider where they lead us.
A number of my hon. Friends made the point of total production, and mentioned—as is natural; it always comes out in these arguments—the year 1941, the last year of private ownership, with its 206 million tons of deep-mined coal. The right hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) said, "Well, look at the wage conditions at that time." As a matter of interest I did so, happening to have the figures beside me, and I find that between 1940 and 1941 the proceeds on coal rose by 3s. 8d. a ton, and the wages rose in that same period by 2s. 4d.—a higher percentage increase on the proceeds than last year, if I understood the right hon. Gentleman's figures correctly. So I do not think that is the explanation. We still have to hear an explanation for that overall production figure.
I do not want to go over twice-told tales, but I have gone through the age 1674 groups as carefully as I can and corn-pared them over the years, and there is really very little distinction. I am not trying to make an unfair point, nor shall I weary hon. Gentlemen with the exact figures; but I have gone through them very carefully, and there is a difference of only 2 per cent., or thereabouts, in a group. The mechanisation has increased, so that we are left with the difficulty—and we put it as such because, believe me, it is a difficulty about which everyone in the country is thinking at the present time—of the difference in the number of tons per man-year obtained in the year 1940–41 as opposed to the present day.
However, I do not want to shirk the points which the Minister made. He brought my right hon. Friend back from the man-year position to the man-shift position. In my profession we tell an old story thus: "There are three kinds of liars; liars, damned liars and expert witnesses"—not statisticians, which is the other form. To remodel my language in Parliamentary form, I would say that I thought the Minister's use of the figures this afternoon was not far this side of disingenuousness. To stir his own and his supporters enthusiasm on an O.M.S. rise of three-quarters of a cwt. by calling it an increase of 3 per cent., is, in the present position of this industry, to juggle with figures and not to realise the seriousness of the position. He knows as well as I do that he can get quarter of a cwt.; I am not disputing the exact figures he gave—
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
—but he also knows that if he goes through the pre-war figures he will find a steady rise of approximately half a cwt. each year from 1930 to 1936.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
If he denies it he can look at the O.M.S. figures I have worked them all out. It may be a little under half a cwt., or it may be a little more, but it is a steady rise of about half a cwt. O.M.S. between 1930 and 1936. Would the right hon. Gentleman like me to give the detailed figures?
§ Mr. Gaitskell
Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman will give the percentage change, which is what is really relevant here.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
The right hon. Gentleman seems to be in a little doubt about the amount. I hope he will not hold it against me if I make a mistake in giving the figures because it is a little difficult to see in this light. The figure for 1930–31 is .43, and for the succeeding years the figures are 35, 49, 48, and 40. But in 1946 the figure is reduced to 18.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman deny that in only one of those pair of years was the percentage increased even as much as 3 per cent.?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
The right hon. Gentleman is of course fighting a shadow I am not putting in front of him. To take a percentage on a minute matter like half a cwt. or three-quarters of a cwt is a misuse of figures. The point we have to realise is that what he makes so much fuss about is only an increase of three-quarters of a cwt, on the overall O.M.S., and that is not a matter for the Minister of Fuel and Power or anyone else to plume himself on today.
I will take another point which the right hon. Gentleman has not mentioned and would not mention, and that is the coalface O.M.S. Not only did Sir Charles Reid point out on the date of his resignation that the coal face O.M.S. was lower at that time than in 1938, but the right hon. Gentleman knows that if we take the four years before the war we had an O.M.S. of 60.4, which in 1941 was 59.8 and in 1947 was 57. How can the right hon. Gentleman show that complacency and self-satisfaction as he did this afternoon, when we have had, as he knows, a very high increase in mechanisation? In the last 17 years coal-cutting mechanisation has increased from 35 per cent. to 75 per cent., and coal-conveying mechanisation from 17 per cent. to 75 per cent. The right hon. Gentleman is satisfied and gave us an exhibition of satisfaction this afternoon when we are dealing with a coalface O.M.S. that is over three cwt. below the average of the five years before the war.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman will tell the Committee what the change in O.M.S. at the face was between 1937 and 1945, and the corresponding increase in mechanisation. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] It would be very interesting and relevant.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I happen only to know how far mechanisation increased between 1937 and 1945 in the case of Lancashire, because I have special knowledge of that. In Lancashire the graph of increased mechanisation is almost steady from 1930 up to 1945. Whether it differs in other coalfields I do not know. The proportionate rise for Great Britain as a whole is slightly lower than in Lancashire, but very much on the same line. I have not the complete information with which to answer the right hon. Gentleman's second point, but I hope he will take his gruel with as little restlessness as he can, as I have little time left to me—
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I do not want the right hon. and learned Gentleman to mislead the Committee. If he does not know the figures I will tell him what they are. There was a steady increase in face mechanisation during those years; there was a decline in O.M.S., at the face, of about 10 per cent. which has been regained since 1945.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I think the right hon. Gentleman will find that he has put the figure a little high, although I agree that there was an increase in face O.M.S. about 1936, and a decline in the war years, some of which, but nothing like all of which—and that was my point—has been recovered.
I will put the point in another way, to which I do not think the Minister can object. Let me consider it from what I think is the best test, namely, the number of tons produced per mine worker per week. That takes account of all factors, including output per shift, the number of shifts, absenteeism and holidays. Taking the years 1936 to 1939, the average of the four years before the war was 5.87; for 1937, it was 6.06; for 1946, it was 4.98 and for 1947 it was 5 per cent. I take the year 1937, because the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that if we take the extra ton per week between 1937 and 1947, and multiply that by 52 weeks and by the number of men employed in the industry, we get the figure of 37 million tons. The right hon. Gentleman chided Sir Charles Reid for asking for between three-quarters and four-fifths of that return to be made. I have considered this matter from every point of view from which it is usually considered, and I say that for the right hon. Gentleman to come 1677 to this Committee and not make the slightest effort, or beginning of an effort, to explain why we have not recovered the pre-war position is shadow boxing with something that demands far sterner fighting.
I thought the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Mr. Hubbard) put the position about absenteeism very well. He explained that he himself was doing his best to combat it. While we on our side realise the difficulty the men are in, these are the facts: the pre-war average, from 1935 to 1939 was 6.56 per cent. Conditions from 1935 to 1939 in the Lancashire pits—as the hon. Member for Ince knows—were not easy. I do not know as much as he knows, but I am sure he will agree that I have a certain amount of knowledge of the matter. I agree that there has been an improvement but the figure for the last three years, 1946 to 1948, as far as we have gone, is 13.9. I hasten to add, because I do not want the right hon. Gentleman to think that I am misrepresenting any figure, that 1948 has improved and the figure is 11⅓ if my information is right. That is twice as much as it was before the war, and, therefore, this is a problem with which we must deal. Again, we must have an answer. I will not deal with the position at the face. I have not been able to find the figures for absenteeism at the face for pre-war years, but I do not want anyone to think that I am missing any point by not mentioning that matter.
In regard to recruitment, the position is that the target for 1948 is 750,000. On 1st January we had 718,000 and on 5th June 724,000. I quite agree that one has not to forget about wastage, but the increase of 6,000 in 23 weeks or 278 instead of 615 per week will not give us the figures which have been stated in the Economic Survey and which are counted on by the Government. The Government made an error last year with regard to coal and were out 40 per cent. in their estimate of what would happen in the year. It looks as if they are going to make an even greater error this year. If recruitment is important, as hon. Members on all sides of the Committee have said, then why did not the right hon. Gentleman tell us why that recruitment has fallen so far short of what he expects? Is he counting of foreign workers? Is it by using E.V.W.s and Poles that he hopes 1678 to get that figure? Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us, because it is of vital consideration to the health of the industry.
We come now to costs and prices. There again I ask hon Members on the other side of the Committee to remember that the Secretary of State for War said at Bournemouth in 1946:There is no doubt about the success of the financial side. We have seen to that. I am assured from a study of this problem and because of the advice that I have received that nationalisation will be a success and indeed it must be.The right hon. Gentleman told us that there had been a rise from 1946 to the third quarter in 1947 in costs and proceeds. I made it out at 7s., which was slightly different from the estimate of the right hon. Gentleman, but that was probably because he took slightly different comparisons. There are only a few pence in it, but the interesting point I want hon. Members from the coalfields to have in mind, because it is important in fairness to the miners, is that costs have risen 19 per cent. while wages have risen only 9 per cent.—from 25s. 5d. to 27s. 8d. per ton during the same period.
I cannot myself understand the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman, in which some shillings are airily brushed aside on some matter connected with 5s. a week and in that way it is brought down a few pence. I cannot see why there should be this enormous rise in costs if it does not go on wages. As the right hon. Gentleman had to admit, there had been flat rate increases and the result was that the proportionate increase of the lower valued types of coal has been enormous, and he said that is a matter which is now receiving consideration. It is a matter which ought to have received stringent consideration at least 15 months ago.
With regard to losses, the right hon. Gentleman told us there was a loss of slightly over £7 million on the balance of the three quarters of 1947. That omitted the interest charge for the same period, which would be £9.75 million, which would bring up the loss to £16.9 million, from which one would have to deduct the profit on other operations of some £2,250,000, making a loss for that period of about £14 million.
I have a very short time remaining and I am not going to deal with the 1679 quality of stocks because I want to come straight away to the question of administration. On the vesting day the Prime Minister said that the National Coal Board was a fine team going in to bat on a sticky wicket, but he believed it would score a great many sixes. It is only about three years since the publication of the famous Reid Report which was, as has been said in this Debate, universally acclaimed as the quintessence of technical experience, diagnosis and prescription. Of the seven eminent mining engineers who signed that unanimous report, five joined the National Coal Board, and of those, no fewer than three have resigned—Sir Charles Reid, Mr. Hunter and Mr. Watson Smith. Since the Prime Minister spoke those words, members of the Board and a number of the principal officials have been hitting their wickets instead of sixes, running themselves out or retiring hurt.
What are the points which Sir Charles Reid made? He said that he put it to the Secretary of State for War in March, 1947, that the management was unhappy and uncertain of its position and the extent of its authority. That position has not only got worse, but, as Sir Charles said, some of our best mining engineers who can ill be spared have resigned. It did not stop there. On 6th November, 1947, nearly eight months ago, he wrote to Lord Hyndley and said:I do not believe that the present cumbersome and uninspired organisation will produce for the country the coal it needs. … It will not accomplish the vital technical reorganization. … It cannot give confident and effective leadership.Then—this is the point upon which the Committee wants an answer from the hon. Gentleman—Sir Charles stated that he had then—last November—put forward proposals for the complete decentralisation. The right hon. Gentleman did not mention what those proposals were and did not attempt to deal with the problem of decentralisation in his speech. The Board have made an answer even if the right hon. Gentleman has not thought fit to take up the cudgels. Let us see what the Board said:the Board as a whole have often been unable to share his views on the extent to which it is practicable or desirable to retain certain features of the organisation which existed under multiple private ownership but they have always given full consideration to his views.1680 If it is the view of the National Coal Board that decentralisation of a nationalised industry is an unfortunate feature analogous to private enterprise, then it is time that everyone concerned with nationalised industries thought again.
Decentralisation is not a weakness. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) put in terms of great moderation and with deep consideration of the problems how he desired—and I am sure many people irrespective of party desire—that the power of decentralisation should be focussed on the producing point. If the Parliamentary Secretary can tell us how area managers are to be freed for production, and how that is to be done without decentralisation, then even the ingenuity for which he is now famous since his performance in the Gas Bill will be something more than I could ever imagine.
As the hon. Gentleman will realise, I should have liked to develop these points a litle more, but I want to give him time to reply. I have said many times in this House, and sometimes with the approval of hon. Gentlemen opposite who disagree with me profoundly on nationalisation, that there are three things that must be done if we are to make nationalisation workable. We must have a system by which we secure self-supporting finance, we must have a system for an efficiency audit, and we must have a true consumers' check. As I say, these were largely accepted by hon. Members in every part of the Committee. I say that when we have considered all these facets of the industry—production, recruitment, costs, prices—it will be found that with this failure to advance, this absolute refusal to consider the pre-war standards as being attainable or approachable, it is time for the efficiency audit to be applied. I am not saying anything against the gentlemen who are on this internal Committee, but I do say that it wants something far more drastic than that if we are to secure that this industry, providing the life blood of our country, keeps its heart pulsating during these succeeding difficult and dangerous years.
In due course if the hon. Gentleman will agree to give me the time, I shall move the reduction of the Vote. I do not move it now, simply because I do not want to narrow the Debate.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power (Mr. Robens)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) will appreciate it, I know, if I do not follow him in all his arguments, and reply in great detail to all that he has said. Obviously, it would require the whole of the time I now have to deal with his single speech, but I undertake to pick up the general tenor of his remarks along with many that have been made by other hon. Gentlemen while we have been here in Committee.
However, I would say in passing, because I think it is important, that when the right hon. and learned Gentleman challenged my right hon. Friend with not having said a word about the proposals made by Sir Charles Reid, he should really know the facts—that no proposals were made by Sir Charles Reid to my right hon. Friend. My right hon. Friend is entirely unaware of the proposals which Sir Charles Reid put forward. Those proposals, I have no doubt, would have been put to the Coal Board. It is the job of the Coal Board to discuss those and to deal with them, and hon. Gentlemen opposite who are continuing challenging the Government with interference are now appealing to us from those benches to do precisely the things about which they complain.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked that we should say something about manpower. I shall have to be brief about it and put it into as few words as I can. Briefly, at the beginning of 1948, the manpower position stood at about 718,000, and the National Coal Board felt that they could usefully use, by the end of the year, another 30,000, making a round figure of 750,000. On past experience, and having regard to the loss of time-expired "Bevin boys," it seemed unlikely that the wastage during the year would fall short of some 70,000. In order to get the net increase of 30,000, therefore, the task has been to recruit 100,000 men and boys into the industry. We took stock and made an estimate of the British sources of recruitment. By and large we assumed that these sources would offset the wastage of about 30,000 and that men would be returning from the Forces. The increase could only really be made possible by the recruitment of foreign 1682 workers. When I refer to the figure of 30,000, I am taking the five months of this year, because they are the only figures about which we can talk.
The actual British recruitment was 32,000, which met the estimate; wastage and British recruitment fairly well balanced each other. But we have not been able to make the fullest recruitment; in fact, there is a deficiency of something like 8,000 in recruitment from European voluntary workers and Poles. There is a great problem in this respect. Many of these people not only cannot read or write English, but are unable to read or write their own language. That means we have all the problems of teaching them the language, technical training and preliminary training, and pit room has to be found. While the National Union of Mineworkers and the Coal Board have agreed nationally on the acceptance of these workers, it is conditional upon the agreement of local lodges. All these cricumstances have caused this short-fall in the recruitment of European voluntary workers. While I have not time to go fully into the story, that briefly explains the short-fall in the target for the full manpower position. It is both heartening and brightening that British recruits are coming into the industry high above the target figures, for this industry must never rely upon building up its manpower with foreign workers. That is merely an expedient. We want British men and boys to come into the pits so that we can build them up with British labour.
If I do not deal with the points made by every hon. Member, it is because I am dealing broadly with the general picture. The hon. Member for Cam lachie (Mr. McFarlane), in a pleasant and admirable maiden speech, upon which I also congratulate him, really set the ball rolling. He was followed by subsequent speakers, from whom we were almost treated—I say this not of him, but of the subsequent speakers—to Second Reading speeches on nationalisation versus private enterprise. That will always be a difference of opinion between hon. Members opposite and ourselves. But there can be no question on this side of the Committee that, whether or not private enterprise could have faithfully implemented the Reid Report, we are satisfied that, without nationalisation, the question would have been not of 1683 reaching the high target set by my right hon. Friend, but of producing any coal at all in many of the coalfields of this country. [An HON. MEMBER: "Propaganda."] The hon. Member calls it propaganda, but he does not face the facts of the situation. Without nationalisation there would have been a greater disaster than in that very bad winter crisis when the country went short of coal.
There has been considerable discussion and criticism of the central authority of the National Coal Board. I am not quoting from Sir Charles Reid's Report, but I have it clearly in my mind that it said that the establishment of a strong central authority with adequate powers to supervise and stimulate plans for technical reorganisation was a cardinal necessity. The National Coal Board is indeed that central authority, and it is sheer nonsense to say that every single item and every single problem that arises in the division has to go all the way back to the National Coal Board to be decided at top level. In point of fact, divisional boards are entitled, by arrangements made by the National Coal Board, to spend up to £100,000 on any project without reference to the National Coal Board itself.
I am tempted to think that there are many people, perhaps some in the industry, who are inclined to pass the ball back because of deficiencies—perhaps in their own areas—to the National Coal Board and to blame them for things for which they themselves ought to accept responsibility. Anyone who goes round the coalfields and talks to men and managers will come away with that impression. I believe that with the nationalisation of the industry and under the National Coal Board we now have the right atmosphere to implement Sir Charles Reid's Report. There is no money obstacle, the scarce engineering skill can now be properly spread, and there is a very much better psychological atmosphere. We have the assurance that the shortsighted views of the owners, referred to in the Reid Report, no longer prevail. We are getting a steady improvement in production.
Referring once again to something which the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby said, I get a little sick and tired of absenteeism being thrown in 1684 the face of the miner. He is the only worker in this country who has that thrown in his face. Why is that? It is because in mining more statistics are available than in any other industry in the country. It would be a most interesting thing—[Laughter]—Hon. Members seem to enjoy the joke about absenteeism, but it would be an interesting thing to see their attendance records in this House.
§ Mr. Robens
If a miner slept at the coalface, as the hon. and gallant Member for New Forest and Christchurch (Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre) is now sleeping—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—do not cheer too loudly or he will be disturbed—he would probably find himself the subject of criticism by hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. Robens
The fact is that the absentee problem is slowly solving itself. It is not helped by some of the most objectionable things said by hon. Members opposite. This is a very tempting subject to pursue, but time is short and there are many other points with which I have to deal. I know that hon. Members opposite would not like me to pursue it because they do not like this.
The hon. Member for Wavertree (Mr. Raikes), and one or two other Members who followed him on this matter, made a comparison with the output in 1941, which they described as the last year of private ownership. It was nothing of the kind. All that happened was that there was some control, but by and large the pits and the industry were run by the same people in precisely the same way as before, except for the overall control necessitated by the war.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
Surely the hon. Gentleman knows that the Coal (Charges) Order applied from 1942 onwards and the prices were then fixed by the Government, first one way and then the other?
§ Mr. Robens
I am discussing not prices but production. If we had not had the Coal Charges Account it is quite likely that the whole of South Wales would have closed down. What was needed during the war was coal, and the price position 1685 did not enter into that technical production position, which was still not controlled. I will take 1941. From that year, when the output per man-year was 295 tons, right down to 1945, when the Labour Government came to power, there was a steady decline in production, which dropped to 246 tons per man-year over those four years. From the moment the Labour Government was elected, production began to rise. [Interruption.] The facts are completely undeniable, but while they are undeniable they are most unpalatable to Members opposite.
The rise began with the advent of the Labour Government, and the figure today is about 262 tons. Hon. Members opposite expect, of course, that that four years decline can be immediately recovered in 18 months of public ownership. The facts are that all the evidence in relation to output per man-year, absenteeism, total production, etc., shows that the steady improvement since Labour took over, since national ownership took over, is going on and is proving the success which we said at the time public ownership would prove.
Let me turn briefly to the problem of quality which has been raised. I say once again, as I have said at this Box previously, speaking on an Adjournment Motion, that we do not for a moment claim that the quality of the coal produced today is better than it was in the past; but we do say that washing, cleaning and screening facilities have not kept pace with mechanisation underground. The country will have to make up its mind whether it wants a lot of coal with a little dirt or little coal with no dirt at all. The answer is that we have to get as much coal as we possibly can. We have to clean it to the best of our ability, and we do so; and indeed, even as regards quality, it will not be for much longer that Members opposite, who seem to enjoy the fact that British coal at this stage is dirtier than it used to be, will be able to enjoy that, because already there is a steady improvement in quality. I expected someone to say that it was not so, but I would remind the Committee that the former Central Electricity Board themselves reported that losses of efficiency due to inferior coal had fallen, and that there was that steady improvement.
§ Mr. Robens
I should be glad to give way, but it is simply impossible if I am to deal with all the matters which have been raised. I have had to cut very much out of my speech already.
§ Mr. Robens
I should not run away from the hon. Member at any time. My hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown), whom everyone in the Committee listened to with great respect, for his long association with the coal industry and for the very sincere, and, as it appeared to me, very moving way in which he dealt with the matter, was the only person, while I have been in the Chamber, who really got down to the great fundamental fact of this coal position—that is the human factor, the men in the pit. He was the only one who talked about health and safety. We can have all the mechanisation, all the new capital poured into the industry and all the reorganisation and re-equipment, but until we get men to go down in the pit to work, the machines will not produce an ounce of coal.
Therefore, there must be some consideration given to the very great change in the treatment of the men in the pit. There must be some credit given to my right hon. Friend, as the Minister responsible, and to the Coal Board, and to the National Union of Mineworkers. They have all worked together to provide safer and better mines and to give greater opportunities to the young miner through education and training. They have done more in the last 12 months than was done in a couple of decades before under private enterprise. It is only if we can recruit on the basis of opportunity for young British boys that we shall maintain the manpower that is absolutely essential in this industry.
There is a great deal that I wanted to say about safety in mines and some interesting figures that I wanted to give. I wanted to say something about the work we are doing in relation to the terrible and dreaded scourge of pneumoconiosis which takes such a toll of the lives of miners. I think we have done a great job on that. The joint pneumoconiosis committee—
§ Mr. Robens
The cost per ton of pneumoconiosis in South Wales is 15s. a ton, compensation paid to men who are rotting their lungs out. What does it matter how much it costs per ton to prevent men from getting pneumoconiosis. Are not their lives and their families worth something? I am disgusted and ashamed that an hon. Member should question the money spent on the prevention of pneumoconiosis.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
On a point of Order. The Parliamentary Secretary has made an accusation against me. He suggested that I was questioning the money which was spent on pneumoconiosis. I did nothing of the kind. A statement was made earlier in the Debate that it was 5s. or 6s. a ton. I wanted to know whether the Parliamentary Secretary was able to give the figure for it. I am as much concerned as anybody in this House.
§ The Chairman
I do not think there is any necesssity to withdraw. The statements that were made were made in the presence and hearing of hon. Members. They are well able to judge for themselves.
§ Mr. Robens
It is within the courtesy of this Committee that if an hon. Member has been misunderstood and something has been said arising from that misunderstanding, a withdrawal is made. I do not want to impute anything against the hon. Gentleman. I do not withdraw any of my remarks on the cost and the fact that it does not very much matter what is spent, if we can give miners a healthy life underground. I had intended to say, though I have no need to say it now, that that was the typical attitude of private owners of pits prior to nationalisation—the attitude which had that disastrous effect of driving men and their sons away from the pits. We have this National Joint Pneumoconiosis Committee. There is a medical research station in South Wales which is doing a first-class job of work. We have introduced X-ray and clinical examinations. I hope that we shall extend the system throughout the whole country. My mining friends who live in these villages know the scourge of this terrible disease. It is my great fortune and honour to be chairman 1688 of that joint committee. I promise hon. Members that, as far as it lies within the power of my right hon. Friend, in his capacity as Minister, and in my power as chairman of that committee, we shall do every single thing that we can and we shall spare no effort to eradicate the scourge of pneumoconiosis from the pits of this country.
The hon. and gallant Member for Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) gave us a number of constructive suggestions. I am sorry that I cannot deal with them in great detail. They will be worth consideration by the little committee which the Board have set up to examine the organisation. I have no doubt that they will read the hon. and gallant Member's speech and consider his suggestions with interest. All I would say is that I do not know that there is anything magic in 30 instead of 49 for the number of areas, or in four instead of eight for the divisions. However, the points have been made and they will be considered.
In the two minutes that remain I ought to deal with the speech of the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft). He specifically asked whether the Reid Report was to be implemented or whether the resignation of Sir Charles Reid meant that the Coal Board were moving away from their announced policy. I can tell him quite plainly that the resignation of Sir Charles Reid does not mean that the policy of the Coal Board has changed in any way whatever. There is a very interesting story which could be told, but this is neither the time nor the place to tell it. Sir Charles himself made it clear that he did not want political capital to be made out of his resignation. He had eight colleagues. They discussed matters, he disagreed and he resigned. It seems to me that in the interests of the industry this is not the hour at which one should discuss in detail the resignation of Sir Charles.
There is little time in which to deal with many of the other interesting points raised. I should have been glad to do so. In conclusion, I would say that it is often said, with great truth, that Britain's greatness was built on coal. That is true, but that greatness was also built upon the misery of wretched conditions, the insecurity of employment and under-payment of the British miner. 1689 Every mining village today—[Interruption.] It is no use hon. Gentlemen opposite saying, "Oh," and thinking that they will get away with it. Every mining village today contains the most squalid housing conditions and surroundings, with a complete lack of amenities, that exist anywhere in the country. For generations the coalminer has been condemned to live in these hovels where he has raised his family and where his wife has toiled like a slave to keep things bright and cheerful. He knows that under public ownership he will see an end to those conditions. We must make conditions right in the pit and, with our new mining villages, and all the rest of
§ it, we must provide proper amenities. Then we shall get our British labour. Men will come into an industry which they will be proud of, because there will be equality of opportunity for the merest boy as he enters into the industry, irrespective of his means, to rise to the height even of chairman of the Coal Board.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I beg to move, "That Item Class VI, Vote 6, Ministry of Fuel and Power, be reduced by £5."
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 101; Noes, 233.1691
|Division No. 244.]||AYES.||[10.0 p.m.|
|Agnew, Cmdr. P. G.||Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)||Nutting, Anthony|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Harris, F. W. (Croydon, N.)||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir H.|
|Bennett, Sir P.||Harvey, Air-Comdre. A. V.||Osborne, C.|
|Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells)||Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C.||Peto, Brig. C. H. M.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.|
|Bower, N.||Hogg, Hon. Q.||Poole, O. B. S. (Oswestry)|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. G.||Holmes, Sir J. Stanley (Harwich)||Raikes, H. V.|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W.||Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)||Rayner, Brig. R.|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Hughes, H. D. (W'lverh'pton, W.)||Roberts, P. G. (Ecclesall)|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Hurd, A.||Robinson, Roland|
|Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (S'ffr'n W'ld'n)||Hutchison, Lt.-Cm. Clark (E'b'rgh W.)||Ropner, Col. L.|
|Carson, E.||Hutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.)||Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)|
|Clarke, Col. R. S.||Jeffreys, General Sir G.||Savory, Prof. D. L.|
|Clifton-Brown, Lt.-Col. G.||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Smiles, Lt.-Col. Sir W.|
|Conant, Maj. R. J. E.||Langford-Holt, J.||Smithers, Sir W.|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Crowder, Capt John E.||Low, A. R. W.||Strauss, H. G. (English Universities)|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Lucas, Major Sir J.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|De la Bère, R.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir H.||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Dower, E. L. G. (Caithness)||MacAndrew, Col. Sir C.||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (P'dd't'n, S.)|
|Drayson, G. B.||Macdonald, Sir P. (I. of Wight)||Teeling, William|
|Drewe, C.||McFarlane, C. S.||Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Eccles, D. M.||Mackeson, Brig. H. R.||Thorneycroft, G. E. P. (Monmouth)|
|Eden, Rt. Hon. A.||Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)||Thorp, Brigadier R. A. F.|
|Erroll, F. J.||Maitland, Comdr. J. W.||Wakefield, Sir W. W.|
|Foster, J. G. (Northwich)||Manningham-Buller, R. E.||Wheatley, Colonel M. J. (Dorset, E.)|
|Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P. M.||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Gage, C.||Maude, J. C.||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D.||Mellor, Sir J.||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Gammans, L. D.||Molson, A. H. E.||York, C.|
|Glyn, Sir R.||Moore, Lt.-Col. Sir T.||Young, Sir A. S. L. (Particle)|
|Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.||Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury)|
|Grimston, R. V.||Nicholson, G.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Hannon, Sir P. (Moseley)||Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.||Mr. Studholme and|
|Adams, Richard (Balham)||Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Champion, A. J.|
|Adams, W. T. (Hammersmith, South)||Bing, G. H. C.||Chetwynd, G. R.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V.||Binns, J.||Cluse, W. S.|
|Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)||Blackburn, A. R.||Cobb, F. A.|
|Alpass, J. H.||Blenkinsop, A.||Cocks, F. S.|
|Awbery, S. S.||Blyton, W. R.||Collindridge, F.|
|Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B.||Bowden, Flg. Offr. H. W.||Collins, V. J.|
|Bacon, Miss A.||Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton)||Comyns, Dr. L.|
|Baird, J.||Bramall, E. A.||Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N. W.)|
|Balfour, A.||Brook, D. (Halifax)||Cove, W. G.|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J.||Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)||Crossman, R. H. S.|
|Barstow, P. G.||Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Daggar, G.|
|Barton, C.||Buchanan, Rt. Hon. G.||Daines, P.|
|Battley, J. R.||Burden, T. W.||Davies, Edward (Burslem)|
|Bechervaise, A. E.||Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)||Davies, Ernest (Enfield)|
|Benson, G.||Carmichael, James||Davies, Harold (Leek)|
|Berry, H.||Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)|
|Beswick, F.||Chamberlain, R. A.||Delargy, H. J.|
|Diamond, J.||Kinley, J.||Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)|
|Debbie, W.||Kirby, B. V.||Royle, C.|
|Donovan, T.||Lawson, Rt. Hon. J. J.||Sargood, R.|
|Driberg, T. E. N.||Lee, F. (Hulme)||Segal, Dr. S.|
|Dugdale, J. (W. Bromwich)||Lee, Miss J. (Cannock)||Sharp, Granville|
|Dumpleton, C. W.||Leslie, J. R.||Shawcross, Rt. Hn. Sir H. (St. Helens)|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Lipson, D. L.||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Edelman, M.||Longden, F.||Shurmer, P.|
|Edwards, N. (Caerphilly)||Lyne, A. W.||Silverman, J. (Erdington)|
|Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)||McEntee, V. La T.||Simmons, C. J.|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, W.)||McGhee, H. G.||Skeffington, A. M.|
|Evans, E. (Lowestoft)||Mack, J. D.||Skeffington-Lodge, T. C.|
|Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)||McKay, J. (Wallsend)||Skinnard, F. W.|
|Ewart, R.||McKinley, A. S.||Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)|
|Farthing, W. J.||McLeavy, F.||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Fernyhough, E.||Macpherson, T. (Romford)||Sparks, J. A.|
|Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.)||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Steele, T.|
|Follick, M.||Mellalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield)||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)|
|Foot, M. M.||Mann, Mrs. J.||Swingler, S.|
|Forman, J. C.||Manning, C. (Camberwell, N.)||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Freeman, J. (Watford)||Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Freeman, Peter (Newport)||Marquand, H. A.||Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)|
|Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||Mathers, Rt. Hon. George||Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)|
|Ganley, Mrs. C. S.||Medland, H. M.||Thomas, George (Cardiff)|
|Gibbins, J.||Mellish, R. J.||Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)|
|Gibson, C. W.||Messer, F.||Thomas, John R. (Dover)|
|Gilzean, A.||Middleton, Mrs. L.||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)|
|Glanville, J. E. (Consett)||Mitchison, G. R.||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Gooch, E. G.||Morgan, Dr. H. B.||Tiffany, S.|
|Gordon-Walker, P. C.||Morley, R.||Titterington, M. F.|
|Granville, E. (Eye)||Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)||Turner-Samuels, M.|
|Grey, C. F.||Moyle, A.||Ungoed-Thomas, L.|
|Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)||Murray J. D.||Viant, S. P.|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly)||Nally, W.||Wadsworth, G.|
|Guest, Dr. L. Haden||Neal, H. (Clay Cross)||Walker, G. H.|
|Gunter, R. J.||Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)||Warbey, W. N.|
|Guy, W. H.||Noel-Buxton, Lady||Weitzman, D.|
|Haire, John E. (Wycombe)||O'Brien, T.||Wells, W. T. (Walsall)|
|Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.||Oldfield, W. H.||West, D. G.|
|Hardy, E. A.||Oliver, G. H.||Wheatley, Rt. Hn. John (Edinb'gh, E.)|
|Hastings, Dr. Somerville||Palmer, A. M. F.||White, H. (Derbyshire, N.E.)|
|Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Kingswinford)||Pargiter, G. A.||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)||Parkin, B. T.||Wigg, George|
|Herbison, Miss M.||Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe)||Wilcock, Group-Capt C. A. B.|
|Hobson, C. R.||Paton, J. (Norwich)||Wilkes, L.|
|Holman, P.||Pearson, A.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)||Peart, T. F.||Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)|
|Hubbard, T.||Popplewell, E.||Williams, R. W. (Wigan)|
|Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)||Porter, G. (Leeds)||Williams, W. R. (Heston)|
|Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Pritt, D. N.||Willis, E.|
|Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)||Proctor, W. T.||Wills, Mrs. E. A.|
|Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Pryde, D. J.||Wilmot, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Irvine, A. J. (Liverpool)||Randall, H. E.||Wise, Major F. J.|
|Irving, W. J. (Tottenham, N.)||Ranger, J.||Wyatt, W.|
|Janner, B.||Reid, T. (Swindon)||Yates, V. F.|
|Jay, D. P. T.||Rhodes, H.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Jenkins, R. H.||Richards, R.||Zilliacus, K.|
|Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)||Ridealgh, Mrs. M.|
|Kenyon, C.||Robens, A.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|King, E. M.||Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth)||Mr. Snow and|
|Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E.||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)||Mr. George Wallace.|
Question put, and agreed to.
|Original Question again proposed.|
|It being after Ten o'Clock, and objection being taken to further Proceeding, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to make his retort to the House.|
|Committee report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow.|