HC Deb 26 July 1949 vol 467 cc2335-71

7.41 p.m.

Mr. McCorquodale (Epsom)

This is the last opportunity before the Recess of asking the Minister some important questions with regard to our coal position, and indeed the whole of our position regarding fuel and power. It may seem a little surprising, considering the weather which we are having at present, but it is the fact that, when we come back from the Recess, the winter season will have started so far as the coal year is concerned. I shall endeavour to raise such questions as I wish to raise in no narrow partisan spirit, but with the idea that the public interest should be paramount and that the coal that is required for our national life should be available. I think the country deserves a statement which is a little fuller than that which the Minister gave in answer to a Question the other day about our coal requirements, coal stocks and coal supplies next winter, what plans he has, what hopes he has, and, just as important, what fears he has.

It is generally agreed that the most vital factor in our economic life is coal. I want to deal with our present position regarding output, demands and stocks. I have been supplied with some most disquieting figures on this vital matter, and I ask the Minister whether he can either confirm or correct them when he replies. The important considerations regarding our coal supplies are our output, our consumption, both internal and export, and our stocks position, and these three are the basis of the calculations which the Minister and his Department must make when they are making their plans each year.

Earl Winterton (Horsham)

On a point of Order. I desire to call your attention, Colonel Ropner, to the fact that a stranger is reading a newspaper.

The Temporary Chairman (Colonel Ropner)

Notice will be taken of the fact.

Earl Winterton

Further to that point of Order, cannot an hon. Member raise a point of Order on a matter affecting the dignity of the House without having an insulting interruption from the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway?

The Temporary Chairman

It should not be necessary, but I did not hear what the hon. Gentleman said.

Earl Winterton

The hon. Gentleman made a very insulting observation, and I ask that he withdraw it.

Mr. McCorquodale

I do not wish to butt in on this little argument, although I feel that perhaps the hon. Member opposite was trying to call up his courage after the lamentable exhibition in the Division Lobbies a few minutes ago. As I was saying, I do not wish to put these questions in any partisan manner, because they are serious questions which I desire to ask the Minister about the coal supplies of the country.

Mr. Shurmer (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

On a point of Order. The noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) has just passed a remark that I have no right in this country at all.

The Temporary Chairman

I do not hear these remarks, and I think we had better get on with the Debate.

Mr. McCorquodale

All I would say to the hon. Gentleman opposite is that, if we do not have proper supplies of coal next winter, nobody will wish to stay in this country.

I wish now to return to the subject at issue, and I will compare the period up to 16th July this year with the period from the beginning of the year up to 16th July last year. The figures with which I have been supplied show that, while the output from our mines increased by something just under three million tons, or an increase of 2.8 per cent., yet the consumption increased faster than that. Consumption increased by four million tons, or 3.7 per cent., and thus our actual position in regard to the ratio of consumption to production worsened by one million tons.

I am informed that our stock position on 16th July was considerably worse than on the same date a year ago, and the figures supplied to me show that the distributed coal stocks and opencast stocks together gave us a total on 16th July of approximately 13,900,000 tons, against 16,250,000 tons, or a reduction of nearly 15 per cent. in our stock position. If we endeavour to make a small profit and loss statement of the excess output and our existing stocks over consumption we find that, against an excess of 13 million tons a year ago, there is only an excess of 10 million tons of coal this year, and, with the advent of the low output period in the holiday season and the dangerous drop in stocks, I foresee very grave difficulties in the months to come.

Last year, when our exports were only 16 million tons, we had to draw on our stocks, I believe, to the extent of three million tons. This year, our actual requirements under the European recovery scheme are higher than they were last year. I do not know at what figure our internal consumption is running at present, and for industrial needs, I presume it cannot be less—I hope it is not less—than last year, because if so that would mean some reduction in our industrial output. I hope it is more, and, in view of our serious economic position and of our necessity to export, we shall have to keep our factories supplied with coal. If we have to export more and we have to keep our factories supplied with coal and our output is not running as high as we hoped, while our consumption is increased, we shall have to make up the loss in the only remaining way, which is at the expense of the domestic consumer of household coal.

I want to know whether or not this is actually the case, because it is a very serious matter four or five years after the war. We are shortly going to ask the people of the country, as the result of what we heard from the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other day, to undertake more austerities this winter than before, and if on top of all that we are going to ask the domestic household consumer to manage with less coal than she had last year, the position will be indeed lamentable.

I ask the Minister what is the possibility with regard to the stocking-up of gas and electricity undertakings. I well remember, when I was associated to a small degree with the Ministry of Mines, as it was in the old days, the raid on our stocks that gas and electricity were capable of making, especially at periods of low temperature. We must remember that we have had two remarkably mild winters—especially last winter. We cannot expect the same again this winter, because it is probable that, according to the law of averages, we shall have a cold winter. I want to see, above all things, that if the winter is a cold one the hardship does not fall upon the ordinary little householder once again, and I am sure that is the wish of everybody in this Committee.

This is no party point. I believe that if the position were properly and adequately put to the mining community, that the people who are chiefly likely to suffer are their friends in all the humble homes of Britain, we should get a tremendous response from them. Therefore, I ask the Minister to consider very seriously whether it is not time that he spoke up loudly and clearly about our stocks position and about his fears and hopes for the winter. That is why I am asking him these questions tonight.

Why is the position so bad and gloomy? The Minister keeps talking about output per manshift, and, indeed, the output per manshift has been going up. But what is important with regard to the number of men employed is the output per man year. What is important to our overall economic position is the total output of coal from our mines and not the individual output per manshift.

Mr. David Griffiths (Rother Valley)

Will not the right hon. Gentleman accept the fact that when we were passing the Second Reading of the Coal Mines Bill, miners on this side indicated that there would be no difference in tonnage for at least five years, whereas, in fact, there has been a marked improvement in the last two years.

Mr. McCorquodale

As I said at the beginning, I do not wish to get into a partisan debate, and I have purposely said nothing critical of any part of the mining community, and I do not propose to do so. I went so far as to comment favourably upon the increase in the output per manshift, but I am saying that, from the point of view of our economy, the important thing is how much coal we have got and how much we shall have for export and for our domestic consumption this winter.

We must face the fact that our total output lags behind, compared with many European countries, in the matter of our recovery to pre-war standards. I have the figures here for the different countries, but I do not wish to go into them. According to the latest figures, issued in April, we are only up to 89 per cent. of our pre-war tonnage of coal produced in this country, while other countries in Europe are well over 100 per cent., and our manpower is again declining. We read that during the last six months a net decrease in our total manpower of something under 5,000 has been experienced.

Is this a temporary decline or an indication that things are going to get worse in this respect? Is the Minister going to make any change in his appeal for extra manpower? Are the public relations departments of his Ministry and the Coal Board, whose main job it is to put forward the proper recruiting posters and statements, working well? Is the Minister making any change in the matter of control of labour in the mines? Questions have been asked in this House as to whether the ring fence is going to be removed or not. The replies have stated that the matter is under consideration. Can we have some information about that?

There is one thing which alarms me even more, although I hope the alarm will not be justified. What is the industrial position in the coalfields at the moment? Yesterday we read in the papers that the Colliery Winders' Federation have given 21 days' notice of a stoppage. They are asking for an increase in wages and they claim that they are eight shillings less well off compared with the average mineworker than before the war. I do not know whether that is true or not. Is the position here likely to cause a stoppage? We all know that colliery winders, though few in number, can have a very great effect on the industry. Can the National Union of Mineworkers, who say that they can provide suitable winders if the Colliery Winders' Federation go on strike, really provide the necessary men? Would the winders whom they supplied be sufficiently experienced to pass the safety test? Are the Government prepared if this trouble should come about? I hope the Minister was following what was said in an earlier Debate this afternoon, and is determined not to copy the precedents set there.

Will he say what is the position with regard to the dispute over the miners' free coal in Lancashire? I believe that that matter was put into cold storage after a disastrous stoppage. Is anything being done to get rid of that sort of thing before it breaks out again? Again, we read in the newspapers today that there is the possibility of trouble on the railways. Of course, that is not primarily the responsibility of the Minister of Fuel and Power, but nothing has a more disastrous effect upon our coal production than trouble on the railways. Hon. Members will well remember that directly there is a stoppage on the railways, the colliery trucks become full, and winding has to stop at many of the pits.

I hope the Minister will be able to give us reassuring news about all these matters, and will be able to say that he has the situation well in hand, that he is considering the position and making arrangements to overcome the difficulties. I may be unduly pessimistic in my reading of the situation—I hope I am—and I trust that the Minister will be able to tell me that I am. I have only the published facts to go on—I have not the information which the Minister has at his disposal—and therefore I think that if this Debate gives the Minister an opportunity to make a statement on the matter, it will have served a useful purpose.

Will he tell us honestly how he views the winter prospect? If I may say so, he was admirably courageous and frank the other day about the overall economic position of our country when the Chancellor was a little less so. I hope he will be equally frank with the country now. If he is, I have every confidence that all ranks in the mining community will respond to his appeal. That is all I wish to say on this important subject. The object of this Debate is to get the matter ventilated and to give the Minister an opportunity to make a statement.

Now I wish to say a few words on quite another matter, and one which has been exercising the minds of many people in my constituency, and no doubt the minds of a number of people in the constituencies of other hon. Members—the electricity surcharges which were added during the winter. I believe that in intellectual circles these winter surcharges are known as Clow differentials, after the Clow Committee recommendations. I believe I am right in saying they were introduced in an effort to reduce the peak load during the winter months, and the idea was that by putting on a surcharge of 35d. per unit during the three winter months the housewife and the householder would save electricity during those three months.

When this was announced the Committee will remember that it was proposed that the surcharge made during the winter would be recovered by a rebate for the nine summer months of 1d. It was emphasised by the Minister that this was not a revenue-raising scheme, but that it was a method of inducing saving during the winter months by means of encouragement and punishment. I do not believe that this was put over in a proper psychological manner. The figure 35d. per unit does not mean very much to the harassed housewife. What does matter is the size of the bill when it comes in. That inducement did not arise until the damage was done, and it was not until the bills began to come in during the spring and summer that the reality of the situation was brought home to the user of electricity, especially in the small all-electric houses which the right hon. Gentleman's colleague the Minister of Health has been encouraging.

I have had in my constituency, and no doubt other hon. Members have had, the most alarming statements of increases in quarterly charges. I have some here if the Committee would like to listen to them. In one case the charge went up from £5 to £12, and in another case to £17; in another case it went up from £4 to £9, and so on. The rebate did not make up for the extra surcharge by anything like the amount hoped for, so far as one can estimate. The whole thing got muddled up because there was a general increase in charges on those who had specially low rates up to a certain level—I think it was three-quarters of a penny a unit. A lot of householders were caught both ways at the same time—both by the winter surcharge and by this extra increase. I hope the Committee will excuse me if I remind them how often in the past the nationalisation of this great industry was praised to the community on the score that charges would go down. I think "Public ownership will lower charges" was the phrase used in the official publication, "Let us Face the Future."

At Torquay the other day Lord Citrine indicated that, in spite of the increased charges, up to three-quarters of a penny and so on, during 1948, the surplus of revenue this year will be very small if any. It is a fair deduction, I think, for us to say that without this winter surcharge there would probably be no surplus at all, but very likely a deficit. What I want to know is, what the Minister is going to do about it. If it happens—and every estimate made so far shows that it is likely to happen—that the surcharge will not be discounted by the reduction of 1d. per unit during the summer months, is the Minister going to do something special about it? Is he going to give a further rebate? Is he going to make a repayment in cash to those householders who have paid the extra amount; or, like so many other hopes and pledges, will they go into the wastepaper basket with the others? I think this is an important matter.

The Minister has announced that he is not going on with this Clow differential. I am very glad to hear it; it has been heavily criticised by some of his own consultative councils which he has set up and to which, his Parliamentary Secretary told us, he attaches great importance. I only hope that, having dropped this disastrous Clow differential he will not return to it in some other way until next Winter, but will give us a free run. I would further ask him whether he should not consider returning in some other way this surplus or excess which has been taken off the domestic user of electricity if he finds that the 1d. per unit during the Summer months is not sufficient to repay the users of electricity. There must be some Members present who live in all-electric houses with, possibly, immersion heaters, and they will know what the effect of this Winter surcharge has been on them. Fortunately, we in this Committee are sufficiently substantially placed to be able to bear these charges, but there are very many living in small council houses who cannot bear any further large increase through stunts of this description.

There is one other small matter which I wish to raise. I do not want to keep the Committee very long because we have only a short time for this little Debate. I wish to refer to the public relations of the National Coal Board. I have already said that the public relations departments of the Ministry and of the National Coal Board have a very great task to fulfil. It is very largely up to them to keep the flow of fresh miners coming into the mines. Their job is most certainly not to spend public money on party politics or propaganda of any sort. I am sure the Committee will agree with that statement that it is not the duty of any public relations office of any nationalised concern or public corporation of any sort to spend the public's money on partisan propaganda. It is most important that we should remember that in quite a short time there will be a change in the complexion of the Government—[Laughter]. Certainly there will be—and these corporations will have to work with the new Government.

I am not going to make a great deal of this point, but I should like to refer to a cheap novel which has been produced without any publisher's name on the title page—although the printer had his imprint, as all good printers do—called "Fingers in the Sky." It has been described by the Press as shrill propaganda for party purposes. Indeed, so far as my reading of it is concerned, it is rather shrill and rather indifferent propaganda on behalf of one side on the political scene. After questioning, it was found that the National Coal Board paid for the printing of 10,000 copies of this little book. They distributed free 4,000 copies of it to public libraries and other institutions, and I am told they have also been sent to some Socialist Members of Parliament, but I have not been able to check that. I believe one or two have seen it. The other 6,000 copies have apparently been put into cold storage.

This is not the sort of thing which the National Coal Board should be at, and indeed it is quite obvious that they realise that a bloomer has been committed because the other 6,000 copies have not been distributed. Their excuse was a trifle naive, if one may believe what was said in an interview with the "Daily Graphic." [Laughter.] It is a very good paper. I have no doubt that the hon. Member who laughed will believe what the Board official said. He did not deny this afterwards. He said: We did not put our name to it because we felt there were certain passages that made it better for it not to be issued as our own publication. We bore the cost of printing and paid an honorarium"— that is a little royalty— to the author. We did not acquire the complete copyright. Certain officials, on the ground of quality, opposed publication We do not want to have a charge of spending public money for partisan purposes laid against the National Coal Board or any other nationalised concern. It is possible—and I will not mention names—that some of the trouble might be in one of the Board's officials. I will give his name to the Minister if he wishes, because this official wrote a book, "A Guide to Big Business"—a most entertaining book but extremely Leftwing. The chapter on the Press, for example, damns impartially the Conservative Press, the Liberal Press, the "Daily Herald" and all of them and the only paper it appears to like at all is the "Daily Worker." I will read the quotation: There is one daily newspaper which claims to arrive at the breakfast table without 'a lord on the board.' It is the humble 'Daily Worker.' Humble because it is owned by humble people, humble because they are said to be mainly working class and, let us not hide the truth, many of them not so humble as members of the Communist Party of Great Britain.

Mr. Mikardo (Reading)

Surely the right hon. Gentleman is not now advancing the thesis that an officer of a public corporation ought to be inhibited from expressing in writing his views on a matter outside the work of the corporation?

Mr. McCorquodale

No, I have no objection to people expressing their views privately or publicly and, in fact, they should do so, but when one is on the industrial relations side of a public corporation—and the Civil Service have to do this all the time—I think it behoves one to be a little careful. I am not pillorying this gentleman upon the matter and I have not mentioned his name, but I think it behoves him and the N.C.B. to be a little careful. He is perfectly frank in his outlook and there is no reason why he should not be. I am merely making the point that I think it would have been better for him to have been a little careful in the publications he issues from the N.C.B., as he is one of the officials responsible for putting out this pamphlet "Fingers in the Sky," of which even the Board themselves are now ashamed.

That is a very minor point by comparison with the point I made at the beginning. What really worries me and worries many other people in this Committee and outside is this: What will be our coal position this winter, very probably the most important, the most vital winter of the whole of our economic position? If there were a breakdown in coal supplies this winter that would very likely be the last straw that breaks this poor old country's back.

8.12 p.m.

Mr. Blyton (Houghton-le-Spring)

I listened with interest to the speech of the right hon. Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) but I cannot give the figures he was seeking. We expect the Minister will be able effectively to reply to the questions he has put. I will say this, however: I believe the figure which was fixed by the Economic Survey for the output of deep-mined coal and opencast coal was unobtainable, but we always tried to obtain the maximum possible and the blame, for that, therefore, cannot rest with the mining community. The right hon. Gentleman said that he wants the position put to the mining community to see if there could not be a tremendous response.

The right hon. Gentleman also raised the manpower question. It is undoubtedly true, and we have to face it, that the manpower problem is again arising in the mining industry. I detected it three months ago. Our non-recurrent recruitment of Poles and non-recurrent recruitment of ex-miners coming back from the factories has ceased and young men are still not willing to go into the hard, unpalatable work of the miner in different areas. Unless we are to take a 12 gun to the community of this country and force them into the pit, this problem has to be faced.

We believe that this problem arises from the deep-seated resentment of the atrocities which the Opposition perpetrated upon the miners in the inter-war years. [Interruption.] The Opposition may think that is funny, but it is a fact and the right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken), who has never lived in a mining village, cannot understand this problem. For years we preached to the children that the pit was no place for a miner's son, in case they got the same treatment as we got in the inter-war years; and that will take some years to eradicate.

With the manpower we have, we are getting as high an output per person as we got before the war. I cannot understand hon. Members opposite, because when I negotiated piece prices with the colliery management everything I had to depend on was, what was the output per person employed upon that particular face and what would the miner get for the piece-work rate for that face. When it suits the Opposition, they can switch to output per man-year from output per person. I do not believe the picture is as black as the Opposition have tried to paint it. I believe we shall be able to meet the position this winter and I think the Report of the first three months from the National Coal Board, which has been issued today, shows the upward trend all the way and the success of nationalisation under the National Coal Board. That upward trend will continue as we rectify the neglect in the mechanisation of the pits, which mechanisation the Opposition so sadly neglected when the coalowners were in charge of the pits.

I want to speak for a moment or two about the book "Fingers in the Sky." I happen to have a copy and to have read it, and I cannot understand the squeamishness of the Opposition. I was in the pits when the coalowners put a penny per ton on production and gave it to Alan Hand, the Conservative organiser in Durham County, to defeat the Labour candidate in the county council elections in the '20's. They employed a man called Philip Gee and paid him a handsome figure to write tract after tract attacking the miners and the nationalisation policy.

We used to get little Tory pamphlets in our pay packets telling us what horrible people these Socialists were. Yet there was no upset about that. But because the board, or someone in the board happens to make a little mistake in publishing this book, we find a mountain made out of a molehill. I should like the Government to send this book to every one of the Junior Imperial League, to every young Tory over 21 and up to the age of 30. [An HON. MEMBER: "After that it is no use."] I should like to see it published just to expose what the man who spent 20 years in the pits, from being a boy of 14, went through at the hands of the Opposition in the inter-war years.

Mr. McCorquodale

Does the hon. Gentleman not really mean that the Labour Party ought to publish the book and send it to all the Conservatives? We have no objection to that. It is ordinary party propaganda. What we object to is that the National Coal Board, which is not a party organisation, should be paying for it. If the Labour Party or the Conservative Party were issuing it and paying for it, it would be quite all right.

Mr. Blyton

I was drawing an analogy with what the Tories did with money that came out of the coal trade. Yet because this one mistake has been made there has to be a row. This book tells what happened in the general strike, and how certain men used to go to the workhouse because the Tories would not give them the means to live because they were on strike. This book tells how in 1931 the Tories got their fingers on the windpipe of the nation. That is true. They reduced the unemployed man to 2s. a week. Why should they be squeamish about their own history? The criticism of this book seems to me to be a mountain made out of a molehill. I would advise the Government that this is the finest pamphlet to tell the country exactly what a life the miners had—men like me, not clever men from Eton College—

Mr. Brendan Bracken (Bournemouth)

Tell that to the Chancellor of the Duchy.

Mr. Blyton

—but men who smoke pipes and work in the pits. It tells the country what the Tories did in the interwar years. I would beg the right hon. Gentleman not to be squeamish about this book. I can assure the Committee that if the country reads this book there will be no fear that after the next General Election the Tory Party will have even as many Members here as it has now.

8.22 p.m.

Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stone)

I want to follow the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) about this interesting book, "Fingers in the Sky." We could see from the trend of his earlier remarks that this type of literature is his favourite, because the argument he put forward initially about the fact that recruitment is not what it ought to be in the mines was that it was due to Tory mismanagement in the 'twenties. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, like the Chancellor of the Exchequer, cannot argue that the steel industry ought to be nationalised, when there is so much hard work going on in it, as they acknowledge there is, while at the same time they boast of the hard work going on in the mines because they have been nationalised. Hon. Gentlemen opposite cannot go on putting forward those contradictory arguments. They cannot try to eat their cakes and have them. It is really almost ludicrous that such arguments should be put forward. The fact remains, although I do not want to go into it now, that output per man year is not up to what it ought to be.

Mr. Blyton

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the miners are malingering because the output is not what he thinks it ought to be?

Mr. Fraser

I say that output per man year could be higher. The statistics produced by hon. Members opposite give the impression that the increased production of coal cannot be achieved. It can be. We have been through that debate previously.

The point I want to raise, however, is a very simple one which affects every home in this country, and that is the question of the various activities of the British Electricity Authority. The first question I would ask the Minister is, When are the accounts of the British Electricity Authority to be published? The latest statement of Lord Citrine has caused a considerable amount of alarm, and it has caused alarm especially amongst those people who are paying for the British Electricity Authority—the consumers of electricity in this country. That is one thing I want to ask the Minister.

I also want to ask him what plans he is making for this refund under the Clow differential of payment. I want to know if the refund is to be made. Finally, I want to ask him this question. How does the Minister propose to implement those pledges which were made in 1945 in "Let us Face the Future" to lower electricity charges? Because the fact remains that at the moment charges are rising. I see some of my hon. Friends opposite from North Staffordshire. They know that electricity charges in North Staffordshire have gone up to an amazing extent. Let us take Newcastle-under-Lyme. There the electricity charges have been doubled. There are other areas throughout the country where the rate was below ¼d. per unit, but where now the rates have gone up to ¾d. per unit.

Mr. Shurmer

Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that many of the local authorities were working practically on the rates, and had been for three or four years before nationalisation?

Mr. Fraser

That applied in certain areas, I quite agree; but in the country generally, electricity charges have gone up.

Mr. Shurmer

So has everything.

Mr. Fraser

So has everything. And so everything is "fine and dandy." That is what we on this side are always trying to disillusion hon. Members about. The point about the Clow charge is that it is now being removed. That is a very big problem. This surcharge during the winter months of ⅓d. has now been removed. This idea came, I think, originally from the well-organised State, Portugal, where this same surcharge takes place in the winter months on the heavier consumers. That charge is about to be removed. The point on which I should like the Minister to give me information follows the speech of Lord Citrine. His exact words were: The preliminary view seems to show that, largely owing to the fact that the increase of tariffs only came at the end of the 1948 period, we may look forward to a narrow margin of profit. That is, of course, the tariffs relating to the Clow surcharge. Since those have now been removed, it is questionable whether the British Electricity Authority will be able to meet their own charges. How are they to deal with this problem in the coming winter? How will they deal, first of all, with finding the money, and secondly with the problem of possibly reducing the load factor over the whole area of Britain's electricity supply? The Minister must know, having helped to compose the White Paper on the economic policy of this country, that there has been a very serious drop below what should have been produced in the way of generating plant, and that that is not running according to schedule.

We must face the fact, unless the Minster can give us affirmation to the contrary, that there may, well be a very serious increase in the standard rate of electricity in this country. When the consultative committees he has set up have, in at least two instances, recommended to him that there should be a repayment of this surcharge to those people who suffer, we should very much like to know what action is to be taken to deal with the matter.

Let me take two or three instances of what this increase has meant to individual families. First, for a consumer in the Home Counties, in the quarter ending March, 1948, when 3,468 units were consumed, the total charge was £6 13s.; for the quarter ending March, 1949, when about 200 more units were consumed, to a total of 3,680, the total charge, with the surcharge added, came to 17 guineas. That means an increase of something like 300 per cent. As my right hon. Friend has pointed out, this manoeuvre failed completely in its object of reducing the burden for the load factor in the country, for the very simple reason that people got their bills not at the beginning of the quarter but at the end, so that during that time they naturally considered that the increase was not very great.

What emerges quite clearly is that the Minister said the object of this was to reduce the load factor and that his various consumer committees and councils of industrial technicians have now shown that there was no reduction in consumption, or such a small reduction as to be wholly incommensurate with the cost to the general public, so that B.E.A. were forced to put up their charges in order to balance their books. Unless that can be disproved tonight by the Minister there will be continued anxiety, as there is anxiety today, about the progress which is being made by the British Electricity Authority, for which he is responsible in this Committee.

8.32 p.m.

Mr. Palmer (Wimbledon)

We have had a very imaginative speech from the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. H. Fraser) on the subject of electricity. I do not blame him, of course, for not appreciating the technical points, but it is most unfortunate that he should talk all the time about reducing the load factor when a good load factor is a high load factor. That is, of course, an important difference.

Mr. H. Fraser

Reducing the amount that should be consumed.

Mr. Palmer

The Clow proposals were not a conspiracy on the part of the British Electricity Authority. As my right hon. Friend knows, B.E.A. and the area boards were very much against the Clow proposals. I just point that out to assist the hon. Gentleman in being a little more accurate in the future.

Mr. Fraser

Who was in favour of them then?

Mr. Bracken

Who set up the committee?

Mr. Palmer

The Clow Committee was an expert committee set up by my right hon. Friend to go into the question of the best way of dealing with the very real problem of the electricity demand outrunning the capacity of the electrical system. The difficulty, which has not just arisen this year or last year, arose from the accepted sacrifices of the war years, and the surcharge recommendation was one of the practical recommendations of that expert committee, which had on it as well representatives of consumers, housewives, and so on. My right hon. Friend accepted this recommendation and suggested to the area boards and to B.E.A. that they might consider its implementation, and although they were not very keen they did so. I do not think one can blame my right hon. Friend too much for this. It is a highly technical matter, and he was acting on the recommendation of an expert committee.

Mr. Bracken

This is a strange doctrine. The hon. Gentleman knows that the recommendations of this committee were accepted by the Minister, but the Minister cannot shelter behind them. The Treasury forced the Minister to overcharge the small people on the ground that electricity would be saved. No electricity was saved, but the unfortunate householder was looted.

Mr. Palmer

That is an excellent sample of the rather overheated imagination of the right hon. Gentleman. I ant sure that my right hon. Friend would not wish to move one step away from this point: it was the responsibility of the Minister, and he accepted the report. It is a highly technical matter, and I cannot see that any great blame can be attached to the Ministry for accepting the report of this technical committee.

Mr. Bracken

It is a piece of sheer robbery.

Mr. Palmer

I want to say a word on this question of electricity charges. It is ridiculous to suggest that those of us who have advocated public ownership for electricity have ever said there would be an absolute fall in prices irrespective of the general level of prices. Such a statement would be ridiculous, and such statements were not made. What we did say, and I believe this will be borne out, was that our experiment of the B.E.A. and the area boards would be similar to the successful experiment of the Central Electricity Board—

Mr. Fraser

And the Dock Board.

Mr. Palmer

—and that we should by integration and bringing into effect the practical proposals of the McGowan Committee of 1935 on electricity distribution, be able to reduce costs.

Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)

Has electricity gone up in price in Wimbledon?

Mr. Palmer

We all know that there has been a general increase in the price of electricity. I want to give a quotation from the "Electrical Review," which is a paper that will be accepted on all sides. It is a commercial, technical and financial journal that has no connection with the party on this side or any side of the House. It is the leading paper of the electricity industry and claims to be the oldest—it was established in 1872. In the leading article on costs and prices on 14th May, 1948, which is within a few weeks of the vesting date, it states: Those in the industry, and most thinking people outside it, know the necessity arises"— that is the need to increase prices— not from nationalisation but from the steep rise in costs during the past two or three years, which all the economy and efficiency of the undertakings could not counteract. That is a statement of fact.

Mr. Fraser

Surely one of these increases is coal.

Mr. Palmer

Of course, it is. No one suggests that it is possible to improve the conditions and standard of life of the miners without affecting the price of coal. There has been an increase in world prices also I believe. Coal costs are up 170 per cent., since 1938, materials generally by 140 per cent., and electricity salaries and wages are up by 70 per cent. These conditions are common to most industries whether under public or private ownership. I suggest that it is blatant nonsense to say that in some peculiar way this is the result of nationalisation.

There is another factor which my hon. Friend below the Gangway mentioned just now—namely, that there were municipal undertakings actually losing considerable sums in the two or three years immediately before vesting date. It was because the Coalition Government and the present Government for the two or three years towards the end of the war, and immediately afterwards, dissuaded these undertakings from making price increases as part of the general attempt to stabilise the cost of living. When at last in the electricity supply industry reality had to be faced it happened to coincide with the date of the taking over by the new authority, and to suggest that the increases are automatically the result of nationalisation is absurd. The truth is that electricity today is still one of the cheapest of all commodities and supplies compared with 1938 prices.

There is one matter which I have raised on the Adjournment on two occasions—the progress being made in the construction of new generating stations and the bringing into commission of new generating capacity. I have spent a great deal of time going into this matter, and I think I am right in saying that I am the only hon. Member who has raised it in any definite fashion. We were led to believe that improvements were taking place, that deliveries were being speeded up, and that some of the bottlenecks were being widened. However, I am not so sure that that improvement is being maintained and, if we have a severe winter, we may have once again load shedding on a wide scale, which can be a great inconvenience to the domestic consumer and could be, under some circumstances, perfectly disastrous as far as industry is concerned. So I hope that when my right hon. Friend replies, he will say a few words on the progress being made in the new generating station construction programme.

8.42 p.m.

Mr. Peter Roberts (Sheffield, Ecclesall)

I want to put a question to the Minister which I hope he will answer. What is the ramification of the new charge appearing in the Coal Board accounts called a service charge? It is important that we should have an answer because the Coal Board's selling department are now saying to consumers, "You must pay a service charge of from 1s. to 5s. a ton for extra service. If you do not accept this service charge, we will put the coal into wagons at the colliery but we will not be responsible any further after that and, if there is a question of loss of weight in transit, we will not even go into it for you." That apparently is their argument in trying to increase the price of coal by 1s. to 5s. a ton.

I want to quote to the Minister a letter I have received from the sales side of the National Coal Board and, if he wishes, I can give him the letter afterwards. It says to a consumer of coal, who in the past was registered with the Coal Board, that if the consumer wishes to have his next allocation he must pay a service charge of an extra 5s. a ton. It says that the Minister has authorised the extra service charge. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to say whether that is so or not. As far as I can see, no extra service is taking place, the colliery is sending the wagons to the destination as it did before, yet an extra price of 5s. a ton is put upon the coal. That is the very quick point which I wish to put to the Minister. I am grateful for the opportunity of being able to make it, because it is so important that it requires an answer today.

8.45 p.m.

Colonel Clarke (East Grinstead)

I am glad that the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) is now back in the Committee, for I wanted to ask him whether he really thinks that the book "Fingers in the Sky" is a good and accurate account of a miner's life.

Mr. Blyton

It gives a very vivid description but is very much an understatement.

Colonel Clarke

All I can say is that the hon. Member sometimes exaggerates when he talks of the awful days between the wars and the times of Tory misrule, for if he will look at page 25 of this book he will see that the author says: For me, just at that period, everything seemed marvellous. I was always well dressed, quite a beau, if you get me, and I always seemed to have plenty of money. I do not say that the author was always in that position during the days of Tory misrule, but obviously between the wars there were sometimes bright spots.

Mr. Bernard Taylor (Mansfield)

Will the hon. and gallant Member quote the average wage of a miner in, say, 1935?

Colonel Clarke

That seems to me to be completely off the point, but I will say this. Before the war wages in the coal industry were not as high as in other industries. That has now been put right. All I am quoting is what the author of this book says. He seems to have been able to get enough to enjoy himself.

Mr. Taylor

In 1935 the average wage of a miner was £2 5s. 6d. a week.

Colonel Clarke

I wanted today to call attention principally to what is to my mind a very serious anomaly, which is resulting in considerable injustice, owing to the faulty working of the machinery of the Gas Act, 1948, in relation to compensation to stockholders. Hon. Members who were members of the Standing Committee which considered this Measure will remember that in the relevant Section—Section 25—it was the intention of the Government that every holder of securities of concerns which were taken over should be entitled to be compensated by the issue him by the Gas Council, in accordance with the provisions of the Second Schedule to this Act, of British Gas Stock of such amount as in the opinion of the Treasury is at the vesting date of a value equal to the value of the said securities held by him, regard being had (in estimating the value of the stock so issued) to the market value of Government securities at or about the vesting date. I should like to point out that on the vesting day it was not possible for more than a certain number of stockholders to be paid out. I believe that only the holders of some 177 classes of securities in 66 companies knew the exact value of their holdings, because they were the ones quoted on the Stock Exchange; and that the remainder had to be ascertained later, because it was arranged that companies without Stock Exchange valuations should be valued after the vesting day. That was a mistake.

Since that time the 66 companies have been increased in number to 186, but there are still a great many to be valued, because in all 630 gas companies have been nationalised. It may take something like a year to complete those valuations and the position is that there is still some £60 million of British Gas Stock to issue. I want to make it clear that I am not complaining of the actual values put on these stocks. I think they will be fair, but perhaps more credit is due for that to the stockholders' representative, than to anyone else.

Two definite hardships are accruing. The first, a minor one, is that I understand interest on the unvalued securities, although it accrues from the vesting date, will not be paid until the value is ascertained and compensation fixed. Sometimes small holders will be a year without any income from their investment. In the gas industry, as in all industries in which employees spend a large part of their lives, there are a great many small investments.

By far the greater loss, however, is accruing in a different way. The stock which is issued is of such amount as in the opinion of the Treasury is at the vesting date of a value equal to the value of the said securities held by him … regard being had to the market value of Government securities at or about the vesting date. But there is no provision for the eventuality of a fall in the value of British Gas Stock between the nominal value and the real value some time after vesting date. Directly British Gas Stock was issued, it rose that afternoon to a premium of about 1¼ but today in the evening papers it is quoted at its lowest level, 92⅜. That is possibly due to the steel Debate and the failure of the Government to accept the excellent suggestions made by another place. That is having a disastrous effect on the holders of these stocks.

I wish to quote a specific example in connection with the Brighton Gas Company and the holding of the trustees of the co-partners in that company. Copartners have had a pretty thin time anyhow, and this is adding insult to injury. Because of the delay in getting a value—Brighton is one of the damaged companies which could not be valued straight away—the actual figure was not announced until yesterday—about three months late—and in that time there has been a fall of 7 per cent. in the value of the stock. The position today is that, whereas if the co-partners had got their money on vesting day they would have got £189,000 of stock which could be turned into cash at £189,000 or even more because of the premium, as a result of the fall in value of British Gas Stock, they will now lose more than £13,000. Instead of making a small profit, they are losing £13,230. That affects a great number of small holders and co-partners. The same happens in regard to many private holders. Some large holders probably sold forward on estimates of what they expected to get, but small holders would not think of doing that and trustees would not be permitted to do it. This injury, of course, is entirely unintentional, but I would remind the Government that: … Evil is wrought by want of thought, As well as want of heart. Great hardship is being caused. I believe it was the Government's intention that the stockholders should receive gas stock equivalent to the cash value of their holdings. They are not getting that. They are really being arbitrarily deprived of something like 7½ per cent. on the present valuation, and that may increase. With the steady decline in Government credit, the drop may easily be 10 per cent. before very long. I think that the fault really lies in fixing the vesting date at 30th April before the value of the stocks was ascertained, but primarily it is inherent in this system of compensating by the issue of Government stocks—a thoroughly unsatisfactory way of doing it. We have always held that the basis of stock exchange valuation was wrong.

I hope that the Minister will consider the case I have quoted and other cases. For instance, in the case of the Commercial Gas Company the compensation value was £108 10s., whereas the market value today is £102. I could quote other cases but I will not weary the House with them. The case of the Brighton copartners is so obvious that I do not need to elaborate. During the Committee and Report stages of this Bill, we fought strenuously so that this sort of thing should not happen. We knew that there would be a serious loss of income. To the best of my recollection the Minister countered that by saying that there might be a loss of income but in all probability that would be made up by an improvement in capital. He said: But what is the situation? They are exchanging an equity—an ordinary—share for gilt-edged Stock."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D. 22nd April, 1948; c. 833.] We now see what is the worth of gilt-edged stock; it has fallen seven per cent. in the first three months. The Minister was wrong on that point.

At that time my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for New Forest and Christchurch (Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre) moved a most useful Amendment which was briefly that it should be a condition of all British Gas Stock issued for the purposes of the Section that the holder should be entitled after six months to require the redemption thereof in cash at the price at which it was valued for the purposes of the Section. Had that been accepted this trouble would not have taken place. All that happened was that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, in his opening remarks in reply, said: I am never quite sure that the Amendments that the Opposition put down are meant to be taken seriously—"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 21st April, 1948; c. 738.] He simply did not think it was a serious suggestion.

Again, on the Report stage, another excellent proposal was moved by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for New Forest and Christchurch that valuation should be based on the net retainable revenue. That was the suggestion originally made by the T.U.C. for all such compensation. I do not think that that suggestion was favourably received. I will not weary the House by recapitulating the details of it but the Financial Secretary to the Treasury said that it would take much too long. The present method is taking a year and I do not think that the method we suggested would have taken anything like as long as that. The truest remark was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) who said: We fear that tens of thousands of Gas Stock holders are going to be swindled. I am using that word deliberately."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D. 21st April. 1948; c. 715–6.] We raised a number of points; we were closured, we were kept up all night, and we were accused of filibustering; but if some notice had been taken of what we said a great deal of trouble would have been saved. However, we have the satisfaction of knowing that we did our best.

There are two ways in which the Minister might be able to avoid the present very unsatisfactory state of affairs. He might bring in a short amending Bill, or it might be done by regulation. I feel, however, that it is too big a thing for regulations. In view of the fact that a further £60 million of stock is due to be issued, I feel that something definite should be done, because gas stock holders today are being paid in depreciated stock.

In the few moments I have left I wish to answer some of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton). He talked about what happened before the war and the effect it had on recruiting for the mines. I feel that a lot of that talk about what took place during the 30 years before the war, when the hon. Member and others were doing their utmost to discredit the mine owners, and trying to make out that mining was impossible under private ownership—in the days when they produced a great deal more coal than they do now—was largely done in order to force nationalisation on the country.

Now that we have nationalisation, it is not very popular. I suggest that some of the propaganda has come home to roost and is having a bad effect on the young men who have been brought up to believe that the mines are impossible, with the result that now they do not want to work in them, even though they are nationalised and are said to be all right. The same thing happened during the war in some of the countries over-run by the Germans. Resistance movements were started, and the young people were taught to resist the German Government. When the country was handed back and their own people took charge again, those young people found it very difficult to settle down. I believe that quite a lot of the trouble over the mines is due to the agitation between the wars to prove that working under private enterprise was impossible.

9.4 p.m.

The Minister of Fuel and Power (Mr. Gaitskell)

I am sorry that some of my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite have not had a chance to speak in the Debate, but we have to finish in about 25 minutes and I thought therefore, in view of the large number of points which have been raised, that I had better begin my reply.

The Debate has covered a fairly wide field and I wish first of all to say something about electricity. I must make it perfectly clear—if there is any doubt about it—that I take full responsibility for accepting the recommendations of the Clow Committee. I have, in fact, always made that clear both to the public and to the area boards. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Palmer) said, I appointed that Committee because I thought it was desirable for an expert committee to examine what contribution might be obtained from the domestic consumer towards closing the potential gap between peak demand and available generating capacity.

Most of their recommendations were technical in character and the Committee made it plain that they could not affect the position for a considerable period of time. Only one proposal might have affected the position in the following winter—the winter of 1948–49—and that was the proposal for a differential tariff; that is, putting up the tariff during the winter months and putting it down correspondingly in the remaining months of the year. There was nothing very unusual about this.

The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) mentioned the differential tariff in Portugal. I was not aware of that but it might be so. But there were some undertakings, in this country, which operated a differential between summer and winter charge for electricity before nationalisation. The Clow Committee's proposal was therefore only a generalisation of what had been adopted by some undertakings in the past.

We never supposed—and in my first announcement I made it perfectly plain—that here was a perfect answer to the peak load problem. There was one obvious deficiency about the proposal, apart from the hardship aspect. This was that while it might in the winter discourage, and in the summer encourage, the consumption of electricity, we could not be sure that the discouragement and the encouragement would take place solely during the peak hours. Admittedly, there was the risk that the differential tariff might influence consumption in the off-peak periods more than in the peak periods and that it would therefore not contribute towards relieving the burden in the winter.

Nevertheless, we decided that we ought to try out the proposal. For my part, I think that any Minister in my position receiving the Report of an expert Committee, containing four people from the industry, which made a recommendation of this kind, would have been liable to serious criticism if he had completely turned it down. The right hon. Gentleman opposite shakes his head, but I must point out that I made the announcement over a year ago now, and there was very little sign of criticism from the Opposition benches when the announcement was made. It was only much later that the Opposition began to realise that there was some political advantage to be gained by criticising this proposal.

Mr. Bracken

The definition of the Minister's position is very odd. One of the prime duties of a Minister is to tear up most of the reports of committees submitted to him.

Mr. Gaitskell

No doubt the right hon. Gentleman always appoints committees whose reports he then proceeds to tear up. I would not agree that that was really the function of a Minister, however many reports may have been neglected by the Tory Party in the past.

I must make it plain that that differential tariff did not consist simply of a winter surcharge. There was a surcharge during three months plus a rebate during the remaining nine months of the year. I repeat that it was not imposed for the purpose of raising revenue over the year as a whole, but simply to deal with the peak load problem. I am well aware how unpopular it was. That fact was brought to my notice by many hon. Members in all parts of the Committee and by many of the consultative councils. But I would not necessarily have decided to drop the scheme because it was unpopular; for sometimes one must take unpopular actions. It might well have been that, though unpopular, it was the only way in which to prevent load shedding during the peak hours. If that had been the case, I think that we should have had to continue the scheme next winter as well.

When considering this matter, however, I am bound to say that I could not satisfy myself that the differential tariff had made a notable contribution towards reducing the peak demand. It might have done, but the figures do not show it. I do not apologise for this at all. Throughout, we said that it was an experiment. But in view of this, we decided not to continue with it.

I have been asked about the repayment of the surcharge by the British Electricity Authority. The British Electricity Authority never suggested that every individual would get back the amount of the surcharge. Clearly not. The whole purpose of the surchargecum-rebate was to penalise those who used excessive quantities of electricity during the three winter months and to benefit those who economised during that time and, of course, vice versa so far as the remaining nine months of the year were concerned. Therefore, it would have been quite wrong, and, indeed, the opposite of what was intended, if we were now to turn round—even if that were practicable, which it is not—and hand back the surcharge to those who were grossly excessive in their consumption of electricity—and not all but some undoubtedly have been—while at the same time taking away the rebates from those who had economised through the winter because that would have to be done as well.

Mr. Bracken

I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but millions of very poor people now live in all-electric homes, and this was a mean step of the worst possible kind, and I think he ought to repay the money taken by the Treasury from these poor people.

Mr. Gaitskell

I cannot in the least agree with the right hon. Gentleman. It could not possibly be proved that living in an all-electric house necessarily means that the individual loses over the year as a whole. The person who loses is the one who uses electricity for space heating during the winter but does not use very much electricity in the summer, and it was precisely that type of consumer whom we were anxious to deal with.

I was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Palmer) to say something about the generating programme. There is no reason for me to change what I said in the debate six or seven weeks ago. I said then that I thought that this year sufficient new plant would be added to take care of the increase in demand—somewhere in the neighbourhood of 800 megawatts. I still think that is quite likely. It is true that there was some lag in the first quarter but it was regained to a large extent in the second quarter. We are watching the position very carefully, but I must emphasise that it will be some years before we have been able to catch up with all the arrears that have accumulated. It is therefore quite true, as the right. hon. Gentleman said, that if there is a cold Winter there will undoubtedly be difficulties about electricity supplies, unless we can get by voluntary means, on which we shall rely this Winter, greater economies from the domestic consumer.

I should like next to refer to the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) about the gas stock prices. While I cannot go into detail in this matter—for what he wants would require legislation, which would be out of Order—I would like to tell him this. So far as the payment of interest is concerned, I think I can allay his anxieties. The Second Schedule to the Gas Act provides for the payment of interest on unvalued gas securities to be made by the Gas Council as and when directed by the Minister, and that will be done. The first interest date is 1st November, and we are arranging for the Council to make provisional payments of interest on that date to holders of unvalued gas securities.

Colonel Clarke

May we assume that the Minister will be agreeable to paying the interest?

Mr. Gaitskell

I think if the hon. and gallant Gentleman will read my statement, he will find that that is so.

Mr. Bracken

What about the capital of the unfortunate people?

Mr. Gaitskell

It will be difficult to deal with that point, for what I say will be out of Order. The possibility that holders of gas stock would suffer from a fall in gilt-edged has always existed, along with the equal possibility that there would be a rise in gilt-edged stocks which would benefit the holders of these securities. But when gilt-edged go up the Opposition always make such a frightful row about the rate of interest going down, that my right hon. and learned Friend gets into trouble.

Mr. Bracken

The real villain of the piece is the "casino" Chancellor.

Mr. Gaitskell

The Opposition cannot have it both ways; they cannot have a low rate of interest and a high rate of interest at the same time.

The other point is that we might, in theory, although there would have been great technical difficulties about it, have arranged the valuation of the stock to take effect on the date of issue instead of on vesting day. That would have meant introducing a risk into the income from these securities, and we have tried, to keep the income secure. There is no, question of our introducing amending: legislation.

I now turn to the questions on coal which the right hon. Gentleman put to, me. I hope nobody would call me a particularly complacent person about the coal situation. I want to say at the start that I do not wish to give the impression that I think everything is absolutely satisfactory, and that we need not worry at all about the coal output. All the same, I think the right hon. Gentleman is being unnecessarily gloomy.

He referred to the stock position, and, of course, it is quite true that as far as next winter is concerned the thing that matters most is the level of coal stocks. As I said in this House the other day in answer to a Question, the level at the moment is just about what we planned it to be, and I see no particular reason why we should not reach the expected level of 16,500,000 tons by the beginning of the coal winter on 1st November. There certainly seems to be every reason to expect it from the progress so far this summer. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to study the level of stocks of different types of consumers he can do so in the statement which we issue every week, and I hope he will forgive me if I do not waste the time of the House by reading them out. He will find that except in the case of industrial stocks, which were exceptionally high last year—in fact rather too high—most of the other consumers have stocks at approximately the same level as last year.

As to the year as a whole, the position has not changed very much since the last Debate. We are producing at the rate of perhaps 5 million or 6 million more tons of deep-mined coal than last year, while I think that there is a reasonable prospect that in the remaining months of the year we shall improve considerably on last year so far as opencast coal is concerned, we are certainly much nearer the lower of the two figures which we gave in the Economic Survey—215 million tons as against 220 million. tons,—and I would be happier if we were nearer the 220 million tons.

Although one would wish to have a larger output—I hope it will improve in the remaining months of the year—nevertheless, I would not really feel it was right to create a great degree of anxiety at this stage about the position next winter. We want more coal for exports, but having regard to the stock position I do not think the outlook for next winter is too bad. Incidentally, we only de-stocked to the extent of 500,000 tons last year, not 3 million tons as the right hon. Gentleman suggested.

The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the miners, and suggested that if I put the matter to them they would respond. I have always believed in taking the miners fully into my confidence in this matter. I have not, so far as I can recall, either lectured them or appealed to them. What I have done is to give them the facts of the situation. They do not need lectures or appeals; they are very loyal to the Government and know quite well what we want them to do. That some of them fall back a little is no doubt the case, and others would be the first to admit it, but I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the key people in the industry are fully aware of the position, and I shall continue to keep them informed.

Mr. McCorquodale

Has the right hon. Gentleman anything to say about the colliery winders?

Mr. Gaitskell

Not at this stage. This is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour rather than for myself and he has the position under consideration. With regard to the Lancashire coal dispute, negotiations are taking place between the union and the Coal Board.

On the question of the service charge to which the hon. Member for Ecclesall (Mr. P. Roberts) referred. I would be happy to look into the letter he has if he is satisfied that it is my concern, but I do not want to get involved in matters of day-to-day administration. As far as I know, the position is this. From 1st May last the restrictions which had hitherto existed so far as the wholesale trade was concerned were removed. That meant that anybody who wanted to could buy direct from the Coal Board provided they fulfilled certain conditions. The Coal Board said quite properly, "If we are to provide certain services for customers we shall make a charge for it." I may say that if they had said, "We are making no charge," they would, in fact, have been subsidising that part of their business and the wholesalers themselves would have had every right to complain about it.

Mr. Peter Roberts


Mr. Gaitskell

I cannot deal with the individual case which has been mentioned; 5s. a ton certainly seems high but, on the other hand, for certain services sums as high have been charged in the past.

Mr. Roberts

Do I understand that the National Coal Board can increase that service charge to any limit they think reasonable, or is a limit fixed by the Minister? I think that is important, otherwise the National Coal Board can raise the charge as they like.

Mr. Gaitskell

There is a maximum price limit as well but, apart from that, consumers are perfectly free to use the factor and not to go direct to the National Coal Board. There is no difficulty about that at all. I cannot deal with this in detail because it is based on a formula which I have not in my head at the moment. If the hon. Member wants information he has only to put down a Question.

I want to come to this pamphlet "Fingers in the Sky." First of all, the principle is perfectly clear: nationalised boards must be non-party in character and behaviour. We are all agreed about that, on all sides of the House. They must not take sides for or against any political party, whether it is the Government or the Opposition or, indeed, any other party. That has always been recognised by the Government and by the National Coal Board. In this case, the National Coal Board were sent the manuscript of this diary by a miner. After some revision it was published and copies were distributed on a non-profit basis. Its purpose was to encourage recruitment. It is 30,000 words in length. I have read this pamphlet and, as far as I can see, the only passages to which exception could be taken are one half-sentence of 33 words and one sentence of 18 words. I will read these, if I may: Whilst we rejoiced over this shower of amenities,"— some welfare amenities to which he refers— so necessary to the well-being and social life, a shadow was cast by Ramsay MacDonald's selling of the Labour Party, and once again the Tories got a grip on the windpipe of the workpeople by means of the National Government scare. But undismayed, I chose to get married. The other passage is as follows: Dick, who, like myself, has known very hard times, says that the prospects in the pit have never been better. His only worry is what will happen if the Tories get back into power at the next Election.

Sir John Mellor (Sutton Coldfield)

Has the right hon. Gentleman read the opening words of the preface?

Mr. Gaitskell

There is nothing there about the Conservative Party or the Tories but, of course, if the cap fits the hon. Member can wear it.

Mr. McCorquodale

Would the Minister be interested in this quotation if—

Mr. Gaitskell

I am afraid there is not time. The pamphlet was issued without reference to the actual Coal Board itself. I do not think anybody would expect that everything that is done in the name of the National Coal Board is seen and approved by the board themselves. That would be a case of the most extreme centralisation one could possibly have. As soon as the Chairman heard about this, however, he at once appreciated that it was a mistake, gave instructions that distribution of the pamphlet was to stop, informed me that in his view it was wrong for the board to have sponsored the production in its present form and said he had given orders which should prevent a similar mistake in the future. He also apologised to the hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) who went to see him on behalf of the Opposition.

I have only two further observations to make on this. First, it is really a very small matter. It is not a question of the National Coal Board having an opinion and expressing it; it is a question of a miner's view, and I do not think the Opposition should be very surprised that many miners in this country feel as the author of this pamphlet felt on those two points. Secondly, it is desirable that the National Coal Board should be nonparty, but I must say that the Opposition have not always helped to convey that impression by the sort of language they have used about the National Coal Board. The abusive terminology which has been used and which is generally reserved for political opponents may well have given some people in the National Coal Board the impression that they were not a nonparty organisation and may well have led them to identify their interests with those of my hon. Friends.

Criticism of the National Coal Board is, of course, justified, but this abuse of a semi-personal character which has so frequently been flung at them is quite improper. I hope that in their reasonable objection to this particular pamphlet—and, as I say, there is no disagreement about that—the Opposition themselves will improve their own behaviour in the future when they come to make remarks about the National Coal Board.

Sir J. Mellor

Will the Minister allow me?

Mr. Gaitskell

No, he will not, I am afraid, because there is not time.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)

The right hon. Gentleman cannot take it.

Mr. Gaitskell

Let the hon. Member not be silly. We know that the Opposition are only out to make the utmost political capital they can against nationalisation. They want to show in every possible way that it has failed, that costs and prices have gone up, and that output is low. In point of fact, I have recently been looking at the increase in fuel and power prices since 1947, and it amounts—and this is in the "Statistical Digest," so that anybody can read it who wants to—it amounts to 11 per cent., which is just the same as the average increase in all domestic prices during that period. Therefore, the idea that prices in the nationalised industries have gone up exceptionally by comparison with those in other industries is simply nonsense.

As a matter of fact, in every case the increases in costs that have taken place in coal, gas and electricity would have had to take place if those industries had remained in private enterprise—unless, of course, the Opposition are going to get up to say they would not have improved the miners' wages and conditions. Perhaps they would like to say that on some future occasion; but so far they have never dared to do it. What they like to do all the time, of course, is to confuse the public mind. They mislead the public by getting people to believe that nationalisation is responsible for these increases in costs, though, in fact, that is not the case. Nevertheless, I warn them that the public will see through this, and that they would be much better advised to stick to the truth, as we do, and get a very much better result.