§ 3.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)
I believe that this is the first time we have had a debate on fuel and power whilst the present Minister has held his office. I have no doubt that he will be more than eager to give an account of himself to the extent to which, of course, his "overlord" permits him. I can remember very vividly many fuel and power debates over the past few years. They were usually acrimonious because the nationalisation of the fuel and power industries was a matter of bitter party controversy. Many of us who took part in those debates will miss Lord Bracken today. He was rarely absent from our debates and could be relied upon always to stimulate the proceedings. However, many of his gloomy prognostications, I am glad to say, have not been borne out by experience.
When considering the line I should take in opening this debate, I must confess that I was very tempted to turn up the many speeches made by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, including the Minister himself, when they were in opposition; but I resisted the temptation because I have always held the view that these basic industries, vital to the national 904 prosperity of our country, cannot get on with their immense tasks if they are to be involved continually in a political conflict.
That does not mean that nothing will be said today which has a political content. It is inevitable that the political views of the Government, which have an impact upon the nationalised industries of coal, gas and electricity, are of great importance to us all, and not least to the industries themselves. Upon the success of the fuel and power industries depends very largely our economic survival. Criticisms there may be, but I am sure that neither the Government nor the industries will find that anything but helpful if our criticisms are well founded. Carping criticism should be avoided, constructive criticism should not be resented, and so I shall not only put a point of view but I shall be asking some questions with which I hope the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary will deal when replying to the debate.
We can look back now upon five years for coal, four years for electricity and three years for gas under public ownership. Speaking as one who was closely associated with these industries in a Ministerial capacity for a few years, I believe that, on the whole, they have done a good job of work and that we must give credit to all those in the industries at all levels who have contributed to their success. The trade union movement has played a great part and we have seen trade unionists, the leaders and the rank and file, not just concerning themselves only with wages and conditions, but anxious that the industries should be successful, and by joint consultation and in other ways making a great contribution.
One of the most difficult tasks in any industry is to get the human relations within that industry right, and we have seen these great industries drastically change their form without serious industrial upsets. In this field of good personal relations the machinery which has been agreed jointly by the trade unions and the management is fairly complete, and there is very serious effort being made by both sides to make the machinery which has been created work both efficiently and effectively.
Joint consultation is, however, something more than machinery; it is an 905 attitude of mind. It is not easy to change attitudes of mind when they have existed over the years and when there is sometimes resentment on both sides; but as time goes on and there are continuous efforts to make joint consultation work, the steady and noticeable improvements will continue, with great benefit to the industry concerned.
One of the most pleasing features has been the way in which educational and training facilities have been developed. The worker has never expected promotion without being qualified. His grievance has been that he did not always see equality of opportunity before him. Now, through the facilities of the educational and training schemes, if he has the ability and takes advantage of the opportunities offered, he can qualify himself for promotion.
One of the brightest things in connection with this is to see the number of men from within the coal industry who have qualified themselves for university scholarships under the Coal Board's scheme. The number is now nearly 200, and last year the first 28 to graduate started their careers. That is a great thing to report. The gas and electricity industries have both put into operation excellent schemes for education and training. The practice of allowing time off with pay to attend classes, whilst not new in the sense that it had never been done before, is certainly new in the size of the projects with which it is connected. Finding the best brains and aptitudes and giving the fullest opportunity for all on the basis of capacity rather than on nepotism will bring rich rewards.
It will be some time yet before the flow of young people who are given these opportunities really makes itself felt, but meanwhile we must say how much we welcome the arrangements made, and we give the maximum encouragement to their extension and full use. There is no doubt that this has already had a great effect upon recruitment in the most difficult of all industries for recruitment—the mining industry.
It is clear that the youngster from the mining village is now looking to mining as a career with a future. How else can one interpret the very heartening recruitment figures? In 1949, 14,000 juveniles joined the industry; in 1951, 20,000, and 906 in the first 20 weeks of this year 13,300 juveniles entered coal mining, a figure which is 3,500 more than the high figure of 1951. The bulk of these will have come from mining families, showing that slowly but surely the trend for miners' sons not to enter the industry is becoming reversed. How can we measure that as a contribution to the nation's welfare? If public ownership had done nothing more than that for the mining industry, it would have justified itself.
But what of some of the outstanding achievements of these industries in carrying out the charter under which they were set up? We were often accused when in government of nationalising these industries merely because of a doctrinaire policy. But, of course, that was not the case. It is true that we believe in public ownership. In our view, it has much to commend it as a principle; but we were just as much concerned with making these industries efficient and economic in the public service. What has been attained? Obviously I can touch upon only a few things, but even so they reveal immense progress.
If we take electricity, what do we find? Thermal efficiency overall rose in the first three years of nationalisation from 20.86 per cent. in 1947–48 to 21.79 per cent. in the calendar year 1951. What did that mean? It meant a saving of about two million tons of coal, representing an economy of about £5 million. Since vesting day, 20 new power stations have begun operations, and 3,347,000 kilowatts of new generating plant was installed up to the end of 1951. The first section of the new super-grid to operate at 275,000 volts has been constructed, and when completed this new super-grid will save millions of pounds on new plant and secure the advantages of cheap generation in a number of large stations to be built on the East Midlands coalfields.
Savings of more than £4½ million have been secured in the first three years of nationalised operation in capital costs of providing points of supply to area boards, compared with the cost that would have been incurred in pre-vesting conditions. The policy of the standardisation of plant and equipment has secured advantages in reducing work in design departments, drawing offices and manufacturers' workshops, and I understand that today approximately 80 per cent. of the B.E.A. 907 plant programme comprises plant of standard sizes or for standard conditions of operation.
A great contribution has been made to agricultural production and amenity by reason of having electrified over 28,000 farms, the total now being in excess of 120,000, and of course this must be continued. We shall not get the increased productivity from the land or the factories unless we put more horsepower at the elbow of the worker. It was pointed out in several of the reports of the teams sent to the U.S.A. by the Anglo-American Council on Productivity that the horsepower available to each worker in the United States of America is three times that available to the British worker. We have got to catch up, and of course it is the Government's responsibility to ensure that the electricity industry is not lacking for the things it requires to carry on the present activities and its future programme.
What is the Government's intention with regard to capital expenditure? It is essential for proper planning, and in order that firm orders for plant and machinery and contracts for structural work may be placed, that the industry should know what capital expenditure will be permitted for several years ahead. Perhaps the Minister will tell us what the Government's ideas are on this particularly important matter. What is being done to ensure adequate supplies of the special steel and the steel for reinforced concrete construction, the shortage of which, as the Minister must know, is in a number of cases holding up the commissioning of new plant?
The same kind of considerations apply to the gas industry. Can the Minister assure us that the shortage of capital investment is not preventing the gas industry from getting on with its expansionist programme? One of the most valuable advantages arising from nationalisation of the gas industry was the ability to construct gas grids, with the consequent savings to be effected thereby. But this is being retarded because of the shortage of pipes.
Indeed, it was only recently that the chairman of the East Midlands Gas Board, in a report to the area consultative council, said that deliveries of pipes for gas supplies are now so behind that 908 many new houses will be finished and occupied before the gas can be laid on. He estimated that his board's requirement for steel this year was 21,680 tons, but it appeared that its allocation would be only 6,600 tons—and this is only one area board amongst many. This is very serious.
How will this industry be placed for supplies of pipes and steel for the development of their coal carbonising activities? Industry urgently needs greater gas supplies, particularly those industries which are engaged in the re-armament programme. In Birmingham and the Black Country 78 requests for industrial supplies, each exceeding 4 million cubic feet a year and aggregating 4,517 million cubic feet, had to be refused. A similar story can be told of many other industrial areas. This is a very vital and grave matter. I know the difficulties, but industry must get the supplies it needs or we shall fail to meet our production obligations.
What is the Minister doing about this? After all, these matters are outside the control of the industry and are a governmental responsibility. It is, indeed, fortunate that the industry was nationalised when it was, because, despite the difficulties, the gas industry has made some remarkable economies and has been able to improve its efficiency. Scotland is a case in point, where integration has enabled the Scottish Board to link up and merge a number of undertakings. Seven works have already been closed and 15 more are to be closed when the present schemes which have been approved are completed.
The economies by this linking are obvious. In the eastern area a capital cost of some £98,000 has been avoided and two villages which have not previously had a supply of gas lie on the route of the new link and will benefit thereby. In Sheffield, for three years it has been necessary to restrict the supply of gas to industrial consumers. A connection of only some 500 yards of main has connected Rotherham with Sheffield, with the result that on the maximum day more than 6 million cubic feet were used above the maximum output before vesting day. In South Wales, two major schemes of the eastern and western gas grids are well under way, and, in co-operation with the Coal Board, the gas from the new 909 Nantgarw gas ovens will flow into the eastern grid. Already it has been possible to cease production at four works and to curtail it at others. These are a few examples out of many proving the advantages of an integrated industry.
Nor can the gas industry be accused of lack of enterprise. It has always been said that publicly-owned undertakings such as these would not have real enterprise and that it needs private ownership to have real enterprise, but the fact is that the Welsh Gas Board must get a great deal of credit for the first large-scale experiment in the use of butane, a product in this case from the Llandarcy refinery of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. The gas-making plant at Whitland, Carmar thenshire, was closed down and consumers were supplied through the mains with butane air mixture producing the new form of gas. The results of this pioneer experiment have been made available to all other area boards by the Gas Council, so that the whole industry will be advantaged.
Whitland is only a small undertaking supplying about 240 consumers, but it normally consumes about 538 tons a year. That coal will now be saved, and that in itself is important. But what is more important is the potential saving in coal that can accrue as this kind of scheme is developed and with the utilisation of the ever-increasing quantities of butane which the growing refinery programme will produce. Coal savings are today terribly important. Indeed, I would like to congratulate the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) on the production of a very fine book, "Ten Steps to Power" in which he deals with this matter very carefully indeed.
Whilst we avoided a shortage last winter, the Minister informed me, in answer to a supplementary question, that this was due largely to the mild weather. I think that an additional reason was the excellence of the plans which were made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker), his predecessor; but I do not exclude the fact that a mild winter makes a great deal of difference. So does large-scale unemployment in Lancashire, when mills, which are large users of coal, cease to take supplies. I have no doubt that the Government have a plan to restore full employment to Lancashire, but I do not 910 think that we can pursue that matter at the moment.
We cannot rely on having a mild winter every year. Stocks of coal for industry stand high, but I presume that the right hon. Gentleman will want to get a stock of 17½ million or 18 million tons by the end of the summer in order to begin the winter. Perhaps he will give us an indication as to the exact level he is planning to achieve by the end of the summer. At all events, it would not appear to be a matter of concern today, for industrial stocks are standing well.
I am not so happy about stocks for domestic consumers. The Minister might be good enough to let us have a figure for those stocks and also to tell us whether there will be any additional large coal for the house coal programme. I have no doubt that the recent increase which he made of some slack coal, was greatly appreciated by the trade, but he knows full well that the real requirement of the domestic market is large coal, of which there is a very great shortage. Will he be able to make an additional allowance of large coal for the next winter?
We should also be very glad if he would elucidate the speech which was made by the Parliamentary Secretary at the annual luncheon of the Society of Coal Merchants in April. Is it intended to free completely the distributive trade? Is it intended that newcomers may enter the distributive trade? There are many rumours in that trade. I know that the right hon. Gentleman does not want to disturb the trade and that he has a very difficult time, but I think it would be useful to know exactly what is in his mind in regard to easing restrictions on coal distributors.
Stocks are highly important. I think the right hon. Gentleman would agree that stocks can and are only being built up at the cost of exports, and exports are vital. Iron ore from Sweden and timber from Finland are only two of the essential raw materials which we can buy with coal. Europe is crying out for coal. It seems incredible that some three-quarters of United States economic aid to Europe this year is to be spent upon buying American coal. If this could possibly have been avoided, it would have changed the whole economic position of Europe and ourselves. The problem of the 911 scarcity of shipping and the rising freight rates is not helped when one considers that 500 ships are engaged on this long haul from America to Europe.
From 1947 to 1951 Europe imported nearly 90 million tons of American coal. Our inability to export more coal is inextricably tied up with our inability to import more food and raw materials and thus improve, or indeed hold, our living standards. This plain fact cannot be too often emphasised both to producers and to users of coal. Indeed, in order to find more coal for export we must produce more and consume less. As to production, I shall say a word about that later. Consuming less or slowing down the percentage of increase of home consumption is an absolute necessity.
The National Coal Board "Plan for Coal" provides for an output of 240 million tons in 1961–65. The Federation of British Industries, in their evidence to the Ridley Committee, estimates the total requirement, including 30 million tons for exports and bunkers, at 293 million tons. Other authorities also seem to share the opinion that 240 million tons will be insufficient. What does the right hon. Gentleman think about that? Is it his view that the National Coal Board's plan is too modest? If it is, what does he propose to do about it? If the F.B.I. figure is anywhere near correct, our exports of coal will never be large enough to satisfy European requirements, even after allowing for increased production on the Continent. Indeed, they will dwindle below the present level.
The T.U.C. and the F.B.I. have shown their great concern about this problem and my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South set up the Ridley Committee in August last to advise on the better use of fuel and power, because it is in this field that we can probably get more coal more quickly than by an increase in production. I understand that the Committee have not yet reported, and I should like to ask the Minister whether he can say just what progress is being made and whether he has any idea when the Committee will be reporting. As a result of previous work on this subject by a whole host of bodies, including the magnificent work done by the mobile testing units of the fuel efficiency service of the right hon. Gentleman's own Ministry, 912 there is a great deal of knowledge already available.
It is within my recollection that one of the reports from the mobile testing units was to the effect that if the recommendations they made were put into effect by industry, there would be a potential saving of some 20 per cent. I know that capital is required for these schemes, and we all welcome the loan scheme under which the Government will provide up to £1 million in total for industrial firms which install approved fuel-saving equipment or insulate their factories; but I believe that this is quite inadequate.
I believe it is inadequate because it is to be an experiment for only one year, and the loan is presumably at the normal rate of interest. A larger sum should have been made available and a real incentive given to the small industrialist by fixing a nominal interest of 1 per cent. It must be appreciated that 40 per cent. of industrial coal is used by plants consuming 50 tons or less a week. These are the users to which this scheme will be most attractive. Larger firms have already got under way with their new schemes and are financing them largely themselves. It is the small industrialist—the 50 tons a week man—whom we should go after, because by so doing we should probably make the greatest saving.
I have received a copy of the explanatory leaflet—for which I thank the right hon. Gentleman—which was issued at the end of May. While only a little over a month has elapsed since he distributed this leaflet, I should be glad to know what kind of a reception it has had, how many firms have indicated their intention to make use of the scheme and whether any sums have yet been advanced?
Another weak feature of the scheme—and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will be prepared to have a look at this question—is that it is a condition of a loan that the scheme shall be approved by the Ministry of Fuel and Power; but when the Minstry of Fuel and Power have approved the scheme, and when the finance corporation, acting for the Government, have agreed to make the loan, the industrialist is told: "All that has been done. You run away and get all the licences you may require," and he is subjected to a great deal of difficulty and paper work in order to get licences for schemes which the right hon. Gentleman 913 has approved and for which the Government have made a loan.
This is purely an administrative matter, but I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman might look at it again. If he approves a scheme and the finance corporation agree to make the loan, I suggest that his Department should also grant the licences so that the industrialist can go right ahead with the job of converting his plant. It seems to me that that kind of thing would be much more likely to make the scheme more attractive than it is if the industrialists are given a good deal of difficulty after their schemes have been approved. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give very careful consideration to that point. After all, a prospective fuel saving of 20 per cent. is not to be looked at lightly. It represents several million tons.
What else can the right hon. Gentleman do to get some coal saved in industry? After these past years of gentle persuasion—and I have done my part—which I admit has been highly successful to a point, I think the time has now come for much more vigorous action. The fleet of mobile testing units might be expanded and all firms using over a certain tonnage visited. Make the loan easier, as I have suggested, and the firms which decline to implement the recommendation of the fuel efficiency unit in a reasonable time should have its coal supplies restricted.
This may sound a bit severe, but, after all, the housewives of this country have had a great restriction placed upon them, resulting in much physical discomfort and in some cases hardship. From 45 million tons, which the domestic consumers used before the war, they are now down to about 31 million tons a year. It is grossly unfair to go on restricting the domestic market in this way and at the same time permitting the industrialists to use coal wastefully. Coal is so vital to us now and in the years ahead that we must show people that we mean business in this matter.
There are a number of other big schemes about which I, like the right hon. Gentleman, have some knowledge, and I think the time has now arrived when he must begin to press forward with some of them. What about the Severn barrage scheme? That would save us 1 million tons of coal a year. I know 914 that it would be a vast project, with a great capital investment, but a million tons a year extra coal on the export market would go a long way towards financing that scheme. If there were time, one could go on enumerating many methods which have been tested and tried and which could be adopted in advance of the Ridley Report. I hope the Minister will not regard this as just another speech in the House of Commons to which he is bound to listen, but will seriously regard this matter as one of urgency. Let him put a little card on his desk, where he will see it every day, and on it have printed in large, bold capitals, "What have I done today to save more fuel?"; and never let the answer be, "Nothing."
Finally, let us look at the production side, of the industry. The figures for the first 20 weeks of this year reveal the initial effects of the sharp rise in recruitment, especially of juveniles. Extra face room required means that experienced manpower has to be used for development. Output per man-shift overall is nearly 2 per cent. below the same period of last year and the rate of increase at the face is lessened. We can expect, I presume, increased output towards the end of the year when the extra manpower comes more fully into play.
Looking back, however, the industry has done remarkably well when one considers the terrible decline in the industry until just after the war. Output for 1946 was down to 181 million tons as compared with 227 million tons in 1938; manpower was down from 782,000 to 697,000; output per man-year from 290 tons to 260 tons; and output per man-shift from 1.14 tons to 1.03 tons. That picture has changed considerably. If it had not, then Britain would have been finished as a great Power and her people would have been on a very low standard of living.
Manpower at the end of 1951 was 699,000, and still increasing; the output per man-year was 303 tons and the output per man-shift 1.21 tons. Indeed, the output per man-year was the highest for half-a-century and the output per man-shift the highest ever in the history of the industry. I remember that when right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite were in opposition they used to make great play about output per man-year. Well, 915 it turned out as we said it would when we nationalised the industry. Of the six Western European coal-producing countries, Great Britain has had the highest output per man-year during each of the years 1948 to 1951 and has also had the highest output per man-shift underground, except for the Netherlands. Here is something in which we can all take pride and on which we can pay our tribute to those who work in this, our greatest industry.
My final word is this. While no one, least of all those who have been charged with the running of these fuel and power industries, would claim that everything is perfect, let us give credit where it is due. No one could read the annual reports of these industries, year after year, as I have done, and fail to be impressed by the immensity of the tasks and the vigorous way in which they have been tackled. And no one could fail to be impressed, either, by the driving power of public service.
These industries need all the help Parliament can give to them. There is much to do and time is not on our side. They are now operating under the shadow of the election manifestos of the Conservative Party. Whatever controversy wages about steel and transport, let us at least free these fuel and power industries from the political arena. Changes there may be, but let those changes be based upon the practical experience of the boards, and the trade unions working with them, and let them have the public interest in view. Let any changes come from within the industries themselves, and let them be changes designed to make the industries more efficient and better able to serve the nation's needs.
I do not expect the Minister to stand up and denounce his party's election programme, but I do urge him to forget about it, to tell us today that these industries can forge ahead, and to free them from the uneasy feeling that they must remain the whipping posts of politicians.
§ 3.57 p.m.
§ The Minister of Fuel and Power (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd)
I could not possibly make any complaint about the speech of the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) this afternoon. It was noticeable for an almost complete absence of party feeling, except for just that last passage, which I suppose even hon. 916 Members on this side of the House expected that he would feel he must make. Dealing with the coal industry, in particular, I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that the statement which I made last November was satisfactory, and that the National Coal Board, and indeed a good many of his hon. Friends, were kind enough to say that it had allayed feelings of anxiety in the coalfield.
I think the most useful thing that I could do would be to make a reference, before I come to the survey which I must make myself, to what the right hon. Gentleman said about fuel efficiency. I know that when he was at the Department he and his right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker), who was then the Minister, put a great deal of energy into the work for fuel efficiency, and I therefore listen with particular attention to what he says.
I can understand that while a good deal has been achieved, all those who work in this field are inclined to feel a certain sense of frustration that they cannot get ahead even faster; but I am sorry that that feeling of frustration should have led the right hon. Gentleman into suggesting that there should be a definite restriction on the supplies of coal to industry because, while I can well understand the motive—which I notice was approved by hon. Gentlemen opposite below the Gangway—yet I think the right hon. Gentleman is choosing an easy but wrong way out of the difficulty. Although it might be in the interests of fuel efficiency, nevertheless it would lead to a great many restrictions and to frustration in the operations of industrial firms and would be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to administer without having a bad effect upon industrial production.
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)
What would the right hon. Gentleman do with a firm which was asked to become more efficient in the use of coal and refused to do so?
§ Mr. Lloyd
I think that in a country like ours, while we must do our best to get people to do the right thing, we cannot in all circumstances compel them to do so. I believe that the right line is more in the direction of giving incentives.
That brings me to the right hon. Gentleman's observations about the loans scheme. I can tell him that we have 917 had requests from over 100 firms for the form, in spite, as he has said, of the relatively short time in which the scheme has been working, and we have already received back 10 of those forms with applications for loans amounting to just under £86,000. I think that is rather encouraging for such a very short space of time, and I would remind the right hon. Gentleman, with regard to his further proposals, that we have always put forward this scheme as an experiment, and, therefore, because it is an experiment, that means we shall have to watch the way it works and shall have to consider it as time goes on.
§ Mr. Philip Noel-Baker (Derby, South)
And if there is a demand to increase it, and if a lower rate of interest would increase demand, consider that, too.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I understand that, and I do not want to delay the right hon. Gentleman from coming to his statement, but I hope he will also consider that what I have just said is the mature view of the Federation of British Industries, who believe they could get a very big result if more money were available for loans at a really low rate of interest.
§ Mr. Lloyd
Yes, those are certainly important matters for consideration.
The difficulty, I think, that always faces a Minister of Fuel and Power in a debate like this is the immense range of the subject. After all, it is not a coal debate, nor a gas debate, nor an electricity or oil debate. It is a fuel and power debate, and it is extraordinarily difficult to cover that immense field, and more difficult particularly to cover it without doing what is really not acceptable to the Committee, that is to give an endless spate of statistics which, in the end, make it rather impossible to follow the subject properly. I would propose to try to make a survey—a very rapid survey. I shall try not to clog the Committee with statistics. I shall try to make a survey looking particularly all the time at the effect of the operations of these industries on our 918 crucial national problem, namely, the increase of productivity and the balance of payments.
For that reason I would propose today first of all to say a few words about the oil industry, because this is the one of the fuel and power industries which is expanding most quickly, and it is also the one which is making the greatest contribution to our balance of payments. That really is rather a sad thing from the point of view of the coal industry, but it has also a good side to it for the nation as a whole, in that we have this as a compensating factor.
But, before I come to it in detail, I should just like to put to the Committee one sobering general fact with regard to fuel and power. We are always hearing nowadays about the fact that the American workman has more horsepower behind him than the British workman. It is true. In the end, of course, it all comes back to fuel and energy. I was looking the other day at the figures over a period of time for the comparison between this country and the United States.
About 100 years ago this country consumed far more fuel and energy per head than the United States—consuming about two tons a head in those days to half a ton in the United States. During the last 50 years of the 19th century our consumption was rising steadily, but in the last 25 years of that century the United States were overhauling us fast; in fact, they passed us just after the turn of the century, and at the present time they are consuming about twice as much fuel and energy per head as we are, namely, about eight tons of coal equivalent to our four. On the other hand, a more hopeful fact is that there is intense activity in the oil industry, and, I think it true to say, in all the fuel and power industries.
To turn to the oil industry, it is, of course, an immensely expanding trade, and the trade has doubled since before the war. By weight and value oil is the biggest single commodity moving in international trade outside the United States. British companies control or do nearly half of the international trade—last year about 80 to 90 million tons, in spite of Abadan. Of course, it means a considerable expenditure in foreign exchange to produce all this oil, but even in 1950 it was worth about £500 million, and this 919 year, in spite of Abadan, it may be worth between £600 million and £700 million. It means, of course, very intense activity by the companies to keep up with this virile industry throughout the world, and, indeed, last year, the capital expenditure by them was in excess of £150 million.
Refineries are going up in the Commonwealth countries all round the Indian Ocean, and, of course, there is great expansion in home refining. Here there has been a great change in the outlook of the companies, because before the war they were very inclined to have the refineries in the countries of production. Owing to the great development of the chemical industry, based on petroleum products from the refineries, and also to the fact that these very large modern tankers of about 30,000 tons capacity have made the transport of crude oil about the world so much cheaper, there has been a move to have the refineries more in the countries of consumption.
Thus it is that, with the assistance of the Government, home refining, which was practically negligible before the war, has reached a rate of about 24 million tons this year, and it may be even 30 million tons next year. We may find, too, exports of about five million tons this year from refineries in this country—which, it is a little sad to reflect, is, in terms of coal equivalent, almost the amount we reduced our coal exports to last year.
I think we ought not to leave the subject of oil without congratulating the companies on the remarkable successes of the measures they have taken to make up for the loss of the Abadan. In doing that, we must pay also a tribute to the very great co-operation this country has received from the United States oil companies.
I turn now to coal, the industrial giant which supports the whole of our industrial economy. Last November I had to report a very serious prospect. There was an estimate that there would be a fall of 10,000 in the manpower in the mines this year, and there was also a prospective deficit of from 4½ to 5½ million tons. Since then, I am glad to say, there has been as the months have gone by, a gradual but cumulative improvement. Of course, as the right hon. Gentleman said—although, I think, he slightly depre- 920 ciated it—we were very much helped by the mild winter, not only because it enabled the private householders to get by on a relatively small consumption and a rather small allocation, but also, of course, because it so much reduced the consumption by industry and helped the opencast production so much.
Since then the National Coal Board has carried on with very vigorous recruiting for more mining manpower. The Government have introduced special housing schemes for the miners, and I think it is true to say that there is a return of confidence in the industry among mining families. Instead therefore of a fall of 10,000, the manpower in the industry has risen by 23,000 since last November. Following on that, production is up—not as much as we should like, but still up; stocks are up still more, and exports are up still more than that.
The Government have gradually authorised increasing exports, and they will almost certainly be this year almost half as much again in tonnage as they were last year, when, including slurry, they were 7¾ million tons; and this year the corresponding figure may be 12½ million. With the rise in price at the beginning of the year, they will bring in about £60 million in foreign exchange, instead of £30 million last year. I think the Committee will agree that, while that is a start, it is not enough, and everybody knows it. The country badly needs these bigger exports. Also, in the industry both the National Coal Board and, I am glad to say, the National Union of Mineworkers are convinced that it is in the interests of the industry itself that Britain should get back into her traditional coal markets, particularly on the Continent, just as soon as she can.
It is true to say, I think, that there is a feeling in the industry that things may have taken a definite turn for the better, because manpower is still rising steadily—a thing which is rather unusual at this time of year—and there is, particularly, a very high proportion of boys among the new entrants and, I again emphasise, from the mining families, which is one of the most important things. This influx of manpower is reaching a point where it is having some very important effects, and I should like to analyse it a little. As many hon. Members opposite know 921 much better than I do, it takes many months to train the recruits; and for boys, in most areas, although it differs in some, about nine months would. I think, be the right figure.
§ Mr. Lloyd
On a matter like this I would not dispute that with the hon. Gentleman. I am giving the advice that I have received from the National Coal Board. Generally speaking, the recruits go first into the haulage lines, which releases men from the haulage lines from behind the face so that they can be upgraded to the face.
As a result of the continued influx of manpower we have now reached the point where additional face room is required, and the result is that the National Coal Board are having to take some of the most experienced men off the face, not merely in order to make what are called renewal faces, but additional faces as well. The immediate effect of taking some of the best men off the faces and having an influx of inexperienced recruits is not very helpful to productivity at the face, and I hope that this is one of the reasons why, as the right hon. Gentleman said, there is this rather disappointing feature, that output per man-shift at the face is even a little lower than it was last year. Of course, output per man-shift is almost bound to suffer a certain reduction with an influx of manpower as long and as continuous as this, for the same general reason, that there is so much inexperienced manpower now in the total.
If I may just pause for one moment here. I know that in some quarters there is a certain amount of grumbling against the miners. If I might put it broadly, whenever things do not go completely right in other walks of life, with doctors, or with Ministers, people always grumble; and I suppose that some people, seeing that things are not going as we want in the mines, start grumbling at the miners. I think that the miner, putting him in the same class as the British sailor, is the last person in the world to want fulsome compliments from anybody, but he is entitled to have the facts that speak in his favour stated in the Committee, and, if I may say so, stated by the Minister of Fuel and Power.
The output per man-shift underground of the British miner is at the present 922 time, not only higher than it was before the war, but higher than in any other major Western coal-producing country. Then those that grumble say, "Ah! but that is not the real figure. The real figure is output per man-year, because that takes into account absenteeism and everything else." It therefore gives me particular pleasure today to point out that the output per man-year of the British miner is higher than that of the miner in any other major coal-producing country in Western Europe.
The expansion of the labour force that I have mentioned, and the gradual effects it has in filling up the faces and in leading to more face room, although inclined to have a bad effect on productivity in the short-term, is thoroughly healthy from the point of view of the production of this great industry in the longer term. Therefore, although I do not feel able to make forecasts of the figures for next year—because, as everybody who knows this industry appreciates, there are so many imponderable factors which can go different ways—if present trends continue and all goes well there is a possibility that next year we might, with opencast, produce more coal than we did on an average in the years before the war and achieve a bigger rate of increase in exports than this year.
§ Mr. T. Brown
I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that, with the developments now being worked, we should get the benefit of increased face room for the men who are now being trained to take the places of those who are now operating, and as a result we shall get a further improvement, not in 1952 but in 1953–54, but we shall have to wait until that development has taken place.
§ Mr. Lloyd
I thank the hon. Gentleman very much for that, because that was the point I was trying to make. We are in what ought to be thought of as a seed year, and we ought to begin to get the proper result of the increased manpower after it has been trained, and of the additional faces perhaps, I would say round about Christmas of this year, and I hope with increasing effect after that.
Perhaps I might now turn for a moment to the gas and electricity industries. These industries, in the main, do 923 not contribute directly to the balance of payments, but they do make a contribution indirectly very powerfully. Electricity does so dramatically in its effect on productivity, because anybody who knows the factories knows that, the more modern and complex a machine tool almost inevitably the more electric motors there are in it. Anybody who knows the metal industries of the Midlands, for example, will appreciate what an enormous part gas plays in the annealing furnaces, and so on, in the metal industries, on which the country is particularly relying, in respect of both re-armament and exports.
Also, when turning to these utility industries, we enter—as I would point out particularly to my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro)—the field of fuel utilisation and the efficiency of fuel utilisation in its most massive aspect. These two industries together use over 60 million tons of coal a year. Here it is satisfactory to note—because we are sometimes inclined to overlook it—that the drive for fuel efficiency is carried on ceaselessly and successfully.
The right hon. Gentleman touched a little on that point, and it is true to say—and, if I may be allowed to say so, it was also true before the war when the industry was not nationalised—that year by year the electricity industry in this country, however organised, increases the thermal efficiency of the new power stations it constructs. Last year the new power stations saved 800,000 tons of coal, and I would think that by about a year from now another million tons of coal will have been saved by the extra thermal efficiency of the new power stations constructed during the period.
In gas, too, the newer gasification plants are more efficient and experiments are being carried out in the total gasification of coal—that is producing gas without making coke—which has the advantage of a wider range of coals being used. Experiments are also being made in the gas world in the total gasification of fuel oil which links up with the great increase of home refineries here, and of which, I am told, one of the great advantages is that while it produces a gas which is really the thermal equivalent of ordinary coal gas, the capital equipment to produce it is much less expen- 924 sive than that used with coal as a basic material.
The right hon. Gentleman touched on this point, I think, that both electricity and gas have their grids. The electricity grid is much larger and is much better known. I think that not enough attention has been paid to the importance of the gas grid.
§ Mr. Lloyd
I am glad to have the support of my hon. Friend. The gas grid was first developed in this country in South Yorkshire before the war—if the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to point that out—and it was not just the development that comes from nationalisation. It has been much expanded and seems to be springing up in all the areas of the country. It has the advantage of being able to link up with the coke ovens, planned by the National Coal Board, and by some of the steel companies, and it will also link up, we hope, to take some of the refinery gasses—that is surplus gas produced in the oil refineries. What is very important, and rather new for gas, is the idea now being discussed of linking up the Sheffield-Nottingham area and the Birmingham area by an inter-connecting gas grid communication across the Midlands.
With regard to the electricity grid, very important developments are planned. I think that there is some misunderstanding about the functions of the existing grid. That grid was really planned only to take rather temporary and relatively small passages of power, so to speak, between local grids and power stations. It was never planned for the continuous and bulk transmission of large amounts of power. That is the purpose of the new 275,000 volt grid. It is, I think, particularly interesting that this grid will link up with the new power stations which the British Electricity Authority are planning to build in the expanding area of the East Midlands coalfields, and which will ultimately mean the bringing of very large amounts of power to London which had, in fact, been generated in electricity stations sited in the East Midlands coalfields.
I believe that ultimately it may be necessary to raise the voltage of this 925 super-grid, particularly for this purpose, to something near 400,000 volts, and that may mean—as much as 2 million kilowatts will be going about 120 miles to London, which will be the equivalent of about 4½ million tons of coal which will not then have to be transported by rail.
I ought also I think to mention, because it is rather important from the point of view of fuel efficiency, that the British Electricity Authority and the National Coal Board are planning to construct power stations in particular areas in the coalfields in order to use coal which is really practically unsaleable for any other purpose, and these stations will, of course, also be connected with the grid.
I should like to mention what I think is a rather interesting development in the grid. For some time, the British Electricity Authority and the Electricité de France have had a joint committee which have been studying the possibility and the desirability of having a submarine power cable under the Channel which would connect the electricity grid of the two, countries. This Committee has been working for some time, and it has now made a report which indicates that it should be technically possible to do it, although a good deal of experiment will be necessary in order to make quite sure that it can be done properly.
I am glad to think that the experience gained in the laying of the Pluto pipeline will almost certainly be useful to electrical engineers in this peacetime project. It is also felt that it is commercially desirable partly because the peak hours in the two countries, partly for social reasons, partly for industrial, and partly for climatic, take place at different times. It may be that at some time in the future we may, from time to time, draw some power in this country from the hydroelectric stations of the Alps and make a similar return across the cable from the coalfields of the East Midlands to France. The position at present is that the British Electricity Authority are engaged in considering that report.
§ Mr. Robens
I take it that the committee are not dealing with the strategic aspect of a policy such as that, and that, in this very important development, the B.E.A. will not be authorised to go ahead with such a scheme until the Government have very carefully considered it?
§ Mr. Lloyd
As I have said, the B.E.A. are now considering it, but, of course, it will also be for the Government to consider it as well. I think that the Committee will see that there is great technical progress and activity in all these fuel and power industries, certainly in the extracting industries.
I think that we have to go one stage further, because we cannot merely depend on the active technical development taking place at the moment. We have to have an active system of research looking for better techniques and methods of utilising fuel in the future. Here, all the nationalised industries, and certainly the oil industry, are extremely active in research. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Department is engaged also in a research programme of a practical nature, and, in particular, there are two interesting projects at present under way.
One of them is related to the utilisation of the principle of the gas turbine, of which, of course, the jet and the Comet jet airliner is a particular example, for general engineering purposes and motive power on the ground. The Department is developing a form of gas turbine which has already successfully run on coal instead of oil, and, what I must say surprises me every time I think of it, it is also being made to run even on peat. That is rather an interesting development and, of course, it can have a considerable influence in the utilisation of fuel in the future, as I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster will agree that the gas turbine is inherently an efficient unit.
The other research going on is in regard to what is called the underground gasification of coal. Let me make it quite clear that the objective here is the utilisation of what is believed to be about 1,000 million tons of coal which is so bad in quality or so difficult to work by virtue of the narrow seams that it can never be mined by ordinary methods.
Already two schemes have been tried out. The interesting thing is that both have succeeded in obtaining a thermally useful gas. It is not like the coal gas we get in the gas supply, but it is a form of gas which would be useful to drive an engine for the purpose, for example, of making electricity. Gas has now been 927 obtained at two sites where the coal conditions were very different. It was obtained by drilling, and a pneumatic process for making the junction between the two drilled holes in the seams has been discovered. Thus the whole process of the production of gas can be started by means only of the drilling and without anybody having to go underground. That has interesting possibilities for the future.
I said earlier that the consumption per head of fuel in this country and America was a very interesting and important fact in the national life. That is so, but we must remember that those were the crude figures. They are only half the story. There is also the efficiency of utilisation. Let us see what the position of this country is. It is not that we are somebody with no resources at all and having to try to make something out of nothing. On the other hand, our position is not that we have such overmastering resources compared with other countries as we had in the 19th century.
What we have is this wonderful reserve of coal and this great industry, which, in spite of criticism, is still sustaining the whole of our national economy, not with all the force that we want, but it is still substantially sustaining it all the time. We have to get that industry into a thoroughly prosperous and efficient state again, and then, with the use of industrial management and scientific research and proper application, ensure that the country does a really good job with the efficient utilisation of the fuel when produced.
§ Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Test)
Might I ask the right hon. Gentleman a question before he resumes his seat? I did not want to interrupt what I am certain everybody regarded as a very interesting and, indeed, amazing speech from the Minister. The right hon. Gentleman paid tribute to the vitally important part which the oil refining industry is playing in the present economic crisis. Can he say a word or two about the attitude of the Government towards the expansion of home oil refineries and, in particular, about the one which means so much to people in my part of the world, the proposed second oil refinery in Hampshire?
§ Mr. Robens
Might I ask the right hon. Gentleman before he finally closes whether he has left the Parliamentary Secretary to answer all the questions that I raised, about domestic supplies and so on?
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Mr. William Paling (Dewsbury)
In every part of the Committee we have listened with great attention and interest to survey which the Minister has made of the wide field of fuel and power, and we have been particularly interested in the experiments which are taking place. We were also interested in the Minister's remarks about returning confidence in the mining industry. They made us feel that the Minister is happy to be the Minister of the nationalised industries, as I am sure he is.
The recently published Report of the National Coal Board is very illuminating. It does not try to gloss over mistakes or failures; it openly admits that, while it has had successes, it has also had failures and difficulties. The Report also shows how attempts have been made to overcome many of the problems and difficulties with which the industry has been faced.
The Report surveys the development of the industry since it was taken over by the National Coal Board five years ago. It shows that the five years of nationalisation have laid very good foundations for all possibilities of coal development and output, working conditions, relationships between management and men, safety measures, and health and welfare measures. When we take all those matters into consideration, it is a wonderful achievement by the industry in five years. It is also a wonderful achievement that relationships are now so good.
That relationships are good is shown by the development which has taken place during the last five years. The figures of output in 1946–47 and 1951 and the development of output per man-year between 1946 and 1951 are significant and they fit in very well with the 929 survey which the Minister has made of the whole field of fuel and power. The foundations which have been laid are foundations upon which this major industry can be rebuilt in such a fashion that it becomes the real basis of the future prosperity of the country. Now that the foundations have been laid, whether or not it becomes the real basis of the country's future prosperity depends on how we treat it.
There are difficulties in the mining industry. There are certain difficulties which we have to face in our mines compared with the mines on the Continent. Many of our pits have been run for so many years that we have the problem of transport over long distances between the mining face and the pit bottom. A number of such problems have been encountered during the last five years, but they have very largely been overcome by new methods of transport and haulage. Although they will last for some years yet, a number of our thicker seams are gradually going out and rather thinner seams are coming into development.
It is pleasing to know, as a result of the research which has taken place, that our reserves of good saleable coal, coal that other countries will be pleased to get hold of, are good for another 200 years. On that basis there is every reason for a wide expansion of the industry in such a way as to make it the basic industry of the country.
Machinery for the industry, including new methods of haulage, new conveyors, new coal cutters and such things, has been very widely discussed in the past in the Press and in this Chamber, and, while we must look to the new machinery in the pits for a great deal of help, we must remember that the increased output during the last few years has been the result not only of new machinery but also, very largely, of harder work by the men in the industry.
It has been said that there were more men to pick from, but the fluctuations in the numbers of men working in the pits over five years balance themselves out, so that we can say with certainty that the difference in manpower in five years has not altered at all, and yet an increase in output has been achieved. That has been accomplished, firstly because of more machinery; but secondly, and most 930 important, because of the harder work of the men engaged in the industry. That in itself shows the good relationships that are gradually growing up in this industry, and for this we should be grateful.
There is a paragraph in the financial part of the National Coal Board's Report which worries me, and that is the deficiency of £1.8 million. For the life of me I cannot understand how it can be called a deficiency when the Board are asked to carry the burden of £5½ million for the cost of importing coal, and then are asked to pay £2 million in profits tax. It seems to me rather remarkable.
First of all, there is a deficiency and yet the Board have had to pay £2 million Profits Tax and are also called upon to meet the cost of £5½ million on imported coal. To me and to the people of the country it is a strange method of accountancy which shows the Coal Board on the wrong side and yet having to pay such things as the loss on imported coal and money to the Ministry of Fuel and Power for interest.
I should like to know how it is worked out that the loss on American coal has to be accounted to the Coal Board; and secondly. why, when there is a loss, the Board have to pay £2 million in Profits Tax. It almost looks as if when the Coal Board break even they must pay this Profits Tax and show a loss. I cannot understand why the Government should take such a tax when the balance sheet shows a sum of £14½ million being paid to the Ministry of Fuel and Power, which I understand is for dividends to the late coal owners. These are puzzling statements to the man in the street, and I should like to have some enlightenment on them.
Leaving the financial side of the matter, I should like to deal with the general position of coal, the question of the new plan and the hopes for the future. Many of us have wondered how far the new plan is going to go, and just what development is to take place. First, the great proportion of the collieries showed a profit of £48 million, but a number of collieries worked at a loss. Is it possible in the re-organisation that is taking place now among the collieries, for those collieries working at a loss at the moment to be put into a position to make a profit, or are those collieries among those that will gradually go out of existence when 931 new collieries are sunk in different parts of the country? That is a question that I have been asked on one or two occasions, but I am not quite sure of the answer.
As to general development, I agree with the Minister that the industry will have to go forward, and be encouraged to do so, in order that the amount of coal that this country requires for home consumption and for export may be obtained. What are the real plans for the immediate future? I know that a number of collieries are being sunk or sites have been selected. Is it both the Minister's and the Board's intention to go full speed ahead with the development of new mining areas in order to meet the planned output 10 or 12 years hence, and which was mentioned by my right hon. Friend as being about 240 million tons?
Many of us in the industry have a feeling that this development of the new mining areas is not going ahead as fast as it really should do, and certainly not as fast as some of us would like. We should like to see the new modern mines in operation and developing at as early a date as possible, and I should like to know how far the Coal Board are going in the development of these new mining areas, and the tying up of that with the sinking of new pits.
There are two other points which strike me and on which I must comment. One is the question of the conservation of coal, and particularly using coal more efficiently than we are doing at the present time. I was very interested to hear the Minister outlining what is being done in that direction, and I think that the Coal Board have realised the importance of trying to make the fullest possible use of coal. It is necessary that these schemes should go ahead as fast as possible and that the country should be encouraged to make better use of coal than at present. A vast amount of wealth is going up the chimneys of our factories, workshops and houses every day of the week, and the sooner we control it the better it will be not only from the financial point of view but from the point of view of better health for many in the heavy industrial areas of this country.
Secondly, how far has development gone in the carbonisation of coal? There is a great field there that has not yet been explored as rapidly as could be 932 the case. We have begun to realise that coal is the most important raw material we have in this country and that we should make better use of it than we have done in the past. It is largely a question of utilisation and of carbonisation by the various methods which the Minister has outlined this afternoon and which are all very useful and important. But how far are we ahead with this development, particularly carbonisation?
In the past the possibilities of the byproducts of this great raw material—oil, tar, gas and fertilisers—have all been appreciated and they have played a very important part in our national life. What developments are likely to take place in the future? Whatever they may be, I should like to see them taking place within the nationalised industry and also the ancillary organisations which cover this great industry.
The marketing of coal by a thousand and one organisations creates considerable overlapping. I refer not only to those dealing with sales inside this country but those which handle for export. The National Coal Board are, I know, entitled to do some of it, but to have so many other organisations selling coal seems to be hopelessly out-of-date. A marketing scheme should be devised to make the distribution of coal easier and more efficient than at present and to help the industry to become stronger.
The nationalisation of the mining industry has had a very great stabilising effect. It has proved a boon to the workers and has effected a saving of life from accidents in the mines. Today we have a healthier, happier and more efficient industry. All these factors together create a very pleasing picture.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Robson Brown (Esher)
I am sure that the Committee and the country will be impressed with the objectivity, sincerity and constructive observations of the speeches made from the two Front Benches. I hope the tone of those speeches will permeate the whole of our debate, in view of the vital importance of this key industry and the powerful contribution it makes to the welfare of the nation. I am sorry that I cannot follow in the line of the speech made by the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. William Paling), who is much experienced in these matters, except to say that I do not think 933 this is the time to disturb the marketing arrangements on the home front. We should concentrate our efforts upon the export trade.
The survey given by the Minister of the recruitment of men and boys into the industry, the general attitude within the industry, and the production figures, redound to the credit of everybody associated with the production of coal. The improvement has been gradual but positive, and I think it will be sustained, which is the most important point. The National Coal Board have every reason for sober satisfaction in their survey of the year. These have been long and difficult years for them, and it is only now that light is beginning to show in the establishment of mutual trust and confidence between the men at the face and the men on the Coal Board.
Hobart House was for too long looked upon as the legatee of the coal companies instead of as the trustee of the industry for the nation. There has been a change of heart, and when we arrive at the full establishment of confidence in the industry the figures will greatly improve and the conditions in the industry will be a much more important factor than they have been up to now.
The two aspects of this question of mutual trust to which I want to refer are, the human element and education in the industry. Some miners even now look upon the Coal Board and its judgments and decisions with suspicion, partly because the full facts are not always presented to them. The miner at the coal face is still apt to be afraid of the repercussions of the building up of coal stocks. In this Committee we all know the reason for building them up. They are safety stocks against bad winters and against the disruption of railway services. We know that those stocks never would or could be used in any shape or form for retaliation against the men. Nevertheless, I know from my contacts that there are miners who say, "Never again will we permit the building up of stocks so that they can be used against us in the event of a strike or something of that sort in the trade." The same considerations apply in regard to coal exports.
The Coal Board are moving positively and successfully forward in their contacts not only with the leaders of the men—they are with them all the time—but with 934 the men at the pit face. I would like the Board to give plenty of consideration to means whereby they might acquaint the pits themselves, pit by pit, with the intentions and prospects of the export trade, not only on a national basis, but from the point of view of the pit, as well as of the area within which each pit is located.
I want to see miners fully informed and enthused about the export position. I know that many miners fear that the export demand might not be sustained, and that after they have brought up the coal and achieved extra output a whole train of trouble might arise. It is our duty and the duty of the Coal Board to remove that very positive and natural fear from the minds of the men.
Now a word about the human element and the relationships within the industry. I was privileged last year to go to the National Coal Board Summer School at Oxford. It ran for a week in various colleges in that city, and it was an extraordinarily courageous and brilliant conception. Men from the pits in considerable numbers gathered with men at medium levels of responsibility, managers, salesmen and many other sorts of people. I make the personal confession that I went in a spirit of criticism, but I came away tremendously impressed.
I saw many young miners from all over the country. I talked to them and listened to them speaking in the debate. I came away greatly heartened and encouraged about the possibilities of the future of the industry. If the spirit permeating that summer school existed in many other industries it would be well for those industries. The school is going on, and I know that it will have the same success this year and will reach the same objectives.
One thing that came out from those conferences was that the line of communication from the Board to the men at the face is not as straight and clear as it might be, and that more impediments are in the way than was necessary, good or advisable. I believe that the Board are conscious of the position and are doing everything in their power to see that fundamental first principles affecting the men on a national, area and pit base are properly explained to the men and that the men's point of view is listened to and acted upon if necessary. 935 We cannot minimise the fact that a national industry like this has many formidable problems. Some have been mentioned in this Committee and are obvious to everybody, but the human problem will remain the most formidable and important.
The recruitment of boys to the pit face is very satisfactory, but I wonder whether that is true of the recruitment of boys to be the technicians, managers and scientists of the industry. I can only speak from experience as Chairman of the Education Committee of the Coke Industry. We have worked in collaboration with the National Coal Board, and have a university training scheme and a scheme for the training of personnel with-in the industry. I have come to the conclusion, and my Committee support me—the matter was also discussed at a meeting of university professors which we convened this year—that schoolmasters and careers masters of secondary schools, grammar schools and the like are not as sympathetic as they might be, and are not encouraging their best boys to go into industry.
In particular, they are looking askance at recruitment to the coal industry. I believe that such a statement should be made from the Floor of the House of Commons. I hope that, merely because of prejudice, there will be no form of boycott, no pressure brought to bear upon young men of talent whom the industry want, and would welcome. Technical recruitment is of the greatest importance because, if we do not have technicians, we shall not have efficiency.
The attitude within the coal industry of increasing confidence in itself, in the Coal Board, and in the people who control its destiny is one of the most important factors in the recovery of the country during the last 12 months because the coal industry is still our greatest industry. In this Committee and in our individual capacities we must do all in our power to make it the best and the most secure of our industries.
§ 5.1 p.m.
§ Mr. W. H. Mainwaring (Rhondda, East)
I think that the entire Committee welcomes the atmosphere in which this discussion, rather than debate, is taking place this afternoon, and that the Minister perhaps counts himself among the 936 most blessed of Ministers of Fuel and Power for the circumstances that now obtain in this country. We feel pleased that he is able to make that claim, if he wishes to do so because nothing would please the mining section in this Committee more than to see continued prosperity and increasing productiveness in this industry.
Perhaps no other section in the Committee fully appreciates the vast changes that have taken place since those interwar years during which we passed through disastrous and anarchic conditions in the mining industry. Changes were taking place week by week and month by month in working conditions through the downward pressure of wages. I do not know that we can expect as yet the complete eradication of the intense feelings generated among the miners of those days. Such things cannot be eliminated in a short time, and it will take a few years yet to strengthen the new attitude towards the present administration.
I want to touch upon an aspect other than that of compliments paid by one side of the Committee to the other. What are the industrial relations within the industry? Are they all that we should like them to be? The hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Robson Brown) referred to one aspect. There is another which we must face boldly. One cause of discontent prevalent in the industry today is there is much too great a tendency to increase officialdom. I say that as one of the most ardent advocates in this Committee of nationalisation. I would hesitate to condemn anything resulting from nationalisation, but the tendency to multiply unnecessary officials in the industry is not a part of nationalisation. It is an alien element, and more alien to the advocates of nationalisation than to possibly any other sections of this Committee.
We resent any nationalised industry falling into disrepute on account of the multiplication of people who are not contributing in any way to increased productivity. Therefore, it is necessary to draw the attention of the Coal Board to this fact, and to the burning resentment against it felt by the miners. I speak on behalf of the miners this afternoon, not on behalf of the general public, and those engaged in the industry are drawing the 937 attention of the House of Commons, not of the Coal Board, to this problem, which is causing them so much concern.
Again, owing to the general commercial relations in the world today there is an undue tendency to dwell upon the possibility of increasing exports and on the expansion of the industry. I want to ask hon. Members this question: For how many years can we rely upon home resources of coal? Some hon. Members might be satisfied if we could say 100 years, but 100 years in the life of a nation is not long and there is a tendency to overlook the problems that will arise at the end of that time.
In the South Wales coalfields problems will arise much earlier than that. In the Rhondda Valley, which I have the honour to represent here, the next 50 years will bring about vast changes. Indeed, there will be very little mining in the Rhondda at the end of 50 years. What social problems will come into being? Taking the minefields of Britain as a whole, how much change will there be in the present major coalfields within the next 100 years?
What is being done to solve the problems that will arise? My right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. R obens) referred to the possibilities of electrical development. What is being done to promote the Severn barrage scheme? Whether we like it or not, there will come a day when we shall have to find some power other than coal. If the output of our coalfields shows a tendency to fall below their present level, then the problems of this country will increase proportionately.
It is our bounden duty to attempt to foresee some of the problems that will arise. Side by side with the problem of fuel we shall have these vast social problems which I anticipate will arise in parts of the South Wales coalfields, not merely of finding fuel, but of creating other industries in those areas now happily employed in mining. We ought not to lose sight of those things at this juncture. We ought to be thinking of the well-being of the nation not only for this day or year or for our life-time, but in terms of the life-time of the nation, and we ought to be thinking ahead to the time when the problems of which I have spoken will compel us to take note of them.
938 I am very glad that in this Committee today we have been able to discuss this matter in the way we have done. It is the first time since the industry has been nationalised that there has been a discussion free from acrimony and of charges from one side against the other. I welcome that, because the House of Commons should be applying itself, without any prejudice, without seeking to attach the blame to this one or that one, to discussing the real problems.
We have enough on our plate now if we are to develop the resources of the industry to the utmost possible degree. Applied science as we know it can be utilised, as is evidenced in the current reports of the National Coal Board. The industry is now throwing over the disadvantages and the disabilities from which it suffered. Let us do everything we can to assist in that development by every means within our power.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Colonel Ralph Clarke (East Grinstead)
I will not follow the hon. Member for Rhondda, East (Mr. Mainwaring) very far, because most of the points he raised should be answered, if there are answers to them, from the Front Bench. I suggest, however, that within 100 years coal, except for the extraction of chemicals, will not be such a vital question in this country. Some other sources of power, such as nuclear energy, and so on, will have presented themselves.
When I first started speaking in the House on matters relating to coal, I had to declare an interest. That interest today is considerably less than it was, but it exists to some extent and, therefore, I feel it is only right to declare it. I want, first, to speak on a matter which I do not think has been mentioned this afternoon: that is, safety in mines. I mention this first because of its immense importance, and secondly, because within the last week there have been nine fatalities in the mines, three at the Manor Powys Colliery and six at the Point of Air Colliery.
Quite frankly, I feel that the National Coal Board Report for 1951, on the subject of safety in mines, is just a little too complacent. I do not, however, want to be unfair, and I am quite ready to read extracts from the Report, if necessary, to prove my point. The Board say, 939 for example, in paragraph 227 of their Annual Report, that:Fewer men were killed in 1949 than in any year for which there are records.Then they go on:Unhappily, through the fire at Creswell Colliery in Derbyshire, the number of deaths in 1950 was higher.Since then, we have had the report on that tragic accident at Creswell, and I think that it is rather disturbing. In the conclusion, on page 37, I read this:There is little doubt that present practice in many mines leaves much to be desired and that it can and should be improved.That is a very critical statement. The Report also says that undoubtedly one of the causes of the tragedy was the failure of the fire-fighting equipment.
I do not want to be over-critical, and I want to give a full credit for what has been done. Actually, over the last five years, there has been a reduction in the reportable casualties in the mines of 635, or 127 per annum. That is a very considerable performance, but there is no room for complacency. With the advance in mechanisation, and particularly in haulage, research must go on, not only parallel with the times but ahead of them, in order to anticipate accidents and thereby to prevent them happening.
I should like to say a word or two about exports. One can only consider the whole question of exports by first taking into account what is happening on the Continent and how the Continental coal producing countries are getting on with their job. A comparison between the output in 1937 and the output for 1952, as estimated by O.E.E.C. member countries and submitted to the Ministerial Production Group, shows that certain countries are now ahead of their pre-war production. Countries in this category include France, the Saar, and Belgium. From other sources, I understand that in the Ruhr the average daily output, which is the way in which their production is calculated, in May last was 426,000 tons, as against a pre-war output of 420,000 tons. They seem, therefore, not only to have got back to their pre-war position, but to have exceeded it.
Although Europe is crying out for coal, it is no longer crying out merely for anything that is black. Until not very long ago, one could sell stuff that was taken 940 off old pit heaps which had been covered with grass and almost even with trees, or stuff that was swept up on wharves and quays. But that is no longer the case. Last week, in Italy, American coal was cheaper in price than the British. There is no doubt that our customers abroad are getting much more "choosey," although there is still quite a good demand.
Probably it was because of the big fall in freight rates that American coal was last week quoted more cheaply in Italy than British coal. Polish coal, although still more expensive than British coal, is more popular in some markets. Not only is it a better steam coal in many ways, but it has the advantage that it can be railed direct into works and does not have to be unshipped, put into trucks and dispatched again by rail.
We know that we have a good margin of profit on our exported coal. That margin was increased after the beginning of the war in Korea. We have a good margin and we can, if necessary, reduce it. That, however, would involve a loss on all the coal that we are selling since the loss would have to be averaged out over the home supplies, and these would have to be raised to a higher price; otherwise, the collieries would be unable to meet their obligation to pay their way from year to year.
Everybody knows the weakness of a seller's market. Once we start making reductions, everybody is prepared to beat us down. There is no doubt whatever that there is still a great market abroad, but we must remember that it is no longer a complete seller's market and that in future we must pay attention to quality and price.
At Whitsuntide I was in Eire, whose principal export is agricultural produce. They are selling a great deal of meat now in America, and could sell a great deal more, but 15 per cent. of all their meat has by agreement to come to this country. They told me that they have honoured this obligation but that we have not always honoured our undertakings to let them have coal in return. They said that unless we do something about this in the future we might not get as much meat as we have had in the past, because the American market which has just presented itself is a much better one.
941 It is rather interesting that practically all the United States coal that is now coming to Europe is coking coal. Although the demand for it is falling, France, Germany, Belgium and Autsria still take it to a certain extent. That brings one to the whole question of coking coals and their importance, and to the fact that they are in diminishing quantities.
After all, coking coals are of immense importance for metallurgical use, as a source of chemicals, and for providing smokeless fuel though we are, of course, getting some of the chemicals from an alternative source, from the oil refineries. I believe that in the last war half the toluene used was made from oil and not from coal at all. It is by far the most valuable form of coal that we have. Supplies of it are short, and are getting shorter.
I shall be glad if the Minister will say whether there are yet any real signs of the commercial and economic practice of blending taking place in the near future. Is blended coal being used in any substantial quantity for the making of coke, or is it available for customers abroad as an alternative to our straight coking coal?
I particularly want to know what is happening on the North-East coast, where the blending of Durham and Northumberland coal might be undertaken, and whether, in South Wales, there has been blending of high and low volatile coal. This has been done in Europe with some success. Of course, those two districts, South Wales and Durham and Northumberland, are the traditional coking districts. The coke ovens are there, and it is much cheaper to produce blended coals there than to move them about all over England. They are also the historic exporting districts for coking coal, and it would be an important thing to have them there for shipment purposes.
I was a little surprised to find no reference to blending in the whole of the Coal Board's Report. I may have overlooked it, but I should be surprised if I had. I know that work is being done concerning the problems by the British Coke Research Association, and in their 1950 Report there was a paper on the work of the Coal Board on this subject which was written by Dr. Idris Jones. I know that the Fuel Research Station is also working on it. I hope that the Minister 942 will be able to give me a simple answer to the questions I have asked from the commercial angle rather than that of research.
I now want to say a few words about the shortage of house coal. I wonder whether people have reflected that this shortage is not only a hardship to those who live in the houses, but is, in many cases, rapidly deteriorating the houses themselves. We cannot ventilate a house with central heating or with an electric fire as we could with the old-fashioned coal fire. The rain beats against the chimney and drives into the brick. If there is no warm smoke going up the chimney it never gets dry, the damp works down into the house, and the wood is destroyed. The result is dry rot. Therefore, the shortage of house coal is deteriorating the capital value of our houses as well as causing hardship.
The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. William Paling) suggested that the distributive trade could be better carried on nationally. I would remind him that, apart from the technical service and the individual attention given by distributors to their customers, if the trade were taken over nationally an immense amount of capital would have to be found. We should have to find capital to take over something like 50,000 or 60,000 road vehicles, the ships to carry the 25 million-odd tons of coal transported by sea, the depots, and all the rest.
The Coal Board require payment at seven days' notice for shipments, and on the 15th day of each month for inland despatched coal, but that is not the time at which it is collected from the consumers. The distributors thus also carry a big financial responsibility, and, of course, capital is very much needed by the Coal Board in its own industry.
I now turn to another fuel industry, namely, gas. There is a saying:Happy is the country which has no history.I certainly think that the industry is happy which has no contemporary history, which is not always in the newspapers and the subject of Questions in this Chamber, and so on. In that respect, I think that in the last few years the gas industry has had an advantage over both the coal and electricity industries.
§ Colonel Clarke
It has a very long history—over a century and a quarter—and I think it has been in a happier position than the others. I was glad that the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) said a word of praise for that industry because I am certain that in its quiet, unobtrusive, solid way it has in the last few years since nationalisation, as for many years before it, done an immense service to all those who use gas.
There are two reasons for that. One is that it is working under a better Act than either the coal or the electricity industry. It was the third of the series and the one which both the right hon. Gentleman and I know very well received the most attention. I think he will agree that it received very careful attention. It is rather interesting to note how many of those who gave it that attention have since come to honourable positions on the Front Benches of both sides of the Committee.
There is another thing which has given gas some advantage. It is that whereas when the coal industry was nationalised there was really a wholesale elimination of directors, as a result of which administrators in many places today have to be found from among men who should really be working as engineers—and the same is true for different reasons in the electricity industry—what one might term the brains behind the gas industry have remained with it.
I want to congratulate the Minister on the absence of electricity cuts over the last year. I hope that they will be avoided in the future. I suggest that the cheapest way of avoiding them is for as many power stations as possible to have some form of stand-by plant which can cut in at the peak period whenever necessary, and not at other times.
I also want to ask the Minister another thing which perhaps he will not have time to tell me today. Not long ago I was very interested to hear that somewhere in Caernarvonshire the B.E.A. had obtained permission to erect a wind generator for making electricity. I should like to know how that is getting on. Actually in my own village there are two cottages where people are already doing this. They are working with a dynamo and batteries from old cars. They are not getting a 24-hour service of electricity, but they are able 944 to light their cottages for a good many days and, more important, nights in the year. It has been quite a success.
This debate is ranging widely. I should like to say a word about oil. I wish to call the attention of other producers of fuel and power to the progress which oil is making. The Minister has already enlarged on this to some extent; I think it is very striking. While, in the race we are watching, the three horses which we know best—coal, electricity and gas—are racing against each other, we are sometimes apt to overlook oil coming up on the rails on the other side. It has two great advantages; it is so clean to handle—it is often merely a matter of turning a tap—and it is definitely labour saving. One sees that clearly when one has to engage firemen for a ship today. It also has the advantage that it has no ash to dispose of, and in view of much of the coal supplied today, especially for power stations, that is a very important consideration.
I am glad that the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) is still here because I wish to say how glad I am that he started this debate in the way he did and in the way in which it has since been continued. Fuel and power are today undoubtedly of national importance and should rank with foreign affairs and agriculture as requiring a long view and not being, in these difficult days, the subject of any party strife that can be avoided.
There is one other point about these nationalised industries which interests me. I see in them two rather conflicting lines of thought. Will they develop on the lines of a service like the Army or the Navy or more on the lines of great industries? The two ideas are rather conflicting and I do not think that both can be applied; at all events, there must be a bias in one direction or the other.
I believe that as time goes on the tendency will be towards the service conception because there will be fewer and fewer of those working in those industries who have had any experience of the market place in their lives. When those industries were nationalised they included men who had been brought up in commerce, but as time goes on the industry will no longer have those men. Those of us who have been in the Services and also in private industry know that there are great differences between the two—but I 945 do not want to become controversial. There are advantages and disadvantages in both conceptions, but the Service conception is a very fine one.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Mr. William Blyton (Houghton-le-Spring)
I do not wish to follow the hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) very far in the arguments he has put forward, except to say that in respect of many of the economic problems which we have to face I am in entire agreement with him.
This debate is taking place in the nicest atmosphere that I have experienced, and it is taking place at the time when we have before us the fifth Report of nationalised coal industry It is just as well that we should remember that it was the Reid report which said that the old system could not, from a technical point of view, carry out the changes needed in the mining industry which took place after the nationalisation of the mines in 1947. Therefore, I wish to look objectively, if I can, at the balance sheet for the last five years of nationalised mines.
We find that in the first year there was a terrific howl in the country because there was a loss of £23.3 million, and it was laid down as an obligation under the Act that any deficiency in one year had to be carried in future years until such time as it was liquidated. We now find that the deficiency has been reduced to less than £5 million.
In the balance sheet for 1951 we find that the wage increases of the miners are due in the main to the increased output which has been given since 1947. There was a loss last year of £3 million due to reduced exports. How the industry came to pay last year £2 million Profits Tax when in the balance sheet a loss is shown of £1.8 million, I cannot tell. Perhaps the Minister will be able to tell me, when he replies, how an industry which last year lost £1.8 million had to pay £2 million Profits Tax, as shown on its balance sheet.
Again, the industry was charged with £5½ million for coal which was imported into this country from America. Why should the National Coal Board be charged this figure against its revenue, when it resulted from a decision which was made politically and was in respect 946 of coal imported into this country? It must be remembered that the price of American coal did not increase last year. What did increase were the freight charges for the shipping to bring it to this country. That was the cause of the increased cost of bringing the American coal to this country.
The main burden of my argument is that when coal is imported from America to this country as a result of a Government decision, the Government ought to bear the cost of that, and not the industry, or the cost ought to be transferred to the consumer. It is a very unfair burden to put upon the nationalised mining industry in respect of imported coal.
If we had the £5½ million which we had to pay in respect of the imported coal, and if we had not reduced our exports by £3 million last year, the mining industry balance sheet would have shown a profit of about £7 million. I suggest that even last year's balance sheet, when analysed from that point of view, shows that the mining industry, in the five years under nationalisation, has been a complete success, and that all credit is due to this side who, in face of the Opposition, carried through the nationalisation that has been the salvation of this industry.
I wish to speak briefly on the manpower problem. We are all pleased that manpower has increased about 20,000 this year compared with last year's figures. The most important thing to remember is that if we wish to maintain recruitment into mining we must have houses in the mining villages for the men to go to or we shall not attract them into those villages to take up mining employment.
There is another point. When a colliery closes, men will not shift to another colliery unless there is housing accommodation available for them, and I suggest to the Minister that he should urge the Government to make a priority of the provision of housing accommodation in the colliery villages in relation to recruiting. The important thing about recruitment is that the mining industry must be built up of young men. We cannot build up the industry by recruiting men over 40 years of age.
§ Mr. John McKay (Wallsend)
While it is true that we should do everything 947 possible to provide houses for new recruits, is it not a fact that miners already working in the pits, and who have worked there for 20 or 30 years, are living in condemned colliery houses? Should they remain in those houses and let newcomers get the new houses?
§ Mr. Blyton
That is a question for my hon. Friends to fight out among themselves. I am saying that we must get houses built in the colliery villages if we wish to encourage recruits. The question of men already resident in the mining areas is a matter for the local authorities. But the men who come into the industry are not regarded by the local authorities as residents, and they find it impossible to get on the housing lists. My hon. Friend will find that happens in Wallsend as well as other places on Tyneside.
I was endeavouring to develop my point about the building up the mining industry. Everyone who has worked in the industry knows that when a lad of 14 goes through every grade he becomes, at the age of 22 or 23, a fully-fledged miner, and that there is a long career before him. Just lately there have been many parlour critics of the mining community over the question of Italian labour. I see that Mr. Byers, who was not a political force when he was in the House, and who is now trying to make himself a national figure, has been attacking the miners on this issue.
I would say to him that, by trying to force the miners' lodges to take Italian labour, we would have lost more coal than the Italians could have produced in 12 months. The miners would not have them. Unpleasant as it may seem to many who do not understand the colliery villages, the British miner believes that the mining industry should be built up with British labour and not with foreign labour. The lodges would not take them. Therefore I am pleased that this question, which has caused such heartaches among some hon. Members, who were either for or against Italians, has now been resolved.
If I introduce a discordant note into the debate I hope I shall be excused, but I wish to refer to the ladder plan. I have no word or criticism against the ladder plan. It enables many young men to get to college, where they may get a technical education and be equipped with the best 948 technical knowledge of the industry, and it is a great incentive. But there is a class of men, I would say to the Minister, who have been forgotten, and who are known as the forgotten men. Selectors of managers, when they are appointing colliery managers, are now inclined to take men with the old school tie who have a college degree. Men who have graduated through every stage of mining, and who have burned the midnight oil in study to get a first-class certificate, have not a chance of getting a manager's job in competition with men from the colleges who have a degree.
I know of three cases where such lads applied for jobs as colliery managers. They had gone right through the mining industry. They told me three weeks before the appointments who would get them, and when the appointments were made the people named received the jobs. These men who failed to get the jobs are now labouring under a sense of frustration. They feel that all their efforts to equip themselves are of no avail. They are met with the fact that they cannot get a job as a manager because they have not a Bachelor of Science Degree. As a former miner, I say that the best managers I ever met were men who had graduated from the bottom to the colliery office, and if a man is good enough to get a first-class certificate he ought to have some share in the managerial posts which become vacant. I say that in no disparaging sense, but merely to urge that these men who have studied should at least get a chance of a managerial post in the British mining industry.
There is the question of safety. The problem facing us is how can we—and I mean the mining community as a whole, the Government and the Opposition—with intensified mining, particularly in modern pits, prevent the occurrence of disasters such as those which occurred at Creswell and Easington last year. We have to discover, in circumstances of intensified mining, how we can make our pits safe and prevent the occurrence of disasters such as those which took place in the most modern pits in the country. I hope that the Minister will support any research designed to prevent things like that occurring again.
There are rumours that the development of British mining is being slowed down by capital expenditure cuts. It is 949 also said that developments are being held up, because of the shortage of necessary raw materials. If we are to carry out the N.C.B. schedule, there cannot be any curtailment in the development of our pits. If we slow down development today we shall suffer in the future so far as our mining is concerned.
I know there is a gap of 24 million tons of coal in Europe which has been met by imports from America, and I believe that next year, apart from this gap, the British mining industry will have to meet competition from Germany and from Poland. It is because I fear that competition that I support my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) in his fuel efficiency drive. I want to see a greater output from the mines if that is possible. If we get a bigger surplus and maintain our traditional markets in Denmark, Holland, Italy and Argentine, they will put us in a stronger position. Whenever this competition which I expect from these two countries shows itself, we shall be in the strong position of having our traditional markets so that we can maintain full employment in our pits.
I know that the O.E.E.C. has asked for a 3¼ per cent. increase in production of coal on the 1951 figures for Western Europe. The Saar and the Netherlands are below that because of strikes. We are ¼per cent. below that figure because of the ending of weekend work during the summer. It is possible that by the end of the year we shall find that this 3¼ per cent. increase has not been obtained.
But the facts are that in Western Europe, of which we are part, we must make every endeavour to close the gap and to dispense with the import of 24 million tons of American coal. Secondly, we must see that our traditional markets are supplied by the export of our coal to ensure that whatever competition comes against the mining industry in the international field next year we shall be in a strong position to meet it.
My last point is that in the international field we have always said that we should work in close liaison with the European coal and steel community. In fact, we went further and said that whenever it was set up we should be prepared to make international agreements on capital expenditure, questions of markets, prices and wages. We are not prepared 950 to accept its political aims but we agree with its economic aims. As the political authority is now to be set up in the Council of Europe, I should like to ask the Minister what part the Government intend to play and what is the nature of their close liaison, as they call it, to be with the British mining industry and the community for coal and steel in Europe during the next 12 months. We cannot agree that they should control our economy by controlling our steel and coal industry, but the economic aim should be quickly examined on lines indicated to prevent the competition we knew years ago which ruined our exporting counties.
All this problem revolves round the British coal industry. I am confident that the National Coal Board which has done a brilliant job since 1947 can face the European problems if it has the united support of this nation. I, for one, wish it luck in its endeavours.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Rupert Speir (Hexham)
Not having the intimate knowledge of the coal industry, or indeed of any other aspect of the fuel industry, which the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) has, I hesitated to intervene in the deliberations of the Committee. I am sure, therefore, that the hon. Member will understand if I do not follow him in all points which he has made. I agree with him that the atmosphere in this Committee has been both co-operative and friendly. I found little to quarrel with in what he said, whether it was in regard to safety in the mines, the need for exports, or the need for better housing conditions for the pitmen. I am sure that I shall have many other opportunities of discussing with the hon. Gentleman those minor aspects about which we might disagree.
My reason for seeking to intervene in this debate is because the policy of the Ministry of Fuel and Power, or the actions of the National Coal Board, can have, and indeed are having, a grave effect on the interests and on the livelihood of my constituents. Many people regard the Hexham Division as an entirely rural area. It is true that agriculture plays by far the predominant part in the life of that area. The fact remains, however, that there are no fewer than 20 mines within the boundaries of the 951 division, although many of them are very small indeed. Many of them too are now threatened with closure.
That is one of the reasons why I sought to intervene. I should like to ask the Minister to do his best to impress upon the National Coal Board the great importance to that locality of giving adequate notice of any intention to close down any of the pits in that area. I do not suggest for one minute that the National Coal Board are blameworthy on this question of closing down pits. Facts must be faced. Many of these pits are just about worked out and obviously the skilled men can be used to better effect elsewhere. Nevertheless, I urge the Minister to understand, as no doubt he does, the grave effect it has upon an area when a pit is closed down.
I ask the Minister to urge the Coal Board to look ahead and to announce their plans well in advance so that people in the locality may plan accordingly. They will find that my constituents are adopting a sensible and realistic attitude about the necessity for closing down these pits. They will find them understanding provided they are given sufficient notice.
The fact that many of the pits in the north east, both in Northumberland and Durham, are getting worked out means that in that area the problem which faces the Coal Board is not one of recruitment but rather one of the redundancy of workers. I should like to make a suggestion. It has been reliably reported that in the north east there are many more boys applying for work in the pits than the number which can now be absorbed.
I am told that at the end of the term boys who leave school and seek employment in the mines are turned away. It seems to me that here are just some of the recruits which the National Coal Board want and should acquire. I do not believe that it would be possible to find better recruits.
§ Mr. Speir
I am afraid that I cannot inform the hon. Member about the actual mines in question, but I am told that in the whole of the north-eastern 952 area it is a fact that boys who would like to go into the mining profession are not being taken on by the Coal Board who say that they have not got the vacancies. I suggest that we could not possibly get better recruits than these young boys from the north east.
The Minister told us this afternoon that the National Coal Board was conducting a vigorous recruiting campaign. If what I have said is true, and I believe that it is, then the Board are not using their imagination as much as we should like. I suggest that special training schools should be set up in the north east to take on all these possible recruits. I am sure that once these boys have reached manhood, once they have been properly trained and have acquired experience, their parents will be prepared to see them move into the Midlands or elsewhere. Naturally, the parents do not want to lose them at the age of 15 or 16. I believe that by training these boys in the north-east, by setting up special schools if necessary, much could be done to help in this problem of recruiting for the mines. We need not really worry about recruiting foreign labour when we have got the best possible kind of recruit on our own doorsteps.
In our present difficult economic position, we can take a certain amount of encouragement from the fact that, in regard to the fundamentals of our economic situation, there is agreement on all sides of the Committee. For instance, I think we are all agreed about the desirability, indeed the absolute necessity, of growing the absolute maximum amount possible of food, here at home. I think we are also agreed about the undesirability of importing coal into this country. It is the one raw material which we have in abundance, and not only does the importation of coal require dollars and shipping space, but it is also a grave blow to our prestige. It is, indeed, a terrible indictment of post-war Britain, that we should have had to import coal into this country from America, and I am sure we are all glad that that importation has now been stopped.
§ Mr. Robens
The hon. Gentleman is not unaware altogether, I am sure, that this is not the first time that American coal has had to be imported into the United Kingdom. It was imported in 953 1920, when there was a shortage of coal, and it was imported again in 1926, to help to break the strike.
§ Mr. Speir
Whatever the reasons for it, I think we should regret it. I personally regret it very much, and I am glad that the importing of coal from America has now been stopped.
I think also that most people will agree that it is a terrible indictment of postwar Britain that, seven years after the end of the war, we should still be conducting opencast coal mining operations at full blast. I am very sorry indeed to gather from the remarks of the Minister today that we are, apparently, going to continue going all out in regard to opencast mining operations again next year. I think it is distressing in the extreme to find that, this year, opencast mining operations are continuing at an even greater rate than they were last year. For instance, this year it is estimated that we shall get more than 10 million tons of coal by this terrible method. We all appreciate the need for coal today, both for industry and for export. [Laughter.] I am very surprised that the right hon. Gentleman opposite should think this a laughing matter, because his own area is vitally affected by opencast mining.
§ Mr. Robens
A few moments ago I heard the hon. Gentlemen complaining that we had to import coal from America. Does he not realise that, if we had not opencast coal, we should be importing American coal the whole time, and that, if we stopped opencast mining, we should have to have coal from America in place of the opencast coal which we shall get in the next five or six years?
§ Mr. Speir
I do not altogether accept what the right hon. Gentleman has said, but I would like to say that it might well be better for this country to import coal from America rather than go on with these opencast mining operations. I realise the need for coal, both for industry and for export, but there are limits, and I hope that the Minister will put an end at the very earliest opportunity to this horrible method of raising coal, and that he will not allow either himself or his Department to become complacent in any way about it.
For one reason, I suggest that these opencast sites ought to be earmarked 954 and reserved for use in a really disastrous situation—one of the utmost extremity. How can the Government expect the agricultural community to take seriously their desire for the maximum production of food at home when some of the most fertile land in the country is being destroyed, or threatened with destruction, by opencast operations? It is utterly useless to say that the top soil can be restored, and that the land would be as good as ever it was. That just is not true. And what about the drains, ditches, hedges and the fertility of the soil itself? Undesirable though it would be, and I admit it would be highly undesirable, it might even be a better proposition to import coal rather than to go on with these opencast mining operations on good agricultural land.
Let us remember that much of the machinery which is being employed for these opencast mining operations is coming from America. It is extremely expensive machinery, and it is using up a great many of our scarce dollars. Of course, there are other considerations such as the fact that the coal obtained by by this method is of low calorific value, and that the country lanes along which it has to be transported are quite unsuitable for this heavy traffic.
It is quite true that the arguments which can be put forward on the vital need of coal both for export and for industry are most impressive, but we should be more impressed by these arguments if there was clearer evidence of greater efficiency in the use of coal by industry as well as by the Government, and evidence of less waste of coal both by industry and the Government.
It is here that the Government themselves could set a better example and one not confined to actual Government Departments, but extending also to British Railways and to the National Coal Board itself. Certainly, we have not had much so far in the way of Government encouragement in this direction, and it is, above all, necessary that the Government themselves should set an example both in regard to economy of fuel and efficiency in its use.
In my concluding remarks, may I say a word or two by way of adding a tribute to those which have already been paid, to the miners of Britain? The Minister 955 himself said that the miners are the last people to want fulsome praise, but I still do not believe that their work has yet been fully appreciated by the nation, and they certainly have proved that they have fully earned and merited the bouquets which they have received.
Nevertheless, I do not think the majority of the nation realises how hard is the lot of the miner, nor, in many ways, how bad his conditions still are. Sir Andrew Brian, who is now a member of the National Coal Board, but who was a Commissioner at the time of the Creswell inquiry, speaking on this subject, said:The miner's environment is the hardest in the industrial world; for, excluding the fatal and serious injuries that overtake one out of every 300 miners each year, the average miner spends eight days a year away recovering from some pit injury. The figures for 1950 showed that the equivalent of 23,000 of our miners are permanently away from work recovering from accidents in the pit.I was very glad to hear my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) emphasise the desirability of continuing to take a real interest in improvements in regard to safety measures in the mines, because the truth is that there is still too much needless blood on the coal. I do not think it is sufficiently well-known by the people of this country that British miners are still only getting one week's holiday a year. Surely, if anyone earns a holiday, it is the miner, who is shut away from the light of the sun?
If any workers in Britain deserve 14 days' continuous holiday, it surely is the miners, who toil beneath the earth's surface. Let all those engaged in British industry—and it is the vast majority of them—who will soon be getting away for more than seven days' holiday realise and appreciate how much better off than the miner they actually are. The truth is that conditions for the miner could be, and should be, still better than they are at the present time. I am also glad that the Minister said that the National Coal Board are to take a continuing interest in meeting the housing needs of the men. I agree with the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring in stressing the importance of good housing conditions.
Our fuel position is not insoluble, but its solution requires a greater sense of 956 urgency on the part of both the producer and of the consumer.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor (Morpeth)
In intervening in this debate I feel it is like making acquaintance again with the Minister of Fuel and Power, for some years ago we had some contact when he was exploring the coalfields of Northumberland. It is a pity that he did not stay longer in the Department because, had he been able to carry out in the industry the sentiments he expressed to me on the occasion when I took him into the worst possible place I could find, the industry would have been much more enlightened than it was after he left office.
It seemed to me today listening to the Minister that again his close connection with the industry has brought some revealing matters to his mind, because he is a much different person today than he was when in opposition. Where has the acid gone? Where is the acid he used on the barbs he threw at us when he was in opposition? When he was throwing those barbs, the then Minister and the National Coal Board were doing a splendid job, and I want the present Minister to realise that he is the inheritor.
Now he has come to office and although there is much to be done, a tremendous amount which it was necessary to do has been done towards making a success of fuel and power. One of the most important things to be done was to break down the traditions, the ill-use, the extravagance and lack of decency in the coal industry before the mines were nationalised. In my view, the nationalisation of the mines saved Britain. When we nationalised the mines we saved Britain and the Empire because, unless Britain stands, the whole Commonwealth would not be able to stand.
Today I am concerned because there are still many things to be done. We have to bring confidence to the men in the industry. One of the great problems in this industry, as in other nationalised industries, is to make known to those on the ground floor the intentions of those in control of the industry. An hon. Member spoke of the lines of communication which appeared to break between the Board and the coal face. There are a lot of people between the Board and the 957 face, but when we are debating this industry we are apt to think that there is only one man who matters in mining, the man at the face. He is very important because we should not get any coal if he were not there. But we must remember the man working on transport and hauling, the man doing repair work and a whole lot of men without whom the man at the face could not get the coal. I am concerned that what the Board intend to do with their conciliation machinery and the steps they intend to take to develop the industry should percolate to the men in order that they may understand what is being done and why it is being done.
I am pleased to know that recruitment has improved. There are two ways in which recruitment to the mines can improve. One is by ensuring that there is confidence in the industry and the feeling that it is a worthwhile job, and not a dead-end job. We have to give parents confidence that when their boy goes into the industry he is entering on a job he can follow throughout his lifetime and that he will receive wages and consideration in the way of compensation, if he needs it, which are satisfactory. This must be instilled in the mothers: it is not so much the fathers who matter when a boy goes into the pits. Very often the father says, "My son will not have to go through what I have been through." If the mother can be confident that her boy is going into a worthwhile job, we shall be more likely to get him as a recruit for the industry.
I wonder whether there is another reason why recruiting has improved. About the most skilful thing the Government have done is to bring confusion into the steel industry and the transport industry over the matter of de-nationalisation. I wonder whether recruiting for the mining industry has been improved because they said they were not going to de-nationalise coal. Both these reasons may have been contributory factors in the improvement of recruitment.
A matter to which the Minister referred and about which a lot could be said is that we had recruiting campaigns during the war. We got many thousands into the pits, but they went away again. It is a mistake to think that we shall increase output immediately if we get a lot of men into the pits. In those days the term 958 which was used was "green labour." Green labour does not produce coal. Any miner knows that when a miner's son goes into the pit he goes into an atmosphere which he already knows. He has heard his parents and his uncles talking about the pits until he is practically a miner when he starts work, and he is far ahead of others from outside. I do not deprecate anyone wanting to come into the mines if he is of suitable age. There is a worthwhile job for him to do. His efforts will be appreciated, and there is no job in which a man helps his country more today than if he works in the mines.
In contradistinction to what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton), I am pleased about the arrangements made for advancement in the mines. Many of us who have known the coal industry for a long time have watched the measure of men who have been brought into the management. In the company with which I was connected, men were trained to become managers and some of them were very successful in that job. But I want the Coal Board—and I think they have started to do this already—to give the skilled man, the right man who not only knows how to get coal but also how to handle men, the opportunity to rise to the top. The old coal owners never did that.
In my own county, and maybe in Durham—I do not know much about that county, but I like the men who come from there—very few men rose to be agents. I know of many who rose to be managers or under-managers or over-men, but I want those men who have the ability to have the opportunity to rise to the very top. Mention was made in this debate of the number of directors in the coal industry who were dispensed with when the industry was nationalised, as compared with the different practice in the gas industry. The Reid Report did not say much about being unable to dispense with some directors. It said a great deal about mining engineers and said that there was a great dearth of them. Some of the directors were not worth their salt at all. We are concerned about the mining engineer and we want every encouragement to be given to him.
The hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir) spoke about the closing of some of the mines in his constituency. I spent 959 19 years in Hexham and I was there when three pits were closed. Two of those pits still contained any amount of coal. One pit, which had cost £250,000 to sink, commenced operations in 1917 and was closed in 1931 entirely because of bad management. Another pit with 3½ miles of coal still to be exploited was also closed because of bad management in that there was no spare part for a pump and when the pump stopped working the coal was lost. Pits in Hexham have been worked out and if it had not been for nationalisation men in the constituency of the hon. Member for Hexham, whom I knew well and who knew me well, probably would be travelling far today to seek work. But the nationalised industry is carrying on until a new drift mine has been driven and is operating.
The Minister should tell the people that while the Coal Board are doing a good job of work in establishing new drifts and providing new mines, and with machinery increasing the output of certain pits, a number of most inefficient pits are carrying on. It is almost impossible to make them efficient. It may well be that when the new drift in Northumberland starts operating, there will not be big production at first. We shall have lost the coal from mines in the constituency of the hon. Member for Hexham and the expected increase in total production will have been retarded for a time.
I should like to say a few words about housing. When the Minister of Defence came back from Korea, he said—though I may not be quoting him quite correctly—that he would have been much happier if a certain general had had more reserves on hand. Neither industry nor the Armed Forces can work without adequate reserves. The best reserve that the Minister of Fuel and Power possesses is the miner's wife. She stands behind her husband. No women in this land have been treated as badly as my Northumberland womenfolk have been treated. The old coal owners of this country should think shame of themselves that they condemned our women to live as they did in the houses provided for the miners. They had to rear their families in those conditions. They had to dry clothes over the fire so that the men could go to work next day.
960 In one district which I know, and which my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) knows well, 3,000 to 4,000 people shared 15 standards from which they carried water. The women had to wait a couple of hours sometimes for a bucketful of water. The houses had just one entrance. The owners were too mean to put a door on the other side; and it was not as if the owners did not have the land, for they had bought the land to save the cost of subsidence.
I want the Minister to give the Coal Board all the assistance that he can in housing the miners. I thank God for the Coal Board, because we are now having a start made on providing homes. We are now promised that we shall have water supplied to the houses—not hot and cold water, of course; that would be too big a jump at once—and we are not to have baths provided, for the old men are not used to them in those houses. Therefore, we are going step by step, and we are going to get cold water. The Coal Board are going to remove the open channel which runs 150 or 200 yards down the street, where the woman at the top puts her slops in and the next does likewise, and so on all the way down. This is a five-year plan. We have got to have patience. I mention this to show what the Coal Board have inherited. Nationalisation saved this country, and if we go on as we are, it will probably save our self-respect.
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Victor Raikes (Liverpool, Garston)
This debate has certainly been a very peaceful and friendly one, but I think that in passing I ought to say that to me any fuel debate which no longer has the presence of Lord Bracken, as he now is, loses a certain amount of brightness and entertainment. This is the first fuel debate that we have had in this Parliament. We all regret the reason why Lord Bracken is no longer with us on such occasions.
This evening it seems that on both sides of the Committee we are agreed on a large number of matters. I am not going to be drawn by the right hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. R. J. Taylor) into old arguments on nationalisation—
§ Mr. Raikes
I said that I was not going to be drawn into the old arguments, because, since on both sides of the Committee we are determined to try to make the Coal Board a success, it would seem to me to be a little unprofitable to begin to go back into some of those old arguments. We are faced by certain problems which allow no complacency on the part of any Minister, on whatever side of the Committee he may be, and unless during the next few years we can speed up and improve our exports position, we may fail to make up for the losses which we have incurred.
I should like to say a few words on the question of opencast mining, because I am not in agreement with the views which were put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir). First and foremost, increased production and fuel efficiency have got to move forward hand in hand. Both are vital to our industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) has done a very valuable service in regard to fuel economy, and I was glad to learn that the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Rohens) had obviously read my hon. Friend's paper on the subject very closely. I regret very much that we have not got the Ridley Committee's Report, because it would be easier to go more fully into that question if we had the Report before us. If we can make one ton of coal do the work of two tons, it will mean not only a saving in coal but a saving in cost as well. We shall have to watch the position very closely in the years that lie ahead.
That brings me to the question of exports. The Minister said that he hopes to export about 11¼ million tons this year. There should be an improvement on that figure. But for the last year or two we have not been able to export nearly as much as we would have wished, and, as has been pointed out, it is a tragedy that nearly three-quarters of the American aid to Europe should be in terms of coal. In fact, if we go back a little into the past, we find that certain of the prophecies that were made four or five years ago have not been fulfilled.
The right hon. Member for Blyth himself will remember the original forecast of what would happen under the Marshall Plan and the amount of coal we hoped to export to Europe in the years between 1948 and 1951. The forecast which was 962 then made aimed at the possibility of an export of 40 million tons of coal by 1951. If that could have been achieved, the whole economic situation of this country would have been altered.
In the course of the next two or three years, although I believe we can get a considerable increase in output, the immediate increase in output of deep-mined coal will depend upon the rate of capital development. I am inclined to think that capital development has perhaps lagged a bit, and it must be speeded up. But we shall not get that at once. France and Western Germany are increasing their coal production year by year and at the same time reducing costs. The costs in this country have tended to go up a little bit. I am not saying that we are not selling a little more cheaply in Europe than any other Western country; we are, but the gap is narrowing as France and Western Germany get back into full production. There is a tendency that we shall lose certain of our markets unless we can take steps to speed up our production in the next year or two.
That brings me to the question of opencast mining. Suppose that the Minister gets his full drive of capital development in 1952, 1953 and 1954. It may well be that we shall not get the full effect of that in increased production for another two or three years. I think that we shall probably produce 214 million tons this year, but we may not have a great deal to export. Opencast mining, in my view, has still a part to play. I know the objections to opencast mining. It means that good agricultural land is spoiled and that the scenery become unsightly. It also means in certain places that there is a very small return for the maximum of mess.
On the other hand, there are some areas in this country where opencast production has paid a dividend. Whatever people may say about the top-soil and so on, the fact remains that under this scheme at Wentworth we get a bigger return than we did before the scheme began. If I were in my right hon. Friend's position, I should consider whether in the good areas for opencast mining, where we can get a good return, it might be worth while to try to step up production for another two or three years by another 5 million tons a year, and then to taper it right off—to make use of it 963 now, but get rid of it as soon as it is reasonably possible to do so.
It is no good talking in terms of its being better to import American coal than to carry out opencast operations. With great respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham, it is not. If it were not for opencast mining, we should not be in a position to export one ton of coal. We are producing an average of between 10 million and 11 million tons of opencast coal per year. If the right hon. Gentleman and the Coal Board make use of it in the area where it can best be produced—South Yorkshire—and ship it for two or three years, I think we shall be able to cease this kind of operation and get back to the production of entirely deep-mined coal. In the meantime I do not want to see us lose those export markets. That is why I make that particular plea and stand by it.
In two or three years, particularly if the Minister and the Coal Board keep in close co-operation with my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster—though he and I sometimes differ very violently on many matters, I am on his side on this question of fuel economy—we shall be able to do something towards tackling the question of costs.
I ask the Minister to watch very closely one or two matters affecting the National Coal Board. For example, he should watch the ratio between industrial and non-industrial workers. It is really important that the National Coal Board should not in any way raise costs by having too many clerks or non-industrial workers in any particular sphere of their activity, because the trend of costs is not a very helpful one at the moment, when this country is compared with France and Western Germany.
I appreciated the speech which was made by the hon. Member for Rhondda, East (Mr. Mainwaring). He said that he had seen a certain amount of weakness on the bureaucratic side within the Coal Board, and he went on to say quite frankly that he was very concerned that the Coal Board should be non-bureaucratic. His view was that the Coal Board could show that nationalisation can work. It is our task, also, to be careful that the Coal Board is not bureaucratic and to consider how far it can safely decentralise itself in the interests of the nation as a whole.
964 I know that the Minister's difficulties are very great, but it may be that if this particular Government can bring the safety provisions up-to-date, the Minister may inscribe his name more prominently in the annals of the coal industry. In the words of a Prime Minister, now dead:Whoever has office has opportunity, and opportunity is always power.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Percy Shurmer (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)
I should like to deal for a moment or two with the question of domestic supplies of coal in the City of Birmingham, of which the Minister, as well as myself, is a representative. It is a pleasure to have listened to this debate, and especially to have heard the Minister lead off by praising the miners. For too long the miners have been attacked by people who know nothing of the lives they lead and the suffering about which we have heard.
I do not want to go into the question of productivity, the condition of the mines, the housing of miners, or manpower. Many years ago, in my teens, I was carrying coal from this country to foreign countries and, strange to say, when I came ashore—still as a young man—my first job was in one of the deepest pits in South Wales. From the few months I was there, and the conditions in which I had to live, I can say that if I had carried on I should not have produced much coal. The miners deserve all the praise which has been given to them. Whatever was said by hon. Members opposite when they were in Opposition and when we were passing the Bill to nationalise the mines, there is no doubt that we were right.
It is true that the Minister has taken over something which is now getting past its teething troubles, and it is also true that the miners would not be carrying on as they are today if they had to work under the old conditions and we had not nationalised the mines. The public were never told why there was a shortage of coal after the war. They never realised that the conditions in which the miners lived and the treatment they suffered in pre-war days were the reasons why, immediately after the war, young men were not going down the pits when the time came for the older men to retire and the young men to replace them. They went 965 into other industries, and so we were short of manpower in the mines.
Today we can see the results of better treatment, and it is nice to hear hon. Gentlemen opposite talking about 14 days' holiday for the miners, although I think they deserve even more than that. We knew very little about merchant seamen until the First World War, but when the submarine menace came we began to value them. It is only now, when we have had this shortage of coal in the years since the war and when we have had a freeze-up, that we realise the value of the miners. I hope that the public will realise that the miners are doing a good job, which is essential to our welfare, and that never again will the miners have to return to the conditions of the bad old days before the war.
I was unfortunately involved in the great General Strike of 1926. In those days I was in the Civil Service and, owing to my little knowledge of conditions in South Wales—and the Minister remembers all about this—I spoke my mind perhaps a little too freely and landed myself behind closed doors. I know something of what the miners went through in those days. I am pleased to know that a debate such as we have had today has been agreeable to both sides of the Committee and that instead of attacks on the miners we have been told something in their favour. I hope that a breath of fresh air will reach miners up and down the country when they read the reports of today's debate.
In his speech in the City of Birmingham on Saturday, the Minister was urging people to stock coal for the winter—
§ Mr. Shurmer
The hon. Member has bought his because, very likely, he lives in a house with a big cellar; but let him come to some of the back streets of the city which I represent—to the Deritend area.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd
The hon. Gentleman must not carry this too far because, 966 as he knows, some of the worst houses in Birmingham have one good quality, which is that they have some very good coal cellars—at any rate in all the central areas.
§ Mr. Shurmer
I am afraid that the Minister is not quite stating the facts about some of the houses with good cellars. I will take him around this weekend, if he likes to come, and we shall not find some of those good cellars in the Bilsall Heath area. I am not quarrelling with the Minister for doing exactly what his predecessor did last year—asking the people to stock coal for the winter. That is all very well, but not everybody has the money to buy the coal for stocking, nor has everybody the accommodation in which to stock it. I speak only for Birmingham, and others can speak for the other great cities. The Minister knows quite well that in Birmingham thousands of people are living in rooms and are unable to stock coal. Those people depend on the little coal yards in the central areas of the city.
In the winter, when we have a cold snap, as we did last year, the question is asked, "Why did not the people buy coal when they had the chance to stock it?" But it is no good telling people to stock coal if they have no accommodation in which to stock it. It was sad to see people queueing up by the hundreds to buy small bags of coke, or bringing perambulators or push-chairs in which to take away the small quantities of coke—perhaps a quarter of a hundredweight—which the merchants could afford to give them when the rush for coal took place during the cold spell.
The Minister has urged people to stock coal, and people like the hon. Member for Kidderminster, people in the better parts of Birmingham, have the accommodation and also the cash to be able to do so—and, indeed, they can get the coal when it is in short supply; they know where to get it even then.
§ Mr. Shurmer
My allocation comes in the same way as that of any other member of the Co-operative society, of which I am a member, in Birmingham. The Minister can come to my house—he knows where I live—and can see how 967 much coal I have in my cellar. I hope the Minister will see that, whatever the weather, these small coal merchants in the central areas of Birmingham get their fair share of coal so that they can be ready in an emergency, when the cold snap comes and when those who have managed on a little bit of coal want a little extra.
We have heard a good deal about opencast coal, and I agree that we have to have it, but Birmingham has been having a very large share of opencast coal, as the Minister knows only too well. There has been a lot of grumbling about it. Why cannot other parts of the country have their fair share of opencast coal? Why should it be pushed on to Birmingham? I hope the Minister will see that under the new arrangement—I understand he is still to give Birmingham 10 per cent. of opencast coal—
§ Mr. Shurmer
Never mind what we gave; the right hon. Gentleman has a chance to give less. What has happened in the past will not help in the future. Not only the smaller merchants, but the large merchants, are grumbling about even the 10 per cent. I hope the Minister will give us our fair share of decent coal and not give us a great percentage of opencast coal simply because it is produced in the area. It is not fair that we should have all these brickbats and all the rubbish which comes along; other parts of the country should have their share.
In conclusion, I want to pay a tribute to the Minister for the mild way in which he spoke today and for his references to the miners and to the industry generally. I feel confident that he must give credit to the Government which nationalised the mines and gave him this opportunity of carrying on the good work. Whatever may be his success, he must be grateful for the nationalisation of the mines by a Labour Government. I hope that during the winter months he will spend much of his time in Birmingham, as one of the city representatives, and not only in the district which he represents, because he represents a very good-class district in Birmingham, where people have plenty of cellars and plenty of opportunity to 968 stock coal. I hope he will see that during the winter months Birmingham gets a fair share of coal in the central areas, and that it is good coal and not opencast coal.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Sir Arnold Gridley (Stockport, South)
Like all back benchers who have spoken so far today, I think it is most extraordinary that we are in such a friendly frame of mind, and I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) on setting a very good tone in his opening speech. I am sure everyone who heard the Minister of Fuel and Power speak and give us his survey, listened with fascinated interest to the story he had to unfold.
I intervene for a few moments to say something about nationalised electricity, because I am more than a little worried about the present situation in that industry. In order that I may not be considered a humbug, I will, if I may, read a brief extract from a speech which I made on the Third Reading of the Electricity Act in 1947, when I said this:While I think that nationalisation is a mistake, and that if it had to be, it could have been carried through under a far sounder and more wisely constructed Bill than this, I do not wish to see this great industry, which has rendered such magnificent service to British industry in the past, failing to repeat or enhance those services in the future. I can only hope—as I profoundly do—that in the years that remain to me I shall not see it fail."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th June, 1947; Vol. 439. c. 1005.]I felt compelled to say that at the time, having been in the industry for half-a-century and being turned out by nationalisation. Today I am worried about the industry, and I am not alone in being worried. I believe that members of the British Electricity Authority are concerned, as I know are some of the chairmen of the area boards, that so far this year, and particularly in recent months, the anticipated increase in consumption, which has occurred year by year for many years past, is not being achieved. In other words, there is a falling in the rate of growth of consumption of electricity.
I think that is due to three reasons. In the first place, as we all know, in some industries there has been some recession in trade. There are other industries which have lost confidence in the electricity industry because of the many power cuts which have taken place 969 in the past, and which, thank heaven, were fewer last winter—and I hope they will be fewer still next winter. But there is a third reason which I think is an unfortunate one. Statements are being made and spread about the country condemning the use of electricity for cooking, water heating and air heating.
I think we are all agreed that the electricity industry is vital to our prosperity, and we must hope that this recession in the consumption of electricity will be brought to an end and expansion encouraged again. In my view there is one obvious way of doing that—to do everything possible to provide for the area boards what is known as off-peak load. We all know now—we have heard sufficient about it from time to time—that there are certain peaks at the power stations. They are between eight o'clock and ten o'clock in the morning and between two o'clock and five o'clock or six o'clock in the afternoon in the winter months. Those peaks are very much smaller in the summer months. But there are deep valleys which require to be filled, if they can be filled, with load that does not add to the peak, and one way in which that load can be provided is by not discouraging the use of electricity for domestic and certain industrial purposes.
Unless this is done—and this is what is worrying the British Electricity Authority and the area boards—they will very soon be faced with this position: the anticipated revenues that are not now what they were expected to be; their capital expenditure is going on all the time; they have recently had to make an issue of capital at a higher rate of interest; if their revenue drops, or does not increase as it should do, all those expenses, some of them expanding, will be going on and they will be faced either with losses or with, what I am sure they would all regret, being forced to do—the raising of their prices still further, if they are to carry out their duties under the Act and make their balance sheets balance one year with another.
§ Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)
Has my hon. Friend given consideration to the recent development in the discontinuation of the use of electric power for traction purposes, notably here in the County of London? Has the authority, under his direction, or with his guidance, come to any conclusion about 970 that discontinuation of electric power, as compared with the use of imported fuel?
§ Sir W. Darling
The discontinuation of electric traction—[HON. MEMBERS: "Trams."]—throughout the country, and the use of imported fuel.
§ Sir A. Gridley
Personally, I hold the view that when trams are displaced trolley-buses should take their place, not petrol buses; and that would continue to pro— vide a load upon the power stations, of which the abolition of the tramways relieves them. However, I do not think that that is a subject with which I should proceed at the present time.
I want to make a plea. I think everyone knows, without my repeating it, that I have an interest in electrical development—not in electricity supply now, as I used, but in the manufacture of various types of electricity consuming machinery and apparatus. There is one type of apparatus the use of which should be in every way encouraged, and that is immersion heaters for providing hot water for the homes.
§ Sir A. Gridley
Take it off. [HON. MEMBERS: "Tell the Chancellor."] It is a remarkable fact that between 1939 and 1946 customers using space heating actually doubled. Well now, why was that?
§ Sir A. Gridley
It was due to high prices and greatly restricted quantities. It was also due to the fact that it was difficult to get domestic help in households, because there was a shortage.
§ Sir A. Gridley
I understand that there is to be a committee to be set up to go into the whole question of Purchase Tax, and I think a very good case can be made out, and I hope that those who want to see our nationalised industries successful will support some reduction in that particular case.
What I complain about is this. The most extravagant statements are being 971 made that, for certain purposes, electricity should never be used; and not only should never be used, but that we should be prohibited from using it by legislation. There are some chairmen of new housing estates who are very worried about these statements that are being broadcast all over the country. They are asking themselves, "Well now, if it is not right, if it is not economically sound, to provide electricity supplies to our new housing estates, ought we not to say we will not spend the money in this direction? If so, where are our households to be when they want to enjoy themselves with the use of radio sets or television sets—or with the use of electricity for anything besides lighting in the houses?"
§ Mr. Nabarro
Would my hon. Friend give the Committee an example of any person with any knowledge of fuel and power who has ever suggested legislating against the use of electricity in any circumstances or conditions?
§ Sir A. Gridley
I think that if my hon. Friend will look at his own book he will see that there he suggests that, if necessary, legislative action should be taken to make it illegal to use electricity for certain purposes.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Will my hon. Friend please allow me? He is making a statement here which is exceedingly damaging. I have never in any circumstances written a statement of the sort that he has just made to the Committee. He has removed a sentence from its context. Perhaps he would get hold of a volume of the book and quote the precise passage, because I have no hesitation in saying that my hon. Friend is completely wrong.
§ Sir A. Gridley
There is one statement here:Electric cookers should be prohibited.Prohibited. I do not know how one can prohibit other than by legislative action, by Order or by Regulation.
When I refer to these matters I would not for one moment have anyone believe that I am not every bit as much in favour of the sound, economical, practical, and most efficient use of coal wherever coal has to be burned. I remember the days when I first started in the electricity supply industry when we were burning— 972 what?-12 lb. of coal per unit generated I saw that in a very short time reduced to 5 lb.
I took on as assistant a young engineer from the sea, and put him in charge of a power house, and he very soon reduced the 5 lb. to 3 lb.—and that man rose to be the Chairman of the Central Electricity Board. He showed his skill and experience in those early years when we were gradually developing the industry. Now we have made so much further progress that I believe that in the most modern plant the Electricity Authority has got down to something below 1 lb. of coal per unit generated. So for heaven's sake do not let the Electricity Authority or industry be accused of not having made every effort during the years the industry has been gradually developing to use coal as efficiently as possible.
I would rather see coal being used very efficiently in that way than I would see coal being used in fire grates, however modern the appliance that may be obtained in these times. After all, power stations do use the most inferior coal that is now made available, and the more we go on with mechanisation of the mines—a process which we all want to see accelerated—there will be more of this small coal—"slack and duff," as it used to be called in my time—of which the power stations are practically the only possible users. That quantity is increasing. For domestic use and for coke manufacture superior coals of higher quality, and higher in price, must be provided for gas and coke-oven plants.
In making comparisons between the use of electricity and of coal in the home, what is left out of account between the relative amount of coal consumed in the grate and at the power station is the immense cost incurred in transporting coal from the pit-head, via the distributors of coal, until it eventually reaches the customer's cellar.
Again I need not remind the Committee of all the efforts made in recent years to bring about smoke abatement in this country. The pollution of the air with smoke from coal fires, whether through stacks or chimneys, costs this country millions of pounds every year, and every effort should be made, for economic reasons and health reasons, to reduce the volume of smoke that still 973 pollutes our atmosphere. I do not suppose there is a housewife who would not say that she much prefers to use electricity in her house because the amount that has to be spent from time to time on re-papering, re-decorating and re-painting is much less than when either gas or coal is used.
The area boards are worried, and the British Electricity Authority is getting very concerned. In reply to a Question a few weeks ago the Minister told me that by this winter there will be added to the power station capacity another 1,200,000 kilowatts of generating plant.
I put this question now to every hon. Member. Assume electricity had been developed before coal or gas had been discovered. Would anybody in their senses then advocate that people should burn coal in their houses, having to light fires, clean grates, take away the ashes, and all that sort of business, when they had to do nothing of the kind with electricity? Would they use gas for cooking or heating if they had had the experience of the cleanliness and convenience of electricity? The question has only to be posed to realise the answer, had we been so favoured in this world that our inventors had discovered electricity before we had made use of gas and coal, as we have done so extravagantly. The coal and gas industries would probably never have been developed, or if they had been developed it would have been for industrial purposes only.
In the interests of the nationalised industry, which I want to see prosper and serve the nation even better in the future than it has in the past, we must do everything possible to encourage the use of electricity for all purposes, and allow the consumer the service of his choice, whether it is coal, gas or electricity.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham, East)
I shall endeavour to be brief, because I am sure we are all anxious to hear the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) go for his hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, South (Sir A. Gridley).
The hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir) suggested that the fact that today we have a need for opencast coal and for imported American coal is a terrible indictment on the post-war years. It would be much more accurate to say that it was 974 a terrible indictment on the pre-war years, because it is a complete injustice, not only to the people who work in the industry but to anybody, in either Government, who has been responsible for administering it to suggest that the shortages and difficulties we have to face today, from which the need for imports or for opencast coal arises, spring from any act or omission in the post-war years.
Today we are reaping the harvest of errors and omissions of the pre-war years. It is a very great pity that the hon. Member for Hexham was not a Member before the war so that he could have urged upon hon. Members opposite in those days the virtues and merits of the mining communities and their need for a 14 days' holiday a year. If only that frame of mind had prevailed rather more widely, we might not have some of the difficulties that we face today.
§ Sir W. Darling
My hon. Friend did endeavour to do all that, but hon. Gentlemen opposite prevented him.
§ Mr. Stewart
If I may say so, it seems rather a condemnation of the managers of the party opposite that they kept out the hon. Member for Hexham and allowed some others in.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd
I know that the hon. Gentleman does not want to be unfair. I would remind him that those of us who did succeed in being here before the war know that it was that Government which introduced holidays with pay.
§ Mr. Stewart
I would not want to do an injustice to any Government of any party which did anything for the mining community. What I say is that it was the indifference on the part of the nation as a whole to the needs of the mining community, for which we are now paying very heavily. I appear to have injected rather more excitement into the debate than I had intended.
The making of the mining industry into one into which a sufficient number of men are prepared to go is still a serious problem, despite certain encouraging and optimistic figures which the Minister has given us, and I should therefore like to support the plea of my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. R. J. Taylor) on the question of housing for members of the mining community.
975 Although I come from a constituency in which there are no members of that community, I support that plea because the provision of housing for miners is not something which is of interest to the mining community alone. It is of interest to anybody who, directly or indirectly, consumes the product of that industry. We are all representatives of the consumers of coal, and I am thinking also of those workers in my constituency in the gas and electricity industries whose destinies are bound up with the state of the coal industry.
Another thing likely to have a good effect on recruitment to the industry is the proper development of existing plans for promotion within the industry. I cannot speak on matters affecting the coal mining industry with anything like the authority of many of my hon. Friends. but I notice from what they say and what I have gleaned from other sources that, although the men who work in the industry still, no doubt, have plenty of subjects of criticism, there is a general atmosphere of hope and good will, due partly to the steps taken to open promotion and advancement to men of ability in the industry.
I hope that will lead to similarly encouraging developments in the gas and electricity industries, because it should not be felt that because we have not had so acute a manpower problem in those industries we need not bother about providing for promotion on ability in those industries. We ought to set out in every nationalised industry to try to make the idea that it is the nation's industry a reality; that it is not only owned by the State and managed by a board, but that its public ownership means that the workers in it and the consumers of its products have a special interest in how the industry is run. I think I am right in saying that one of the specific subjects for which power is given to the Minister under the Acts is that he should give attention to the problems of promotion and advancement in the gas and electricity industries.
I mentioned that a nationalised industry is one in which the whole nation ought to take a real interest. Historians will read of our debate this afternoon with interest as this is, I think, the first occasion on which a Conservative Minister 976 had done his best—and a very good best it was—to defend the running of nationalised industries before the watchful eyes of a Labour Opposition.
There is a third party interested in the good running of nationalised industries besides the management and the workers in the industries—that is, the consumer. It is towards the position of the consumer in the gas and electricity industries that I particularly want to direct what I have to say. There are, of course, elaborate arrangements for the representation of consumer interests in those two industries. There are consultative councils in each of the areas under the gas and electricity authorities. At a lower level, there are the district committees and miscellaneous ways through which the consumer, if he is aware of them, is able to make his complaints, express his opinions, and, one hopes, make his constructive suggestions known. At present, although that machinery exists, it is used far too little and in far too haphazard a manner.
I want to make one or two suggestions as to how it may be used to better advantage. In the first place, I should like to remind the Minister of some very valuable remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bath (Mr. Pitman) in a debate which took place on 30th May. It was quite a brief but interesting debate, and they dealt chiefly, I think, with the area consultative councils. They pointed out that the chairmen of these councils, which, after all, are mainly supposed to represent consumer interests, are in fact ipso facto members of the board, and it is doubtful if they can properly fulfil the two functions.
By making them members of the board, the board, which is apparently the body which should be subject to criticism and examination, casts its shadow over the consultative council, which ought to stand up to it. Again, the secretary of the consultative council is an employee of the Board. He may look for his avenues of further promotion to the board. It is doubtful whether he can, therefore, whole-heartedly help the consultative council in any job of vigorously criticising the board's policy. Then, sometimes, when the area boards are subjected to criticism by the consultative council, they may reply by 977 making use of this device which is commonly known as "blinding them with science"; that is to say, by producing a number of technical objections to what the consumer want done, which the consumers' representative is not technically capable of answering.
A man or a woman may be a very good representative of the consumers, and may know just where the shoe pinches if these gas and electricity industries are not properly run, and may be very competent to voice consumers' complaints, but may not know much about the technicalities of the industries. Therefore, I think that there ought to be a central board available to give technical advice to the members of the consultative councils.
So far, I have not done much more than underline what hon. Members suggested in the debate of 30th May. To carry the argument a little further, I would point out that below the area consultative councils there are the district committees, which more or less link up with the local authorities. I believe that link could be made a constructive and obvious one—that probably it would be best if the district committees were manned by members of the local authorities, chosen by their local authorities. I think that it might also be an advantage—there are arguments both ways—if the district committees, instead of meeting at the offices of the boards, met in the town halls. They often represent a group of local authorities, and they may have to rotate their meetings from one town hall to another, but what we want to create is a feeling among the citizens that they can go to their own town hall with their complaints about how the gas and electricity industries are run.
When one goes into the showrooms of the gas and electricity undertakings, one may find there a list of the members of the district committees, and, if one is fortunate, one may find not only their names but their addresses. In some, one may find a list of the names and perhaps the address of the secretary. In others one will find no information at all, but if one persists, by deligent inquiry one may be able to discover the name of the secretary of the district committee. I am sure that it should be the policy of the industry to do their best to make known to the public the names and addresses of 978 the members of the district committees. It would be a great advantage if everybody knew the person to whom he could go with a complaint about the way in which the gas or electricity industry is run—to Councillor So-and-so or to Alderman Someone-else, who possibly lives round the corner.
If we can create that atmosphere, perhaps in the first instance we may multiply the number of complaints, but after a time, when people become familiar with the machinery, what we should have would be, instead of a record of complaints and the official machinery turning over in a rather dreary and unfruitful manner, a steady flow of constructive and valuable criticism.
I think, too, that the employees whom we meet in gas and electricity showrooms should be encouraged to acquaint themselves with the kind of questions which they are likely to be asked by the public, so that they can answer them. I have had experience, and no doubt, other hon. Members have had similar experiences, of members of the public coming to us because they have gone to the gas or electricity showrooms with a question such as, "Can I have an electricity meter into which I can put sixpences as well as shillings?" and they have found not merely that the answer was "No," but that no one could tell them why the answer is "No." They probably would not mind the answer being "No" if there were a good reason for it and the reason were explained to them.
We often receive from the gas and electricity industries—perhaps "often" is an exaggeration, but from time to time—very beautiful brochures describing various aspects of the industries. I always read these with much interest, but I do sometimes wonder whether, if there were a little less rather elaborate public relations of that kind and a little more making sure that the girl in the showroom could answer a simple question from members of the public, we should not get a better relationship between the public and the industries.
Then, again, I think it might be an advantage if there were some talks and consultations between the members of the different consultative councils, both those from different areas and those from one industry joining with those of another by means of annual conferences, so that the 979 ways in which the different councils work and the different industries manage their consumer relations could be compared. It would have the advantage also of focusing a good deal of public attention on a matter which at present does not arouse the interest among the general public that it ought to arouse.
I would also suggest that the working of the whole scheme of consultative councils might come under the review of a Select Committee of this House. I realise that that is carrying the matter much wider, and I dare say it will occur to the Minister and other hon. Members opposite to say, "Why did you not put all these provisions in your Act when you nationalised the industry?" I know that some of my suggestions would mean amendment of the Act, but we ought to realise that it is now common ground among us that these industries are, and will remain, publicly owned.
It is common ground among a very great many of us that they ought to be publicly owned. Nobody any longer disputes that they should be publicly owned. We are all seeking the answer to the question: How can public ownership be most efficiently managed? The Opposition certainly are not going to commit themselves to the idea that the provisions of the Act as it was passed are infallible or permanent and unchangeable and can never be improved. I trust that the Minister will take a wide view of his duties—
The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Hopkin Morris)
I doubt whether the hon. Gentleman can press the need for legislation any further and yet remain in order.
§ Mr. Stewart
I shall pursue it no further, Mr. Hopkin Morris, but I hope the Minister will. He should take a very wide view of his duties and interest himself in not only the technical problems of the industry but also the general problems of administration involved in running a nationalised industry.
I have suggested that the public at large have a great many complaints to make about the running of these industries, but I do not want to leave the impression that I am concerned only with opening the door to more complaints. What is really wanted is to turn ineffectual grumbles into constructive criticism, and if the machinery provided can be improved in this way I believe that it can 980 do just that thing. I certainly do not want to leave the impression that the public ought to be doing nothing but complain about these industries. We ought to realise that the very fact that they are nationalised means that anything that goes wrong with them or any rise in price that has to be made is immediately highlighted in the Press and in the eyes of public opinion.
We ought also to realise that if the goods and services provided by private enterprise had risen in price in recent years no more than have the goods and services provided by nationalised industries, the cost of living problem would be by no means as serious as it is today. That important fact ought to be remembered in connection with the criticisms which the public are entitled to make of the nationalised industries.
I also wanted to suggest—I trust I have not gone too far beyond the bounds of order in doing so—that, while in debates of this kind we naturally pay a great deal of attention to the administration of the industries and the problems of the workers in them, there is the further problem of effective representation of the consumer which can be turned into not merely a safety valve for grumblings and complaints but a valuable contribution to the efficient running of the nation's property.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Colonel C. G. Lancaster (South Fylde)
The hon. Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart) has maintained the high standard of today's debate. He offered a number of valuable suggestions, and I hope he will forgive me if I do not follow him into the field with which he dealt.
The hon. Member remarked that this was something of an historic occasion as my right hon. Friend was defending the National Coal Board and the various industries we are discussing against the Labour Party. It is highly appropriate that my right hon. Friend should do that. At the same time I cannot but feel that it is our duty, so far as we can, to hold a reasonable balance between the things which have succeeded and the weaknesses which are showing themselves in various directions. If I adopt that attitude for a few minutes, it is with no other purpose than to suggest directions in which improvement can be sought, and not because I wish to indulge in any discussion of 981 the matter of nationalisation, which hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have said is not under review today.
As my right hon. Friend has said, there are a number of matters about which we can be satisfied. We have at this moment adequate stocks. It looks as if we will start the winter with 18 million or 19 million tons. We are improving our exports position. It was very satisfactory to hear that about 12 million tons will be going abroad this year. We have had considerable success in recruiting men into the industry, men of the right type—very often boys leaving school and, in the great majority of cases, boys coming from mining communities and mining families—but we should not overlook the fact that there continues to be rather excessive wastage between the ages of 21 and 30, and it will not be a very happy prospect for the industry unless we can tackle that problem.
From the point of view of production there are several satisfactory features. We have continued with mechanical experiments, and many of the experiments have reached a stage where they are giving very practical results. With regard to machinery, both the Meco-Moore cutter-loader and the Samson stripper have shown themselves to be first-class. We have recently set up a very useful liaison between this country and the United States whereby our technicians can keep abreast of developments in the great coalfields on the other side of the Atlantic, and recently my right hon. Friend turned the sod of a new pit as part of one of the new big developments.
Having mentioned all these satisfactory aspects I must, in fairness, look at the other side of the picture. It can be said that in the first six months of this year production is about 1 million tons up on last year, and that sounds a fairly satisfactory figure until we begin to analyse it. It represents an increase of only 1 per cent. Moreover, when we begin to break it down it does not look so satisfactory. About 800,000 tons of the 1 million tons comes from one area alone, the East Midlands area. Last year there was a dispute in the South Wales coalfield which resulted in a loss of 100,000 tons. In June this year we had Saturday work; we did not have it last year.
This means that the overwhelming proportion of the British coal mining industry has not produced a ton more in the 982 first six months of this year than it did last year, despite all the satisfactory matters to which reference has been made—added recruitment, more machinery, advance in technique and so on—front which we might have had the right to expect a more satisfactory result. Probably it would not matter a great deal that we were not making a more considerable advance if the rest of the world was standing still, but that is not the case. The whole of Western Europe is recovering, and recovering fast.
No one today has said that we are the only nation of any size in Western Europe which has not regained its pre-war output figures. There was a great deal of physical destruction throughout the Continent, in France, Germany, Belgium, to a lesser degree in Holland, certainly in Silesia, but each of those countries has got back to its pre-war figures, and one or two of them are beginning to exceed them. That may be all right for the moment when coal is in demand all over the world, but there will undoubtedly come a time when we shall have to return to highly competitive conditions and the demand for coal will be less. We shall be up against competition, certainly from the Ruhr and Silesia, and unless we can increase productivity over what we are showing at this moment we shall find ourselves in a pretty difficult position.
Some reference has been made to the amount of coal imports into Europe last year. I now want to put on record that the figure is not 26 million tons but 32 million tons; that between January, 1951, and January, 1952, 32 million tons of American coal were imported into Europe at a price of £250 million and, as hon. Members have said, that represents a very high proportion of Marshall Aid allocated to Europe. Under the circumstances it had to be, but it should not have to be a day longer than is necessary and our country, beyond all other countries, is the one which should be filling that gap. The great majority of that coal went into our traditional markets. After all, Italy, France, Belgium and Holland are our traditional markets which are being filled by American coal, and we do not want to see that continue one day longer than it has to.
Following on from that I want to speak for a moment or two about the level of development within the industry. It is 983 not altogether satisfactory. Some little while ago "The Times" pointed out that we were running at this moment at a level of about £29 million to £30 million a year in the type of normal development as distinct from major development projects such as the sinking of new pits. This money is being spent on the sort of things like shaft widening, washeries, surface reconstruction, underground haulage, introduction of trolley locos and the like, but when we come to analyse that figure we find that it is not as good as we were doing before the war. Then we were spending an average of £24 million to £25 million on that type of construction, and with the £ at its present value £30 million is no sort of advance on that pre-war figure.
I know there are reasons why we cannot spend all the money or install all the machinery we should wish to see put into this industry. Nevertheless, the present level of investment in the mining industry is disquieting. I say that because once again we want to get ourselves into a condition where we can meet the prospect of the sort of competition which inevitably is going to come our way within a reasonable period of time.
I go from there to the matter of costs. As has been already said, for the moment we can apparently afford to disregard costs. We have, in fact, gone up 2s. 2d. a ton in the first quarter and something beyond that in the second quarter of the year. As my hon. Friend rightly said, this is well below the cost of most of our continental competitors, but I want to put it to the Committee that it is impossible to have an efficient industry unless one is cost conscious. That is the beginning of efficiency. That and coal production are two things closely related. I know it was always a temptation in the old days to boost up production in certain circumstances and disregard cost. It never paid, and I hope that every sort of attention will be given now to that question of reducing costs where it is possible.
I have never taken the line that high wages are important in the sense that they can necessarily affect the cost of the product. They do not if production is at a high level. I know perfectly well that every sort of cost now has gone up, such as for machinery, equipment and 984 the like. It is bound to go on going up and showing this general trend which we had in the last five or six years unless we improve production. All the three matters I have mentioned are bound up one with the other. We have to have development, intensification of production and we have got to consider this question of costs.
Very little has been said today—and I think rightly so—about plans for coal. I produced one or two myself, but I have never suggested either in Parliament or out of it that what I have produced is necessarily the right answer or the only answer. What I am quite certain of is that we have not yet got a solution to this problem in the coal industry. Indeed, I often wonder if we ever will. It is the sort of thing that ought to go on being changed and altered year by year if need be. We have got to be empirical in our approach to this. We have got to have flexible and questing minds.
It is no good sitting back on a day like this and having Members on both sides of the Committee getting up and saying that everything is right and that there is nothing wrong with the industry. That is not so. If there was nothing wrong with the industry, what is the purpose of this debate? There are a whole lot of things right with it, but equally so there are a whole lot of things going wrong. I think these matters can be righted within the industry and the National Coal Board is the proper authority to correct them, but there is no harm in Members of Parliament or others who have enough experience giving the benefit of their views or how improvements may be applied.
From time to time I have made various suggestions which have been violently criticised by Members of Parliament and indeed by trade unionists in the mining industry. I do not resent that. They are perfectly entitled to criticise what I have said, but what I do say now is that it would be wrong if we sat back and accepted things as they are. There is a need for change. All my investigations have not been entirely impracticable. If there is one thing of which I am extremely proud it is that in the year 1928, when I started seriously taking part in the coal mining industry, I gathered together a team of men in one small pit. Eventually we grew to a 985 greater size, and by the time of nationalisation we were quite a large combine.
Those men were still with me in 1947, and now they have been spread about the industry throughout the length and breadth of the country and are managing 60 million tons of production. It is the biggest contribution to nationalisation that has occurred. I am very proud of it and of those young men who were brought up in the same approach to this problem which I myself had. Some of our ideas must certainly have been right and many of them have stood the test of experience.
I hope that the Coal Board, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power, hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite and those interested in this great industry will be insistent that we must go forward, if necessary with drastic changes. We must go on searching for the answer to this problem. We must not be complacent and satisfied. We have got to recognise that competition is coming to us and coming to us fast. If we are to survive and play our part in Western Europe and indeed in the world we have got to put this industry right and time is no longer on our side.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Mr. John McKay (Wallsend)
I have listened to the whole of this debate, and for a long time I imagined that those who spoke were making maiden speeches, because there was very little controversy. I was interested in the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for South Fylde (Colonel Lancaster), who pointed out things which he said ought to be taken care of and controlled. Many of the things he mentioned have already been heeded.
I think everyone in the coal trade is aware of the difficulties. We are fully aware that in the near future we may have severe competition and that there is a need for greater output to meet the necessities of our own country. The things he mentioned depend entirely upon our ability to reduce coal costs by increasing output per man, and by organising the industry in various ways.
The hon. and gallant Member mentioned capital investments, and drew attention to the fact that before nationalisation the coalowners were investing more money per year in reconstruction schemes than the N.B.C. have been doing. I do 986 not know whether that is true, but probably it is. I am not disputing it for the moment. It does not follow that because we are investing more money we get the best results, unless we direct the capital efficiently. The history of the industry shows that, despite investment, output was doing down. That implied that there was not sufficient skill in the investments that were made.
§ Colonel Lancaster
I am sure the hon. Gentleman does not want to mislead the Committee. I was not trying to draw comparison between coalowners' control before the war and nationalisation. I was saying I was disturbed at the low level of investment in the industry now. In the decade before the war output went up steadily. Like many other people, I am disturbed that there is not the degree of capital investment in the industry that one would like to see.
§ Mr. McKay
I did not imply that the hon. and gallant Gentleman took that attitude, but he seemed to mean that the N.C.B. were not doing the job of investing capital in reconstruction as effectively as the coalowners were doing it before the war. Despite the extra investment output per man-shift went down from 1935, when it was 1.17 tons, until in 1938 it was 1.14 tons. The war intervened, and the output went down to 1.03 tons.
I want to refer to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton), with regard to the National Coal Board having to bear responsibility for the cost of importing American coal. I cannot understand that at all. What justification is there for putting the extra cost arising from the importation of American coal upon the N.C.B.? It is beyond my comprehension. If the industry had not been nationalised, the coalowners would not have borne any cost if American coal had had to be imported. Why should the N.C.B. do it? To the extent that the N.C.B. is penalised there is a penalty on the men who produce the coal. The N.C.B. should fight the battle out about this penalty which has been imposed upon them.
§ Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham)
What has happened in coal is also about to happen in steel. Because of the impor- 987 tation of American steel the cost is going up by £2 14s. a ton on the original price.
§ Mr. McKay
My hon. Friend knows more about steel than I do. It is up to him as the leader of the trade union movement to see that what has happened in the coal trade does not happen in steel.
Despite criticism of the National Coal Board during the last five years, I think most of us agree that it has done a marvellous piece of work. With its reconstruction schemes, however much one may criticise them, it is endeavouring to find out what can be done. New collieries are in the offing, and 61 drift mines are being prepared and 81 reconstruction schemes. Things are now moving in the coal industary. To the extent that the National Coal Board can foster a friendly relationship with the men in the industry there is every hope that things will improve.
I look upon the past as the dark ages for the miners and upon the present position as a renaissance for them. I do not say that everything in the garden is lovely. Far from it. All manner of things need to be remedied. Why do I say that the present position is a renaissance by comparison with the past? After the first great war, in 1926 there was a national strike. The hours of work of the miners were lengthened, their wages were reduced, and they were the lowest paid workers in the country. The position changed completely after the last great war. Men are now working less hours, they are receiving higher wages, there is a pension scheme. In every direction the outlook for the miner is brighter and there is a new spirit in the industry. Those two pictures show the difference between private enterprise and public ownership.
Taking the boys and the face-men together, everyone working in the pits today is producing on an average 40 tons of coal a year more than in 1946. That says a lot for the National Coal Board and for public ownership. It may be said that under private ownership they had not the same mechanical knowledge. Yet I remember that in the Backworth Colliery where I worked 45 years ago we had a coal-cutting machine at the coal face 988 for 300 yards of straight face. It was called the "iron man" because it did the work of a human being. Again, I worked on a conveyor belt 35 years ago in Star-gate pit. So that all that time ago the conveyor system and the coal-cutting machine were available and private ownership had the opportunity to improve conditions.
We hear a lot about safety, pithead baths, and so on, for the miner, but I think we sometimes forget his wife and children. The 1951 Report showed that since 1920 we have spent £30 million on welfare for the miners, most of which went on pithead baths. Pithead baths, tennis courts and bowling greens help the men in the industry, but how do they help their wives?
The right hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. R. J. Taylor) described the conditions in Northumberland. I do not want to emphasise the bad housing conditions of the past, but I would urge the Minister and the National Coal Board to assume responsibility for providing houses for the men who work in the pits. Many houses that were built nearly 100 years ago are now owned by the National Coal Board. In addition to pithead baths we want houses fit for the men, their wives, daughters and sons to live in.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) mentioned education and pointed out the opportunities of miners to get more technical knowledge and to take an official part in the industry. Only this weekend I was in Dudley colliery. There I saw six long rows of houses with no piped water and only a tiny kitchenette. On each ground floor there is a larger room which must be used by the children if they want to study or the family to relax. Yet, every time a fire is lit they are smoked out and the smoke even goes into the next-door house.
All the washing has to be done in the kitchenette as well as cooking, and all the water used has to be carried from the street. In addition, when they go to the expense and trouble of putting nice paper on the walls, it will not stick because of the damp, and that damp cannot be remedied. In the little upstairs bedrooms there is no room for a bedroom suite. Perhaps they are not expected to own such things. If they do, there is not the opportunity to put them there.
989 Those who talk so much about the miners should always remember their wives and their children, who will be the miners of the future. If we want some of these people to manage, they should be given opportunities for studying and healthy houses to live in. The National Coal Board inherited the obligation of the colliery housing system, and it is up to them to remedy the existing state of affairs and to get the men into better houses.
I understand that there is a national Miners' Housing Association and that it has some financial connection with the N.C.B. I ask the Minister to say whether the N.C.B. does, in fact, have a financial connection with that association. If this association attempts to build houses in Northumberland or elsewhere for the miners in order to get them better housed, do the Government give the same subsidies and the same financial help to that housing association as they give to a local government district council, and would the N.C.B. only have the same financial liability as a local council has at present? If that is true, it is up to the N.C.B. to make some strong effort, particularly in those parts of Northumberland and Durham where these rotten housing conditions exist, so that better houses can be built in their place.
In Wallsend Borough, there are long rows of colliery houses. In Dudley, however, they are so cramped that they do not even have yards or space for any kind of extension. The Wallsend houses have a fair amount of ground, with bedrooms something like normal, and a wash-house which in some instances the tenants themselves have covered in, and by buying their own bath and fitting it into the wash-house they can get a bath in their own house.
It would not require any great effort or finance by the N.C.B. to convert those wash-houses into bathrooms. The space is there, and all that is necessary is to provide a covering and to connect the water. I stress the need for the N.C.B. to undertake something of this nature in Northumberland and elsewhere.
I come now to the question of the atmosphere and psychology surrounding the miner. It is thrown about all over the country that the miners are in a splendid financial condition. That may be true of a large percentage, but a tremendous number of them do not get what 990 I consider is a living wage if they work simply an ordinary week. It is generally known that in any negotiation for national mining wages, the first thing to be put forward is the claim for a national minimum for all grades. The national minimum, however, has always been higher than the wage which is paid to a large percentage of the workers.
The national minimum wage is greater than the wage which at least 200,000 of the men get when working on the "six for five" basis. For them, the national minimum is their weekly maximum, and they can earn extra money only by working at week-ends. The minimum for surface workers is £6 1s. 6d., and for men working underground, £7 0s. 6d.
How are we to judge whether those 200,000 men are badly paid? One of the factors that provides the answer is the wages of the ordinary worker in industry. In October last, the ordinary earnings in industry generally were £8 6s., and today, without any question, they are £8 10s. or more. How can it be said, therefore, that those 200,000 miners, most of them working underground, are getting a satisfactory wage when their minimum is only £7 0s. 6d.? It is no wonder that the miners' leaders, who know these things, are putting in for an increase in wages. They have a strong case on behalf of the lower paid men, of whom there is a tremendous number in the mines.
How is the basis of a family wage arrived at? Men and women who have specialised in these matters have gone into them over the years. There was the Rowntree decision which was made after special investigation. In April, 1950, the wage—to live not in comfort, but in poverty—was £5 12s. Since then, the cost of living has gone up by 20 per cent. Then comes another specialist to say that instead of £5 12s. the wage should be £6 8s. By splitting the difference and adding the 20 per cent. cost of living increase, we arrive at an average of £7 4s. to provide a family with three children with sufficient on which to live—not in reasonable conditions but, as we are told, on such a small scale that they are not able to buy the ordinary rations of tea, sweets and other things.
Therefore, however well the N.C.B. has done, a false impression prevails as to how well the miners are placed, both with 991 regard to wages for the lower paid men and with regard to the social conditions of their wives and children in their rotten old colliery houses that have never been modernised. We want some movement to be made which is quick and determined, and with finance and labour put into it to see that these changes are made. We should not only give pithead baths but we should get houses for the miners wives and children so that they may have opportunities like other citizens.
There is a tendency on the part of the N.C.B. to ignore their responsibility. With a view to urging them to undertake their responsibility my right hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth and myself put forward this point of view. We want something done, and we want the Minister and the Department to look into the matter and see what can be done.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Bucks, South)
I shall be short: accordingly I shall not follow the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. McKay) into his somewhat controversial retrospect. I wish to add my congratulations to the right hon. Member who opened the debate on the blithe spirit, if I may so describe it, which he set for us and in which the debate has been continued. I think it was only reasonable that he should be allowed the somewhat polemical peroration with which he concluded, but he would be the first to agree that there are many arguments about that, on both sides. It would be better to keep those in the locker and for our debates from now on to be forward-looking and not backward-looking.
The hon. Member for Wallsend may remember, as I am sure the right hon. Member for Blyth knows, that during the 15 years before the outbreak of war the average production per man-year in the coal industry went up by 4 tons each year. That was the general run of production. If we make a realistic assessment of the position we find that we have recovered to the position in which we were in 1937–38 after the continuous increase of 4 tons per man per year. The industry received a tremendous setback during the war, as was bound to happen, but now it has, creditably, recovered, six years after the war, to the position in 992 which it was as regards productivity in 1938.
§ Mr. Bell
That had gone up to approximately 300 tons by 1937 and it gives a rise of 60 tons per man-year over 15 years, which works out at an average of 4 tons. I mention that because it is important that we should have a realistic assessment of the position. It is important that we should be realistic because the coal industry, above all others, has been bedevilled by politics in the past. To some extent the coalfields have been almost laid waste because of them. I say that with a knowledge of the industry—perhaps not so great as that of hon. Members opposite—derived from South Wales, where feeling ran particularly high. There is no doubt about that.
We now start on a new era. Hon. Members on this side of the Committee have had their views in the past about nationalisation and we are entitled to say that we still think it was a wrong step to take; but it is equally clear that we have decided, and made it the basis of our position, to accept what has been done. The only relevant thing to do, if we are to look at the past at all, is to do so for the sake of illuminating our attitude towards the future. The whole debate today, with very few and trifling exceptions, has been conducted on that admirable principle.
The progress which the coal industry has made, and is making, has been reviewed by many who are better qualified to speak on it than I am. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) pointed to one small but growing element of disquiet in the situation which we must all see. It is that we are not quite holding our relative position among the coal-producing countries of Europe. The extent to which we have fallen behind is very small indeed. So far as I can see, making a 993 comparison between the position now and that before the war, we have dropped back 1 per cent. or 2 per cent. in our proportion of the total European production. Of course that is not serious, but nevertheless it is a tendency which we do not want to see continued and extended.
There is, however, one ground for satisfaction which has not been referred to. It is that in nearly all the other countries of Western Europe, with the exception of France and one other, the output per man-shift is very much lower than it was before the war, whereas in Great Britain it is higher than it was. That is a very interesting point upon which we should congratulate ourselves. At the same time, we must remember that, taking the total production, which is the final test, we are not quite holding our ground. I presume that is because the other countries of Europe have increased the total manpower engaged in the winning of coal.
I thought that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Fylde was not quite fair to the achievements of the Board over the past year when he said that, apart from the East Midlands, which we all know is a very successful area —[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."— although, of course, its coal is nothing like so good as that from South Wales—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—we must not have a Dutch auction on the advantages of the two areas—not a single extra ton had come out of the coalfields of this country. If my arithmetic is correct, on a simple subtraction I reckon that 286,000 extra tons came out of the other coalfields in the first six months of this year. Although small, that is a gratifying improvement.
In manpower also there has been a gratifying improvement. More young people and more people generally have come into the industry since the serious net losses of 1949 and 1950. Last year, and again this year, we had the largest increase in the manpower of the mines since the very rapid return after demobilisation. In view of many statements made, sometimes in the House and sometimes outside, about the declining requirement for manpower of the coal industry —statements which in the long run are perfectly accurate—I think it is desirable to say what I believe to be true beyond any doubt; firstly, that the coal industry still requires more manpower in nearly all 994 the coalfields, as Sir Hubert Houldsworth recently pointed out; and secondly, that the industry affords to any youth who enters it now a satisfying career for the rest of his life.
§ Mr. Bell
I admit that, of course, but I hope that those risks will be reduced. But it is desirable that it should be known that any youth entering the industry can look forward reasonably to remaining in the industry all his life, because the reduction in numbers is of such an order that it can be achieved by lowering the rate of intake and so allowing the natural loss by age to effect the necessary rundown.
It should be known further that the industry affords a magnificent opportunity to a young man entering now, because the very large planned increase in production which is bound to take place with greatly reduced manpower, affords every likelihood of greater reward and greater opportunity to those going into the industry at the present time. Indeed, I should imagine that the only decrease in opportunity in the industry will be in the opportunity to enter it, and as time goes on I think there will be much competition to do so.
I should like to refer briefly to the question of engineers in the industry. In my view, ever since the end of the war there has been a great demand for good mining engineers, and also for more scope for the good ones, who are already in the industry. Before the war the industry was undoubtedly at the mercy of politics and in consequence many of the most able men left it to go abroad or to go to other branches of engineering and to better-paid jobs.
Men of that standard of ability will not come back to fill some subordinate bureaucratic niche. They must be given wider discretion and responsibility than is conferred upon the average mining engineer in coal mining today. If we are to confer discretion and responsibility upon these mining engineers, we must have good engineers, and we must put them in the right places, because public money is at stake.
I thought, with respect, that the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) was wrong when he said that it 995 was most important that promotion should take place mainly from inside the industry. I hope I am not misrepresenting what he said. Another hon. Member opposite challenged him on that point. One of the bad influences in the coal industry for a long time past has been the export out of it of good engineering talent. We now want to reverse the process and bring some talent in.
When engineering brains are exported, there is a consequent narrowness of outlook. There have been many instances of that. The industry was not enriched by knowledge and experience from outside of continental and other foreign techniques. For example, horizon mining has been something of a novelty for many people in this country since the war, but I know that it was carried out on a very extensive scale in many countries in Europe and elsewhere abroad before the war. One mining engineer told me of the enormous output he achieved in Chinese mines by horizon mining in 1937 and 1938. If we had afforded opportunities and suitable scope to people of ability in the past, we should have learned much more from them much sooner than we have done.
Many hon. Members have referred to capital development. In my view—and I speak with great deference, because I am not an engineer—the main planning of the Board has been sound in its broad conception, but within the practice of the planning departments there is much to be desired. That is primarily due to the fact, to which I have just referred, of the shortage of good mining engineers in the industry. Once one obtains the right men, one can have the right method, and here again I think bureaucracy has hampered and tied up the processes of the industry.
I should like to give just one example in planning at the present time. I understand that before a project is approved it has to be fully worked out, costed in every detail and sent up to the divisional board, or even higher, where is can be considered officially and approved by the administrative departments, in which I have no doubt chartered accountants play their due part. Then, having got to that level, it may or may not be accepted. If it is rejected all the work done on it, 996 which may represent weeks or months of planning time, is wasted, with consequent expense and delay.
The proper way of administering that kind of work is for rough schemes to be submitted, approximately costed, and approved in principle, by men relying upon their experience and judgment, and then the detailed work could take place once approval had been granted. That may not seem a very big thing, but when it is repeated time and time again throughout the whole process of the planning departments, one is up against a major factor both as to time and expense. I mention that as one illustration of the way in which the administration of the industry could be improved.
In devoting most of my speech to criticisms of the industry, I have not in any way sought to impugn or attack the administration of the Coal Board. I think that one can be more helpful by criticising than by praising. At the same time, I congratulate my right hon. Friend and the new Chairman, Sir Hubert Houldsworth, neither of whom has been in office very long, upon the excellent results which have been achieved in the short time at their disposal.
§ 8.36 p.m.
§ Mr. David Thomas (Aberdare)
I think we are all agreed that there is a better tone prevailing in the Committee today than that which has prevailed in previous coal debates when the Labour Party were in power. The prophesies which were made about nationalisation have not come true, and there is no doubt at all that nationalisation is proving a huge success. As time goes on further improvements will be effected and output will increase, with the co-operation of the N.C.B., the National Union of Mineworkers and, not least, those who are working in the industry—the officials and the men who will certainly continue to give of their best.
Many figures have been quoted this afternoon, and therefore I do not propose to use many of the figures which I had collected, but I would say, before using a few, that the patriotism and the loyalty of all concerned in the mining industry is beyond doubt, and this Committee should issue forthwith the highest praise and gratitude for what has been done since vesting day, 1st January, 1947. I have said right from vesting day that 997 nationalisation would prove a success. There have been arguments for many years in favour of nationalisaion, and efforts were made to get various Governments to nationalise the coalmining industry. A recommendation was made as far back as 1919, but nothing came of nationalisation until the Labour Party got into power. As I have said, prophesies were made by hon. Members opposite that nationalisation would prove a failure, but their words have not come true.
The pleasant feature is that during 1951 the output of coal greatly increased and the output per man-shift was the highest on record. The miners, therefore, deserve thanks for all that they have done and for their willingness in the time of the nation's trouble to work the Saturday shift. I ask myself what other body of workers would so willingly give up a day per week to work for the country. I know that is being done also by the steel workers and other industrial workers who have a five-day week, but thousands take that day to which they are justly entitled. If the Government asked them to work I have no doubt that those workers would also certainly obey the call.
My hon. Friends have mentioned figures relating to output per man-shift, but I think the latest figures are worth while recording. Taking the years 1947, 1950 and 1951, the output per man-shift, in tons, was 1.07, 1.19 and 1.21, respectively. The average shifts per man per year for those years was 244, 245 and 250. Output per man per year was 261, 291 and 302. In view of those figures we can expect still further increases.
Reference has also been made to the conditions under which the miners work. Whilst one would readily admit that conditions are improving, I would say that much has yet to be done to make the conditions of work underground anything like what they should be. I know that the N.C.B. are doing all they possibly can, together with the workmen's side. With regard to industrial diseases, we are all glad to see that the figures of certification for pneumoconiosis are on the decline, but they are still far too high, and when I see colliers working at the coalface with their faces as black as can be, I see no difference between their present physical condition and that of 20, 30, 50 or 100 years ago.
§ Mr. Horace Holmes (Hemsworth)
I think the hon. Member would agree that a good deal of work has been done in relation to dust suppression.
§ Mr. Thomas
I agree that efforts have been made in dust suppression, but I do not think that anybody in this Committee thinks that we shall ever entirely eliminate dust from a coalmine. There will always be that danger lurking. Nevertheless, we welcome the efforts which are being made and we hope that the figures will continue to decline.
With regard to accidents, the cry the whole time is for more coal. Believe me, the workers at the face are doing all they possibly can, and the figures I have mentioned for output per man-shift and output per year per man do not indicate what is done by the colliers at the coalface in a 7½ hours' shift. If one takes into account the walking time in and out it is not anything like 7½ hours at the face. Occasionally during Parliamentary Recesses I go down mines and see the men at the coalface. I want to keep in touch with the improvements which are being brought about.
When I see men working in seams 2 ft. 9 in. thick or 4 ft. thick or 5ft. thick, cutting the coal, throwing it to the conveyor, handling at least 11 or 12 or 15 tons per shift, I realise their difficulties, and I realise, too, that that is a colossal output for one man to turn out. These fellows, who are toiling and running grave risks every minute of the day, deserve all the praise that it is possible to give to them from the whole of the population of this country.
Turning to the question of accidents, in 1951, 233,000 workers were injured to an extent that they lost three or more days' work. Unfortunately, 487 miners lost their lives. That is a reduction by comparison with the fatalities of years ago, but the figure is still far too high. I urge upon the N.C.B. that they should keep the question of safety in their minds the whole time, and I believe they are doing so. We see firemen, as we call them in South Wales, running up and down the face, and output is the cry the whole time.
As has been said all along the years, deputies should be employed only on safety work, testing for gas, seeing that props are erected properly and watching 999 for any other faults, getting them put right and avoiding accidents. Much can be done in this way. Indeed, I think the Chief Inspector of Mines refers in his Reports to the position about safety being not entirely satisfactory. I hope the N.C.B. will endeavour to keep the deputies on safety work the whole time.
Last Saturday unfortunately, another mining calamity took place in the Point of Air colliery. I searched the Press yesterday, through the weekly journals, for reports of it. In the end I found three or four small lines of print referring to the fact that, unfortunately, six men had lost their lives in that calamity on Saturday. That suggests to me—but I may be wrong —that not sufficient publicity is given to these occurrences. I have no doubt, on the other hand, that all will be readily sympathetic when such accidents occur.
I shall not refer at length to the question of wages, for my hon. Friends have already stated what the day rate workers receive today. Without giving figures—and my hon. Friends referred to them correctly—and having regard to the increased cost of living and to the index figure at 135, I would say that the miners have not received the increases which should have been paid to them, bearing in mind the dangerous occupation which they follow. Indeed, I would say with him that we trust that their efforts to get the further improvements in their wages will succeed, and that this nation will keep those who produce the wealth of the country—the miners, and the steel workers, and the agricultural workers, and so on—very high on the list as far as weekly wages are concerned.
There is one point I have overlooked, and I shall finish in a moment now, so that some other hon. Member on the opposite side may have five or 10 minutes to speak before the winding up of the debate. I would say, on the question of the compensation which is paid to men who are injured in the mining industry—indeed, in all other industries—that the payments are not anything like adequate. After a man has been injured he receives a much lower amount with which to maintain himself and his family.
What is wrong in suggesting—and the more we agitate on this question the earlier, perhaps, we shall get satisfactory 1000 results—that a miner, when he is on the injured list, should be paid a sum comparable with his full weekly wage, or his average weekly wage? We find it so with the managers in the coal industry. We find it with other officials in the coal industry. It always has been so. Indeed, in all other industries the managers, the clerical staff, have it so. The police throughout the country, the teaching profession—[An HON. MEMBER: "Andpoliticians."]—yes, and politicians, if they are ill, get fully paid. All of them. Is there anything wrong in asking that the Government should see that miners and others who produce the wealth of the country should be treated likewise?
I know that very many hon. Gentlemen on both sides are sympathetic about this. Indeed, some of their speeches today certainly did not contain the venom which we had in some speeches from members of the party opposite long ago relating to the mining industry. We are all in the same boat together. We must look after each other. We must be fair, and see that justice is meted out to those who, as I say, produce the wealth of this country, and I would say unhesitatingly that the miner who suffers injury should not be expected to live month after month on a very low weekly amount with which to maintain himself and his family. I know that this problem is in the minds of many in the mining industry today.
Let us hope that ere long we shall succeed in the agitation which we are making with a view to improving still further the circumstances of those I would term, having been connected with the mining industry for many years, the most hardworking, the bravest, and the most loyal set of workers throughout the whole land. I do not want any hon. Friend of mine specially connected with another industry to intervene at the moment, but I do say that the miners are as good as any other set of workers in the whole of the country.
§ 8.54 p.m.
§ Mr. C. J. M. Alport (Colchester)
All those hon. Members representing mining constituencies bring to debates of this sort the very human problems with which their constituents are faced, and I am sure that the Committee on all occasions is very glad indeed to have the opportunity of listening to their first-hand experience 1001 of the great problems of the great coalfields of this country. I wish, however, to turn from the immediate problems of what is, after all, merely one section of the fuel and power industry to deal not so much with what has happened in the past as with the prospects for the future.
The hon. Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart) said that it was easy to blind people with science. I must confess that I am one of those who get blinded with the greatest ease. Not having been brought up as a scientist, I find it very difficult to assess the possibilities that lie ahead in technical progress, but even to somebody like myself it is clear that, as I at any rate see it, we are now on the threshold of great advances, particularly in the application of technology and technical improvement to our fuel and power problems.
I believe that it is only right to look upon coal more and more as a raw material—and a very precious raw material—and less as a sole source of fuel and power here, and I should like to put some questions to the Minister, which I hope will be of some interest to him, about the progress which is being made, particularly under the auspices of his Department, with technical progress generally.
I note, for instance, in the "Daily Express" today a statement that plans are being worked out by his Department to enable coal to be pumped by pipeline over a distance in order to cut down transport costs. It is said in this article that this was first tried out successfully some 40 years ago over a comparatively short distance, and now it is being applied to the problem of transporting coal over a much greater distance. I, and I think the Committee as a whole, would like to know how far that sort of progress is taking place.
One notes, as I think we always do in these circumstances, that lapse of 40 years between the conception of the idea and the carrying of it into practice. In this debate we have not gone too far into the past or into disagreements, trying to find fault one way or another, but no doubt in all generations and at all times this type of progress takes place slowly. Therefore, this is in its inception. At the same time, with the increase of technical knowledge and the increased skill of our scientists, surely we can 1002 make progress far quicker now than ever before.
I also wish to ask about another form of development which is taking place at the present time, and that is the generation of electricity by means of windmills. Not long ago an inventor came to me with a suggestion that he had found a practical way of using wind to generate electricity cheaply and in a considerable mass. I do not know anything about it and therefore was not able to judge, so I sent it to the Ministry and asked for their views. They said, as we know from reports, that they are already experimenting with this in the Orkneys. What progress has been made with those experiments, and what are the prospects of successful use in the future?
I should like also to know what progress has been made, and what are the prospects, in the use of atomic power. This, surely, is a subject on which the Minister and his Department should be very closely in touch with Harwell and the authorities concerned with it. We know of the progress made in America, and I should like to know how much we can look forward to developments of that sort.
It seems to me quite clear that we who at the present moment depend so greatly upon our coal supplies must place the export of coal as a priority. I understand the Minister has agreed to export this year about 12 million tons. That is a substantial increase, but compared with the past it is a very small total export. I should have said it would have been well worth our while to have taken a risk during the winter months and tried to ensure that this year 15 million tons were exported. If that were possible, I believe that it would enable us to keep the markets which otherwise we may lose in the next few years to Germany and perhaps to Polish competition. If that is to be the case, if coal is to be our most precious raw material, and if we are to export it abroad, clearly we have to find alternatives in this country.
The right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) mentioned the old and often discussed project of the Severn barrage. One knows of the immense capital expenditure involved in that scheme. At the same time, surely none of these projects should be put in a pigeon-hole if they 1003 can assist in what I believe to be the essential industrial problem of Britain today. I would only say—I do not want to keep the Committee long, as I know that there are others who wish to speak —that we do need, as the right hon. Gentleman said, a far more decisive and energetic drive behind the policy of fuel efficiency.
It is admitted on both sides of the Committee, by experts and by non-experts, that there is a great possibility of saving a large tonnage, which is variously estimated at between 20 million tons and 40 million tons, as a result of fuel efficiency measures. I know that this takes time, and I know that progress has been made. I know that there has been considerable progress in accepting the principle that lies behind the £1 million loan, but so far as the industry generally is concerned that loan is merely a token of sympathy rather than a practical step in the direction which hon. Members on both sides of the Committee wish to see taken.
Therefore, I ask the Minister, when he replies, to give some forecast, if that is possible, or at any rate some definite statement that he intends to carry on the policy of which the foundation stone, and no more than that, has been laid by the decision to allow a £1 million loan for the re-equipment of industry with fuel-efficiency machinery. I believe, as I have said more than once in the House, that until we can assure that the coal that is produced is used efficiently, and until we can ensure that we have a surplus for export, we shall never be able to feel secure in our economic position in this country.
Hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have paid a tribute to the miners and the mining industry. There have been references to the past, but it is the present and the future which really matter. The Minister has a most important job and we on this side of the Committee believe that considerable progress has been made during the last few months. We are hopeful that when the Minister, or the Parliamentary Secretary, replies, he will be able to show us further steps in technological improvements and also in providing any means that are possible to ensure the efficient use of the coal that is produced.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Neal (Bolsover)
The debate today has covered a very wide field. There have been some good speeches on almost every aspect of fuel and power problems. Indeed, I cannot recall an occasion when congratulations have been so mutual and the exchanges so felicitous as they have been today. It is, therefore, with some trepidation that I give notice that I may strike a discordant note in this debate. In the course of my speech, I hope to deal with some of the arguments that have been put forward during the day.
The subject on which I wish to focus attention, as I am sure I shall be expected to do, is coal. Generally speaking, gas and electricity, the other partners in the fuel and power industries, can look after themselves if coal supplies are adequate and reasonably priced. Coal is, was and will be the basis of our industrial prosperity. Coal was the foundation of the industrial and commercial supremacy that we built up during the Victorian era when ships left these shores filled with black diamonds and the manufactured goods of our coal-driven factories, and returned to these shores filled with raw materials which were the world's tribute to British coal and the energy and capacity of our people. It is none the less true today. That is why politicians and economists watch the weekly figures of the coal industry and eagerly await the publication of the Report of the National Coal Board.
As I have listened to the speeches today, I have been letting time play with memory, and I could not help feeling what a change there was in this debate compared with debates to which we listened when hon. Gentlemen opposite were the Opposition. How contemptuously they used to speak of nationalisation. How they lamented the alleged inefficiency, extravagance and bankruptcy of our publicly-owned industries. Every feature of production and distribution in the fuel and power industries came under the lash of their criticisms. Output of coal, exports, output per man-shift, absenteeism, opencast coal, power cuts, load shedding—everything was criticised which could be turned to political advantage.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker), when he 1005 was Minister of Fuel and Power, used to have 30 Questions addressed to him every week by hon. Gentlemen opposite. What a contrast is the moderation which they now show to their own Minister. Is all this change justified by the appearance of new faces at Millbank? I doubt it, and I am rather sceptical about this sudden conversion to co-operation in the coal industry.
The right hon. Gentleman is a very fortunate Minister. He is able to report continuously rising manpower and increased output. In the 26 weeks ended 28th June, 1952, the saleable output of deep-mined and opencast coal was 114,400,000 tons compared with 112,885,100 tons in the 26 weeks ended 30th June. 1951—an increase of 1,544,900 tons. The manpower situation over that period is equally encouraging. At the end of June, 1951, there were 701,700 men in the industry, and that figure has now risen to 718,100.
I join hon. Members who have welcomed the fact that among the additional recruits to the industry are a number of juveniles. That is a very hopeful sign. It is an indication that it is felt, particularly in the coalfields, that parents are now justified in sending their boys into the industry for a career. If we have come to the point that we have overtaken the wastage of manpower in the industry, it is certainly a great step forward in the progress of coal.
The figures that I have quoted are very encouraging. They are an adequate answer to hon. Members opposite who voted against the nationalisation of the industry. In five years nationalisation has given an average increase of 6 million tons of coal a year.
If the Minister wonders why he is able to report this progress—and let me say in parenthesis that I never in my wildest dreams thought that I should hear a Tory Minister give such a welcome appraisal of the coal industry as we had today—I can tell him that it is because, for the first time, this industry has been planned as a national unit. It is because, for the first time, this industry has been given a social purpose. It is because, for the first time, the miners can feel, as they enter the pit cage in the morning, as they stand poised over the impenetrable darkness, as they are about to undergo their arduous and dangerous work, that they contribute something of real value to the 1006 common weal, instead of contributing merely to the profits of a few privileged individuals.
Let me turn to the subject of output per man-shift. In 1938 the overall output per man-shift was 1.14 tons. In the last year of the privately-owned industry, in 1946, it was 1.03 tons. Since vesting day there has been a steady rise until, by 1951, the output per man-shift has risen to 1.21 tons. When the Labour Government were in office, we used proudly to cite these figures of rising output per man-shift, but Lord Hudson, who was then a Member of this House, used to ask the question, "Yes, but what about output per man-year?" The statistics of the National Coal Board, which have just been issued in an admirable publication, provide the answer. In 1938 the output per man-year was 290 tons. In 1946, the last year of private ownership, the output per man-year was 260 tons. In 1951, it was 303 tons, the highest in the recorded history of the coal industry.
I always look upon the Minister of Fuel and Power as the kid-gloved pugilist of the Tory Party. His reasonableness and his disarming courtesy are generally acknowledged. It may be that his strictures have escaped my diligent research, because I have not been able to find anything that he has said at any time which was detrimental to the Coal Board or to the miners. In the knowledge of the figures I have just quoted, I should like to ask when some of his senior colleagues are going to be honest enough to come forward and pay a tribute to the miners for the contribution they have made to the post-war recovery of this country.
I cannot leave the subject of output without referring to opencast mining. I deplore as much as anybody the necessity to despoil the countryside and reduce its amenities. I am equally sympathetic towards the farmers whose land has been requisitioned and whose production has been interrupted. My own constituency has been riddled with opencast mining operations, and I know a good deal about the complaints that come from the sources which are affected. This modern adjunct to our colliery resources has enabled us to keep the wheels of industry turning and to get a foothold in the export market. From opencast mining, 11 million tons were realised in 1951
1007 On this side of the Committee we remember that when a Labour Minister of Fuel and Power was in office he was always assailed with vigorous criticism about opencast mining. When Lord Bracken—whose absence from this Chamber has been lamented here today —was a Member of this House, he frequently led the debates for the party opposite. Before he sought refuge in another place, with what reluctance we can only imagine, he made severe criticisms of opencast mining. He wanted to end it two years ago, when he was speaking for the Tory Party. He said:Surely, the time has come to put an end to this vandalism."—[OFFICIAL REPORT 19th July, 1950; Vol. 477, c. 2283.]
§ Mr. Neal
An hon. Member says, "Hear, hear." Was that the official policy of the Tory Party? Is it now the official policy? Does the Minister intend to sacrifice those 11 million tons of opencast coal? I am sure not. The responsibilities of office make all the difference between challenge and performance. What the Minister ought to do is to plan a progressive reduction of opencast mining, concomitant with the increased production of deep-mined coal. The reduction should be arranged geographically, so as to relieve the apprehensions of the agricultural industry.
I now turn to the subject of safety in mines. In recent years there have been many debates and speeches here on the subject, but I make no apology for returning to it. I am a miner, with a miner's outlook. Even if I could remove the blue scars from my body which are the indelible marks of my calling, I could not forget the years I have spent underground, sharing the dangers of this industry with some of the best and bravest subjects of the realm. It will be understood that I speak with feeling on this subject.
Last week we had a salutary reminder of the need for action in this matter, by the disaster that occurred at the Point of Air colliery in North Wales. An airlock collapsed while men were working under high pressure, and six men lost their lives. Further, the report was issued last week of the inquiry into the Creswell disaster which occurred on 26th September, 1950. 1008 When I say that Creswell is within my own constituency, it will be appreciated how easily aroused my emotions are when this disaster is mentioned. Many of the victims were my own personal friends.
In that disaster, 80 men lost their lives in the terrible fire that occurred; 47 bodies were recovered on 26th September, the day of the disaster, and 27 more bodies were recovered on 25th March, 1951. Six more bodies were recovered on 11th August, 1951. I hope that a recital of those dates and figures will cause the Committee to appreciate the tension, the fear and the bereavement that have been so long-drawn-out in this village. The inquiry lasted for the three days of 17th, 18th and 19th October, 1950. It was resumed on 27th and 28th November, 1951. Tomorrow the wounds will be re-opened once again by the concluding stages of the coroner's inquest.
Here I want to pay a tribute to Sir Andrew Bryan for the admirable report he has produced concerning this accident. It is written with great skill and care, and, in view of the fact that before the inquiry was completed he became a member of the National Coal Board, it is written with commendable impartiality. I want also to pay a tribute to the National Coal Board for the steps they took after the disaster, not only in the Derbyshire coalfield but all over the country, to lessen the hazards of fire underground. I cannot share the view of the hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke), who contended that the National Coal Board are complacent about accidents.
I shall not weary the Committee with technical details of the recommendations made by Sir Andrew Bryan in regard to water barriers, thermostatic control devices, fireproof belting, and other things. I shall content myself with directing the attention of the Minister to five words in that report. At the conclusion of his recommendations Sir Andrew Bryan says, "Much remains to be done." Research in the field of safety is too slow. If the Minister makes inquiries, he will be surprised to learn how long it takes to secure approval even for a safety lamp or a gas detector. Excellent work is being done by the Safety in Mines Research Establishment, and also by 1009 doctors and scientists who are investigating the causes and cure of diseases arising from dust inhalation. Yet research is painfully slow.
As I told the Committee a few moments ago, there is no subject to which I am more emotionally drawn than that of safety in mines. Pits and pit-men have made up most of my existence, and I want to see a vigorous attack made upon this problem. I tell the Minister frankly that there is uneasiness in the coalfields. The National Union of Mineworkers is diverting its attention from the normal work of trade union activity to setting up committees to inquire into questions of safety. It is bringing from all parts of the coalfield it Workmen's Inspectors to advise on what should be done. The union is undertaking this task because it is so apprehensive about this problem.
I apologise if I have wearied the Committee with these details, but I tell the Minister that no matter what wages we pay in this industry, if there is no immunity from disasters like Creswell, we shall never get the manpower that the industry requires.
§ Mr. Neal
I am sorry; I cannot give way because I have undertaken to sit down at a given time.
Happily the accident rate has shown a marked decline in the last five years. Nothing will help the Minister to appreciate the immensity of this problem more than to copy the example of his predecessors by making periodic visits underground. When did the co-ordinating Minister last descend a coal mine? I know that his tasks are of a varied and enormous character. He has to coordinate the industries of civil aviation, transport and shipping, as well as fuel and power. One suspects that one day he should be in the air, the next day down a mine, and another day at sea. Some of us think that he is at sea altogether. I do not see any reason why the commander-in-chief should not sometimes go to see the commandos in the front line.
The Minister may reply by saying that this country has the best safety regulations in the world. It is true that we have, but I ask him to contemplate those 1010 candid words of Sir Andrew Bryan, who has the confidence of all sides of the industry: "Much remains to be done."
I conclude with one or two questions about the future prospects and policy in fuel and power. It was recently announced, and the Minister has confirmed today, that 12,500,000 tons of coal are to be exported this year. I invite the Parliamentary Secretary, when he replies, to say whether that figure is to be fulfilled and whether there is any prospect of its being increased. With present trends and the favourable weather, this figure of 12,500,000 tons ought to be increased. Lord Bracken, in a speech to which I referred earlier, which he made in the House when he was Mr. Bracken, uttered this gem of wisdom:If we had coal to exchange for meat there would be no need for an 8d. ration of gristle." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st February, 1951; Vol. 483, c. 1095.]That might be communicated to the Coordinating Minister for food and agriculture. It might assist him in relieving his discomfiture and in fulfilling some of his broken promises.
If we are to restore the economy of the country, we must export more coal and consume less. It is startling to me that no coal target was fixed in the Economic Survey for 1952. I wonder why. The miners are doing their share towards hitting the target—if one had been fixed. They have loaned back to the Government for most of the year the five-day week. [Interruption.] Hon. Members may laugh, but what does it mean to the miner who sacrifices his five-day week for most of the year? He is living, probably, side by side with a man working in a factory, who has a five-day week and can go to his sport and pursue his social activity at the weekend: but the miner is working on Saturdays to assist the countrys production.
Is the Minister satisfied with the developments that are taking place in the industry? Sinkings like those at Rothes and Bevercotes may be all very satisfactory, but it will be eight or 10 years before we get any reasonable output from collieries of this nature. Some of us believe that a reorganisation of the existing pits would bring a quicker fillip to output.
I believe it was the hon. Member for Garston (Mr. Raikes) who mentioned the 1011 danger of the dwindling European market, and I think there was some reason for his perturbation. I doubt whether we could generally accept the view of the hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead, who said that American coal was quoted more cheaply than British coal in Italy last week. I believe the Americans have a long way to go before they can continuously do that.
§ Mr. Neal
Or are we to think that consistently American coal can be taken to Italy more cheaply than British coal? If that is true we are in a bad way. I believe that time is our enemy in this matter and that some attempt must be made to increase the export of coal, and that the plan of the National Coal Board of 250 million tons in 15 years should be reduced to less than that period.
The hon. and gallant Member for South Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) gave some interesting figures about capital investment. I am sure they will be the concern of the Minister and that he will give adequate study to them after the debate. The hon. and gallant Member told us that even before the war, under private enterprise, £24 million a year was expended in capital investment in the coal industry. I do not know what official figures he has to substantiate that statement, but, with reference to the £30 million now being invested in the industry, we should like to know whether the Ministry are satisfied that the industry are getting all the capital investment they require. Are they short of materials or short of money? If they are short of either, it should be the job of the Minister to see that they are satisfied.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) is not in his place; that is no injustice to him, as he has been present throughout the debate.
§ Mr. Neal
My right hon. Friend mentioned that the hon. Member for Kidderminster had written a book—which I am glad to hear has a fairly ready sale—which is a genuine attempt to make the country fuel-conscious. Can the Minister tell us just how much of the recently announced loan has been taken up, how much of that £1 million has been already accepted as a loan by the industrialists of the country? Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary, in his reply, will tell us how much has been already expended.
I direct the attention of the Minister to this final question, because it is very important. I want to submit a question to him for which he has had nine months in which to provide an answer. Is it the Government's intention to decentralise the coal industry? I know that this subject has been well worn in the past by the hon. and gallant Member for South Fylde. He has written pamphlets about it, and it even found its way into the Conservative manifesto over the signature of the Prime Minister.
§ Mr. Neal
When the right hon. Gentleman was challenged during the debate on the Address on 8th November, he hedged in his answer to this question. He pleaded that he had been in office for only seven days and, in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), he did not give a categorical reply. We want to know whether he can tell us, without any equivocation, if it is intended that the coal industry shall be de-centralised?
§ Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd
I did give a categorical answer on 19th November, and many hon. Members from mining areas said that it allayed anxiety in the coalfields. I stand by that answer.
§ Mr. Neal
That is rather interesting information to me, and I thank the right hon. Gentleman for it. But the National Union of Mineworkers are opening their conference in Scarborough today. On their agenda is a resolution which, after paying tribute to the work of the Labour Government and the leadership of my 1013 right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition.—[Laughter.}—Why should they not?—concludes with these words:This conference warns the Government that any action aimed to destroy the unity of the mining industry or to defeat the purpose of nationalisation will be met by the unanimous opposition of all mineworkers.That resolution is in the name of Sir William Lawther, the President, and the Executive of the National Union of Mineworkers. It shows that there is some apprehension about the intentions of the Government.
The present organisation of the National Coal Board has been tried and proved. Five years of nationalisation have saved this country from economic disaster. This good work must not be undone. It is no use this country having jet propulsion in the air if it does not take the opportunity to exploit fully the resources that it has under the surface of the earth. In this island prosperity lies beneath our feet and, given the willing co-operation of the Government and of all sides of the industry, that prosperity can be found.
§ 9.37 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power (Mr. L. W. Joynson-Hicks)
I hope that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Neal) will not mind if I do not take up immediately the points which he has been making, though I think we can say straight away that as a result of this debate we look forward to his going to Scarborough tomorrow and telling the conference that at any rate there is one resolution which they need not trouble to debate.
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
I should like to return, however, to the opening speech by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens). If I may be allowed to do so, I can say with all sincerity that the Committee can really congratulate itself upon the standard of today's debate. It has been carried on in a truly constructive spirit and in no sense in a partisan spirit. While criticisms have been made, that is the object of the debate, and so long as they are constructive criticisms they are welcome.
I shall endeavour to answer as many of the questions put to me during the course 1014 of the day as I can. I am afraid that in the limited time it will not be possible to answer all of them. I shall strive to do so, and I hope that I shall succeed in the words which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth used in opening the debate when he said, "Let us please free these industries from the political arena." With that I wholeheartedly agree; it is our object and desire.
First of all, the right hon. Gentleman asked some questions about capital investment in the industries and particularly about steel. He asked what the Government were doing to enable the industries to obtain the capital investment required for development, and in particular to obtain the scarce raw material of steel. I think he will not mind my reminding him that the situation as it is was an inherited one, but we are grappling with it. We are seeking to meet him and the criticisms he has made and the number of points to which he has referred. One related to gas pipes. There is a blockage in the delivery of gas pipes, and what we are doing here is to have a special review of the orders which have been placed in order to determine the priority necessary for the most urgent cases. That is a practical step to meet the immediate needs of that situation.
The next point related to electricity. The B.E.A. is reconsidering, among other things, the designs of its power stations to see whether they can be designed to use less bricks and steel. In addition, of course, and as a general matter which hardly applies to this debate, the Government are taking other steps to do everything possible to increase the overall production of steel so as to enable more to be available for all consumers.
The right hon. Gentleman asked me what steps are being taken, in relation to the Coal Board itself, to meet the immediate necessities of development. We do realise the vital urgency to develop as rapidly as possible the programme of the Coal Board in order to obtain better and increased production. Everything possible is being done. The right hon. Gentleman will recall that in 1951 the investment programme for the Coal Board was £29 million. The planned programme of investment for this year was £33 million, but that has already gone up by £5 million and it is being extended to £38 million. That will give some 1015 measure of the importance which we attach to the matter of pressing forward with development as rapidly as possible.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about coal stocks, and he inquired what stocks we were aiming at having at the end of the coal summer. It would be a rash person, and certainly not one who had been brought up in the law, who gave a categorical answer to that question, but I would say that we agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the figure of 16 million to 17 million tons which was achieved by the previous Administration, did not allow any margin for a hard winter, and we shall endeavour to reach a higher figure than that.
The right hon. Gentleman also asked me particularly about what I said in my speech to the Society of Coal Merchants. I think the best way of dealing with that is to tell him shortly but frankly exactly what I did say, and then I am sure he will not have any graver apprehensions than they had, because they seemed to be rather well satisfied with the speech, at the time at any rate. The point was simply this. We had been discussing the possibility of obtaining greater freedom in the industry, and I was suggesting that it would be a good thing if we could get together to discuss whether, as a first step. it would be feasible to enable the consumers to change their merchants at any time during the year instead of at one particular date, which is normally selected at the end of the spring.
My belief is—and this is what I suggested to the Society—that if the consumers, who are normally ladies, are given the opportunity of exercising their freedom at any time of the year they will not worry to do it, but if they are told that they cannot do it except at a particular moment, then that is the time at which they will choose to do it. Whether or not the merchants will adopt the same view, I cannot say. It is not a matter of very great importance one way or the other.
I have received many complaints—as has my right hon. Friend—that when a consumer moves his house and so happens to pass from one zone to another—it may be a matter of only 200 yards—he has to change his coal merchant, because that merchant is not allowed to trade outside his zone. I suggested that 1016 we might discuss this problem to see whether there might be some alleviation of that restriction. It might involve the admission of other merchants into the industry as a corollary. It is a matter for discussion, and it has not gone beyond that. Discussions have taken place but no decision has yet been arrived at.
The right hon. Gentleman asked when the Ridley Committee was going to report. How can I say when that Committee will report? That is a matter which is in the hands of the Committee. I can only say that we look forward to the report being issued quite shortly. Beyond that it is impossible for me to go.
The right hon. Gentleman also asked a question which I do not think he would have answered had he been on this side of the Committee, and that was whether the Ministry of Fuel and Power would take over the obtaining of the licences required by those applicants for loans from the £1 million fund whose applications had been recommended and were to be granted by the Finance Corporation. The right hon. Gentleman knows full well that that would not be a matter for this particular Department. So far there is no sign of it being necessary, but the situation is such that we are naturally anxious to see that no question of delay should arise in putting into operation any recommendations in relation to fuel efficiency schemes. We are accordingly watching the situation and, if difficulties arise, we shall have to see what is the best way of tackling the situation so that the necessary licences may be obtained.
The right hon. Gentleman asked for a substantial expansion of the fuel efficiency units and the work which is being done by them. The crux of the difficulty is that we cannot obtain the qualified fuel engineers. We are already 17 under establishment, and that is through no parsimony on our part, but through our inability to obtain the qualified men. But substantial advances have been made in other directions.
In addition to four mobile testing units, which are the big vans containing very substantial and valuable equipment, we have in operation at the moment 12 light vans, which were added last year. They go out to test production and consumption of heat and power at industrial premises. As I think the Committee well know by now, they produce a heat 1017 balance, something like a balance sheet except, but instead of dealing with pounds, shillings and pence, it deals with heat, to see that not more heat is produced than can economically be consumed and to see that there is no wastage of the heat which is being consumed.
In 1950–51, 50 firms were visited by the vans and the mobile testing units. In 1951–52, 221 firms were visited, which is a very substantial increase. In addition to that, fuel efficiency officers go round to tender advice, and during the year they visited no less than 16,365 industrial premises, which indicates not only that fuel efficiency is fully recognised by the Government as being an essential concomitant of the whole picture of fuel and power, but that it is also welcomed by industry. Certainly the reception which we have received from industry has been very valuable and very good.
In addition to that, the branch does all sorts of peculiar things, and amongst other things which it has done during the past year is the carrying out, at the request of the authorities, of an industrial survey of the horticultural industry in Guernsey. It has collected and published the results of a survey which it carried out into the cinemas of this country. It is continuously disseminating information in one way or another, and one of the most valuable things which it does is to give practical demonstrations to stokers on their own firing floors. As we know, this has resulted in substantial reductions in fuel consumption through improving the quality of the stoking and, in addition, it has resulted in substantial economies to the managements of companies, which has made it still more attractive from their point of view.
May I turn for a moment to the speech of the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. William Paling) and join with him in what he said about the increased output in the coal mines being due not only to increased machinery but also to the efforts of the men? We fully appreciate that and we join entirely with him in what he said. We appreciate that, as he said, there is a good relationship growing up in the mines.
The hon. Gentleman asked what was to happen to the non-profitable collieries. The answer is that, for the time being at any rate and until considerable further development has taken place, all the coal that can be obtained is necessary; but 1018 gradually those collieries which are being worked out will have to close down and those collieries which still have plenty of coal left will be the subject of schemes for modernisation which should result in their becoming economic propositions.
I want to refer in particular to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Robson Brown) who made, as I think the Committee will agree, a very useful contribution to our discussions; and I want to assure him that the National Coal Board have special arrangements for recruiting juveniles into the industry and for training them in the technical sides of the industry, such as electricity. My hon. Friend need not have much worry on that score.
A number of hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Bolsover, have referred to safety in the mines, and I fully appreciate the attitude in which the hon. Member for Bolsover raised this question. I have every sympathy with him in the tragedy which overtook his constituents and his friends. But the Committee should not get the impression that either the Ministry—and this is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend—or the Coal Board are in the least complacent or apathetic about this subject. In fact, safety in the mines has been improving regularly year by year.
I have taken out the figures, and if we go back to the beginning of the century we find that the average yearly fatalities between 1900 and 1920, when admittedly the mining force was considerably greater, were about 1,250 a year, and the number of serious non-fatal accidents 5,500. By 1935–39 the annual average had dropped to 830 fatalities and 3,210 serious accidents. In 1951, including the disasters at Easington, Eppleton and Weetslade, which accounted for 97 fatalities, the number was down to 487 with 1,942 serious accidents. It does indicate that efforts are being made and that results are being achieved in trying to overcome this terrible problem. Continuous progress is being made in the matters of roof support, haulage, and anti-fire precautions, both on conveyors and in every other way.
However, there is one thing we cannot get away from, and it is a thing upon which the hon. Member for Bolsover can help a very great deal, as I know he wishes to do, and that is the report which 1019 has been made year after year by H.M. Chief Inspector of Mines that half of the serious accidents in the coalmines result from carelessness by the men themselves. If we can only get the sense of the realisation of the importance of the safety regulations in the mines, if we can do away with that attitude of familiarity breeding contempt, then we can really reduce the accidents which do arise.
Out of this question I should like to go a little farther on the general question of safety legislation. I think that both sides of the Committee are well aware of the need for the present statute to be overhauled and brought up to date—these things to be done when opportunity and the state of Parliamentary business can permit; but we on this side of the Committee are subject to a very special spur in the matter because, as the right hon. Member for Blyth may not remember, the Lord Privy Seal, when he was Minister for Mines in 1938, was responsible for the setting up of the Royal Commission, and when that Royal Commission reported the present Minister for Fuel and Power came over to the Department with the intention and object of implementing the Report of that Royal Commission by the introduction of legislation. So the Committee will realise that we have a very special interest in the matter.
Indeed, if it had not been for the war it would probably have been done; but after the war, which delayed it, it was wise to let the changes settle down for a time. A great deal of preparatory work needs to be done in the Department before a Bill can be prepared. That work was suspended during the war. In fact, we are advised that it will take something like one and a half to two years to get all the preparatory work ready, but instructions have been given by my right hon. Friend that this work should now be resumed. This will naturally mean a great deal of consultation between the Department and the Mines Inspectorate and both sides of the industry. I think the Committee will like to know that the essential preparatory work is taking place so that when the opportunity for bringing in a Bill occurs at some time in the future the Department will be ready.
1020 Time is running very short, and I am afraid that there are many questions which I have had to leave unanswered. I would simply conclude by saying this to the Committee, that the debate has, I think, shown the growth of all four industries in the group; that they are thriving, and that they are contributing nobly and successfully to the essential needs of the community. That is their object. That is what they are out to do, and that is what we, for our part, intend to ensure that they have the facilities for doing—to serve the public.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again "—[Mr. Butcher.]— put, and agreed to.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow.