§ 3.57 p.m.
§ The Minister of Fuel and Power (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the Report of the Committee on National Policy for the Use of Fuel and Power Resources and also takes note of the last Annual Reports of the nationalised Fuel and Power Industries.I am sure that what the House would like me to do first is to thank Lord Ridley and the members of the Ridley Committee for the work that they have done in producing their Report and in producing it as speedily as they have done, because indeed it was no light work. I have read the Report about three times, and I know that it will not be misunderstood if I say that it is not in any way light or easy reading. Hon. Members who have read it will probably agree that two hours is about the limit to the amount of time one can spend reading the Ridley Report continuously. That, of course, is not a criticism of the Report. It really means that it is an exceedingly interesting, serious and detailed comment on our fuel problems.
It will be very interesting this afternoon to hear the comments of hon. Members. After all, we have only had this Report in our hands for a few weeks. I am anxious not to take long myself, because the Government want to hear the views of the House on the recommendations of the Committee before they come to final conclusions themselves. Therefore, I would propose to help the House as much as I can to deal with a few of the leading issues.
But first of all we ought to take note of the background against which the Ridley Committee was appointed. We all know that since the war we have lived in a continual atmosphere of fuel crises. We had the complete collapse of 1947 which, according to the late Sir Stafford Cripps, cost the country about £200 million in exports. And then came the National Coal Board's "Plan for Coal" of October, 1950. It is rather important in this connection, because the output figure of 240 million tons which was given in that plan led many people, when they considered what the demands were likely to be in the future, and perhaps particularly the very big demands of the British Electricity Authority, to 1750 believe that there might be a really enormous deficiency, looking ahead almost as far as one could see.
Therefore, the feeling grew up that not only were we suffering from continual shortages in the present, but we had to look forward to a continued deficiency on a large scale extending into the remote future. When a number of people were thinking in these terms, we were approaching the critical winter of 1950–51, when we were forced to import a large amount of American coal. Against that background, the F.B.I. and the T.U.C. made a joint approach, which led the right hon. Gentleman who was Minister of Fuel and Power to appoint the Ridley Committee. It will be seen that the driving force in all this was a sense of shortage, an actual present shortage and an estimated big deficiency in the future.
This year, for the first time since the war, we have a stock of more than 19 million tons with which to face the winter. It will be absolutely wrong if any of us develop a sense of complacency just because of that. To start with, and not to go into any other circumstances, let us remember—including those who have had to deal with these matters in the past—what a really severe winter can do, not only in increasing the demand for fuel but in hindering transport both by rail and road and even, in certain extreme circumstances, bringing to a stop production in the pits from the choking up resulting from the fact that the railways cannot move the coal.
On the longer term, I want to make what I think is a rather important point. I believe that the anxieties of many people who have been thinking about our fuel problems in the future have been unnecessarily increased by a misunderstanding about that output figure of 240 million tons a year which was mentioned in the "Plan for Coal." The National Coal Board have told the Ridley Committee, what is of course correct, that that was not an ouput target as many people have assumed, nor was it a maximum figure. It was merely the mid-point of the 230 million to 250 million tons a year which the Coal Board estimated they would be able to sell in the 10 or 15 years that they were looking ahead when they made the "Plan for Coal."
The Ridley Committee have produced an estimate of what the demands are likely to be both at home and for export, 1751 that is, what the Coal Board will be able to sell in that time in the future, and it is 20 million tons higher than the Coal Board originally thought they could sell. I have discussed this matter with the Chairman of the Coal Board, and he tells me that the Coal Board have already taken it into account and have already called for reports from all the coalfields as to the best way of increasing by 20 million tons a year the production of coal in 10 years' time under the "Plan for Coal," that is, putting the figure up to 260 million tons instead of 240 million tons.
That is an exceedingly important point. After all, the problem of the output of British pits in 10 years' time is quite a different one from the problem of current output. It gives time for major reconstructions of pits, and even for the sinking of new pits. I am glad, and I know that the House will be glad, that some of the new seams which it was hoped would be found have been confirmed in quite recent times, so that prospects from that point of view are better.
I think we are entitled to assume that the Coal Board will be able to produce at this high level in 10 years' time, and this has a very important practical bearing on the problem we are discussing today, because it means that our problem can be met partly by increasing production and partly by fuel efficiency. It removes from the consideration of this problem that mood almost of desperation which many people were feeling when they thought that production was being held down to a rigid figure of 240 million tons a year, and when they considered what the demand at the time might be.
Yet it is really, if we come to think of it, exactly in that mood of semi-desperation that many people have been thinking of fuel in recent years. Not unnaturally we have had a great many plans produced, some good and some rather extreme, like that of the gentleman who said that we should neither burn nor export any raw coal at all, not taking full account of the fact that our foreign customers preferred to have the raw coal and were not prepared to take the products of carbonisation.
Therefore these plans proceeded on the basis that the State should decide what 1752 were the best fuels to be used and then should enforce the use of those fuels on the consumers. One of the most valuable services of the Ridley Committee has been to examine all those plans and proposals in very great detail and with very great patience. It has been rightly said that the plans have never been examined so patiently and so thoroughly before. They came to a conclusion which is so important that I will read it. It is among the general conclusions in Chapter X and is:It has been suggested to us that the present balance between the use of different fuels means waste of coal and capital resources. We find that the case is often grossly exaggerated, and we have not recommended that the Government should enforce any changes in the pattern of the fuels used for any purpose by any type of consumer.The Committee were in favour of the continuation of competition between the fuel and power industries, and strongly in favour, within a proper framework, of the maintenance of full freedom of choice on the part of the consumer.
They also did another very important thing when they rejected the idea of a super planning board to control the nationalised industries. They did note that there was a good deal of co-operation between the nationalised industries at present. I think that is true. When one considers what short lives the nationalised industries have had so far, the amount of co-operation that has already developed is quite encouraging. For example, the British Electricity Authority and the National Coal Board are co-operating most intimately in the siting of the new power stations in the coalfields, and also in the special power stations to utilise the very low-grade coal which results after the washeries have done their job on the better grade coal.
§ Mr. Charles Grey (Durham)
I have waited a long time for such a statement as the right hon. Gentleman has just made. Such a statement has never been made before. Would the right hon. Gentleman go a step further, and dissociate himself from the remarks of his hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), in describing all these people as "quislings"?
I am addressing myself in perfect good humour to the Report of the 1753 Ridley Committee, and I should like to continue to do so, if I may.
Another example of co-operation which people will find encouraging is that between the National Coal Board and the Gas Council in relation to the drainage and utilisation of methane from the coal seams. It is experimental at present but quite interesting, and it has possibilities.
All three bodies—the National Coal Board, the British Electricity Authority and the Gas Council—are co-operating in seeing whether it is possible to utilise some of the very low-grade coal deposits, particularly in Scotland. The Committee liked the examples of co-operation which they saw, but they wanted some more, and they proposed that it should be encouraged still further by having a joint committee under an independent chairman.
I am in sympathy with the idea of more co-operation in this way, but I am very doubtful whether such a committee, under an independent chairman, would be the best way to achieve it. I feel that if we want to get co-operation on these very important matters—particularly if one strikes difficulties—it is really wiser to go to the top right away. It is better to start off with the men who have themselves both the responsibility and the power—which means the chairmen of the Boards and the Minister, with his statutory powers in reserve. I feel that it would be better to approach this problem through regular meetings between the Minister and the chairmen of the Boards, and also that the question of the principles of tariffs would be better dealt with by that method.
So far I have been dealing with questions of general principle, which one might say were almost theoretical. I turn now to some rather more concrete matters. First, I want to say a word about the industrial field from the point of view of fuel economy, which we all know is immensely important in connection with a yearly consumption of 100 million tons of fuel. The House will know—because it has been discussed here frequently—of the excellent work that has been done by the Fuel Efficiency Service of the Ministry of Fuel, in which, when they were in the Department, right hon. Gentlemen opposite took so much interest. It is very satisfying to the House, to the right hon. Gentlemen an 1754 to myself to see that the main recommendation of the Committee in the industrial field is that the Fuel Efficiency Service should be expanded.
They favour the setting up of an independent organisation which should be controlled and financed by industry. They think—and I am inclined to agree—that a service of that kind, provided by an industrial organisation, would be likely to be even more acceptable and more successful in its approach to industry than the Service has been up till now. I agree with that recommendation, but I do not think that we should duplicate the Service.
I propose to move as fast as I can in this matter and I am glad to be able to tell the House that I have discussed it already with the Chairman of the National Coal Board, who has assured me that such an organisation could count on a substantial contribution from the National Coal Board, which has a very considerable interest in this matter. As I shall mention in more detail a little later on, with the change to machine mining we are getting into a position that needs very careful consideration both from the point of view of the National Coal Board and the consumers, with regard to the different qualities of coal.
§ Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)
The right hon. Gentleman said that he did not want to duplicate the Service but to set up an industrial organisation similar to that run by the Ministry of Fuel and Power. Does that mean that if he gets the industrial organisation working well, with a substantial contribution from the Coal Board, he proposes to wind up his own Service?
I think hat the main work could be done by the independent organisation, financed not only by the National Coal Board, although their contribution will no doubt be substantial. After that I do not think that the Service in the Ministry should go into the same field as the independent organisation, but I think we shall have to look for additional efficiency with regard to Government Departments themselves. This is undoubtedly a very important field in which the Government should take the lead.
§ Mr. Philip Noel-Baker (Derby, South)
Have I misunderstood the findings of the Ridley Committee in thinking that 1755 they recommend that the Ministry's Fuel Efficiency Service should be maintained and expanded?
§ Mr. Lloyd
I said that I did not think that we should duplicate the Service, but that it is very likely that we should keep a ministerial Service for the purpose of looking after fuel efficiency in the Government Departments.
I turn now to the question of fuel efficiency in the field of household consumption which, as I think everybody will agree, is extremely important. In this field the Committee have made many very helpful recommendations. We have noted their desire for even more efficient improved appliances and also their desire that those appliances should be tested under what is called "room efficiency" circumstances rather than on a test bench basis of the efficiency of the appliances themselves. I think we should sympathise with that view, because the purpose of the appliance is to heat the room and the nearer one can get to testing it under the conditions in which it will actually work, the better. There are a number of scientific and technical problems to be overcome before we can be sure that that can be done, but we will certainly investigate it.
I hope that we shall also be able to carry out what the Committe desire in the way of hall-marking the appliances approved by the Government. Whether it will be possible actually to state upon the appliance the exact degree of its efficiency is a rather complicated matter in which there are some technical difficulties.
Meanwhile, I am sure the House would like to know that there has been some really remarkable progress in the production and distribution of the improved grates during the present year. Some hon. Members may remember that when we had our debate in March I told the House that it looked as if about 900,000 of these appliances would be produced during the year. I am glad to say that it now looks as if we shall have about 1756 1,700,000 of those appliances during this year. This compares with a figure of only 200,000 three years ago. It is a 700 per cent. increase. The figure has now reached the position where it is significant in relation to the number of households in the country.
That is very important for the comfort of the people, because anybody who has had anything to do with these new grates will agree that the efficiency with which they give out heat is really remarkable. It is also important from the point of view of fuel efficiency and for another special reason, to which I referred a little earlier. I know that the mining Members of the House will understand it very well indeed. As has often been said, with the progress of machine mining and mechanical haulage we are getting a continually increasing proportion of the smaller coals and a corresponding falling proportion of the large coals.
In recent years the proportion of large coal has been falling by about 1 per cent., which means that on a production of 200 million tons we would get every year two million tons less of large coal. Even when there is an increased production—as was the case last year, when we had a very considerably increased production of coal as a whole—there was no increase in the amount of large coal because of the operation of the factor which I have just mentioned.
§ Mr. Robens
Has the right hon. Gentleman got the actual figures for small coal as compared with large coal—very roughly?
§ Mr. Lloyd
I could not give the right hon. Gentleman an exact figure. The point is that when production increased by many millions of tons last year, the amount of large coal remained exactly the same as it was the year before.
Three things are happening, if I may put the matter in a simple, straightforward way. First of all, large coal is scarce and is particularly valuable for export purposes. Secondly, the graded varieties of the smaller sizes of coal are in short supply, but not so scarce as the large coal. Thirdly, the small coal—and I know that mining Members will excuse me if I try to define this with great care—which is what remains after the larger varieties of coal have been taken out, is in quite good supply.
1757 The right hon. Gentleman began, and I continued, the allocation of a certain amount of the graded smaller sizes of coal to the household coal market. Of course, the English householder has for generations been accustomed to the large coal. As we know, the coal I have in mind looks a little different, because it is smaller; but it is good coal—let us make no mistake about that. This is not the bad or dirty coal we have heard about; it is good coal except that it is smaller coal. The modern grates, of course, have been particularly designed to burn this coal, and they do so with great efficiency. As a matter of fact, I have heard of only one fault with the graded varieties, and it is that the smaller sizes are inclined to burn rather quickly. But that is very easily corrected if one has some small coal to put on.
Here, I think, we have an opportunity to help every domestic coal consumer in the country to a certain degree, and especially those with modern grates, by reason of the good supply at present of rough small coal. From 1st December, therefore, I propose to free the sale of this rough small coal from all restrictions. There will be no limit on the amounts of this kind of coal which anyone can buy. They will be able to buy as much as they like, and, moreover, they will be able to buy from anyone they like, because I am amending the Coal Supplies Order so that in an area any merchant can sell this kind of coal to any consumer, and any consumer will be able to buy from any merchant.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
Is it not a fact that that has been the position for some time—that people have been able to buy certain qualities of coal irrespective of amount?
§ Mr. Peter Roberts (Sheffield, Heeley)
This is a most interesting point and I am sure we are all most grateful and gratified to hear it. Could my right hon. Friend define a little more closely what he means by this kind of coal? Is it over ½-inch or something like that? It is most important that we should have some idea of what he is freeing.
§ Mr. Lloyd
The technical description of this coal, I am advised, is untreated smalls, below ¾ inch. I recognise that price is a very important factor in popularising the sale of this type of coal. The price is, of course, bound to vary to a certain extent from one part of the country to another, but the price will be controlled, and Sir Hubert Houldsworth tells me that it is the intention of the Board to supply it at prices fixed fairly in relation to quality. I can say now that it will be substantially cheaper than the usual types of house coal.
I have one more piece of good news for householders, and it is that stocks of coke are good, and I am able to increase the maximum amount of boiler fuel which householders can buy during the six winter months from November to April from 20 cwts. to 30 cwts., provided that the extra is taken in coke. I recognise that very often in recent winters Ministers of Fuel have had to come to the House with increased restrictions at this time of year, and I recognise that I am rather lucky to be able to propose certain relaxations for the public because of our present position.
But I would say this: that our motto must be, "No complacency either about the short-term or long-term position of the supplies of coal." On the other hand, just as the Prime Minister said in another connection the other day, nor need we lose our spirits about our coal position. We must always remember that the greatest need of all, more important than any other single factor, is to produce enough coal to meet all our proper needs.
We must also remember that the duty of fuel efficiency is partly to help to reduce our demands and also to avoid waste of coal, which ought always to be avoided in this country where every bit of coal we take out of our mines means that there is that much less left, and very often that which is left is more difficult to get. But do not let us fall into the error, which is always too easy, that we in this generation have invented fuel efficiency, because fuel efficiency has been going on for quite a long time. Even 50 years ago, eminent engineers were saying to the Royal Commission on Coal Supplies that 40 million of tons of coal a year could be saved if we improved our methods of burning it.
1759 As a matter of fact, the methods which were then advocated have not come to pass, but, broadly speaking, the saving has come to pass, because our national income in terms of goods at 1900 prices is at present just about double what it was 50 years ago, whereas our coal consumption has not doubled. Our coal consumption has risen internally, for this purpose, by about one-third, which means that for every £1,000 worth of national income which we are getting, we are using only 60 tons of coal by comparison with the 100 tons which were required in those days.
Fuel efficiency has been and is and must be, therefore, a permanent part of our arrangements. At the present time, because of the shortages, we need it more than ever. We shall need it in the future more than in the past, because, broadly speaking, our coal is costing so much more to obtain. But let us remember that even when the present coal shortages have passed away, fuel efficiency will always remain one of the most important aspects of industrial efficiency as a whole.
§ Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)
In the course of his speech the Minister of Fuel and Power referred to the disturbed state of his mind about the increase in smaller coals by comparison with the larger coals. I want to be quite clear upon this, because it might be thought that some blame attaches to the miners. Is it not true that the nature of our seams has changed so that, instead of cutting overhead and cutting underneath, we have now to cut in the middle, and in many of our mines there is a double blasting process which increases the percentage of smaller coal over that of larger coal. This is not a situation brought about entirely by mechanisation; it has been brought about by two factors—mechanisation and the changed character of our seams.
§ 4.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Noel-Baker (Derby, South)
In the four years from 1947 to 1951, our internal coal consumption in Great Britain increased by 22½ million tons—an average annual addition of nearly 6 million tons. For the first four weeks of 1952, our internal consumption was not higher than in 1951; it was 3.3 million tons less.
1760 Some of that result is due to the weather, for the average temperature this year has been 0.8 of a degree higher than last year. But the main cause—and I urge this on the Minister—has been what we have always said over the last seven years, from these benches; full employment, rising industrial production, rising standards of living sent consumption up, until in 1951 it was 30 million tons above the average of our pre-war use.
This year an ominous fall in national production has reversed the trend. This autumn industrial production has been 10 per cent.—or nearly—below what it was last year. Exports have sagged; the daily rate in the third quarter was 13 per cent. below that in the second. Unemployment has doubled. Short time has increased by tenfold. There is less overtime being worked.
That is why there has been this heavy fall in coal consumption. That is why—if I may say so with great respect—the Minister's winter anxieties are less. True, he has got a higher distributed stock—19 million tons; but his coal stock build has been less this year than it was a year ago. Thanks to the policy of the late Government, he started with an end-winter stock of 13 million tons. The Minister can surely take no comfort from the fall in coal consumption. I know he does not.
Nor can he—nor can the House—take 1952 as the basis on which the Ridley Report must be considered. If Britain's future greatness is to be assured, industrial production and living standards must go on rising, and the demand for fuel and power will quite certainly increase. Now, as the right hon. Gentleman said, the Ridley Committee have made a very moderate estimate of what our inland coal demand will be in 10 years' time—230 million tons. They admit themselves that they may be wrong by 15 million or 20 million. It may be 40 million tons more than we used last year. They accept a very modest estimate of our overseas exports—25 million to 35 million tons—which is well below our pre-war figure; but again, if Europe makes the industrial progress for which we hope, the export demand may be much higher still.
That means, as the Minister began by saying, that the targets of the Coal Board must be stepped up. He rightly said their figure of 240 million tons was not 1761 a target; but the Board must aim at getting more production than is set out in what they call their National Plan. The Ridley Committee say that the National Coal Board should plan for "greater reserves of mining capacity than may correspond to normal commercial practice." Fortunately, a nationalised industry can do this, and we all rejoice that Sir Hubert Houldsworth has said, not once but often, that the National Coal Board mean to beat their targets, particularly in the next few years.
But I want to impress upon the Minister that the Coal Board, quite literally, unless the Government give them active help, cannot do it. All through, the Coal Board have had to struggle against shortages of manpower, shortages of material, the need to increase current output even if it meant postponing development for greater tonnage later on. The Reid Report said that the greatest weakness of the British mines was the layout underground. But that is what takes the longest to put right; that is what takes men, material and machines for years and years for no present return in coal. The Government have an urgent duty in this matter.
When I was Minister, as I have said before in the House, I used to be given forecasts about the manpower in the mines and how it would inevitably go down. I was offered figures. I was told there was nothing to be done. Fortunately, the Coal Board and the then Government rejected that defeatist advice. By wage increases, by a supplementary pension scheme, by additional houses, by releases from the Armed Forces, by exemption from National Service, by a recruiting drive, they reversed the trend. This year—of course, the condition of the labour market has helped—but this year recruiting has been better, the wastage has been less, and the total on the books is 70,000 more than the forecast that was made to me two years ago. But the total on the books—719,000—is still not enough; and I hope that the Minister will regard it, as I learned to, as one of his chief duties to watch this question of manpower and, if necessary, to act.
The noble Lord the Secretary of State who co-ordinates the Minister promised in a handout to the Press in Paris some months ago that the Government "would see to it that the Coal Board were not 1762 held up for lack of funds" and that the Government "would provide priorities for materials wherever possible." Those also are vital pledges which the Government must carry out, if we are to get more coal.
But the Ridley Report, like the Minister in his speech, deals primarily with the better use of coal. In their admirable memorandum of evidence, the T.U.C. said that it is even more important, even more desirable, to spend capital and labour on saving coal that is now wasted than on digging up more coal; and, of course, every reasoning person will agree. Leading authorities had been saying for many years that the waste of coal in Britain was a public scandal, and action of many kinds had been proposed; but, in my view, there had been no adequate and authoritative official study of the problem and no coherent statement of the measures that were required. That was why the late Government set up the Ridley Committee, with a broad mandate, to "consider whether any further steps could be taken to promote the best use of our fuel and power resources."
Perhaps the House will allow me once again, as I did 15 months ago, to express my warm personal gratitude to the members of the Committee, and in particular to Lord Ridley, on whom such heavy labours fell, for having accepted the Government's invitation to serve; and perhaps I may also congratulate them very warmly on their work. I believe that their Report, as the Minister says, is the best and most thorough official study of the subject that there has ever been. I think that if the Government will ensure, as they can, that the main body of the Committee's proposals is carried out, we shall get a big result.
Some people envisaged the task of the Committee rather like this. I paraphrase something the Minister said. "We have various kinds of fuel—raw coal, coke, electricity, gas, oil. Let us determine which kind of fuel will do each job best, with the highest percentage use of potential heat and power. Let us then, on that basis of potential efficiency, allocate each fuel to its proper jobs, and then an immense saving of resources will be made." The Minister has said that the Committee in their Report did not try to alter the pattern by compulsory measures, but that does not mean that 1763 this test of percentage efficiency of any fuel in a given job is not the right starting point for a fuel policy. Conditions vary. People feel about their fuel in different ways; they want different kinds of things. However, broadly, I believe this test of efficiency is the right starting point for a policy, if we want to have one.
Let me take a very simple example. Lighting can be done by electricity or gas. Nobody denies—not even the gas people, and that is saying something—that electricity for light is better and that it uses much less coal. Yet it is a fact recorded in the Report that 2.17 per cent. of the capacity of the gas works goes to lighting. The load has been doubled since 1945–600,000 tons of coal. Sheffield cannot get enough gas for its industry's use, yet Sheffield has 70,000 gas lights in its streets. Surely this conversion should be done at once. There should be, as I think, a compulsory change of pattern. We should make this new electrical investment, and if we put in fluorescent tubes instead of the filament lamps, we shall get an even greater saving of coal than we would otherwise achieve.
The Committee, although they say they do not want to force a change of pattern, speak much more strongly on another subject, namely, the use of coal by railway locomotives. The railways take good large coal needed for the home and for the export market; they burn it with an efficiency of from 2 to 9 per cent.—a loss of potential heat of 91 to 98 per cent. The Committee roundly condemn that waste and say that it should cease.
They speak of three alternatives: diesel locomotives, electrification, and the gas turbine locomotive using low-grade powdered coal. Diesel means imported oil, but it saves all the coal. Electrification would save half the coal; seven million tons if it were complete; £50 million worth of foreign exchange a year. Gas turbine locomotives would mean waiting for years. For my part, I would press on more quickly with diesel shunters and with the electrification of the suburban lines, and I would work very hard on developing the gas turbine locomotives.
1764 But whatever we do, let us recognise that the capital investment will be very high, and, if the Government want a result, they must do for the railways what the Committee propose for private industry; they must make special grants of long-term loans at low rates of interest. A great quantity of coal is at stake here, and I think that this surely should be done.
On domestic heating, again the Committee take the test of thermal efficiency. Domestic heating uses 35 million tons of coal and 4.2 million tons of coke. But the Committee find that coke has a far higher percentage efficiency than coal. In the old-fashioned grate coal may be as low as 20 per cent. efficient; with coke it may be from 35 to 40 per cent. up to 60 or 70 per cent. Now, there is a rapidly growing domestic demand for coke, as I found 18 months ago. Coke is smokeless; it avoids the pollution of our towns and country, which before the war cost us nearly £50 million a year. The Committee therefore, I think rightly, say that coke production should be increased.
The same arguments apply to other smokeless fuels—"Coalite," the Coal Board's "Phurnacite," their best briquettes, and others. I believe that increasing the production of coke and these other fuels ought now to be a major objective of policy for the Government, for the National Coal Board and for the Gas Boards, and they should all work together to get a quick and a large result.
Next to coke, the Committee find that the most efficient fuel for continuous domestic heating in the home is coal itself. They believe that, with modern improved appliances, the efficiency for space heating, water heating and cooking can be raised to 40 per cent. Here, I think, they have made a very great contribution to our thought. As the Minister says, a lot has been done in recent years about improved appliances, and a great deal has been done this year, and we were very glad to hear it.
But I am convinced that there ought to be far fewer types of these improved appliances. What is the good of having a training course for employees who sell these appliances and in three days showing them 150 types? What can they learn 1765 about 150 types? It should be 15 at the outside. In any case, there ought to be fewer.
The minimum standard ought, the Committee say, now to be 40 per cent.; any appliance with less should bear 100 per cent. Purchase Tax, as they propose. A cheap utility open fire with 40 per cent. efficiency should be designed, and mass produced, at a really reasonable price. Arrangements should be made to install these new appliances in existing houses, and no subsidy or licence should be granted for new building unless they are installed. To be penny wise on the cost of housing in this regard is madness today. We can give the housewives more comfort, and we can save a lot of coal, if we carry out these proposals which the Committee make. As the Minister said, it is surprising what a very big result can be achieved with relatively small quantities of iron and steel.
What about non-continuous domestic heating, that is, cooking, and space-and water-heating in the summer months? For those jobs gas and electricity may both use less coal than solid fuel. The Committee say, moreover, that at power station peak hours electricity will use more coal than gas for space heating, and for cooking and water-heating it always uses more coal than gas. Accordingly, they urge that the present 100 per cent. Purchase Tax on electric fires should be retained, and they say that electric fires should not be put into Government buildings if they are likely to be used at peak hour times.
For the rest, they say, as the Minister said, that the tariffs for gas and electricity should be adjusted, so that the consumer pays the real costs and then let the consumer settle the matter by his own free choice. I confess to certain doubts, in the light of our experience in recent years. How soon are we going to get these new tariffs? What practical effect will they really have? What is the consumer's choice? Is it not usually the landlord's choice or the borough architect's choice?
In any case, is not there a clear public interest to be served here? On the Committee's own figures, electricity for these purposes does use more coal than gas, though not always very much. But electricity cannot be stored. The electric fire and the electric cooker are used, and inevitably used, at peak hour times. They 1766 were an important cause of power cuts two years ago. The social cost of power cuts is very high, and do not let us forget it because we did not have any a year ago.
Let us remember that the demand for electricity is virtually unlimited today. We ought to have three times the amount of electricity that we have in our factories to be on an equal footing with the United States; but the American standard is constantly going up; we are far behind America, Switzerland, Sweden and Norway in the units of electricity per head of population that we use. The housewife wants electric power for vacuum cleaners, for washing machines and for many other things that gas cannot supply, and which ease the drudgery of the housewife's life. Surely, for some years at least, gas and electricity should work together to meet a demand with which, quite certainly, they will not soon catch up.
The Coal Board say in their evidence to the Committee that, if for domestic heating, we switched from electricity to gas, we should save 7,000,000 tons of coal a year and solve the power cut problem. Well, I would not tie myself to everything they say, but I do believe that the Government and Parliament should consider whether for the next period of years domestic heating will not be a curse to the B.E.A., as quite certainly it was two years ago, and whether in the national interest we ought not to seek by more positive and active measures to promote the use of gas.
§ Captain J. A. L. Duncan (South Angus)
Surely the right hon. Gentleman is being a little unfair to the countryside, where there is no gas. For instance, the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board is rapidly expanding electrification in the countryside. The housewife must have electricity and electric fires because there is no alternative.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I am not suggesting that the use of electricity for domestic heating should be totally cut out. There are many people who must have it, such as people with all-electric houses. I am suggesting, however, that for the next period of years we should try to increase the use of gas for this purpose rather than 1767 the use of electricity, and I believe that would be in the interest of the electrical industry itself.
§ Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)
May this matter be put in its correct perspective? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that 84½ per cent. of all homes in the United Kingdom are at present in receipt of gas supply?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Yes, I know that, but very often the gas is not used for all the purposes for which it might be used, and for which, I think, it could advantageously be used in the national interest.
I want to deal with what the Committee say about industry. Industry uses 60 million tons of raw coal, one-half of our electricity and one-quarter of our gas. The Committee do not attempt to say, by respective thermal efficiency, what changes, if any, in this pattern should be made. They say that there ought to be more electricity: a higher rate of power plant construction and encouragement of private generation; and they urge that there must be more load-spreading, more double-shift working and so on, by which both our power stations and our industrial capital can be used for a longer period of hours each day.
Again, we are far behind America in this regard. Because the T.U.C. have spoken favourably about double-shift working, I think that there may be the hope of rapid progress soon. Last year, when we had extended load-spreading in which we got the help of employers, trade unions, commerce, women's organisations and others, that helped us very much to get through the winter—and some of the weeks were very cold—without power cuts at all. I regret—and I say it frankly—that the Government this year went back to the old standards of load-spreading. I believe that more double-shift work and other load-spreading devices are an essential part of any long-term plan for increase production and industrial efficiency in Britain.
On the 60 million tons of raw coal used by industry, the Committee endorse all other previous judgments that there is in fact great waste. They say that it may be as high as 20 per cent.—12 million tons a year. Much of it could be saved, without capital expenditure, simply by greater knowledge, better supervision and 1768 more care. The Committee make very important proposals about training stokers, and as again the T.U.C. appear disposed to help, I hope that this lamentable source of waste will soon be cut out.
The Committee want to continue and, as I understand it, even to extend the Ministry's Fuel Efficiency Service. They say that they are not convinced by the arguments that the Ministry's Service should cease to advise industry, and, after a long discussion on it, they conclude:We therefore recommend that the Ministry's Service should continue to give advice on fuel efficiency to industry.I am very glad about that.
They also want to form another organisation, more for propaganda and information, if I understand it, supported by industry itself. Above all—and I think this is their most important single proposal—they want larger loans at lower rates of interest for industry for the purpose of enabling it to insulate its buildings and to buy fuel-saving equipment of many kinds. We shall press the Government today and in the future to give categorical assurances that this and the other proposals made by the Committee for industry will be carried out.
Among them, I hope that the Government will put the insulation of buildings very high. Logically, it comes first. It gives immense results, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes), Mr. Lidbury, and others have proved. The Government have a very powerful lever for getting action in their building controls. Insulation is relatively cheap, and the materials are in easier supply.
May I say a word or two about the Committee's proposals on co-ordination? Frankly, I want to think longer about their suggestion for a Tariffs Advisory Committee. I do not want to reduce the effective managerial responsibility of the national Boards for their respective industries. I would not now pronounce against the suggestion, but I want more time to reflect, while being convinced, of course, that more joint study and more joint co-operation between the Boards on tariffs is certainly required.
I welcome the proposal for a Joint Fuel and Power Planning Board. Like the Minister, I think that the Committee perhaps underestimates what is being done. I am thinking, for example, of the joint 1769 planning of the Coal Board and the Gas Board over Nantgarw; the methane work mentioned by the Minister the work on coal transport done by the Coal Board and British Railways, which gave such a wonderful result last winter; and the construction of pithead power stations by the Coal Board and the B.E.A. It is true that the Minister very frequently meets the chairmen of the Boards. But I think that there would be a positive advantage in the idea of a new and more formal Council. I think that the Council should consist, primarily at least, of the chairmen and deputy-chairmen of the Boards, and I am quite clear that the Minister himself ought to be in the chair. I think that the Council should meet fairly often, and that it would be useful if the Minister made a public Annual Report.
I have supported many measures of various kinds, both for increasing the coal output and for reducing domestic transport and industrial waste. All of them, let the House and the Government be very clear, mean giving more resources to those who deal with fuel and power—more capital, more labour, more material and more machines. We know that money is tight and that steel is needed for many things. But this coal business is life or death for Britain; both for progress here and for our foreign trade, the Government should put it first. If they do that, they will be astonished by the great result which they will get for relatively quite small resources.
I hope that no hon. Member will argue today that the need for these proposals, which we support, arises from the failure of the National Boards and, above all, from the failure of the Coal Board to get more coal. I think that in the first five years of their existence, the Coal Board have a splendid record. In the Press hand-out which Lord Leathers used in Paris some months ago, he told the journalists that in 1945 coal in Britain bore all the hall-marks of a contracting industry—antiquated equipment, inadequate development work, bad relations between management and men, not enough capital, existing coal seams being exhaused, and new ones not being exploited.
That long downward trend has been reversed. Since 1945, output has increased by 38 million tons. Last year the O.M.S. was the highest ever, and O.M.Y., to 1770 which hon. Members opposite attach importance, was the highest in Europe by a considerable margin. Manpower was increasing, and miners' wages are now, as they should be, the highest in the land. Ten times more prospecting is going on than before the war, research is being increased, and safety and labour relations get better every year. The Coal Board and the miners have not failed, though they know that they must do much better still. And now we ask—Parliament asks—that the fuel and power industries shall co-operate more closely for the national good. We ask—Parliament asks—that the coal consumers also shall begin, at long last, really to do their share.
Many of the measures needed and recommended by the Ridley Committee are only possible because coal, gas and electricity have been taken over by the nation, belong to the nation, and work for the nation as a whole. I know from long experience that the men and women in those industries have a deep and pervading sense of their national duty. I hope that the coal consumers will have the same, and I hope that both will remember the closing words of the great Reid Report: "There is no time to lose."
§ 5.1 p.m.
§ Viscount Lambton (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
The right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker) is a very difficult speaker to follow upon such an occasion as this. So persuasive are his argument and his voice that he is inclined to carry one along with him in many of his sentiments. I did, however, as one would expect, find myself in disagreement with him upon one or two things today. Among these was his almost unstinted praise for the proposals of the Ridley Report. One can perhaps remark that the right hon. Gentleman, as he instigated that Report, was taking some slight credit for it by his own praise.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
It is entirely due to the admirable work of the members, who devoted a great deal of their time and labour to the matter.
§ Viscount Lambton
I think that the right hon. Gentleman still gives himself some of the praise for instigating it, but that is neither here nor there.
1771 In the introduction of the Report to the Minister of Fuel and Power, Lord Ridley says that the best use is to be madeof our fuel and power resources, having regard to present and prospective requirements and in the light of technical developments.This seems definitely to be rather more embracing than Lord Ridley's decision in the next paragraph:We have taken problems of primary fuel production as being outside the scope of our inquiry.Upon looking further into the Report, one finds that the first four chapters deal with the problems of fuel and power policy, the demand for fuel, fuel supply prospects and the price of coal. All these chapters, therefore, are very largely to do with the primary fuel production, and it seems to me not to be of the first use to discuss the amount of coal that will be mined, or which we hope is to be mined, in 1961 and the amount of coal that is required in 1961 and the ensuing years if those production figures cannot be reached at this time. All I can say is that the present figures of production, coming from all the areas, give no reason for optimism on this score.
Surely this means that the whole basis of the Report and every recommendation in it, is placed on a hypothetical basis. If we ignore present trends of production, we are putting ourselves in the position of ignoring a dangerous situation that may arise in the future.
It did not seem to me that we heard quite enough about what I consider to be this main problem in the opening speech by the Minister. It was rather like a production of Hamlet not only without the Prince of Denmark, but without Laertes, Polonius and Ophelia as well. The omission is rather striking, for two things that we can judge are, first, that during the first 42 weeks of this year, production has been lower than last year. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I meant per man shift; the production is lower than last year. And what is especially more serious is that the introduction of approximately 20,000 more men into the mines has produced under 1,500,000 tons.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I am reluctant to interrupt, but the hon. Member will recognise that these men have to be trained before they can be used; that 1772 brings down the O.M.S. automatically. Moreover, a lot of them are being put on to development work, such as, for example, making more face room for additional workers in the future.
§ Viscount Lambton
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who has anticipated slightly what I am going to say. One would not expect the average figure of the ordinary long-term worker in the mines to be produced by these new men, but I think that from among these 20,000, some of whom have been up-graded, there might have been a higher production of coal per man. It is this dangerous lowness, this average of, I think, about 1⅓ tons, which makes one consider that all is not well, not so much with the direct worker—that is, the face worker—but with the whole organisation of the coalfields.
It is so easy and so dangerous to attack the men who are doing the actual hard labour, and I dissociate myself from any attempt to do that. I associate myself with some criticism of the policy of general management, which as far as a student of figures can comprehend, has resulted in over-centralisation. I had hoped that we would have heard from the Minister some recognition of this dangerous trend in the production figures and some answer to it.
I have brought this subject away from the recommendations of the Ridley Report, and for this reason. If at this time we talk about saving coal, rather than producing it, all may be presumed to be well in production, but such is not the case. I have made these remarks in the hope that we shall get an answer from the Minister.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Mr. George Darling (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
There is one point in the speech of the noble Lord the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Viscount Lambton) that might be cleared up if the Parliamentary Secretary, when he replies, can give some information. That is, the noble Lord's reference to the apparent drop in overall output per man shift. From my own calculations, which, I admit, may be completely wrong, I have estimated that by taking out the trainees and the development workers, who are not engaged directly upon the production of coal, the output per man-shift, at least 1773 at the coal face, would go up by something like 15 per cent. There are far more trainees and development workers in the industry now than ever before, and if the Parliamentary Secretary can give us the Ministry's calculation we would all be grateful.
I was very interested in the Minister's reference to the proposal for a joint fuel and planning board. I am going to disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker) about this and agree with the Minister. I think it would be wrong to set up another formal body to do this co-ordinating job. It is far better to have it done by the Minister sitting with the chairmen of the boards and their appropriate officials.
There is another reason why the Minister should take on this job, and that is that the fuel and power industries, under nationalisation, are doing so remarkably well that, if the Minister did not take on the job of co-ordination, I do not see what he would have to do because nationalisation is obviously doing his job for him. He has the easiest job in the whole Government, and in order that he will do a job of work for the salary we pay him I think he should be called upon to take on this job of co-ordination.
I expected the right hon. Gentleman to make a very short speech today. If he had gone on much longer he would have been compelled to say quite a lot of good things about nationalisation, about the success of nationalisation and how easy it is making his job. I am sure that in his heart he would like to do so, but I gather that political considerations prevent him from doing it until, at any rate, the Wycombe by-election is over.
The right hon. Gentleman said quite truthfully that he is very lucky to be in the position he is in today starting the winter with 19 million tons of coal in stock. But do not let us forget why he has that amount. He has 19 million tons instead of 16 million tons because of the slackening off of industrial production in this country, and that is not a very healthy situation. I shall not develop that much further except to stress the point made by the Ridley Committee, that all their estimates in the Report depend on the level of industrial production in this country. We can have a very 1774 healthy fuel position if industrial production keeps on going down, but if industrial production is maintained and increased, as we all want to see it, then the fuel and power situation will get much worse. It is that problem we ought to be considering today.
It is quite clear from the previous debates we have had on this subject in the House, and particularly the debate last March, that there is no one way out of our fuel and power difficulties. Fuel policy, if we can talk of fuel policy, is to be made up of all kinds of different suggestions, proposals and ideas. Some of them are small, some of them rather big and some of them perhaps looking rather fantastic, for instance, the point mentioned by my right hon. Friend about research on gas turbines, which I will come to again in a moment.
By working on those lines and bringing forward many valuable constructive suggestions, the Ridley Committee have done a good job and in the circumstances a commendably quick job, because very few Commissions have produced a Report on such a wide and technical subject so quickly as has happened in this case. What we want to know now—and the right hon. Gentleman did not tell us; I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will—is what the Government intend to do about the recommendations, the list of which is quite long. The Government obviously cannot make up their minds completely about every one of them in the short time since the Report was published, but we should like an idea of how the Government mind is moving, and how quickly they intend to act on the proposals which were not mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman.
We would all agree, I think, that the most important proposals are those which aim at making better use of our fuel supplies and our power services. Coal production, as we all know and as the Committee points out, was outside the terms of reference of the Committee, but it must be the starting point of our discussions here. The Ridley Committee estimates of the future demand for coal are higher than the Coal Board's aim—not so much the target—set out in the "Plan for Coal," and the Ridley Committee suggests that the Board should aim at the higher figure, even though that 1775 means keeping marginal mines in operation which, in the view of the Board, ought to be closed on grounds of cost.
That, in my opinion, is a very dangerous proposal, and I should like it to be examined very carefully both by the Coal Board and the Ministry. The Ridley Committee may be right in wanting more coal production at a higher cost in order that our industries will go on expanding, the domestic consumer be given proper supplies and our coal exports expanded, but it seems to me, on the grounds of cost, that every effort should be made to save that 20 million tons of coal so that we do not have to keep in existence the marginal mines that the Coal Board want to close.
To economise to the extent of 20 million tons of coal a year is a very big job, if we can go on assuming—unfortunately, we have not been able to make this assumption during the last 12 months—that our industrial production will go on expanding. We ought to base our ideas and suggestions upon that assumption, and if it is to be done it will only be done by applying sanctions not mentioned in the Ridley Report. It is all right to talk about leaving the consumers a free choice and using persuasion instead of compelling them to adopt the best appliances and the best kinds of fuel. None of us wants to use compulsion. We would prefer the consumers to have a free choice, but in these circumstances we have to think of the cost.
In any case, a free choice for the consumer under present circumstances is often the wrong choice, inasmuch as the consumer does not know what he or she is choosing. Until we make it perfectly clear to all consumers what are the facts, the relevant circumstances, as well as all information about domestic appliances and industrial methods of using fuel and power, and until all consumers both industrial and domestic know precisely why they have a choice we cannot honestly talk about a free choice, because without that information there cannot be freedom of choice.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Can one also talk about free choice when the domestic consumer is allowed only two-thirds of the amount of coal he was burning in pre-war days because it is now rationed, while gas and electricity remain unrationed?
§ Mr. Darling
I do not want to go into the details about these matters. I am sure they are all in the minds of hon. Members who talk about a free choice.
I think that the Parliamentary Secretary should say something about the proposals in this Report when he replies to the debate. For instance, there is the suggestion—and I will deal with the domestic side first—that only efficient domestic fire appliances should be approved, which is a very good idea, and that the approved appliances should have a 40 per cent. level of thermal efficiency. Appliances below that level of efficiency should not be approved and should carry 100 per cent. purchase tax. That is a constructive proposal and we ought to know something more about it.
Personally, I would go a step further and, by cutting off the supplies of materials, prevent the production of those appliances which do not come up to the proper level of efficiency. In that connection, we ought to know something more about the figure that the right hon. Gentleman gave us—the production record of 1,700,000 new domestic fire appliances that may be achieved this year. It is an excellent figure, but are they all above the approved level of 40 per cent. thermal efficiency? We would very much like to know. If they are not all above that level what proportion of this 1,700,000 are actually below it?
If we are turning on to the market appliances that are supposed to save fuel but, in fact do not, we are doing a very stupid thing in giving our approval to the publicity that is associated with some of these appliances.
There is another point that has to be considered, and that is the cost of these appliances. Many of them, in my view, from the very little that I know about engineering practice and engineering costs, are much too high for the material that goes into them. As I said in the debate in March, there should be an independent examination, if the Government are to be called upon to give their approval, either directly or through an indirect body, to appliances.
There should be an independent examination of production methods and production costs, and if it is found that prices are too high because production methods are inefficient, as I suspect they 1777 are in many cases, the Government should go into production themselves and manufacture standardised fuel appliances at low cost. In any case, production of these appliances must be increased if we are to do our fuel saving job properly. Even if we produce two million a year it will take about 15 years to supply all the fireplaces in our homes.
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman was referring to me when he talked about suggestions that had been made that all burning of raw coal should be stopped. I did suggest that, domestically, we should stop the burning of raw coal when I was speaking in the debate in March, and I still stand by that. We have to go ahead with putting in modern stoves for water heating, modern fires and modern appliances for saving fuel in fires as quickly as we can. We want better and cheaper appliances, and, in the end, we want to burn coke and solid fuel in them and stop domestic consumers burning raw coal. They will get far better service. There will be less pollution of the atmosphere and consumers will get far more value from the coal that the miners are producing.
May I now say a word about industry? I am attracted to the idea, as I think most hon. Members will be, that was put forward, I gather, by the Federation of British Industries, that there should be an independent fuel advisory service financed perhaps by a levy on coal or, as the right hon. Gentleman has suggested, a straight-forward grant from the Coal Board at least to pay part of the cost. But I am sorry that he suggested that the Ministry's Fuel Efficiency Service should be cut off as the other comes into operation.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power (Mr. L. W. Joynson-Hicks)
Not cut off, but it should be reduced so that gradually the Fuel Efficiency Service to industry as opposed to Government Departments, commerce, and so forth, shall be transferred to the industrial organisation.
§ Mr. Darling
I do not want to misinterpret the Minister, but the impression I got was that in the end the Service would be a service for Government Departments and would cease for industry. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Tapering off."] It may be tapering off instead of cutting off. I think that is a mistake. I think that the suggestion made in the Report on page 44 1778 should be considered. Paragraph 177 says:We therefore recommend that the Ministry Service should continue to give advice on fuel efficiency to industry.That recommendation and the reasons for it, which I will not repeat, should certainly be reconsidered.
I go further than suggest that the Ministry Service to industry should be maintained. I think that the Service should be expanded in addition to the voluntary service, which I also favour, in order that part of the Ministry Service can become an inspectorate, as I said in the debate in March. We have to apply sanctions if we are going to have fuel efficiency in industry. The amount of waste that goes on through managerial inefficiency in British industry is really lamentable, and I am sure that the size of it is not properly understood, except by those people who have taken the trouble to go round factories, engineering works, and so on, to see what is happening.
I would certainly not leave this matter to any voluntary action alone, because I do not trust the managers in many parts of industry to have any desire to be more efficient than they are. They have not got the enterprise that hon. Members opposite say British industry has; there are far too many parts of British industry that are so unenterprising that their existence in the national economy is a positive danger to it. Sanctions have got to be applied, and I should like to see part of the Ministry's Fuel Efficiency Service turned into an inspectorate, like the Factory Inspectorate, so that inspectors can go round and insist that advice be given to the inefficient firms, and if the inefficient firms do not take action on the advice they get, it should be possible to bring legal action against them as the Factory Inspectorate do against the employers who do not obey the Factory Acts.
I have only two further points to make. One relates to railway locomotives. As my right hon. Friend has said, and as is so clearly pointed out in the Ridley Report, the steam locomotives are the biggest wastrels on the industrial side of this business. We have noted British Railway's schemes for diesel shunting locomotives and for electrification. I do not know whether the 500 diesel-electric shunting locomotives which they intend 1779 to get will make much difference to fuel consumption, and main line electrification is a long way off. Some of the electrification proposals that have come forward will be held up because of the difficulties of capital investment.
Therefore, in the meantime, should we not do what my right hon. Friend has suggested and look more closely at the gas turbine idea, and particularly the use of powdered coal as fuel for gas-turbines? I think we know the difficulties there, such as the fact that the powdered coal pits the rotor blades of the turbine and burns them and the fuel itself is not of a high thermal efficiency; but, at any rate, the two experimental oil-burning gas-turbine locomotives have an efficiency very much higher than steam locomotives, even though at the moment it is below the efficiency of diesel and diesel-electric engines.
This research into the use of powdered coal as a fuel for gas-turbine locomotives ought to go on, however, and I am wondering whether the research is being conducted and financed only by the Railway Executive or the Transport Commission. If that is the case, in view of the financial embarrassment that British Railways suffer today, there should be a direct Government grant to assist research specifically to make gas-turbine locomotives a practicable proposition if it is possible to do so. I hope that the railways are not being left to finance this by themselves.
Of course, if we can find the right metals to enable the gas-turbines to use powdered coal and if we can get the right mixture of coal and make gas-turbines which can be driven by this fuel successfully. I think that we shall have solved one of our problems of electricity generation. That, however, is a much wider subject.
The other point I want to deal with is the suggestion in the Ridley Report that we might soon be taking electric power from France by underground cable. A few weeks ago I was privileged to see the hydro-electric schemes on the Rhine, where Éléctricité de France is using the fall in the level of the Rhine to produce electricity. One of their engineers told me that if their schemes go on—there are difficulties about capital investment—they will be 1780 producing far more electricity than can be consumed in France. If they are having difficulties about capital investment and we can find ways of helping them financially, and in doing so perhaps get orders here for electrical equipment, with loans that would be paid off, so to speak, in electric current coming across the Channel, it might be an excellent idea.
As we have said, a sound fuel policy is not a single line of policy but a series of constructive proposals. With all these schemes the problem is how much the Government is prepared to pay, both for research and for all the development ideas mentioned in the Ridley Report, and others that may be in the minds of the nationalised industries and of the Ministries. How much can the Government pay to see that the schemes we have been discussing and others come into operation to give the results hoped for in our discussion today? That is the problem, and on that and other points we ought to have some information when the Parliamentary Secretary winds up the debate.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Roberts (Sheffield, Heeley)
You, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, have been in the House much longer than I have but, having listened to a number of fuel and power debates, I think this one holds the record for amiability and I hope it will continue to do so. The hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. G. Darling) went so far as to disagree with his own Front Bench and to agree with some things said on this side of the House, whereas my hon. Friend for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Viscount Lambton) criticised his Minister with regard to his Shakespearean activities. I hope that I may be able to continue the debate on this non-controversial plane.
First, I want to ask a specific question of the junior Minister who is to reply. It concerns the 19 million tons of stock. Could he tell us how much of this is in the small coals and slack and how much is in domestic and larger coals? My information is that there is a great deal of slack at the moment which is being accumulated, and that gives a slightly wrong impression if it is not broken down into the various stock figures.
Secondly, I want to congratulate the Minister on his speech this afternoon, which was most encouraging. I particularly wish to congratulate him upon his 1781 action with regard to coke. I am certain that will be of great help in the coming winter. Will the Parliamentary Secretary tell me, however, what is the intention with regard to the export of coke? The coke market moves rapidly and needs constant watching to see that we obtain the great advantages which are possible in the export of coke, particularly to the Continent. I am a little worried that full advantage of these facilities has not been taken. I am slightly fortified by the fact that the Minister is able to give an extra 50 per cent. increase on the domestic ration, and I hope we shall be told this afternoon that the export of this valuable product has not been left out of account.
There was much in the speech of the hon. Member for Hillsborough with which I agree, but if I were to disagree with him it would be on the fact that he emphasised too much the powers of compulsion. I thought he was on dangerous ground when he said that the consumer did not know best. My experience is that, in the long run, the consumer knows what he is doing and that he does know best. I warn the hon. Gentleman against following his right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) who, I believe, once talked about the gentleman in Whitehall knowing best, since that will not lead him very far into constructive thought.
Turning to the Ridley Report, I want to bring to the attention of the House one fact which to me was extremely interesting, the question of price. Those hon. Members who have read the Report will see that there is in it a conflict of opinion, four against four, on the question of the price of coal. From paragraph 63 it will be seen that 50 per cent. of the Committee seemed to be in favour of a theory which would automatically increase the price of coal by £1 a ton.
That is a most disquieting fact. It tends to show a certain form of "nationalisation thinking"; an idea that it is possible to put up the price of coal by £1 a ton irrespective of the needs of the consumer. In point of fact, this suggestion would have meant an increase in the price of coal of £200 million in one year. That is more than the State paid for all the assets of the Coal Board. 1782 It is disquieting to find people on the Committee making such a suggestion, and it reduced some of my confidence in members of that Committee.
Facing up to this problem, as every hon. Member must, one comes to the other solution posed by the Committee, namely, that there should be an average price for the country. I have always doubted whether that is the right way to solve this problem. I have advocated before in this House, and I do so again, that we might well look to the locality or the division for the price structure of coal in that area. Let me give the House an example. In the Midlands and Yorkshire, where I come from, coal is obtained at a much cheaper price than, for instance, in South Wales. I am not saying anything against the South Wales coalfield, but it means that Yorkshire and the Midlands, where great industries have been built up upon the coal-fields themselves, are subsidising other areas where the cost of production of coal is higher.
It means that we in the Midlands and in Yorkshire are having to pay in the price of coal what otherwise could be given in increases in the wages of miners or in a reduction in the price of coal to the consumer. This extra advantage in Yorkshire has to be denied to the consumers, the wage earners and consuming industries in order to subsidise the price of coal in areas which are not so efficient, such as South Wales. I want to know from the Parliamentary Secretary what is the argument against allowing each division to charge for coal on its own production costs, so that if, in South Wales, it is necessary to sell coal at a slightly higher price to meet their costs they should do so.
There are some who ask why people in South Wales should have to pay more for their coal because of the geographical conditions of the coalfield in which they live. In other words, we come to the second argument, which is that for strategic reasons it is necessary to maintain the price of coal in certain areas. I would ask the House to remember the debate on steel last week where this very point was raised; that where we have industries which are not economic the Government should step in and run them, and that for strategic reasons there should be a charge upon 1783 the nation. If we need special steel for special purposes which ordinary people are not prepared to make, then it is a strategic charge which might be carried by the country.
I pose this question to the Minister, therefore. If one does not accept the argument that economic forces should apply to the price of production of coal in areas where the cost would be higher than the average selling price, why should those cheaper production areas, such as Yorkshire, bear the subsidy on that price? I believe that we should consider seriously what this implies. It implies, for instance, that in Yorkshire, where I come from—and I hope I am entitled to speak for the industry and the consumers and the workers in that area—they have to subsidise, as it were, the other areas which are not so efficient.
I believe that if the Minister would be prepared to say that each division must balance its accounts and sell its coal at a cost in accordance with the price at which it is produced, an enormous advantage would come to the industries which have been built up on the great coalfields of this country.
§ Mr. A. Edward Davies (Stoke-on-Trent, North)
Is not the great snag of this argument that we want coal at a reasonable price; and that if, in some circumstances, we depress the South Wales coal production it will be bad for the nation as a whole? Is it not the fact that we provide electricity and other services, such as railway and transport services, when very often it is uneconomic to do so for the specific reason that we regard it as a social service?
§ Mr. Roberts
That is the point I was trying to make; it is regarded as a social service. That being so, why should those consumers of coal in the other areas be the ones who have to pay for that social service by the higher price of coal. That is what is happening at the present time? This is a matter which should be carefully worked out, and on which I should like to hear the views of the Minister. I fully appreciate the arguments which would come from areas which are not quite so efficient, but I hope they will see the point of view of those areas where coal is being produced efficiently and cheaply, and for which high prices have to be paid.
1784 It boils down to the point I wish to make on this part of the Report: that it is essential that in a great monopoly such as this we should have elasticity of prices. I support the suggestion which appears in "The Times" leader of today, that the Minister might consider setting up an advisory committee in order to look at the whole question of the price of coal and fuel, particularly with regard to the differentiation which there is owing to the different production costs.
§ Mr. T. Brown
I dislike interrupting the hon. Member, but he is advancing a rather remarkable theory. What would be the position of a pit in a district where five or six seams were being worked, with five out of those six producing coal very cheaply, and the production costs of the other being very high? Would the hon. Member then ask the people to take the dearer seam against the cheaper seam? This is a remarkable theory which he is advancing, that the South Wales coalfield should pay much more for their coal and that Yorkshire is subsidising other coalfields. Surely he is not advancing that argument in these days of nationalisation.
§ Mr. Roberts
I am. What I am suggesting is not one seam as against another, but one division. The divisions should be the economic area where the costs are worked out. The divisional accountants should be told that they should balance their accounts in their divisions and not the Coal Board as a whole.
I wish to come to my second point, which concerns the much more detailed question of the present price system. The Minister and hon. Members know that the Coal Board at present sell their coal in what is called quality boxes. They work out, or their scientists work out, the various calorific values in British thermal units, and they say that any coal which falls within a certain grade, including ash and moisture, is in a certain quality box; and that that coal shall be sold at the same price from whatever pit it may come.
The problem with regard to this—and I think the Minister will agree—is that, so far, the Coal Board have not published or made known to anybody how, these quality boxes are made up; in other words, the public are asked to buy various goods at certain prices, but they are not 1785 told what are the specifications of those goods. Therefore, there is no proper check to see whether or not one is getting coal of the right specification.
It seems to me quite extraordinary that, when we have a monopoly such as this, for we cannot get coal from anywhere else, the Coal Board refuses to disclose what are the specifications on which they sell their coal. I suggest that the Minister look at that very carefully. Over and over again the Coal Board have been asked to disclose those figures and so far they have refused. I would ask the Minister whether he can give us an assurance that he will do his best to see that the Coal Board do reveal how their quality boxes are made up, so that the consumer may have a check on whether he is getting the correct goods.
I now come to my third point, which arises on the price structure, the question of competition and the sale of coal abroad. I wish to ask the Minister what is going on regarding the sale of coal and the production of coal abroad under the Schuman Plan for a coal and steel pool. As right hon. and hon. Members know, the Schuman Pool for coal has now been set up, and is operating. It is operating as one of the biggest coal cartels which we in this world have ever seen. It is something which, at the moment, is not a danger. But when we come to the question of by-products, of electricity which was mentioned, and of coke, it is something which, I believe, may become a very great threat and a danger to this country.
I do not want to go back over past history. I will merely say I think it unfortunate that a formula could not be found whereby we could have taken some part in the discussion of this Schuman Plan. I wish to point out, with regard to this plan, that there has been a great deal of misconception about the question of nationalisation and private enterprise.
I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will correct me if I am wrong, but as I understand it, the Schuman Plan deals with the control of the production of coal and with the control of the competition between the sales organisations of coal, but does not deal at all with ownership. The question of whether an industry is nationalised or under private enterprise does not affect the conception of the Schuman Plan one way or the other. It 1786 is quite possible for industries, whether nationalised or State controlled—as the steel industry will be in the near future—or privately controlled, to be linked together within the Schuman Plan.
The point I should like to put to my right hon. Friend is that we in Europe now have a definite responsibility under N.A.T.O. and under economic co-operation organisation for the well-being of Western Europe. Yet we are allowing the fundamental basis of our defence industries, coal and steel, to be organised into an international cartel which can affect the whole of the defence of Western Europe, and the heavy industries of this country, without us having a say in the matter at all.
I believe that the Eden Plan, that we should have observers on this organisation who can merely advise but cannot vote, is not strong enough. Under paragraph 98 of the treaty there still are possibilities for further consideration of any other country which might wish to have discussions with the authorities under the Schuman Plan. I ask the Minister to consider making representations on behalf of the Ministry in order to be able to have some say through N.A.T.O. or the economic organisation on the planning and projecting committee of the Schuman Plan.
I end on the note of my attitude towards the Coal Board. As I think is generally recognised, the Coal Board is here to stay. Whether we like nationalisation or not, it is now quite impossible to re-organise the coal industry in any other way, such, for example, as we shall be able to deal with steel. That being so, I believe it behoves every hon. Member to support the Coal Board as best he may. I therefore wish to state that I believe that the progress which has been made in South Yorkshire, which is very considerable, is due to a large extent to the leadership of the Chairman, Sir Noel Holmes. He has done an extremely good job and I hope that in the winter which is coming he will have, as I am sure he will have, the support of his staff, the miners and the miners' leaders.
§ Mr. P. Roberts
My area is Sheffield and I am talking about South Yorkshire. I am sure that there are plenty of hon. 1787 Members from West Yorkshire who can speak for their areas.
We have a more encouraging picture so far as coal supplies are concerned. I appreciate the point made by the hon. Member for Hillsborough and also by the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker), about some of the cause of falling off in consumption. But I feel that we are entering this winter with a good chance not only of getting through without shortages, but also of being able to export some of the surpluses either this side of Christmas or soon after.
I end by saying that there are a number of points, particularly in regard to price and the way in which the Coal Board are selling coal, which need further consideration, but I believe that we are, in the main, in the position of facing the winter in a satisfactory way.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
The greatest poet who ever lived said:This above all: to thine own self be true.If right hon. and hon. Members of this House are to be true to themselves and to the serious economic situation in which our country finds itself, they ought no longer to approach this problem in the complacent way in which they have approached it up to now. I ask the Minister if he has read a book written by a friend of his, the preface of which was read by an hon. Friend behind him. If he read that book he would find the answer to his complacency. I have never heard a more negative and disappointing statement as that which was made from the Despatch Box today during the whole of my 18 years membership of this House.
When we consider the way in which industry has responded to our economic needs and that we in this House can discuss this problem and talk about amiability and show complacency, it is a disgrace to everyone of us who is prepared to be a party to that kind of thing. So far as I am concerned, that is ended for the time being. It should have ended so far as all hon. Members who put the interests of their country first are concerned.
We are supposed to have won two world wars, yet when I recently visited Germany I found capital expenditure going up. We are supposed to have won 1788 two world wars, yet we cannot afford capital expenditure. Can anyone tell me what kind of a world we are living in when we are spending millions of pounds produced through the hard energy of our people in industry, yet cannot afford sufficient capital expenditure to save our country and guarantee its future?
Those in Japan and Germany are spending millions of pounds, aided by millions of dollars, in order to fight us in the future and enter into competition with us and, as a result, present another menace for the third time in my life to the standard of living of the people of our country.
The whole of the city I have the privilege to represent is built on an old coalfield, a great, potentially expanding coalfield. The first thing we want to ask is that at the forthcoming Commonwealth Conference an economic plan shall be considered so that we can build up and re-vitalise the Commonwealth by supplying them with pottery and with millions of tons of coal while, in return, the Commonwealth countries supply us with what we need from them.
I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will give me a specific answer to this question. Did the Ridley Committee on hydro-electrification consult Metropolitan Vickers, British Thomson Houstons and the English Electric? Here are some of the most efficient concerns in the world manufacturing the most efficient plant for hydro-electrification all over the world, yet we cannot manufacture it for our own country. The Minister had a letter sent to him, according to the Ridley Report. It said:… to consider whether any further steps can be taken to promote the best use of our fuel and power resources, having regard to present and prospective requirements and in the light of technical developments.It is to that that I wish to address my observations, but before proceeding to do so let me put this to the House. Nationalisation of fuel and power in this country has been a complete success and has saved this country. It might be a greater success and make a greater contribution to saving our country, and it is upon that that I wish to make some constructive suggestions.
It has been truly said that coal is modern gold and electric power is the bloodstream of industry. Those of us 1789 who not only obtain the American papers, and the Blue Books and White Books from the Vote Office, but also read them, are bound to be concerned about the narrow margin which our balance of payments and our sterling reserves leave us.
I wish to put it on record that this country is putting too many eggs in one basket, and that we shall be running into serious difficulties if we continue to neglect the mining and electricity industries as we are doing, and continue as we are doing in regard to the engineering industry. Hence the importance of coal and power.
In this country we have found, as a result of scientific examinations recently made, that there are still enormous resources of coal in the bowels of the earth. There are enormous resources of minerals in Canada, mountains of deposits of iron ore and great potential hydro-electric power. These should be the basis of a 20th century Commonwealth economic approach to our economic problems, and this in particular is where Stoke-on-Trent is concerned. The Canadians propose to embark upon a large expenditure in developing a steel industry. But Canada has no coal. Under the city of Stoke-on-Trent there are the richest coking coal deposits in the world. New shafts are to be sunk at Trentham and Longton. There are 1,700 million tons of coking coal under that city or within a small radius of it.
The Coal Board, the local authorities, the management and the men are co-operating together to get the best results in a way that I have never before seen in this country. But are the Government Departments co-operating with them in the way that they should? Are they doing all they can to avoid friction? For example, it is proposed to bring miners from all parts of the country to work in the area. I will speak about myself, unlike so many folk who are too fond of talking about others.
If I were a miner and there was a possibility of my being unemployed, I should be prepared, if I were offered a job, with decent conditions, and a decent house, to go and work anywhere. It is in that respect that difficulties arise. Men cannot be expected to move, with their families, unless the Government have done all they possibly can so that when 1790 the men arrive in the area to which they are being transferred they go into decent house, with decent surroundings, where the wife can be happily settled and the children go to school. Here the Minister of Fuel and Power has great responsibility, because in my view all responsible Government Departments should be brought together to minimise any difficulty that can arise in this kind of plan. That is my first constructive suggestion.
My second is in regard to this Report. It is a very fine document, but I differ fundamentally from it with regard to the prospect of saving millions of tons of coal by hydro-electrification, diesel electric power and gas turbines, about which there is a story to be told, as the Government have already embarked on large-scale expenditure. There is a gas turbine centre, Metropolitan-Vickers and others are working together and a large amount of work has been and is being done.
We have just had issued the Report of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, which deals with prospects opened up by the technical advances in electric power production. It describes atomic energy as the most important of these new sources, which also include exploitation of tidal energy. If Germany, Switzerland or Russia had the finest coast in the world for the harnessing of hydroelectric power it would have been undertaken before now. It is due to the conservatism of the Conservative Party in particular, and the conservatism of others, that it has not been done up to now.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I hope that the debate is not to develop into a party political dog-fight, but if the hon. Member accuses the Conservative Party of being responsible for not developing hydroelectric power, would he read the speech made at the Dorchester Hotel on October, 1951, by the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker) when he was Minister of Fuel and Power, in which he explained precisely the reason why the Severn Barrage, for example, could not be developed.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
That is since the war, but those conditions did not obtain before the war, when there was a lot of unemployment and spare capital.
§ Mr. Smith
I have not got a dinner suit so I do not go to dinner at the Dorchester Hotel.
I was dealing with hydro-electrification. It is easy to speak about it now because we can all see the problem, but the test which we should apply is our past record in regard to this kind of development. The hon. Member for Stockport, South (Sir A. Gridley), who was in this House long before the war, will remember how we put down Question after Question dealing with this problem. Had such development been carried out in the past we should now be saving approximately a million tons of coal.
§ Mr. Smith
I will come to that point. I know that the hon. Member is well informed on this kind of matter. The difference between some people and others is that some of us have been engaged in industry and know a little about this subject. In 1945, before the end of the war, I put Question after Question, and I do not wish to weary the House by repeating them.
That brings me to this Report, which can be obtained from the Vote Office. It is a condemnation and indictment of the political party to which the hon. Member belongs. There is now an explanation why the Government cannot embark upon this large-scale capital expenditure. I do not altogether accept it, but there is a reasoned explanation. There was no explanation, however, in the period between the two wars, when we had millions of people unemployed and an abundance of resources.
When I put Question after Question to various Ministers and failed to get any satisfaction, I did so with the background of having spent a whole day with one of the greatest authorities in the world on the subject of hydro-electrification. I hope that the gentleman to whom I refer is still living and that he will be able to read what is said in this debate. His name is Mr. Stubbs, a director of Foden's, and he was so public spirited that he was still acting as an adviser to Metropolitan-Vickers, who conducted some specialised investigations into the business aspect and technical needs of this 1792 policy. We pored over drawings all that day, and looked at specifications, facts and figures, and I came away from that consultation with him and others convinced that we ought to embark on that policy right away. Yet to this day that has never been done.
On Friday, 7th March, we had a debate in this House and my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Philips Price) moved a Motion. We urged the Minister of Fuel and Power to ask the National Coal Board, the British Electricity Authority and the Gas Council to meet as early as possible in order to prepare a comprehensive fuel and power policy. I am very pleased to say that the Committee has gone a long way towards accepting that proposal. The Minister's announcement about it is the best step forward that has been taken up to now.
Forty-two years ago Mr. De Ferranti, at the annual conference of the Institute of Electrical Engineers, advocated all that appears in the Ridley Report. One thing above all else must be learnt by politicians; we ought to take into consultation more than we are apt to do specialists of Mr. Ferranti's type who are engaged in industry. Thirty-six years later Sir Vincent Ferranti pleaded at the Institute of Electrical Engineers for the same policy to be adopted that his father had advocated so many years before.
I spent last Sunday making an analysis of the Report, and I want to make some observations upon it. On pages 92 and 93 the Committee make some very enlightening observations about smoke abatement. Nowhere in this country would smoke abatement be more welcome than in the city of Stoke-on-Trent, especially near the tileries in Trentham, Blurton, Longton and Burslem and near the potteries in Fenton and Longton. Thousands of our countrymen have needlessly suffered the undermining of their health because of lack of a smoke abatement policy. In many areas in those districts the people dare not even have their windows open. We welcome this proposal.
When the Minister gives further consideration to these proposals, he should consider whether the local authorities ought to be given more authority to deal with the problem and whether there should be more inspectors with greater authority to take action. I commend the Report of the National Coal Board on 1793 this matter. It states on page 117 that the fuel consumption per head of the population in Britain, calculated by converting all major fuels into hard coal equivalent, appears to be roughly 30 per cent. higher than in Belgium, 60 per cent. higher than in Scandinavia, 90 per cent. higher than in France, 90 per cent. higher than in Western Germany and 130 per cent. higher than in Holland. That is a condemnation of each one of us who has been prepared to acquiesce in the wasting of our good coal for far too long.
I should be grateful if the Minister would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to give a specific reply to one matter before I proceed. Is it correct that our capital expenditure in the mining industry is now less than it has been in the two previous years? Is it correct that, making allowances for the change in values, it is even less than it was in 1948?
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that now. The capital expenditure at the present time is not running below its target. In fact, at the present time it is up to the National Coal Board's target.
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
No, Sir, it is not less than it has been in either of the two previous years. It is up to its target. In the two previous years it was not up to the target.
§ Mr. Edward Davies
Did not the Minister indicate in his opening speech that the sum being spent in the current year was likely to be less than in the previous year?
§ Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd
I did not. If the hon. Gentleman derived that from what I said, he was under a misapprehension. The fact is that it has been less and there has been anxiety about it—we discussed it in an earlier debate—but as a result of discussions with the National Coal Board and the fact that Sir Hubert Houldsworth was so anxious to get this right in spite of difficulties which are so 1794 well known to the Opposition, I am glad to say that he has now been able to get the capital expenditure up.
§ Mr. Smith
I thank both Ministers for their courtesy in answering those questions now. We have now had a denial of the leading article which appears in a reputable newspaper.
I want to pay a tribute to the civil servant who prepared the Report for the National Coal Board. He is Mr. E. H. Browne. My hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) had a great deal to do with that gentleman when the mines were under private enterprise. Mr. Browne was a worthy representative of the colliery proprietors for whom he negotiated. He was wholeheartedly opposed to nationalisation. In spite of that, he has proved to be one of the most loyal servants that we have ever had in this country. He has prepared an admirable plan and Report. We ought to let these people who are working so hard and so long—day and night in some cases, I am informed—know that we value their work.
I shall never forget what was said to me by Sir Andrew Duncan when he was Minister of Supply during the war. I had been to the Capital Expenditure Committee conducting some investigations. When I returned I could not get to him quickly enough to pay tribute to something which I had seen and—I could not have believed it had I not had the experience—tears came into his eyes and he said that it was nice occasionally to get a pat on the back. I have never forgotten that experience, because it pleased so many others.
I believe—now I address my observations to the Labour Party in particular—that the plan which was proved right for the mining industry during the war will sooner or later prove to be this country's only salvation. I believe that we must plan our economy on the same scientific lines. One of our greatest difficulties is that we spend thousands of pounds on research and then, as Sir Henry Tizard said to the British Association in Newcastle, we do not take steps to apply it in industry as quickly as we should. I hope the Minister will consider what has been said in the debate and that we shall learn the lessons and pool our ideas so that the mining industry and the fuel and 1795 power industry can make an even greater contribution towards conserving our fuel resources.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)
I hope I may be forgiven if I do not follow directly upon the remarks of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith), for I would prefer to switch back to the leading speeches which have been made in this debate, the first from my right hon. Friend the Minister and the reply from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker), upon the general considerations attaching to this Report.
My personal view of the Report, and I speak simply as a private Member of this House, is that it is somewhat disappointing. I think the Ridley Committee have placed a very much less ambitious view upon their duties than most Members of Parliament, and certainly the overwhelming majority of the general public, supposed they would do. What everybody supposed the Ridley Committee was doing was to evolve a balanced and comprehensive proposal for a national fuel and power policy.
In fact, what the Committee has done is produce a large number of seemingly unco-ordinated proposals, the great majority of which have been accepted as valid for decades past by all interested in fuel technology, and few of which are in any way new or novel. If I may say so, the fundamental fallacy of the findings of the Committee is the fact that it fails to give guidance as to what is the best employment or end-use for any particular type of fuel or fuel product.
There was at once in this debate a deep cleavage of principle between the two leading speakers on the Front Benches. My right hon. Friend, I believe, by innuendo, acclaimed the Ridley Report for saying that there must be complete and unbridled consumer choice. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, South—I am sorry that he has temporarily left his place—again by innuendo thought there should be guidance from the central Government, and that, in the working out of a national fuel policy, there should be, if not direction, at least inducements and even coercion, if necessary, in order to guide 1796 people to employ the most efficient fuel or fuel product for a particular purpose.
What do we mean by consumer choice? The average man in the street, for example, believes that it means deciding which one of half-a-dozen breakfast foods is suited to his particular palate, but deciding which breakfast food one is going to eat does not involve any technical considerations. Surely, in the face of the large deficit in our coal budget which is predicted by the Ridley Report, it must be a fundamental consideration that every issue affecting the consumption of fuel and power ought to be judged against general economic background. The vital point is which particular fuel is going to conserve coal most greatly and make the greatest contribution towards increasing coal exports.
Therefore, I say unequivocally, and I am sorry to say it, that I am much closer in principle to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, South, than I am to my right hon. Friend. [HON. MEMBERS: "Come over here."] Perhaps hon. Members will allow me to elaborate that theme. My right hon. Friend suggested that the "Plan for Coal" was aiming, not at a target of 240 million tons 10 years hence, but at a figure of between 230 million tons and 250 million tons. That seems to me to be endeavouring to split hairs. What the National Coal Board is trying to do is to raise output by as much as they can in the shortest space of time, but most people in the coal industry today, including even Sir Herbert Houldsworth himself, think that it is extremely doubtful whether, in 10 years, the output of deep mined coal can be raised much above 240 million tons a year.
I would ask the House not to speculate in these matters, but to turn to page 6, Table II of this Report, which gives as against the 240 million tons of coal a year which it is predicted will be mined within 10 years, a projected consumption of coal in the United Kingdom of 248.4 million tons of coal a year, and to that must be added the nation's requirements of coal for export. In that regard, I believe that the Federation of British Industries was probably right in saying that the export figure to be aimed at is 30 million tons a year.
Therefore, to be added to the internal consumption of 248.4 million tons a year 1797 is the export requirement of 30 million tons, which makes a total requirement of 278 million tons per annum against which the National Coal Board say that there will be an output of 240 million tons. There is a deficit here of 38 million tons of coal per annum within 10 years, and that is a modest statement. The Federation of British Industries, on page 217, put the deficit very much higher. They put the figure, including the 30 million tons for export, at no less than 293 million tons per annum, or 53 million tons more than the National Coal Board's "Plan for Coal" seeks to show as the production figure 10 years hence.
Whether the figure is a shortage of 38 million tons per annum or whether it is 53 million tons a year, there is certainly going to be a mighty big shortage, and I do not believe that shortage can be bridged, even in the face of maximum efforts in the coalfields and greater fuel efficiency by saying to the consuming public of this nation, "You are to please yourselves which fuel and power you consume for any particular purpose."
Another grave misconception in regard to fuel and power economics today is the fact that so many people believe that coal mines, electric power houses driven by coal, and even hydro-electric works will be outmoded by the development of atomic energy and nuclear fission. I think it is instructive to read what the Ridley Committee has to say in paragraphs 38 and 39 on page II of their Report, which immediately explodes the idea of any large contribution from this source in the course of the next few years:We have come to the conclusion that the development of power from ocean waves, the internal heat of the earth, solar heat, and other potential sources depends on new technical developments, and does not seem likely to yield any significant return in power supplies within the next few years.In the next paragraph, the Report says:The information we have received suggests to us that it is impossible to count on help on any substantial scale from nuclear energy in meeting the power needs of the country within the next few years.It is therefore plain that everything depends upon coal; and yet there is this yawning gap of up to 50 million tons per annum within the next 10 years. It is with this coal gap that I should like to deal, under two headings: first of all, the question of industrial efficiency in burning coal, and, second, the whole 1798 difficult and highly controversial problem of the place of electricity in our national fuel economy.
May I turn to industrial consumption of coal first of all? My right hon. Friend referred to it as 100 million tons a year, but, to be precise, coal and coal equivalents' consumption in 1951 was 109.4 million tons. It is almost double the whole of our domestic consumption in the United Kingdom, and I pause here to offer a word of warning to so many people—hon. Members of this House and the general public outside—who think that fuel efficiency solely means installing modern appliances in our homes.
In fact, that is a form of fuel efficiency, and a very desirable one, but installing modern solid fuel appliances will not make, in my view, a contribution of a single ton of coal towards the balancing of our coal budget and increasing exports. By installing modern solid fuel burning appliances in our homes all that immediately happens is that these appliances make the ration go further, and any coal saved results in increased standards of domestic comfort. It does not result in a tangible contribution to balancing our coal budget.
The substantial saving of coal must come from industry. The Ridley Report says that 15 to 20 million tons of coal could be saved each year. I am very gratified to have that confirmation because I have been saying that for the last three years, often in the face of taunts from industrialists and others—not, strangely enough, from hon. Members of this House—who say I have exaggerated my figures. But how is the saving to be achieved?
The right hon. Member for Derby, South will not, I hope, think me critical of his speech when I say that he slavishly adhered to the principle of Government loans. I hope he has not closed his mind—I know he is not bigoted—to alternative methods of providing the necessary fiscal inducements to greater efficiency in industry. He will agree that industrial fuel efficiency falls under two headings. There are the daily maintenance problems which affect managements, such as efficient thermostatic control, steam raising, boiler and boiler setting 1799 maintenance, steam pipes and valves, and so on, which need no capital expenditure, and then there is the heavy plant group for fuel economising which means capital investment, new boilers, firegrates, mechanical stokers, turbines, and insulation of buildings on a large scale which can make such an enormous contribution to fuel efficiency in industry.
All that means capital investment, and the last Budget has not helped our fuel problems very much. I say that in no critical sense of my own party because I was one of hon. Members on this side of the House who regularly took the platform in the Birmingham area during the last General Election and defended the need for an Excess Profits Tax. That is also why I supported my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in putting on the tax. But the undeniable fact remains that every business today is being mulcted by taxation to the extent of approximately 65 to 75 per cent. of its profits according to the particular circumstances of the business.
The right hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes), who I am glad to see in his place, will, I am sure, confirm these facts to any hon. Member opposite who doubts them. Out of the 30 per cent. odd, net profits of a business, not only is there the servicing of the capital invested to be looked after, the replacement of all the productive machinery, expansion of plant and buildings and many other desirable things, but, in my view, there is little or no money for those considerations which do not show a quick return, and one of these is fuel efficiency.
When I say that, I mean that in the case of the average engineering works the value of the element in respect to fuel and power which goes into the product is generally no more than 1½ to 2 per cent. of the value of the finished product. Therefore, there is little or no inducement for industrialists to invest in fuel and power efficiency plants especially as the Treasury take two-thirds, in the shape of taxation.
§ Mr. R. R. Stokes (Ipswich)
Surely, the fact is that as there is no encouragement to fuel economy by taking the steps that are necessary to insulate buildings, production engineers and works managers would much rather buy capital equipment than insulate their buildings.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. That is what I have been trying to stress in the last few moments. His experience is a good deal greater than mine, and the way in which he puts the point is unexceptionable.
The Ridley Report refers in paragraph 182 to fiscal incentive. Because this is a financial problem I asked my right hon. Friend the Chancellor if he would hold a watching brief in this debate, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary for being on the Front Bench. The Report says:It has frequently been suggested that to provide a financial incentive to coal economy, the Government should allow firms to charge the whole of any capital expenditure on fuel efficiency to revenue for tax purposes in the year when the investment was made, instead of charging the normal Inland Revenue depreciation allowance annually. This amounts to an interest-free loan to the firm from the Government. We would support this proposal, but we understand that the administrative difficulties and expenses may be so great as to rule out its adoption.I pressed my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to let me have the memorandum of evidence from the Inland Revenue. It is evidently the Inland Revenue who say that it is administratively impossible to operate a system of charging fuel economising plant to revenue instead of to capital, and they make that assertion for two reasons. Firstly, they say it would lead to greater difficulties when endeavouring to settle the tax liabilities of individual companies and in the identification of the new plant installed, as a fuel economiser. Secondly—and this, is perhaps a more valid reason—that the Treasury cannot be party to discriminatory taxation.
In other words, they could not make an exception in the case of this one class of fuel economising equipment although the Federation of British Industries, the Trades Union Council, the National Union of Manufacturers, and the whole membership of His Majesty's Opposition and the Liberal Party in the last Parliament, supported the pleas I made during the debate on the 1950 Finance Bill. But a Division had to be taken on it because the then Chancellor held the view that the Inland Revenue was right in that it was not proper to indulge in discriminatory taxation.
The future of this country depends on coal exports, and I believe that in the 1801 next Budget the Chancellor of the Exchequer will have to tell the Inland Revenue that in this instance an exception must be made, as indeed was made in the 1945 Finance Act in respect of agricultural buildings and again has been made in the case of Death Duties on agricultural land. Other forms of discriminatory taxation have also been indulged in, in the past, where overriding national interest so demanded.
I pass now from that purely fiscal and financial issue to a matter of equal importance, the question of the electricity industry which so far has only received passing reference from speakers in this debate. A most important statement is contained in paragraph 13 of this Report. It says:Second in importance to the shortage of coal is the present shortage of electricity supply capacity. The shortage is partly shown by the extent to which consumers have been temporarily cut off from supplies during peak hours; it is also manifest in reductions of voltage and frequency, in the electricity load spreading arrangements that industry and the larger commercial users have had to adopt, and in the refusal of supplies to certain new consumers, especially in the rural areas.Those of us who represent Midland constituencies know what power cuts mean, whereas many other parts of the country have not suffered to the same extent. I have been accused on many occasions of attacking the use of electricity for certain end purposes. I believe it is in the national interest that I should have done so. Let me say quite unequivocally that I support Lord Citrine in his repeated demands since 1947 for very large sums of money for capital investment in new generating plant and power houses, provided that new power is used primarily for factory production, also for lighting, for minor domestic appliances, for intermittent and occasional space heating but never, for continuous space heating, or water heating.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I shall come to cooking in one moment. Lord Citrine has fought a running battle with the Ministry of Fuel and Power and the Treasury to get sufficient capital investment allocations every year for new installed generating capacity of up to 1,800 megawatts. So far he has got to 1,200 megawatts last year, or 1,200,000 kilowatts of new capacity. The first call on the capital investment resources ought to be 1802 given to the British Electricity Authority for a power house expansion programme to work up to the desirable figure of 1,800 megawatts of new installed capacity annually and to deal with the shortage of electricity supply capacity referred to in paragraph 13 of the Ridley Report, but only providing that the British Electricity Authority will desist in its sales endeavour in three important directions. They are, first in the use of electricity for space heating, second, the use of electricity for cooking, and third, the use of electricity for water heating.
In my view those three purposes belong, from the point of view of coal conservation, more legitimately to alternative fuels. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, South, rightly drew a comparison between the proper domestic purposes and uses of gas and electricity. I did not wish to interrupt his speech or to make reference to a passage in the Ridley Report which might have reinforced his arguments.
But on pages 77 and 79 of that Report there are really striking statistics produced by the Ridley Committee. The Report states that the production and distribution efficiency of gas produced from coal is 48.4 per cent. The production and distribution efficiency of electricity produced from coal is 19.54 per cent. In other words gas, expressed as a ratio, is 5:2, or two and a half times as efficient as electricity for certain specified domestic purposes.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I am in agreement with the hon. Member on the main point, but of course there is a greater appliance efficiency for electricity than for gas by which adjustments can be made. I still think the advantage is very large.
§ Mr. Nabarro
That is so. There are certain adjustments used when bench testing appliances, which are extremely complicated but generally speaking, putting it more simply, gas is always twice as efficient as electricity for these domestic purposes. In the face of the Ridley statements on pages 77 and 79, which cannot be controverted, is it reasonable that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power should say, especially in view of the critical position of our coal budget, that there should be complete and unbridled freedom for any consumer to choose whatever fuel he likes without any guidance from the Government or any 1803 of the national authorities? I do not believe that it is right that freedom should be so enjoyed.
There is much evidence printed in the Ridley Report, notably that of the Federation of British Industries and the T.U.C. Unfortunately, the Ridley Committee did not feel it advisable to publish the Report of a man whom I believe to be probably one of the foremost fuel technologists in the United Kingdom today and one of quite impartial and independent outlook, namely the Director of Fuel Research at the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. This is what he says about the use of electricity for domestic space heating and referred to in paragraph 70 of his Report:Electricity has obvious advantages for power and lighting, but only about one-half of the units supplied are used for power. Far too much electricity is used for space heating, for which purpose it is not really efficient, when related back to the coal consumed, in comparison with other methods of heating.Most civilised nations in the world have this same problem. The Americans have got it in a virulent form, and by the courtesy of Mr. Lidbury, to whom the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, South, referred, I received two days ago an elaborate brochure printed by the Florida Power and Light Company, U.S.A. They are an electricity supply company which maintains an extensive sales force, and conducts an expensive advertising campaign every year, sending out tens of thousands of brochures in support of that campaign. To do what? To sell gas and fuel-oil cookers and space heaters because it is cheaper for them to have that large volume of advertising and selling overheads and costs rather than put in the expensive generating plant to meet the peak load demand for such domestic services as electric space heaters, cookers and water heaters.
I spent some weeks in France earlier this year studying the French arrangements. In, for instance, Marseilles there is no competition between the gas and electricity authorities. They share the same showroom, Gaz et Electricité de France. Both are nationalised. If a housewife wants a new cooker she goes to the showroom where a really well-informed salesman or saleswoman who knows the technicalities of the fuel and power 1804 position in the area, sees her. If there are gas mains she will be sold a gas cooker or gas space heater, but if she lives in the country then, of course, she is told she will have to use either solid fuel or electricity. In my view my right hon. Friend must evolve such a formula. I shall constantly rebuke him and all my hon. Friends who preach unbridled licence and freedom in this vital technical matter of fuel conservation and efficiency.
May I go from that particular problem to an equally important matter to which reference is made in the Ridley Report? Not only have we to remove the domestic demand from the electricity peak load in respect of space heating, cooking and water heating but we have also to make contributions by encouraging further development of independent generation.
In the Ridley Report, recommendation 35, page 72, there are these telling words:The Electricity Boards should permanently and publicly abandon restrictive conditions embodied in old contracts.It was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, South I think, 18 months ago in this House, who first had to reply to me on this question of independent generation and getting rid of these old restrictive conditions. He did quite a lot, but he did not settle the matter before he left office. Although Lord Citrine and the headquarters of the British Electricity Authority have accepted as desirable the need for efficient generation arrangements independent of the electricity grid—that is private generation—the area board managers and lesser officials up and down the country, brought up in the spirit and tradition of electricity sales promotion—
§ Mr. Nabarro
These people are very loath and very slow, very tardy indeed in obeying the behest of the central authority. The result is that there are still restrictive covenants and restrictions upon independent generation. I hope that my right hon. Friend, even if he can implement only a few of the Ridley recommendations quickly, can at least pay due attention and regard to recommendation 35. I see no reason at all why in this matter, under the 1945 Fuel and Power Act, he should not issue a directive 1805 to the British Electricity Authority that the area boards shall publicly abandon these restrictive practices. My right hon. Friend, on 7th March, 1952, used these words in connection with back pressure turbines:Last, but by no means least, is the question of back pressure turbines, about which my hon. Friend has spoken again today. … Owing to the fact that, unlike great power stations, which waste so much of the heat in thermal efficiency of the coal, we get this very high rate of efficiency out of the back pressure system."—[OFFICTAL REPORT, 7th March, 1952; Vol. 497, c. 955.]It is a form of independent generation which more than trebles the efficiency with which coal can be burned.
My right hon. Friend, the Trades Union Congress, the Federation of British Industry, have all supported the need for an increasing use of back pressure turbines. Yet it is extraordinary, in reading the Ridley Report, to find that there is hardly any reference to that at all. Paragraph 201 rather plays them down and, in fact, when I examine the background of all the members of the Ridley Committee I arrive at the conclusion that there was only one member who knew anything about turbines. He was Sir Claude Gibb of C. & A. Parsons. He has been building steam condenser turbines all his life. He was evidently not favourably disposed towards back pressure turbines, and the result is that they have almost gone by default in the Ridley Report.
The Ridley Report even goes so far as to say that it does not recommend district heating schemes based on back pressure turbines. All I ask is that the British Electricity Authority, guided by the Minister of Fuel and Power, should do what every fuel technologist in the country has been urging upon them for many years, and that is to instal a trial district heating system with back pressure turbines based on a British Electricity Authority power house, and using the waste or latent steam instead of wasting it in the cooling and condensing system. The Pimlico estate hot water scheme is the only example in the country so far, and that is limited in application.
What we want is a small heat-cum-power station in a new town, using back pressure turbines feeding waste or latent heat in the form of steam to the factories and to the domestic dwellings in that 1806 town in order to test whether the Ridley Report is correct in saying that there is no great future for this type of district heating.
The Ridley Report does nothing better than gently, gently to point the way towards a national fuel policy. I hope my right hon. Friend in the course of the next year or two will use some of the recommendations in the Report—those that have long been accepted as necessary and desirable—but will also use imagination and boldness and pursue his task of evolving a balanced fuel policy to conserve our precious coal resources and add substantially to coal exports. That is surely a primary and fundamental objective of a Conservative Government.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Mr. S. Schofield (Barnsley)
I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this debate. I have already delivered my maiden speech, of course, but I have also served my apprenticeship sitting in this Chamber, in particular during the last fuel and power debate on 7th July when I entered the Chamber at half-past two and sat here until quarter-past nine without leaving for sustenance of any kind; and, unfortunately, I was not called.
I wanted to take part in the debate because I wanted to pay a tribute to the men who are working in the industry. I have been a miner for 20 years. I have lived with them, toiled with them and, unfortunately, sorrowed with them. Before becoming a Member of this House I was disgusted by some of the accusations that had been made against those men with whom I have worked. A former Member, who did not belong to the party opposite or to my party or even to the band of hope who reside on the second row below the Gangway, is reputed to have said that the miners have let the country down.
That is not so. I have Press reports with me to prove beyond a shadow of doubt that in my area at least those men did not let the country down. I am quite certain that all the mining Members who are listening to me now could say the same, but as I have recently left the industry I thought it might be my duty to mention some of the reports. One says, "Colliery breaks two production records in 1949; highest output since 1942." Another report states that despite 1807 the heat wave, miners at the Glass Houghton Colliery—that is where I worked; I was proud of the men and I hope they were proud of me also—broke two production records.
I have scores of them here, but I am choosing the best. Another one says:With Glass Houghton Colliery leading the way, pits in the No. 8 area in the North-Eastern division of the National Coal Board had another fine output last week"—proving again that the independent Member was wrong. Another report states:Miners smash records for 1951. Eleven records, including seven at Glass Houghton, were established in the No. 8 area of the North-Eastern divsion.In November, 1951, there were still more records:Glass Houghton Colliery this month achieved its highest output since the coal industry was nationalised. The figure was 79,283 tons. Glass Houghton beats seven records again.I thought that the recommendations of the Ridley Committee would be pounced upon my many speakers, so I decided to confine the major part of my remarks to the terms of reference, which, I think, are highly commendable to the Labour Governments of 1945 and 1950. The terms of reference state:In view of the growing demands for all forms of fuel and power arising from full employment and the re-armament programme, to consider whether any further steps can be taken to promote the best use of our fuel and power resources, having regard to present and prospective requirements and in the light of technical developments.I am quite certain that no hon. Member opposite can in any way blame the last Labour Government when they decided to embark on a three-year re-armament programme. It was unfortunate that the decision had to be taken, but I feel certain that, no matter which party had been in power, had the same conditions prevailed, that party would have done likewise sooner or later. However, my party must take the responsibility for increasing the demand for all forms of fuel and power arising out of their full employment policy.
In, other words, if the Labour Government had been content with a million or a million and a half unemployed, then my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker) would not have been under the necessity to 1808 appoint the Committee on National Policy for the Use of Fuel and Power Resources, whose Report we have recently been debating.
This full employment policy to which my party pledged itself at the 1945 Election, and which at all times must be the policy of any future Labour Government, which, I hope, will not be long coming, could not have succeeded if the coal mining industry had not been nationalised. In fact, I believe that nationalisation of the coal mining industry made it possible for 50 million people who inhabit our islands to please themselves whether they desired to remain in these islands or to emigrate.
If there were a reduction of 50 million tons in our present coal output unemployment would become the order of the day. Our exports would seriously decline, which would entail such a cut in our imports that it would be a practical impossibility to feed and clothe the 50 million people residing in these islands. It would not be a question of, "Shall I emigrate?" Millions of us would have no alternative. I dread to think what the future would have been had a Tory Government been returned in 1945. They had no pledge to nationalise the mining industry.
If any right hon. or hon. Member thinks for one moment that our miners, after the end of the Second World War, would have been prepared to undergo the same treatment which they received at the end of the First World War—insecurity of work, serious cuts in wages, strikes and lockouts—he would be sadly mistaken. The bitterness and animosity that prevailed within the mining industry under private enterprise was near to exploding point just before the Second World War. I feel sure that had it not been for the war we should have had the biggest coal strike in our history in the early 1940s.
During the 1945 General Election the present Prime Minister said that the coal industry had fallen behind some of its competitors overseas, that a new start was needed, and that the position could not be remedied by a mere change of ownership in the collieries. He went on to say that that offered no solution. What, then, was the brand new solution which the Prime Minister had at that time? He advocated that a central authority 1809 should be appointed to insist that the necessary measures were taken to provide such help and guidance as was useful. The making and carrying out of these measures would be undertaken by the industry itself.
In other words, the good old coal owners would have come to the rescue of the industry which they had almost ruined, free enterprise would be preserved and the industry would be saved from the dead hand of the State. The party opposite voted against nationalisation of the coal mining industry and if they had won the 1945 General Election the drift from the mines—approximately 25,000 a year between 1920 and 1940—would have continued. Chaos would have been the order of the day.
We should not have had the pleasure of listening to my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) during the debate on fuel and power on 7th July of this year, informing the House of the very heartening recruitment figures—that 14,000 juveniles under the age of 18 entered the industry in 1949; that in 1950 there were 15,000 juveniles and that in 1951 there was a jump of 5,000, when 20,000 juveniles entered the industry. For the first 20 weeks of this year 13,300 juveniles under the age of 18 have entered the coal mining industry.
As far as production is concerned the right hon. Gentleman informed us that of the six Western European coal-producing countries Great Britain had the highest output per man-year during each of the years from 1948 to 1951 and also the highest output per man-shift underground, except for the Netherlands. The most pleasing feature of all is that slowly but surely the bitterness and animosity which prevailed is being overcome. As has been said there is a change of heart. Without that change of heart there would have been no hope for the future of this industry of ours. I call it "this industry of ours" because it now belongs to the nation. Previously, it belonged to some of the hon. Members who sat in the seats opposite.
In opening the debate, the Minister referred to the abundance of small coals. Having recently left the industry I should know something about them. Small coal was inevitable with the introduction of mechanised mining. My hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) told the 1810 Minister that one of the reasons for this small coal was that in the years between the wars when the better seams were worked we had undercut machinery, whereas today, in my pit in particular, practically all the seams are cut in the middle, so that only six or nine inches are left at the top and when that is blasted it is bound to be small. It was almost small to begin with.
The Minister informed the House that as from 1st December rough small coal would come off the ration. When he made that statement his hon. Friends gave him a cheer. I think he will agree that he is not responsible for there being a sufficient supply of small coal. Some of us should give a thought to the chaps who produce it. I happened to be one of them not so very long ago. My right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South mentioned that one of the reasons for our large domestic stock—I think it is 19 million tons—was that industry so far this year has used approximately 3.3 million tons fewer than in the previous year.
With regard to manpower, I have mentioned the juvenile entry into the industry. There is only one method that I know which will increase the manpower in this industry and that is the necessary incentive. A mine is not the same as a factory. No matter what one does to it one will not make it attractive.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)
The hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Schofield) took the unusual course of confining his comments upon the Report of the Ridley Committee to their terms of reference. I want to deal with the Report itself and to begin by a quotation from the paper which was put in to the Committee by the Trades Union Congress. It was a very valuable paper and in the last paragraph the Trades Union Congress used these words:… a co-ordinated national fuel and power policy was for the T.U.C. one of the major objectives of public ownership in this complex of industries. Nearly three years have elapsed since the gas industry passed into public ownership and five years since coal was nationalised, but there are no signs of such a co-ordinated policy.That is rather a familiar note nowadays—nationalisation undertaken primarily because it was hoped it would promote 1811 co-ordination, but co-ordination not beginning to appear, neither the buds nor the fruit, in practice.
The reasons for this disappointment—a disappointment not confined to the fuel and power industries—are to be found, I think, in the Ridley Committee Report. The Committee distinguish between two kinds of co-ordination—co-ordination of development and co-ordination of use; and their recommendations and advice under each head are quite definite. First, dealing with co-ordination of development, they say that in their opinion the Minister's powers and the Minister's situation in relation to the various industries should be adequate, if he is properly advised, to secure the necessary co-ordination. Dealing with co-ordination of use, they assert that, given certain conditions, the appropriate engine and mechanism for securing it is the choice of the consumer.
In criticising the weight which this Report lays upon the value of consumers' choice, I think my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) perhaps paid less than the necessary attention to the conditions under which the Ridley Report stated that consumers' choice could be effective. May I remind the House of the exact terms which the Committee used? They said:… consumers' choice is the right guide to the pattern of use.But they made it a condition thatall the prices and tariffs for fuel and power should correspond closely to the relevant costs of the particular services provided.That was the first and main condition under which, alone, consumers' choice could promote co-ordination of use. They went on to say that the imposition of conditions not justified by supply costs should be avoided and that full information—a point upon which my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) laid so much stress—should be available to the public before consumers' choice could do its work.
This statement, that consumers' choice was the major instrument for co-ordination of use, was not a new revelation. The tablets had descended from Sinai some time before, one of them brought down by the Simon Committee, which reported in March, 1946. The Simon Committee said: 1812… the prices charged for the various forms of fuel should be related as closely as possible to their cost of production and distribution. Cost is in the long run the most accurate, and indeed the only practicable, index of the resources needed to supply any particular commodity or service. Unless there are specific, recognised and accepted reasons to the contrary, it is bad economic policy for prices to be so out of line with costs that the consumer is encouraged to purchase goods or services at prices which do not cover the costs of the economic resources embodied in them.That, seven years before, was an anticipation of the main conclusion of the Ridley Committee.
The Ridley Committee make recommendations as to how the prices and tariffs for gas and electricity could reflect more accurately, could guide the consumer more correctly, as to the real resources which he was using when he chose one in preference to the other. But consumers' choice is not only a guide as between alternative forms of fuel and power, between alternative methods of doing a given job; it is also a guide as between different sources of the same form. When we apply the principle of price based upon costs to the coal industry and to coal prices, we see how, in the sphere of coal prices, consumers' choice can promote right economic development.
The Ridley Committee threw up two major debates in the sphere of coal prices The first was that upon which they divided equally—whether relevant costs for the purpose of coal prices were marginal costs or average costs. They left that question open, but on another they were unanimous and in opposition to the National Coal Board. They recommended that if there were to be a uniform price, it should be a uniform pithead price while delivered prices should embody the varying transport costs according to the source of the coal. In paragraph 239 they say:… these delivered prices should fully reflect the transport costs involved in moving the coal to particular areas.This conclusion is diametrically opposite to the policy of the National Coal Board itself; for the Board stated in their Report of last year thatthere would be delivery 'zones' and in any one zone house coals of similar quality would be sold at the same price, from whichever coalfield they came.There cannot be any doubt to which conclusion in these two issues we should 1813 be led by the principle of using consumers' choice, based on prices which reflect costs. We should be led, as was my hon. Friend the Member for Heeley (Mr. P. Roberts), to reject the policy of an average price of coal, which involves a subsidy placed upon the dearest coal production at the expense of the most economic coal production. We should be led to adopt a system of tariffs and charges, which will enable the customer to favour that coal production which involves the least expenditure of resources and gradually to repress that portion of our coal production which is the most expensive and uneconomical.
Similarly, as between uniform pithead and uniform delivered prices, it must be clear that consumers' choice can result in a true economic pattern only if it takes into account the cost of transport from pithead to delivery point. This is, after all, one of the major elements in the price of the coal we use. Thus the main principle which the Ridley Committee enunciated brings us to clear conclusions on price policy in the fuel and power industry. The ultimate penalty for neglecting this principle is the stagnation and progressive obsolescence of our industry—not only of the fuel and power industry itself but of the whole economy which depends upon it.
I think this issue was put remarkably well by Professor Dennison in the last issue of "Lloyds Bank Review." Condemning the principle of a uniform delivered price he said,… a system which destroys the incentive to individual producers and consumers to minimize these costs may in the long run impose a serious burden on the whole economy. We can ask what the pattern of industrial location of this country would be if this system had been in operation during the past hundred years and our answer would not be reassuring.The right system—a system which secures true co-ordination of use through consumers' choice based on prices which reflect costs—is not, indeed, impossible within the framework of nationalisation, but it is more difficult within that framework. The nationalised industries, working on a single budget and offsetting loss and gain, over the whole field of their operations, have less incentive and indeed less opportunity to throw up the economic facts.
The reductio ad absurdum, as it seems to me, of the principle of national owner- 1814 ship and a single budget as a form of co-ordination was hit upon by the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies), who, in his pamphlet "The Problems of Public Ownership," says, after reviewing the problem of public ownership as seen by the Labour Party in their first year in the wilderness:The publicly-owned sector could be administered in accordance with a common policy, and in due course its earnings and expenditure and capital obligations could be considered as a whole. As long as the accounts of the whole sector"—that is, of the entire nationalised industries—balanced, taking one year with another … there would need to be less concern if one industry operated at a loss. After all, it might be in the public interest for one industry to be allowed to run at a loss and for the profitable industries to cover the non-profitable.There we have the reductio ad absurdum of nationalisation as the instrument of co-ordination. There, in classic form, we have the prescription for economic stagnation and national retrogression.
§ Mr. Robens
I think it only fair to my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) to indicate that that pamphlet from which the hon. Member has just read was written as a discussion pamphlet. It was, therefore, designed to raise all sorts of questions, and if it contains contradictions, it was intended to do so. It was intended to be the basis for discussion out of which some new policy might be evolved.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)
Most hon. Members who have spoken today have realised that there are two important factors that have to be taken into account on this question. There is the human factor and there is the question of capital equipment. I am very glad that hon. Members on both sides, though not noticeably the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) have paid tribute to the way the nationalised industries are playing their part in helping the country back on to its feet.
The Minister himself went out of his way to refer to the increased co-operation that takes place between the electricity, the gas and the coal industries of this country—co-operation that was neither possible nor existent in the days of private enterprise; and I am very glad that he 1815 found it possible to let that tribute spill from his lips, because he certainly did not say much more by way of tribute to the industry, that, I believe, those working in it had a right to expect.
The human element is one that has not been stressed today. My right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker), did indeed say in his peroration how well the workers had done. They would, no doubt, do better, but there are limits to the capacity of humankind to work harder. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) who said, "Any fool can say, 'Work harder'." What we have to do is to find out new techniques. We have to have a bigger capital investment programme.
§ Mr. Thomas
I thank my right hon. Friend very much. We have in him a very intelligent Member of our Front Bench. We must work more intelligently. I am glad he is a faithful student of the words that fall from various parts of this House.
I am glad we have not had from the other side of the House any sermons this time telling the miners they must work harder. For the solution of our fuel problem is not in the brawn or muscle of the miners any longer: rather is it in the intelligence of management and the wisdom of the Government to the degree to which they will allow a capital investment programme to make it possible for one man to produce what 10 men could produce before.
The Ridley Report clearly indicates that there is likely to be a fall in the manpower of the mining industry. They accept there has been an increase last year and this, but over the next 10 years, it is anticipated, there will be a decrease. Clearly, if there is to be a falling away of manpower from this industry we can look for a solution of our difficulties only on the managerial and top technical level.
It so happens that I am the son of a miner. I was the second boy in the family, and so I was able to escape the pit, for it was the proud hope of every parent in the Rhondda Valley that he would be able to stop his boys going 1816 into that productive industry, that basic industry; such was the mood to which private enterprise had reduced us. If the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West had had a spark of sympathy in him tonight he would at least have paid tribute to the Coal Board for destroying that spirit. There is a better spirit there now. There is hope. There is security. Nationalisation has indeed made it possible for us to attract to the industry people whose parents would have done anything to have stopped them before from going into it.
I think that the question of capital investment is one upon which the Minister found it quite unnecessary to dwell at any length. His was a short speech altogether. I am very grateful he spoke so short a time. I only wish some other hon. Members had followed his example, as I hope to do. However, I should have liked him to have made some reference to more positive remedies for dealing with our problem. This question of the fuel-saving grate is very interesting. It attracts me very much. I have seen it in operation, and I have learned at least from this debate that not all these grates are guaranteed to save as much fuel.
Do the Government propose to encourage local authorities to lend money to landlords to introduce these fuel-saving devices into the houses which they own? I see that the Ridley Report draws the attention of the Government to that aspect of the question, and I earnestly hope that they will prod the local authorities, if necessary, to use the powers they have under the Acts of Parliament that were initiated by the Labour Government between 1945 and 1950. I think that here may be found a possible means of helping to solve this problem.
The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) referred at some length to the electricity industry, and I, too, in the few minutes I propose to take, wish to bring the Minister's attention to the manipulations, or the working of the Electricity Authority. We all realise that each of these nationalised industries has to meet increased costs, the same as the private sector of industry. We expect them to, and we know that from time to time they will have to, increase their charges because their capital costs go up substantially. It is a matter for some comment that the costs of their products have not gone up in the same 1817 proportion as, by and large, the private sector has increased its costs.
§ Mr. Thomas
I am so sorry if I have been a little confused. Perhaps I might try patiently to explain to my hon. Friend what I was explaining to the House. The prices of the products of the nationalised industries have increased less than the prices of the private sector although the cost of their capital equipment, their wages, and so on, have gone up more.
It is a matter of pride for us all that the Electricity Board have been able to do so much for the rural areas, and I am sorry that last year and again this year the economy measures thought necessary have stopped the general electrification of the rural areas. I note from the Report—which, incidentally, I believe we are also discussing today—that 120,000 farms have had electric light and electric fittings installed since nationalisation. That is a substantial achievement. Last year 9,744 farms had this given to them. I also note that there is a net increase in the output capacity of the electricity industry of 7.4 per cent.
Now public ownership of these basic industries is not only essential if we are to be a democracy, it is not only desirable politically, but it is successful from the cold aspect of the balance sheet. It is fulfilling its purpose in every way. I see from the Report that the impact of capital costs last year increase the costs of the Electricity Board by £14 million, but that none the less their industrial sales were nearly 10 per cent. greater than in 1950–51, whereas the Board of Trade interim index of industrial production increased by only 2.8 per cent.
Sales to domestic consumers is the subject upon which I wish to speak mainly, for the industry has no right to try to ration its product by the purse. I believe that all members of the community have an equal right to a fair share of the products of our nationalised industries. I realise that they have to put up their costs. I am not complaining about the costs going up, although I do not like it. I realise that costs have gone up in every sector of our commercial and industrial life. I do complain, however, about the policy which was 1818 approved by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Derby (Mr. Noel Baker) in February last year, which is being lapped up by the Minister at the present time, and which bears unjustly upon the community.
This system of assessing the cost of light on the number of rooms in the house, which has hit the city of Cardiff like a bombshell, means that two people can use up exactly the same amount of electricity, and one will have to pay £5 more than the other. That is unjust, and if there is anything the British public do not like, regardless of politics, it is the feeling that they are unjustly done by. I hope that the Minister will bring pressure to bear on the electricity authority to see that this foolish scheme is amended. I am quite prepared to hit at my right hon. Friend, who could hardly have read the thing. That is the kindest thing I can say about him, that he can hardly have read it.
§ Mr. Thomas
To my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South. My right hon. Friend cannot have read it before he signed it. I understand that the Electricity Authority have some wonderful scheme of their own for assessing floor space, with the result that the bill of a Presbyterian church in my Division has jumped from £12 to £32 without using any more electric light. Indeed, some churches, who use their main church buildings on Sundays only, are assessed as though they used those buildings every day of the week.
The policy of the Electricity Authority bears particularly harshly and cruelly on the old-age pensioner and the lower paid wage earner. Let us examine how it works out. I have in my hand a letter from an old-age pensioner who is trying to keep the old homestead going although the children have left. He does not use all the rooms of the house but is assessed on the basis that all the rooms are wired for electricity. If anyone is unwise enough now to have an electric cooker put in a scullery, it counts as an extra room.
The Electricity Authority seem to have gone mad on this question of the charges, and if the Minister agrees with me that 1819 this is unjust I hope that he will not just try to shovel all the blame on to my right hon. Friend, although I am quite willing to help him do that if only he will help me to get this difficulty removed. I am proud of our nationalised industries. I am proud of the increased output and of the generous way in which the men who work in them are going all out to help the nation. But it is little short of monstrous that the Electricity Authority should, with the permission of the Minister, increase the cost of living in this foolish way.
I conclude by saying that the Minister now has the chance to do a good turn to the nationalised industries and to the community, for the difficulty about which I have spoken, of a standardised tariff, hits the whole of England and Wales, from Southampton up to Newcastle and from Pembroke across to Hull. I hope that the Minister will see that a mistake has been made and have the courage to put the matter right.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Rupert Speir (Hexham)
In spite of the remarks of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith), there has been a remarkable degree of unanimity about the problems which face us and the remedies which should be taken to deal with the question of fuel. It is accepted on all sides that both industrially and domestically we are wasting our fuel at a fantastic rate. It is true to say that if we could produce more coal we could certainly use more coal and also sell more coal abroad. We can say that of very few other commodities. We can say it of jet engines and also perhaps of whisky. If we could produce more coal and more whisky we could sell more both at home and abroad and our outlook would be brighter in more ways than one.
I do not know what is the prospect of increasing the output of whisky, but, clearly, from the remarks of the Ridley Committee and the remarks in this debate there is very little prospect of increasing the output of coal. In the meantime, the consumption of coal is increasing considerably. Therefore, any hopes that we may have of closing the gap must be brought about by the saving of fuel. In any event, even if we were able to produce more coal, we should aim to export that coal: our aim should be to see that 1820 the inland consumption of coal does not increase during the next few years over the present rate of consumption.
It is, I think, a staggering fact that it has been estimated that some three-quarters of the total American economic aid to Europe is being spent in the purchase of American coal. It is said that 500 American ships are engaged at the present time in carrying coal on the long haul across the Atlantic to Europe. It may be decreasing now and, if so, that is all to the good. It is quite obvious that if only we can export coal to Europe, the position economically, both for ourselves and for Europe, would improve very considerably. We must do everything possible to right this balance, and saving rather than producing more coal is the easiest way of meeting this great problem.
To achieve our objectives we require a national co-ordinated policy. Rapid concerted action is certainly called for, but we cannot expect to get quick results. One easy method of discouraging the consumption of coal and the saving of coal would be to increase its price. The hon. Member for Heeley (Mr. P. Roberts) said that certain members of the Ridley Committee recommended that that course should be adopted, but I am very glad that the majority of the members of the committee did not take that view.
It would be the easy way out, but it would be a clumsy way of dealing with this great problem. It would upset the structure of industry and it would hit the domestic consumer. Another way of curtailing consumption would be to slow down the expansion of the electricity supply in the country—to slow down or stop altogether schemes for electrification. There is no doubt that if that policy were adopted, the rural areas would be the most hard hit, and it would upset schemes for extending electricity supplies in those areas.
I hope that the Government will not delay rural electrification schemes, because at a time when we are asking for increased agricultural output it is most important that we should give the agricultural community the tools with which to do the job. One of the best tools which we can give them is a better supply of electricity. Rural electrification is, at the moment, proceeding only at a snail's pace. I think that it is true that there are some 1821 300,000 farms south of a line between Glasgow and Edinburgh—north of that line is catered for by the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Scheme—fewer than half of which now have an electricity supply. On an average, during the past few years only an additional 10,000 farms a year have been given an electricity supply. If we go on at the present rate, it will take many years before the majority of the farms of England are connected to an electricity supply.
We in the North-East have been very gratified by the Government's decision to set up or to allow the setting up of a television station at Pontop Pike to serve that area. Unfortunately, unlike the ordinary wireless sets, television sets cannot be worked off batteries and, therefore, it will mean that in those rural areas the people will still be deprived of television for many years to come, unless rural electrification is hastened very considerably. Yet it is just in these out-by and remote areas that television would be the biggest boon and would much assist the people who live there and very often have a hard lot. It would assist them and lighten their burden and help to retain labour on the land.
I trust that the Government will bear this important aspect in mind when deciding their fuel and power policy and that they will encourage the British Electricity Authority to proceed with rural electrification at the utmost speed. I certainly hope that the Government will give a fuel and power policy their most urgent attention.
§ 7.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Horace E. Holmes (Hemsworth)
It has been a very even debate this afternoon, but I do not think that the Minister, in his contribution to it, did justice to the Ridley Report. The impression which I received from the Minister was that, while he was anxious that there should be no complacency so far as the coal industry is concerned, he was very pleased with the situation, so much so that he had not given the necessary attention to the Ridley Report.
Having said that, I want to pay my personal appreciation to everyone who has contributed to the Ridley Report—to the Committee themselves, to the people who gave evidence and to the people who drafted the Report. While 1822 I say that about the Ridley Report, and bearing in mind that the debate has been of a very wide character, I also want to pay tribute to the National Coal Board and to their last Annual Report of 1951.
I never listened to a debate on fuel and power without living over some of my personal history. I do not wish to go into too many reminiscences, but 50 years ago, on 2nd April last, I went down a coal mine to work. I am told that I carry my years well, and if that is so, then the mining industry is a healthy industry. I say this now because over those 50 years, and prior to that time, individuals and groups of individuals have tried to focus the attention of the Government of the day and of the public on the value of coal.
As far back as 1825—and this has been said over and over again but it is worth repeating—George Stephenson said something like this, "The Lord Chancellor sits on the Woolsack, but wool is no longer the staple commodity of this nation; it would be far better if he sat on a coal sack." He said that to draw the attention of the Government of the day to the value of coal. I think, having in mind what has taken place in the industry over the last 50 years, that it would have been as well if the upholstery of the House of Commons had been of coal sacks instead of comfortable cushions, because then its Members would probably have paid more attention to some of the things that have been said.
I have already mentioned the views which have been expressed over the years. I am a student of the mining industry, and I find that from 1835 views have been expressed by commissions, committees and people over and over again. Many of the matters which have been referred to this afternoon date from the days when the industry had great opportunities. My reason for saying what I have said is that I do not want the Ridley Report to be shelved, as so many Reports have been in the past, and am anxious that the Government shall pay attention to what the Report says.
Mr. Lloyd George said in 1924—I believe he missed the bus—that no subject was of more importance to the wellbeing of the nation than the health and efficiency of the coal mining industry and the beneficial use of coal. Before 1924 1823 we had had the Sankey Commission. I never tire of taking visitors, particularly those from the mining industry, to the Royal Robing Room and pointing out that that was where the Sankey Commission held its great inquiry. Throughout the years points of view have been expressed, and yet little has been done about them.
I spent 34 years down the coal mines. I worked at the coal face of one of the largest collieries in the country in 1913 when the mining industry achieved its peak production of 287 million tons. At that time about 80 million tons were exported. I wish we had 80 million tons to export now, for then our headaches would disappear over night. Later, I became the lodge secretary of a colliery with more than 4,000 employees, a part-time position which I held for 24 consecutive years. At that one colliery over the 24 years I dealt with 10,000 accident cases. I lived to see that colliery produce 1,250,000 tons in a peak year.
As a result of my experience, all the years of strife and difficulty and all the years of achievement, if I had my time over again I should not hesitate to go into the pits. In our mining community we have the finest type of men. Day by day they face difficulty and danger. They fight physical odds. There grows up between those men a comradeship second only to that on the battlefield, and I have had experience of both. I tell the young people of today that if I had the opportunity I should not hesitate to go back into the industry, particularly having in mind what is taking place today.
In 1913, when we produced 287 million tons and exported 80 million tons, I worked six days a week at the coal face and my average wage was 6s. 6d. a day. The pithead price of coal was 10s. a ton. Those days presented golden opportunities for developing gas and electricity. The nation has suffered because of those missed opportunities. There is something even more grievous. I worked in the industry when the manpower was 1,250,000 and I have seen it drop to less than 700,000. I have seen nearly 1,000 pits close. Golden opportunities were missed when that huge manpower force was available and money was wasted on unemployment insurance when it should 1824 have been ploughed back into the industry. Other Governments must share the blame. Present Governments, whether Labour or Conservative, must not take all the blame for past neglect.
Appendix IV of the Ridley Report deals with smoke abatement. I served on a public health authority for many years and was chairman of a parks committee. Under the Miners' Welfare Scheme we developed a park which brought new social life to the community. We had gardens, putting and bowling greens and an open-air swimming bath. It was a beautiful piece of development. Later, because of a housing scheme, we had to abandon the open-air swimming bath, for it did not lend itself to being covered in. The bath might be filled with clean water one day and the following morning there would be such a scum of soot and grit on it that no one would use it. When the wind was in a certain direction I have seen that beautiful park look as if a blight had settled on it.
I am anxious that Appendix IV shall be fully implemented, and I hope the Minister will co-operate fully with the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and the local authorities. I urge the Smoke Abatement Society to have the second paragraph of the Appendix printed in red and sent to every house, every factory, every industry and every Member of Parliament in order to create a public opinion against the social evil and crime of smoke and soot pollution.
I read the other day that someone had assessed the weight of smoke, and it was expressed in millions of tons. Imagine what that must represent in grit and dust. Someone once said that the tragedy of the blind is that they live in a world without a sky. People in the industrial areas often live under a pall of smoke which obliterates the beauty of the sky. The Government and everybody else concerned should apply their minds to this matter so that the evil can be eradicated as quickly as possible.
I want once again to pay tribute to those who have produced the Report, and I beg the Minister to implement it as fully as he can in the interests of the nation and of the health of the people and because, in the 20th century, the world is entitled to a fair deal.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Sir Albert Braithwaite (Harrow, West)
To me, this has been a very strange debate. I have taken part in coal debates in this House since 1923 with the exception of the term of office of the last Administration, and I have never heard a coal mining debate conducted so quietly, so patiently and so reasonably as this one.
I have read the interesting Ridley Report and, as my right hon. Friend says, it makes hard reading. It takes a long time to digest. Getting through the whole of it gave me indigestion several times. I find that it is a negative Report. There is not very much in it that holds out any hope of helping this island of ours immediately. There are long-term plans in it which ought to be pursued, but what we are concerned with now is a desperate economic and financial position arising from our overseas payments which, in my opinion, coal only will solve.
I am very much surprised that the Ridley Report did not take more notice of the National Coal Board's recommendations when they pointed out the great deficit between consumption and what we sell abroad. The coal mining industry under its present leadership is responding very well, and I believe it will accomplish a great deal when the full benefit of all that is being done is fully realised, including the great mechanisations plans and the great reconstruction that is going on underground, which very few people see.
I have been associated with this industry since I was a boy, and I am one of the coalowners who is still waiting to be paid for my coal mine. I declare my interest, and also my interest in another section of coal mining. In 1942 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell), the present Father of the House, and I became the father of a new child in connection with coal. He and I were able to start the digging of coal by opencast methods, and I think it has been useful to this country in difficult times.
I do not put it forward as a solution or anything of that sort; it was a palliative. From 1942 to the end of this year 100 million tons of coal had been dug out of the ground. I want the House to mark this figure for that 10-year period, because during that time this country has exported only 123 million tons. Would there have been any export trade but for the digging of this coal? There would 1826 not have been, and that is a point of view that ought to be considered very carefully before the method is hastily dropped.
I addressed a Question to the Minister last Monday and he evaded it. He ran away from it. He referred me to an answer which he had given before the Recess. That is not the sort of thing that is wanted in a great, vital matter of this kind.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd
I referred my hon. Friend to that answer because I hoped it would be a satisfactory reply to what he asked me.
§ Sir A. Braithwaite
Quite frankly, there is an unhappy state of affairs in this industry—and opencast mining has become an industry during these 10 years with a great capital investment. When I tell the Minister that nearly £25 million were invested in this industry during the 10-year period he will see that it is no exaggerated statement. When I also tell him that, through the Board of Trade, he is committed now for £750,000 worth of new machinery from America in dollars, which is waiting to be picked up by the British Government and has been ordered, and that 15 per cent. of the existing machinery in the industry is out of work, then he will see, as I do, that this is an alarming situation.
We shall go down in production, not up. I never anticipated in my wildest dreams that we should be able to obtain this vast volume of coal by this method. I think, if I remember correctly, that the figure given to the right hon. Gentleman was 50 million tons and we have got 100 million tons. I am of opinion that there is another 200 million tons available, but it is 200 feet deep. Every man employed in this industry from the time we started up to now has produced 1,000 tons of coal a year. The miners in the pits work under much more difficult conditions and with less machinery, and they are getting 300 tons a year.
Now I should like to say something about the land we use. We have taken 66,000 acres of land from which to dig this coal.
§ Mr. J. D. Murray (Durham, North-West)
The hon. Gentleman has given us some very interesting figures. Can he now tell us the price? He has compared the quantity of coal from opencast 1827 methods with that from the pits. Can he give us the price of the coal from both sources?
§ Sir A. Braithwaite
The price of the coal raised compares favourably with the pithead prices that have been charged all along.
§ Sir A. Braithwaite
It varies. Pithead prices have varied throughout that period, and now the whole thing has been taken over by the Coal Board. The price varied according to the depth of the coal, but the Board are not buying coal that is uneconomic. That is one of the conditions laid down by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker). He said that this coal must be reasonably economic if it were to be added to the coal supplies available.
§ Mr. Murray
The hon. Gentleman compared the 300 tons of coal from the deep mines with 1,000 from opencast. Surely he knows something about the price. I cannot accept from him that he does not know the price.
§ Sir A. Braithwaite
I can tell the average price right away. All through it has never exceeded £2 a ton. There may be some isolated sites where it has cost £2 5s. a ton, but more coal has been dug at 18s. and 20s. a ton than at these higher prices. When I say that the price compares favourably with the pithead price I mean that that is general throughout the scheme.
I wanted to say something about the land, because this is important. Landowners, farmers and other people created all sorts of difficulties. Nevertheless, we have used 66,000 acres of land since the inception of the scheme, and there are 46,000 acres of land now taken over by the Government. We have handed 20,000 acres back again for agricultural purposes, and most of it was in very good order.
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor (Morpeth)
Looking at this question from the farmers' point of view, particularly from that of one who has spent a considerable part of his life building up a nice dairy herd, what does the hon. Member think his attitude should be when opencast takes away some of the best of his agricultural land? What 1828 happens to the poor farmer when the whole of his herd has to go, too?
§ Sir A. Braithwaite
That is entirely a matter between the various Government Departments and was never legislated for. I was trying to show the House the economies in the raising of this coal, but if the farmer has lost he should, in the national interest, be adequately compensated. That is the only fair way to deal with it.
Of the 66,000 acres we have used, every acre has produced £4,000 worth of coal. That is a very substantial figure, and shows that the whole scheme has been a national asset, earning something like £300 million since its inception. So it is surely something that ought to be encouraged.
I say quite frankly that there are still areas of resistance against the scheme. I am very sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) has left the Chamber, because he and I have crossed swords on this issue many times. He thinks that a farm producing £30 or £40 or £100 per acre ought to have priority over coal production yielding £4,000 per acre. From a national point of view, I do not. I should like to see the farmer put on some other land, helped and compensated.
I happen to be a farmer myself, and some of my own land has been taken for this purpose. I have had to move some cows from one area of land to another, so I can understand fully the farmers' feelings.
§ Mr. Victor Raikes (Liverpool, Garston)
May I ask my hon. Friend a question? I speak as one who favours opencast working on proper lines. I think he said that there were 200 million tons to be gained. Is that extra 200 million tons to come mainly or entirely out of land already taken for opencast by going deeper, or does it mean opencast workings spreading out on to additional agricultural land? The answer to this question might clear up a great deal of anxiety.
§ Sir A. Braithwaite
I cannot give the exact figures, but I will say quite frankly that there is a good deal of this coal in marginal land which can be prospected and utilised.
I was about to deal with the areas of resistance with which my right hon. 1829 Friend has to deal. I know his troubles very well, and I know that he is very patient and handles them most diplomatically. But every time we go on a site there are 10 or 12 authorities which have to be consulted before the Minister can give the Coal Board the signal to go on.
This year the Coal Board spent a fortune on prospecting in Scotland with a view to a great scheme of working 1½ million tons of coal which is 4 ft. deep and is eminently suitable for export. Owing to resistance, for which a Member of this House was largely responsible—
§ Sir A. Braithwaite
—and, indeed, with the support of the Secretary of State for Scotland, this whole scheme was turned down. Another four million tons lies alongside it. All of it could be worked at an economic price. All of it is suitable to be turned to cash in Europe for goods which we require from European countries.
The problem of exports from this country is very serious. The House must face the fact that the rise in the prices of primary commodities and the downward price trend of secondary commodities will make a great deal of difference to the economy of our country—
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
The hon. Member was one of the first to approach the present Prime Minister on this subject and I know that he has done a good deal of pioneering and has been proved right. I think we are entitled to know where the forces of resistance are so that they can be shown up in this House, because they are standing against what is in the national interest.
§ Sir A. Braithwaite
I can only say that they are of all kinds. There is the Council for the Preservation of Rural England—all kinds of societies of that character—and the local authorities. We have had a great fight with the National Farmers' Union, quite rightly, but I believe that the arrangements which both right hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition Front Bench and my right hon. Friend have made with the National Farmers' Union have satisfied them. A week or two ago I was speaking to the Chairman of the N.F.U., and I asked him specifically whether the farmers were better satisfied with the treatment they were getting. He replied, "Yes, much better." 1830 I asked, "Is the land being restored better?" He replied, "Yes, much better." The whole situation seems to be turning out as it ought to do.
There is something I wish to urge upon the Minister, because of the capital commitments required. My own interest is well known to most Members. I am a director of a company operating this kind of work in a fairly big way, and I can tell the House something of the capital expenditure required. Four or five years ago I went to America to buy machinery, and I paid 450,000 dollars for one machine. I brought it to England and set it to work at a capital cost of 600,000 dollars. With four men working it the machine is producing, in the constituency of my right hon. Friend, half a million tons of coal a year. It is valuable to have in this country such a machine which will, without a lot of manpower, give us the speed-up in production which we require.
Our coal asset which we have in this island home of ours ought to be used to save us economically now. Whatever Government is in power will hear about it from the people if they allow us to fall short of the exports which are necessary. We have also an added responsibility to the countries of Europe which have been dependent on us for coal and have built up their economy on supplying us with necessary food, timber and other commodities in exchange for our coal.
I regard the export of a ton of coal as being as important as a vital dollar export policy at the present time. Therefore, I urge my right hon. Friend, with his great tact and powers of persuasion, to get all those concerned together, to try to get difficulties smoothed out and to see if we cannot provide the country with even more coal to bridge the gap. I do not put it outside the bounds of possibility that we can raise 15 million tons of opencast coal per year in the next ten years. I believe that we could do so, and I believe that if we did so it would be so vital to the economy of this country that it would be well worth while to spend as much time as is required to see whether it is possible to accomplish.
I should not like to finish my remarks without paying tribute to the patience, diligence and foresight of the right hon. Member for Gower. He was Minister for Mines when we started this scheme. He 1831 was an old miner, and saw the possibilities of the project. He did more than help it; he gave me the greatest possible encouragement in the face of many difficulties. Without his help at that time this development would never have been accomplished. As I see him now, the Father of the House, I reflect that he can be very proud of his part in having put 100 million tons of coal into the accounts of Great Britain.
I wish to conclude by paying my tribute to the people who have prepared this Report. I have said that in my opinion it is a negative Report; it is something which will take a long time to work out. The proposals are good ones; many are proposals for when we are a little more prosperous. Some of the proposals might be extremely costly and might detract from the effort we are now making to export our goods to various parts of the world.
Perhaps my knowledge of this subject may not be so great as that of many other Members. I would only say that the miners are giving of their best; they are doing a grand job of work. I have had the privilege of meeting several of the miners I had known for many years—I have been in coal mining ever since I was a boy. They told me that quite apart from management and that sort of aspect things were going on all right and that they can see something emerging. They were a bit bewildered when the sudden change over to nationalisation occurred, but things are now settling down; and they think that they will be able to do the job properly. They are a grand section of the community, and they are doing their job. I firmly believe that they will not let the country down.
I emphasise again to my right hon. Friend that there is 15 per cent. of our machinery out of work and that he has this other dollar commitment to which I have referred. I urge him to get his people busy in this job and let us see whether, during the next year, we cannot establish another record by obtaining 15 million tons of opencast production in one year.
§ Mr. Robson Brown
Before my hon. Friend sits down, I wonder whether he has something to say about the mining of coal at depths of 200 feet.
§ Sir A. Braithwaite
I think that all the shallow coal is now exhausted. We have to go down to the 200 feet depths, but it will have to be an economic proposition, taking into consideration the thickness of seam and quality of the coal. The Coal Board have a very competent staff, who know the job from start to finish, and I believe that their advice and help to the Board will be invaluable and will result in turning out coal at the right depth when it is required.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Edward Davies (Stoke-on-Trent, North)
All right hon. and hon. Members in the House tonight will have listened with appreciation and with some sense of indebtedness to the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Sir A. Braithwaite). The hon. Member was not reluctant to pay due tribute to some of the men, and to some of my hon. Friends, who have contributed so magnificently to any success we may have achieved.
Surely, we are all agreed that whatever may have been said about nationalisation some years ago, in the events as they are working out today it is becoming universally acknowledged that without the great measures which were taken in hand by the Labour Government in 1945, there would have been no future for the industry.
§ Mr. Davies
There would have been no future for the country, as my hon. Friend rightly says. Although we are far from reaching the targets which we should like to achieve in terms of coal, yet, as the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) said earlier, and as the hon. Member for Harrow, West, has just reminded us, great progress has been made compared with the position to which we had sunk in the early 1940's.
I agree with the hon. Member that we cannot afford to abandon such resources as are available to us from opencast mining. The problem, however, needs to be examined in relation to the claims of agriculture, and if it can be shown that there is marginal land which can be worked without any hindrance to agricultural development, so much the better. I share the hon. Member's view that if a farmer is inconvenienced, he ought to be properly compensated.
1833 My hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) and South (Mr. Ellis Smith) will know that wherever mining development takes place, it is accompanied by all kinds of social difficulties, some of them very expensive matters for local authorities in our area in North Staffordshire, in terms of housing, industrial building, and all kinds of premises. We feel the reaction of deep mining in terms of industrial building dereliction.
Although certain provision was made some time ago as far as cottage property is concerned, and a great incubus was removed from the shoulders of many poor people by making good to some extent the damage they sustained in their little properties from mining subsidence, there are still many people who feel the inconvenience and expense of mining. We hope that this aspect will not be lost sight of.
I want to pay attention more particularly to a subject which was referred to by my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent, South and Hemsworth (Mr. Holmes): namely, smoke abatement, which is referred to in Appendix IV of the Ridley Report. This is a most important subject, but it is not a new one. In North Staffordshire and many other industrial areas, the social costs which come from the industrial and domestic smoke in the large urban areas is terrific. It was estimated by the Egerton Committee in 1945 that the cost was roughly £45 million.
We know in North Staffordshire that many of our people have suffered from respiratory diseases. A man may have something wrong with his chest or his breathing apparatus because of working in the mines or in the potteries, or may be subject to bronchitis or have tuberculosis. We know how difficult it is for people living in these sulphurous, poisonous atmospheres to get their breath and continue to live in any sort of comfort.
Although the problem has been considered for some years, we ought to press the Minister tonight to say that he is not forgetting it, not only because of the great benefits which can be derived in the conservation of coal—a vital matter in itself—but because of the social value and the social cost involved. The loss of sunlight and of ultra violet rays, the loss of 1834 amenities, the damage to buildings and textile fabrics, the extra cost of the painting of premises and the loss in food production which results from the smoke deposit in and around our towns, are surely matters of great urgency and importance.
In the Egerton Report, the rate of deposit of pollution in some of our towns is tabulated. In Stoke-on-Trent, in Tunstall—the town in which I live—the rate of deposit, given in tons per square mile per month, was: tar, 0.23; other carbonaceous matter, 3.93; and total solids, 19.1 tons per square mile per month. At Loggerheads, however, where we have our sanatorium, a few miles out into the country, the results, we are glad to see, were infinitely better. Instead of a figure of 19.1 for total solids, we get 4.9, which is still far too much.
§ Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
Would my hon. Friend not accept that what he is saying is borne out by the fact that if one attempts to grow a cabbage in some of the sulphurous atmospheres he is describing its maximum size tends to be no greater than that of a brussels sprout?
§ Mr. Davies
I am indebted to my hon. Friend, who is a medical man and knows a great deal about these matters; but he will know more about the respiratory complaints to which I have referred. There are people who, very often, seem to be free during the day, when the smoke abatement inspectors are dodging about, but who, in their beds at night, when the chimneys and the kilns are in full production, pouring out their foul smoke, grit and sulphur dioxide, have no possible escape from their effects. Very often, these victims live in a street right under the chimney and next door to the factory.
Much has been done in respect of smoke abatement, and I have noticed in the Ridley Report that, while it is permissible, under the Public Health Act, 1936, for local authorities to enact bye-laws, only about one in five of the urban authorities have done so. What has happened in regard to the other four-fifths? I asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government the other day whether he was satisfied that the local authorities had sufficient powers to do this job, and the right hon. Gentleman said he thought 1835 they had. I very much doubt whether they have sufficient resources at their disposal, in terms of advice and sanctions, against the people who infringe the law.
I was going on to say that much has been done to tackle this problem, and it would be unfair of me not to say so, but there is a great deal more still to be done. Although we are constantly reminded of the changing face of some of our industries, if some hon. Members opposite would go with some of us some day, they would very soon agree that this is a very great and grave problem indeed.
§ Mr. A. Roberts
Will my hon. Friend tell us what has been done in this respect? As a former member of a smoke abatement committee, I should like to know what has been done, although I quite agree with him that there is not sufficient power to deal with smoke abatement. That is not the fault of this Government alone, because all Governments have failed to do their job with regard to smoke abatement.
§ Mr. Davies
I am indebted to my hon. Friend. What I was about to say, in respect of what has been done, does not arise out of the byelaws, but out of the work of the industrialists themselves. The more progressive of them have taken the opportunity to modernise their factories by the installation of electrical or gas kilns, and thus they have displaced some of the slow intermittent methods of firing, which are the main cause in my own area—the area of tile kilns—of the smoke nuisance.
In North Staffordshire, the resources in terms of gas and electricity are not adequate to meet all the needs. I do not know what would be the effect if they were adequate, but I hope the Minister will make available to the industry all that is necessary for dealing with this matter in terms of steel and industrial equipment. I do not know whether, even if that were done, some of the small firms would be able to do the work which ought to be done; in fact, I rather doubt whether some of them would have the capital at their disposal in order to do it.
We very often find a small factory in the middle or at the end of a street which is in the centre of a great urban population in which there are many children, who have no escape from this 1836 smoke nuisance. Where there is an old factory in such circumstances, it is very doubtful whether, if the gas and electricity were available, the firm could modernise their plant in order to reduce this evil.
Could the Minister tell us what he could do to assist such firms? Can he induce them by means of a loan or by giving them some sort of financial assistance in some other way to modernise their plant and equipment? Ought he to require them or the local authority to take a greater interest in this matter? Can he strengthen their powers? Can he also tell us what has happened in some of the experiments which have been made in other parts of the country, because I am not convinced that everything has been done, or that some saving in fuel consumption, and a great deal more in terms of the health of the people, cannot be achieved.
I hope that, as far as the railways are concerned, something will be done to help them to get more modern equipment. It has been said here today that one of the most antediluvian ways of using our fuel is the way in which the railways burn raw coal in the locomotives, and, if we live anywhere near a railway station, railway sidings, or near a colliery, quite apart from the nuisance that is caused, we can see the terrific waste that goes on. I have no doubt that the British Transport Commission and many other people would welcome the opportunity of modernising their means of locomotion. But, as was said by my right hon. Friend in opening this debate today, it is, to a large extent, a matter of capital investment.
A great deal of electrification could be done on the railways and much could be done by way of providing diesel engines or gas turbines in due course. A great deal could be done to reduce the smoke nuisance by the provision of smokeless fuels. Reference was made today to the use in households of modern slow combustion grates. I do not want to go into that matter, though in my experience they are a very valuable adjunct when considering this problem. However, I must say that to my mind they are far too dear at £5, £4 or £3. In most cases, they are simply modest gadgets which people put in front of the existing grate, and unless they are fitted very carefully they are not very successful.
1837 I think we ought to look to the Government to give encouragement to all the ideas which are brought out so well in this Report, many of which have been examined and decisions on them come to in other reports, in order that we may have not only the opportunity of conserving coal, but of getting what is equally important to me, a cleaner atmosphere so that the health and amenities of the people living in the area may be improved.
If a stranger to the district were to visit Stoke-on-Trent during holiday week when the factories are closed down and when all these belching chimneys have ceased to issue forth their volumes of smoke, he would think he was at a spa. Indeed, there is no reason why with proper adjustment and proper means of firing that should not be so.
§ Mr. Davies
I do not know about that; I have never been to Torquay. I am not so favoured as my hon. Friend who is so well travelled. But there is no reason why with all the methods of engineering and with all the scientific knowledge at our command great improvements should not be made. I hope the Minister will tell us that he is keeping a close grip on this matter, and that he can give some hope to those localities which have far too long been the cinderellas of our industrial areas.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ Colonel C. G. Lancaster (South Fylde)
I hope that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Edward Davies) will forgive me if I do not follow him into the very important issue of smoke abatement with which he has been dealing. I want to deal with two matters, coal conservation and costs, but before I come to my main theme I want to deal with a declaration made by the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker). He said, I think quite inadvertently, that 10 times the prospecting for coal is going on today than before the war. I had a word with him and I thought he might be thinking about separate matters, because if there were anything in such a claim it would mean that there would have to be 10 times the footage, 10 times the number of rigs and 10 times the number of bore masters, which, of course, is quite absurd.
1838 There are certain companies in this country which are competent to carry out boring processes, and, of course, the bore masters have to be highly trained and highly skilled technicians. It takes almost a generation to train a bore master. If indeed we had even double the amount of footage which we had before the war. I am sure we should all be very pleased with the result.
§ Mr. Robens
I do not wish to continue the argument unduly, but if the hon. and gallant Gentleman will look at the Coal Board's Annual Report for 1951 he will see that in 1947—two years after the war—there were 30,000 feet bored, which was the highest that had ever been bored. In 1951, it was 172,000 feet, so it is quite clear, even when the hon. and gallant Gentleman talks of doubling and trebling being impossible, that, in fact, it was done between 1947 and 1951. The figures for pre-war were very much lower.
§ Colonel Lancaster
If the right hon. Gentleman could point to one additional company who are in process of boring today and who have been able to double either their rigs or the number of bore masters I will give way. There is no point in giving those figures. They were not national figures at the time. The companies with which I am associated do about one-sixth of what is being done in this country at the moment and I tell the right hon. Gentleman that it is not possible to contemplate anything like 10 times the number as he suggested. I only wish there were the requisite numbers of bore masters in the Western Hemisphere, let alone in Europe or in this country.
But let us come to this question of coal conservation and the related matter of costs. I was an original member of the Coal Utilisation Council and for several years I presided over a company which comprised some of the biggest coal merchants in London, who were concerned with blending coal scientifically. If I learned one thing from that experience it was that coal conservation must be founded on adequacy of the right kind of coal. Any inducement either to the industrialist or to the householder to instal appropriate equipment is useless unless they can be guaranteed regular amounts of the coal required and coal maintained at a constant standard of quality.
1839 I hope that the day will soon come when all industrial coal is sold on a B.T.U. basis of guaranteed condition and quality. If we have that, coal conservation will go ahead because most industrialists are anxious to improve their methods and, certainly, most stokers want to improve their performance. But they cannot do so unless the coal is of the right quality or is the right type to give the best results in the type of installation in the works concerned.
I pass to the related matter of price structure. I recognise very clearly that this is an extremely complex question. Hon. Members in all parts of the House will remember that when the 1930 Coal Act came into being it did so for a very good reason. We were going through very depressed times and the purpose of that Act was to spread employment, give help to the export districts and bring about a measure of stability within the industry.
But although no doubt it went some way to do that there is no question that it distorted the economy of the industry. Indeed, I think that many of the strictures which arose in the Reid recommendations subsequently were justified on the score that not a great deal had been done in the decade prior to the war to bring about the more efficient organisation and development of the coal industry.
Indeed, the perpetuation of that Act into the late 1930s went some way to make the work of the Coal Commission itself abortive and we arrived at the war still in an artificial condition. As soon as the war broke out we had superimposed on the industry the Coal Charges Account. Once again, in the circumstances of the time, that was a very necessary step to take. Without the Coal Charges Account we would have had prices rising so sharply that they would have got out of control; and the dislocation that was happening with the transfer of industry to war production would have created difficulties which, without the Coal Charges Account, would have been very nearly insurmountable at that time. But it is idle to suppose that the Coal Charges Account, in its turn, did not produce a price structure which went counter to the pure economics of the industry.
The National Coal Board, therefore, inherited a difficult situation, and I think 1840 it is very much to their credit that they have gone as far as they have gone in rectifying the position from the aspect of the differentiation in prices as between various types of coal. But whereas they have done that in one direction by having uniform pit prices and a system of delivery prices, they have, in a sense, recreated a condition which is artificial. The Ridley Report which we are considering today pays some attention to this problem. It sets out the two opposing attitudes of mind of the members of the Committee in regard to this problem.
I personally think that they oversimplified the issue. Four members of the Committee advocate the imposition of what is called marginal costs—that is to say, a standard of cost which has regard to those portions of the coal industry which has to remain in being to provide us with the tonnage which we require. The other four members of the Committee say that they are opposed to that point of view and they are generally in agreement with the existing situation of uniform pit prices and delivery prices.
The position as I see it is even further confused because during the last four or five years we have been living in a world where export prices were not closely related to inland prices. We have had a margin of some 30s. or £1 over and above our internal price whereby we could export our coal if available to the Continent and elsewhere. But, again, that position has been brought about by transitory conditions. Physical destruction throughout the Continent, the necessity to collect their manpower again, the effect on Continental prices of the high value of the end product, the effect of Marshall Aid, have all created the appearance that coal is, anyhow for the time being, valued at something like £1 or 30s. higher on the Continent of Europe than it is in this country. That is all very well for the moment, but therein lies a very real danger.
Our main competitors are the Silesian coalfields in Poland and the Ruhr coalfields. Anybody who has followed the more recent trend of events in those two coalfields will see that recovery there is coming along very quickly. I think myself that the Germans, in particular, are maintaining an artificially high level of cost. It suits their purpose to do so. They are carrying a great deal of capital work on their day-to-day costs.
1841 As hon. Members know, they were the pioneers of horizon mining. They are going ahead with their programme of driving horizon roads, which are expensive things to drive, throughout the German coalfields, and I am firmly of the opinion that they are rapidly getting into a position where they could cut the price of coal very materially at short notice. I believe, as I say, that that £1, which is the difference between our internal prices and our export prices, might very rapidly disappear.
These two sets of conditions and, indeed, to a minor extent this rather swollen stock position which we have at this moment—and in this connection it would be helpful to the House if the Parliamentary Secretary, in winding up, would give some general details of what that 19 million tons consists of—tend to create some confusion in this question of the proper price fixation.
Two hon. Members on this side of the House dealt with this matter in some detail. I do not propose to do so myself. I only say that the time has come when it is necessary that the Ministry and the Coal Board should face up to a very close and comprehensive survey of the whole situation to see if it would not be wise now to recognise that prices must be more closely related to costs. I know perfectly well that any suggestion of that sort must cause misgivings to hon. Members on the other side of the House, who feel straight away that that is going to impinge on the wage situation and adversely affect the level of wage rates in different parts of the country.
I do not think that that is necessarily so at all. I believe that there is an insatiable demand for coal. Throughout this debate we have heard forecasts that the demand for our coal will increase to 230 million, 240 million or even as much as 260 million tons. The demand will be there for generations. With that and the national wages structure which is now in being and is recognised as an inherent part of the industry there need be no concern about a price structure which is more closely related to the matter of costs.
Until we do have that relation we shall not be living in a world of realism and until we live in a world of realism we shall not be in a position to deal with the export market which will, within a quite short time now, become highly 1842 competitive. I am quite certain about that. Unless we are braced and ready to meet that position; unless we are producing coal in such a manner that our manufactured exports can compete in world markets, we shall find ourselves at a disadvantage.
Hon. Members talk about this nationalised industry as a service. I question whether it is that. I believe it is still a great industrial problem and that we can only deal with it if we make use of industrial methods to do so. My experience leads me to the conclusion that only if we get down to the question of costs—and the only real standard in coal mining is O.M.S. and costs—will we get a happy industry and the necessary production. We shall certainly never get a satisfactory industry if the emphasis is on production unrelated to costs and O.M.S.
Since the war we have had a number of debates on the coal industry and nine speakers out of 10—or possibly all 10—have dealt with the question of production. Every now and again we have discussed the surplus or deficit which the Coal Board has been showing. Costs have played a very small part in our discussions. We cannot go on in this world of unreality. We have to face up to the fact that the real standard of efficiency in this industry lies in costs and o.m.s. and we shall not get down to that unless we have a price structure related to those factors.
If the Ridley Committee have done nothing else they have posed this question, and if this debate has done nothing else at least we have brought the matter to the forefront, and I can only hope that it results in this problem being tackled.
§ 8.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for South Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) did well to call our attention to the competition which this nation will face in the years that lie ahead. The recent decision to form a coal community under the Schuman Plan is obviously going to face us with a European competition such as we have not had before. The great energy and drive and the modern technical developments which the German industry were putting in before the war and have gone on with since 1843 will presumably be applied to the other coalfields in Europe.
To my mind, there is no doubt that many of the figures produced in relation to the coal requirements of this country have certainly not taken into account one or two things. I think the figures which have been produced are very much exaggerated, and one of the points we must bear in mind is this intense competition from the Continent. We shall sell coal on the Continent only if we sell the qualities they want at a price lower than that at which they can produce it themselves, and this new European community will go full steam ahead in beating us at prices and in doing what they can about quality, which, of course, is a matter which Nature herself decides.
There is something else which will determine the size of our productive programme in this country, and it is the question of whether the economic tide will recede or not. Unless there is a general improvement in the world economic position, unless we make our contribution to it by increasing our productivity—using more of our industrial strength in order to provide the world with more goods—then we shall not want as much coal in this country. It therefore very largely depends upon what has become known as the Point Four Programme to develop the backward areas of the world in order that there will be an expanding programme, and that we in this country will have an expanding programme of production based upon it. Upon this depends whether or not we shall need these high figures of coal production which have been mentioned. But never mind whether we can agree on the figure that may be required in 10 years' time—and many points of view about that have been put today; the fact is that over the next few years there will certainly be a gap between, on the one hand, our requirements at home and our requirements for export, and, on the other hand, the amount of coal available.
In winding up the debate for the Opposition, I want to say how much we appreciate the hard and solid work which the members of the Ridley Committee have put into this very comprehensive Report, and also to express our appreciation of those members of the 1844 staff of the Ministry of Fuel and Power who played their part in producing it.
I do not want to be unkind about this, for it was not so much what he said but his manner in saying it; but the Minister to my mind showed a lack of enthusiasm when he spoke of the fuel efficiency drive. I hope I am not being unkind; I hope I am mistaken. There appeared to me to be a lack of enthusiasm. I was disappointed that he appeared to take this Report and to let it run on its way, as it were, instead of coming to the House and telling us that there were certain things which the Government were prepared to get on with immediately arising out of the recommendations. I understand that he would probably want to have the feeling of the House and would also want to discuss with his officials these many recommendations, but I am bound to say that there appeared to me to be a lack of enthusiasm for this Report and for the work of fuel efficiency.
This lack of enthusiasm was contained in his words when he said that consideration of a fuel policy in the past had been conducted in an atmosphere of panic due to shortage. If that is his idea of fuel efficiency, it was certainly not mine, and it was not the idea of either of my right hon. Friends who were in turn, Minister of Fuel and Power when I was at the Ministry for a few years.
We did not look upon fuel efficiency simply as something arising from a shortage of coal which made it necessary for us to take some panic measures. We looked upon fuel efficiency as a very important thing for the country. Indeed, no matter what the size of our reserves of coal may be, it is absolutely wasteful to bring up one ton of coal more than is required, and it is quite wrong to use the mining manpower in a very dangerous and hazardous occupation to bring up coal at great cost, not only in money but in human life, and then to see the coal wasted when it reaches the surface.
It is quite wrong that we should go on lighting and heating our cities and towns, as has been described by hon. Friends of mine, by the wrong use of fuel. It is certainly not a matter which was considered in a panic due to shortage. It is a matter of sound common sense that we should conserve all the resources we have and use them in the best way without waste.
1845 We have to get more coal immediately for export. If we lose customers who find other people able to supply them, it may be very difficult to get them back again. There is at the present moment in Europe a market for British coal—quite a sizeable one; perhaps, a bigger one now than it will be in 10 years' time. Nevertheless, it is a sizeable market. We must get more coal quickly to it, and we cannot, merely by resorting to increased production, get that amount of coal on to the Continent quickly.
By 1964 it is anticipated, American imports will no longer be required on the Continent. It is while American imports are coming into Europe that we have our best chance of selling coal without any difficulty whatever. This must be approached on two fronts; one of increasing the production of coal, which is going on quite well; but the other one is by saving as much coal as we possibly can, and doing it quickly.
Where are we going to save it from? We are not going to save anything from the domestic market. Before the war some 45 million tons a year went on the domestic market. Today it is 31 million tons, and with many more houses than there were, and all we can do is to give the housewife and her family greater warmth and greater comfort from the ration of coal she is getting, and we can do that by making certain that she has at her disposal fuel efficient appliances in her home.
I suppose that if there were a free market in domestic coal—and I will come to the small coal in a minute; I am speaking of the sort of coal that the housewife really calls coal: the nice large, black, shiny lumps she likes to put on her fire—if there were a free market for coal, it might be that, taking into account what has been done in the way of fuel efficiency in the home and the fact that by this time people have got used to electricity for heating, and gas, and are not likely to go back to solid fuel now, perhaps consumption would be about 35 million tons. But there is not any chance of the housewife getting 35 million tons for a long time to come.
The hon. Member for Harrow, West (Sir A. Braithwaite) spent some time telling us about opencast coal. I entirely agree with what he has to say, but he will agree with me, too, when I say that 1846 some day deep-mined coal has got to take the place of the opencast. We may have a production of between 10 million tons and 15 million tons of opencast coal, but there is a limit to the depth we can get to, using the machines the hon. Gentleman spoke about.
There may be a production of 10 million or 11 million or 12 million tons a year, but when opencast production begins to drop off we shall have to make up for it by deep-mined coal, and get more deep-mined coal without gaining anything at all; and that is a very sizeable task. We want at least 20 million tons to 25 million tons abroad as soon as we can possibly get it. On those facts, I see no hope at all of the housewives of our country getting any sizeable increase in the amount of coal they have.
We are glad to hear that the Minister has on hand enough small coal, which he calls untreated smalls, so that he can free that from the ration. We are glad if there is something more to come, but at the same time I am sorry it is available, because it means that the untreated smalls are not being burned in the boilers of the textile mills of Lancashire and elsewhere. It is a symptom of declining productivity that we have at this time so much of the untreated smalls readily available for the domestic market. But the untreated smalls are not much use to the housewife unless she has the right type of appliance to burn them.
§ Sir A. Braithwaite
Is there not a possibility of making these smalls into briquettes and using them for domestic fuel?
§ Mr. Robens
I have no doubt they could be crushed and made into briquettes, but briquettes are not particularly popular with the housewife. She wants some coal, and the untreated smalls will be all right provided she has the appliance in which to burn them, but she will not get the appliance in which to burn them unless a vigorous policy is pursued by the Government.
There is another reason why there must be a vigorous policy. In our lifetime we shall never see cheap coal again, because we will never again see cheap miners. To get cheap coal there must be cheap miners. The way in which the housewife will reduce her fuel bill is by burning less coal, although that coal is higher in price 1847 than she paid before the war, but she cannot burn less coal unless she has her old-fashioned grate taken out and a modern grate put in its place.
Here we are faced with a great problem, because there are hundreds of thousands of houses which badly need efficient fuel burning appliances, but which are covered by the Rent Restriction Acts, and the landlord is not prepared to spend £5, £10 or £15 on putting in a grate of that kind unless he can recoup it. Now something must be done to encourage the landlord to improve his property, particularly by installing efficient fuel burning appliances.
I hope that the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary will press hard on this, otherwise it is not a bit of use his advertising and having propaganda campaigns if he is still faced with the fact that the owner of the property cannot put in these appliances because he cannot recoup himself. Unless he deals with that, all his propaganda is very largely wasted. The tenants themselves are very reluctant to spend £10 or £15 on a property which is not their own.
§ Mr. Robens
I intend to develop that. At the moment I am dealing with privately owned homes.
There is a field in which the Government could do something, and that is in respect of local authorities. Quite frankly, I disagreed with the Minister when he suggested that there should be freedom of choice, and that the method of persuasion should be used.
§ Mr. Robens
The Government must take steps to see that things are being done and are not merely being talked about. It should be quite wrong for any local authority to have in any of its public rooms, in its town hall, its houses or schools, or anywhere where it has fireplaces, anything other than fuel efficiency appliances. That should be laid down, and that would immediately be one step along the road.
We have had many arguments about public ownership, and I do not want to start another, but I am bound to say that 1848 there is one reason for public ownership which ought to be repeated now. One of the reasons for our bringing industries under public ownership was in order that we could plan those industries in the interests of the nation as a whole. The railways and the coal mines are nationalised industries, and both are big landlords owning hundreds of thousands of houses between them.
The Government should make it quite plain—and the Minister has powers of direction to do it—that their houses must not go on burning coal in inefficient appliances. I did what I could in that way when I was Parliamentary Secretary We started with the consent and great help of the chairman of the Coal Board and the chairman of the Northern region. We took the village of Hartford. Northumberland, where the water supply was outside the houses and where there was no hot or cold water in the houses at all. It was a village in which there were no amenities of any kind, and the result was that most of the people living there had their names down with the local housing authority for houses with decent amenities.
The houses in which they lived were well-built and close to the pit. There was a wonderful spirit of community among the people who lived there, but the houses did not suit them because there were no amenities. We made arrangements with the miners' lodge to take a smaller amount of concessional coal on condition that fuel efficiency appliances were put into the houses. That job has been done in that village, and it has changed the whole outlook.
Already most of the people have been to the local authority and asked to have their names taken off the housing list because they prefer to live near the pit, like their village life, and, now that they have been given hot water in their homes, they can enjoy that small facility which most of us have enjoyed all our lives. It has made a very great change in their conditions of living. I believe that what has been done there is on balance profitable to the Coal Board, and that something similar could be done in every coal mining village in this country. But this will not be done unless the Minister tells the Coal Board that it has to be done. I warn him that unless he really presses the Coal Board, this will not get 1849 done, because they have so many other jobs to do in the way of getting coal that this will take a secondary place.
In the case of the railways, there are waiting rooms, porters' rooms, station masters' rooms and other places where coal is burnt in the open grate, and there is no reason why a direction should not be given for fuel efficiency grates to be installed. In these nationalised industries, the Minister is able to give directions if he cannot get co-operation in the use of the organisation which has been set up. I should like him to be vigorous about this matter. I am all for peace and for persuading people, but, in the last analysis, if they will not be persuaded, and if one has the power, one must tell them to get on with the job. I am sure that the Minister could make a great change very quickly in these two great industries, and probably other industries which may also be landowners.
I am sorry, too, that the Minister did not come down a little more clearly as to a broad general policy. Why does not he say that for main heating and hot water solid fuel should be used, If we have unrationed smalls and the appliances are there for its use, that may be the solution. He knows that constant space heating by gas and electricity is not an economical use of our coal. Solid fuel should be used for main heating and main hot water supplies and gas and electricity used for topping-up, seasonal work and so on.
It is important that the electricity peak should be flattened. We shall never get rid of that peak until we take the commercial people engaged in the sale of electricity firmly in hand and tell them to stop selling a commodity which we have not got. That is what they have been constantly doing. Even at a time when we were having very drastic load sheds, the commercial men in electricity—I am not complaining about them, because they have been brought up to do it; but it is not now in the national interest—were still selling as hard as they could hot-water heaters and everything else which could be used electrically. If the Minister wants to stop it he will have to stop it himself, for they will never do so.
I remember discussing the peak load and asking what caused it. I said "Surely it is the electric cooker in the morning?" 1850 I was told that it was not the electric cooker. Then I said "It must be the immersion heater." But I was told it was not. We went through the whole range of electrical appliances, and I was told that none of them caused the peak load. What is worse, if one listens too long those people will prove it. I warn the Minister not to listen too long to them or else he will be in the difficult position of knowing, on the one hand, that he is right and, on the other hand, that "It ain't true."
During the difficult period when we were trying to correlate advertising with the need for economy I found the electricity boys happily going ahead and preparing a scheme for spending thousands of pounds on the promotion of electricity drives. The energy which they put into that task is admirable, but we cannot afford it. The electricity peak must be flattened because it is far too expensive in the use of our resources.
The Minister will have a difficult job dealing with the powerful industries who are very naturally anxious to get on with the job of making themselves successful. The competition between gas and electricity is healthy, but only up to a point, and it will be the Minister's job, because the statutory responsibility is his, to take those people to task and make them realise that there is a national responsibility and that it is not merely a matter of serving the end of a certain public enterprise.
I was very much disturbed when the Minister said that he was accepting the part of the Report which recommended the setting up of a fuel efficiency research branch to be run by private industry. I asked him if that meant that he would wind up the special branch at the Ministry of Fuel and Power. He replied that it would not be wound up but would deal with Government Departments. I hope he will not take that view, for he will be making a very great mistake if he does.
I believe that an industrial machine of this kind can perform a very useful function, but the authority behind the Ministry's own branch is very great. It is an authority which has been obtained not by wielding a big stick, but by having over the years a splendid team of men on the road who have given their services to industrialists, can speak the 1851 language of industrialists and are helpful all the time. It would be a pity if all that goodwill were thrown away. I hope the Minister will not decide that his special branch will deal only with Government Departments, but will let it continue its work in industry along with anything which is set up by industry itself.
There is something else that the Minister must do about that. When I used to read the reports of the engineers in the field, I was always very disutrbed to find that, after the engineers had spent some time conducting intensive surveys into the uses to which fuel and power were being put in a certain industry or factory and had made recommendations which might save a quantity of coal, there was nothing else that could be done about it. One might go into a laundry and show that 50 tons of coal a week could be saved. If the owner of that laundry is saying "Thank you very much, I am very much obliged to you, but I am not going to do anything about it"—he may have some very good reasons for that—the 50 tons of coal are wasted, which the Ministry of Fuel and Power special branch knows perfectly well can be saved. We really have got to do something about it.
I do not think the Minister can allow industrialists who will not assist in this matter, for one reason or another, to continue with this attitude. It is grossly unfair to those industrialists who have been prepared to spend time and money training stokers and doing everything else. They have made a great contribution, particularly when industrial coal was short, and coal was even taken away from them in order that the other people who had done nothing about fuel economy should have all the coal they needed. The Minister is not going to cure this by sitting back and saying he will not take any action to do anything about it.
I share the view of the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) that an inducement must be given to industrialists who spend money on these plants. I will not reiterate his argument, which was well put. The Minister will have to wage this battle all over again. It is a big battle. I have been in it with 1852 a Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I am perfectly certain that he will have just as big a battle with a Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer.
I have never quite understood why the Revenue authorities always take the view that there could not be any distinction between a plant not installed for fuel efficiency and one that is installed for that purpose. I should have thought it was the simplest thing in the world to get a certificate from the engineer at the Ministry of Fuel and Power certifying that this particular piece of plant was put in for fuel economy purposes.
In any such scheme mistakes will be made. It may be that some people will get away with something, but that is nothing compared with the great advantage that will accrue to the nation as a whole if this inducement were given to industrialists to spend money on carrying out the recommendations of the special branch, or for that matter from the consulting engineer or whoever assists the industrialist in his tasks.
I want to say a word about insulation. It has not been discussed a great deal today, but it is one of the recommendations. I was interested in a letter which my right hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) once wrote to "The Times." I asked him to let me have particulars, and he told me that in his own place at Ipswich in his general store he had a shop of 898,820 cu. ft. He spent £4,021 on insulation, and as a result there was an increase in temperature of 15 degrees Fahrenheit. He saved in fuel per annum 4,492,800 cu. ft. of gas, and there was an economy on gas for an expenditure of £4,000 for installation of £1,348 each year.
My right hon. Friend also had a welding shop, which is an even better example. It was 729,560 cu. ft. and he spent £1,424 on insulation. Again there was an increase in temperature of 15 degrees Fahrenheit, and he saved 5,068,800 cu. ft of gas and each year £1,520 for an expenditure of £1,424 for insulation. That is something which actually occurred though it may be an exception to regain the cost of the installation in one year.
But it is within my knowledge, and it is certainly within the knowledge of the special branch of the Ministry of Fuel and Power what an enormous saving of 1853 costs real insulation can give. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will take up this matter very strongly with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because the Chancellor will gain in the long run. If the undertaking of this work by industry over the next two years results in hundreds of thousands of tons of coal for export the value to the Chancellor will be very great indeed and will surely offset anything which he might lose from a Budget point of view.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me to make one point to complete his argument? The annual economy in industry will enhance the profits of the industrial undertakings, and as the Chancellor takes two-thirds of those profits he will get a much bigger revenue with the passage of years.
§ Mr. Robens
I earlier invited the hon. Member to come over here. We really do congratulate him on the masterly way in which he has studied this subject since he has been in the House and on the contributions he has made. Any time that he can help us on this side of the House we shall be very glad of it.
§ Mr. Robens
He was against opencast coal only because it happened to be in his constituency; he did not mind it anywhere else.
I must rush on now and omit some of the things that I wanted to say. There is only one point about this Report to which I have a strong objection. I refer to the recommendation with regard to the gas industry in which the Committee thought the cost of gas should be related to the local undertaking. I do not accept that because that would mean losing all the advantages of integration.
What the Minister has to do in relation to gas is to press on, which really means pressing other Ministers to enable him to ensure the necessary capital investment for the gas industry and the steel for pipes, and to get on as rapidly as possible with the gas grid. That will enable many uneconomic works to be closed down, and the stepping up of production of newer and more economic works. That in itself will be a very great service.
I am sure that the gas boards must be absolutely free in relation to charges 1854 to do what they feel is best in the interest of consumers and I hope that that consumer councils will watch very carefully any attempt that may be made, arising out of this Report, to do anything to try to tie prices to the local undertaking.
One can only cover in a very brief way some of the points which have emerged from this Report. I wish to close with this observation to the Minister. Part of his statutory obligations—he has many—is to secure the efficient and co-ordinated development of fuel and power. On him rests a very heavy responsibility. He now has, with this Report and many others that have been published, all the information he requires to make a start on a real national fuel and power policy. He will have to be firm, he will need to have a lot of courage, but if he will get on with the job I am sure that he will have the backing of the House because this really means Britain's survival.
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power (Mr. L. W. Joynson-Hicks)
As my right hon. Friend said earlier today, the principal object of this debate, from our point of view, was to hear the views of Members of the House on all sides and from all quarters, upon the Ridley Committee's Report.
We are exceedingly grateful for the expressions of those views and for the way in which they have been made, helpfully, constructively and sympathetically, by hon. Members who know many aspects of the problem which lie behind the recommendations in the Report. My right hon. Friend has good cause to be gratified at the reception which was accorded to the statement which he made at the beginning of the debate.
There is, however, one point, which occurred at the beginning of his speech, on which I join issue with the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens). That was when he accused my right hon. Friend, and, therefore, myself also, of a lack of enthusiasm for fuel efficiency. We may be more modest than the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, we may not be quite so ebullient in the expression of our views, but I assure him that we are in no wise lacking in enthusiasm on this subject. In fact, we wholeheartedly agree with the feelings which he expressed, particularly in the opening 1855 phases of his speech, and I think I can safely say that my right hon. Friend and I will vie with all the Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries at the Ministry of Fuel and Power during the last Administration in any competition of enthusiasm on this subject.
On the principles which have been advanced during the debate on the Report of the Ridley Committee, I think we can claim that, generally speaking, our views are in accord with those which have been expressed by hon. Members. I do not say that that can be carried too far. There was, of course, an unholy alliance which developed during the afternoon between the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker) and my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro). They felt that the Ridley Committee and the attitude which we adopted towards the question of freedom of choice was not strong enough, and one of them wanted to reinforce it with sanctions and the other with compulsion. Apart from little matters like that, generally speaking we are not so far apart.
I want to try to reply to as many as possible of the points which have been raised, but time is limited and, as the right hon. Member for Blyth has just said, the scope of the Report and of this debate—which, incidentally, takes in also the last three annual reports of the nationalised fuel industries—is so wide that I hope hon. Members will forgive me if I am unable to reply to every item which has been raised.
I come, first, to something which was said by the right hon. Member for Blyth regarding our attitude towards local authorities and the efforts which we are making, through them, to obtain fuel efficiency appliances in the buildings for which they are responsible. As the right hon. Member knows full well that is not a direct responsibility of our Ministry, but I assure him that my right hon. Friends the Ministers who are responsible in those directions share our view, which corresponds very largely with that of the right hon. Gentleman, and that local authorities have shown, particularly during the past year, a very keen degree of co-operation in increasing, so far as the available resources and materials permit, the fuel efficiency appliances in 1856 the buildings for which they are responsible.
The right hon. Gentleman also made a statement which, coming from him, struck me as being a little bit strange. He was exhorting us to take active steps to stop the publicity of the commercial side of the electricity undertaking leading to the increase in the sale of appliances, particularly those affecting the peak load period. I must tell the right hon. Gentleman that during the past year, the electricity industry has voluntarily, at our request, curtailed its publicity far more than ever it did under the late Administration.
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
The right hon. Gentleman has said that and I must, of course accept it, but I had not seen any results from the achievement which he made—
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
—in the Committee over which he, and, later, I, presided.
As regards the fuel efficiency branch, let me try to get this matter quite clear, because there has been some misunderstanding in the debate. I believe that the point of the misunderstandings concerned the future of the fuel efficiency branch which turns upon one thing—the lack of fuel technologists. We cannot expand or even run the fuel efficiency branch without fuel efficiency experts who are qualified technologists to do it, and if we are to start, in accordance with the recommendations of the Ridley Committee, an industrial fuel efficiency branch, it is going to draw upon the existing pool of fuel technologists until the time when we can succeed in obtaining a greater number of these experts.
Therefore, if it is to draw upon that pool, we shall have to sacrifice a certain number, and we want to avoid overlapping in fuel efficiency in the single plane of industry, where the new organisation can function; clearly, we do not want to have two competitive bodies of this description covering the same ground.
Our tendency will be to concentrate on the non-industrial field and the more 1857 highly technical research field and so forth, without in any way doing away with the fuel efficiency branch itself, which, clearly, we want to keep going.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
We ought, I think, to get this clear. Is the Minister telling us that the Government are throwing over the recommendations of the Ridley Committee in paragraph 177:We therefore recommend that the Ministry Service should continue to give advice on fuel efficiency to industry.and, in paragraph 178, which suggests that the work should not be confined only as hitherto to solid fuel, but extended to work on electricity for power in industry? Are the Government throwing that over?
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
We are certainly not throwing over the recommendation mentioned in the second quotation which the right hon. Gentleman made. We quite agree that it is essential, in dealing with fuel efficiency in industries as a whole. I think I have made the point clear that, while the Ridley Committee go so far as to recommend two fuel efficiency advisory bodies, both functioning in the same field in industry, we considered that that is not a desirable objective, but that the objective would better be accomplished, in time when the resources permit, by one branch in any one particular field. In the industrial field, the Ministry's branch will gradually be tapered off, but the degree and extent of the tapering off will clearly depend on the circumstances as they arise.
If I may proceed, I would particularly mention the question of smoke abatement, which has been referred to by the hon. Members for Stoke-on-Trent, speaking in happy harmony on the Opposition benches, which we so delight to see. I am happy to think that, of all places in England, it is in the Potteries where there has been the biggest advance in the use of gas in industry, and I hope that will prove to be a step in the right direction, and that the hon. Members themselves will also take active steps to assist in and accelerate the fuel efficiency work in that industry which will help in relieving the smoke abatement problem which I know does exist there.
I want to divert for a moment to say a word about a matter which has not yet been refererd to in the debate, but which does arise from the National Coal Board's 1858 Report concerning the question of the valuation of the assets taken over by the Coal Board. The reason why I particularly want to refer to that matter this evening is because, as the House may remember, the Third Report of the Committee on Public Accounts, presented last July, drew particular attention to the matter, and I think hon. Members will agree that the House always wishes to take notice of the recommendations of the Public Accounts Committee. They said particularly that they urged the Ministry of Fuel and Power to take all possible steps to accelerate the legal and valuation work, and to bring to an end as soon as possible this considerable public expenditure.
My right hon. Friend and I entirely agree with that, and we are anxious to wind up this valuation department. But, at the same time, we have to bear in mind that it is our duty and the duty of that Department to protect the national interests and to ensure that the values paid for these coal interests are fair. It is a very detailed and exceedingly complicated business, and one which has to be carried out in accordance with the procedure laid down under the Act. It is not a procedure which can be short-circuited except by agreement, and it is on the question of agreement that we hope to get even quicker and greater results than have been achieved hitherto.
§ Mr. P. Roberts
Being a member of the Public Accounts Committee, may I refer my hon. Friend to the expenses of the Treasury Solicitor—which are very considerable in this matter—which his Department employs in looking into the legal aspects of these claims? Could my hon. Friend say whether that work has gone ahead far enough in order to cut down expenses?
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
I will certainly take note of what my hon. Friend says, but I cannot answer the particular point he raises at the moment. Generally speaking, a sum of £162 million has been paid out by way of compensation, but there still remains to be paid out a sum which we estimate at £100 million.
Hon. Members will probably have seen in the newspapers a certain amount of publicity which has derived from the North Staffordshire district to the effect that a speedy settlement has been arrived 1859 at. What has happened there is entirely in accordance with statutory procedure. Nearly all the owners in the North Staffordshire district accepted the draft valuations of the valuation board. That was a tremendous help. If all the owners still outstanding will accept the draft valuations and will forgo their rights of appeal, it will probably speed up the matter by some six months. That would be to everyone's advantage and would be in the national interest.
There are some other districts, such as Cumberland, which are in a very similar position. Therefore, I appeal to the owners in those districts which are very close to a settlement—the fact that the vast proportion of owners have agreed to the draft valuation would seem to indicate that there is probably very little to complain about in them—to exercise restraint and good will in trying to get this matter settled in the national interest, and with all economy. Once we can do that, the organisation can be wound up and the expenditure referred to by the Public Accounts Committee brought to a speedy conclusion.
May I return to the Ridley Committee's recommendations? I have been asked by some hon. Members to say something more about our views on the specific recommendations. I thought I would try to take them in three groups which rather fall together.
The first refers to household fires. Something has been said already on that subject, but with regard to the second recommendation I can say that discussions are proceeding with the manufacturers of appliances on the possibility of being able to obtain higher standards based on existing methods of measuring efficiency. That is a very difficult problem, but I must tell the hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Darling), who spoke on the subject, that fireplaces and the grates are not yet being produced to the standard of room efficiency which is recommended by the Ridley Committee. Therefore, none of the 1,700,000 improved appliances to which reference has been made can be expected—or at least very few can be expected—to reach that higher standard of additional improvement which the Committee recommend us to seek
1860 On the third recommendation, that appliances satisfying the new standard should be clearly marked, my right hon. Friend said in his opening remarks that we hope to achieve a hallmark although it would probably be inadvisable and would lead to considerable difficulties to try to mark the actual percentage of efficiency on any particular appliance.
The fourth recommendation was the 100 per cent. Purchase Tax to which quite a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House referred. My hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury has been with us throughout most of the debate. He has heard the urgency of the demand and the arguments put forward. I have no doubt that he will take heed of them, though beyond that the House will not expect me personally to go.
In this connection, I would refer again to the speech of the hon. Member for Hillsborough. If he will allow me to say so—and I hope it will not lead him into trouble—I thought what a well-reasoned and constructive speech his was. I can assure the hon. Member that only efficient appliances will be approved and that I will consider with my colleagues concerned whether there is any possibilty of vetting the production costs of these appliances in cases where it appears that the prices are excessive.
The hon. Member also asked about the cost of the gas turbine experimental development. I can assure him that the Transport Commission does not have to meet any of that at all. The actual cost of the coal consuming turbine for the financial year up to 10th October last—that is up to date—was £300,000 and of the peat consuming turbines £78,000. For goodwill, I will also give the figure for methane, which was £82,000 making a total of £460,000. The vast majority of this was carried on Ministry of Fuel and Power account.
§ Mr. G. Thomas
If the Minister has now left that side will he try to say something about the new tariff rates before he sits down?
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
We have been talking entirely about the debate and we have reached recommendation No. 6. That deals with high efficiency open fires and utility plants. Those are objectives which if achieved can mark big advances in domestic fuel efficiency. But this involves a great deal of laboratory work as well as practical work for manufacturers of appliances. We shall do everything possible to urge and encourage them to achieve this result, but it is a matter for their co-operation and experimentation.
With regard to recommendation No. 7—the production of simple devices for restricting chimney flues—there are already on the market two which we know about, and the difficulty of the problem from our point of view is to discover how to test them in the fuel research station, but I think that is going ahead and certainly the recommendation is one which we can accept.
On recommendation No. 12, relating to a new and more informative list of efficient domestic solid fuel appliances, I can say that the Coal Utilisation Council is preparing a reference book which will have the fullest possible information.
The second group that I should like to refer to are the recommendations dealing with training and efficiency, which I think particularly interested the right hon. Member for Derby, South. On recommendation No. 18, that:More attention should be paid to the need for training in fuel technology…this is being discussed at the present time with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education, who is fully prepared to help.
On recommendation No. 23:That stokers should be encouraged to raise their efficiency by arrangements for improving their statusmy right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Labour is bringing to the notice of both sides of a number of selected industries the urgent need for increasing the efficiency of stokers. May I say that the nationalised industries themselves are exceedingly conscious of the need for training and education generally. I should like particularly to mention the man management course which has been initiated this year by the National Coal Board.
1862 During the present year—and it is really a remarkable achievement—at about 50 centres something in the region of 10,000 deputies and overmen have done a five-day course of training in the managerial and the safety duties of their work—not the technical side at all, but purely on the managerial side and on the safety side. They have been instructed by specially trained colliery managers or officials or training officers who have been trained for that particular job. I think that is a step very much in the right direction and a step for which we really can commend the Coal Board for having achieved in so short a time.
Continuously, boiler practice training courses are being held by the B.E.A. and by the National Coal Board, and in that connection there is a very good illustration of the co-operation which was being talked about earlier in the debate. Many hon. Members will know of the British Electricity Authority's training centre at Horsley Towers, and there boiler practice courses are held. Those courses are open to stokers not only from the British Electricity Authority but also from the National Coal Board and from the Steel Company of Wales. That particular co-operation is a considerable advance and benefit to all the industries and to fuel efficiency generally.
Let me now come to the question of tariffs.
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
I may have time to deal with South Wales even now.
First of all, let me make it clear that there is a statutory obligation on the nationalised industry to standardise the tariffs, and that is what has been going on. But it may well be that in reducing the immense number of variations of tariffs which existed before nationalisation, they have gone too far. That remains to be seen, but I would remind hon. Members of paragraph 221 in the British Electricity Authority Report because it makes perfectly clear there what is the attitude of the Authority. They say:As experience is gained in the application of the new standard tariffs, it is only to be expected that opportunities for improvement will present themselves from time to time. The technique of electricity supply and utilisation is by no means static, and both supply features 1863 and consumers' needs will change as time goes on. The tariff structure will therefore continue to be kept under close review.That means, in practice, that the boards have undertaken to review the new tariffs as soon as they have had sufficient experience of how they work.
At the same time, I want to admonish hon. Members who think that the boards may be unduly extravagant. I can give them one or two instances of economies which have been effected. The South-Eastern Electricity Board reduced the number of their employees by 165 during the last year although they increased their consumers by 27,000. That is a considerable achievement. The Southern Board increased their consumers by 36,000 and reduced the number of their employees by 135. The Yorkshire Board reduced the number of their employees by 182. All those things have been achieved by a consolidation of the organisation, by a reduction of small meter testing stations, the amalgamation of small districts, and so forth.
I would say one word to my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster. He asked particularly about our attitude on recommendation No. 35. I can tell him that we accept that recommendation, as indeed we accept recommendations Nos. 32 and 33; but with regard to recommendation No. 35 I can go further and tell him that the electricity boards are already proposing to terminate such restrictions.
§ Mr. Nabarro
The hon. Gentleman will realise that they have been expressing pious intent in this matter for two years. What we want them to do is publicly to abandon these restrictions and tell the whole world that they are doing so.
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
I have no doubt that the Authority will hear the clarion call from my hon. Friend. Having 1864 cheered him up in this way I must now tell him quite definitely that I do not think that the estimates which he gave us were quite correct. I think error crept into them and that fallacies can be found. I have not the time to go into it at the present moment, but I shall read the report of his speech very carefully tomorrow morning and if I find there are fallacies in it I should like to write to him about it.
There is very much more I should like to say, although the House will be very glad indeed that my time has come to an end; but I should like to conclude, as my right hon. Friend and the right hon. Member for Derby, South began their speeches, by saying with what gratitude we should look to the members of the Committee who served under Lord Ridley. I think hon. Members on both sides of the House have recognised that they have done a tremendous service in the national interest. For our part we should like to assure them that it will be our object to implement the spirit of their Report.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
As there is still a minute left, could the Minister say something about recommendation No. 21 thatThe present scheme for Government loans for approved fuel saving installations should be amplified, on more attractive terms.
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
I cannot go beyond what I said in another connection on the financial recommendations—that my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury has been here the whole time.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the Report of the Committee on National Policy for the Use of Fuel and Power Resources and also takes note of the last Annual Report of the nationalised Fuel and Power Industries.