§ 4.3 p.m.
§ The Minister of Fuel and Power (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd)
I beg to move,
That this House takes note of the Annual Report and Statement of Accounts of the National Coal Board for 1953.This is a vast subject and I propose to adopt the plan that hon. Gentlemen wished me to adopt last year, which was to deal with some of the larger questions in the Report and, by way of commentary, to bring the subject up to date for the consideration of the House.
First, I should like to mention that in Chapter V of the Report a reference is made to the work of the committee on the organisation of the Coal Board which we were all glad last year was to be set up. It is a very powerful committee, with Dr. Fleck, Chairman of Imperial Chemical Industries, Limited, in the chair. It has been doing a great deal of work visiting coalfields, and I hope that we shall have an early report.
The Annual Report shows that in 1953 coal production fell. This year it is rising, thought not so much as we would all like. Last year, consumption of coal in the country showed a mild increase. This year there has been a great upsurge in the consumption of coal. This is the biggest single factor in the coal situation this year. It reflects, and is indeed the very basis of, the buoyant progress of industry and of the records that have been made in the export drive and in the accumulation of our currency reserves. Industry after industry shows a big increase in coal consumption and an even bigger increase in production.
For example, in motor car production 8½ per cent. more coal has been used this year and there are records in production and in exports. The chemical industry has used 12½ per cent. more coal so far this year, and its exports are up by £21 million. Mechanical engineering shows a 12½ per cent. increase in coal consumption, and electrical engineering a 15½ per cent, increase. Gas consumption by industry in Birmingham and the Midlands is also up by 15 per cent. Consumption of electricity on the farms is 1615 up 16 per cent. In industry, the use of electricity shows a rate of increase this year three times greater than last year. It is not surprising that with these record levels of industrial output we should find that this country is now using more coal that it has ever used before in its history.
We estimate that the increase of consumption this year will be around seven million tons. I have kept in close touch with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer throughout the year on this problem. The Government have been determined that there should be no failure on the fuel front which would mar or halt the buoyant progress that British industry is making at the present time. In May, we decided that we would maintain coal exports at the higher level to which they had risen, and which was almost double that of last year, and at the same time we decided to import coal, arranging the imports well in advance. We decided to import two million tons of coal.
Then came the summer. [Interruption.] Yes, of course. We are used to the summer. That is just the point I wanted to make. We are used to funny summers in this country, but we have to go back many years to parallel the summer which we had this year. It cost us about 1,500,000 tons extra in coal consumption. We re-examined the situation in the early days of September, and decided to import a further two million tons, making four million tons in all. It was necessary that the decision should be taken promptly and secretly, and that the bulk of the coal should be bought and the bulk of the freight arranged before any public announcement was made. That has been done.
Stocks are rising satisfactorily. I estimate that by the beginning of the coal winter on 1st November this year, there will be between 17½ million and 18 million tons—rather under 18 million—as compared with just over 18 million tons last year. That is two million tons higher than in any post-war year except 1952, which was altogether exceptional. In addition, imports will be coming into the country at the rate of about half a million tons a month during the whole of the winter. I want to emphasise that the Government are planning not merely to get the country through the winter with- 1616 out trouble, although that is very important, but are definitely making arrangements so that the buoyant and steady progress of British industry can continue at full strength.
I turn to the question of production. In January, the Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers made an agreement in these terms:Recognising that improvements in the mining industry, including improvements in miners' standards, can only flow from increased efficiency of the industry, they consider that a 2½per cent, increase nationally in production in 1954 with existing underground manpower, is a reasonable minimum aim, and they jointly resolve to take all practical measures to attain this objectThis, I think, was a valuable agreement. Indeed, I think it may be almost unique as an agreement between management and union in stating so definitely the connection between rising living standards and productivity.
Of course, we all regret, and no one more than the Board and the leaders of the union, that so far the achievement of the industry has fallen short of this aim, but that being so, it is of great importance that the facts should be stated objectively and fairly. First of all, between January and May of this year there was no improvement at all on production as compared with the same period last year. In May, the National Union of Mineworkers reaffirmed the target and their determination to do everything possible to help to achieve it.
Since then there has been a very considerable improvement. Absenteeism has gone down, productivity has risen and actual production has gone up. Output per man-shift overall has risen and output per man-shift at the face has risen notably. The output per man-shift of British miners has now reached record levels never before attained. Since July every face worker has been winning, on the average, one and a half hundredweights more coal in every working shift than last year.
I am also glad to say that the Saturday working has been at an even higher level this year than it was last year, which was itself a great improvement on the year before, and I think that I ought to point out, in fairness, that when nearly all industries are working the five-day week, the miners are giving the country 12 million tons of coal a year from Saturday 1617 work which is essentially voluntary. I noticed that last week, on Saturday, the miners were again working in another 24 pits more than last year.
§ Mr. Lloyd
Yes, voluntarily. All this results in production being up so far this year by 2 million tons.
We must also note that since the agreement was made face manpower has fallen appreciably and that the Coal Board, I think courageously in this year of intense demand for coal, has put substantially more men on to development work.
But, taking all this into account, it would be unrealistic to expect that the target of this year can be fully achieved. Nevertheless, we are now just at the beginning of what is traditionally the most productive period of the year in the mines. I do not intend to nag or to exhort the industry, which in my opinion has had enough of that during the last 14 years, but I shall merely express the hope that there will be the greatest effort by all concerned in every branch of the industry—and I am sure that that hope will be shared not only by the Board and by the union leaders but in all quarters of the House.
We have seen that manpower shortage is limiting the increase of coal output this year, and I now turn to that subject. In 1952, manpower rose by about 20,000. Last year, it fell by 10,000. This year, recruitment has been better than last year, especially of boys, which is particularly satisfactory, but the wastage has been worse. The reason for this has been the competition for labour from other very active industries.
It is important that we should all realise exactly what the problem is. It would not be accurately stated by calling it an overall shortage of manpower throughout the industry because, in fact, the shortage is primarily one in the coalfields of South Yorkshire and the West Midlands. The reason for that, of course, is that the pits in those districts are cheek by jowl with some of the most prosperous industries in the country, and competition for labour in those districts is intense.
It thus follows that we cannot properly tackle the manpower problem of those districts in those districts alone. We must help them by bringing in men from other 1618 areas and particularly by persuading experienced miners to go there from coalfields where there is no serious shortage of manpower. The Board has developed a highly organised system for this work. It has been much helped by the special housing plan in which the new houses were concentrated in these areas of particular shortage and upon which, with Government approval and indeed at Government suggestion, the Board is spending £40 million. The Board has also carried out a special publicity campaign which has had a considerable success. Through it, the Board has been able to draft some 4,000 men into these particularly deficient areas.
Of course, this is not all plain sailing because, as hon. Members know very well, particularly hon. Members opposite, the miner is in some ways very conservative. He does not like changing the conditions of the coalfields which he knows for the often very different conditions of new coalfields into which he is asked to go. The Board has developed a very good welfare system which is designed particularly to deal with these human problems, which we find are very much a question of whether or not the men will settle down in their first few weeks in the new area.
This problem is so important that the Government decided some months ago that further measures must be taken to back up what the Board is doing. Fresh instructions have therefore been sent by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour to the employment exchanges, and the Government have decided to conduct a new publicity campaign in cooperation with the National Coal Board. The first advertisements of that campaign will appear in the national Press this week.
I come to what I think is the most important and fundamental question of all, and that is the capital expenditure on the re-equipment and redevelopment of the industry as a whole. Everybody knows that it is taking place, but I feel that the implications and the consequences of this great industrial reconstruction are not fully appreciated in the country as a whole, although they may be fully appreciated in the industry itself. I feel that this is best divided into two parts. First of all, there is the installation of new machinery in the pits, and, secondly, there is the sinking of new pits 1619 and the major reconstruction of the old pits, which comes to much the same thing as the sinking of new pits.
In the first category, the installation of new machinery in the pits, considerable progress has been made in the last few years. At present, 80 to 90 per cent. of our coal is cut by machine and is mechancally transported. Indeed, it is that which has helped the industry to increase production by 30 million tons a year in the last few years. But progress in this field is becoming more difficult. Of course, we must press on, but, as hon. Members know, the problem of getting a wide adoption of power loading or the introduction in large numbers of revolutionary coal-cutting machines is a slow and tricky business because of the technical difficulties involved and the enormous variations in the conditions of the different seams and coalfields of the country.
In our search for increased production, therefore, we have to look more and more to the second division of this subject, which is the sinking of new pits and the major reconstruction of old ones. This is such an important subject—and I know hon. Members opposite feel very strongly about it, as does everyone in close touch with the industry—that I should like to make one or two general points.
First of all, of course, it is crucial to the whole future of the industry. One cannot get a really big increase of production without it, because one cannot get the really big results from the most modern machines and transport systems unless the pits are properly laid out to receive them. Nor, in this age of high employment, will one in future get the men to go into the pits unless the industry is a thoroughly modern one which can show conditions which will compete and are in tune with other progressive industries in the country.
Secondly, the task is an enormous one. At present, 90 per cent. of our coal is coming from pits sunk before 1914, and two-thirds from pits sunk in the 19th Century. When the work of reconstruction is done, four-fifths of our coal will come either from new pits or from pits so completely changed as to be virtually new pits.
My third point is very important. By its very nature, this work is bound to take
1620 time. In essence—and here I ask to be excused by hon. Gentlemen who know this industry so thoroughly—our difficulty is that it is quicker and easier to make a road on the surface, or to do other surface work, than it is to tunnel in the bowels of the earth. I must say that, in our impatience to get on with this job, it is sometimes tantalising to see the prodigious speed with which vast factories and other surface installations are being carried out at the present time. I have particularly in mind one oil refinery which cost £45 million and produces 5 million tons of oil—the equivalent of 10 million tons of coal—per year. It was completed and on stream in 21 months from the contractors' getting on the site. It must be remembered, on the other hand, that at the moment of maximum activity there were 15,000 men employed on that job.
How many men, at most, can we get when sinking a shaft or in the heading—that is, the driving of the underground road? The Regulations under the Safety Acts say that, without permission of Her Majesty's Inspectors there shall not be more than nine men in a shaft or nine men working in a hard heading. Her Majesty's Inspectors are often fairly generous in this matter, and we know that, in practice, a few more men are allowed—but I do not need to develop the point, because the difference in scale is so clear that it shows what a different problem we have to face. As the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Neal) will remember, I had the honour of cutting the first sod at the Bevercotes Pit two years ago. I have asked, and have found that work is going well up to schedule, but, as hon. Members know, the coal will not be coming up that shaft for the first time until 1959 or 1960, and it will be only three or four years later that the full production of 1 million tons of coal per annum will begin to come.
Of course, since this job has to take so much time, there is all the more reason for pressing on with it as fast as is humanly possible. The Government have given every assistance to the industry. In a time of steel shortage they have given it the highest priority, and, as to capital expenditure, there is, in effect, no limit whatever, from a practical point of view, to the finance made available by the Gov- 1621 ernment to the National Coal Board for this vital work.
Well, how are we getting on? We have to face the fact that in the last six years only three major reconstruction schemes have been completed, although a hopeful point is that they all show notable increases of productivity and production. I am, however, glad to say that in the last three years there has been a great increase in the number of schemes sanctioned. The National Coal Board is now working on 15 new mines and 51 major reconstructions. That is very notable progress. In the last three years, also, there has been a tremendous rise in the capital expenditure on collieries. Capital expenditure in 1951 was only £26.6 million; last year it was £52 million—almost double. The estimate for this year is £75 million; next year we expect that it will go to £90 million and the year after that it will rise to £100 million and stay at that figure for some time. That will be double the rate of expenditure again.
This is notable progress, but let us note that it is also a major task for the industry. Yet, at the same time, we are asking the industry to supply the fuel for the sensationally-increasing consumption demands of the booming industries of postwar Britain. This also is a major task—and it would be a major task for an industry that was in perfect trim and completely up to date. The present tremendous straining after production unquestionably hinders complete concentration on the reconstruction of the industry. What can we do to ease this double burden?
§ Mr. Albert Roberts (Normanton)
Before the Minister leaves that point, does he agree that it takes at least four or five years before any major reconstruction scheme becomes effective?
§ Mr. Lloyd
I would put the period at rather longer than that. I would say that it is more like six or seven years, but, of course, it does depend on the scheme and sometimes one gets a little of the benefit as one gets on to the last few years.
I think that we should now ask ourselves what we can do to ease this double burden on the industry, because we ought to remember that anything we can do not only improves the fuel position of the country but also speeds the day when the industry will be in first-rate shape again. I turn at once to the question of economy 1622 in the use of our coal and to the subject of fuel efficiency. It is true to say that the great public utilities, and some of the great industries such as steel, are doing a first-class job in fuel efficiency.
I cannot say the same of a vast area of miscellaneous industry. We have recently carried out a survey. I mentioned earlier that we had a lot of 19th Century pits. I am sorry to say that the survey shows that we have far too many 19th Century boilers. In fact, we found one reciprocating engine that was puffing merrily away in its hundredth year of activity. It seems that engineers get fond of their old engines, just as some people get fond of old motor cars. We all know, however, that this has to change, and chance quickly. I am glad to say that we have now in being a streamlined organisation to help with this job.
The National Industrial Fuel Efficiency Service, which was sponsored at my request by the British Productivity Council, has been brought into being smoothly and without any loss of momentum in the work previously done by my Ministry. It has been well received by industry. It has developed very close relations with trade associations, and its technical literature is excellent. Its staff has already increased by 10 per cent. and it is now increasing further. The heat survey bookings have increased fivefold in the last five months, and a publicity campaign is about to be launched.
This is good, but in my view it is not good enough, because the drive for fuel efficiency is as important to the country as is the export drive. The Government have decided, therefore, to extend the scope of the loan scheme and to simplify its administration. We have also decided to back up the publicity campaign of the new Fuel Efficiency Service, and also the work of the Coal Utilisation Council in the fuel efficiency field. Therefore, the entire apparatus of official publicity, both at the centre and in the regions, will be deployed in support of this fuel efficiency campaign, of course with help from my regional officers. I hope that hon. Members themselves will take the lead, where they feel able, in emphasising the vital national importance of this work. If they will be prepared to do so, I shall be happy to supply them with material on which speeches can be based.
§ Mr. A. Roberts
Can the Minister say whether he is getting assistance from the industrialists on that point?
§ Mr. Lloyd
Yes, very much so. We are getting first-class assistance from the Federation of British Industries, the National Union of Manufacturers, and from trade associations in general. I hope to see the closest possible relation between the new service and the trade associations.
I told the House in July that the Government's fuel policy was to get more coal and to use it better, to supplement coal with atomic energy as soon as possible, and with natural gas, if it were found, and with oil at once. I have nothing further to add today in regard to atomic energy, but I should like to give the House a progress report on certain other matters.
First, the use of oil is expanding considerably in the country at the present time. This year we shall probably use another 2 million tons, which is the equivalent of about 3 million tons of coal. The House will remember that in July I said that the British Electricity Authority was turning over the Marchwood Power Station in Southampton Water to a dual-firing system which would enable it to burn either oil or coal, but that in that case the Authority had decided to burn oil, with which it was being supplied at a price that would make the cost of generation the same as with coal—that is what we call in these negotiations a coal parity price—and that it was also considering whether a further number of stations with an ultimate coal consumption of up to 10 million tons should be provided with dual-firing apparatus without taking the decision as to which fuel they should burn.
Since then I have been in close touch with the British Electricity Authority and the oil companies. As a first step, I can tell the House today, the British Electricity Authority has decided to equip seven of its large new power stations with dual-firing equipment. On the supply side, I have been assured that between 2 and 3 million tons of suitable oil will he made available, as in the case of March-wood, on a coal parity basis. The March-wood Power Station will begin to burn oil in the autumn of next year and, if all goes well, the others will be following in the autumn of the next year. This is 1624 good progress in a short time, because the figures I have given are the equivalent of about 5 million tons of coal a year, but I think we shall do better as time goes on.
Now I want to say a word about natural gas. It is a new idea in this country but we would be well advised to take this seriously, because in recent years it has revolutionised the energy pattern of the United States, where it has provided the energy equivalent to scores of millions of tons of coal. The gas industry is searching energetically, and indeed hopefully, for natural gas in this country. I want to mention another development. At present, 'billions of cubic feet of natural gas are running to waste in the oilfields of the world. The problem hitherto has been that of transporting this gas to the great consuming areas of the world. Now the Americans have developed a revolutionary method of transportation.
This gas is one with which we are familiar—methane—and, when cooled, it shrinks to one six hundredth of its former volume and can be contained safely at atmospheric pressure. The Americans have developed a new form of cheap refrigerated tanker which depends upon a lining of balsa wood. Advance plans have been made to liquefy the gas near the Gulf of Mexico and to transport it up the Mississippi to Chicago and the other great consuming cities. A good deal of work has been done on the technical features and the cost of bringing the liquified gas to this country from either America or the Middle East. Incidentally, in the Middle East alone there is enough natural gas running to waste in the oilfields to take care of half the present total United Kingdom consumption of gas.
The gas industry is considering this project and has sent a technical mission to the United States to study it. The scheme is believed to be technically feasible, and the preliminary estimates show that the cost per therm might be considerably lower than that of the present carbonisation process. I thought the House should know of this important and interesting project, even though it is in an early stage. Of course, it would be attractive to us because it would save carbonisation coal, which is one of the scarcest coals in the country and is likely 1625 to remain so in the future. In my present view, however, the project will succeed only if it can be shown that liquified gas can be brought to this country and supplied to the Gas Board and to the British consumer at substantially lower prices than can gas produced from coal by the ordinary carbonisation process.
Against that background of fast-moving industrial development and reviving prosperity in this country, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has displayed to us an inspiring target of 100 per cent. increase in our standard of living in a generation. Nothing is more certain than that, if this aim is to be realised, the fuel and power industries will be the essential basis on which this superstructure of industrial prosperity will be based. We hope in time to get tremendous reinforcement from the power of the atom, and we know that we shall have a great contribution from oil. Nevertheless, in this country, as far forward as we can see, we shall still depend upon coal. Historically this great industry has carried the nation to Industrial prosperity and world power. It fell upon bad times, but now we have left those bad times and their controversies behind, and are looking ahead to what I am convinced will be a rebirth and a glorious future.
§ 4.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Noel-Baker (Derby, South)
I welcome warmly many of the things said by the right hon. Gentleman. We accept his Motion, and shall not divide against it later tonight.
We are debating the Report of the Coal Board for 1953. It is the seventh Report. The late Government proposed that every seven years there might suitably be an inquiry into the conduct of a nationalised industry. Such an inquiry is now being made into the coal industry, and I think the House may properly debate this Report in the same spirit and review the progress which the industry has made since vesting day, 1947.
The Coal Board and the system of nationalisation have been vigorously attacked in recent months. If the Labour Party had been in power, of course, the attacks would have been upon the Government instead. I have a very vivid appreciation of what they would have been like. With all respect to the critics. I believe that these attacks upon the Coal Board are wholly misconceived. The 1626 other day, the hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Colonel Stoddart-Scott), speaking in his constituency, said that Sir Hubert Houldsworth ought to be asked to resign; that the present situation was an admission of the failure of the Coal Board; that nationalisation had been a complete and utter failure, and that the reorganisation of the industry must be again considered.
I do not want to make a controversial speech; I am very anxious to take politics out of coal, or coal out of politics, but in my view the hon. and gallant Member for Ripon can have hardly any notion what the coal industry is like; no idea of its problems, and, above all, no clear conception of the catastrophic situation which the Coal Board had to face when it took over in 1947. Most of the critics have forgotten the Reid Report. The appointment of the Reid Committee was the greatest service ever rendered by the new Home Secretary, and I know that it will be remembered to his credit for many years to come. Let the critics read again the Committee's very searching analysis of the state of British coal as it was in 1945.
The members of the Reid Committee were not politicians; they were mining engineers, and they described the long decline which had gone on from 1913, when there was an output of about 289 million tons, to 1945, when it was 174.6 million tons. They showed that while between 1927 and 1939 there had been an increase of 11 per cent. in the output per man-shift in this country, in Poland it was 54 per cent.; in the Ruhr, 85 per cent., and in Holland 118 per cent. In the United States, there was one haulage worker for every 50 tons; in Holland, one for every 20 tons, and in Britain, one for every 5 tons. They found a great deal of the haulage systems and the underground pit railways in a lamentable condition; most of the pits uneconomic units; the industry in perpetual financial embarrassment and, in the very temperate words of the Report:…the men in no mood for willing cooperation with their employers.Why did that decline take place? Why did it go on to its climax in 1945? I am not blaming the owners or the managements; I am simply stating facts. It was because, fundamentally, coal is an extractive industry, different from any other ordinary industry. The length of faces 1627 worked in our pits today is 440 miles. Since vesting day, that enormous front has been advanced by about one mile. That means that in order to keep our output steady and avoid a fall, we must create every year, a new productive capacity of 5 million tons.
We must remember that in the 33 years up to 1947 we had had 10 years of world wars, when everything had been sacrificed to immediate production and when there was virtually no replacement of productive capacity at all. Ten years—that is 50 million tons. Between the wars, investment was still falling behind the growing needs. As the Reid Report says, the industry was in a state of perpetual financial embarrassment. In spite of the excellent work of some progressive firms, most of the industry was so short of capital that, by modern standards, it had become extremely inefficient. When the Coal Board took over, it faced the immense problem of reorganisation, reconstruction, re-equipping and new development—a task which the Reid Report called…nothing less than the rebuilding of the Industry on the most modern lines.And the Coal Board had to tackle the job in the post-war years. It is easy to ask, in these days, why it was only spending £27 million on capital investment in 1947, why it did not get on with the job more quickly. Well, to begin with, it was very short of mining engineers.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
We still are. The Board could not make mining engineers overnight. It also had to meet the immensely expanding current demand for coal. Coal was vital to our reconstruction, to the recovery of Europe, to our export trade, and to the purchase of food and raw materials by the sale of coal abroad. So the Board had to throw its men into the work of digging coal. The same thing had to be done with its short supplies of machinery and steel. It could not get the necessary planning staff. One of the tables in the 'Ministry's Statistical Digest for 1953 shows that from 1948 until today there has been an increase of only 86 in the planning staff. The engineers very often do not want to switch over from operational work to planning; they like digging coal better than working on a drawing board.
1628 But even if it had had all the staff and supplies it needed, the Board could not have started on this job quickly. When a pit is sunk something between £8 million and £14 million has to be committed, and one has to be very careful that one does not make a mistake in one's plans and thereby waste great sums of money. And, then, when a pit is started, no coal is produced for about 10 years. Any work of major reconstruction takes, on the average, six or seven years to carry through. All that time current output has to be maintained, and all the time development competes and interferes with it, while, in turn, current output interferes and competes with development. That is why it is true that, up till today, not a single new pit planned by the Coal Board has come into production and, as the Minister told us, only three of the major reconstructions have begun to give their full results.
These factors must be borne in mind when we judge what has been done by the Coal Board since 1947, and consider the output of coal today. Bearing them in mind, I venture to say that the Board has done extremely well. There are some points of policy about which I feel very anxious, and I shall press the Minister about them before I sit down. But consider the general picture. The fall in coal production—which had gone on for more than 30 years—has stopped. Output has been raised, and this year will be up by 41 million tons, in spite of the fact that the men now have a two weeks' holiday, and a larger proportion of men are engaged on development work, which, of course, means losing coal.
The output per man-shift has gone up from 1.00 in 1945 to 1.247 last week. That is above the present average—the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—of 1.24. When Sir Charles Reid wrote a kind of preview of the National Plan, before it was published, or even prepared, he said that the average output per man-shift for all pits ought to be raised to 1.50 tons 30 cwts.—by 1965. After 10 years, and before the new pits have come into operation, with only three major reconsructions giving their full results, we are nearly half-way to the target which Sir Charles Reid proposed. It is not only much above any output per man-shift in this country in times gone by, but it shows the biggest improvement of any country in Europe. Besides ourselves, only 1629 France, I believe, has passed its pre-war O.M.S. level.
Output per man-year has done just about as well. It was 245 tons in 1945 and this year it will probably be 305. Allowing for the two weeks' holiday, this is much the highest we have ever had in the history of the industry in this country.
The Minister has mentioned Saturday working. Last year Saturday output rose by one million tons. This year there is another big increase. New York City on Saturday morning is about as dead as London on a Sunday, but the miners, who had been promised for ever so long a five-day week, are voluntarily giving us coal, and they deserve every bit of the credit the Minister has given them today. Absenteeism is going down.
Safety, thank God, goes on improving, in spite of the new dangers created by machinery, and they are many. The deaths per 100,000 man-shifts, which is the real test, had fallen from 0.50 in 1938 to 0.37 in 1946 and to 0.21 in 1953.
Labour relations are immensely better than they used to be. Everybody remembers how they were poisoned by misunderstanding and mistrust. Between the wars an average of 13 million man-days' output was lost every year for 20 years. Today both Sir Hubert Houldsworth, for the National Coal Board, and Mr. Ernest Jones, the very able leader of the N.U.M., are able to say that relations in the industry have never been better than they are now. In this period of industrial unrest, is not that very important? What would happen to our prosperity, if we had a large-scale coal strike now?
Above all, as the Minister said, capital investment is now definitely improving. Last year, for the first time, it passed the figure set in the Coal Board's programme. This year it is over £70 million—£75 million. It will catch up £15 million of the Coal Board's arrears. The Minister and the Coal Board cannot push it too fast. They can do it only if one condition is fulfilled, to which I shall refer later; but they cannot push it too fast.
I welcome all that the right hon. Gentleman has said about the use of oil, and about tapping natural gas. I have always believed, since I was engaged on the matter during the war, that there was natural gas in this country and that we ought to get it. I believe in the ultimate success of underground gassification. I 1630 hope that the Middle East schemes for liquefying gas will succeed. But whatever we do in these directions, it will remain true that coal output is the foundation of Britain's prosperity, and it is only by increasing coal output that we can meet the immensely increasing demand fo power which, quite certainly, we shall have.
I think that all that I have said shows that since 1947 the industry has made good progress. Side by side with that progress, there is the increase in home consumption, of which the Minister spoke. It is an index of increasing prosperity, of greater exports. We are sending coal abroad in the form of finished goods. If we were not, if we had the home consumption of 1938, we could export 40 million tons of coal or more this year. But this increase of home consumption, which, in one way, we welcome, creates a new, a painful and, it may be, a very dangerous problem.
In that regard the Minister, if he will forgive my saying so, has been pretty fortunate. In the two years I held the office which he now holds, home consumption increased by 130½ million tons. For two years he had falling consumption. The figure for 1953 was a little below that for 1951. This year it is going to increase, he said, by 7 million tons. If that goes on, it will create a serious situation.
I am not worried about the prospects for the coming winter. I am quite sure that with the 17.million tons which, the Minister says, he will reach in the distributed stocks, then, if current output keeps up, and even without his imports, we should probably be all right. In any case, I think there is a margin even if the weather should be severe. But the outlook for future winters is a different matter, and we are very much concerned, as I am glad to see the Minister is, about the fuel efficiency of British industry as a whole.
There are some bright spots in the picture. The Coal Board itself, while increasing its output very greatly, has reduced its colliery consumption from 11.3 million tons in 1948 to 9.3 million this year—2 million, or 20 per cent., in six years. It is a good achievement, and the improvement is really greater than that, because with new mechanical stokers and better boilers, it is using a lot of slurry and releasing the better coal.
1631 The British Electricity Authority, by improving the thermal efficiency of its stations, is burning this year 4½million tons less than it would have been burning if the thermal efficiency had remained at what it was in 1948. The Coal Board has now installed 25,000 modern stoves in its old houses, and in its 20,000 new houses it has not only put the most modern stoves and heaters, but has insulated the houses to the best standards, too.
What is industry in general doing? This year we are investing £75 million in getting more coal from the pits, and under the Minister's loan scheme which he has had, up to now industry is going to invest perhaps £750,000.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd
Of course, that is only part of industry. The right hon. Gentleman will realise that a large amount of investment in efficiency is going on by a large number of big firms, apart from that.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I hope so. I am sure there is some.
But I do think there ought to have been a tremendously big drive, that the Minister's £1 million ought to have been taken up in the first three months, that there ought to have been a demand for a much larger sum, and the whole thing done on a far greater scale.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I am very glad to know that, but, unfortunately, £750,000 worth is the limit of what has been approved and is now under consideration.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that these loans are given only to firms which, for one reason or another, mostly financial, cannot finance fuel efficiency appliances and plant by other means, and that 99 per cent. of the firms in British industry finance these fuel efficiency arrangements out of their own financial resources?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
The whole point is that a great many firms in British industry are not making this investment, and since the Minister's £1 million loan scheme was introduced, and although it has been going on for a considerable time, only £450,000 worth of schemes have been approved, £257,000 are under 1632 consideration and £300,000 worth of schemes have been turned down.
Up to date, the scheme has been a sorry failure. Firms will not do this work on their own, as they ought to, and what we hope is that the Government will provide a scheme that is a real inducement, and will get them to do far better in future than they have done hitherto.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)
What statistics is the right hon. Gentleman relying on when he says that firms are not doing this themselves without the assistance of loans?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
My experience in the right hon. Gentleman's office, my experience of the Ministry's Fuel Efficiency Service, the report which the Minister has just given us today of the new National Industrial Fuel Efficiency Service, if that is what it is called. Of course, everybody knows that many firms are not doing what they should, and if the hon. Member will ask the chairman of the fuel organisation, Air Marshal Hollingshurst, I think he will find that what I say is true.
There are 20,000 firms in this country using substantial quantities of coal. In a very large proportion of them, there is immense waste, when, by proper insulation, better boilers, better stoking and better maintenance of plant, very large economies could be made. Not wishing to delay the House, I will not give the many practical examples of this, as I could do, and as I know the Minister could also do.
I am very glad that the Government are going to extend and simplify this loan scheme, and that they are going to back it with Government publicity. I wish that the Government would accept the proposals which we on this side have made from time to time on the Finance Bill, both about the domestic and the industrial use of coal.
I am bound to say that, so far, I think that the Minister's policy with regard to fuel efficiency is the most disappointing part of all that he has done in his present office. I say with all the emphasis at my command that unless we want to face disaster in the coming years, investment in the saving of coal must be increased as rapidly as has been investment for the purpose of getting coal from the pits.
But by far the greatest anxiety in the present situation is the fall in manpower 1633 in the pits. If the numbers in the pits today were the same as they were in January, 1953, 20 months ago, and if they could remain stable for the next 12 months, that would mean, other things being equal, 5 million extra tons of production of coal. But in those 20 months, manpower has fallen by 16,000.
This is not the first time that that has happened to the National Coal Board. The Minister knows the story very well. In May, 1948, the numbers rose to nearly 730,000. Then they fell by nearly 40,000, right down to 689,000 in the latter part of 1950. Lots of people said that there was nothing to be done about it, that the fall would inevitably go on. They even made firm predictions that the manpower in the pits in 1953 would be 620,000 men.
What would have happened to the country if they had been correct? Fortunately, the Government and the National Coal Board took vigorous action. The methods they adopted stopped the fall, and, helped by the industrial situation—I do not propose to go into that—they increased the manpower in the industry by more than 30,000 men.
Today, quite evidently, something new is needed, something to make men think that, after all, it is attractive to go down the pit. I know that improvements are always being made. The Minister's safety Bill will certainly help: we have congratulated him on it before, and we do so again today. So will the completion of the pithead baths programme in 1957: so will the extra expenditure by the National Coal Board on the men's canteens.
I welcome the new recruiting campaign which the Government are going to adopt. Such campaigns do achieve results. But other and bigger measures are still required. I will mention only two. They are, agreement for a new wages structure in the industry, and more help given to miners to transfer from a coalfield where there is ample labour to those where labour is short.
As an intellectual exercise, miners' wages are in the nuclear physics class, and I do not intend to go very deeply into them today. But anyone who has ever discussed miners' wages knows that they need a drastic overhaul. The productivity team which went to America said so, and, above all, they talked about the
1634 piece-rate system and said that we ought to see if we could go over to day wages instead. I believe that 900,000 tons of coal were lost last year by disputes about piece rates. Perhaps that was nobody's fault, because it is inherently an extremely difficult problem, and the men very often feel grievances which can only be thrashed out after long debate.
I understand that real progress is being made towards a new wages structure agreement; the 6,000 job classifications have already been reduced to 300, and, among the 300, 19 grades of remuneration are being drawn up. We ardently hope that some agreement will go through. I add a warning. The miners will not stand a return to any kind of district system, and I hope that nobody, either the Minister or the present Commission of Inquiry, is going to make any proposal of that kind.
On the matter of transfers, I know that a good deal has been done to help. The National Coal Board has built 20,000 houses, and local authorities have built a good many more. Lodging allowances have been granted, though I am sorry that the Ministry of Labour has stopped the allowance which it at one time gave. But I think that more is needed. The Minister mentioned the West Midlands and Yorkshire particularly; they are areas in which productivity is high. But they are 12,000 men short today, and who knows whether they could not take still more for development work as well?
The French Government and the High Authority of the European Steel and Coal Community decided the other day to offer a bonus of £200 to a married miner who moved to the Lorraine coalfield, and £75 to a single man. I believe that something of that kind, and the provision of light industries for the employment of members of the miner's family in the new area to which he moves, would prove a splendid investment for the nation, if only the Government would take a bold decision and see it through.
In any case, this question of manpower is absolutely vital. It is the Achilles' heel of the whole system. We shall not be able to invest £100 million in the industry, year by year, unless we get more manpower. I believe that we need a stable labour force of 730,000 men—that 1635 is my opinion, although that figure may be higher that others say—in order to increase current production and to speed up the development work which is now beginning to go so well.
In the long run, the recruitment of manpower and the general success of the industry may, in my belief, well depend on the success of the new system of consultation between management and men, not only at national or area level, but right down to the pit. In some places it is done already extremely well.
Mr. Ernest Jones spoke the other day about 25 pits in one division—he did not name them, and I do not know which pits they are—which in 1947 produced 7.7 million tons of coal and which by 1953 had increased their production to 13.2 million tons, an increase of 70 per cent. Some of it was due to reconstruction and mechanisation, but most of it, Mr. Jones said, was due to real consultation, to co-operation at every level, from the humblest worker in the pit.
At the Oxford summer school of the National Coal Board this year, Sir Andrew Bryan gave a new definition of good management. He said:The quintessence of management is service to the men who get the coal"0—the creation of the best practicable conditions to help them in their job. That made me remember what was said by Robert Owen to his fellow-employers many years ago. He said:If the care which you bestow upon machinery can give you such excellent results, may you not expect equally good results from the care spent on human beings, with their infinitely superior structure?If the Government and the National Coal Board deal with the miners in that spirit, we may be sure that the miners, now as always, will help the nation in its hour of need.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)
I have listened, as have other hon. Members of this House, to the sanguine speech of my right hon. Friend and another by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker). Neither speech, it seemed to me, concentrated attention upon the really vital figures which affect the nation at this moment, 1636 and which will increasingly affect the nation in the course of the next few years.
Neither right hon. Member thought it appropriate to remind the House that in 1952 we produced in this country 224 million tons of coal, in 1953 223 million tons of coal, and in 1954—if we are lucky—we will produce 225 million tons of coal. In other words, neither right hon. Member thought it appropriate to remind the House that coal production in the United Kingdom is practically static.
That is the thing which to me seems to be of overwhelming importance to the nation, in view of the fact that my right hon. Friend stressed at the outset of his speech that a large number of our industries are increasing their rate of production very substantially year by year. In fact, the overall level of industrial production stands this year at about 7 per cent. to 8 per cent. higher than it did two years ago.
I do not suggest that figure of general industrial production increase will necessarily lead to a commensurate increase in coal consumption for industrial purposes, for there are many factors which will, of course, apply month by month to the amount of coal consumed, as general industrial production rises. What is of major significance, in my view, is the general anticipation of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He used these words earlier this month at the Conservative Party Conference at Blackpool. They are words which equally might have been used by a Socialist spokesman at a party conference. Similar words were used by Mr. Sam Watson, leader of the Durham miners, in a slightly different context, in a radio broadcast the previous Saturday evening in connection with our general prospects for improving the living standards in this country.
The Chancellor said:I see no reason why in the next quarter of a century, if we run our policy properly and soundly, we should not double our standard of living in this country.That means roughly, in arithmetical progression, an increase of 4 per cent. per annum in general productivity. I saw that Mr. Graham Hutton, in a leading article in the "News of the World" yesterday—a very well-informed article—asked, "Do you think that we can double our standard of living?" He explained the Chancellor's views in very simple terms. 1637 It seems significant to me that neither the Chancellor nor Mr. Graham Hutton, the economist, thought it appropriate at any point to say, "We can double our standard of living only if we provide ourselves with approximately a 100 per cent. increase in the sources of electric power, whether it is from coal, atomic energy, oil or from any other source, and unless the coal supplies which, generally speaking, are essential to an increase of electric power, substantially increase in the course of the next quarter of a century."
Coal production, in total, is static. When are we to get more coal? I do not believe that we shall get a great deal more coal in the course of the next 10 years. I do not believe that we shall get much more than 225 million tons of coal in any single year from this date to the middle 1960s. I am not being pessimistic when I express that view. How, then, are we to manage to balance the fuel and power budget if these prophecies do in fact come to pass? It poses the question, how can we make do with our present rate of coal output? It seems to me possible that we can sustain a very substantial increase in general production even with the somewhat attenuated level of coal output that we have at the present moment, provided we plan carefully and properly.
First, I want to say something about imports of coal. The Minister surprised a number of us this afternoon by confessing that he is importing 4 million tons of-coal this year.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I repeat that my right hon. Friend confessed. He has forgotten that, a few minutes before he made his confession, he said that he had to keep this secret, of course, until this moment. It seems, therefore, that it is a confession0—
§ Mr. Nabarro
Perhaps my right hon. Friend will allow me to finish the sentence. It is not a confession of guilt but a confession to this House, because he had not previously stated it.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd
The real reason for secrecy in these transactions, as I know my hon. Friend will appreciate, is 1638 the necessity to make the best terms for the country in the buying of coal.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I have always been the first to urge commercial consideration on my right hon. Friend in these matters, and I am not criticising him in any way.
He is right in importing 4 million tons of coal this year, but I want to try and put the cost of that 4 million tons in the correct perspective. Four million tons of coal will cost approximately £24 million. The United Kingdom imports of petroleum and petroleum products, including fuel oil and crude oil and other materials in that group, are this year costing approximately £360 million. That means that my right hon. Friend is bringing in coal to the value of £24 million as against total United Kingdom imports of oil of approximately £360 million, and by these relatively small coal imposts my right hon. Friend is meeting the marginal deficiency in coal supplies, a deficiency which otherwise would threaten our industrial economy with breakdown.
The right hon. Member for Derby, South said that we were exporting coal in the form of manufactured goods. He is correct. But may I put that statement into better perspective for him, because I think that is rather necessary? Out of the value of United Kingdom export of manufactured goods only approximately 11 per cent. is the element of cost in respect of fuel and/or power—a one-eightieth part.
Where the right hon. Gentleman is overwhelmingly correct is in the fact that we do know that without this marginal import of 4 million tons of coal we might sustain a loss in United Kingdom exports in a ratio nearly 80 times greater than the value of the coal which we are importing.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Not necessarily—there are a number of factors—but we might. I do, therefore, endorse, in these dire circumstances we are facing, the need to import coal.
A good deal has been said about oil as a fuel for dual firing of power stations in this country. I have many times quoted in this House the apparent disparity between the long-term plans of the British Electricity Authority and those 1639 of the National Coal Board. I have pointed out on many occasions that the estimated rise in the annual rate of consumption of coal in our power houses was, in itself, immeasurably greater than the planned increase in output of all of the British coal industry.
The British Electricity Authority, in its Annual Report for the year ended 31st March, 1954, shows that in the year 36 million tons of coal were consumed by the B.E.A. By 1961—a matter of only seven years hence—the B.E.A. will itself require an extra 15 million tons of coal per year, an aggregate of 51 million tons. I say to my right hon. Friend that while it is, of course, correct in present circumstances to provide for dual firing at an ever-increasing number of power stations, it seems somewhat improbable to me that we shall make good within seven years an equivalent of 15 million tons of coal a year by substituting oil for it. That seems extremely improbable to me.
It seems improbable that the British Electricity Authority would be able to achieve the conversion of its major, heavy plants in that time, none of which is, at present, equipped for dual firing. I want to draw to my right hon. Friend's attention a quotation from the last Annual Report of the B.E.A. The British Electricity Authority does not share my right hon. Friend's enthusiasm for oil, certainly not in its Annual Report.
In paragraph 109 of the British Electricity Authority Report for last year are these words:The establishment of new oil refineries in Great Britain has raised the possibility that the use of heavy fuel oil for the generation of power might become an economic alternative"—"might become"—to the use of coal, in certain favourable circumstances. In order to ensure the maintenance of electricity supplies, however, it is necessary that the power stations in general should be fully equipped to burn the available indigenous fuel, coal. The use of oil on any large scale would therefore involve additional capital expenditure on oil firing, handling and storage equipment"—now I come to the operative words—
§ Mr. Nabarro
No. Here I come to the operative words: 1640and it could only be an economic proposition if the delivered price of oil was appreciably lower than the delivered price of coal of equivalent heat value, and if oil supplies could be assured for a period sufficiently long for the capital costs to be amortised.I ask my right hon. Friend, in preparation for the winding-up speech of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, whether he will make two points quite clear: first, whether in his programme of dual firing for power stations he has given an unequivocal assurance to the British Electricity Authority that large supplies of fuel oil will be available for a long-term programme—up to 15 years—and, what is more important, to match the needs of the B.E.A., that the fuel oil will be available, not at coal parity prices, as my right hon. Friend said, but, as the B.E.A. wants it, at "appreciably lower prices"?
For what flows from a comparison of these two statements—that by the Minister this afternoon and the statement by B.E.A.—is that if the B.E.A. does not get its oil at an appreciably lower price than coal, the results will be a substantial increase in the price of electricity from oil fired stations. I hope that does not come about, and when my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary replies I should like assurances both in regard to the supply of oil and in regard to the cost of electricity from oil fired stations.
A second major problem which bedevils our coal industry at the present time is the problem of large coal or, as the Coal Board defines it, coal in excess of two inches in size. The Coal Board states—I believe it is rather an underestimate—that every year that goes by the supplies of large coal are declining by 1 per cent., due, of course, to increasing intensity of mechanisation and the more widespread use of explosives in pits.
§ Mr. Nabarro
And to less good seams; I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman.
Traditionally, there are very large and insistent markets for large coal in the United Kingdom. The railways last year used 13.3 million tons of coal, of which 97.2 per cent, was large coal. For domestic use last year, 33.6 million tons of coal was supplied, of which 89.6 per cent. was large coal. That is, of course. 1641 in addition to the needs of the export markets for large coal. Yet large coal is year by year declining in total tonnage. This is a very important problem, which has had inadequate attention in the reports of the National Coal Board and inadequate attention in this House.
The right hon. Member for Derby, South rightly referred to measures that have been taken for improving the efficient use of fuel. He made no reference to the nationalised industries, except to the British Electricity Authority. He might have made a reference to the railways. The railways are burning this colossal quantity—nearly 14 million tons—of precious large coal, every year more wastefully than any other industrial undertaking in Britain.
Most people know that a shunting engine operates at a thermal efficiency of only 3 per cent. and that 97 per cent. of the heat value in the coal is wasted; that a modern express locomotive operates at a thermal efficiency of no more than 9 per cent., with a wastage of 91 per cent, of the heat value in the coal; and that the average thermal efficiency with which all the 19,000 steam locomotives on British Railways operate is no higher than 6 per cent., with a loss of 94 per cent. in smoke and waste of the heat value in the coal.
It is now well known that the United States of America is building in 1954 no steam locomotives whatever; they build entirely diesel-electric and diesels. Of course, that programme rests very largely upon the immense indigenous oil resources of the U.S.A., which we cannot match in this country. I am not suggesting for one moment that we should scrap the steam locomotives the day after tomorrow. What I am saying is that is surely of paramount importance that there should be proper coordination of national transport policy and national fuel and power policy, in that the railways, with their enormous demand for coal, should use smaller coal, should use briquettes and should use alternative forms of traction, that there should be a long-term policy of electrification on our main-line routes, and that the heavily-loaded suburban routes should indirectly use poor low-grade coal burned at the power houses as a substitution for large, precious, expensive and infinitely more valuable coal which is 1642 at present burned, and so very largely wasted, by our steam locomotives.
§ Mr. Ernest Popplewell (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)
Would the hon. Member not agree that the British Transport Commission has been pressing his Government to allow a tremendous amount of capital development on those lines? The Transport Commission is fully aware of this problem but so far has not been allowed the capital development to enable it to undertake electrification and to produce the diesel locomotives that it wants.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I do not wish to turn this into a party political dogfight, but I might respond very adequately by saying that the mileage of railways electrified in this country since 1951 is substantially higher than the electrification that took place between 1945 and 1951. What I am much more concerned with —[Interruption]. I do not believe this is a party political issue. If the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. D. Griffiths) wants to argue with me about the Sheffield-Manchester electrified route via Penistone and the Woodhead Tunnel, it was planned and started in 1936 under a Tory Government.
The second major user of large coal is the domestic market. It is much more difficult to persuade hundreds of thousands of people who traditionally have used large house-coal in their grates to use smaller, screened coal and to use briquettes. Coal screening is, of course, improving in the National Coal Board's establishments; and the Coal Board itself, through various agencies, is making determined efforts to persuade domestic consumers to use smaller and screened coal.
What I want to say to the Minister today is upon a parallel matter of equal importance. I drew his attention last year to the fact that the biquetting plants of this country were only occupied as to 50 per cent. of their capacity. He very quickly took steps to remedy that situation and within a few months these briquetting plants were fully occupied.
Some of these plants are owned by the National Coal Board and some by private firms. There is room, with the progressive decline in the output of large coal mined, for a very substantial increase in the output of domestic briquettes and ovoids of suitable types, for the 1643 domestic market as a measure of direct economy in the use of much large coal that is at present used in our homes.
I want to emphasise that it is not only a question for the Coal Board. There are private firms which are already briquetting and making ovoids and are anxious to extend their plants, but they are very apprehensive of doing so because they fear that, having spent the capital sums necessary upon expansion of those plants, the monopoly National Coal Board might not assure them of the continuity of raw material supplies necessary to operate those extended briquetting plants to full capacity. Will my right hon. Friend have regard to that, and to the great potential that is available among private firms to add to the briquetting capacity of the country?
A final word upon the matter of fuel efficiency in British industry, including the nationalised concerns, and in our homes. There is a great deal of exaggeration as to what can be done in the field of fuel efficiency in that so many Members of this House assume that British industry over the whole field is grossly wasteful of our coal resources. That is not true.
The larger firms, notably the better-equipped firms, and the firms which have a high coal cost in relation to the value of their finished products, such as steel mills, paper mills, textile mills, breweries, sugar refineries and so on, are generally highly efficient in their coal-burning arrangements, and the same can be said of many medium-sized firms, too.
The niggers in the wood pile are the small firms, including many firms that operate only one boiler. There are tens of thousands of such small firms which have boilers that were installed 20 or 30 or even 40 years ago. Some have not even got a mechanical or chain stoker on them. There are firms operating boilers without thermostatic controls, and there are firms which operate their steam-raising plant in a building that has scarcely any insulation at all.
There are undoubtedly immense quantities of coal to be saved by the smaller firms in industry, and I believe that my right hon. Friend was correct when he established the autonomous, sponsored body, the National Industrial Fuel Efficiency Service, which is financed to the
1644 extent of £250,000 annually by the National Coal Board, to the extent of £100,000 annually by the British Electricity Authority and to the extent of a further £100,000 by the Gas Council, and placed on it the full responsibility for employing suitable technical staffs to tour the industrial firms of this country and offer to carry out tests on their plants, guide them in the installation of improved appliances and equipment and thereby in the aggregate, though the process is slow, produce a substantial economy in coal consumption.
It may be that the present loans scheme is not all that is to be desired in providing a financial incentive to firms to improve their coal-burning practices. Where the right hon. Member for Derby, South—I did not wish to interrupt him a second time—was surely wrong was when he compared the fuel-economising investment in the nationalised section of industry with private firms. He referred only to the sums of money that have been borrowed in response to the loans scheme. The fact that only a tiny percentage of the firms in British industry have called for a loan for equipment of this kind does not signify very much, for the great majority of firms are capable of purchasing the economising equipment themselves. Indeed, they do so year by year, though I fully recognise that there is still much scope for a general improvement in this connection.
I doubt whether we can balance our coal budget exactly in the course of the next few years without a substantial recourse to imports; without a still further extension of the use of fuel oil to provide the basis for the means of generating electric power, and that big investment that we should make and have agreed to make annually upon the provision of atomic energy and nuclear power plants. Even in spite of all these contributions the coal position must remain hazardous for many years to come.
In conclusion, I hope that it will be agreed that nothing I have said in the course of this speech today is likely to be discouraging in any way to an increase in coal production, although I express pessimism about it. As my right hon. Friend and the right hon. Member for Derby, South emphasised in their speeches, the critical factor may well be the impressing upon everybody engaged 1645 in industry and everybody who burns coal and/or fuel and power in their homes the need for the utmost conservation of our primary and, indeed, our only major raw material asset, if we are to survive as a major industrial power and increase our production upon the scale of 4 per cent., arithmetical progression per annum, in order to double the living standards of our people in the next quarter of a century.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Miss Jennie Lee (Cannock)
I think that I, too, would be pessimistic about the future of the British coal industry, and that means about the future of Great Britain itself, if I shared the philosophy of the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro). His speech, however, brought out very clearly, and the thread runs through all this debate, that when we are talking about better equipment underground we are in agreement. The most agreeable part of the Minister's speech was when he was reporting to us the progress that has been made in coal-mining since the mines were nationalised. It has been possible to plan the development of the mines and have the capital to carry it out.
We were all very pleased when the Minister gave us the information that output per man-shift was increasing, and we all know that the combination of the quality of the coal getters in the pits and the improved facilities the men are getting are contributing towards that. I have every confidence in the technical skill of the people of this country. I am quite certain that when we talk of the production of coal or the development of coal-saving devices, we take second place to no other nation in the world in that field.
When we come to the question of how we are to tackle the social problems attached to coal using and coalmining, there is a very marked difference between the point of view of hon. Members opposite and of hon. Members on this side of the House. The hon. Member for Kidderminster talked about the waste of coal on the railways. We all know it; that is true. But I could find nothing in his speech which gave any answer to that point, because he holds that if the railways are to be modernised they must 1646 have a great deal of capital spent on them.
It is nonsense, however, to imagine that this country can put its transport system any more than its coalmining into proper working order if there is going to be a sharply defined Departmental control which says, "This is the income from the railways and that is our expenditure," while at the same time we take away from transport some of the most profitable parts of the road transport industry. We should all be bored by anyone who dragged in party politics for the sake of making party points, but I see no future for this country unless we take out transport—the railways, the roads and canals—and make a proper scheme of development, with priorities and charges. I get no evidence at all that hon. Members opposite are willing to make that kind of contribution to national prosperity.
I want to talk chiefly of some of the problems with which we are faced in an expanding coalfield in the West Midlands. We have new miners coming to the West Midlands from many parts of the country, notably from Scotland. The problem of mining is the problem of keeping up the numbers and quality of the coal getters. In the course of the debate someone said that we could look with pride on the good relations in the coalmining industry and the fact that we are not having major strikes.
Reference was made to the fact that Saturday working is voluntary. Some associated with the docks might have it brought to their attention that Saturday working in the coal mines is voluntary. Apart from the fact that men need a little extra money and that there are all kinds of social pressures, there is no agreement with the Coal Board which forces them to carry out that work. To that extent it is a relatively easier relationship. But has it escaped the attention of the House that while miners are not engaged in national strikes they are quietly cancelling out of the industry? In the Midlands, in particular, they are going to Birmingham, Coventry. Wolverhampton—
§ Miss Lee
—Kidderminster and larger centres of population where the attraction is that there are more social amenities. 1647 This problem is not yet solved. Until we solve it we shall not maintain the numbers and standard of miners. Who is responsible for providing the social "furniture" in the mining community? Should the Coal Board do it? I do not think it should. The Coal Board makes provision for pit baths and sometimes for community centres.
This afternoon we were told that it provided 20,000 houses. Anyone who knows about housing knows that the problem is not new agencies for housing but a limited amount of labour and material which can be expended. If, in the Midlands, the Coal Board is building houses and local authorities build houses they get on very well together—there are the best possible relations—but labour and material used by the Coal Board for housing is denied to local authority housing. When the local authority is in competition with private building, again and again I have had instances in my constituency of Cannock of more money being offered for private house building while the hard-pressed mining areas are not getting the houses they need.
I consider it a scandal that in 1954 I should be receiving letters every day—I believe hon. Members from other mining constituencies have the same experience—showing that good mining families are still on the waiting list for houses. I say "good mining families"; we all know the difficult cases.
Is this national planning? Is this the way we should spend our national resources? At the Conservative Party Conference, at Blackpool, the former Minister of Housing and Local Government said that by 1956 he hoped there would be a fifty-fifty relationship between council houses and private houses. That alarmed some of us in the mining areas. It alarms us because we feel there is a greater and greater drag of labour and materials away from our parts of the country.
It is no use hon. Members saying that it is a dire problem if we do not see that the Coal Board cannot take over all the social problems of the miners and the local authorities cannot take them over. In most of the mining areas there are very heavy rates. The Coal Board cannot pile on the price of coal all the essential "furniture" of the mining community. 1648 The miner is not only a coal getter but a citizen, and in our areas the local authorities are not able to do this job adequately.
There could not be a better local authority than I have in my constituency. During the summer I was in a rather lonely, and at one time socially neglected, part of my constituency, Norton Canes, and found that the mining community there has been saving since the end of the war for a community centre. There are plenty of beer clubs on the Chase; we are well supplied with those. In a live-and-let-live spirit we would say that those who want their social life in that way should have it, but we do not think it is a proper environment for the youngsters coming into the pit. I know that some of those coming from Scotland have not the Midlands' tradition of social life in the beer clubs.
I found that nine years after the end of the war, with their modest, industrious, little local contributions, they still have not got enough money to start a community centre, on which they have set their hearts. I consider that ridiculous. We talk about doubling the prosperity of this country in a generation, but even if we are to sustain the present levels we have to attend to the social life of the mining community.
The Coal Board should not be asked to do these things; the local authority should not; but there ought to be some means of establishing the type of community centres, the standard of schools and hospitals and all that "furniture" which makes up a good community. Unless we do that we shall have some of our traditional mining stock drained from the contracting coalfields into the expanding coalfields such as the West Midlands and we shall not keep it in the West Midlands. It will go to Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton, not necessarily because they are highly rated but because they feel that there is more chance of a better culture and brighter social life there.
There is an immense improvement in the standard of our mining villages, but there is an enormous amount still to be done. I beg the House to remember that this problem is unsolved. We know how to handle machinery, we have brilliant engineers, but do not yet know—at least hon. Members opposite, if they do know, 1649 will not yet accept the fact—that we must have social planning, social priorities. If all the social attractions of life are going to other parts of the country the miner—particularly the younger members of the miner's family—will say, "Why should we stay in places of relative darkness and deny ourselves the kind of social advantages which can be got elsewhere?" I beg the House to think about this problem, because it certainly is one which we have not solved.
We were very glad to get a mining subsidence Bill through the House. It eased the situation a little, but I am detecting in my area—I get similar reports from elsewhere—that the satisfaction which originally was felt with the working of the mining subsidence proposals has now very much diminished.
I should like the Coal Board to have its own building programme. I think that at one and the same time it is possible to have greater justice and greater stringency. No one would argue that everyone with old property should have it rebuilt at public expense, if it is not the responsibility of the Coal Board to do so. But I am finding a great deal of pinpricking on this issue, and I should like to see the Coal Board with its own builders and inspectors. They would know their own property and would not allow themselves to be deceived by false claims. They would see that the genuine claims were met fully and quickly.
We can have all the advantages provided by skilled techniques at the top, and we can have the best men working in the pits, but we shall not keep the best of our mining communities until we build up the social "furniture" of our mining villages and make life aboveground pleasant. I was delighted when I went to one of the most progressive collieries in my constituency during the summer and found that progress had been made there. There they do know how to deal with the problem of coal dust, and are making immense progress in providing safety facilities.
Anyone who knows what a coal face looks like will know that the status and compensations of the men must he outside the pit. The men must have a basic living wage, but they must also have a full pride in the standard of the community in which they live. If those 1650 responsible for this great industry will follow their own statements to their logical conclusion, they will admit that the unsolved problem is to keep enough miners in the pits. Having admitted that, I beg them to remember that they are dealing with men and their families, and not merely with coal cutters.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Walter Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)
We all agree with the hon. Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) that the question of personnel is the dominant question in the subject which the House is discussing this evening, because if we are to produce the uprise in the standard of living which is desired, we must have an enormous expansion in fuel production, or at any rate in the fuel consumption in this country. I say "in the fuel consumption" because I think that it is clear from the speech of the Minister that we have crossed a great watershed now and that we are engaged in a two-way traffic. For a long time we were producing enough coal to keep ourselves going, although there was an increasing standard of petroleum consumption. But now it is clear that coal also will be a two-way traffic. There will be the exporting and importing of solid as well as liquid fuel, which brings us to the conclusion that this island, which is a trading island, will be a trading island in fuel and not merely a primary producer of fuel.
We have crossed a great watershed and we must now find the answer to several questions which we never thought we should have need to answer. Certainly we must maintain, and, if we can, increase our solid fuel production in this country. Here I am speaking more particularly from the point of view of Scotland. The increase in coal consumption in Scotland has been very considerable indeed. The main industries have certainly expanded their consumption considerably. The figure for engineering has risen 18 per cent. in the last year; for chemicals it has risen 14 per cent., for paper 25 per cent., and, of course, the gas and electricity consumption has gone up considerably, as it has elsewhere. The figure for the iron and steel industry is down, which seems a pity.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd
That is due to the substitution of oil, for which there are technical advantages peculiar to the iron and steel industry.
§ Mr. Elliot
Certainly, but I was speaking of the period before oil consumption in some cases replaced our coal consumption. Coal consumption generally has gone up in Scotland, and will have to go up considerably, because we are a coal-using country. I think that is an undoubted fact. But I am not sure that the remedies suggested by the hon. Member for Cannock are the most desirable. She made a strong plea for what comes down to payment in kind. I am not sure that payment in kind is a great advantage. I think that the miner, like everyone else, prefers to get his own wages and spend them in his own way.
§ Miss Lee
Does the right hon. Gentleman mean that if the miners in Cannock had a hospital in Cannock, which they hope to get, instead of having to go 10 or 12 miles for massage treatment, that would not be an advantage? Surely to provide that kind of social amenity cannot be described as payment in kind?
§ Mr. Elliot
That was not the case advanced by the hon. Lady. Her main case referred to community centres, and I say that it is not always centrally planned community centres which are most desired by the people of this country. She threw in the hospital or school as a sort of make-weight at the end of her main speech. Her main speech was directed for some time—and I followed her argument with interest—to the fact that it was unfair to ask miners' wages to carry miners' amenities.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams (Droylsden)
Is not the right hon. Gentleman putting the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) on too narrow a basis? Ts it not the fact that her reference to community centres was merely an example, and that we must do something to retain these people in the places from which they are bound to depart unless some of these amenities are provided?
§ Mr. Elliot
The hon. Lady cannot have it both ways. She is entitled to the ladies' privilege of the last word but not to the privilege of continuous words.
The argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) was directed to the fact that it may well be that the miner will require more wages from which he must provide himself with the amenities he wants. The hon. Lady was not doing justice to the argument I was venturing to place before the House. Certainly there should be every consideration given to miners' houses, although she will not deny that the people in great industries such as engineering, and shipbuilding on the Clyde, who use the coal which the miners produce, are also entitled to reasonable housing conditions.
§ Mr. Elliot
It is difficult to produce an absolute priority in housing. I could give evidence of instances from my own constituency of houses used by people, who are carrying on the export trade which is vital to the production of food for the miners and for the amenities which the hon. Lady has mentioned, but who are living in conditions quite as bad as any which she might mention as existing in Cannock Chase.
We are engaged in a big and general discussion upon how to retain and, if possible, to develop a greater staff in the pits of this country than exists at present. How that is best to be done, whether by increasing the remuneration or by increasing the amenities, such as the hon. Lady mentioned, is a matter for argument. But I suggest that it is not a matter for argument across the two sides of the House. Such an argument might run up and down the benches. I think that the hon. Lady may well find that it is not a question of hon. Members on her side of the House suggesting community centres as against hon. Members on this side desiring higher wages. On the question of higher wages versus community centres, she may find that there is a sharp cleavage of opinion running up and down the benches on her own side of the House.
The fundamental point is that, in addition to all the economies which must be made in domestic as well as in industrial coal consumption, we must face the fact 1653 that we shall have to import an increasing proportion of our total fuel consumption. That is a very novel decision to this House. It will require most careful canvassing before we cover the full implications of it.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned, for example, a coalmine which was sunk and which required 10 years before coming into production; but there are other activities of an even more long-range character. For instance, there is forestry. Ten years is a tiny fraction of the time required before we can begin to get a reasonably remunerative return. It may be 20 or 40 years before forestry begins to yield its full production. Whether we ought to divert our resources towards that kind of investment when it is so urgently necessary for us to proceed with investments which are vital for the continuance, and certainly for the enlargement, of our industrial life is a matter which must be very closely examined.
One of the arguments in favour of some new industries used nowadays is that they will provide employment. That is the last thing that anybody ought to be thinking of—devices which will consume labour. We want devices which will economise and save labour. A device which will merely provide employment is not now carrying out the first necessity of industry in this island, which is to economise and to save labour in every possible way.
§ Mr. D. J. Williams (Neath)
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in many of the mining villages in South Wales there are heavy pockets of unemployment among disabled people for whom no jobs are available?
§ Mr. Elliot
Yes, but I do not think that the hon. Member would suggest that forestry would be a suitable employment for those men.
§ Mr. Elliot
No, not for any of them. I do not think that forestry has ever been put forward as a suitable employment for partially disabled men.
Our industries, then, will have to rely increasingly upon imported fuel and, in particular, upon imported oil fuel. The Minister made a point about a new source of imported oil fuel—imported methane. That is certainly one proposal which we 1654 should examine closely. Few developments have made more improvement in the life of the countryside as a whole othan that of the other gas, butane, or Calor gas, which is made available in handy containers in remote areas.
I think, by the way, that the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock and I might be as one in agreeing that a considerable improvement might be made in miners' houses. An increased electrification of miners' houses might well diminish the need for miners' coal which is one of the ways in which coal is now used. I am in favour of the miner having all the heat and light that he can utilise, but when the Coal Board itself is so anxious for increased economy in the collieries, it should also look closely at the necessity for increased economy of coal in the houses of its employees, all the more so since in many cases it would be to their advantage.
It is on these lines, and not so much on the introduction of community centres, that the increased amenities we desire can be obtained. More has been done by the invention of the wireless and the popularisation of television for the amenities of people in small communities than by many of the suggestions which have been made for changing the social habits of the people along lines which they may not always appreciate.
But how are we to get this increased supply of oil? There again, we must work in close connection with the export trade. We must regard the export trade to oil-producing areas as one of high priority. The Government will need to give attention to the direction of the machinery exports to areas from which we hope to draw fuel supplies, especially in the near future. When our production in some lines was short, the Government, quite rightly, directed a considerable proportion into the mining areas. Often supplies of certain necessities were more plentifully available in those parts of the country than elsewhere. That will need to be part of our policy for the world as a whole. We shall need to direct the flow of our exports more particularly to bringing back to this country supplies of fuel.
I do not think that the suggestion which my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster quoted from the Coal Board, that oil is only to be desired if it can be sup- 1655 plied at a price substantially below the price of coal, is sound. It may be that we shall require to use oil even if it is at a parity, or even above a parity, with coal. We may need to do that. The basic therm of the world may be an oil therm rather than a coal therm. We may have to drag up the coal price and we may well have to put up the wages of the miners. The world is getting its fuel at below cost price just now. The necessity for the enormous investment which is necessary and the investment in amenities—
§ Mr. Elliot
It is not at all a belated discovery. It is a discovery which it would have been much more easy for the country to see if attention had not been diverted to the argument as to whether it should be done under private enterprise or under nationalisation. The whole of the industry was bedevilled by that for many years. Thank goodness, that argument is ended. I do not say that it has been ended in the best possible way, but it is behind us. It is the bi-partisan policy of the whole House that we proceed on the line of nationalisation. We must now make nationalisation work. We have conceded the question of the public ownership of the mines. Now we must get what the country wants, namely, the best possible supply of fuel.
In Scotland, we are about to spend £100 million on capital investment in the coalmines. That is five times as much as the price which was paid for the whole of the Scottish mines on takeover. That shows what a small fraction in the price of coal is necessary for what is called "looking after the shareholders' interest." Five times the whole of that sum is to be spent, and it will be required to be paid for by the coal industry. That shows the scale on which we are having to sink money into fuel production.
For that reason, we must also seek for alternative sources in this country as much as we can. The price of hydro-electricity cannot be compared with the past price of coal, or even the present price, but rather with the future price. It may well be that, compared with that, the hydroelectric price will come out at a much more economical figure than appears just now.
1656 There is still in Scotland only 300 years' supply of coal, though 300 years will see most of us out. I am not speaking for the Prime Minister. He may still be going then, but the rest of us will be in a pretty poor way by then. We have this great nationalised industry, and we desire to develop it, but I say again that we cannot develop it so that it will provide all the fuel necessary for the industrial development of Britain. The Minister has arranged for the purchase of about 4 million tons of coal. He may have to purchase more in the future. The needs of the country are for an adequate supply of energy which we can transform into manufactured goods. It now becomes a secondary matter whether we get the energy from home sources or from outside sources. It will need to be a combination of both. That will require a fundamental review of our fuel policy. It is towards that that we shall increasingly need to direct our attention in the years to come.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Joseph Slater (Sedgefield)
I am very pleased to be able to take part in this debate because up to the present we have been presented with certain forms of ideology by people who had no experience of the industry before they came into the House.
I was very interested in all that the Minister had to say. There is one thing that I will say for the right hon. Gentleman, and that is that he will go down in history as being the Minister responsible for placing on the Statute Book the second Mines Act, for which the miners are very grateful to him.
The Minister said that the miner is conservative in his outlook in certain respects in his own area. What is the reason for that? Anyone associated with the industry knows full well that in 1931 there was a tremendous migration from it, not of the miners' own seeking but because of the attitude of the former coal owners, as a result of which men were forced to find other forms of employment.
Today, we are considering the Annual Report for 1953. I would remark, in passing, that no industry has been subjected to so many inquiries as the mining industry has been by Government Departments, by committees and even by outside bodies, and undoubtedly that will 1657 continue. Since the publication of the Report, outside bodies have placed much emphasis upon the production side. Even today, Tory Members of Parliament have been pointing to what is likely to happen if there is not increased production, and they have also made comments about the present price of coal. We have been constantly reminded of the possibility of a coal crisis by the end of October in the absence of increased production.
To avert a possible crisis, the Government have had to import coal, and we are told that the amount is to be 4 million tons. It is noticeable that it has been decided that the industry is to bear the loss involved in keeping the price of the imported coal comparable with that of home produced coal. That is wrong. No other industry in this country has had to bear a similar burden. According to the Report, the loss per ton on imported coal will be 40s. A loss of that nature ought to be borne, not by the industry, but by the Exchequer. It is a great injustice to impose this burden upon the nationalised industry, and it ought to cease.
Production has been increasing ever since nationalisation, with the exception of 1953. However, although production has been rising, industrial demand has been increasing, and in 1953 inland consumption was 22 million tons more than in 1946. In the first 26 weeks of this year consumption has increased by a further 3½ million tons. This factor cannot be ignored; it has a bearing on the critical situation which we now face.
We were told by the National Coal Board that in order to arrive at a safe margin for this winter our coal stocks ought to be built up to 20 million tons by the end of October. It has been almost out of the question to do that with the industry's manpower being depleted by 7,600 men during the first half of this year compared with the same period last year. It could be seen that the shortage of manpower meant that the task confronting the industry was tremendous, for the industry was faced with a demand resulting from greater industrial activity than ever before in our history while it had fewer men than during the previous year.
The chief difficulty facing the industry relates to its need to carry out a vast programme of capital development and reconstruction while at the same time 1658 meeting an increased demand for coal production. Anyone who knows the industry knows that that is no easy task. I see one hon. Gentleman opposite who has a good deal of knowledge of the industry. He and others who have had anything to do with the running of the industry will know that, becaues of the high extraction rate from high or thick seams in the past, we have been left with thinner seams which are more difficult to work and the quality of the product from those seams is not as good as it used to be.
Some hon. Members may say, "What about the development of mechanisation which has taken place in the industry to make up for the advantages which the thicker seams may have had?" The answer to that is that one cannot assess with accuracy what a machine will be able to do in a mine. It is not always possible to predict the conditions which a machine will face in the floor or in the roof, and one cannot foretell the faults that it will meet as it proceeds along the coal face. The conditions under which a machine has to operate in the industry change very frequently, and on many occasions a machine has to be withdrawn because of what it encounters.
The National Coal Board is endeavouring to carry out a huge development programme with a restricted and insufficient number of engineers. This point has been emphasised by hon. Gentlemen opposite. If we look back to the years 1922 to 1939, we find that the average annual profit for the industry was about £6 million. One of the reasons the profit margin was so low was the vested interest in ancillary undertakings of those who were attached to the industry, coal being sold to those undertakings at a very low cost. The result was that when the ascertainments for the industry were submitted they revealed that the miners owed so much to the owners that it was impossible to grant any increases in their wages.
I want to see an increase in production in the industry, and so do the men and the leaders of the National Union of Mineworkers. However, the country must realise that between the peak year of 1913 and vesting date one-tenth of the output came from pre-1913 pits and less than one-third from pits started this century. It must be obvious that if the 1659 development programme in this industry is to proceed it cannot depend on the engagement of technically trained men or upon experienced men. This industry also requires skilled workmen, and it is important for us to remember from where these skilled workers are to come. They are being brought from other productive work, and this at a time when emphasis is being placed on increased production. Anyone who knows anything about development work inside the mining industry knows that there is no escape from it, because this development plan must proceed if the required amounts of coal are to be produced in the years to come.
In 1953 there were employed on development work in the industry 4,900 men more than were employed on that work in 1950, which was bound to result in less output. In the interests of this country, we must not curtail this work, notwithstanding the increase in the demand for coal. Apart from what the critics have had to say about increased production not reaching the level asked for, it ought to be remembered that this work which is now being carried out is the life-blood of the morrow, and it must go on.
I have been interested in that part of the Report which deals with the youth policy. It is pointed out there that the other main concern in the sphere of manpower is to ensure a supply of young, fit and well-trained men for work at the coal face in the years ahead. If such schemes are restricted or dropped, the manpower shortage in this industry in the future will be very serious indeed. From what I can gather, in my own county the training facilities are very good indeed. Let us remember that gone are the days when a boy on leaving school was sent down a pit on a Monday morning without any knowledge—unless it was passed on to him by his father or elder brother—of the dangers that he would have to face.
I want to give some rather important figures to the House. Before the First World War, if 40 per cent. of miners' sons went into the pits that was sufficient to replenish the annual wastage, but today, if every miner's son entered the industry, it would not be sufficient to replace 40 per cent. of the wastage. The reason is not far to seek. Depression and 1660 small families have killed that. As a matter of fact, if all miners' sons were to go into the industry, it would only replace 20 per cent. of the annual wastage.
The onus of responsibility for encouraging young boys to enter the industry is not that of a miner's wife or even of her husband, as some people think it is. It now becomes the responsibility of those who are now running the industry to make the mining industry so attractive that young men from all sections of society may be induced to enter it. Gone is the day when there was no other place for a miner's son but the pit.
On the subject of exports, we are told that last year we exported 13.7 million tons of coal, and that this figure is 2 million tons more than was exported in 1952. We are also told that we could have sold more if it had been available, or if it could have been spared from the home market. It is well known that at one time certain areas were known for the class of coal which they produced, and were known as export areas. It is also well known that if such areas were allowed to export today, they would not be showing the deficiencies which they are showing at the present time, but would be able to show a surplus instead of a deficiency.
It appears to me that foreign buyers are losing their confidence in placing orders with this country because of the fluctuations in supply over the years. In 1948, we exported 10½ million tons; in 1949, 14 million tons; in 1950, 13½ million tons; in 1951, 7.8 million tons; and in 1952, 11½ million tons. Because the National Coal Board was not able to enter into definite commitments, we are now faced with the danger of increased exports being available from the Ruhr, South Africa, Australia and even the U.S.A. so that this country is still in danger of losing its export markets.
While there is a growing demand for coal for home consumption, it is bound to have a serious effect on providing coal for export, unless there is a greater concentration on fuel efficiency, for once we lose export markets, we may never get them back.
In five or 10 years' time, it may be possible to produce the required amounts 1661 of coal. The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) seemed to me to be rather pessimistic, because he did not seem to think that we could ever reach the figures required. I believe that with the developments now taking place inside the industry in the sinking of new pits and the modernisation of existing ones, that might well happen in five or 10 years' time, but. owing to the fact of this industry having been starved of technicians in the past, we now have the sorry spectacle of having to bring Germans to this country to carry out sinking operations in our new pits.
In my own county, coal is being reclaimed at great cost through having to put in costly pumps to get rid of water so as to release millions of tons of coal which had been written off by the former coalowners. Through the investment policy of the National Coal Board, we are finding that coal is now being reclaimed which would not have been reclaimed if there had not been a change in the control of the industry.
The Coal Board, with the consent of the Minister, increased the price of coal to consumers in March, 1953, by 10 per cent., and we are told that house coal is divided into eight groups, according to quality. We who come from the mining industry and who are keenly interested in it want to know what is happening about the sale of coal to industrial undertakings. It must be appreciated that coal is the only commodity produced in Great Britain the price of which cannot be increased without the permission of an outside body—the Government.
I am convinced that certain industrial undertakings are obtaining their coal at a price which is uneconomic to the Coal Board, and, in fact, in some cases below the cost of production. If that is so. it means that other industries are being subsidised at the expense of the coalmining industry.
It may be that we shall receive tonight from the Minister a denial of the statement I have just made, but, if it is the case, I have stated before that the practice ought to be stopped and I still think so. In view of the responsibilities in regard to compensation and the demands on the industry represented by interest charges, I think the burdens imposed upon this nationalised undertaking are already sufficient.
1662 Since the Report was issued, the Board has published its accounts for the first quarter of 1954. From those accounts it is noted that the estimated colliery profits, and the profits on opencast working and ancillaries, totalled £9,144,461, but that after allowance had been made for the loss on imported coal, provision for taxation, and interest to the former coalowners, the surplus for the quarter was reduced to £754,461.
Much has been done in the coal industry to get increased production, as is shown by the Report, but there is much more to be done. If the relationship that has been built up between the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers is to continue, and if increased production is to take place, greater confidence must be placed those who are responsible for running the industry, against the violent attacks that have been made, particularly by hon. Members of this House who ought to know better. These people talk about changing to sectional or district operation, but if this is introduced it will cause great discord in the industry. We have had plenty of discords in previous years and we do not want a repetition of them.
These people deal with the matter from a theoretrical point of view, but it is obvious that if sectionalism and district operation are introduced, uneconomic units now being worked in various coalfields will cease to be worked. The tendency will be to show a profit, irrespective of the need of the nation which wants coal to carry on industry. I say with all seriousness that the nation cannot afford such a policy if full employment is to continue. I hope that the Government will declare where they stand tonight in regard to this matter. The men in the industry are doing everything they are asked for. We should not forget to mention the voluntary Saturday working about which much has already been said.
I want to see coal production go up but I know that the men in the industry do not accept the responsibility at this time for not being able to give the nation the amount of coal it requires, which means the importation of coal from other sources. I hope that when the debate closes we shall all have a different view about how coal can be extracted and how 1663 the national industries can best be served with this basic commodity.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Mr. John Arbuthnot (Dover)
One of the difficulties under which we have all been labouring in the debate is that the Report of the National Coal Board is largely out of date by the time we discuss it. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power recognised that fact when he concentrated most of his remarks upon the present and future position of the industry rather than upon the position outlined in the Report. I wonder whether it would be possible for the Report to be debated rather earlier than has been the case this year.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
The hon. Member no doubt realises that the Report was published in May, which, for a very large organisation, is fairly quick, and that the Government failed to give us an earlier day for the debate.
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
The right hon. Gentleman will also realise that there is opportunity for the Opposition to provide a day or to ask for it from the Government.
The Coal Board is to be congratulated on the advances in technical development to be found in the Report. I was impressed by the proposal to drill bore-holes out to sea. This has not been applied to coal before, although it has been applied to oil. There is a new form of friction drive winding gear with what is called the "multi-rope" system. This seems to promise that coal will be wound more quickly. Two other items of particular interest are concerned with safety. One is the collection of coal dust by means of a giant vacuum cleaner and the other is high-pressure water infusion of coal before firing explosives. These make for increased safety.
Two other imaginative developments especially appeal to me. One is the development of the electrogyro locomotive. To see this being developed underground even before it has made much headway in surface transport opens up great possibilities. The other is radio communication below ground, which may well have a great future. All the technical developments taking place or foreshadowed in the Report mean that the Coal Board is showing the mentality of an extrovert—to borrow a phrase from 1664 the psychologists. It is going outside itself and is not looking inwards. It is not working in isolation in regard to scientific development. For this, the Board deserves great credit.
Marked improvements have been made in working conditions in the industry. Paragraph 34 of the Report refers to the progress made in housing. I hope that the new houses are being erected in close association with the rest of the community. To put miners' houses in isolated mining villages is bad for the mental development of mining communities, or of any other industrial groups for that matter. People who tend to live together in an industrial community, apart from those employed in other occupations, chew over the problems of their industry among themselves. They tend in their leisure time to harp upon the frustrations and difficulties of their work, which they ought to have left behind when they came off duty.
I note the progress that has been made in the provision of pithead baths. During 1953, 41 new pithead baths and 19 extensions were provided. A fortnight's holiday with pay has also been introduced, and finds its place for the first time in this Report. Substantial reconstruction is taking place in many pits. We in Kent have had considerable reconstruction since my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power visited us two years ago. A splendid job has been done at the pit bottom at Betteshanger. It has only been marred by the tragic accident which took place there a few weeks ago and in which the outstanding colliery manager, Mr. Leivers, lost his life.
One of the most encouraging things in the Report is the enlightened policy that the Board is pursuing in recruitment. Paragraphs 35 to 40 make excellent reading. As mechanisation increases in the industry greater emphasis in selecting recruits is based on brain rather than on brawn. No longer does the industry want to recruit men who cannot read or write. Neither is a recruit acceptable on physique alone.
In that connection, we in East Kent are particularly favoured because the industry there has more would-be recruits than vacancies. Therefore, it can be selective in its 1665 choice. That gives us a further advantage. Knowing that some applicants will be turned away, those who are selected recognise their entry into the industry as an achievement. They take a pride in the fact that they are miners from the word "go" That pride can permeate the whole industry, and can create an esprit de corps which is of immense advantage.
The functions of the union in the industry are changing, too. My right hon. Friend was so right when he paid tribute to the way in which the union voluntarily gave up the five-day week in many areas, in order to help in the national emergency, after having struggled for so many years to achieve it. The function of the union is also changing. Whereas in the old days it came into being to protect its members against exploitation by powerful employers, today its function is far wider than that. It now approximates more closely to the old guild system of centuries ago, and the nearer we can come to that system the better it will be for the industry and for everybody who works in it.
In addition to looking after the legitimate interests of its members, the union is today concerned also to see that its members fulfil their responsibilities to one another by pulling together effectively as a team for the benefit of the industry and of the country as a whole. My mining friends are among the staunchest and most loyal of people in the community, particularly when they find themselves in a tight corner. The mining battalions in the last war are an example of that. In a pit accident, the loyalty and the courage of the miner is second to none, and any pit catastrophe calls forth that courage and self-sacrifice which displays the very best that is in him.
The fact is that today the mining industry as a whole is in a tight spot, and so is the nation, unless we can get more coal. It seems to me that in the Report, and, possibly in the debate, we are concentrating too much upon the output per man-shift. While that has increased—and it was very satisfactory to hear my right hon. Friend say that at present it was at a record level—I feel that we must keep a closer eye on the output per man-year.
1666 My right hon. Friend put into perspective the relationship between the capital that is being invested in the industry and the amount that we are getting out of it by way of increased coal at the present time. One is conscious of the fact that in 1953 we spent £64.3 million in fresh development compared with £48.6 million in 1952, and yet that the output of the industry in 1953 was only 224 million tons as compared with 226 million in 1952.
One wonders whether capital equipment is producing the results that one should expect from it. A longer time will probably have to elapse before we can gather the full fruits of this capital development but, none the less, it is a disturbing fact that output for 1953 was less than for 1952, in spite of the increased capital that was put into the industry, and notwithstanding the fact othat the number of miners at the coal face in 1953 was 300,000 as compared with 294,000 in 1952.
Another disturbing feature at the moment is the fact that 1953 costs showed an increase of 2s. 6d. per ton as compared with 1952. I was rather disturbed to hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot) suggest that the price of coal should go even higher still. If the costs of basic materials increase, it will mean that the cost of everything that we produce will also be increased. The cost of coal is reflected in the cost of everything in the shops, in transport costs, and throughout the whole of our economy.
Because of these disturbing features I welcome the prospect of the Report of the Committee under the chairmanship of Dr. Fleck. It may call for changes in order to increase efficiency in the industry: we all hope that it will. But if those changes are accepted in a spirit of loyalty and urgency appropriate to the gravity of the problem, then the industry will earn the gratitude of the whole nation. The miner and the National Coal Board are the key to our industrial prosperity. By efficient organisation and the realisation by everyone of the importance of the job which he does, we may yet achieve that higher standard of living for the whole nation which was forecast the other day by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ Mr. John McKay (Wallsend)
I am very glad to have the opportunity of speaking in this debate. I believe that there is one remarkable feature of the nationalised mining industry which could not exist under private enterprise. We must admit that the N.C.B. at the present time has a monopoly Not only has it a monopoly, but there is also a tremendous demand for the commodity that it produces. One would naturally expect that such a monopoly, with a demand for its product far beyond what can be fulfilled, would not be working at a loss. There would be no question of that in a private enterprise industry. But that is the peculiar situation in which the mining industry is at the present time.
When one begins to think about it, one wonders how on earth such a situation can come about. How is it that a nationalised industry, having that monopoly and having that great demand for its product, cannot meet its financial obligations? I believe that there is only one solution to that enigma. It must be that, first and foremost, the workers in the industry must be very patriotic, and, secondly, that the Government of the day must use their influence on the industry to try to keep down prices for the sake of the nation's wellbeing. Though that, of course, is understandable, one would expect that in such a situation the economic position of the industry's labour force would be far beyond that of the rest of the community. That, however, is not so.
It is understandable that everyone should appear to have first in mind the getting of more coal. That is a great national necessity, but there are other things just as needful. We want more coal, but we also want much healthier conditions. We want fewer accidents. We want a better economic position for the workers. We hear it said that miners are doing well and many people talk about the amount of money some of them are earning. In the mining industry, as in others, there is a minority of workers making what could be regarded as a comparatively reasonable wage, but there we must relate the wage to the dangers and the particularly odious conditions prevailing in mining. To take the earnings of that minority which is earning good money does not reveal the real economic 1668 position. For the majority of the miners the wage is low, nor do I think that the figures show their earnings to be of such a character as to draw men from other trades enthusiastically into the pits.
On several occasions the miners have met to decide on the minimum wage that a large number of their fellows must receive, and my experience of the industry has been that those who in any way benefit from the minimum wage are greatly in the majority. The minimum wage for the surface worker today is £6 15s. I cannot understand the mentality of anyone who thinks that a good wage. Underground workers receive a minimum wage of £7 15s. and, in the main, that wage usually operates to the advantage of the day wage workers—the lower paid men.
It has been emphasised in this debate that there are miners who are voluntarily working a day more than their recognised week and are also working overtime. The 5-day week was the period which, bearing in mind the character of the work, it was thought the men could reasonably be expected to work. If, therefore, the wage today, in some people's estimation, is high, it is because the miners are working extra time at weekends and so on. Men want a reasonable wage for a reasonable time of work, and that reasonable time was considered to be five days a week. The figures I have just given represent the wage of the majority of the workers in the industry if they worked five days a week only.
Perhaps I may refer to one or two things in regard to individual working in the mines. The first is health. The Report indicates that those in control are definitely attempting to make the conditions healthier than formerly. The work on the control of coal dust and that kind of thing is helpful, but when one compares the certified cases of silicosis and pneumoconiosis, one finds the numbers have increased. Therefore, while we are seeking more coal and attempting to achieve better conditions generally, it is evident that the health conditions have not been improved very much. Nevertheless, the tendency is in the right direction. I will agree that the people in control are making every effort to make a difficult industry as healthy as possible, but, as in many other directions, they will never make it a real Utopia for the workers.
1669 The Report reveals that there have been fewer fatal accidents and reportable accidents, but, in conjunction with those improved figures, it is rather startling to find an increase of one-third in the total number of all injuries in 1953 over 1952. Such a tremendous increase in the number of smaller accidents in the one year over the other shows the dangerous conditions in which the men work—and it must be remembered that those small accidents may at any time develop into much larger ones.
The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Slater) referred to imported coal, where again there is an unusual situation. Here we have an industry producing a scarce commodity and the Government decide that, because of the national need for more coal, we must import more of it than ever before. To the best of my recollection, 1 million tons were imported in 1953 at a cost to the industry of £1 million. Now we are told that 4 million tons will be imported this year and the loss on that coal will be at the rate of 40s. a ton. If that estimate is accurate, it means that the coal industry will be saddled with a loss of £8 million. Is it fair to place that penalty upon the industry when the Government, representing the whole country, say that this coal must be imported to meet the national need? Surely there is a case for arguing that any such loss should be offset against the general Exchequer because it has been incurred for the general good of the nation.
Can anyone consider that £6 15s. or £7 15s. is a reasonable wage for the men engaged in this industry? I have gone into this point carefully and have obtained information from the investigations of specialists on these matters. They do not base their estimate of the needs of a family as low as the National Assistance scale, but they do take a scale which was looked upon as an absolute minimum by the Rowntree investigators to keep a family in health. For instance, those investigators reported in 1950 that 100s. plus rent was needed to keep a family consisting of the parents and three children.
Another investigator, basing her calculations on the Rowntree estimate of 1936 for a similar family of five, reported that it takes 63s. 5d. today to keep them in food and that more than 40 per cent. of the total family income is spent in food. 1670 If that be so, then according to these calculations, it takes £8 3s. to keep a family of five and, deducting 16s. family allowance, that leaves £7 7s. as a minimum for meeting the bare needs of a family. Yet the miner gets a minimum wage of only £6 15s. and £7 15s.
§ Mr. Peter Roberts (Sheffield, Heeley)
But if the miner works five shifts, surely he gets an extra shift bonus in addition?
§ Mr. McKay
I will leave the mining experts to deal with that point. One of the outstanding features of the mining industry is that its workers suffer more injuries than any other. Yet an injured miner gets only 55s., 16s. for his wife and about 30s. for his children. In all, this is only £1 above the National Assistance scale. Therefore, while we look forward to getting more coal, and although the country may invest much money in that effort, something must be done to raise the standard of life of the majority of the workers in the mines, not on the basis of overtime, but in respect of their normal working week.
The cost of the coal plan of two or three years ago was estimated to be about £635 million, which would be spent between 1950 and 1965, at the end of which time the number of workers engaged in the industry would be 618,000. Such a huge investment must give a reasonable return. However, we all know the difficulties of this industry which make it impossible to estimate with accuracy the return on such an investment, as could be done in the case of other industries. Therefore, the output has not increased as might be expected. Indeed, as the Minister himself said today, the return on investment in the mining industry is a slow process.
Nevertheless, taking everything into consideration, the Report indicates that the directors of the industry are making a genuine effort to improve the situation. By gas drainage and the introduction of fire-resisting conveyor belting, they are helping to make conditions safer; by boring for coal under the sea they are exploring to a greater extent than ever before; by coal dust prevention they are improving conditions with regard to both safety and health, and by their interest 1671 in the Coal Utilisation Council they are showing how keen they are on efficient methods.
They are also encouraging young men who want to get on, not only in the mining industry but in other directions. They are helping to provide the industry with real technicians. However slowly output may be increasing, the workers and the directors—and the Government themselves—are doing what they believe to be best in the interests of the nation as well as of the industry. There is no doubt that a more combined and intelligent effort is being made under nationalisation than has ever been made in the history of the industry. It is working to a unified plan; it has the co-operation of the men as well as the directors, and I am fairly sure that within a reasonable period our mines will be paying propositions.
Whenever the Government are consulted upon the question of the importation of coal, I hope that they will adopt an intelligent attitude. If confidence is to be given to the workers and their trade union leaders, they must feel that whenever they have a reasonable case to present the Government will see that it is considered, and if there is one thing that should be terminated it is the penalty of the cost of imported coal being placed upon the industry when it is in such financial difficulties.
§ 7.14 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)
Like the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. McKay), I was impressed by the remarks made by the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Slater) in criticism of the price policy of the National Coal Board. They were on the same lines as the criticisms voiced in last year's debate by the hon. Member for Chesterle-Street (Mr. Bartley), whom I see in his place, though I am not sure that either hon. Member has appreciated that these criticisms are logically inconsistent with the contention that the Coal Board's price policy ought to be designed to retain uneconomic pits in production.
I want to approach this question of prices from a different point of view—a view which is referred to at some length in this year's Report of the Board. The last section of the Report is devoted to the question of marketing. The national- 1672 isation Act of 1946 lays duties in this respect upon the Coal Board, in terms which the Board quotes in its Report. The relevant duty isto make supplies of coal available in such quantities and of such sizes and at such prices as seem to them best calculated to further the public interest—in all respects.This last section of the Report describes the way in which the Coal Board intends, by its new marketing organisation, to give effect to that statutory duty. It is obvious that everything turns upon the definition which one attaches to the expression,to further the public interest.That interpretation, under Section 1 of the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act, is the interpretation of the Coal Board itself—the words are:such prices as may seem to them best calculated to further the public interest…Nevertheless, it is quite clear that the Minister's powers under Section 3 do cover the definition of the public interest for this purpose, and thus the policy adopted in marketing the coal. The National Coal Board states its definition of the public interest in paragraph 202 of the Report:the public interest is taken to be the sum of the interests of all individual consumers…I have given what little study and analysis I have been able to this expression, and have found it difficult to attach any very precise significance to it. I am afraid that what is intended may be that all individual consumers have an interest in getting as much coal as possible at as low a price as possible. If that is so, it is a very unfortunate basis for a price and marketing policy.
The Board, however, proceeds to draw certain deductions from their definition, which lead it to rejectindependent selling by areasbecause that would subordinatethe general interest of consumers to the particular interests of producing areas.Underlying that sentence there seems to be the idea that it is in the public interest that consumers or potential consumers should, as far as possible, have equal access to supplies of coal under similar conditions. The Report further says:…. if coal were plentiful, a struggle for particular markets between producing areas might lead to the country's coal resources being exploited without regard to long term needs and possibilities.1673 And, finally, it alleges that the situation which would result from this struggle for markets would disregardthe social consequences in individual coal producing areas.
§ Mr. Arthur Moyle (Oldbury and Halesowen)
Would the hon. Member conceive it to be in the interest of the individual consumer for the Board to aim at determining the price of coal on the basis of the industry as a whole, in precisely the same way as the economics of the Post Office are expressed in the delivery of letters?
§ Mr. Powell
I was about to attempt to make a definition of "the public interest" as it affected coal prices, and to go back, in the light of that definition, to the criticisms which have been levelled by the National Coal Board against the alternative policy of marketing by the producing areas.
What I suggest to the House as a tenable definition of the public interest in this respect is that the demand for the fuel and power which the nation needs for production of maximum value should be satisfied at minimum real cost. That is essentially a definition which takes the national interest as a whole, which regards the national interest as lying in the maximum value output of the nation as a whole. The relevant aspect for the fuel and power industries is that the fuel and power requirements for that output should be satisfied at minimum real cost.
The real cost of supplying fuel and power, so far as the coal industry is concerned, consists in the labour and physical resources which are devoted to extracting the coal, to processing it, and to transporting it to the places at which it is used. That is the real cost of fuel and power derived from coal. This real cost is, of course, independent in itself of the price at which the coal is sold. The resources which have gone into extracting the coal and taking it to the point of delivery are exactly the same whatever price we sell it for at the delivery point. But it does not follow that the selling price at the delivery point is irrelevant to the attainment of the national interest, to this object of securing that the minimum real cost is incurred in satisfying the nation's requirements of fuel and power.
Decisions on the use of resources can be taken, broadly, only in one of two 1674 ways. They can either be imposed by authority from outside, or they can be taken by individuals and individual interests in response to price. Therefore, the way in which consumers of all kinds, from the individual domestic consumer to the greatest nationalised industry, use the resources involved in the production of coal is greatly influenced by the prices at which that coal is sold.
We want the structure of prices in the coal market to ensure that the choices which consumers make are such that the nation's fuel and power needs will be satisfied at the minimum real cost; to ensure that each consumer should use that coal of which the real cost is at the minimum. In short, we want a method whereby real cost and value product can be compared in terms of price at any given place and time.
I do not myself see any other way in which that condition can be fulfilled, than that those producing units of the industry, which are essentially different in respect of location and terms of production, should sell in competition in the various markets, each seeking to maximise its own profits, which, of course, will involve each behaving as a commercial entity. It is exactly the policy which has been deliberately rejected by the National Coal Board in the passage which I have quoted from its Report.
If this method is adopted and the producing units of the industry seek the maximum profit by selling in the various markets, the result will be that in each market the price will so fix itself that if it were raised. less coal would be demanded, and if it were lowered, less would be supplied,—either the coal would be sent to other markets or the coal would not be extracted at all.
§ Mr. P. Roberts
I am trying to follow my hon. Friend's argument. Surely the fallacy of the argument is that he is including the cost of transportation in the end price. That makes nonsense completely of the position of the people in Sheffield, who have industries close to where the coal is, and who would have to pay for the demand for coal of people at the far end of Cornwall
§ Mr. Powell
On the contrary, the real cost of conveying coal from the places where it is extracted to the places where it is used is as much a part of the real cost of fuel and power as the cost of 1675 bringing it from the bottom of the shaft to the top of the shaft. It is the delivery price of coal, the price charged for the coal at the point where it is used, which affects the consumer in his behaviour.
The expenditure of national resources on the transport of coal is just as important as the expenditure of national resources on the extraction of coal. If, as I say, we have the price so fixed in each market that if the price were raised less coal would be demanded and if the price were lowered less coal would be supplied, then we should fulfil the condition of securing the maximum value product for the minimum real cost in fuel and power resources.
In the light of that attempted definition of the public interest and those deductions from it, I want to return to the criticisms made by the National Coal Board in paragraph 202 of its Report. It says:Independent selling by areas … would entail the subordination of the general interest of consumers…. If areas competed against each other for the most favourable markets, the consumers in these markets might benefit…That is exactly what we want. We wish to secure that consumers situated in the most favourable position in respect of the sources of fuel and power should be able to benefit; that the most economic sources of fuel and power should be available to the most valuable users. We want to correlate those factors, as this policy automatically would.
§ Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)
The argument is perfectly all right in the kind of laissez faire world the hon. Gentleman envisages, but in the kind of world we have, with civil defence and the necessity for dispersal, the hon. Gentleman is now raising a theoretical argument that there should be cheap coal in areas near coal shafts, whereas, for the defence of the country, the more we can disperse the better. We cannot obtain the most economic or strategic system by worshipping at the shrine of differential calculus or differential prices. The hon. Gentleman's argument is completely unreal in the modern world.
§ Mr. Powell
On the contrary, my argument would be valid in any economy in which people have the right to choose for themselves on the basis of cost. Most of the users of coal in this country are making decisions for themselves on the 1676 basis of prices. Those decisions are not imposed on them by the Government. My right hon. Friend does not lay down how much and which coal should be used, or where a coal-using firm should be located. The decisions are taken on the basis of price, and what we want is a structure of price which will enable people to take the right decision in the national interest. By the right decision I mean the decision which involves the least real expenditure of resources for the maximum result.
I come now to the second of the criticisms made by the National Coal Board against this policy. The Board says:If coal were plentiful, a struggle for particular markets between producing areas might lead to the country's coal resources being exploited without regard to long term needs and possibilities.If that means anything, it means that, in a situation in which the supply of coal is exceeding the demand at current prices, the prices should be artificially maintained at a level which makes it possible to sell at the same price coal which it is costly to extract and coal which it is cheap to extract.
That argument might have had some validity in the middle of the 19th century. People might then have said, "We have, perhaps, 100 years' coal reserves. Let us ration them out. Do not use the cheapest coal at once; let us spread it evenly over the foreseeable future." But in a period when my right hon. Friend is drawing attention not only to the dawning possibilities of atomic power but also to major contributions to fuel and power from such sources as natural gas, I cannot understand the sense of saying that, whenever the supply of coal begins to overtake the demand, we should not concentrate our production of coal upon the most efficient producing units but maintain all units equally in production, which is the implication of that criticism.
The third criticism is that such a policy would not pay regard to thesocial consequences in individual coal producing areas.Again that is, naked and unashamed, a plea for the maintenance of a price system which will retain in production the uneconomic pits. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] What else can it be? The Report refers to thesocial consequences in individual coal producing areas.1677 It rejects, therefore, any scheme which would not permit high cost pits to remain in production if they could not market their coal against other pits capable of producing and delivering coal at a lower price.
In the long run, the social welfare of this country and its economic welfare are bound up together. The public interest, socially and economically, is one and indivisible, and the public interest, with all our social progress, rests upon an increase in the productivity of the nation. This public interest demands that we should get the maximum value in production from the minimum use of real resources in the production of fuel and power. The assumptions upon which the new marketing scheme of the National Coal Board is founded lead to precisely the opposite result.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Mr. D. J. Williams (Neath)
The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) has made a long and involved criticism of the price policy of the National Coal Board, but the only practical alternative he has put forward is a price policy which would close down half of the coalfields. If that policy were operated in our economy today, Britain would be entirely unable to hold her own in the modern world.
We have had an interesting debate on the Report of the National Coal Board for 1953. The Report deals with the activities of the Coal Board over the year and gives a detailed picture of the performance of the mining industry during that period. It is an interesting and important document, because it deals with a vital industry on which the whole of our national economy depends. This is the Seventh Annual Report issued by the National Coal Board, and it continues the story of the progress made in the industry since nationalisation.
Of course, the Board has had its difficulties; it has had its critics—we have heard them here—but I think everybody will agree that the record of the Coal Board since nationalisation has been very creditable. It is true that at present we are faced with a coal shortage and have to import coal to try to avoid a crisis during the coming winter, but that is not the fault of the Coal Board; it certainly 1678 is not the fault of the miners. The real causes lie much deeper.
One of the chronic difficulties of the Coal Board is to recruit and retain an adequate labour force for the mining industry. That is one of the most serious problems with which the Board has had to deal since its inception. It is also a problem of vital importance for the nation, because without an adequate labour force in the industry we cannot have the coal supplies that we need, and without adequate coal supplies the British economy cannot function properly.
The shortage of manpower in the industry is one of the basic factors in the present coal shortage. But it is not simply a problem for the mining industry, and we cannot look to the miners and their families to find a solution to it. It is in every sense a problem for the whole nation. For generations, mining was a traditional family calling—like father, like son. In the mining areas, miners' sons followed their fathers to the pits as a matter of course. Indeed, for generations mining was almost a hereditary occupation. In those days the industry had no manpower problems, but those days have gone.
Since then, profound social and psychological changes have taken place in the mining communities. The miners' sons no longer go to the pits as a matter of course. They no longer regard it as their destiny to become miners like their fathers, and it is no longer possible—we must face this—to provide the labour force of the mining industry from amongst the miners' families and from within the mining villages.
In spite of the great improvements which have been made in the industry since nationalisation, we are still faced with a coal shortage, and we have now to import coal to keep our industries going. We have been warned for months that we may be overtaken by a disastrous coal crisis during the coming winter. It is no use blaming the miners for this situation. The miners in the pits are doing their best in exceedingly difficult circumstances. In any case, the problem is not the man in the pits, but the man who is needed in the pits. The real cause of the present crisis lies deeper even than that.
The British mining industry is an old industry.When it was nationalised in 1679 1947 it was, in its general structure and technical standards, essentially a 19th Century industry. It was in an exceedingly backward state, and it was incapable of meeting the demands of a modern expanding economy. The industry under private enterprise reached the peak of its development around 1913, and after that there followed a long period of contraction and stagnation. The general organisation of the industry was chaotic and its technical equipment was primitive.
During that period very few new pits were sunk and few old ones were modernised. Indeed, since 1913 fewer than 30 pits have been sunk in Britain. It seems that during that period we lost the art of shaft-sinking, an art in which at one time Britain led the world. Today we have to bring in German firms to sink new shafts in South Wales. We have not got the equipment, and we do not have sufficient technical skill.
Because of this general backwardness of the industry, the Coal Board is presented with two difficult and conflicting tasks. First, it has to produce the coal to meet the insatiable demands of an expanding economy, and, secondly, it has to inaugurate development schemes on a scale never before attempted in this country. These two tasks do not always run smoothly together. Development will hold up coal production, and concentration on coal production will retard and interfere with development. Both are made more difficult because there is a shortage of miners to produce the coal and a shortage of mining engineers to plan and execute development.
For 30 years the British mining industry stagnated and declined. But there was no coal shortage then. Indeed, there was too much coal. There was a coal crisis, but it was a crisis of over-production. The mining industry was functioning in an economy which was restrictive and contracting, and it was adapted and conditioned to meet the limited needs of that kind of economy. Now the industry has to be transformed to meet the ever-increasing demands of an expanding economy. This is a gigantic task, but it has got to be done. It will take time and will cost money, but the survival of Britain in the modern world depends on it.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Roberts (Sheffield, Heeley)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. D. J. Williams) on the realism he brought to the debate, not only with regard to the future and to the problem of getting manpower in the pits, but also in regard to the past, particularly when he pointed out that during the period between the two world wars, when the industry was criticised so heavily, there was a surplus of coal which was the great difficulty the industry faced at that time. I hope we can always bear that in mind when we are discussing the past and contemplating the future.
I also congratulate, not only my right hon. Friend the Minister, but the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker) and others for the constructive nature of their speeches. I consider that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, South made one of the most constructive speeches I have heard him make in this House for a long time. It is hopeful and encouraging that in these debates, now ranging over 10 years in my personal experience, and longer in the case of some Members, instead of recriminations about the past, which used to take up a majority of the time for discussion, we now look more to the future.
There has been one startling feature which has been mentioned by a number of speakers, by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot), my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) and others, namely, that we are now coming to a stage when we find that the idea of the importation of coal does not fill us with the dismay it did five or 10 years ago. To my mind, it is fantastic how easily the House has accepted the facile arguments put before it, arguments which, I believe, are fundamentally sound and fundamentally right.
Why do we say this? First of all, because we realise the importance of keeping production going. If we cannot produce sufficient coal in this country to do that, then it is important for us to import coal. There was an idea once held by hon. Members on this side of the House that if it were a question of importing coal or lowering production, production should be allowed to go down. I am glad to say that that suggestion has disappeared. The fact is that coal output from our own industry has been static 1681 for some time, and as far as I can see it is going to remain static for a number of years ahead. I should like to tell the House in a very few words why I believe that.
First of all, there is the amount of money which we are going to spend in sinking new pits. This has been mentioned by my right hon. Friend and has been referred to by other speakers. That expenditure will go not so much to increasing the output of the future, but to replacing old output which in its turn will be discarded. Therefore, I do not think we should be optimistic about this expenditure increasing the total amount of coal.
Secondly, there is the production factor. We have almost reached a stage of mechanisation when nearly 90 per cent. of our output is covered by it, and once we get beyond that stage then any increase in output per man-shift is going to be very slow indeed. The graph of future output will go up steeply to start with as the new machines come into operation, but once we get to the maximum of machine mining, then, drawing on my experience over a number of years —and I think hon. Members opposite will agree with me here—I say that we shall got to a stage where the output per man-shift begins to go down. It is true that the length of the face has increased, employing from 30 to 40 men, but should the machinery at the face break down those 30 or 40 men are put out of production until the machinery is repaired. There is an optimum figure for mechanisation in the production of coal.
There is another point which is concerned with miners' wages. One of the things which always impressed me when talking to miners, as I did when I was in the industry before nationalisation, was their natural desire to buy sunshine. It is one of the things they are prepared to buy out of the wages they earn. The higher the wage, the more the miner can afford to stay away and enjoy a day off. We cannot blame him for that. I cannot look forward to this industry being one where the men will always work six days a week including Saturdays. What we hope to see is organised workings in the pit so that it will become unnecessary to work a six-day week in order to obtain an increased output of coal.
1682 Then we have the matter which has been mentioned by the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) and others, the question of competition from other industries and its effect on the mining industry. The higher the standard of living and the more attractive the terms of work in competitive industries, the more difficult it will be to get people to go into the mines. I agree with everything that has been said about recruiting, and I hope the new recruiting drive, referred to by the Minister in his speech, will be successful, but looking at it from a realistic point of view, I do not believe that we shall get a great deal of extra labour into this industry whatever we may try to do about it.
Therefore, I come to this conclusion that, whereas we have an ever-increasing demand for coal, we shall be faced with a Static output. We cannot in any way blame the National Coal Board or its organisation for the facts as we find them today. I will go further and say that the National Coal Board and its organisation in the last five years in installing machinery, in increasing welfare amenities and introducing safety precautions—the amount of money spent on dust suppression is quite fantastic when one looks at the figures—is working on the right lines. These are things upon which it should be complimented.
I would not agree with an hon. Friend who suggested that the Coal Board was not quite up to its duties. I also say to certain other critics on this side of the House who contend that a reorganisation of the Coal Board's structure itself will produce more coal, that I do not believe that is so. We are faced with nationalisation as it stands. We must be quite frank about it—nationalisation has its drawbacks. It has the drawback of central control and finance and, in whatever way one looks at the problem, once public money is being spent it is essential that there shall be proper control of that public money. It is essential for there to be control at the top, and no kind of reorganisation can get away from that.
Another point is that there is much greater control by the unions over the industry. Usually we find that it is the nationalised industries that give way on wage negotiations and structure, and 1683 there is the difficulty of the continual rise in price caused in that way. We are sometimes criticised by hon. Members opposite about the cost of living, but let us remember that a large part of the cause of the rise in the cost of living is the rise in the price of coal and coal products over the last five years. When cries are raised about old-age pensioners, we should remember that some of the difficulty is due to the large rise in the fundamental cost of our raw materials.
If I am right in believing—and I think it is the general opinion of the debate so far —that we are faced with an increasing demand for coal but a static output of coal, how are we to bridge the gap? Some suggestions have been made today. There has not been enough stress laid upon opencast mining. My hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster was talking about the importance of coal, but he, of course, is the chief attacker of opencast mining—there seems a certain clash of interest there. I am sorry my hon. Friend is not here so that I might develop that point. One appreciates that opencast mining has social and local problems; nevertheless, I think it essential that we should press on with it at present.
Then there is atomic energy. From the reports of an important conference held do Leeds recently, I understand we shall not get very much help as regards power from that source for the next 10 or 15 years. The question of price comes into the importation of oil.
I was most interested to hear the announcement of the Minister referring to the freezing of natural gas. The statement was made by one of his advisers and appeared in the Press. I wish to ask the Parliamentary Secretary if he is satisfied that the Gas Council is sufficiently seized of the importance of the experiment to be prepared to push ahead, with a certain amount of financial help, in the development of that new project. At the moment it is being developed by a gentleman in Chicago. He is primarily a meat packer who wants to bring this cheap fuel to Chicago and has spent a certain amount of money on the project so far. If we are to get ahead of the Americans, as I think it is vital that we should, we ought to have a lead from the Gas Council.
1684 The last point on the question of filling the gap is the fundamental one of the importation of coal. A question which I wish to ask my right hon. Friend and which I believe to befundamental, although it has not been asked him this evening, is whether he is spending dollars on the importation of coal. He has said that it is all fixed up, so he can tell us about it. If we are looking further ahead to a period when we may have to import for a number of years, it would not be right to import from dollar sources. Of course, there are other sources of supply. I had the pleasure, with some colleagues in this House, of going to the Ruhr last July, and we saw there what the German industry is doing.
We talked about increasing our export trade, but I am very doubtful if we could increase it at present on the Continent in the face of German sales of coal. They can produce coal a great deal cheaper than we can, and they can under-sell us except where sea transport makes export easy. There is the question of importation from Germany via the waterways of the Rhine and the eastern ports which, to my mind, is preferable to importing from America, but we have a difficult position over E.P.U. I should like to know whether my right hon. Friend bas approached the Treasury to see whether it is possible to bring coal from Germany instead of from France.
There is a third source of supply which I pressed on the predecessor of the right hon. Member for Derby, South nearly six years ago—South Africa. At that time there was a great shortage, just after the 1947 period when the project of getting coal from South Africa was mooted. The difficulty was transportation, as this cheap coal would need transporting a long way to the sea. Has the Minister considered the question of importing South African coal? The South African Government are very keen to do something about it but cannot because of the need for rolling stock on the railways. I should not like us to spend very much in dollars or in E.P.U. currency if we could get coal from Commonwealth resources.
As my right hon. Friend said, I believe this debate is the watershed in the form of the debates we have been having in this House for a number of years. To a certain extent the past is now buried, and we shall not go into the rights or 1685 wrongs of it. It is our duty to try to bury it if we want constructive thought in the future. The idea that we are an island sitting upon coal which we can produce at will is, I believe, also done with. The fact that we can use our currency to import coal which may be converted into exports is something we should fully understand. The Minister has a duty—it is not the duty of the N.C.B. or its organisation, but directly that of the Minister—to see that for the vast productive machine of this country the fuel and power needed is constantly supplied either by oil, gas, atomic energy, or by the importation of coal. Although in the past it may have been thought that the duties of the Minister were declining, I believe we are now seeing the advent of important new duties for the Minister.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge and Airdrie)
I am very fortunate to have caught your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, because I intend to strike an entirely different note in this debate. I want to speak from the point of view of the consumer. I know that one not representing a mining constituency and not being a miner M.P. should be as hesitant to enter a debate like this as an Englishman should be to enter a debate on Scottish Estimates, but I think that the receiving end of coal production is never aired in this Chamber; I do not think that the housewife's position is ever stated. During the Recess I have done a great deal of scouting round. I have entered into a good deal of correspondence with the Minister and his officials, and I may say that I have been acting as a private detective all round the country.
I am disgusted, like all other housewives, at the poor quality of coal and at the high prices charged, and I think it is time that the House faced up to this matter. I have been so disgusted that I could hardly believe it true. After the announcement that there were seven different groups of coal, surely, I thought, we were near the end of the constant complaint I get, "I am asked to pay the highest price for a bag of dirt." The seven different groups have seven prices and between group 1 and group 7, as the Minister states in a letter to me, the difference is as much as 3s. 2½d. per cwt. between the top grade and the bottom grade. I thought that we had it sorted out and that people would now 1686 understand that if they were paying 3s. 10½d. they were getting group 7, and that they must expect it to resemble dirt.
What I find is that people are still getting group 7, group 6 and group 5 and being charged top prices, and it is time that something was done about it. I was disgusted, for instance, to read this in a newspaper on Friday night from a disgusted housewifeUp goes the price of coal by 10s. a ton Build up reserves before the end of the month, we are told, or pay the higher price after November 1st.Then she goes on to say:I'll bet there will be plenty to sell when the extra ten bob goes on. To pay six or seven shillings a bag for the dirt we are now given (as a favour) is robbery. The coal industry, from the National Board down to the wee-est pit boy should he ashamed of themselves.Well, are they? Are they to blame? I find that of the seven different groups, the national group 1, the highest, is 6s. 11½d.; that group 2 is 6s. 3d.; that group 3 is 5s. 8½d; that group 4 is 5s. 2½d; that group 5 is 5s. 9d.; that group 6 is 4s. 4d. and group 7, 3s. 10d. The Minister has informed me that on 15th July he sent a directive to all the coal merchants in which he told them that they were under an obligation under Article 11 of the Retail Coal Prices Order, to ticket their coal.
It was after that that my coal was delivered to me, group 4 at 5s. 21d. It was after that that one of my constituents got in a load of coal, and this time the coalman said, "It is very poor coal. It is not like what you had a month ago." A month ago it was fairly decent coal. It was group 4. It was 5s. 2½d. He said, "This is not good coal, it is 4s." There is nothing wrong with that, but how many are saying it? It is bad coal, it is ls. 2½d. less per bag.
All complaints I receive are from merchants who say, "It is not as good as it was last month. I am sorry that it is a poorer grade." But the housewife has to pay the same price as she paid last month. Why are they afraid to obey the Minister's Order, and ticket the coal? I asked for a sample of some of these tickets. There is no standardised ticket, but I got five or six samples of the type of slip that ought to be left with the householder. In one it states the group; 1687 in the other there is just a blank space for filling in the description. In another is stated the description. In the National Coal Board's own delivery slip there is the quality which should explain the group and the price.
What do we find? People are complaining that they get bags of dirt. In my consulting room one night a poor old soul came struggling in with a half-hundredweight of so-called coal, which was dirt. I said to him, "Did you show that to your merchant?" He said, "Yes, I did." I knew, of course, what the merchant had said to him. I knew what my constituent was going to say, because it is said every time: "We have just got to take what we get." That is thoroughly dishonest. I said to the old man, "I am very sorry to ask you to do this, but you really need to take it back and tell them that I told you that it is not true that you have to take coal like this and to pay a group 3 price for it." I said that if the merchant said anything more about it, he should communicate with me. I never heard another word about it.
I find that, far from this statement that floats all over Britain, from Dunreay to Devon. "We just take what we get and you have to take it from us," the Report states:The Board have made great efforts to maintain and improve supplies of large coal and the quality of house coal. But some deliveries to householders are still below standard, because of something wrong either at the colliery or later. The responsibility for settling any complaint about the quality of coal bought from a merchant rests in the first place on the merchant, arising—as in other retail sales—from the normal contractual relationship between buyer and seller.The Board accordingly operate a procedure agreed with the distributive trade, under which merchants should deal with the complaints of their customers (if appropriate, giving compensation in cash or coal), and then take the matter up with the sales office of the Board from which they bought the coal. Where this procedure is operated it generally works well, but there are perhaps too many instances where the consumer or merchant feels that nothing can be done about a delivery which seems below standard.It may be my nature, but where the merchant does nothing and where the coal is of such a low grade and the price is such a high one, I am highly suspicious of the reason why the merchant does nothing. The Report continues: 1688The Board urge merchants to make their complaints as soon as bad consignment is received, and hope that both consumers and merchants will operate the procedure every time a delivery is below the standard for its grade.There are many merchants who, in spite of the fact that the Minister sent out that directive on 15th July, still do not bother to leave a delivery note, let alone a note which describes the grade and quality of the coal.
Then there is the other type of merchant. One very large firm, which shall be nameless, came to me and complained that they were being confined to a supply of group 5 all the time. They said, "We would not mind if we got a group 2 and a group 5 fifty-fifty bag about, but to get only group 5 gives us a bad reputation with our customers." They asked me if I could do anything about it. I am glad to say that my efforts were successful. I think that they would have been successful if they had kept on trying themselves. I believe that the supply of group 5 coal was a temporary measure. They got group 2 and group 5.
I have trailed the lorries of these merchants and I have asked the householders what supplies they have had. I have never yet found a group 5 price being charged. Group 2 is charged, but the delivery can be traced quite easily. It is a bag about fifty-fifty group 5 and group 2.
All merchants are not like that. There is the honest one who said to a friend of mine, "This is not the kind of coal that I was able to give you six weeks ago. It is not as high a grade. I charged 5s. 2½d. for that, but today for this the price is 4s." Housewives would not feel so annoyed if all merchants were like that. My friend is willing occasionally to accept that the grade will sometimes be group 5 and that the price will be reduced accordingly.
I know that the merchants have been instructed. What I am worried about is how the householder can tell the difference between the various groups. There is a big howl going up all over the land about the 6d. extra per cwt. to take effect on 1st November—next Monday—but how do housewives know whether or not they are being charged 6d. extra through having group 5 charged and group 6 put in the cellar? We cannot tell. The records make astonishing reading. Only 1689 1½ per cent. of the approximate proportion of total supplies is group 1 coal. Very few people can possible be having group 1 deliveries. Only 11 per cent. of the total supply can be group 2 coal. Other details are: group 3, 20 per cent.; group 4, 25 per cent.; group 5, 24 per cent.; group 6, 11 per cent.; group 7, 6 per cent.; and group 8, 1½ per cent.
It will be seen that 69 per cent. of the total supplies are groups 3, 4 and 5, and with group 1 only 11 per cent., yet it is with the latter group that we get all the complaints from people who say that they pay group 1 price. It seems impossible that so many people can get group 1 when the approximate proportion of the total supplied is only 1½ per cent. It is very difficult for the housewife to know. There must be a great amount of trust. I have almost a battle each week with my butcher about whether the steak he delivers to me is a shoulder or rump. Often I suspect that I get shoulder steak when I am charged rump steak price. If it is difficult for a housewife to know the various cuts of butchers' meat, it is much more difficult for her to distinguish between the various groups of coal.
If it is found that there is a good foundation for my complaint, surely the fuel officers can do something. In Glasgow last month the Inspector of Weights and Measures put a warning in the "Glasgow Herald" and other newspapers about a certain amount of "fiddling" that he thought was taking place in connection with weight per bag. He thought that it was being done outside after the coal had left the depot, and he warned housewives. He added, "I have nothing whatever to do with the grading, groups and prices." That is another department. I understand that that is for the fuel overseer.
The housewife could complain to the fuel overseer who would know at once what type of deliveries the merchant was getting. For example, I knew that the firm I spoke of were getting groups 2 and 5 and I know that on their lorry they had only one price and that they charged only one price to their customers, and that was group 2. Fuel overseers ought to be very active. Let us have some prosecutions and let less of the blame for high prices and dirty coal be put on the shoulders of the miners.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Fort (Clitheroe)
The word "price" has done more than run as a thread through the debate; it has been a positive drum.
The hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann) has dealt, not only with her customary eloquence, but also, obviously, with a great deal of mastery of the problems confronting the housewife, with the price of domestic fuel. Other hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Slater), just as last year it was the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Bartley), have spoken about the price of coal for industry.
If we have the advantage of having a fairly clear schedule for the prices of house coal given to us in the Report, we are largely ignorant of any similar classification of fuels for industrial purposes. It seems that others besides hon. Members like myself are much disturbed by the fact that some industries are receiving their coal at what can only be described as preferential prices. It is not only what hon. Members from the Durham coalfields have said this year and last year. A complaint was officially moved by the N.U.M. to be taken up by the T.U.C. The report of the T.U.C. said:The main difficulty which confronted the General Council was the fact that adequate information on the costs and prices of industrial coal is not published, and that the N.U.M. themselves were unable to help in this respect. Particularly in the case of a publicly-owned monopoly such as the National Coal Board, there does not appear to be any good reason why the selling-prices of industrial coal, and detailed figures of production costs by grades, should not be obtainable.The general inadequacy of the National Coal Board's Report is even more marked this year than it has been in previous years. The truth of the matter is that we are just not being given the information to enable us, representing, as it were, the shareholders in the nationalised coal industry, to decide whether the scale of domestic prices, which is published, or the industrial prices make any sense at all. There is no doubt that a great effort has been made by the Board to base the prices of domestic coals and, T think, also industrial coals, upon a grading of coal, taking into account the heat value, the ash, and so on, but whether or not the very elaborate scientific examination which is the background 1691 of the present price structure is more than an elaborate bit of camouflage for the traditional pricing policy of the coal industry—charging what the traffic will bear—is doubtful.
I should like to hear that the National Coal Board, perhaps urged on by the Ministry of Fuel and Power, is trying to determine its prices by taking into account not only these factors but also the factors connected with costs. No public pronouncement has been made, and we have no information whether in building up these prices any notice has been taken of the costs of production or the returns on capital expenditure which has been necessary to raise the coal. Surely the only proper pricing policy for coal is one based upon the cost of production worked out on an agreed basis between the Ministry of the Board.
As long as only the other factors are taken into account without any reference to the cost of production, we shall continue to hear the sort of complaints which we have heard today from hon. Members from Durham and, on the domestic side, from the hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie. There may be some connection between the present prices being charged for high-grade Durham coals which are difficult to get, and are, therefore, obtained only at high cost, and other grades of coal and the cost of production, but we cannot be sure until the National Coal Board is prepared to publish a great deal more information about its pricing policy than it has done in this year's Report, where the matter is dismissed in half a page or so, or in earlier Reports where the matter has been dealt with a little more fully. So many problems of the coal industry could be more easily sorted out if coal prices bore a closer relation to production costs.
The inadequacy of this year's Report is again brought out in the matter of wages. The subject is dismissed in a few lines. In the Report for 1952 at least a couple of paragraphs were devoted to the subject. In the earlier Report there was at least a mention—it was little more than that—of discussions which had begun between the National Union of Mineworkers and the N.C.B. about working out a uniform list of wages. It was said that 6,000 jobs which had been listed had been reduced to a common list of 300 in a dozen or so 1692 different categories. That was in 1952. There is nothing in this year's Report about how the negotiations are proceeding and how near we are to the N.C.B. and the N.U.M. agreeing a uniform list.
Surely it is an absolutely integral part of the whole national wages system, which we all want to see adhered to, that a uniform wage list should be agreed by both sides of the industry so that people working in one part of the country who find that their pits are running out or being closed down because it is not worth while mechanising them in the way other pits can be mechanised, know, that they can move without jeopardising themselves or their families because they will not be going to an area where their grade of work is lower paid than in the area where they are now working. Until we can know more about the difficulties which are holding up the negotiations for a uniform wages list, all of us must feel that there is a certain lack of drive in carrying through what seems to me to be an absolutely essential feature of future developments in the industry.
§ Mr. Harold Davies
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I agree that this problem of miners moving from one district to another is a real problem, but note has been taken of it. We must remember, however, that we cannot run this industry as we can run a factory or a chromium-plated milk bar. In the case of men moving from district to district, it is not always as easy, as all men who are either in the mining industry now or have recently left it will agree, to arrange that kind of thing as it is in a factory.
§ Mr. Fort
The hon. Gentleman is completely right about that. It is a matter of the greatest complexity. My complaint is that, whereas in 1952 some progress had been made in getting round the difficulty, in the current Report we are told nothing about any subsequent negotiations in a field which I believe, is essential if we are to get a national wages system developed as we want to see it.
This leads me on to the last remarks that I want to make in what, I think, has been a most interesting debate. I feel that the inadequacy of this year's Report —and it is really astonishing to see how 1693 much shorter than previous ones it is—is an indication of something really much more serious than merely a short report. The 1953 Report comprises 47 pages and 207 paragraphs, compared with nearly double that size in previous years' Reports, and I have a feeling, in comparing this Report with previous ones, that someone in the National Coal Board has said: "Let us keep away from matters which are controversial and on which people get hot under the collar, like wages policy and prices policy, and let us give as little information about these as we can. Let us try to still controversy in those matters because, after all, if people want to find out about it, they can read speeches in Parliament and elsewhere or come here and see us." That is the feeling which this rather short Report for 1953 arouses in me. I may be wrong, but if that is correct, it is a symptom against which we must guard in this industry, in which we speak for the shareholders—a symptom of a lack of leadership.
We have in this industry a trade union, one of the most famous, which has looked well after its members for many years and built up their standards to a level of which we can all be proud, but they have apparently burked this important matter of wages policy. Similarly, on the employers' side, the National Coal Board has given us no lead at all in the current Report, and precious few in published statements from the Coal Board, on the question of prices policy.
The hon. Lady the Member for Coat-bridge and Airdrie touched upon an important point. Surely, this sense of confidence which we, representing the public, and the public outside ought to have—which we and they would have if there were clear leadership here—would be shown by the industry and its customers saying, "Well, of course, they make mistakes, as everybody does, but they are not such a bad lot." I think it is significant that, when customers have reason to make complaints about coal, they have not gone stright to the National Coal Board, but to Members of Parliament, like the hon. Lady in this particular instance. They come to all of us in this House. If the people concerned with the activities of the coal industry had full confidence in those responsible for it, they would not come to us, who are not 1694 experts in this field. They would go to the experts in the industry just as they do to those in other industries. As it is, we are often hearing complaints.
We ought to say to the National Coal Board and to the National Union of Mineworkers: "Although you have done a fine job in building up the industry which, for a variety of reasons, was not in a good way when you took it over, you have still a tremendous way to go. You want the best men you can get both in the union and on the Coal Board in order to promote confidence. There is not enough confidence at the moment. In Parliament, we hope that you will do your best to develop that confidence, and anything we can do to help you we shall do, although it will not always be by soft words."
Much good work has been done, but it is only a start. Leadership is needed if the coal industry is to hold the place in our national life which it ought to have if this country is to survive.
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ Mr. P. Bartley (Chester-le-Street)
I have listened to all the speeches made in the debate so far and I have been very much impressed. As one with many years' experience in coal mining matters, I must say that this must be the most agreeable debate that there has ever been upon coal mining. That fact will be appreciated by the people who are engaged in the industry. Before nationalisation—and since—the coal industry was the cockpit of politics both in this House and outside, but the time has come, as the result of the undoubted success of the nationalisation of this industry, when these questions are no longer a matter for heated debate here or outside this House.
General praise has been given to the miners for their achievements during 1953, despite the fact that output was 1,800,000 tons less than in the previous year. Sufficient emphasis has not been laid on the fact that, while output fell slightly below that of the previous year, there was a loss due to the week's holiday and the Coronation holiday, which was estimated at 6 million tons. The miners, therefore, increased their output by just over 5 million tons.
On the subject of recruitment, a good deal has been said about the efforts made by the industry to attract men. We have reached the position when we cannot look forward to a substantial increase in 1695 the numbers employed in the industry. We cannot expect a substantial influx, although we have never had a number large enough to produce all the coal required by the nation. We cannot expect substantial increases in output in the next few years without a corresponding increase in manpower, so we are, therefore, faced with the alternative of making better and fuller use of the machinery in the industry.
During the last year's debate on the Report of the Coal Board, I suggested to the Minister that the machinery in the pits had not been used to its fullest capacity. Only a few months ago, in reply to a Question, the Minister told the House that of £406,000 worth of machinery imported from America only £305,000 worth had gone into the industry. That in itself is evidence that the fullest use is not being made of the machinery, quite apart from the question of whether it is being efficiently used.
One could quote many examples of where machinery had been put into the industry with the result that, for a short time, there was a jump in output, but where this increased output was not maintained, partly because the conditions were unsuitable. In our last debate on this subject, I said that it was high time that our technicians and mining engineers pooled their experience with a view to devising machinery which was adjustable to the varying conditions in the industry, and as a result of which we should get a sustained period of high output from mechanisation. Has the Minister paid any attention to this matter during the last year, and is he satisfied that the machinery which is already installed is being fully and efficiently used?
We are optimistic, and rightly so, about the development and the reconstruction work which has taken place in the industry. It will be remembered that the plan for coal issued in 1951 foresaw the need for 20 new pits and 70 major reconstruction schemes. According to the Report, 10 new pits were being sunk in 1953 which were estimated to give an increased annual output of just over eight million tons, and that 20 major reconstruction schemes were undertaken which, it is estimated, will result in the production of between 50 million and 76 million extra tons of coal in the future.
1696 Is there any estimate of the number of pits that will be closed year by year while these new pits are being sunk, and while the reconstruction schemes are being developed? The Report says that during 1953 15 pits had closed, which represented a loss of 960,000 tons of coal. That is not a very great deal, but then they were only small pits. If there could be more balance in this work during the next few years, we should then have a better picture of how far the new pits and the increased output which the nation needs to meet its requirements.
Finally, I want to deal with prices. Last year, I, along with other hon. Members, raised the matter of the price of coal consumed by other industries. The Minister promised that the matter would be looked into, and has since mentioned more than once in this House in reply to Questions that the Coal Board was undertaking a review of those prices. I would like the Government spokesman to tell the House just how far that Review has developed, and, if it has been completed, what the results are.
The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-west (Mr. Powell) rather took exception to our seeking to resist a policy whereby those industries—he did not say it, but I am—receive the coal at an uneconomic price, which is inconsistent with keeping those pits in production. I admit that what he says would be quite sound were we living in a world where there was plenty of coal, but this coal is required by the nation and must be produced. Is it fair for it to be sold at a price less than its cost of production—and substantially less, even to as much as 20s.?
§ Mr. Powell
But the pits the hon. Member has in mind were not uneconomic in the sense that their output could not be sold at a price which covered cost of production. By an uneconomic pit, I meant one whose coal could not be sold at a price to cover cost of production. He and I are using the term "uneconomic pits" in different senses.
§ Mr. Bartley
Those industries were making huge profits at a time when they were receiving coal at less than the cost of production and could afford to pay an economic price. I would like to know whether, in circumstances which have continued since last year, they are now 1697 paying an economic price, which will allow those pits to continue without that threat of closing which hung over them last year.
Much has been said about the domestic consumer. I regret having here, perhaps, to mar the agreeable tone of the debate—although I think that has sometimes been exploited for political purposes. We have had Questions on the subject and the inference has been that the high price that the domestic consumer is paying is due to the nationalised coal industry. I would remind the House of a reply given by the Minister not 12 months ago when he said that the basic retail price of the average quality of house coal was 130s. 2d. a ton. Of that amount only 70s. was the pithead price; 33s. 9d. was the transport cost, and the cost of delivery was 24s. 2d. How the cost of delivery is separated from transport costs I do not know. The margin of profit for the retailer was 2s. 3d. Therefore, just about 54 per cent. of the total charge was the pithead price.
There is reason to be concerned about that fact and the men in the industry, as well as the mining communities, have expressed their concern about it. At the annual conference of the National Union of Mineworkers a year last July a resolution was passed asking the Government to hold an inquiry into the whole question of retail distribution and the price of coal. Can I ask the Minister to consider this question? As the position is now generally understood, it is unfair to the nationalised industry. A substantial part of the cost is due not to the industry, but to the organisation and cost of distribution.
The statement is also made that the Coal Board is extending its control of retail coal distribution. What are the facts? Again, in reply to a Question which I asked a few months ago, the Minister told us that of the total registration of domestic consumers the Coal Board had 2.9 per cent, and that since nationalisation that figure had only increased by one-tenth of 1 per cent. It is, therefore, just untrue to say that the Board is extending its control over the organisation and distribution of retail supplies of coal. I ask the Minister to give some attention to that. When the 1698 Parliamentary Secretary spoke in a similar debate 12 months ago he scarcely mentioned the mining industry. I tried to draw his attention to that and to remind him that we were debating the Annual Report of the National Coal Board. We have had plenty of debates on gas and electricity, but not many on the coal industry. May I now ask that this time we shall have replies to the four or five questions I have asked?
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Robson Brown (Esher)
The hour is late and what I have to say I shall try to say shortly. One incontrovertible fact has emerged from this debate, and that is that in our time it is unlikely that there will be any danger of the overproduction of coal in this country. Rather the reverse; there is every danger of a continuous and increasing shortage of coal in the country. That, I hope, will remove a long and deep-rooted fear in the minds of our mining industry of its future drawn from past experience. As a result of this debate I hope that never again will the miners of England have any fear of digging themselves out of a job, or of having long weeks of idleness as a result of building up big stocks of coal.
This debate has shown that the industry has a new look. We in this House, and perhaps the country too, are looking at the coal industry with new eyes and assessing it with new measurements of assessment. One important thing that has come out of the debate has been the. realisation by speakers from both sides of the House of the international aspects of fuel and fuel supplies to industries. Not only in this country, but in other countries too, there has been a trend over many years towards increased competition from oil, natural gas and other forms. of fuel. At the turn of the century nine-tenths of the power supply of the United States came from coal. Recently not more than one-third has come from coal. In that half-century the United States with its enormous expansion has met the balance from other natural sources.
We cannot say complacently that there will be a certain level of production in this country and that the balance must be made up from outside because, unlike the United States of America, we are dependent upon an export market and so everything brought into the country 1699 which has to be paid for affects our competitive position.
One of my hon. Friends on this side of the House took a rather categorical, fatalistic, pessimistic view of the future output of the coal industry to which I do not subscribe for a moment, because the facts are against it. It is true that increases in the last few years have not been dramatic, but there are many reasons for that, some rather apparent and some hidden below the surface.
If we accept the belief that the great capital expenditure made by this industry on new pits, new plant and machinery and other new developments will not result in any improvement, we had better throw up the sponge. But, since I parted from close contact with the industry, I have kept in touch with it as far as possible and have found that, as relations between management and men improve, and as there is better consultation and exchange of ideas, the output of a particular pit or district increases pro rata. So, with a new look in the industry, I foresee that in the next few years there will be a great improvement, and I believe that the time will come when we can have a five-day week and shall not have to ask miners to work on a Saturday, with better results all round.
In years gone by I remember debating with our mines managers the value of the Saturday shift. Frequently they said, "The chap takes a day off in the week and comes in on the Saturday and so, on balance, we are not much better off." Hon. Members opposite, who have been in contact with the industry all their lives and represent the miners, know the basic truth of that statement.
One of my hon. Friends made an excellent speech, and I particularly liked one phrase of his. He said that miners like sunshine, and are entitled to it. That was a very nice way of saying that they are entitled to more leisure. I believe that it is not so much the wage factor which influences the men but the question whether they have enough money to have a day out. These are matters which the Coal Board must deal with as day-to-day problems.
A point which I feel that I must touch upon concerns the attitude of mind of some hon. Members, mainly on this side 1700 of the House, that an increase in the price of coal does not very much matter and that it is tonnage, and tonnage alone, which is the vital factor. I utterly repudiate that attitude of mind. Of course, the industry must pay proper rates and provide satisfactory conditions, but it must also pay full regard to economic factors and the vital part which coal and the price of coal plays in our national economy. It comes into home expenditure, on coal, electricity and gas supplies for the worker, and it comes into industry. The balances of our export trade are narrowing all the time, and it is remarkable to me that we have been able to hold our position, internationally, so well as we have. By increasing the price of coal we increase the prices of various commodities, and in the end we may price certain products out of international markets.
§ Mr. P. Roberts
Is it not a fact that British coal to the British consumer is cheaper than practically any other coal in Europe?
§ Mr. Robson Brown
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing attention to that fact. It is that which enables us to be competitive in world markets. If we had to pay the same price for coal as some other Continental countries have to pay, I am very much afraid that many of our products would never arrive at the docks. Whether they will leave the docks at the moment is a problem of another character. Many countries have not a nationalised coal industry. Their prices are free, and the colliery owners are keeping them up and making very substantial profits. The time will come when they will have to bring them down again because of the forces of economic circumstances.
One other factor which I think is of importance, and which has disturbed me very much, is the question of the sale of coal to industry in general and to basic industries in particular. I have found a deep-rooted idea in the minds of the miners—an idea which must be contradicted or confirmed—that much of industry today is buying subsidised coal, at a price below the proper selling price. I have not found that to be so in any industry with which I have been asso- 1701 ciated. It is true that at a certain pit coal may be bought cheaper than the cost of production—because that happens to be a high production pit—but in bulk I am not at all sure that any industry buys its bulk supplies at an average price which is lower than a fair one.
§ Mr. Robson Brown
I hope that we shall have an answer from the Minister upon that point.
I should also like to refer to the question of the new wage structure. I spoke about it in my maiden speech upon coal some years ago. We do not seem to have made very much progress since then. If we could simplify this wage structure we should, in turn, simplify many of the industry's problems. If the men could understand the reason for the fluctuations of wages without the use of a slide rule or a calculator we should get far fewer sporadic strikes.
I know that this is the time to begin winding up the debate, but there are some other things I should have liked to mention. I should have liked to take up the point made by the hon. Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) and supported her idea of brighter pit villages. I have said before that one of the things which is sad about the miner is his isolation down the pit and his isolation in mining communities, where he is out of touch with the general run of cultural life. I believe that to be a problem for the House and not necessarily for the Coal Board. It is a broader and wider issue than that.
In conclusion, I would congratulate the Minister himself. Very often by the other side of the House we on this side have been indicted for not knowing much about the coal industry, but my right hon. Friend has demonstrated during his years in office that he has a firm and increasing grasp and understanding of it. We all wish the industry well. We all wish to see it prosper. The miners will be able to discern the spirit of this debate from reading about it, and all of us, on both sides of the House, wish success to this industry, with the politics taken out of it—success to this industry and so to the whole country.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Neal (Bolsover)
The Motion before the House is couched in very modest terms. We are asked to take note of the Annual Report and Accounts of the National Coal Board for 1953. It seems inappropriate that we should be discussing the Report for the year ending 31st December, 1953, in the last days of this Session. Inevitably, much of the contents of the Report is unrelated to the present coal situation, and I think we ought to be excused if some of us make comments on the present coal situation.
It is not surprising, however, that the preparation of the Report and Accounts of the largest industrial undertaking in the world should take six months or more. At the time when the Report is printed Parliament is dealing with a timetable of legislation which must take priority, but, consequently, it would appear, from the fact that we are debating this Report so belatedly, that Parliamentary control of nationalised industries is very remote, and some of us think that an effort should be made to discuss such reports as this before October.
There is some consolation, however, in that the results of the coal industry are being considered today separately from those of the other fuel and power industries, so that we have been able to devote what time we have had to this one industry, and Members on both sides of the House have revealed their views on this industry without having to consider the other fuel and power industries at the same time.
Many people unfamiliar with the procedure of this House will be surprised at our debating coal in the present favourable industrial atmosphere. The coal industry is the only major industry free from large-scale discontent. Unlike the docks and transport and engineering industries, this industry, even with its history of unhappy upheavals, is presenting no problem to the Minister of Labour. There are no outstanding differences between the National Union of Mineworkers and the National Coal Board at the present time. Both sides of the industry are discussing a new wages structure. It has been an aim of the National Union of Mineworkers for over seven years, and I am glad to hear that it is nearing completion.
1703 The industry has just passed an important milestone in its history by the passage through this House of the Mines and Quarries Bill, which was keenly debated in Committee during 26 sittings. Through compromise on both sides of the House it is a monumental example of the British policy of give and take, and everybody in the mining industry is proud that we shall soon see on the Statute Book an Act calculated to save life and to reduce the number of accidents in the industry. That is one reason why one is pleased that the speeches today have been models of restraint. There is no industry in this country which is so dependent upon the good will of the workers engaged in it as the mining industry, and it should be our urgent duty to cultivate the good relations prevailing in that industry at the present time.
The Report for 1953, like its six predecessors, has aroused most comment on production and profits. The fertile pens of journalists and the tongues of opponents of public ownership often emphasise the alleged failures under these two headings without any regard whatever to the physical exertion of the workers in the industry or the increased difficulties of technical development and organisation.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker), in an admirable speech, quoted figures relating to production which fully justified the success of seven years of nationalisation. I could easily supplement those figures by tables and comparisons equally convincing, but I want to keep away from figures as much as possible; for my experience is that nothing has bedevilled this industry more than the analyses and statistics with which it has been cluttered up for many years. What I propose to do is to relate the record of production to the technical, geological and human problems which must be considered alongside the achievement record in the 1953 Report.
The output figures for the first 41 weeks of this year are very encouraging.
§ Mr. Neal
In the first 41 weeks of 1953, deep-mined coal yielded 164,930,000 tons. In the first 41 weeks of 1954, deep-mined output was 167,059,000. What is little known behind these figures is that of this formidable total of coal, 1704 70 per cent. has been produced from pits that were sunk before 1900. This means that many of these pits can never become major producing units. They can never have sufficient shaft capacity or roadways to produce huge volumes of coal. Nor have they had adequate equipment to be able to do it in the past.
Each year, an area of about 40,000 acres of coal is extracted. In a manufacturing industry, the more that is produced, the greater becomes the capacity to produce. Coal mining is not like that. It is an extractive industry, and the more that is extracted the more difficult it becomes to extract still more. The older a pit becomes, the more equipment is necessary, not to enlarge, but to continue its production. This year and every year, in every pit there is required new face room to achieve even the level of last year's output. Men must be diverted from production to development and maintenance, and the problem before every colliery manager is how to balance future efficiency with present output.
Another feature worth noting about this increase of tonnage which, for the benefit of the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), I would say was 2,129,000 tons in 1953. is that it has been achieved with an average of 7,600 fewer men in the industry. One would not gather from the Report that the Coal Board is feeling any great anxiety about the manpower situation. But Sir Hubert Houldsworth has made public to the Press that 12,000 men are needed in the West Midlands and South Yorkshire, two high-producing districts. I aver that if 12,000 men are needed in those two areas, 40,000 men are needed in the entire industry. This is a regrettable situation, and if it is allowed to continue I am afraid that it will have disastrous consequences on production.
Whatever results may be achieved in the field of fuel efficiency, whatever atomic development may foretell for the future, the immediate need is more men in this industry. All the efforts of the Government, the Minister, and the Coal Board ought to be bent on recruiting men to the industry. If it means offering new incentives, they ought to be offered to attract the young, virile men to coal getting. 1705 The target of 2½ per cent. increase, which the Minister has mentioned and which resulted from the wages agreement in the early part of this year between the National Union of Mineworkers and the Coal Board, cannot be achieved unless these manpower losses are made up. I hope nobody will say that, if these losses continue to the end of the coal year, the miners have not fulfilled their promise. With the present manpower they cannot possibly fulfil the promise to increase coal output by 2½ per cent.
Another point of criticism is the profits or lack of profits in the 1953 Report. We find that the surplus for 1953 was £0.4 million. I see some consolidation in this. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot) is a welcome recruit to our debates. I am one of the admiring millions who watch him in his distinguished rôle on television, and I hope that at some time the opportunity will be presented to him to relate what he has related to the House this afternoon, that this country is getting its fuel too cheaply. My right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South has been saying this for years and nobody has taken any notice.
This surplus of £0.4 million might not have been as bad as it looks if it had not been for the fact that this country had to import coal last year. There was a loss of £1 million on imported coal. We sold that imported coal for 40s. a ton below the price which we paid for it. The Minister revealed this afternoon that the Government contemplate importing 4 million tons of coal in this coal year. I am not going to taunt him with the language which his colleagues used to the Labour Government when we imported one quarter of that quantity, but I would say this: the Coal Board has nothing to do with the coal brought to this country. It is not Sir Hubert Houldsworth and his colleagues who decide how much coal shall be imported. This loss ought not to be borne by the Coal Board; it ought to be borne by the Exchequer. I know some may say it is only a book-keeping transaction, but while it remains there and the Coal Board has to bear the loss it has not created, it will always stand against the Board in the Report as something it ought not to bear
I listened with keen interest to the speech of the Minister this afternoon. It 1706 was a pleasure once more to hear his welcome appraisal of a nationalised industry. I was glad to hear him say that he was not going to nag the miners about output and his declaration that for 14 years there had been too much nagging. I thought that in his remarks I scented a desire to lift this industry out of the political atmosphere and the field of party controversy.
I was intrigued by the right hon. Gentleman's description of the Americans liquefying gas in the Gulf of Mexico, and of the search for natural gas in this country. But I would warn the House and the country not to build their immediate hopes too high on any results coming from those sources. It is two years ago since the Minister told us of a grandiloquent scheme for an electricity link-up with the East Midlands and hydro-electric schemes in the French Alps. I have not heard a word about it since.
§ Mr. Neal
I am glad to receive support from the hon. Member for Kidderminster for that.
Many people do not realise that a miner often lives side by side with a worker in a factory or engineering shop who has a five-day week and sticks to his five days. When his neighbour goes off on sporting or social activities on the Saturday, the miner voluntarily surrenders his time to serve his country by producing more coal.
The hon. Member for Kidderminster warmed my heart when he referred to the profligate use of large coal by the railways. Some efforts were made during my short stay at the Ministry of Fuel and Power to induce the railways to use alternative means of fuel. I still think that a lot could be done in that direction. I am confident that briquettes and smaller coal could be used by the railways in- 1707 stead of the large coal they demand, but the hon. Member for Kidderminster may be assured that he is pushing at an open door because I know the Minister is doing all he can to influence the railways into accepting alternative means of fuel.
I am glad to see the hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Colonel StoddartScott) in his place. He is aware that I am going to make reference to criticisms of the Coal Board which he ventilated at a meeting of the Conservative association in his constituency. The hon. and gallant Member is distinguished in the field of medicine, but he has a lamentable lack of knowledge of the coal industry. He has had his stethoscope on the Coal Board and has heard noises which no one else can hear.
I do not propose to quote all of the report which appeared in the "Yorkshire Post" of 4th October. I will content myself with one or two references. In a reference to Sir Hubert Houldsworth the hon. and gallant Member says:He and the Board have completely failed to induce the miners to produce the coal we require, failed to recruit for the industry, failed to produce coal for our consumption, failed to help the recovery of the nation.…. Sir Hubert Houldsworth must go and another chairman with new methods and new ideas must be appointed. Nationalisation of the coal mines has proved to be a complete and utter failure.I would ask the Minister, indeed, I invite the Parliamentary Secretary, to say whether that is the mind of the Government. Do the Government think that nationalisation has been a complete and utter failure We are entitled to know the official attitude on this matter. This "Jackie" Fisher attitude of, "Sack the lot" takes us nowhere. It is an empty criticism of the Board without any constructive ideas about what should be put in its place.
§ Mr. Neal
I have referred to the report of the speech of the hon. and gallant Member in this periodical, which is by no means a Socialist periodical. But the "Colliery Guardian" reminded the hon. and gallant Member that when machinery sometimes creaks the bearings are better maintained by oil than by grit.The hon. Member wants new ideas and new 1708 methods. What are they? Why did he not participate in this debate and tell us about these new ideas? Why have we not heard from the hon. Members opposite about these new ideas which will revolutionise production and increase the profits of the industry?
In this Report one can find no end of new ideas which were adopted by the Coal Board during 1953. I think that if the Coal Board has erred at all it has done so by adopting too many ideas without having sufficient technicians and men to undertake them. New ideas can be found in abundance in this Report. There has been undersea boring off the coast of Fife and Northumberland. There are considerable fields of undersea coal and for the first time in history the Coal Board is undertaking out-to-sea boring. It has been done in America to find oil, but never before has it been done for coal. Other new ideas are mentioned in the Report, such as methane drainage, blast experiments with compressed air, dust suppression ideas and no end of other new ideas which were initiated in 1953.
It is not new ideas that we want in the industry, but the maintenance of the new atmosphere at present prevailing, this good feeling between the National Union of Mineworkers and the management of the industry. That is a new idea which ought to be pushed forward. The other day, in a fit of extravagance, I bought from the Central Office of the Conservative Party a book entitled, "Change is our Ally." Its authors are ten Members of the Conservative Party who are distinguished in the field of academics, in the Services, in war and in business, with varying shades of influence, affluence and ability among them.
In this document they returned to the idea that has been propagated by the hon. and gallant Member for South Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) for the last six years. They want to abolish the divisions in the Coal Board and to have a number of local autonomous units. They wish them to be autonomous units administratively and economically. They mention that the miners are opposed to the idea because of their fear that it would result in a district arrangement of wages. They are quite right in that assumption. The miners know that it resulted in that in the past and, as my right hon. Friend the 1709 Member for Derby, South said this afternoon, if there is one thing that the miners will. not have lit is a return to district organisation.
How can we have autonomous local units and a national wages structure? It is as unthinkable as a round square.
§ Mr. Powell
In the building industry there are national wages scales but thousands of autonomous units. It happens in industry after industry.
§ Mr. Neal
On page 62 of the document there is a quotation from a letter which Sir William Lawther wrote to "The Times" in 1944, in which he referred to the…insane competition that exists between one coal combine and one district and another…The next sentence is written by the authors of the document. The say:We wish to see it restored in the interest of the miners and of the nation.
§ Mr. Powell
Will not the hon. Member agree that in many industries where there is a national wages structure there is the most intense competition between the firms in those industries?
§ Viscount Lambton (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
Would the hon. Member be against these autonomous units if they were within the structure of a national wages board?
§ Mr. Neal
Yes. If hon. Gentlemen opposite want to abolish the coal divisions and to have 49 areas in their place 1710 each with autonomy administratively and economically, that means that we shall have a director of production, a director of labour, a finance officer and a marketing officer for every one of those areas. Instead of reducing the expenses of the industry that will increase them steadily.
§ Mr. Neal
Not with the same status as the hon. Gentleman wants them to have. It is high time that the industry were allowed to settle down in peace without this meddling. The present organisation has proved such a success that it has produced 31 million tons of coal a year more than was produced under private enterprise. It may be that slight changes are necessary, but the basic structure ought to remain.
The first need of the industry is a continuance of the good relations prevailing at the present time. Productivity in the East Midlands Division is proof of that.
§ Mr. Neal
Since nationalisation, productivity in the East Midlands Division has increased by 35 per cent. If anyone asks the East Midlands Division the reason for that phenomenal increase, he will be told that it is primarily because of the good relations which exist between management and men.
While I am very critical of hon. Members opposite who jeopardise these good relations, I am painfully aware that considerable output was lost during 1953 by unofficial disputes. A report issued by the Minister shows that during the first 41 weeks of 1954 no fewer than 984,000 tons have been lost through disputes. We hear sometimes that these strikes are led by zealots supporting a foreign regime where no strikes are permitted.
I say bluntly to the men in the industry who promote these strikes that there is no need for them and that adequate machinery exists in the industry to settle grievances without their having to resort to withdrawal of labour. I do not suppose that many miners will read the words which I am now uttering, but I hope that those who do will take note of them and mend their ways.
With regard to future plans, the Minister has told us—we have read it in the 1711 Report as well—that it is proposed to sink 20 new pits. Two years ago I had the honour of handing the Minister the spade when he dug the first sod at Bever-cotes. I learned this autumn that one shaft is about halfway down to the seam which it is intended to exploit. We must find a quicker method of sinking shafts. Phenomenal results have been obtained in shaft sinking in South Africa, and we must follow that example and plan the sinking of our pits in less than 10 years.
Along the lines of new sinkings, new collieries and new developments lies the only hope for the industry. There must be a policy of concentration upon the thickest and most remunerative seams and the best pits. I know that it is bound to create some social convulsion when men are transferred from one colliery to another and from one coalfield to another, but with the adequate settlement grants referred to by my right hon. Friend, I think that this presents less difficulty than may be apparent at present. The pit with the largest output should be the magnet of manpower in the industry, because it is only from larger units of production that we can hope to achieve success for the coal industry.
All of us would like to see a more favourable Report than we are considering today, but nothing is perfect in this imperfect world of post-war economics. There are references in the Report to striking advances which cannot be measured in £.s.d. The 5 per cent. increase in our exports about which the Chancellor rightly boasted would not have been possible without the increase in production of coal which has been realised. The thriving motor car industry, with its phenomenal output, depends on coal for its success, and we cannot equate these figures to cash payments.
Coal is still the basis of our economy. It is the only raw material we have in huge quantities. What this industry needs is industrial peace and co-operation between all sides of the industry. The nation must realise that prosperity in these islands lies beneath our feet. We only need the men and the machines to win it.
§ 9.36 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power (Mr. L. W. Joynson-Hicks)
I am sure we should wish to congratulate those who have taken part in this debate, because it has indeed been a constructive, helpful and sympathetic debate. I should like to thank the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Neal) for his reference to my right hon. Friend and for his constructive suggestions for the good of the industry as a whole. There was very little in what he said with which I would not wish to associate myself, particularly in regard to the completely unnecessary losses which the nation has suffered this year as a result of unofficial strike action. I hope very much indeed that the workers in the industry, who I know in many parts have an affection for the hon. Gentleman, will take heed of his remarks and give them full weight in the councils of the industry.
I can also accept with no little interest and some enthusiasm the hon. Gentleman's remarks about South African shaft-sinking, and what he called the phenomenal results achieved there. I am happy to be able to inform him that I have played some little part in bringing them to light in this country.
The hon. Gentleman also joined with my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro)—and, in truth, we have had some strange weddings today—in regard to the use of large coal on the railways, and I think I can claim that my right hon. Friend has met with a little greater success in regard to the railways than the hon. Gentleman did when he was in the Ministry, according to what he himself said he achieved. We have been able to arrange—and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport has been exceedingly co-operative in this matter—that the railways are now taking a million tons a year of small coal and briquettes. In addition to that, as the House has already been informed, a further contribution to the large coal problem has been made by the introduction of diesel shunting engines, which are now coming into use in a regular flow.
There is one further point about which the hon. Gentleman asked me, and to which I am delighted to reply categorically. He asked whether, in the opinion of the Government, nationalisation has 1713 been a complete and utter failure. The hon. Gentleman has only to read the speech of my right hon. Friend to realise that that is disproved, and certainly we do not consider that the industry for which we are responsible is a "complete and utter failure."
The hon. Gentleman also said that one thing which had emerged as a result of the debate was that a new spirit was abroad in the coal industry, and in that he was in very good company with my right hon. Friend the Member for Kelvin-grove (Mr. Elliot), to whom I would like to say that we appreciate his taking part in our debate, not only because of the position of experience which he holds here, but also in view of his authority, both in Scotland and in this country.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the debate marked a turning point in that, instead of concentrating on old controversies, we have all been looking to the future, and I think that is a sentiment with which we shall all agree. It is a sentiment which it is essential for us to have. I am sure that it is the desire and the object of hon. Members in all quarters of the House and of everybody connected with the coal industry, whether in management or in the union, that we should work and pull together for the benefit of the industry and of the country as a whole.
Unfortunately I was unable to hear the whole of the speech made by the hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann). I have heard Questions from her before on the subject matter of her speech. In fact, she had one on the Paper to my right hon. Friend today. I have very great sympathy with the point of view that she expressed. It is very difficult to say whether or not there may be a certain amount of fiddling or upgrading of coal, as she expressed it. It is contrary to the law, if it is going on. I can assure the hon. Lady that the situation which she has represented as existing in Glasgow is one in which we are very willing to take an interest. She referred to the activities of the Chief Inspector of Weights and Measures in Glasgow; I hope she will assist with her knowledge and friendship if we seek to get into touch with him in order to solve this exceedingly difficult problem.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) gave us what the whole House appre- 1714 ciated as an exceedingly learned, thoughtful and reasoned speech. All I propose to say to him is that I would not be so discourteous as to attempt, after the short time which I have had, to reply to his speech without the very great deal of further consideration which it deserves. I shall read his speech with the greatest interest and shall consider the argument which he put forward.
My hon. Friend the Member for Heeley (Mr. P. Roberts) raised certain questions which I am sorry I did not hear. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power was kind enough to make a note of them for me. My hon. Friend asked whether the Gas Council were seized of the importance of importing natural gas. The answer is "Definitely yes." The Council is fully seized of the importance of it, and my right hon. Friend has indicated that there will be a technical mission to the United States in order to inquire further into the details of the matter. I have not the slightest doubt as to the potential value of this idea, if the gas can be obtained at a figure which enables the Council to sell it here at an economic price.
On the question of importing coal, my hon. Friend asked whether we were spending dollars. The answer is "Yes." He also asked whether we were obtaining coal from Germany. The answer to that question is "Yes."
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
Roughly, one million tons. My right hon. Friend was asked a Question on the matter and the answer will appear in the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow.
§ Mr. Nabarro
The reply to my Question was that a statement would be made during the debate as to the dollar expenditure.
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
I do not think that I can go all round the world. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the purchases are made by the National Coal Board from 1715 various countries in Europe according to the availability of the market.
One further question asked by the hon. Gentleman was whether we were actually getting South African coal. I do not believe that at the moment that is so, but it is certainly a question which we will consider.
I shall now turn briefly to some other considerations, and I hope that I may pick up during the course of my own remarks the various remarks that have been made by hon. Gentlemen. I think the House will agree that the underlying trend of today's debate has been the need for more coal with which to meet the nation's requirements. One thing which has not been stressed as much as the need for greater production is the alternative, which is reduced consumption.
A certain amount has, however, been said today, particularly by the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker), about fuel efficiency. I shall be referring to that again, but I think it is only fair to the mining industry to try to give some indication of what it is doing in this matter. After all, when we are exhorting and endeavouring by every means in our power to get all industries throughout the country to increase the efficiency with which they burn fuel, they, at any rate, have the right to ask whether the people who are producing the coal are themselves using it economically and efficiently.
The right hon. Member for Derby, South pointed out that there had been a considerable reduction in coal consumption by the National Coal Board since 1948 which amounted to no less than 2 million tons. In addition, the right hon. Gentleman also pointed out that the quality of coal being burned by the industry had considerably depreciated, notwithstanding the fact that the production for which they used that coal had greatly increased. That has been achieved in a variety of ways, one of which is that they now have 750 mechanical stokers in operation, a process which is a very great advance, but one which is still continuing.
Another way in which that saving has been achieved is that the National Coal Board has gone in for training boilermen 1716 —as we have been exhorting industry to do—so that they now do their job efficiently and thoroughly. Some 245 of the Board's boilermen have now been awarded the certificate of the City and Guilds Institute. Another thing which the industry has done has been to turn over in large measure to the use of electricity, because there is no doubt that in the great modern and efficient boilers of the British Electricity Authority coal can be burned much more efficiently than in the boilers of the collieries themselves.
In 1948—again to take the same year as that taken by the right hon. Gentleman opposite for his comparison—the Board bought 1,900 million units of electricity, but by 1953 their purchase of electricity had increased to 2,835 million units, which is a very substantial figure. Taking these two reforms together, we get a remarkable achievement by the National Coal Board, in that in 1948 the combined use of its coal and electricity amounted to 6.3 tons with which to produce 100 tons of coal, whereas in 1954 it is estimated that the amount of coal and electricity needed to produce 100 tons of coal will only be 5.1 tons.
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
I am afraid I have not that information available.
If I may pass to general industry, I would like to support my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster against the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, South. I agree that industry is showing greater interest in fuel efficiency and is taking action about it. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is very difficult to obtain specific information, but a certain amount of information can be obtained from the sale of fuel-saving equipment to industry. In 1953 about £1 million worth of such equipment was sold to industry. Presumably that has been installed, and it indicates that there is a substantial rise in fuel efficiency.
Again, one can get information from the increased productivity in industry in comparison with increased fuel consumption. Productivity increased at a greater rate than did fuel consumption by, roughly speaking, a million tons of coal a year, so I think that we can say that 1717 the efforts which have been made to impress upon industry the desirability of fuel efficiency have come home. And so they should.
Perhaps I may give the House an actual example, because it is so much easier to show by an illustration what can be done. A certain brickworks—a heavy coal-consuming industry—installed, on the advice of fuel engineers, an insulated down-draught kiln. By its use 300 tons of coal a year were saved. The firm did it by obtaining a loan—under the Government loans scheme—of £5,000 repayable over seven years. After seven years, when the loan had been repaid, the situation was as follows. The nation had benefited by the saving of something upwards of 2,000 tons of coal. The company, after repaying the loan, and the interest which it had to pay for five years—because for the first two years the loan was free of interest—benefited to the extent of £1,400 from the fuel saved and from the additional tax reliefs it obtained. After the seven years there are still 15 years estimated life left in the kiln, with additional annual saving from decreased fuel consumption and additional tax reliefs to come in.
We are therefore exceedingly anxious to attract further additional applications for loans for fuel-saving equipment because, as my right hon. Friend said, we have found that the scheme can work, and has been worked satisfactorily by those who have used it. We believe that very great advantage, both to the country and to industry, can be gained by a wider extension of the use of such equipment.
Nevertheless, even with all this, with all the maximum efficiency, the use of natural gas and atomic power, increased efficiency and economic production of coal will still be essential. That point has been stressed by hon. Members on both sides. I think it was an hon. Gentleman on the other side who pointed out that, in an extractive industry, production can only be maintained by development. One has to go on developing all the time, and the greater production at which we are aiming at the present time must mean greater development. As my right hon. Friend stressed in his remarks, it is a remarkable thing that additional development work has been achieved this year. In fact, in the 1718 first eight months of 1954 over 250,000 more shifts have been worked on capital development and other special work than in the corresponding period of 1953. In fact, in the first eight months of 1954 over 6 million shifts were worked on that type of work. This is a very creditable matter for the industry.
Above all the need throughout the industry is for the best possible human relations, and also for personal technical ability. I am sorry that the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) is not with us at the moment, because I had great sympathy with the serious and helpful speech she made. It may well be that the problem which the hon. Lady was laying before the House is closely knit with the problem of the isolation of the industry in the communities in which it lives, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Arbuthnot) also made reference. I have myself felt that one of the great things we must all try to achieve with the coal industry is a greater integration of its members with the general population of the country. If the hon. Lady has any suggestions which she can put before us, it might well be that the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation would help. It is for that purpose that it has been brought into being, and I shall be glad to give her any assistance I can.
Everything possible is being done to attract boys into the industry and, once we have them there, to enable them to climb up the ladder and reach the top. Hon. Gentlemen who came with me to Germany will be interested to hear that the plan we have, which we call the ladder plan, an educational and training plan, compares favourably, I believe, with anything they have in that country. I am hopeful that greater advantage will be taken of it if only we can get, as we are endavouring to do, the universities, as well as the men in the mines themselves, to realise the great opportunities open to them.
It is quite remarkable, but recently I had occasion to quote two cases of men who became managers in the industry, who were in charge of collieries employing about 500 men, at salaries of about £1,500. One of them started in a university and then came into the industry under the training scheme. The other came up from the industry itself, having gone there straight from school, and then 1719 went to the university. Both those fellows were in that position at the age of 26, and I do not know of any other industry in which there are such chances.
So with those opportunities which he before us, and with the good feeling which has been shown on all sides of the House, I believe we can look forward to a further year's work in the industry which will not only lay a strong foundation stone for increased production, but will also be a great foundation stone for increasing the goodwill which exists between the industry and the rest of the country.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the Annual Report and Statement of Accounts of the National Coal Board for 1953.