HC Deb 10 May 1956 vol 552 cc1424-537

Order for Second Reading read.

3.45 p.m.

The Minister of Fuel and Power (Mr. Aubrey Jones)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This Bill is simple in form. It is designed to substitute certain figures for others, and notably, the figure of £650 million for £300 million as the total outstanding advances of the National Coal Board. But behind the simplicity of form there loom questions which are far-reaching in their implication—for instance, the place of coal in the economy, the performance of the coal industry and the measures needed to raise that performance—and in the course of this debate it is with these questions that I think it right to deal.

I suppose that if one were to conduct a Gallup Poll of public opinion on the coal industry one would find that, according to most people, the coal industry is one on which we are now very dependent but in a few years' time—well, the atomic age will be near and then coal can be despatched to the limbo of forgotten things. If that were, indeed, so, if that impression were well-founded, how easy it might be for some of us. I, for one, need not incur the odium which I am told I am incurring by introducing this Bill; none of us need take part in this debate, and, if the Whips allowed, we might all disperse for what I might call an unmerited day's holiday. But of such stuff are dreams and fancies made. We live with facts. It is the duty of all of us to take account of those facts, and the facts, I fear, will not permit this delightful flight of the imagination.

The first fact that I would draw to the attention of the House is this. The demand for energy is, in our age, rising at a faster pace than at any time since the heyday of the Victorian era. It is rising at the rate of the equivalent of 5 million to 6 million tons of coal a year. It has been rising like this since the war and, if we are to make a reality of the idea of an expanding economy, it must go on rising like this.

At present, of the primary fuels needed to satisfy this demand, 85 per cent. Is represented by coal, so we have an extremely high degree of dependence on coal and, in addition, a fast rate of growth in the demand for energy. In the light of these facts it is surely inappropriate to talk in terms of supplanting one fuel for another; the reasonable thing is to talk in terms of supplementing one fuel with another.

What are the supplements available—the important supplements? Well, there is oil. A little under a year ago my predecessor announced a target for conversion to oil. That target involved a trebling of the use of black oils by 1960—a trebling in five years. That is a most formidable target. After consultation with the oil industry, I have decided that it is a practicable target, and earlier this year I went out of my way to confirm it. But surely it is hardly practicable to move much faster than that—the trebling of the use of black oils in five years—and, in addition, let us not forget that the use of oil entails a burden on the balance of payments.

What else is there? We come to nuclear power. The present programme of nuclear power is designed to effect by 1965 an annual saving of 5 million to 6 million tons of coal, and by 1975 40 million tons of coal. If this programme goes according to plan every power station established about 15 years from now will be a nuclear power station. This is not a maximum programme. It is a minimum programme, and, as national conditions allow, we shall expand and accelerate this programme.

I would, however, ask the House to take note that there are limits to the expansion and acceleration possible—not a limit set by reluctance to invest. There, is first, the limit of knowledge and of technical resources, including in particular resources in skilled manpower. The Atomic Energy Authority in its first Annual Report, drew attention to this fact.

There is another kind of limitation. Nuclear power supplies energy in only one form—electricity. Electricity at present meets only one-sixth of our total energy requirements. The other five-sixths are met by coal, gas and oil. Even so, the use of electricity is already rising by 8 to 9 per cent. a year, making electricity with oil one of the fastest growing things in the whole economy.

If we were to adopt the policy of dispensing entirely with coal and substituting for it nuclear power, we should have to expand the use of electricity even faster than we are. We should have to scrap long before the end of its economic life much equipment now designed to use coal. We should have to enforce a massive conversion to electricity. After having done all that, we should still find ourselves with important and extensive uses for coal for which electricity could not be substituted—for instance, blast furnaces.

As a country, we have run into recurring economic crises since the war, and those economic crises have met with a universal diagnosis. We have been attempting too much with too limited resources. How can one practicably suggest that we should force the pace still further in the way that I have described? If we are to make the best use of our existing capital stock, there is only one course open to us, and that is to look to nuclear power to meet as soon as it can and for as much as it can the increase in our requirements for energy.

For the reasons I have given, it cannot meet the entire increase quickly, and that means to say that we still have to look to the conventional fuels to meet existing requirements, plus something more. In other words, for as long ahead as it is useful for us to peer, we shall need more coal than we are now getting. I grant straightaway that we ought now and in the future to be more careful than we now are in the use of coal. We are reared in the tradition of an island of coal and we use coal more extravagantly than is appropriate for our present circumstances. In other words, we have to reshape our lush tradition to meet our current penury, and I am hopeful that the Chancellor's latest measure of investment allowances for approved fuel-saving equipment will help in this direction.

But when all is said and done in the shape of fuel economy, let us not blink the fact that we are still faced with a most formidable production problem. And suppose that I am proved wrong in my estimates; suppose that I have been mesmerised by a few fleeting years—ten postwar years; suppose that the requirements for energy do not rise in the way that I have forecast; we shall still need coal to be efficiently mined; we shall still need to close uneconomic mines and reduce as fast as we can the scale of opencast mining for the sake of amenity and agriculture. In other words, we shall still need investment in coal.

I do not see that there is any twisting or wriggling out of these facts. The facts, which I have endeavoured rather laboriously to put to the House, seem to me to point to one inescapable conclusion, that coal must remain the foundation of our fuel economy, and no Government, having come to that conclusion, could do other than seek sanction for continued investment in the coal industry.

It is a platitude that we are not now producing enough coal for our requirements. We are not alone in that. Every other Western European country is the same. Hon. Members will be familiar with the recent pattern of coal production—in 1937, a pre-war peak of 240 million tons; a heavy slide during the war to 175 million tons in 1945; then a climb to a post-war peak of 214 million tons in 1952; then stability for a year or two, and then last year, a further decline to 210 million tons. This year, so far, I am happy to say that the outlook is somewhat better than it was last year, although I think it would be imprudent to count on any significant increase in the total year's output over last year.

Why is it that for some years after nationalisation the output went up, followed by stability and then decline? At the risk of exposing myself to the charge of crudity which attends all generalisations, I will attempt an explanation. It seems that on the morrow of nationalisation the coal industry benefited from a double source. In the first place, it took part in the post-war recovery which was common to all British industry, and, in the second place, it reaped some of the short-term gains which were available to a new organisation—small reconstruction schemes, for instance. But on both counts the gain was once and for all. After a time it was spent, and longer-term factors reasserted themselves, in particular the long-term factor which is germane to this debate—namely, the continuing failure of industry to renew itself.

Both extractive and manufacturing industries clearly have this in common, that without investment and without renewal there must ensue a fall of output. But I think there is this difference, that in the manufacturing industries the resulting fall in output is gradual and slow, whereas in an extractive industry it is immediate and drastic. We extract from a coal face, and, having extracted, if we do not then replace that face with a new face, there is a decline in output. The Coal Board estimates the current loss in output arising from this fact at 4 million tons a year.

I should like to offer to the House some evidence of the absence of renewal in this industry, notably two figures. One half of our present output comes from mines started before the beginning of the twentieth century. As a matter of historical whimsicality, it may interest the House to know that about half a million tons a year now come from workings begun in the middle of the seventeenth century. Only one-fifth of our present output comes from mines sunk since 1920. Of how many industries can it be said that only 20 per cent. of its output comes from establishments laid down since 1920?

Even if these facts were challengeable, which they are not, surely the whole House must accept these two propositions: first, that if seams become exhausted and we do not replace them with new seams, then output falls; and, second, that if shafts and roadways are not widened, then we are not putting our labour force to the most effective use. If those two things are accepted, then it infallibly follows that the need for investment must be accepted.

The House accepted the need for investment back in 1951, when the Coal Board published its "Plan for Coal". A judgment on the "Plan for Coal" is a necessary prelude to a judgment upon this Bill. I would say this of the "Plan for Coal", that it did furnish us with a foundation for a rational view of the coal industry. For that reason, it was, in my view, a most valuable concept. As for progress made under "Plan for Coal", I would suggest to the House that our judgment must be a compound of disappointment on the one hand and of hope on the other.

The disappointment surely must be on two grounds, finance and work done. To enable "Plan for Coal" to be executed, the House, in 1951, accorded to the Coal Board a borrowing power of £300 million. No term of years was set, but it was then understood that this sum might suffice for about 15 years. In fact, of course, it has been exhausted in a third of the time. Prices have risen faster than was expected; the Coal Board has added quite a substantial housing plan to its programme, and, apart from rising prices, the schemes proved costlier than was then thought.

A deeper ground of disappointment must surely be on the score of work done. There was scarcely any industry where there was a more crying need for investment in the early post-war years than the coal industry; but I must add that there was scarcely any industry where investment in the post-war years picked up more slowly. Indeed, it is only in the last two or three years that the annual investment figures of the coal industry have reached a sizeable amount. Yet even over those last few years, our investment per ton of output is behind that of other countries. Over these last few years, the peak period of our post-war investment in coal, investment per ton of coal output in the European Coal and Steel Community was one-third higher than here.

How do we explain the fact that investment which was so necessary was so slowly undertaken? Again, though I lay myself open to the charge of crudity, all I would say is that it seems to me that with these recurring output crises, the Coal Board was absorbed with the problems of the day and was thereby diverted from the needs of the future. As a result, investment which by now should be yielding its fruits is still only half completed; or, if I may put it symbolically, pits which should now be fully sunk and working are only half sunk.

That is the sombre side of the picture. I have suggested that the picture is also suffused with the light of hope. The completed schemes are few, but, though few, they show encouraging results. I would offer the House some random examples, not all drawn from expanding divisions like the East Midlands Division, but drawn universally from all over the country. In the East Midlands, at Oxcroft Colliery, output per manshift before reconstruction was 29 cwt., and after re construction it was 44 cwt. At Thoresby Colliery, in the same division, before reconstruction, output per manshift was 41 cwt., and after reconstruction it was 52 cwt. In the North East Division, at Wheldale Colliery, the figure was 21 cwt. before, and 41 cwt. after reconstruction. In the North West Division, Muncoat Colliery, the figure was 20 cwt. before reconstruction and after reconstruction it was 39 cwt.

Well may it be asked, why are these improvements not reflected in total output? The answer is that the pits which have been reconstructed and which are showing better results are outweighed by those where there has been no reconstruction, or where the reconstruction is not yet completed. If pits and their outputs over the last few years are analysed, the results may be grouped in this way: pits with completed reconstruction schemes, showing an increase in output of 10 per cent.; pits in the course of reconstruction but not yet completed, 1 per cent. increase; pits unaffected by reconstruction but with a reasonable working life, also an increase of 1 per cent.; pits with a short remaining life and, therefore, not worth reconstructing, minus 15 per cent. In short, the pluses are more than offset by the minuses.

These were the facts with which the Government were confronted when receiving from the Coal Board an application for an added borrowing power. First, we need coal. I hope there is no doubt about that. Secondly, it is logical to think that if we have investment, we will get more coal and get it more effectively. Thirdly, the evidence, slight in volume but none the less promising in nature, supports that supposition. Lastly, added to these reflections there is one other, that to cut our investment now would be, so to speak, to blight the fruit while it was still in bud, to leave the investment half completed, and the pits half sunk, instead of going on with the entire sinking.

What would be the result? Output would fall immediately, and, with the years, the fall would gather momentum, long before nuclear power could possibly come to our aid. The first programme for nuclear power supply is designed to save 5 to 6 million tons of coal by 1965. In the light of the figures I have given, the loss of coal output over the same period would be about 40 million tons.

In those circumstances, the Government—and no Government could have done otherwise—deemed it essential, and I repeat the word "essential," to approve further plans of development, and to come to the House in support of the added borrowing power. This does not mean to say that I have approved the Coal Board's document, "Investing in Coal". That is the Board's own detailed exposition of its plans. The statutory requirement is approval only for broad outlines, and it is the broad outlines which I have approved. As to the broad outlines, I should like to comment on two aspects, first output and then finance.

The revised plan of the Coal Board adds new projects to the old plan, projects which have become possible in the light of new discoveries, but at the end of it all when the new projects, as well as the old ones, have been realised the total output, including opencast, destined to accrue in 1965 is 240 million tons a year. According to the old plan, this output was due to accrue also in 1965, but without anything from opencast mining. In other words, the Coal Board has scaled down its estimates.

Once again, one is tempted to disappointment, but I suggest that we suppress the feeling of disappointment and, instead, commend the Board for its greater realism. [Laughter.] Yes, indeed. All that I want from the Board is an honest appraisal of possibilities. I should be most disconcerted if I felt that we were not receiving an honest appraisal of possibilities. The last thing that I should wish to do, even as an innocent party, would be to come to the House with estimates which were not honestly reached. I put it to the House that we should accept these estimates as being an honest appraisal.

Naturally, all estimation and all statistical work is a treacherous quicksand. The estimator picks his way cautiously from assumption to assumption, but with the flux of time he finds assumption after assumption sliding catastrophically from underneath him. That may well take place. None the less, I think that the House should look at some of the assumptions.

There is, first, the assumption about manpower. The Board assumes that it will have greater success in attracting and holding men than it had last year. What is the evidence to warrant any such hope? It seems to me that there is only one thing. The assumption reflects a resolve on the part of the Board to conduct a more vigorous recruiting and transfer policy than has been the case in the last year or two. For my part, I believe that the Board should be commended for this, and I shall certainly do everything I can to help it.

Then there is the assumption about unchanged working time. We are talking in terms of 10 to 15 years ahead, and it is not unreasonable to suppose that over that period as the national prosperity increases there will be a disposition to work shorter hours and take longer holidays. I am talking of the economy as a whole. If that were to be so for the economy as a whole and in industry generally, no one would wish to deny the miners their share of such benefits.

However, if that were the case, it would be all the more important that attendance should be improved. In other words, it is all the more important that effective working time should not be diminished. Thus, the assumption of undiminished working time is more than an assumption. It must be an aim. I trust that all in the coal industry are fully conscious of the importance of this aim.

Then there is the assumption about unchanged technique. It is assumed that there will be no new techniques. This is, of course, not a prophecy; it is an assumption made for greater certainty in statistical calculation. There is, however, considerable scope for the introduction of new techniques in the coal industry as well as for the wider application of known techniques, and both these things are the direct responsibility of the Board. We live in an age when the application of mechanical processes to industry is being considerably accelerated. It would surely be a standing condemnation of the coal industry if it did not at any rate share in this technical advance.

In short, though these are assumptions hedged with all the uncertainties attendant upon assumptions, nevertheless to a large extent, though not entirely, they lie within the control of the Board. The Board can determine to a large extent how they will turn out.

Since the expectations are scaled down, it is vital to continue opencast mining at a high level for many years to come. Nobody appreciates more vividly than I do the objections to widespread opencast mining. There is only one alternative, and that is a high level of imports bought at a high cost, no matter whether it be in dollars or any other currency. The Board, in its document Investment in Coal", assumes the continuance of opencast mining at a level of about 10 million tons for the next 10 years. The Government are examining the implications of this assumption, as well as the possibility of improving the terms of compensation.

So much for output. In 1965, the total output expected to accrue is 240 million tons, representing the staving off of a decline of 40 million tons plus a gain of 20 million tons, which is a gross gain of 60 million tons.

Now I turn to the financial side. The plan is estimated to cost £1,000 million. Not all of this, of course, is to be related to the output which I have just mentioned. Some of it will be spent on coke oven plants, washeries, etc. The investment in collieries is put at £825 million, and this, strictly speaking, is the sum to be related to the output obtained. Now, £825 million is a very large and formidable sum. One of the great problems set by nationalisation is the checking of the great capital estimates that come from the nationalised undertaking. It is not a problem unique to nationalisation. Every large-scale business undertaking has the same problem. When a large-scale business undertaking receives from its subsidiaries estimates of future capital expenditure, how does it check them? It does so in the last resort only in one way, by the most careful probing and questioning which transmits its discipline right down the hierarchy. Such meticulous questioning has been carried out over a long period on this occasion.

At the end of it all, it is apparent without any peradventure that investment in coal on the figures indicated can be effected at a lower capital cost than investment in any other fuel. On that score alone—I do not suggest that it is the only score; indeed, the whole of the first part of my speech went to show that it is not the score that matters most—this investment would be justified.

The Coal Board has not, of course, asked me to lend it the whole £1,000 million. It will find two-thirds of that sum from its own revenues. It has asked for added borrowing power representing, at most, £400 million. The Board has put it that this borrowing is necessary to see it over the great heave of investment for the next five years. Beyond the next five years, as investment dwindles and as the depreciation provisions from past investment accrue, it is estimated that the Board will be entirely self-financing.

But are we—and this is the question to which the House must address itself—to grant the Coal Board the full £400 million asked for? I think not. The accumulated deficit of the Board at the end of 1955 was just under £40 million. According to present prospects, it seems likely that the Board, in the current year, will add to that deficit to the tune of about £10 million, making a total deficit at the end of this year of £50 million.

What happens when a nationalised undertaking increases its deficit? [HON. MEMBERS: "It puts up prices."] It does not pass them on immediately; it carries on adding to its borrowing. I can see no justification for lending on the assumption that the deficit is to continue indefinitely.

Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)


Mr. Jones

May I complete this thought? To do that would be tantamount to a subsidy, and I can think of no more effective way of ensuring that the deficit would grow still further than by giving such a subsidy.

Mr. Nabarro

We waited with interest to hear my right hon. Friend complete his passage. He said that two-thirds of the capital investment to which he referred would be found from the Coal Board's own resources. Would he justify that to the House by saying on what depreciation principles and on what price structure he has based his assumption that two-thirds of the whole of this vast sum of money can be found from the internal resources of the Board?

Mr. Jones

If my hon. Friend will curb his impatience, as we all know he is well—capable of doing, I will deal with that point in a moment. I was suggesting that we ought not to meet the deficit with a subsidy. If we do not meet it with a subsidy, how do we meet it? What is to happen? The ideal thing of course, would be to lower costs while prices were kept unchanged. That would be the ideal, but we have, as I said earlier, to live with facts—these uncomfortable facts which keep obtruding themselves on my unwilling attention. The facts are that costs are mounting fast. The largest component in cost in the coal industry is, of course, wages.

This year, as against last year, the cost of wages will have gone up by about 9 per cent. The increase in productivity, that is, output per man, will be practically nil. Rising wages without rising output per man is, in a sense, the whole national problem, but here, in the coal industry, this national problem, I suggest, finds an extreme expression. It is, however, not the only extreme. When costs rise like this, I suggest that there is only one course—prices must be raised to offset the increase in costs.

Indeed, in the light of the accumulated deficit, they should be raised somewhat higher than the increase in costs. I am not suggesting that we should attempt to wipe off the whole of the accumulated deficit at one sweep, but I would suggest that the deficit should be progressively contracted and not widened. It is with no pleasure that any one of us can talk of higher prices for coal.

Mr. Spencer Summers (Aylesbury)

What my right hon. Friend has just said could give rise to misunderstanding. By that, I mean that he gave the impression that if productivity remains constant and wages go up there is apparently no limit to the amount by which prices must follow. Will he feel justified in amplifying a little the point with which he was dealing?

Mr. Jones

I would not say that that accorded strictly with what I said. I said that if wages rose without a concomitant increase in output per man, then if deficits are to be avoided, and subsidies are to be avoided, prices must go up correspondingly.

May I amplify this thought? All increases in costs transmitting themselves into increases in prices must be undesirable, but there is one thing that is even more undesirable and that is, of course, an inflationary subsidy. If there is anyone who objects to higher prices, then, by implication, it is an inflationary subsidy which, in these circumstances, he will be advocating.

As a result of all this, the sum which I suggest should be included in the Bill is not the full £400 million but £350 million. I hope that no one imagines that if this Bill goes through tonight, in the still watches, I shall coolly sign a cheque for £350 million and that this money will then be wafted and spirited away without anyone else having any further say in the matter. That would not be so. What the House will be doing if it approves the Bill will be determining an upper limit to the Coal Board's borrowing. Within that limit the capital allocations made available to the Board year by year will be determined by the Government and, through the Government, by the House.

Mr. Nabarro


Mr. Jones

Each year every nationalised undertaking comes along to the revelant Minister and discusses with him its investment programme in the light of the broad plans—as I have described this afternoon for coal—and the review takes into account such things as the state of the economy, the existence of inflation or otherwise, the capacity of the industry to finance itself, and so forth. In the light of this review, the Minister, in consultation with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, determines the capital sum. The Minister and the Chancellor are, after all, servants of this House, and for that sum they are responsible to this House.

What is more—and this is my answer to the earlier intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro)—if it were to become apparent in the course of time that the Coal Board could indulge in a greater degree of self-financing than now, that would be taken into account in the annual sums made available.

My hon. Friend mentioned depreciation. Suppose it be assumed that the precept of the Herbert Report were to be adopted. The Herbert Report suggested that depreciation should be related to current replacement costs rather than to past costs. Supposing that that were adopted—and surely it should be adopted for all the nationalised industries together, and not merely for one—that fact would be taken into account in the capital allocations made annually available.

In addition, the House would have a say on this matter, which it has with regard to no other nationalised undertaking. If the annual borrowing were to exceed £75 million it would be permissible only by Order debatable in the House. In no other nationalised undertaking does any such provision exist.

The Prime Minister, earlier this afternoon, made a statement on the future of Parliament and the nationalised undertakings. It is not for me to comment at this juncture on that statement but, nevertheless, I would offer two thoughts. My right hon. Friend's statement was consistent with the present conception of a nationalised undertaking as a commercial undertaking and not a Government Department. If the nationalised undertakings are to be commercial, enterprising undertakings, I suggest that they should be encouraged to look ahead. That is what the Bill does.

The Bill provides a reasonable certitude for the execution of long-term plans while, at the same time, retaining annual control in the hands of the Government, and of the House, to which the Government are responsible. Suppose we were to lay all the emphasis on annual control and provide that the House should have such a tight hold on the national undertakings that Parliament should give only for a year or two. We should be jeopardising every long-term plan and condemning the Board to the worst form of myopia. In short, we should be resurrecting the very weaknesses which we are struggling to escape from, namely, the pre-occupation of the Board with things of the day, and diverting the Board from the needs of tomorrow.

There is another thought. I have indicated, on the question of Parliamentary control, that the coal industry, so to speak, is already discriminated against. There is a provision in relation to the industry which is non-existent elsewhere. Suppose we add to that discrimination. All discrimination results in a sense of injury; and I can conceive of nothing less calcudated to elicit good performance than the further infliction of injury.

This completes my analysis of the Coal Board's revised plan, but I should like to pass one or two general observations on the coal industry. The plan gives access to more coal and enables the coal to be more effectively got. But whether the best use will be made of the plan or not will depend, of course, upon two sets of people—the management of the industry and the men. I should like to say a few words about each in turn.

The management of the industry is confronted with a great task in raising its status and quality. I am happy to say that progress is being made with that task. Indeed, I am assured that some of the managerial trainees of the industry now coming forward are equal to the best in British industry. The improvement of managerial quality, however, takes a long time. If the process is to be expedited, it is most important that recruits should be attracted from outside.

This industry is endeavouring to modernise itself, and it would be a national tragedy if in this, its hour of need, outside talent and experience were to spurn it. I hope that that will not be the case. For the rest, there are those who see efficiency of management turning a great deal on organisation. I have never been of that school. I have always rated men more important than systems but, whether or not I am right in that, there is one thing of which I am certain—that nothing could be more deleterious to efficiency than to keep chopping and changing the system. My innate conservatism, with a small "c", tells me that.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)

Rather a small "c" now.

Mr. Jones

I can only hope that my noble Friend has, at any rate, not deviated from the basically Conservative thought that I have been trying to express.

As a result of the Fleck Report, there was established a system, and it is only sensible to allow that system to settle and to look to management to work out its destiny within it.

I turn to the men. The output estimates in the Coal Board's revised plan are down because of a failure to improve attendance. Indeed, the attendance, so far from improving, has, in fact, been worsening. It was worse last year than in any other post-war year. Equally, the loss of tonnage last year, as a result of disputes, was higher than in any other post-war year. This year attendance is no better than it was last year. And I should like to say—and I hope that this sentiment is common to the whole House—that the strikes continue to shock by their sheer triviality.

Miners as a whole are not slackers and strikers. I should be the first most vehemently to repudiate such a suggestion, but it is true that a minority of the labour force in the mines is at present attending less than it might, downing tools on flimsy pretexts and bringing a slur on the whole craft and skill of mining. There is nothing new in this. Year after year, in every wage settlement, attention has been drawn to these facts. It was drawn again this year.

The National Union of Mineworkers pledged itself this year …to endeavour to remove restrictive practices and reduce unofficial stoppages and absenteeism. I hope that the whole House will join with me in saying that the future of this industry calls upon all within it to cooperate in the redemption of that pledge.

In the post-war years the Coal Board was entrusted with a task which was bound to lead to a great deal of misunderstanding. It had to redeem a most unhappy past. It found itself, in a time of full employment, heavily dependent upon labour. Access to seams was becoming more and more difficult. The lack of understanding, it seems to me, was aggravated by the attitudes which crystallised round the act of nationalisation with the extremism which said, on the one hand, "There is nothing wrong with nationalisation" and with the extremism, on the other hand, which said, "There is nothing right with nationalisation."

As a result, a gap has tended to open between the coal industry on the one hand and, on the other, the consuming public and the rest of British industry. It is most important for the health of the British coal industry and for the contribution which that industry has to make to the entire economy that that gulf should be closed. It would be tragic if the Coal Board were driven in on itself, with all the distortion of mind which affects those who are driven in upon themselves. It is most important that the coal industry should live in happy communion with the rest of British industry, drawing ideas and inspiration from it, but, if that is to be so, there must be fulfilled a pre-existing condition, and that condition is that the extremism on both sides must be abated.

I do not mean to say that objective criticism cannot help this industry. Objective criticism is, after all, part of the texture of a free society. However, objective criticism is one thing, and exacerbation is quite a different thing. Exacerbation can do nothing to cure the malaise of this industry. It can make it only far worse. If this industry needs anything at all it is surely objective understanding, and I can only hope that in this debate we shall all of us strive after objective understanding. I hope, too, that as part of this understanding we shall recognise that the coal industry, for all its troubles, reflects some of the best qualities of our nation. It contains much of sterling value. There are many people in it who are devoting themselves wholly and selflessly to a great national cause.

It might be said that this Bill is a token at once of the Government's faith in them and of their determination to make of the coal industry something of which the country would be proud. When the Bill is through it will then be for all in the industry to justify that faith and to play their part in ensuring that the coal industry becomes once again an object of pride to themselves as well as to the country at large.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

4.42 p.m.

Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)

The Minister will be in no doubt, having heard those cheers from this side of the House, and the cheers which punctuated his speech, that we applaud what he has said. We congratulate him that on his first appearance to make a speech at that Dispatch Box he should have spoken with such courage, with such forthrightness, with such honesty and with such objectivity.

While not wanting to make things more awkward for him with some of his hon. Friends, I have a feeling that he does not care very much about what may be said about him by what I may call the lunatic fringe of the party sitting behind him. I would assure the right hon. Gentleman that as long as he continues to speak in that vein for the nation and the coal industry and for the miners, as he did today, he will continue to receive support from all the sensible elements in this House, and certainly from my hon. Friends on this side.

Mr. M. Turner-Samuels (Gloucester)

And from the country.

Mr. Callaghan

There were many matters in the Minister's speech on which I should like to comment. I hope we shall hear many more speeches from him. Threatened men live long and he can take comfort from his predecessor, who, after all, was threatened from below the Gangway opposite and yet survived for a period of five years—longer than any other Minister in the same office. [Interruption.] I do not think the cardboard Caesar below the Gangway, the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), has much influence on it anyway.

In our view this Bill is necessary and the Minister was right to introduce it. He touched on a number of considerations making the Bill necessary. There is one to which I would draw his attention. It did not come out fully in his speech. It is the responsibility the Government themselves have for the necessity for the introduction of the Bill, the necessity brought about by their failure to control and keep down the level of prices during the last five years.

This has of itself made a tremendous difference to the investment programmes of every industry. The rise in the price level since 1950 would have added to the cost of the coal industry's original programme well over £200 million—just to fulfil the original programme as it was brought before the House in 1950. Although the programme brought before us now goes further than that, the House should remember that a substantial part—over £200 million—of the increased cost we are now being asked to meet is made necessary by the failure of the Government to keep down the level of prices since 1950.

I agree very much with the right hon. Gentleman about the future of British industry and the necessity for adequate fuel supplies. Unlike Lord Salter and others, I think we are living in the middle of a marvellous era of expansion in industrial Britain. There has not been another time in this century when industrial expansion has increased at the rate in which it has increased during the last decade, from 1945 to 1955. Practically every industry is bounding forward. The demand for fuel is growing apace.

It must stagger those who considered the prospects in 1945 and tried to estimate what the need would be. After all, what had they to go on? Between 1920 and 1938 there was practically no increased demand for British coal. There was stagnation because of the high level of unemployment. The change in the situation that has taken place since 1945, brought about by full employment and by the application of science to industry in this country, means, I believe, that we are on the threshold of untold advances in the level of our material prosperity, if we can but grasp them.

The first essential is that our fuel and power base should not be too narrow. The hon. Member for Kidderminster has on the Order Paper an Amendment for the rejection of the Bill. If that were carried, and were the Bill not to be given a Second Reading, what would happen? Our industries would, in due course, go short of necessary fuel and would be unable to maintain the tremendous expansion we have seen since 1945.

As the Minister pointed out, we are dependent for the overwhelming proportion of our fuel upon coal. Oil fills in: that is all it does at present. There is a tremendous amount of capital investment in oil. One has only to read Lord Godber's statement, published the day before yesterday, for the annual meeting of the Shell Transport and Trading Company, to see that since 1951 it has put in over £1,000 million new capital investment, and that at a time when the coal industry had about £300 million of capital investment. There is a vast difference—I am sorry, but I did not catch that remark.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

There is a vast difference. It has been getting the oil.

Mr. Callaghan

I do apologise to the Minister for his hon. Friend. The Minister's speech might not have been made, for his hon. Friend clearly did not hear, or else he did not understand, a word of it. It is certainly not my function to explain to the hon. Member if the Minister cannot manage to persuade him that what he is doing is right.

This country's supply from the oil industry is marginal, yet the oil industry has had more than £1,000 million of capital investment in the last five years, compared with about £300 million in the coal industry. If the Government go on bungling as they are at present their Middle Eastern policy, their policy in relation to the Baghdad Pact and a number of other factors, I do not know how long we shall be able to rely on supplies of oil from those sources [Interruption.] I shall draw in anything I want to in my own speech, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) can say what he pleases in his.

If we find that this marginal production of oil begins to dry up, then we shall see that it has been very regrettable indeed that the investment in the coal industry has not been heavier than it has been during the last five years, or as it is planned to be during the next ten years.

I agree with the Minister's analysis about atomic energy. I am not wholly convinced that it would not be possible to speed up the Calder Hall type of reactor programme; I think it probably is. However, if we do, it will mean diverting skilled technicians now working on the defence research programme, and this is an issue which the Government will have to face very soon. How far are they going to allow our basic fuel and power needs to go short, while maintaining a vast superstructure of defence research on top of a very tiny structure of civilian research in this field?

There is no doubt, as the Minister said, that the plan has its weaknesses, and a major weakness which I want to bring to his attention is one on which he commented himself. What assumption did he make in regard to manpower? When one considers that the coal industry lost men at the rate of about 25,000 a year for practically every year from the early 1920's onwards—and that during a period of unemployment—it is in my view a remarkable success on the part of the Coal Board, due to the payment of higher wages and to improved conditions, that that loss should have been stemmed during the last ten years. Considering the tremendous decline that had taken place, the way the graph has turned upwards and the way in which men have gone to the pits is undoubtedly an indication that we need not have lost them before the war if the conditions had been proper and fair and had appealed to the men as being just. However, we lost them, and, when they go to new industries, it is very rare that they come back.

This plan is based on the assumption that the miners will continue to work the same length of day, that their annual holidays will not be increased, and that Saturday work continue. The Minister asks whether, if the general conditions of material advancement improve, we can expect that from the miners. Can we? Are we entitled to ask it from the miners, when they recently put forward a national charter for a seven-hour day and three weeks' holiday? I ask hon. Gentlemen opposite, and especially the critics below the Gangway, whether three weeks' holiday is too much to give a man who spends forty-nine weeks of the year underground. [An HON. MEMBER: "Clerks get it."] I make no comparison with anybody else; I merely ask the question.

What is the value of the man at the coal face? No one in the House would deny the right of the man who goes underground to three weeks' holiday if that is in his national charter. I know that there are a great many hon. Members on the Government side of the House, as well as on this side, who will agree that the National Union of Mineworkers has used its great economic power with great moderation during the last ten years, and the House and the country are indebted to the statesmanship, as well as to the plain speaking, of the miners' leaders during the last decade.

The first obvious weakness that occurs to anybody in considering this plan is this. Based as it is upon the assumption that the miners are to have no improvements at all in their leisure time, I believe it may well fail on this account, unless the Minister's optimism is right and the men can get a sufficient improvement in production to overcome it. As I understand it, the acceptance of these two items in the charter over the next few years—the seven-hour day and the three weeks' holiday—would mean that the nation would lose 20 million tons of coal, and that is what we have to face.

Now I come to some of the thoughts which the Minister expressed on this question of accountability, and one or two of them I thought were a little suspect. He said that the coal industry, in the opinion of the Government, should be run as a commercial undertaking; I think he said that it is being run as a commercial undertaking.

Mr. Aubrey Jones

I was endeavouring to suggest that the conception which lies behind the thought of the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) is that of a commercial undertaking. Indeed, earlier this afternoon, the right hon. Gentleman, who is not now present, used the phrase "managerial freedom".

Mr. Callaghan

Managerial freedom is not the same as operating as a commercial undertaking; the two are quite different. How can anyone contend that the Coal Board is a commercial undertaking when it is enjoined to produce 34 million tons of coal at a loss of £35 million? If it were operated commercially, it would cut out the loss by not working those 34 million tons of coal and saving £35 million, and make a profit instead. How much better off would the nation be if the Coal Board showed a profit? It would be better off to the extent of a million and a half unemployed, but the Coal Board would return a profit in its balance-sheet, and the hon. Member for Kidderminster would not be able to grumble.

Mr. Nabarro


Mr. Callaghan

No, I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman. He has an Amendment to move later on, and he can say what he wants to say in his speech. I shall have something to say to him a little later on.

If the Minister thinks that a commercial undertaking is the same thing as managerial freedom, I would ask him this. How can we contend that the Coal Board is being operated as a commercial undertaking when it is being asked to bear upon its books the cost of imported coal? Does the farmer pay the cost of imported wheat? Does the steel industry pay the cost of imported steel? With great respect, it does not, any more than the farmer adds on the cost of imported meat or wheat when arriving at his profit or loss.

Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham)

My hon. Friend may be interested to learn that the cost of imported steel puts 35s. a ton on the cost of every ton of British steel which is produced.

Mr. Callaghan

The point I am making is quite a simple one. When we look at the profit and loss accounts of the Coal Board, we find included in them a sum in respect of the cost of imported coal. That is the point, and what I am saying is that that is not shown in the profit and loss accounts of either Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds, Ltd., or Guest, Keen Iron and Steel Co., Ltd. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes, it is."] How can it be shown, when they are not allocated particular quantities of imported steel brought into this country for the use of individual firms?

Mr. Robson Brown (Esher)

Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to intervene? I understand the complications of this matter. Will he study the system of the steel industry, and take the word of two hon. Members who have spent a lifetime in it? I assure him categorically that we do bear the cost, with the possible exception of some small items.

Mr. Callaghan

Of course, I will look into that matter more fully.

I will content myself with this question whether it is a commercial undertaking or not. How can it be, when the Coal Board is asked to bear the cost of imported coal? I understand that the Coal Board has imported 17 million tons of coal, and it still has had a loss of 48s. per ton, since nationalisation. Is that a commercial undertaking? The total loss is £41 million. That is the cost of buying coal at a high price and selling it at a lower price. The Board is not operating commercially on that basis.

This loss is put into the Coal Board's profit and loss account, and hon. Gentlemen opposite go down into their constituencies and tell their constituents that nationalised industries cannot make a profit. Indeed, I go on to say that the total loss of the Coal Board is £37 million. That is the accumulated loss of the Coal Board since nationalisation, and £41 million is the cost that has been borne by the Coal Board in respect of buying coal at a high price and selling at a lower price.

I want the Minister to understand our position fully on this matter. We want the burden taken off the Coal Board. We want to take the burden off the backs of the miners. There is no reason why British industry should be subsidised in this way. Why should British industry continue to make substantial profits because it is able to purchase 17 million tons of coal brought in from abroad at a lower price than the Coal Board pays for it? If the Minister wants this to be a commercial undertaking, that is first step he should take, and we ask him to take it.

Mr. Arthur Holt (Bolton, West)

To be logical, if this is the view of the Opposition, would not the hon. Member say that not only should British industry pay an economic and market price for coal but so should consumers generallythat—is, he and I and other householders?

Mr. Callaghan

I am sorry, I was interrupted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington, and so I did not get the point of that interruption.

Mr. Holt

I said that as some coal has to be bought abroad at a high price, the market price should be paid not only by British industry, as the hon. Member indicated, but by consumers generally, such as he and I and other householders.

Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr Tydvil)

Will my hon. Friend take into consideration the fact that it has been stated by representatives of the Coal Board that coal supplied to industry is often sold under the cost of production? No less a person than the deputy chief of the Coal Board made that statement two weeks ago. The domestic consumer at least pays a price which is over and above the cost of production.

Mr. Callaghan

What I am aware of is that Mr. Latham, who is Deputy Chairman of the National Coal Board, said the other day that British coal was the cheapest in the world If that is so, and if this is a commercial undertaking—a theory which I do not accept—by virtue of what economic considerations do we continue to sell imported coal at this low price? These are facts which the Minister must face before very long.

Now I want to refer to the Amendment and to a point upon which the Minister touched. Because of the expansion of the coal mining industry near Cardiff I now have some miners living in my constituency. Of course I have met and known many of them, as has the right hon. Gentleman, for he was brought up among them and is a son of a miner. What appeals to me about the men in this industry is that they, with the trawler men men who go fishing, have the two toughest jobs in Britain today. They also have the qualities that go with that toughness. They are quick, they are generous, they are hard, they are tough. If they do not like something they will throw down their spades quickly and say why in plain language. I have never found that a miner resents being spoken to plainly. Equally, he speaks to you plainly and expects to get a reply.

Viscount Lambton (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

Does the hon. Gentleman think that miners still use spades?

Mr. Callaghan

I agree that power loading has superseded much of the handcutting, but I was speaking figuratively. I could not say that the miner throws down a power loader. My point is that on this side of the House there is no support for unofficial strikes. We believe they are wrong. We believe that they hamper the development of the industry and the kind of relation between the miners and the community which the Minister wants to establish. However, we cannot iron out all these virtues from the miner, which go with his job, unless we get rid of the miner altogether. If we try to turn him into one of the pinstripe-trousered, bowler-hatted, sandwich-in-a-despatch case brigade, he may be ironed out and be a perfectly good citizen but he is not the kind of citizen who will go down the mine. We have to take the rough with the smooth in this industry and with this fine class of men.

I say to hon. Gentlemen opposite, for goodness' sake stop nagging and scolding. That is all that goes on in the constituencies throughout the country. All the time there is some jeer or gibe being poked at the miner or at the Coal Board by people who believe that it is to their political advantage to do so. I hope there is nobody present this afternoon who is guilty of that.

Now I turn to the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kidderminster, although I cannot comment on it in detail because it has not yet been moved. The hon. Gentleman has a good opportunity today. He knows that the Opposition will not oppose the Bill, so he has the opportunity of turning out the Government.

Mr. Turner-Samuels

The hon. Gentleman will pretend to oppose it.

Mr. Callaghan

I take it that the object of putting an Amendment on the Order Paper is to vote, otherwise it is an abuse of procedure. Assuming that it is intended seriously, then the fruits of office are within the grasp of the hon. Gentleman. He has only to carry the vote tonight and tomorrow he will be sent for. He will be perhaps Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury with an over-lord as Foreign Secretary and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) as Chancellor of the Exchequer. What an opportunity the hon. Member for Kidderminster has got. He has only to put his courage to the test—but I do not believe he will.

Mr. Nabarro

Wait and see.

Mr. Callaghan

I will wait and see.

Mr. Turner-Samuels

We shall wait a long time.

Mr. Callaghan

We shall all be waiting to see. My private prophecy is that, at the first prick of the Minister's lance, the hon. Gentleman will scramble off his horse and run for cover. I do not believe that he will have the courage to go into the Lobby on his Amendment.

In conclusion, I want to make one or two comments about two thoughtful articles on the coal industry which have appeared in the Manchester Guardian in recent days. I quote: The coal industry's insolvency is not like the failure of an ordinary business, for it has been brought about by deliberate policy… That is true. By keeping the price of coal below the cost of production we have given the Conservative Party a good weapon to use in the constituencies. Indeed we have done more than that. We have hindered the proper development of the coal industry, and there is not the slightest doubt, in the words of the Manchester Guardian: Any Government in the past nine years could have turned the board's losses into handsome profits by authorising a sufficient increase in the price of coal. That is what private industry does. Every time there is an increase in costs, up goes the price. It is the Coal Board which, by virtue of some gentleman's agreement—although why there should be an agreement when one party at least are not gentlemen, I do not know—has to keep down the national price of coal, with the result that there is insolvency in the coal industry today. I ask hon. Members to note these remarks: There is nothing new in this: before the war we gave ourselves cheap coal by underpaying the miners; since the war we have preferred to blame the Coal Board for its annual losses than to charge the full cost of mining wages in the price of coal. I welcome what the Minister had to say about the price of coal in the earlier passage of his speech. It seems to me that there is no case for subsidising British industry in the way that it is being subsidised now. There may well be a case for saying that the domestic consumer, particularly where there are small wages, is bearing a high enough burden; but in the case of industry, which consumes seven-eighths of the product of the pits, there is simply no ground whatever for saying that it should pay less than the economic price.

There is one matter on which I do not agree with the Manchester Guardian. It asks that the Board should be expected to pay for this investment— which is now to be undertaken— out of current income, not by borrowing and charging the cost to tomorrow's customers. I do not think that that is a complete analysis.

We are paying now for the deficiencies of the past. The coal industry today is having to undertake this mammoth reorganisation because of the failures of hon. Members opposite in the years between the wars. That burden is now being borne by the nation and it is going too far to suggest that not only should the present generation bear the sins of the past, but should also take upon itself the obligations of the future. There is no case at present for suggesting that the Coal Board—in other words, the miners—should bear more than the proposal that the Board itself has made—namely, two-thirds of the total cost of the new investment.

The Manchester Guardiansays, quite properly, that More output is the only goal to the Board. It is critical about this assumption by the Board that more output is the only goal. The Manchester Guardian says: It is unwise of the Board to assume that part of its share in this increase— mainly in the increased fuel that we need— could not be provided more easily, and at less cost, by oil and atomic power. My own conclusion from such statistics as are available to me is that that is not so, and that investment in coal is, in fact, the best way of providing for the additional fuel we need. I understand from what the Minister said that he agreed with that too, but though I enjoyed, agreed with and applauded the Minister's speech, I did not see yet much sign of a fuel and power policy emerging. It seemed to me that there was a feeling, "Get as much coal as we can. We will fill in the gaps by oil until atomic energy can come along and take over. That may just get us through." Perhaps atomic energy has just arrived in the nick of time to save us if industry continues to expand at the rate at which it has expanded during the last decade—I am not sure. The Minister ought to take us into his confidence as to whether at any stage he ever examines the accounts of the oil industry, looks at the level of investment that it undertakes or does any equations to see whether the level of investment being put into that industry is too high a proportion of our scarce investment potential.

My feeling is that the Ministry of Fuel and Power is not equipped to do that job and does not do it. Certainly, even if it could make the comparison, it clearly does not have the control over the investment of the oil industry that would enable it to put it into effect even if it reached conclusions that were unpalatable to the oil industry. Let there be no doubt that the oil industry is eating up a much greater share of our investment resources, and has been doing so over the last few years, than is the coal industry. In view of the vital need of the coal industry, we are bound to ask whether that is right.

Those are our views about the new programme which has been produced. We have no doubt at all that the Minister is right to introduce this Measure. We certainly shall not support any efforts that may be made in the Lobbies to try to ensure that there is no Second Reading for the Bill. We believe that its passage is essential, and therefore we shall support it.


Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)

I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: this House, while welcoming any measure which would increase the economic production of coal, declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which will extend the ability of the National Coal Board to borrow without adequate Parliamentary control, and which permits a large increase in public expenditure upon an undertaking which has made continual losses despite heavy capital investment. This Amendment has been tabled in the names of thirty-six of my hon. Friends and myself. The Bill is offensive on a number of counts. First, it is offensive for its lack of provision for appropriate Parliamentary accountability. Second, it is offensive because it creates and accentuates a lack of balance in our capital investment programme. Third, it is offensive because it takes no steps, resting as it does upon the programme "Investment in Coal," to put a stop to the calamitous imports of foreign coal. Fourth, it is offensive because it makes no provision for the evolution of a comprehensive fuel and power policy. Fifth and last, it is offensive because it tacitly accepts over a whole decade ahead the manifest deficiencies which exist in the coal industry today in regard to both manpower and management. In the course of my speech, I shall explore each of these deficiencies.

I should make it clear at the outset that I view the Bill as a provision for giving the National Coal Board borrowing powers over ten years ahead. The arithmetic is not too difficult and though my words will be different from those of the Minister, I may perhaps be allowed to put them before the House in a form which is simpler than my right hon. Friend's explanations but which is equally incontrovertible.

Two-thirds of the £1,000 million is supposed to be found from the internal resources of the National Coal Board—that is, approximately £650 million—over ten years. My right hon. Friend did not trouble to answer the question I put to him in the course of my intervention. I hope that later, when the Minister replies to the debate, he will trouble to reply to it, because it is a critical matter. The National Coal Board, in its estimates, has always been wrong and has never been right in the amount of money that it can find for re-investment out of its own resources, that is from depreciation. That is a critical consideration in the matters that we are discussing today.

It is said that two-thirds of the £1,000 million for investment in coal is to be found from the internal resources of the Board. The remaining one-third, which I put at approximately £350 million, is to be found by external borrowing—that is, of course, from the Treasury. There is no change—I emphasise this—in the method of financing the Board. The Coal Board has always been financed in this fashion since the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act, 1946, and Clause 34 of the Finance Bill, to which my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) took such exception yesterday, does not impinge in any way upon the arrangements which have been made in the past and will be made in the future for Coal Board finances.

Three hundred and fifty million pounds is to be borrowed by the Board over ten years. That is at the average rate of approximately £35 million per annum. When I say that I find this Measure offensive on grounds of Parliamentary accountability, I should make it perfectly clear that I as a Member of Parliament am not prepared to give a nationalised industry ten years' borrowing powers ahead without ensuring that there is annual scrutiny in the House, of the investment in that industry for the ensuing year.

I am not alone in this regard. It may be easy for my right hon. Friend to make debating points or for the Lord Privy Seal, as he did on 20th July last, when I made a highly critical speech of the Government's fuel policy, to give a flippant, almost facetious, reply on many matters of substance.

No Member of the House would lightly scorn a comment made in the Economist. The Economist of 28th April, 1956, in an article headed

Cold Water on Coal said: All of the financial implications of this plan"— "Investing in Coal" are balanced upon such an airy structure or assumptions that it is difficult to know where any conscientious guardian of the public purse could begin to apply an effective scrutiny. I hope that my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench will not be too cross with my thirty-six hon. Friends and myself who believe that we are efficient and conscientious guardians of the public purse. That is why the Motion is on the Order Paper today. I am not alone in being such an efficient guardian. What I shall say this afternoon may in part be very acceptable to my own side of the House, and will undoubtedly in part be acceptable to the other side of the House; but I am making an entirely nonparty speech on a subject which I believe to be the gravest industrial, economic and financial issue which faces the nation today.

I want a great increase in Parliamentary accountability over the affairs of the National Coal Board, without prejudice to the efficiency of the management. I am the first person to support most strongly what the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) said today about freedom of management. I would have called it autonomy to manage day-to-day affairs and to evolve policy, subject only to Ministerial guidance and control as necessary and Parliamentary scrutiny from time to time.

However, the Prime Minister's statement today in enlarging the area of the activities of Select Committees does not change the principle of accountability as we have previously practised it. All he was in fact proposing—and this is where I criticise most strongly—is accountability in retrospect, in exactly the same fashion as our debates year by year, upon the Reports and Accounts of the National Coal Board. I want a second form of accountability and so do my hon. Friends. I want accountability year by year as to the ensuing year's capital investment programme for the National Coal Board.

That should not be difficult. The Board's chargeable accounting period, or financial year, is now a calendar year. What I am suggesting in the Amendment is that in October of each year, instead of the Minister of Fuel and Power agreeing with the Chancellor of the Exchequer within the fastnesses of the Treasury what the sum of money to be allocated to the Board for the ensuing year is to be, the Minister should lay a Statutory Instrument before the House, setting out the total capital investment required by the industry in the ensuing year.

Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)

This is a very interesting argument and I am trying to follow it seriously. Is the hon. Member suggesting something in the form of an annual estimate of the provisions of the Coal Board?

Mr. Nabarro

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. He has been a Minister of Fuel and Power and will readily confirm that what at present happens is that the Minister of Fuel and Power, having collected from the Coal Board an estimate of the Board's capital requirements, agrees that sum with the Treasury; but it is an inter-departmental matter and Parliament has no influence whatever over the sum of money authorised.

In the course of his speech, my right hon. Friend made a grave error. I wrote it down. He said "The annual investment programme of the National Coal Board is controlled by the Government and by the House." I can ask him, in a Parliamentary Question, what sum will be the capital investment programme by the Coal Board this year or next year and I can get an answer, but I can get no justification for it no details or build-up or compilation of that programme. It is that to which my hon. Friends have objected in the last few years. Who sits in this Treasury Cabal? Who are these Treasury Clifford;, Treasury Arlingtons, Treasury Buckinghams, Treasury Ashleys and Treasury Lauderdales? It is the House of Commons which ought to be controlling investment year by year in this vital industry.

There is a precedent. I have not invented this proposal as a matter of con- venience or expediency for this debate. The first Nationalisation Act was the Hydro-Electric Development (Scotland) Act, 1943. I commend to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen in all parts of the House. Section 5 (5) of that Act. It provides for a Statutory Instrument and Construction Plan in respect of each major scheme by the Hydro-Electric Board. I am not suggesting that each individual constructional scheme of the Coal Board should form the subject of a separate Statutory Instrument, but that there should be one Statutory Instrument in October of each year to cover the global or aggregate sum of money required in the ensuing year.

By that means the control will be taken from the cabal within the Treasury, to which I take such strong exception, and transferred to the Floor of the House of Commons, where it properly belongs. That will mean that we shall have a form of accountability in anticipation of capital investment, as well as a form of accountability in retrospect. During the Committee stage of the Bill I shall seek to add an appropriate Clause in that sense. It will be based on established precedent. I have no doubt that it will have a measure of support from both sides of the House, if not a majority support.

Mr. S. O. Davies


Mr. Nabarro

I am prepared to give way, if the hon. Member will be short, but when he interrupted his hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) he spoke for about five minutes.

Mr. Davies

In view of that remark, I could not put a question, because I could not accept the remark as being within the bounds of veracity.

Mr. Nabarro

The second offensive feature of the Bill to which I referred is the lack of capital investment balance. The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East was, of course, expressing views which are very widely held in the country and the House about the prospects for alternative forms of fuel or power. I would not dispute that capital investment in coal is cheaper relatively than capital investment in other forms of fuel or power. That is an indisputable fact, but we do not have enough coal and I do not believe that this programme of investment will give us enough coal. It will be costly to extract, and prices are likely to soar in the next few years.

I want from the Government a much more positive answer to the question posed by the Daily Mail in a leading article on 24th April. It may have been read by many hon. Members, but it was very interesting and will stand being red. It said: Why can't this £1,000,000,000 be put into atomic power—the 20th century source of energy? A graph in yesterday's report shows the amount of atomic energy which will be available between 1960 and 1970. Compared with the production of coal it looks like a mole-hill on a mountain. Cannot we make it bigger? Cannot we speed up the building of atomic power stations instead of investing our capital in what (judging by the 1950 report) is a highly speculative venture? We shall be told that this would be impossible—that the atomic programme must proceed at a pre-arranged pace and that for many years we must continue to rely upon coal aided by oil. Is that really so? If a war similar to the last one were to break out tomorrow and last as long this country would emerge from it with a great new change of atomic power stations. We should be driven into it—and we should do it. But we shall not do it now. The industries of the 19th century plus vested interests in nationalisation are too strong for us. Which is why we spend our substance on railways while neglecting the roads and devote to coal vast sums which should go into plutonium. That is a view very widely held in this country today. It is a view held by technicians, by professional men, and by members of the general public. It is a view held in this House in many quarters. It requires a much more detailed answer than the few words that the Minister devoted to it today.

Mr. Shinwell

It is very much of a gamble.

Mr. Nabarro

Would the right hon. Gentleman allow me this one further sentence? I conclude on this in this passage of my speech.

I want to see greater flexibility imparted to the coal investment programme during the next few years. I want to reduce the 10-year authorisation in this Bill. I want to reduce the sum of £350 million to £200 million, or perhaps £250 million, as the maximum of borrowing powers under the Bill. Thus I would increase Parliamentary accountability in conjunction with an annual scrutiny in the form of a Statutory Instrument, and would cause the National Coal Board to come back to this House for a new sanction for borrowing powers, much earlier than 1965.

I am sure that the majority of my hon. Friends, whether or not they are associated with my Amendment today, would be with me when I say that in an age of very rapid scientific and technological change we should not be voting vast sums of money in borrowing powers, for as long as ten years ahead. This investment is being considered today in a period of credit squeeze. There is an atmosphere of economy and stringency in all forms of private enterprise activity. The individual person and firm is having his bank account squeezed like an orange, until the pips squeak. But not so the nationalised industries. I would not deny to the Electricity Authority, the Gas Council or the Coal Board £1 for essential investment; but there are vast sums of money being wasted by these Boards every year, under our very noses, and against which the consumer has no redress.

Moreover, this investment of the Coal Board is not sufficiently understood. Members of Parliament understand it, yes, but the general public largely does not understand it. This investment programme of the Coal Board is being financed wholly out of taxation. There is not a single note of opposition to what I say from right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. It is being made wholly out of the overall Budget surplus, and thus from taxation. That means that all those hon. Gentlemen who supported the well-intentioned Motion for the removal of Entertainments Duty from theatre tickets might bear in mind that every time they go to the theatre and pay the duty they are contributing to the purchase of perhaps a new conveyor belt for a pit in South Wales, or in Derbyshire, or in Scotland. That is why I have a vested interest in eliminating such wastage as is taking place in the investment programme of the nationalised boards, notably the Coal Board.

I am not encouraged to believe that the Board conducts its affairs with the greatest economy or efficiency when I read paragraph 1 of the introduction to the Board's Report for the year 1955. All is sepulchral gloom. The words are: Output in 1955 was disappointing. One major strike and many lesser disputes cost the industry more coal than in any year since nationalisation. Manpower fell. Home demand for coal was only met by means of massive imports and a reduction in coal exports. These measures seriously affected not only the Board's finances 0062ut the balances of payments position of the country. Could anything be more gloomy? And my right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power did less than justice to the affairs of the industry of which he is Parliamentary head when he omitted to give the figures for absenteeism during the first 18 weeks of this year. Voluntary absenteeism in the pits increased. Involuntary absenteeism increased. Total absenteeism increased. This, read in conjunction with paragraph 1 of the Report, gives effect, of course, underlines, of course, accentuates those critical words written by the Economist, which I quoted earlier.

We are not likely to have enough coal mined from indigenous sources during the next decade. I do not believe that the Coal Board will reach the 240 million ton target by 1965. It said in its "Plan for Coal", five years ago, that it would. Two years later it put up the target from 240 million to 250 million, and now it has pulled it down again to 240 million. I do not believe that it will get there. But compare the 240 million tons which the Board says it will get by 1965 with the total energy requirements of the nation which are 25 per cent. per year higher in 1965 or 300 million tons of coal or coal equivalent a year, and the gap will only be met in part measure, as to 5 million tons of coal equivalent available from atomic energy and certain additional contributions from oil. There will still be a wide gap, evidently to be met by further large-scale imports of foreign coal.

My objective is to eliminate the import of foreign coal. A further objective is to stimulate the growth of Empire coalmining production, for it can fill a very real need in our requirements during the next few years—and without prejudicing the employment, or the position or the wages of a single British coalminer. In fact, it would buttress and improve their prospects for the future. My right hon. Friend did not mention it today. How is he to bridge this gap? What about coal from Southern Rhodesia? What about coal from Southern Nigeria? What about coal from Tanganyika?

Everyone knows that there are tens of millions, even hundreds of millions, of tons of mineable coal lying relatively close to the surface. The things that are lacking are communications—railways, ports, and ships. Are we, in the British House of Commons, really boggling at the building of a few hundred miles of railway in Africa? Are we boggling about building a railway for a few hundred miles?

Mr. Shinwell

A few miles?

Mr. Nabarro

The right hon. Gentleman says, "A few miles?" It may interest the right hon. Gentleman to know that it is about 600 miles from Wankie to Walfisch Bay and there may well be other more suitable ports on the West Coast of Africa. Alternative routes for coal egress could be evolved.

I do not wish to argue it in detail today, but I would draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to the near limitless resources of bituminous coal in Southern Rhodesia, Tanganyika and Southern Nigeria, and other British African territories. Will my right hon. Friend confirm or deny, by letter to me after this debate, that a mining corporation responsible for extracting Southern Nigerian coal wrote recently to the National Coal Board offering a free sample of 500 tons of Southern Nigerian coal to demonstrate the quality of this material—instead of our having to pay dollars for imported coal—and that they have never had even so much as a reply from the Coal Board?

Mr. Aubrey Jones

If my hon. Friend will allow me to interrupt him, I should like to say that that is a matter which has been actively engaging my attention for some weeks, but whether something in that direction is practicable or not does not obviate the necessity for this Bill.

Mr. Nabarro

On the contrary. I am sorry to castigate my right hon. Friend, but he has never been more exactly wrong in his Parliamentary life. Did he not refer to the losses forward of the Board? Does he, as lately being a person holding an executive position in business, really mean to suggest to me that the losses forward of an industrial corporation do not affect the financial sinews available for reinvestment? Of course they do. The amount of the losses have to be carried forward. If those losses on imported coal continue they will further diminish the sum of money available for re-investment in the pits.

I want to eliminate those losses and eliminate the need for their continuing. I do not think that my sights are too high. I say to my right hon. Friend that what is wanted is an immediate revision and inquiry into all the resources of coal from Africa with a view to exploitation on a large scale by British companies, using British capital and private enterprise mining methods in bringing that coal to this country, to obviate the need for what I referred to earlier as a calamitous drain upon our resources. That drain is inherent in a policy of continuing to import foreign coal. I say to the House that the foreign coal imports policy which is being endorsed, supported and warmly commended to the House by my right hon. Friend, is a disastrous policy.

Mr. Bernard Taylor (Mansfield)

Did I understand the hon. Member, before he got into this recital about African coalfields, to say that he wanted to reduce the importation of coal to this country?

Mr. Nabarro

That intervention is hardly worthy of the hon. Member. I made a clear distinction between foreign imported coal and Empire coal.

I want to say a word about the losses of the Coal Board and something about the price of coal in the next few years. The Board has losses forward of approximately £38 million. The losses on imported coal during the last few years have amounted to a sum greater than the losses forward on the Coal Board's account. The losses on imported coal have been about £40 million. My views on this subject will undoubtedly be received with mixed feelings. I do not believe the Coal Board should carry £1 of the losses for imported coal on its own account. It deranges and distorts those accounts. I do not believe that there should be any Exchequer grant or subsidy for imported coal. Therefore, right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House will say: how are the losses to be met?

There was something of a quarrel between the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Robson Brown) and the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) and the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East about steel. I will give a simpler analogy. I am not really a politician, I am just a plain businessman. Recently, I was putting up some new factory workshops and wanted 100 tons of steel for the roof. I could not get that steel soon enough from British sources, so I had to go abroad and buy Continental steel. It was ordinary mild steel angles for constructing the roof principals. I had to pay £20 a ton more for the imported steel than for British steel, but as the consumer of the steel, paid the excess £20 per ton. That is exactly what should be done with coal.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East referred to Tory Members who go up and down the country nagging and scolding at miners and the Coal Board. He should know a little better. The last time we met on coal matters was on a television programme, in Wakefield Town Hall. I did not nag nor scold. If I am critical today I am critical of the Minister of Fuel and Power, in spite of the fact that the poor chap had been in office for only a few months. The fact is that we should adopt a system for imports of coal which is exactly the same as the Germans operate when they are obliged to import coal. The consumer should pay the full foreign price of the coal being imported, and the N.C.B. should not enter into the transaction at all.

Mr. Aubrey Jones


Mr. Nabarro

I will give way in a moment.

In this country three of the biggest individual coal consumers are three other nationalised industries, the British Electricity Authority, which takes approximately 40 million tons, the gas boards, which take approximately 30 million tons and the railways, which take approximately 12 million tons a year. If I were Minister of Fuel and Power, or Chairman of the Coal Board—or both—I would say to those major consumers, as in the case of the British Electricity Authority, "You say you are going to burn 40 million tons of coal next year. Will you bear in mind that you extract in the form of useful heat only 24 per cent. of the thermal properties and that you waste 76 per cent. of those properties?" If I were the Minister I would get really tough with the boys in the Electricity Authority. I would say, "You say you want 40 million tons. The Coal Board will give you 35 million tons and, if you want more, you can buy it in America or Germany if you wish. You can pay the higher price for it." They would mend their ways and cut their coat according to their cloth.

Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

No, they would not; they would put up the charges.

Mr. Nabarro

With proper Ministerial guidance they would not put up their charges. I want these losses on imported coal to be lifted from the shoulders of the Coal Board and paid by the consuming industry if it wishes to import coal. Over and above an agreed figure, that is a figure reached by agreement between the Coal Board and the industrial consumer, the individual firm or company or corporation should import its own excess requirements and pay the foreign higher price for the excess.

I wish to say something about the price of coal if "Investing in Coal," succoured by the Bill before the House today, is implemented. Today, the nation hardly understands the implications of the hundreds of millions of pounds which the Minister is proposing that we should add to the borrowing powers of the Board. I have been at very great pains to relate this to the price of coal as it will rise over the next four years, provided that the trends of the last four years continue and this Bill goes through.

This is what will happen. In London, the appropriate grade of house coal at 160s. a ton today, will cost 230s. a ton in 1960. In the Midlands, coal which is now costing 140s. a ton will cost 205s. a ton in 1960. I take another example. In Brockenhurst, Hampshire, coal which is costing 172s. a ton will cost 250s. a ton in 1960. Coal which, in Ulster or Cornwall, is costing £10 a ton today will be costing more than £14 a ton by 1960. That is just halfway through this programme.

Those proponents in this House of a policy of dear coal might ponder the political implications of an inflationary spiral of that kind, not only upon the personal incomes of their constituents, but also upon the consequences for our national economy if coal prices rise on that scale. That is what I anticipate the increase will be in just four years if this plan goes through in its present form.

I said that the Bill was offensive on the ground that the Government have no fuel policy. They have been lethargic and lukewarm in the last five years in what they have been prepared to do for improvement of industrial fuel efficiency. On 20th July, 1955, the then Lord Privy Seal, in a speech to which I referred earlier as both flippant and facetious, told me that it was quite impossible for the Inland Revenue to make any fiscal discrimination in favour of industrial fuel economising equipment. He said that it was quite impossible, although many of us have been advocating it for the last five years.

But Clause 12 of the Finance Bill, which has just been given its Second Reading, provides a modest fiscal incentive. Why was it impossible last July, yet practicable, possible, and evidently desirable a matter of nine months later? It is five long years since a group of my hon. Friends and myself started advocating this principle in the House. We were then in opposition. Today, I say that there are two further supplementary measures which are absolutely essential to reduce the consumption of coal in this country, both of which have admirable precedents.

A few weeks ago the Government turned down my proposition, during debates on the Clean Air Bill, that industrial boilermen should be certificated to minimum standards of proficiency. The United States and Canada, both countries which have limitless supplies of fuel, do it, but we in this country, desperately short of fuel, say that we must rely on voluntary methods, and we train a mere 600 boilermen a year out of the 75,000 there are in industry, many largely untrained. I commend these remarks to the Economic Secretary to the Treasury.

Last year, 1955, we put up a record figure of new factory building; about 40 million square feet. My inquiries lead to the conclusion that no more than 10 pet cent. of all those buildings are structurally insulated against heat loss, yet every competent engineer knows that 25 per cent. of the coal and oil used for the steam heating of these buildings is wasted unless the buildings are structurally insulated. Only 10 per cent. of the new buildings were insulated. Why is that shocking waste of coal allowed to continue? Do the Government prefer to pursue a policy of burning dollar bills and then bringing to the House financial Measures for increasing the borrowing powers of the Coal Board by what is evidently an extravagant sum?

Manpower and management form the subject of the sixth offensive feature of the Bill, for "Investing in Coal" does nothing to remedy the deficiency. "Plan for Coal," for 1950, said there were 698,000 men in the pits at that time. It said that during 15 years to 1965 the number of men should be reduced progressively to 618,000, a reduction of 80,000. Had that figure been correct, the number of men wanted in the pits today would have been about 663,000—but there are 706,000, 43,000 more than the conjectural figure in "Plan for Coal," and still the National Coal Board says that it is short of 13,000 men.

The Socialist Party cannot have it both ways. It supported "Plan for Coal" and it was guilty of the wildest inaccuracies it supporting the highly speculative manpower statement set out in that policy. Today, it says that the pits cannot turn out any more coal unless they are given many more men. I give them the benefit of the doubt. If they are short of men—and this goes for my right hon. Friend as well—what about importing Italian miners instead of importing American coal? Does my right hon. Friend intend to go on saying, year after year, "Bringing in Italian labour is nothing to do with me"? Is he going to say it is a matter for the Ministry of Labour, the National Coal Board, and the National Union of Mineworkers?

It is nothing of the sort. It should rest upon his broad Ministerial shoulders and he should take the initiative in this important matter in an effort to solve a problem which has proved largely intractable during the last few years.

Mr. Shinwell

Is the hon. Member aware that at present, and for a considerable time back—and it will be the case for a considerable time ahead—far more men in the coal industry are being used for development purposes than ever before? Probably 40,000 men will be used for that purpose. That is one of the difficulties about manpower.

Mr. Nabarro

I agree, but "Plan for Coal" and the Socialist Party knew that, and they still made the wildest manpower miscalculations.

What justification is there for Conservative hon. Members assuming today that the programme "Investing in Coal" will be any more accurate than "Plan for Coal" has proved to be? That is a further facet of this reasoned Amendment today.

After my mention of Italian mineworkers, I want to say a final word about management in the pits. I am not at all satisfied with the new members of the Board. I do not think that this quotation, which I shall give, will be badly received in any quarter of the House. It is a quotation from a speech called" Technological Awakening," made on 24th April, 1956. by the President of the Institution of Chemical Engineers—John Oriel, Esq., C.B.E., M.C., M.A.. B.Sc., F.R.I.C., M.I.Mech.E.—in his presidential address It is archaic that our largest industries—by which I mean our nationalised industries—highly technical in character, are controlled by men without technical knowledge and by retired soldiers. When there are such great technical improvements at hand, it is regrettable that we should not have at the head of affairs, men with technical imagination capable of inspiring those who are attempting to work under them.

Mr. Arthur Moyle (Oldbury and Halesowen)

It would be the beginning of the end if that happened.

Mr. Nabarro

The hon. Member may think so, but the quotation which I have given was from a speech by the President of the Institute of Chemical Engineers. Unfortunately, this man went blind two or three years ago in the pursuit of his normal professional occupation, which was as General Manager of Shell.

Mr. Moyle


Mr. Nabarro

I cannot give way again. He was previously General Manager of Shell. I think that quotation from his speech is apposite to the Coal Board.

What I am saying is that if we are to get value for the money from this Bill there must surely be an end to appointing retired generals and creating trade union sinecures in these immensely important managerial posts. I would not appoint any more Lord Citrines or Mr. James Bowmans. I believe that it is most important that men with long technological, commercial and industrial experience, outside the military and trade union fields, should be imported to these managerial posts.

I say, therefore, that the justifications for this reasoned Amendment, with which 36 of my hon. Friends and I have been associated today, are: first, that there should be an increase in Parliamentary accountability by annual scrutiny of the National Coal Board investment programme, with a Statutory Instrument annually, for each ensuing year's Coal Board investment requirement, to be laid before the House with an accompanying explanatory memorandum; secondly, that it should be our purpose to eliminate foreign coal imports, and be prepared to invest in Empire coal a part of the money which is now being dissipated by the importation of North American coal.

We say that a much more dynamic policy for coal conservation in industry should be evolved. We say that there should be a change in the financial arrangements for carrying the losses on the imported coal and that the Coal Board should not bear those losses. We say that the manifest deficiencies of manpower in the pits should be solved as early as possible by the introduction of foreign labour and managerial deficiencies by the introduction of appropriately qualified ton level management to run our vital coal industry.

6.0 p.m.

Mr. Angus Maude (Ealing, South)

I beg to second the Amendment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) has covered the field widely and extremely well, and all I want to do is to try briefly to develop just two aspects of what he has been discussing. I want to discuss some of the economic implications of this plan, and I want shortly to deal with the question of Parliamentary accountability, which is what is worrying my hon. Friends and myself most.

First, since my right hon. Friend the Minister may feel that we are pressing him rather hard when he is new to his job, I want to make it perfectly clear to him that we have the utmost sympathy with him in a job which nobody really thinks is a very pleasant one. It is precisely because we, having looked at this question of coal over the last ten years, see so clearly on what an extraordinarily speculative basis of assumption all these plans are based, that we implore him at this juncture to look more carefully at the basis of the plan, and to share responsibility with the House of Commons for checking over the proposals in the plan at more frequent intervals.

One has only to go back to 1951 to see the errors into which the unfortunate Minister of that day, the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. P. Noel-Baker), fell. In the course of his speech on 30th April, he asked whether hon. Members could look forward, as "Plan for Coal" developed, to a reduction in price, and he offered this opinion: The right hon. Gentleman may think I am adventurous in the extreme, but I believe that, on the experience up to date, we can.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th April, 1951; Vol. 487, c. 862.]

That is to say, get the coal we need at lower cost. Well, the average costs per ton of saleable coal in 1955 were 37 per cent. higher than in 1951, and, for reasons which we know quite well, nearly 60 per cent. of the average costs of production of National Coal Board mined coal is wages.

Let us just look for a moment at some of the assumptions. My right hon. Friend, when commending the Bill to the House, said that he had approved only the broad outlines of this investment plan. He said that that was all he was required to do by Statute, and we know that that is true. He said, rightly, that the House ought to look at some of the assumptions on which the plan is based. I think that the House should do that, but I am bound to say that we have not been given, either by the Coal Board or by my right hon. Friend, the ammunition which is really needed either to attack or to defend the plan. The evidence on which we can base a reasoned judgment is simply not there. More evidence was provided—it turned out to be rather unsound—to back up "Plan for Coal" than there is in the document with which we have been presented.

We know, of course, that there must be investment, and substantial investment in coal. It would be an absolute travesty of what we are saying if anyone sought to suggest that we are trying to starve the Coal Board of essential investment. Of course we are not. We know perfectly well that about 4 million tons of capacity is exhausted in the Board's mines every year. We know, for example, that, as the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) said, there are about 40,000 men—and some of the most highly—skilled men in the industry—now engaged all the time simply in doing development work to replace that loss of capacity. We are, therefore, losing not only 4 million tons of lost capacity but about 10 million tons of coal a year which could have been mined by those men now on development.

Obviously, there must be investment, and investment on a fairly substantial scale—not to mention the fact that we should like to see a higher safety factor in the coal mines. It is rather disturbing to see in the last Report of the National Coal Board that fatal accidents were higher last year than for some time. That, in itself, is a factor to be taken into account in considering investment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster dealt with the question of wages and of the price of coal. I suggest to the House that no matter to which school of thought one belongs on this question of coal prices—whether he is an advocate of dear coal or of cheap—the fact still remains that the House ought to be far more critical of the proposals in this Bill than the Minister apparently expects us to be.

Let us look at the implications of this Bill in that respect. There are many who advocate that effective demand for coal should be equated with the supply of coal by the simple method of raising the price, or letting it go up until the effective demand is reduced by the increased price and it all comes square. Of course, if one believes so wholeheartedly in that that one is prepared to see the price go indefinitely up until demand is sufficiently reduced, it could be argued that investment need do little more than simply replace the lost capacity in the mines year by year. One would then be perfectly content to keep the production of coal roughly constant year after year, and, certainly, there would be no need to sanction an investment plan of £1,000 million over ten years, of which about £350 million is to come from the taxpayer.

On the other hand, I suggest that if one does not believe in that, but believes that the price should he kept down, that the inflationary effect of a rise in coal prices is a very serious factor in the economy, one has then to scrutinise very carefully indeed the cost and price assumptions on which this new investment plan for coal is based, because there is some reason to believe that the price is most unlikely to remain at its present level, or anything like its present level, even with this investment plan.

For myself, I must confess that simply on logical and economical grounds I have been tempted to be an advocate of the dear coal school. It seems the simple way of getting round the problem, until I am faced with the fact—and this I find a very difficult argument to refute—that any rise in the price of coal means that railway freights immediately go up; and when railway freights go up, coal prices go up again, and so it goes on. in a vicious circle.

As we have two statutory monopolies, one of which has virtually a monopoly in carrying the other's product, while the other has still virtually a monopoly in fuelling the one's locomotives, it will be seen that there is practically no limit to the inflation which can be generated. If the circle could be broken at some point I think it might be argued that supply and demand could be reasonably equated by raising prices, but until that circle can be broken I do not think that argument can hold.

How does this affect the investment plan? Looking at the plan, there is reason to suppose that the Coal Board is expecting that all the extra capital charges involved in this investment will at least compensate for the reduction in costs through greater technical and mechanical efficiency. There is, therefore, not likely to be any great saving of cost there—yet wages, which represent about 60 per cent. of the price of coal, can hardly fail to rise.

I am bound to ask the House these two questions. "If you believe in cheap coal, can you honestly say that coal is too cheap when people cannot get enough of it at present prices and would buy more if more were produced?" Again, "Can you say that coal miners are paid too much, when you cannot get enough of them into the mines at the present rates of pay'?" One cannot, on strictly economic grounds, say that coal is too cheap, and that miners are over-paid, because the effective demand for the coal and for the miners still exceeds supply.

If the result is to be that coal prices are to go up steadily year by year, what becomes of some of the assumptions underlying this plan? What becomes of the economics of this plan? The Minister said that it would be a good thing to have a look at the assumptions. I agree. He said that he felt that two of the assumptions on which this plan was based were absolutely essential. One of them was the amount of manpower and the other was undiminished working time. I do not know about that If we cannot get enough miners, miners' wages will go up steadily year by year, as they have been doing. If earnings in the coal mines go up steadily year by year, it is at least likely—it is the most obvious human, psychological result in the world—that voluntary absenteeism is at least not likely to fall.

The higher the earnings, unless an enormously attractive incentive to earn more money appears, and something more attractive than has so far appeared in our economy, the tendency is, as total earnings increase, for hours actually worked to decline. That has been happening all the time. That of itself may make complete nonsense of the assumptions on which this plan is based. That is why we ought to try to prevent the Government and this House from voting carte blanche to let the Coal Board spend this very large amount of money over the 10-year period without coming back to the House for sanction, for careful analysis, study and approval.

Let us make no mistake: only one-third of the amount is to be found directly by borrowing; that is to say, indirectly from the taxpayer. Two-thirds is to be found allegedly from the internal resources of the Coal Board. My hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster was quite right when he said that the Coal Board has never accurately been able to estimate the amount that it could provide. Nor do we definitely know what its depreciation policy is to be for the next ten years. But we do know that, in the last resort, it is only to get this two-thirds—this £650 million—out of the proceeds of selling coal. It will, therefore, only be able to invest £650 million if it gets the price of coal up sufficiently to give it that much per ton of coal to reinvest.

If we allow the Bill to go through unchallenged—because the Bill is linked with this document "Investing in Coal", in exactly the same way as the 1951 Bill was linked with "Plan for Coal"—we are, as a House of Commons, endorsing and giving our approval to the whole investment programme. That is to say, we are endorsing the expenditure not merely of this £350 million, but of the whole £1,000 million. We must really tell the Government that we have not had sufficient evidence on which to give that approval, nor have we had sufficient time in which to discuss it.

In 1951, there was no separate debate on "Plan for Coal." The Bill was brought in immediately afterwards and the document had to be debated then. The then Conservative Opposition protested and said there ought to have been a separate debate on "Plan for Coal", in which more details were given, before we were asked to approve these borrowing powers. The same thing has happened this time. The Bill came out, I think, on the same day as the document, and this document, believe me, is far less forthcoming than was "Plan for Coal", which at least gave us some particulars of what was to be done in individual collieries. This one does not.

If we look at the Report of the Coal Board we can hope to get some idea of what has happened to the individual plans which were to have been introduced under "Plan for Coal". It is not very easy, and I am bound to say that it is not very encouraging. My right hon. Friend must do us the kindness to believe that we feel very strongly about this matter. So far as I am concerned, this could almost be dignified by the title of "a matter of conscience." I really am not prepared to allow these extraordinary powers to be granted on the basis of such singularly flimsy evidence.

I find something rather ironical in the spectacle of a Tory Government passionately clinging to the last discredited vestiges of Socialist planning. {HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I thought that might rouse hon. Members opposite. It is true. We never hear anything about planning from the opposite benches now. That is not part of Socialist election policy any more, because virtually the whole of Socialist planning—that which did not collapse of its own accord—has now, to the immense benefit of the economy, been abolished by my right hon. Friends, except this one. We are still asked to pass an investment programme of an enormous amount, in which we know nothing whatever about the economic prospects, simply because it is called a plan. Because it is a plan, we have got to pass it en bloc ten years ahead.

Everybody knows that any business undertaking requires to have some idea from year to year of what it is to have at its disposal. But most boards of directors—and boards of directors of very large companies investing a lot of money—expect to have to account a little more closely for what they are doing than does the Coal Board. Any board of directors which wanted to get away with anything like this would have to do one of three things. It would have to present a really detailed analysis of what it was trying to do, or to put up its chairman or managing director or technical director to do it in a speech—and we have not had that speech—or else it would have to have a set of shareholders with such unbounded confidence in the board of directors that they were prepared to take the whole thing on trust. My confidence in the Coal Board is not as unbounded as that.

As for this question of Parliamentary accountability. I should like to commend to my right hon. and hon. Friends the best statement of the position that I have ever heard. It was said in the Second Reading debate on the Coal Industry Bill, 1951, which was the exact counterpart of the Bill which we are asked to pass today. On 30th April, 1951, the then Minister of Fuel and Power, the right hon. Member for Derby, South said this—and it is interesting to compare this with what my right hon. Friend said today: Parliament will, of course, retain control over the advances which are made. The Minister of Fuel and Power and the Chancellor of the Exchequer must both give their consent, and at any moment the House can call them to account. Those are almost the same words as those of my right hon. Friend.

My noble Friend Lord Bracken, who was speaking at the Dispatch Box for the Conservative Opposition, used the following words in an intervention: … this rhetorical statement that at any moment we can call them to account is surely nonsense. We cannot ask questions about this expenditure and we only get an opportunity once a year of discussing the Coal Board's Report, and then it is about seven months out of date.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th April, 1951; Vol. 487, c. 861.] I suggest that that is precisely as true today as it was then, with one exception, that the Report of the Coal Board is only four months out of date instead of seven.

In view of what happened in 1951, there is one point in this Bill which I find difficult to understand. During the passage of the 1951 Bill, the then Minister of Fuel and Power, on the express urging of the Conservative Opposition at that time, had the Bill recommitted just before Third Reading, and carried an Amendment providing for an affirmative Resolution to be laid before the House in any case where advances for capital for the Coal Board were to exceed £40 million in a year. That was a very reasonable Amendment to make.

What is to happen in this Bill? We are asked not merely to raise that £40 million to £75 million without an affirmative Resolution, but it is to be calculated on a new basis, which I do not understand, but in which I suspect there is a catch. Instead of requiring an affirmative Resolution if advances exceed £40 million in any year, we are asked to look at an affirmative Resolution only if advances in the aggregate reach a figure of £75 million above the highest figure which they reached at any time in the previous financial year. We ought to ask my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to tell us just what is the purpose of that particular change and what difference he expects it will make, because I can see certain implications of it which I find a little disturbing.

Finally, I would ask my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to realise how strongly we feel about this, and to recognise that there are two requests which my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster made which we regard as fundamental. First, we must have either the total sum or the total period of years reduced. Secondly, we must have some procedure by which a Statutory Instrument or an affirmative Resolution is laid before us at the beginning of every year, or, if that is not acceptable, for every consecutive £100 million, or whatever it might be, of money. We must have one, or preferably both, of those two concessions, if this Bill is to commend itself to any conscientious guardian of the public purse, as my hon. Friend put it.

Will the Government please realise that the country is desperately worried about this question? People want an assurance that the Government and the House of Commons really are anxious to keep some control over what they regard as a profligate enterprise whose investment is, frankly, unremunerative in terms of real results produced. May we please have that assurance? Otherwise, I am bound to say, on behalf of at least a number of my hon. Friends, that if we receive no satisfactory reply we may feel obliged to press our Amendment to a Division.

6.26 p.m.

Mr. William Ainsley (Durham, North-West)

I believe the Bill to be entirely necessary today because of the Government's policy since they came into power. in the 1946 Act there was a sum of £300 million, for which this Bill is substituting the figure of £650 million; and for the figure of £40 million there is being substituted £75 million. During that period the cost of living, on the old index, went up from 101 to 153, an increase of 50 per cent. The Coal Board certainly has to purchase materials and obtain the wherewithal for the upkeep of the industry. The Bill is a result of past policies and a continuation of them. I urge the House to accept the reasoned statement which has been presented by the Minister.

It is quite evident to me that the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) is entirely out of sympathy with any nationalisation whatever. One does not want to deal with the points he enumerated, but one must ask this question—does he want coal? The hon. Gentleman mentioned that there was coal in Rhodesia. There is coal in this country. Why go to Rhodesia? We must carefully examine why we are not producing the coal in this country.

It was quite evident to me that the hon. Gentleman was reverting to nineteenth-century, open, naked, Tory policy. We in the National Union of Mine workers would want to know about the wages and conditions for Rhodesian miners before we would give consideration to, or commend, any suggestion of cheap coal which would undermine the standard of British miners in this country. We accept no responsibility for importing coal which would be a charge which might depress the reasonable standard of living earned by the mining community after a hard and long struggle.

I come from a miner's home; I was born in a miner's cottage. The finest Chancellor of the Exchequer this country has ever produced was my own mother. We had not to resort to any national bonds. When I reached the age of fourteen, my headmaster and all interested in me were anxious that I should continue my educational career, but economic circumstances in the home compelled me to leave school and enter industry at fourteen. I worked eleven days a fortnight, ten and a half hours a day, on the screens at the coal mine; and my first fortnight's pay was 13s. 4d. Such were conditions in the coal industry in those days.

It was the custom to have large families. I well recall how thirteen of us lived in a four-roomed house. There were fourteen living next door—twenty-seven of us using the same privy. We had to bath, and mother had to cook, bake and do the washing all in the one kitchen, with all of us at home. Those were the conditions when I entered the mining industry. One of us would be going out to work at ten o'clock at night, father went out at two o'clock in the morning, and another son would be going out at four a.m. Mother was up with them to see them all out, and, of course, she would get the remaining children off to school.

As a young lad I rebelled against the conditions, and at the age of sixteen and a half I went into the Army. The first pithead bath I saw was when I was going through the Ruhr during the 1914–18 war. Twenty-five years afterwards pithead baths were introduced into this country. No social amenities were provided for the mining community. Because of the prevailing economic conditions, some people had to burn the midnight oil after a hard and laborious day's work in the mine.

There was no development of the industry but we were called back to it immediately hostilities ceased after the First World War. The thicker seams had been exploited to the full and in the Durham coalfield it was the thin seams which had been left. One-third of Durham's coal today comes from seams of less than twenty inches. That must be taken into consideration when considering output.

Then came the days of the German reparations to repay the war debt, when we listened almost daily for the hooter to know whether we had to go to work next day. The result was that half the miners in the county of Durham left the industry. My own brothers and relations left and moved into the Midlands and elsewhere. That is the manpower problem from which the industry has never recovered.

During the Second World War, there was some form of State control. As it was about to come to an end, the timber yards were stacked as never before with timber, machinery and all the requirements for mining prior to the return of the mines to private enterprise. It must be realised that this extracting industry never has two days alike. Two-thirds of the men are on day wage work. Today they receive a minimum of £9 a week. Does anyone suggest that that is an outrageous figure? When we compare the cost of living today with what it was formerly, the National Union of Mineworkers has been very restrained in its demands in seeking to lift the status of the miner.

We are often told by the capitalist Press that the wages are high. One-third of the men are on piece work. In saying that a miner must serve his apprenticeship from his youth to manhood, I can use the illustration of a professional footballer or boxer. He takes his place in the team at the face only when he has come to full maturity. When he takes his place, he works perhaps in two or three inches of water, working a twenty 20-in. seam, wriggling backward and forward. I have filled hundreds of tons of coal in that wet condition at 5d. a ton, with the percentage addition to bring it up to 9d. a ton. No one would heave it into his coal cellar at that price.

For twenty years before coming to this House, I was a miners' lodge official and it was my lot to negotiate wages and conditions for the men, bargaining for particular prices and dealing with fractions and percentages, so that we might bring forward a tonnage price for output. The miners welcomed the idea of nationalisation and it was a glowing day on 1st January, 1947, when the Coal Board flag went up alongside the Union Jack at each colliery.

Miners go to work and return home at unearthly hours, all hours of the day and night. Even hon. Members, when there is an all-night sitting, have frayed tempers; they are not as calm and collected as during the day. This is another difficulty of the industry. We brook no sympathy for unofficial stoppages, because we believe that proper machinery is available; and if it is effectively used between the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers, reasonable settlements can be reached.

One of the problems facing us is the question of manpower. Sonic years ago we introduced the "Bevin boy" scheme and we took in 45,000 ballotees and optants, but after a time 25,000 were released, discharged or left and at the end of 1949 none of them was any longer available to the industry.

A pit is much like a human being. It has its birth, development and maturity. From maturity it passes on to old age and inevitable death. Nothing on earth can stop that course. So, in the reorganisation of manpower from one district to another, we actually lose about 20 per cent. of the manpower because the men at the coal face are already occupied in the mines to which the men would be transferred. It is only the men in their maturity, who are face workers, who are able to take their place in any of these reorganisation schemes.

During each year from 1952 to 1955 we have been losing miners at the rate of 4,000 a year. That is the problem. When we think of the 40,000 that are left for development work that leaves us with a very small margin of men who are actually producing the coal, and that is the problem which faces the mining industry. No longer do miners have large families, with the son following the father in the mine. The problem is a national one and those outside the mining industry must realise their responsibility to the young men who go into the industry, if we are to maintain our national economy.

I well remember the days when I went on to the Durham County Council and later became chairman of one of its committees. Throughout the whole of the time that I was in the mining industry there was no semblance of technical education, and in this respect the industry has undergone a revolution greater than in any other industry that I can recall—but it is tucked away and not seen by the general public. The demand today is for more technicians. Therefore we want more technical schools and colleges to produce them. We must have brains as well as brawn in the industry. The responsibility rests upon the Government to see that technical education is developed.

I want to show the position that exists between the National Union of Mineworkers and the National Coal Board. I have here a circular which was issued to all the miners' lodges in the country. This is what the National Union of Mineworkers says: Saturday working produces 12 million tons of coal per year, and without this production our National Economy could not maintain the present level of employment. There is an acute shortage of coal. The simple fact is that we just cannot afford to continue without Saturday working. The miner realises his national responsibility. Twelve million tons of coal have been produced, although the miners have had a five-day week for many years. There is no other industry that deserves a five-day week more than the mining industry, but such a working week is being enjoyed in several other industries. In my opinion, with output continuing on these conditions, we can give no guarantee that this extra Saturday work should continue indefinitely. The miners have laid down in their charter a seven-hour day, with a five-day week, without any strings attached to it. The bonus shift would not be accepted by the workers in any other industry under such conditions.

There is a high accident and sickness rate in the mining industry. Sunshine has a remarkable effect upon the individual on the surface, but think of the man who is under the earth, cut off from sunshine and fresh air, and wrestling with nature red in tooth and claw. I ask the House this day to accept the Bill, to support the Minister in his proposal to speed on the National Coal Board's plan for developing the industry, and to reject the Amendment submitted by the hon. Member for Kidderminster.

6.47 p.m.

Mr. J. C. George (Glasgow, Pollok)

I am delighted to have the opportunity of speaking in this debate on an industry in which I spent thirty years of my life. I started, as did the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Mr. Ainsley), at the age of fourteen, but I did not experience all the dreadful things to which he has drawn the attention of the House. Mining as I saw it was hard but it was not harsh. There was happiness and laughter in our life and as we came to manhood we were all the better for the hardships which we went through, which in later years gave us greater confidence to face life.

I will not spend time in dealing with the help which atomic energy can bring to us. I would, however, underline the danger of overestimating that help and underestimating the time that will elapse before it can come about. Let us never forget that the supply of oil, which we increasingly bring in from the Middle East because of the privileges which we enjoy there, is very precariously poised in these days. We should not look forward to expanding too much our use of oil in place of coal. We have heard this afternoon about deposits of coal in Rhodesia, Nigeria and Tanganyika. We know that they are there and how easy they are to work.

The hon. Member for Durham, North-West asked what about the coal here. We are not short of coal or of good seams to work. We have enough coal to supply all the needs of this nation for a hundred years without oil. We are failing to bring to the use of the nation the only raw material with which nature has bountifully endowed us. That is our failure. I look upon the Bill and the plan "Investing in Coal" in one way only: how can we make it work?

The Government will get a great deal more credit from the nation if they make the coal industry work properly and efficiently than if they condemn it and give the impression that we on this side of the House are half-hearted in our support of nationalised coal. The industry has been nationalised and will stay nationalised. Nobody in his right senses, when there is a General Election every five years, would wish to re-enter the industry. There cannot be nationalisation, denationalisation and renationalisation every five years or so. It is a practical impossibility to denationalise coal now and no one need express any fear of it. The industry will stay as it is, and the obligation upon us is to make it work.

The industry has given the country some shocks in recent years. Increases in prices have shocked us. The fact that we have had to stop exports and have had to bring in heavy imports has shocked us. The fact that the peace which was to prevail in the nationalised industry has not come about and strikes are so prevalent has also shocked our people. They are mystified by this industry. They were shocked when the Fleck Report was published and it revealed that the sacred edifice which had been built up had not been working at all. Now that there is a proposal to spend £1,000 million, the people demand that we should look very closely into the details of the new plan.

I share the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, South (Mr Maude) that there is far too little information in "Investing in Coal" one has to seek out and calculate and dig deep to find what is to happen in the future. The "Plan for Coal" gave a great deal of information. It compared the facts abroad and at home and went into great detail in trying to explain to the nation what was to happen, but this latest publication does not do that.

I want, above all things, to see come about what the Fleck Report said should be done. It said that after the investigation which they had carried out it hoped that the National Coal Board would be allowed to settle down and that no further investigations would be made for a very long time. The organisation of the Coal Board as it exists today has been confirmed by the Fleck Report. Therefore, we must accept it and give our support to the men who have been induced to come into the industry and take up this heavy task. They have come in to command a torn and tormented industry, and they must not be required to look over their shoulders day after day and deal with pinpricks, wherever they may originate.

These men have inherited an industry which is grossly inefficient today after ten years of nationalisation. They have inherited an industry which had been pretty well run to death in ten years. We have heard a great deal about the pits being in a terrible condition when they were taken over, but the Minister told us today that the output from the mines rose in 1952 to 214 million tons Output was 174 million tons in 1946.

Therefore, there has been a rise of about 40 million tons in seven years. Very little, if any, of that extra coal was secured as a result of plans paid for and executed by the National Coal Board. The fact is that when the mines were nationalised in 1946 there must have been spare capacity in them to ensure successive increases of 6 million, 10 million and 7 million tons over three years, for we are told in "Investing in Coal" that it takes ten years to sink a new shaft and eight years to reconstruct a pit.

It all goes to show that the nationalised coal industry in the past ten years has led a spendthrift life, it dissipated the capacity which is inherited on vesting day and is paying the penalty now. The Board did not drive on vigorously with development. It consumed what was presented to it, and now we are paying the penalty in falling output. That is what the new men have inherited. They must make up for that lost time in development. It is no easy task.

I have heard a great deal in recent days about the replacement of lost capacity. It has been set up a bogey. It is said that 4 million tons must be replaced every year and that 40,000 men must be kept on development—as though that were something new. At least 20,000 men have been engaged yearly on development during the last 100 years, replacing capacity year by year and at vesting day presenting the nationalised industry with vast spare capacity. The industry not only reproduced itself in past years but had always extra capacity to provide for sudden increased demand in the winter.

I agree that there are many new men on development now, and the new Board has to fill the gap created by the mismanagement of the nation's mines by the National Coal Board. The new men have also inherited a great deal of potential strife. We need not be afraid to be frank about the true position in the mines. We constantly hear that we must not say a critical word about the miners. They are grand fellows and the unions have been statesmanlike.

I grant that, having it at their foot, the unions could have kicked the ball a great deal harder; nevertheless the new Coal Board is faced with a cold war in the mines. It is not often that the trouble becomes a national question sent to the top for settlement, but every day, every week a cold war is going on over payments for extras which are being squeezed out of the industry. Every extra in the pay-line of the pit is a potential source of trouble. People would be staggered if they knew the extent of these extras.

These extra payments which are being forced out of colliery managers week by week in the cold war are the bane of the manager's life and a, potential source of trouble in the coalfields which must be tackled by the Coal Board. The Board must know that the House of Commons is behind it. The new men cannot go forward with their hands tied behind their backs. They must be supported in the job which they have to tackle.

What is that job? Let us be quite honest about it. The industry is suffering from a tremendous measure of indiscipline. Unless we can correct that, there is no question of going forward and spending £1,000 million on the mines with any chance of success. Let me take a human parallel. If a man knows that he has a bad heart, would he be wise to undertake vast new financial and technical responsibilities? I suggest that his death would be more likely than his success. In the coal industry there is a heart which beats pretty faintly at the moment. The industry cannot hope to go forward with success unless we, remove the malady from which it suffers, and that malady is indiscipline.

I have been told that if one tackles indiscipline one must have strikes. I have spent many years controlling thousands of miners.I disciplined miners for years. Discipline is not necessarily cracking a whip or imposing unfair terms of employment. Discipline is simply this: demanding 20s. worth of work for every £1 we pay. There is not enough, alas, of that discipline in this country today. It is discipline which the National Coal Board has to exert. It can.

We know from the Fleck Report how weakness at the centre can generate carelessness and frustration and transmit them rapidly to their perimeter, but the opposite process can take place. Dynamic leadership from the top can soon generate interest, keenness and vigour all down the line. We must have that dynamic leadership.

I have met the new Chairman of the National Coal Board. I do not share with my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) the view that the Chairman of the Board must be a technician. I do not believe that. Nevertheless, like my hon. Friend, I sometimes wonder why on earth our party needs trade union leaders to run these great industries. I have met the Chairman, and I believe he has the drive and the purpose to re-energise the divisions, and to re-energise the managers.

If the position and the prestige of the colliery managers were re-established, the picture of this industry would begin to change at once. After all, it is in the collieries that coal is produced. It is not produced in Hobart House or at divisional headquarters. The Chairman can restore the managers' position, and I believe that he will. Thus the whole organisation would be re-invigorated. There would be one purpose, to restore a sensible—not an unfair—discipline so that £1 paid will produce 20s. worth of work. He must have the support of this House and he must feel confident that we are behind him in tackling that job, for it will be a long, hard fight. It has taken ten years to bring the industry to its present state. It will be a long fight back to its proper condition, and the Chairman and his officials should have, and know they have, our support in that task.

I have kept contact with the industry since nationalisation, because I have been manufacturing coal machinery. To that extent, of course, I have an interest to declare. This has enabled me to keep close contact with the industry and to see in detail how it has been operated. I know that there are great gaps in its efficiency. I would give one example. It is very difficult to get authentic information about the coal mining industry, at any rate intimate, authentic information of performance colliery by colliery, but some valuable information has come from a strange quarter, from the Medical Research Council. It sent a number of examiners down a colliery in Scotland, an average modern colliery, and it published a report on their findings. From this unexpected quarter we get some information I have wanted for a long time.

The examiners were testing how men used energy during working hours, and what they found was published in the report: Much better results could have been got if working had been more continuous. Here is the point: Our subjects were inactive for 38 per cent. of their total sojourn underground. That was the result of an official test. Miners were 38 per cent. of their time idle. This is a gap in efficiency which has to be filled. There is the task for the Board, the task of re-energising. It can be done by giving the colliery managers a new zest for their job.

It is because there has been slackness at the top that it has spread right down the line, from the centre to the circumference, and that is why the industry is suffering. The way to cure that is to restore the position and prestige of the managers, and by improving management the spirit and efficiency of the industry will be improved. The report I have it was of experience at one colliery, but it is typical of all, for it presents the average picture in the industry today.

I tried years ago to get the industry to tackle time-study. If there were a time-study now in the mines, and if the results were published fully, the nation would be shocked. I doubt whether the mines reach one point beyond 60 per cent. efficiency. I should like my right hon. Friend to publish the Reports of the Joint Committee which visited a number of collieries to make inquiry about inefficiencies and unofficial strikes. I should like him, when strikes take place, to let the country know in detail why they take place, and to give the country full information, so that we may see the true position, and so form a judgment founded on real knowledge of what is taking place in the industry.

There is much to be done in organisation and production, and I am certain it will be done by the new Chairman inspiring his men with new energy in the future; but alongside the mining engineering improvement a great improvement can be made in human engineering. If the human engineer fails the mining engineer becomes merely a schemer of schemes and a drawer of plans. Since nationalisation the industry has picked the wrong type of man for this work. There were some desirable men, keen and anxious, but they were all trade union men in the past, and taking them away meant taking away a generation of sound, sensible trade union leaders, and doing the trade unions damage. Secondly, it meant putting those men into jobs where. after a short time, they became embittered with those they used to serve. They were shocked to find how the men now behaved, and the attitude they adopted.

To bring sweetness and reason to this tormented industry the Coal Board must get the right type of individual to conduct the human engineering. That means recruiting from the universities men of broad human sympathies, tolerant men of liberal minds, who can understand the troubles of the men and help them by sympathetic understanding. There is a tremendous chance in the coal mines for better human engineering.

The colliery manager would have a new zest at his job, and he needs more than mining knowledge for it. He needs to feel confident once again that he has a position of importance in the eyes of the men whom he is supposed to control, the position he possessed in the past. Miners recognise only one man as boss. That man is the one who determines how much goes into the pay packet at the weekend. The miners like to talk to that man. The managers enjoyed that prestige and importance throughout the years before nationalisation, and the manager had the position of authority in determining the reward. The manager's position has deteriorated since nationalisation. It has deteriorated because from pit area to division there has been a sad weakness in the negotiation structure.

I know that the trade unions prefer to negotiate with men of sound and knowledgeable strength, but they are very ready to play on evident weakness. Are they wrong to do so? They found weakness in the Board's officials for years. Is it to be said that the miners were ready to work harder for the coal owners, who were said to be their oppressors, than they are for the new Board for which they prayed so long? I do not believe they are. I believe that if we have men of strength, men with a sound policy, men demanding and able to win 20s. worth of work for every £1 paid, a tremendous improvement can be made in the prospects of the country.

I have just an instance of 38 per cent, of lost time in the pits. If we improved the human relations I believe we could have a 10 per cent. improvement in output as things are in the industry today, without any capital expenditure at all. Simply by making better use of the men and materials we have we could get 20 million tons more. That is what we should be after now. The target is not too high, and it is not one merely imagined. I ask my right hon. Friend to consider that.

We must support the new Chairman of the Board, He and his staff are saddled with an immense task. For years they must be dedicated to the problem, and they might have to give up many of their social pleasures and much of the home life which others enjoy. They must be dedicated to the job for some years so that they can get over the top again and on to level going, and recapture that spirit which permeated the industry in years gone by. In those days, if it was necessary to work two or three days on end, we did it, and I believe that the new Chairman of the Board and his staff are likewise prepared to dedicate themselves to their jobs. But do not let us be sniping at them from left, right and centre all the time. Let them feel confident that we are behind them, and in that case I feel a great deal can be done.

I now want to look for a moment or two at "Investing in Coal". I said earlier that far too little information had been given. According to" Plan for Coal ", the Coal Board would be spending £635 million to get an output of 240 million tons in 1961–65, with a labour force of 613,000 men. Under that plan, there was to be no Saturday work and no open-cast mining, and here is a point on which I differ at once with the report. We cannot accept any plan which proposes not to do away with Saturday working. Such a proposal ought never to have been included in the plan.

The new plan envisages spending £1,350 million over the ten-year period from 1955–1965, with 673,000 men, an addition of 60,000 men to the labour force. We are also to have up to 10 million tons of coal from Saturday working and another 10 million tons from opencast, and here I want to say a few words about opencast mining. I have been in contact with my right hon. Friend in recent weeks trying to get him to agree to increase output from opencast mining, because I am not at all satisfied that he is facing this question of opencast coal in the way it should be faced. I think we should take the very maximum that we can get out of opencast mining for the next few years.

The prospects of increasing output from opencast mining were evidenced by a speech by Mr. MacAlpine, Chairman of Civil Contractors Association, a few days ago, in which he said that we could do it and get a greatly increased output. I would ask my right hon. Friend to deal with the agricultural and housing people promptly in order to get hold of the extra land to enable this opencast working to be expanded, remembering that 4 million tons of coal per annum could be obtained by this means and that an extra 4 million tons of coal today might be worth 40 million tons in five years' time.

These two factors–10 million tons from Saturday working and 10 million from opencast—give to the new estimates the benefit of 20 million tons annual output not included in the original plan; but the target for 1960 is no higher. The new plan means that 20 million tons less will be coming from deep mining, and 60,000 more men are to be employed. I have calculated from the three tables given in the plan what that means in terms of output per man-year. I find that the figures are completely shocking. It means that, after spending all this money on reconstruction schemes, washing, power loading and new transport systems, if my calculations are correct, the results will be greviously disappointing.

I will take only two areas as examples. I am very conservative in my figures, and if I am wrong. I am wrong on the right side. In the South Meeker division after an expenditure of £93 million between now and 1960, and gaining the benefit of the £43 million already spent, because we have not yet benefited from it—that is, a total of £136 million—output per man—year will rise by only 21 tons, and the loss will be raised from £3 million this year to at least £5 million in 1960.

In Scotland, after spending £84 million between now and 1960, and getting the benefit from £36 million already spent but not yet in production, output per man year will rise by only 13 tons, and the loss which today is £7 million will be reduced to only £3 million per annum. These figures are extremely conservative, but they must give us cause for serious concern about the results from this investment. It amounts to half a dozen lumps of coal extra per man per shift for an expenditure of £100 million of capital in both these areas. It is fantastic finance, and must be examined again. If that is all that the new pits, the reconstruction schemes, the power loading, the improved transport and all the rest can give us, the quicker we go to Rhodesia the better. That plan must be revised, and I hope the Minister will see to it that it gets revision.

I am not being damaging. I am keen to see the plan work, but we are bound to point out what we think are its weaknesses. The "Plan for Coal" has been condemned today and three reasons have been given for the failure of that plan by the National Coal Board. First of all, shafts are taking far too long to sink. They are taking over ten years and are costing more. They are bound to cost more if they take so long. The sinking of shafts is taking over ten years, and reconstructions are taking over eight years to complete. Secondly, absenteeism did not fall by the expected 2½ per cent. which the old plan envisaged. Thirdly, an additional million tons of coal are being lost every year on account of the one million additional tons of stones extracted on the surface. These are the three main reason given for the failure of the "Plan for Coal", and I wish to have a look at them quickly to see whether we can accept them or not.

I have asked the National Coal Board for information about the average speed of sinkings of its own new shafts. The Coal Board was not willing to give the information, and said that averages were rather misleading. I think it is safe to say that the average rate of shaft sinking in this country does not exceed 100 feet per month. In South Africa, 300 feet per month have been sunk in conditions which are not dissimilar to those here. What has given South Africa this speed in the last few years has been the invenution of the "Cactus Grab". I understand that the National Coal Board is looking into the question of using this machine. Nevertheless "Investing in Coal" still talks about ten years for shaft sinking, and there is an obvious need for consideration of new methods to speed it up. The speed of sinking new shafts must be vastly increased, and I cannot accept the Coal Board's first reason for the failure of the plan.

The second reason for the failure of the "Plan for Coal" relates to the speed of driving tunnels. We are told that it will take all these years to sink shafts and drive tunnels and when I asked the Coal Board for the average speed of tunnel driving, again the Coal Board was very coy and did not want to give the information. I have some experience of the matter, and I know that in 1950 very few tunnels in our coalfields were driven at more than 20 yards per week. Let us assume that we have now reached a rate of 25 yards per week. It is still slow compared with the speed of other countries, and, even in the hydro-electric works in Scotland, more than three times that speed is commonplace.

We can speed up both shaft-sinking and tunnel-driving tremendously; neither need take anything like ten years. If we are to get the new shafts into production, it seems to me that we must not accept that figure of ten years. We must get more speed into these jobs if we are to get the production expected and achieve the reduction in cost, which is what we are after. Costs are vitally important and can definitely be reduced by speed and more speed all the time.

Another important factor is transport Not nearly enough has been done to improve transport in coal mines in the last ten years. Everyone has known that transport must be improved. The country asks where the extra output from the power loaders is. The fact is that, because we did not prepare a transport system before we put in the power loaders, the power loaders are being strangled and the country is not getting the results. That is another development which the Minister must drive forward.

The Minister spoke about widening roads. We had to widen many roads and do it much faster than the Coal Board envisages. We must have speed. That is the essence of success in the plan and the essence of success in the industry. Shafts must be sunk quicker, tunnels must be driven quicker, and we must get the transport system widened out and transport travelling with greater capacity.

On the surface there is an easy way to increase output per man shift. Only money is needed for the replacement of antiquated surface plant using vast numbers of men who can be replaced by new plant needing very few men. Only money is needed. There are no natural difficulties to fight and the Minister should ask the Coal Board to appoint a division to do nothing else but make new arrangements as quickly as possible for improvements on the surface.

Mr. Moyle

There is something to be said for the hon. Member's contention; but is there not the difficulty of getting technicians to secure this speed in the sinking of shafts and the driving of tunnels and so forth?

Mr. George

That is a good point, but I do not think that many technicians are needed. Plans for surface equipment are drawn up by private firms and there are plenty of engineering firms ready and able to do the job. Only money and drive are needed.

I now want to deal with absenteeism. "Investing in Coal" simply records that the "Plan for coal" envisaged a 2½ per cent. decrease in absenteeism. That has not happened and the coal has not been got. Absenteeism is still rising. The industry employs approximately 700,000 men and 94,000 of those men are idle every day of the week for one reason or another. I cannot think that the National Coal Board's responsibility ends simply by recording an increased incidence of absenteeism. The Board has to do something about it.

The leaders of the industry must start a vigorous, intensive and widespread campaign to reduce absenteeism. In spite of what has been said from this side of the House, there are very many appealing attractions to the wife of the miner which can help to prevent absenteeism in the mines. We must not sit down and say that we can do nothing about it. That is to accept defeat. Absenteeism must be fought and fought with imagination and vigour.

"Investing in Coal" says that we are losing an additional million tons of coal every year because of the additional stones which are being wound. In 1947, 11,700,000 tons were lost for that reason. In other words that amount was taken out, put through the screening plant and washed and then put on the green fields of Britain. Last year, 22,335.000 tons were lost—double the amount of 1947. That tonnage was filled at the face, transported along the roads, wound up the shafts, cleaned in the washery and deposited in the fields.

To get this into proper focus; let us imagine that every tenth day every mine in Britain solemnly and deliberately ceases to wind coal and for the whole of the day winds nothing but stone. That is what is happening in effect. The extra stone is being filled. We are told that that is due to better washing. I did not know that we did not clean to the customers' satisfaction long ago. We are told that it is also due to mechanisation, but only 20 per cent. is power-loaded and 80 per cent. is loaded by hand and capable of sensible selection. Much of it is due to indiscipline at the face and can be corrected. The Coal Board can do a great deal to help itself with this problem.

As another aspect of this problem, I should like to direct the Minister's attention to the tremendous increase in shot firing. In 1938 60 million shots were fired and one lb. of explosive yielded 7.6 tons of coal. Last year almost 100 million shots were fired and the yield went down to 4 tons of coal per lb. of explosive. Hon. Members opposite who are familiar with coal mining will know why I lave raised this issue. Where there are bands of stone in a seam, unnecessary shot firing blows the stone into small pieces and it is loaded with coal and sent to the surface. It is loaded needlessly, paid for needlessly and added to the extra 1 million tons every year. The Coal Board can again help itself and can do a great deal to minimise that staggering loss accruing at the rate of a million tons every year.

I cannot accept the three reasons given in "Investing for Coal" for the failure of the plan. They are not incurable. They may have been acceptable in the past, but they will not be acceptable for the future. Shafts can be sunk quicker. tunnels can be driven faster, transport can be improved and surface mechanism made more efficient by the expenditure of money. A tremendous amount can be done in this way to make the new plan a success and to put the industry on its feet.

"Investing in Coal" says very little in detail about the future. I do not believe that the future is as dark as the plan makes out. We do not seem to be reaping the reward of expansion, power loading, reconstruction schemes and the other expenditures. It was said that this year's Budget was a savings Budget. I believe that "Investment in Coal" is a safety Budget. The Board has played far too safe and should be asked to reconsider.

Can we see any prospect in the mines today for better things in the days ahead? I think that we can. Marvellous new machines have been invented and are past the proving stage. Well-proven conveyors are available and there are almost uncanny roof support systems which have been invented by clever mining engineers. Those three working in harmony and in electronic sequence can, in the not-too-distant future, bring in the "manless" coal face. There is a machine called the Trepanner which can be directed to go up and down the face and do the cutting and loading while the conveyor goes forward automatically, and the roof supports follow in sequence on their own power. This is not a dream. It is not far distant. Push-button mining can be made a reality within a reasonable time and hard labour and danger for miners over a wide field disappear.

To this job more than anything else the best brains in the industry should be directed. It can be done and it is near at hand. It can mean so much, for machines do not worry about hours of labour. In this conception lies hope for the miners for a safer and better-paid future. From this conception can come the higher output which the nation so anxiously awaits. From this conception, and only from this conception, can come lower costs.

Another very important thing can happen. Instead of "extras" to which I referred earlier and which cause so much trouble, we can have a fixed day's wage for the people at the face. Only then will peace come to the industry. I believe that the industry can have a bright future, if we put our technicians to the job of getting the new systems quickly into production. The task is not easy. Much has to be done in transport underground and in cleaning coal on the surface. I believe that, at long last, real hope lightens the darkness which has enshrouded coal for so many weary and tormented years.

7.30 p.m.

Mr. Henry White (Derbyshire, North-East)

During the time I have been in this House I have seen many bitter. Rough-and-tumble debates over the question of coal. But never have I witnessed an occasion such as today, where the responsible Minister was in such a position that all round him hon. Members appeared to be critical and hon. Members opposite were giving him support.

I am happy to support this plan for coal. The hon. Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Maude). who seconded the Amendment which was moved by the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), mentioned that he had been looking at the question of coal for the last ten years. The hon. Member for Pollok (Mr. George) said he had been connected with the industry for more than three times that period. I was looking at the coal face for nearly 40 years and I have had 50 years' connection with the industry. I suggest, therefore, that if, as an old miner, I can support this plan, there must be some substance in it.

The hon. Member for Pollok mentioned indiscipline in the mines. Everyone regrets unofficial strikes, no matter how small; we all condemn them. But miners of many years' standing, when talking of discipline, recall the years gone by. They cannot eradicate from their minds the thoughts of the discipline which existed in the years before nationalisation. So we should be careful when talking about discipline. I live in an area where there is a coalfield with an output of one-fifth of the output of the country. There have been few disputes in that coalfield. A spirit of conciliation and consultation exists. But when the question of discipline is mentioned, older miners cannot remove from their minds the thoughts of the harshness and the hardness of mine officials in the old days when they were in authority.

The hon. Member for Pollok said that for nearly 38 per cent. of his time the miner was idle. He mentioned an average figure. He will forgive me if I did not follow him, because I am a little deaf and my hearing aid did not cope with his words. But whoever was responsible for that statement knows nothing about mining. In the East Midland coalfield today the average amount of coal which a miner produces is 8 tons a day, and if 38 per cent. of his time was lost he would have some difficulty in averaging that figure. So I do not accept that statement.

Mr. George

The hon. Gentleman does not accept the authenticity of that statement?

Mr. White

I am talking from actual experience and knowledge of the mines and of the changing conditions which, I contend, would not allow for such a percentage of idleness with the output we get today.

The hon. Member for Pollok also referred to dirt. In the old days, as many old mining colleagues will know, when miners used a fork it was easy to take out the dirt. In fact, a miner suffered a penalty if he filled more than a certain percentage of dirt with the coal, so there was a reason for being careful. It must be remembered that the miner gave away much of the price he received for filling coal because it was filled as it was got. When mining in a 2 ft. 6 in. seam which was cut by a conveyor it was tempting not to bother about bits of stone that fell from the roof when one was paid by the yard.

Today, we can see the pit piles in the countryside. There are "mountains" running from Nottingham to where I live, with scarcely a break in the pit-tips. Lord Bracken, when he was a member of the party opposite, criticised nationalisation legislation and opencast mining and said that we were spoiling the countryside. But he had no complaint to make about the pit-tips that spoil the Sherwood Forest area and some of the most beautiful scenery in this country. No one can point the finger of scorn at me when it comes to the question of opencast mining. I had a struggle with the then Minister of Fuel and Power to take over opencast mining because the economy of the country needed it. Although some of my colleagues thought fit to laugh and jeer at the "sunshine pits," the country has been glad to receive the advantage which has derived from these operations.

The hon. Member for Kidderminster thought that the full price should be paid for imported coal. He went further and suggested that there should be free pricing for coal. What would be the logical conclusion when the highest bidder could have all the coal he wanted and those who could not afford it would have to do without? Thousands of people would not be able to buy a hundredweight of coal a year if that system were put into operation.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

I think that the hon. Member is misinterpreting my hon. Friend. My hon. Friend was quite clear that he did not want the price of British coal to be varied, but the price of imported coal to be paid for by the consumer.

Mr. White

The hon. Member talked about free pricing of coal and that is how I understood him. That is why I say we could not accept a policy of free pricing of coal. I expect the Coal Board would do so, but the effect on the people would be disastrous.

The hon. Member for Kidderminster went on to make an appeal for the use of foreign labour. That is not a simple question. I know that it was tried in some areas, but I should think that, in view of the percentage of foreign labour brought into this country to be trained, that would not prove to be a paying proposition for the Coal Board.

Sir Charles Taylor (Eastbourne)

It worked very well in Belgium.

Mr. White

I cannot speak with any authority about the position since the last war, but I know that after the 1914–18 war there was foreign labour in a pit in which I worked, one of the best developed pits in the Midlands—Creswell. We had foreign labour there and work on the night shift fell because our boys had to steady up to the rate at which the foreigners worked. I should have liked the hon. Member for Pollok to have been there with his methods. He might have speeded things up.

Without this plan and without this Bill there is no hope of getting the coal we require for the economy of the country. No one should need reminding that coal is the basis of our economy. That has been said many times. It is recognised that the neglect of the past—not only of the men, but of the industry—has been one of the chief causes for the position we face today. One of the chief reasons has been that high expenditure which was needed in the industry was not forthcoming. That is why we have to provide a vast sum of money today for machines and development in order that this great industry can go forward.

Lack of enterprise before nationalisation and the attitude of the owners of the past caused this industry almost to reach stagnation. Too many critics disregard those matters and think that the troubles of the industry started only when nationalisation began. In many respects a good job has been done, but, because lack of enterprise in years gone by has been ignored, and because too many people fail to recognise the drain there was on this industry, not only in the six years of war but before the war, we have not been able to pull round until now to somewhere near the datum line of the past.

We have been losing men in the industry. One of the chief features of the plan is the need to get more men employed in it. We are losing them at too great a rate. We did not attract them in the past and, as a result, we have not reached the level of intake which we want. In the old days, 40 per cent. of miners' sons went into the pits and sufficient manpower could he found, but if every miner's son went into the pits today we would not have half enough. Another thing which operated against recruitment was the wage factor. The miner was 86th on the wage list when the last war broke out. What an advertisement that was, when we were appealing for men and boys to go into the pits. There is no wonder that we have failed to recruit juveniles to the pits.

It is only fourteen years ago—not a long time—since the Foster Committee considered the question of recruiting juveniles to the pits. That Committee said that the industry had a black record. It had suffered a series of shocks. The shocks it had had to withstand went against recruitment. That is a nice way of putting it. My wife and family might be rather amused if I told them that when the Committee referred to "shocks" that meant that my pantry was empty, my children got no food, and I could not get a job. That was fourteen years ago. We have to get over this difficulty, but the hon. Member for Pollok, with all his drive and enthusiasm did not tell us how we could bring about an improvement. It is no good going into the wage levels or talking about the atmosphere which has kept our sons out of the mines. We have many times been advised that miners should get their sons to go elsewhere for a job because mining is uncongenial.

We must now look at the picture afresh and we must have an enterprising policy such as is contained in "Investing in Coal". If we had not nationalised the industry, and the Coal Board had not followed the policy it has followed since the war, many uneconomic pits would have been closed under private enterprise I recall an incident when the present Home Secretary was Minister of Fuel and Power. Private enterprise wished to close a pit, but talks were held and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman gave me an understanding that until he saw me again and we talked the matter over again, the pit would not be closed. That was in 1942. With a new manager and a new atmosphere, within nine months that pit was producing three-quarters-of-a-ton per man-shift more than the county average. Since the Coal Board came into existence it has spent thousands of pounds on developing that pit, and it is now one of the most attractive pits in the area.

One could go on talking about these things and about the policy of the Coal Board. Let us remember, and especially the hon. Member for Kidderminster, that no matter how nice his words were today, no matter how well he has put his case —and he did put it well—the fact is that over the months his attitude has been resented. His attitude towards the problem is resented in the coalfield.

Mr. Nabarro

Nothing of the sort.

Mr. White

In fact, queer words are said about the hon. Gentleman. I smile at some of the things people say when they talk about him being a political ballet dancer with clogs on. I recall that one lady said he must be an economic ignoramus. When I replied that I resented that and said, "Surely he is a good Member; he has represented his constituency and he bats well for it," she said, "There is nothing else for it. If you stand up for him to that extent, he must be an unconstitutional anarchist." The hon. Gentleman must remember that this great industry must go on. The economy of the country depends upon it and upon this plan.

In my opinion, the cost of imported coal ought never to have been borne by the Coal Board. It is time the Government had another look at this matter, tackled it properly and removed this deficit from the balance sheet of the Board.

May I say a word not only to the Minister but to the Coal Board? The Board talks about productivity in ten years' time. It must not think for one minute that the miners will be content to wait for ten years before they claim a five-day week, when they see their pals going out on Saturday afternoons attending sports meetings and elsewhere. The day will come when they will demand a five-day week and when they will demand a seven-hour day-and they will win. If they wanted it tomorrow it could be won, if they used their economic power.

The House and the country must not think that they will continue to be content with a fortnight's holiday with pay. Many of them spent years in the industry without a holiday. In 1939, the year in which the war broke out, I had the first week's holiday I had had in my life, after a life-time in the pit. Since then, the miners have been granted a holiday, and they know what it is. On holiday they see many other people, some of them coming from office desks. When they go to Doncaster races, they say, "I see around me some of my pals, but they are not on night shift."

The lover of cricket, working on the evening shift, does not come home until midnight; and when he awakens at nine o'clock in the morning and sees the sun shining, he finds Queen's Park, Chesterfield, a very attractive place when the county match is being played there. What these men are doing thousands in other industries are doing, but we have no record of their actions.

I have been connected with the mining industry for many years. In spite of what the hon. Member for Kidderminster, or anyone else, may say against this plan, I hope and believe that we shall give the Minister and the Bill full support. I say to the hon. Member for Kidderminster that as far as I am concerned, if the rules of the House permit, he will not be allowed to withdraw his Amendment. We will try to meet him on his merits. It is serious that the Minister should have so much support on this side of the House while so many of his colleagues are ignoring him. I trust that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.

7.58 p.m

Colonel C. G. Lancaster (South Fylde)

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. H. White) told us that he had 50 years' experience in the pits. The House always listens with sympathy and respect to anyone who can claim that sort of record, and if I do not follow him in my speech it is because I want to concern myself chiefly with why I feel that the first plan for coal failed and what I think should be the advice which we in the House should give to the National Coal Board on its revised plan.

If we look at the matter critically, we should approach the whole question in a spirit of realism. What we must remember, in the first instance, is that in 1955, alone among all the coal-producing countries of Western Europe, we failed to increase our coal production. Ten years after the war, after all the effort and all the money that had been sunk into this industry, 10 tons per man per year less was produced than in 1937. That is a sombre reflection.

Like the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. George), I must declare a personal interest here. For a great many years I have been interested in research and boring and in a great deal of the work connected with shaft sinking and so on. Since nationalisation, I have widened the field of my interest to cover almost all matters connected with equipment and the like for this industry.

The causes of failure are manifold, but before we get to the causes we must look at what the "Plan for Coal" set out to do. It set out to do three things—to maintain output, to sink new pits, and to undertake large schemes of development. In that regard I must straight away deal with a matter which arose in October, 1954, when we last debated this particular aspect of coal mining. The then Minister, and the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. P. Noel-Baker) who led for the Opposition, both stated that only three major schemes of reconstruction had been completed, and took as their yardstick of a major scheme a figure of £¼ million.

I challenged that statement at the time because it was in contradiction to what the Coal Board itself was setting out in its tenders as being what it considered a major scheme of reconstruction; that is to say, a figure of from £¼ million upwards. I am glad to see that has been confirmed in the new plan for coal and that the figure I then stated of about twenty to thirty schemes having been completed is shown to be the right number.

These schemes of reconstruction and new sinkings require a great deal of skilful planning and need adequate staffs of trained men, both technical and administrative, to carry them out. Before nationalisation, I think it is true to say that about a dozen or twenty of the larger coal concerns had staffs capable of originating these schemes of development. If the smaller companies wished to embark on any such major scheme they relied in the main on firms of consulting engineers.

After nationalisation, therefore, the Coal Board had a nucleus of trained personnel capable of originating these large schemes of development and of setting out plans for new sinkings, but by and large most of the consulting firms went out of business and a great many of the administrators were dispensed with on vesting day. Moreover, the Coal Board—quite rightly—had to spread those existing staffs rather more widely over the coalfield, and the very nature of the three-tier organisation set up meant that a great many of those men had to be withdrawn from area level and put on divisional boards and on the national board.

The result was that there was a very considerable shortage of this type of trained personnel. In addition to that, as has been set out in the new plan for coal, the Coal Board embarked on a number of ancillary activities, each although no doubt desirable in itself, putting a further strain on the trained personnel, the trained technicians, who alone were capable of originating these schemes. Central workshops, boring shaft sinking and the like are perfectly desirable, and certainly very tempting things to do. Before nationalisation, most big companies were tempted to undertake very similar activities, but, on the whole, I think that they were right to resist the temptation.

In the circumstances of the last ten years I believe that the Coal Board was wrong to undertake these ancillary activities on such a scale, and I notice that in the new plan it is proposed to build further central workshops and so on. It is tempting to be self-sufficient. The idea no doubt gains credence that with central workshops the cost of maintenance can be cut down. But what we have to recognise is that when we set up these workshops—which cost about £½million—skilled technicians have to be put in charge of them. Once again we are taking away those trained men from the point at which they could be useful either in production or in development work.

Moreover, the temptation to embark on work other than maintenance is very real in slack times. Development of one sort or another occurs—and the cost is seldom comparable with that of the outside specialist. In looking at this new plan for coal we should be wise to recognise that, in our existing state of technical ability—with the thinness, so to speak, of the men available—the Coal Board would be wise to draw in its horns as much as is reasonable. There being this great shortage of men capable of working out these plans, I do not think that it is completely surprising that the first "Plan for Coal" fell down.

The criticism is that in the face of all the advice tendered to the then Minister and to the Coal Board they continued for 5½is years with a plan which—certainly after the first three years—had been shown to be unworkable and was doomed to failure. That could only have its effect on the morale of management undertaking the plan. It was also bound to shake the confidence of Parliament when the time came to be asked, as Parliament is being asked today, to vote additional moneys to this industry.

I am sorry that my right hon. Friend did not seek to explain to the House what, in his opinion, were the root causes of the failure of the first plan. Certainly, one of the chief criticisms of the new plan is that it, in its turn, pays very little attention to that aspect. Indeed, I must quite frankly say that I think this new plan is a very flimsy effort and would give a prospective investor very little confidence. It makes little or no attempt to analyse the problems and the failures of the past. It gives very little assurance, certainly to myself, that those lessons have been learned or will be made use of in connection with the future.

A great many statistics have already been bandied about in this debate, so I will limit myself to three only. The effects of the revision are that there will be a 4 per cent. rise in production, an increase of 9 per cent. in manpower requirements, and that we must visualise a 120 per cent. increase in the price we are to pay for this very modest increase in production. Can it, therefore be wondered at that so many of my hon. Friends have criticised not only the scheme itself but the existing situation so far as Parliament is concerned, particularly since it is impossible—anyhow under existing circumstances—to investigate and revise or in any way influence the course of the annual expenditure?

Ever since nationalisation we have had at the most one opportunity a year when we could debate the Annual Report of the National Coal Board. Invariably the mass of discussion has been on matters of day-to-day interest—absenteeism, wages, output and so on—and the amount of time that we have devoted to analysing the vast expenditure has been utterly negligible. In that respect, I think the sympathy of every reasonable Member on either side of the House must be extended to those who have said that from now on there must be much closer control by us in the House of Commons over the large expen diture of money which is now being called for. No reasonable person would say that the Coal Board is not entitled to the money it requires. What we do say is that a much closer and more detailed case should be made out than the one which has been put before us for consideration this afternoon.

There are, I think, a number of lessons we can learn from our first five-and-a-half years' experience. The first and, to my way of thinking, almost the foremost is that if we are to expend this very large sum annually, surely we have reached a phase where that expenditure must be in a direction where production can be definitely increased, rather than spreading the commitment, as has been done so far, broadly over the whole field. In making that investment, surely the time has come when we must consider each individual investment, not only in the light of additional production, but in connection with its effect on costs and. we hope, on the use of manpower.

Time and again these schemes have been put into operation and, as my right hon. Friend has said, they have shown a considerable increase in productivity, but very little mention has been made of whether or not they have shown any decrease in costs or in the number of men required to carry out the work. From now on we must concentrate much more in the direction not only of the productive results to be obtained but of seeing that they bring about some amelioration of this very high increase in costs and some diminution in the number of men required.

The first "Plan for Coal" was undoubtedly based on a number of assumptions, and one must sympathise with the Coal Board when it produced that plan which, may I say, was a much more carefully produced plan than the present one. It set out in a measurable number of years to bring about a marked reduction in the number of men required. It is a sad reflection on the approach which the new Coal Board has made that it not only recommends no diminution in the number of men but it is, in fact, legislating for a considerable increase. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Pollok that in a great many directions this new plan needs considerable revision.

I do not say that the money should not be voted for this purpose. It is almost impossible for this House to decide in great detail what precise amount should be allocated. But that we should be asked to vote money this afternoon on a scheme which, as I say, needs considerable revision, is asking a lot of us. In return there should be every opportunity given to Parliament as time goes on both to review and to revise that annual expenditure.

As I have said, it is essential that money should be expended in a productive direction, and I think we can take a very definite lesson from what has occurred. A close analysis of the National Coal Board returns will show that where schemes were in excess of the average per ton of annual output the effect was all to the bad.

Let me explain that in more simple terms. Take the case of the East Midlands. For every 2 million tons of annual output there was one major scheme embarked upon. That is to say, during the period which we are considering—these five and a half years—23 major schemes were embarked upon in the East Midlands, representing one scheme per 2 million tons of annual output. In Scotland in the same period 32 schemes were embarked upon and each scheme represented only 750,000 tons of annual output. In other words, where the strain on management and the technicians was higher than was reasonable, production has suffered most acutely. In this new period upon which we are embarking, we must review our expenditure in the light of that experience. We cannot spread our commitments geographically as we have done in the past. We must invest the money where it is going to bring the best results.

Once and for all, I think it would be a good thing if we cleared up this misconception about the East Midlands. Everybody from the new Chairman of the National Coal Board downwards, from time to time claims when in difficulties that the East Midlands have geological advantages compared with the rest of the country. I assure hon. Members that geology was not affected by nationalisation. Before nationalisation, the East Midlands were fourth in geological advantages. They remain fourth today. What they had that other parts of the country lacked was a tradition of good management and good labour relationships. Surely it is time that these advantages were spread a little more widely over the whole of the country. Let us get away from this idea that we can explain everything away by claiming that the East Midlands have got something which the others have not got. They have not. It is too easy an excuse to make, and it is inaccurate.

In addition to this approach of spending money where it should best be spent, there is an absolute necessity for progressing capital expenditure. Can any hon. Member who is familiar with this industry claim that during the last five and a half years, apart from his particular interests in some part of the coalfield, he has really been aware of how the money has been spent and what results have been forthcoming? Of course, he cannot. There has been no chance for the average Member to do any such thing. I believe that if we in Parliament are prepared to countenance this immense investment in the industry, the National Coal Board in return should be prepared to set out annually the results of this investment in much more precise detail so that we can follow them.

If it does well, I have no doubt it will get our support and sympathy. If it does no better than it has done in the past, there will be every reason why we shall be critical and, indeed, why we should want to revise our views in this matter.

I have already said that it was a mistake, in my view, to embark upon these ancillary interests at a time when technical staffs were not available. For the time being, the Coal Board should recognise the facts of the situation and draw in its horns. It must recognise that if these development plans are to cone forward in good time, they can come from only one source, that is, the areas; and if the areas are not furnished with the technical staffs to enable these plans to be formulated and introduced, the inevitable consequences will follow, and we shall have the same results as we have had during the last 5½ years. Cross-postings from the divisions may be necessary—even from London—back to the areas; but the areas must be furnished with the requisite staffs to formulate these development plans, which, as I have already explained, require a great deal of technical ability and experience.

I will take up no more of the time of the House, save to say this. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Pollok, I do not by any means despair of the industry. There is a generation of management in its mid-forties coming along, and those men are as good as any we have ever had. There is no question of any shortage of coal; we have got masses of coal up and down the coalfield. Technology is rapidly advancing. There are a number of outside concerns doing a great deal of good work in development and research. The men are, I believe, as ready as they have ever been to respond. The test is not on that part of the industry. The test will be on the new Coal Board; it is for the Board to measure up to the task entrusted to it.

8.23 p.m.

Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr Tydvil)

I could take up a good deal of the time of the House in commenting on the speeches which have been made and on the many points of disagreement which have arisen. I have not much quarrel with the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for South Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) but, as an old miner—for my sins, I may say—I cannot understand exactly how one could carry out the maxim he put before the House a few minutes ago, that expenditure should be made only in that direction where output can be increased. That sounds very nice indeed, but we know that in coal mining we must often incur relatively vast expenditure which does not bear fruit for a number of years to come.

Once a new shaft has been sunk, there are several ways in which the seams can best be worked. Every mining engineer knows that, if circumstances permit, and those who have invested in the enterprise can be appeased for some years, the best, indeed the ideal, thing to do every time is to adopt what is called the horizon method of working, particularly in very highly inclined seams, or driving roadways from the shaft bottom straight to the boundaries and working the coal from there back towards the shaft bottom. But that, of course, takes a number of years after the shaft has been sunk and equipped.

I do not agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman in what he said about geological conditions. If I followed his words correctly, he suggested that geological conditions in the coalfield are the same today as they were 30 or 40 years ago.

Colonel Lancaster

I actually said ten years ago.

Mr. Davies

That, of course, was before the vesting date.

What is important is how the coal was worked in the proximity of these geological conditions. In my coalfield, owing to the travesty of mining practised under private ownership in the past, I know that the Coal Board has to suffer considerable expense, and work under considerable difficulties, because the coal was not mined in the manner it should have been, having regard to the geological conditions.

I am sorry to find that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Pollok (Mr. George) is not in the House. He made an extraordinary speech. I understand that he has been associated with coalmining for quite a long time, but I, as an old coalmines, must confess that I have never before heard anyone on the Floor of this House idealising the industry as did the hon. Gentleman, for, if I may say so, a very considerable time during the debate.

He told us how output had so tragically dropped between 1952 and 1955. There was a drop in output at that time; we all know that. But during those four or five years about 10,000 miners left the industry. A little arithmetical calculation by the hon. Gentleman would have brought home to him the realisation that the drop in output was not in proportion to the loss of man-power during those four or five years.

Again, to my amazement, as a practical miner, the hon. Member advocated time studies underground, giving as an example, as I understood him, work at the coal face. We have suffered considerably as a result of these wide and sometimes flamboyant, generalisations about other industries which are then applied to the mining industry. It just cannot be done. No one knows when a seam might peter out, or when a serious geological difficulty might be encountered.

As a wholesale advocate of power loaders, the hon. Member for Pollok could not have listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West (Mr. Ainsley), who related his experiences when working in seams 20 in. thick. How is it possible to put in a power loader under such conditions? It would be nothing but an obstacle to the men. I have worked seams of coal with a dip of about 26 in. in the yard. What would hold the power loader up to get it to work under such conditions?

The hon. Member made some pathetic references and gave an illustration of the South Wales coalfield, which I happen to know fairly well. He criticised the time taken in the sinking of new shafts and objected to the importation of skilled labour. It might interest the hon. Member to know that we have sunk one shaft in South Wales in the last 38 years—and that was in 1925; and no shaft was sunk in that coalfield for some years previously. How could the Coal Board or anyone else keep highly skilled labour for the sinking of shafts, which has its own technique and requires special plant to expedite the work? The hon. Member should go back a little in his experience and rely upon the hard facts of coal mining as he actually saw them and not the kind of coal mining that he has idealised for us this afternoon.

The old complaint about stones being filled with coal has been answered. At one time the South Wales coalfield had a tremendously rich variety of coal, but the best seams have been more than half worked and the others have been butchered by stupid mismanagement. This shocking state of affairs was inherited by the Coal Board. Even if mechanised mining were possible, and is applied to what is called a dirty seam of coal, it is almost impossible to pick out all the dirt and prevent it reaching the light of day.

I am sorry that neither the hon. Member for Pollok nor the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), to whom I must refer, is present. The gist of the lengthy speech of the hon. Member for Kidderminster was that there must be Parliamentary scrutiny of the expenditure by the Coal Board. That sounds all right and superficially extremely democratic and in the best traditions of our British Parliament, but what exactly did the hon. Member mean? I listened closely to discover what he meant by demanding this scrutiny of the Board's expenditure.

There are at the moment in the South Wales coalfield two substantial development schemes, and a third is rapidly nearing completion. I hope that the money being expended upon it will yield an excellent return, but how can this House or the hon. Member for Kidderminster scrutinise with any satisfaction the expenditure incurred, say, at the new Cynheidre colliery, in Carmarthenshire? They are applying there the most modern methods of sinking but the machinery and the men have had to be imported. The cost of that scheme, when finished and fully equipped, will be about £6 million. How can we scrutinise expenditure of that amount and satisfy ourselves that the money is being well and truly and productively invested?

Similarly, another scheme is being undertaken at Mardy, necessitating tunnelling through a mountain and out into another valley. I think that it is an admirable scheme on the part of the Coal Board; but how can we in this House satisfy ourselves that the best brains and the best methods are being applied there, and that the money for that scheme is not being wasted or wantonly mis-spent?

Then there is the great Nantgarw Scheme, which will cost between £10 million and £11 million. It is in one of the most difficult parts of our coalfields. There have been criticisms of that scheme, but I have seen the coal measures and disturbances in the area, and I am certain, from what I have seen of the plans and from discussing the methods employed with representatives of the Coal Board there, that everything that can be done in the interests of the industry and by way of intelligent spending has been done. How are we to scrutinise these things in this House? Only a highly-skilled mining engineer and technician can know whether the money is or is not being well spent.

We heard the hon. Member for Kidderminster talk almost ad nauseam about the vast waste in the investment programme, but no facts were given at all. I am sorry that the hon. Member is absent from the Chamber. I would be much happier if he were here. Let us look at the solution which he offered today. It was that we should jump to one of the remote countries in the Empire and hope to get coal from there to make up for any loss in coal production suffered in this country. Henceforth, the miners of this country will have to be consulted before any old tricks of that kind are perpetrated against them.

Mr. Page

I gather that the hon. Member is suggesting that there will be sweated labour or something of the kind in the African territories. Surely he knows that it is easier to get coal there and, therefore, cheaper. It has nothing to do with sweated labour or cheap labour which might harm miners in this country.

Mr. Davies

I shall accept all that only when I see the scheme and when I am able to see the conditions in which the miners work and live. The only information I have at present is that we have nothing to shout about—

Mr. W. R. Williams (Manchester, Openshaw)

Is not all coal-getting sweated labour?

Mr. Davies

That word has developed a rather restrictive connotation. Sweated labour need not be bad in itself, but we know what we mean by the use of that term. I cannot accept that coal brought from African mines hundred of miles from the coast, with the need to build and pay for railways, can still be brought to this country and sold more cheaply than the imported coal we have at present. I should have to know the conditions in which the native labour was employed. and how it was paid for, before I should be a party to such a scheme.

The hon. Member for Kidderminster, with wide-sweeping gestures, referred to the gas industry and spoke of what he would do if he were responsible for the mining industry. He is not without ambition in that respect. Already, he sees himself as both Minister of Fuel and Power and head of the National Coal Board. The hon. Member said that unless it substantially raised the present conversion of about 24 per cent. of its coal into gas, he would tell the gas industry, "You will pay the market price for the coal you use."

That was not dealing quite fairly with the House, because it is well known that the gas industry is increasingly producing many things in addition to gas. We know that the best the industry can do is to convert the lump of coal in coke and, in the process, extract the gas from it and also the by-products. I admit that the by-products could be of substantially more value than they are today.

The hon. Member for Kidderminster admitted that the industry is short of labour. He was not very hopeful that the necessary labour could be recruited in this country and asked, "Why not bring Italian labour into British coal mines?" I should like to read to the House an extract from a report relating to an experiment made with Italian labour in 1951–52. It says: Italians were recruited under the National Coal Board and the Ministry of Labour bulk scheme and during this period, from May, 1951, to July, 1952, 7,500 men were interviewed in Italy. Of this number 5,100 were rejected as unsuitable or were not called forward for other reasons. Therefore, out of a total of 7,500 who were interviewed only 2,418 were brought to this country. A further 164 did not complete their training and, therefore, only one-third of those originally interviewed or 2,254 were available for placing. However, we were only able to place 1,205 of those men, 37 being placed in National Coal Board ancillary employment, 268 being repatriated, 256 being found other employment in this country and 340 being found employment in Belgium. Out of these 1,205 who were actually on the colliery books at the end of July, 1952, only 867 remained on the colliery books at the end of July, 1955. That report has been published. It is by the National Union of Mineworkers, on facts received from the Coal Board.

Much as I am tempted to, I shall not take up much more time. Notwithstanding what I have said. I am not altogether satisfied with the mining industry. I am not worrying overmuch about the Coal Board being made accountable to this House. One has to be fully conversant with the difficulties of the industry in order to discuss that fairly. One cannot expect even the best-laid plans always to work as desired. I know that from experience. I have myself seen plans which, on paper, were absolutely perfect, bat which went awry because we did not take fully into account the vagaries of nature, particularly in our Welsh coalfield.

What I am worrying about are the rank and file miners. They have been criticised on the Floor of this House. That is grossly unfair if not cowardly, as the miners, except, perhaps, on occasions such as this, which are extremely rare, have no representation in this House and no voice in it. There are 6,000 to 7,000 miners in my constituency and I know that on occasion matters arise which should be ventilated in this House. I am not going to develop the matter now, much as I am tempted to do so, because I feel very keenly about it. I believe that the spirit of disaffection which exists in places in the industry today arises in part from the fact that those men have no voice as miners in this House.

I remember the history of the coal miners vis-à-vis our Parliament. I am old enough to remember the agitation and the sacrifices that were made in my very early days when, every day, five dead men and boys were brought out of the coal mines of this country. I refer to the agitation for the first steps in workmen's compensation, and the agitation for, and the sacrifices that were made, to secure, the first 8-hour day that was established for miners in 1908. I remember the sacrifices of thousands with whom I was associated in my young days in the agitation that went on up and down this country to establish the first Coal Mines Minimum Wage Act for coal miners, in 1912. All along. we have won one victory after another. Our struggles have always found an echo here, and, finally, they brought to us the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act.

Now we will have to give more attention to that part of the miner's life concerning his relationship with this House, and I hope that neither the Minister nor the Government will be squeamish about it. Questions affecting coal miners cannot be much more frivolous than the many Questions that are asked every day in this House, and I therefore hope that the Government will pay some attention to the appeal which I have made to them on this particular aspect of the case.

8.52 p.m.

Mr. Harold Neal (Bolsover)

I do not think that anybody could complain about the lack of variety or the high quality of the speeches to which we have listened during this debate. We have heard hon. and right hon. Gentlemen from both sides of the House commending the Bill in almost unanimous terms—in terms, in terms, indeed, which might have been impossible a few years ago.

Before the coal industry was nationalised, the clash between the advocates of private enterprise and public ownership was understandable, and perhaps inevitable, but, since all parties are now committed to nationalisation as a permanent feature of this industry, a debate of this character ought to be divorced from party politics, and we of the Opposition welcome the change to bi-partisanship that we have seen today. It is true that we have also seen the unedifying spectacle of a family squabble, but I do not think that it will be of very long duration, because when the whips crack we know that everyone will be happy in the Government household.

The simple question which we have to answer in defining our attitude to this Bill is this: do we want the coal? If the answer is in the affirmative, we cannot escape the obligation to provide sufficient money to enable the industry to maintain and even increase its output, but if the powers contained in the Bill are refused to the Coal Board, there is bound to be a considerable fall in production, which will be intensified with the passage of time. Without the sinking of new mines, the reorganisation of existing ones, the exploitation of new seams, and the further introduction of mechanical power, we must very soon expect an annual decline of output of about 50 million tons of coal.

Viscount Lambton

Will the hon. Member repeat that? Did he say 50 million tons annual decline?

Mr. Neal

Unless the Bill is passed and these investments approved.

Viscount Lambton

That was not what the hon. Member said.

Mr. Neal

The noble Lord had better read HANSARD tomorrow morning.

Viscount Lambton

An annual decline of 50 million tons?

Mr. Neal

Yes, of course. Unless we sink new mines and reorganise existing mines and install new machines and introduce new mechanical power into the industry, it will not be long before we have a decline of 50 million tons a year.

Viscount Lambton

Will the hon. Member give way?

Mr. Neal

No, I have given an undertaking about the time I shall take and I have given all the time which I can spare to that intervention.

It is perfectly fair to ask the opponents of the Bill how that balance would be made up. On 13th February, the Minister of Fuel and Power made a very realistic estimate of the inland demands for all forms of primary fuel in 1965. He said that compared with 1955 consumption of 250 million tons, in ten years' time we should probably exceed 300 million tons of coal equivalent. If we had a decline in coal output, oil could, of course, make a valuable contribution to making up that deficiency, but any large substitution of oil would certainly be expensive and unreliable, because changes in plant are expensive and oil politics are very unstable.

Some optimists ask why we want to invest £600 million in the coal industry in this nuclear age. I make bold to say that atomic energy will not make any serious impact upon the economy of the country before the year 2,000. At least, it will be a long time before atomic power can possibly rival that of coal. We are all glad, of course, to see the advances which we are making in the peaceful use of atomic energy, but it would be a mistake to assume that it will quickly displace all other forms of energy.

A White Paper on this subject revealed that 12 power stations are to be built by 1965. The anticipated cost is £300 million and even when completed, as the Minister confirmed this afternoon, it is expected that there will be a saving equivalent to only 5 million to 6 million tons of coal. However we lament the so-called losses of the Coal Board, coal is still the cheapest form of heat production available to this country.

This afternoon, the Minister made a very adequate defence for this small, but not unimportant, Bill. His speech left us wondering by what peculiar pilgrimage he found himself on the Government Front Bench. It was a speech which would have done justice to any Socialist Minister. Candour is always welcome on these occasions. If one is dealing with other people's money, the more one tells them about it the more satisfaction is given, and the great candour of the Minister was admired in all parts of the House. His appraisal of the achievements of the Coal Board and miners was heard with great pleasure on this side, and we can only hope that his views will become contagious on the benches behind him. We noticed the discomfiture of his colleagues when he talked about the result of reorganisation in the mines, about which I hope to comment later.

The Minister referred to the pamphlet "Investing in Coal", published by the Coal Board, which adumbrates reasons for the heavy borrowing powers contained in the Bill. Compared with "Plan for Coal", issued five years ago, I consider this to be a more candid document about the past and a less speculative one about the future. I like its frankness in stating that the aggregate output is likely to be 250 million tons by 1970 instead of 1965, as the former plan foreshadowed. I know that it is easy to be wise after the event, but at least it is an admission that an amazing miscalculation was made in the original plan.

I was interested to hear the Minister say that he was in complete agreement with the assumptions contained in "Investing in Coal." One of the main assumptions is the continuance of the present working time. It must have been known to the authors of this document, first, that Saturday working time is only by voluntary agreement; secondly, that the Miners' Charter includes a seven-hour working day, which will bring the working time back to pre-1926; thirdly, that a three-week holiday with pay is also included in the Miners' Charter. How long the Coal Board will be able to preserve the first of these three things and defer the second and third remains to be seen.

Another assumption in this document, and a very surprising one, is that regarding opencast coal. It is rather striking that they should expect to get 100 million tons in the next ten years from opencast mining. We agree that the result last year for opencast mining was very good indeed. The profit margin was even higher than for deep-mined coal. We appreciate, also, that the machinery and methods of working have improved since opencast mining began as a war-time experiment in 1942. But that is not the whole story. I have burnt opencast coal and I know what it is like. If 10 million tons of opencast coal are to be produced every year for the next ten years, we shall certainly be scraping the barrel for thin and inferior seams of coal by the end of that time.

We are told that there are three sites somewhere—their location is not mentioned—which contain about 17 million tons of coal. I think it fair to assume that if there are resources of that dimension, some of them could be got by deep mined methods. I was glad to hear the Minister say that the Government were considering the matter of compensation—

Viscount Lambton

What is the figure of 17 million tons?

Mr. Neal

I said—[Horn. MEMBERS:" Give way."] I am not giving way.

We are told that there are three sites with a possible output of 17 million tons. I invite the noble Lord to familiarise himself with this document, and then he will know.

Viscount Lambton

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Neal


Mr.Geoffrey Hirst (Shipley)


Mr. Neal

It is not my fault if the noble Lord has a little speech in his pocket and wishes to make it now.

I was saying that we were glad to hear the Minister say that the Government were considering the question of compensation for the farming industry regarding opencast coal mining. In any case, opencast mining causes sore feelings among the farming community and creates a lot of inconvenience. It is my personal opinion—I do not speak for my colleagues in this connection—that side by side with the increase in deep-mined coal production and concomitant with that, we should have a plan for reducing the output from opencast coal mining.

In my estimation, the most important assumption by the Coal Board in its document is that the output of coal in the next ten years will be achieved if the manpower is available in the right places at the right time. That appears to be a realistic view of concentration, There can be no excuse for keeping open old pits if the manpower in those pits could be better used in more modern, newer pits. During the war it was essential to keep all points of production open because of enemy attacks, but we have long since passed that stage. As far as possible we ought to have a plan which will move towards closing the older and less remunerative mines and concentrating our efforts on the newer pits.

It is no use, however, sinking a shaft and building a few houses and then expecting miners to pull up their roots and transfer their homes from another area merely for the privilege of working in a modern pit. The Coal Board has to provide adequate social amenities—schools, clubs, pubs, recreative and social centres—if we are to expect miners to migrate from one coalfield to another. If this plan of concentration in the coalfields were adopted, given proper co-operation between the National Union of Mineworkers and the Coal Board, that could be done without any serious social compulsion.

Some of my hon. Friends have referred to the wastage of manpower. Although we are glad to note that there is a temporary improvement in recruiting in the mining industry, over the last few years the decline has been consistent. It is the view of some people that very soon this industry will have to accommodate itself to a complement of half a million men. In that case, in my view, the shortage will have to be met by the increasing use of mechanical power and the development of new techniques.

The hon. member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) raised the question of Italian labour. There is an Amendment on the Order Paper in the name of the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Sir C. Taylor)—which has not been called—referring to bringing the organisations in the industry together to reopen the question of getting foreign labour. We on this side of the House have no objection to the National Union of Mineworkers and the Coal Board, if they choose, reopening that subject, but we must be under no illusions on the matter. The Amendment refers to "skilled workmen from overseas." The fact is that there are very few skilled workmen overseas who could be brought to this country for the purpose of mining. Many of the so-called skilled workers available overseas, particularly in the case of Italy, come from southern areas where there is no heavy industry at all and they have no experience of mining.

I had some personal experience of trying to settle the last contingent of Italian miners who came to this country in 1951. My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies) has already read the disappointing figures about that contingent. I saw those fellows in their hostels. They were a fine body of men. I should not have hesitated to have taken many of them into my household, but if competence in playing the guitar and singing opera had been what we required at that time, our difficulties would have been soon resolved.

It is so easy to get the arithmetic wrong in these matters. People think that if a British miner can produce 300 tons of coal in a year—hey presto, bring in 10,000 Italians and output is increased by 3 million tons next year. But it is not as easy as that. When we bring foreign workers here we have, first, to teach them the language, and that takes from six to 12 months. Then they have to undergo ordinary training which a miner undergoes in this country. Such a man must understand the nomenclature of mining. He must know what an unsafe roof is, what a roof support is, what tools, drags and dogs are.

I should not care to work with a man who did not understand these things, for he is likely to be a danger to himself and to others. It is at least two years before a foreign worker who comes to this country becomes an effective unit in production. I do not think we shall solve this question by the nonchalant surrender of our responsibility to the foreigners. I believe that one power loader is worth any number of guitars.

By an adroit use of Parliamentary language, the hon. Member for Kidderminster has succeeded in converting what ought to have been a debate on borrowing powers into discussion on public accountability. We listened with considerable interest to the Prime Minister's announcement today about the nationalised industries and we shall study it very carefully. After this announcement I hope that no more will be said about capitula- tion to recalcitrants on this side of the House, because the hon. Member for Kidderminster appears to have scored a victory over the Government, for they tried to precede him with the announcement today.

The anxiety about this problem is not confined to the Government benches. It has been engaging our attention on this side of the House for a considerable time, and at the appropriate time we shall explain our views on it to the House. As to how far we should be prepared to become fellow travellers with the hon. Member for Kidderminster I would not care to predict, but at the appropriate time we shall make known our views. We have never pretended that we have reached man's final expression of what an industrial democracy should be, and when the Government clarify their proposals we shall be prepared to explain our views on the matter.

I frankly acknowledge that the hon. Member for Kidderminster has given profound study to questions of fuel and power. He has tried, by his book and the speeches which he has made, to make the country fuel-conscious. I know that he has even investigated conditions underground in the Midland coalfield, for I accompanied him on one occasion into an underground colliery in my constituency. Perhaps we must take mutual blame, because from that time forward output per man-shift declined and has not been fully restored.

I admired the hon. Member's pluck and endurance on that occasion, but I wish I had his permission to repeat what he said to me at the end of the day's exertion. It would not be easily reconciled with what he said today.

Mr. Nabarro

I readily give the hon. Gentleman full permission to say what I said on that occasion about the arduous character of the miner's labour at the coal face, because I said nothing whatever in the course of my speech today which was in any way derogatory of the efforts of the British miner.

Mr. Neal

I must dissent from the hon. Gentleman's view because, if I have his permission to repeat it, this is what he said," Coal mining is the world's worst job. It is worth all the money we are paying the miners and all we are putting into it ". I do not think that that is exactly the tone of his speech this afternoon.

The real danger of the hon. Gentleman's Amendment is that if we reject the Bill it is apparent that there would be no more new sinkings and no more reorganisation; economies would have to follow in welfare and research, and pits would have to close regardless of social consequences.

Mr. Maude

I do not wish to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but there are two points about this. In seconding the Amendment, I was very careful to say that we recognise that there must be substantial investment in the coal mines, particularly to replace lost capacity. If the hon. Gentleman will read the Amendment he will see that what we actually say is: … while welcoming any measure which would increase the economic production of coal…

Hon. Members

Read on.

Mr. Neal

The House will see whether hon. Members opposite have sufficient intestinal fortitude to carry the Amendment to a Division. That will be the real test.

We on this side recognise that the Bill does not give any guarantee against financial losses in the coal industry. We recognise that. As the Manchester Guardian pointed out, that can easily be remedied if we pay for our coal what it is worth.

This debate has been conducted in some ways as if it were an inquest. It is not an inquest—an inquest presupposes a body, and there is no body here; the coal industry is not dead and done for. It was the basis of our commercial and industrial supremacy in the past and it can make a valuable contribution to our economy in the future. The fate of this Bill should depend on the question which I put earlier: do we want the coal? If we do, then either we invest to get it or we mutilate our balance of payments to import it.

The Opposition support this Measure because we believe that it is more prudent to invest than to ignore our dependence upon this great industry.

9.20 p.m

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Sir Edward Boyle)

We have had a most interesting debate, and I think it might be for the convenience of the House if I divided my speech into three parts. First of all, I will attempt to reply to some of the points which were raised early this afternoon by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Maude). I will then answer a number of questions which, I think, arise directly out of the Bill, and they are questions which, as I fully realise, are being asked not only by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and rightly so, but also by many people outside this House. Then, in the last part of my speech, I will certainly devote some minutes to this important question of Parliamentary accountability, and I shall have a constructive suggestion to make which will, I hope, meet with the approval of the House.

I am sorry that in my desire to do justice to the speeches which were made earlier in the debate, I was not able to listen to some of the later speeches made this evening. I am particularly sorry to have missed the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) who has such a very wide experience of this industry and, indeed, had such a very fine record as a coal owner in past years. I am also sorry that I was unable to listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Pollok (Mr. George) who has thirty years' experience of this industry.

My hon. Friend the 'Member for Kidderminster addressed us this afternoon at some length. He complained that the last time he spoke on this subject, last July, he received what he described as rather a flippant reply at the end of the debate. I sincerely hope that my hon. Friend will not say the same about my reply tonight. I have not the least intention of treating his arguments and the points that he raised other than seriously.

The first point with which I should like to deal is one that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster and also by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East. They said that the National Coal Board should not bear the loss arising from the coal imports. I think the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East used the phrase "take the burden off the backs of the miners" and I recall that my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster said that the National Coal Board should not carry any of these losses but that the consumer ought to pay.

I would put this consideration to the House. If the National Coal Board does not carry these losses, there really are only two possibilities. Either those losses must be borne by the Treasury—that is to say, the taxpayer—and we must have in effect a subsidy, or we must have what my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster would appear to prefer, which is some kind of differential price. I do not believe that the people of this country want a subsidy. I do not believe that solution would be at all acceptable.

As to this question of a differential price, I would put to my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster two, as I think, very practical difficulties. In the first place, there really is not a precise analogy with steel, because steel is sold competitively, whereas in the case of coal there is a single monopolistic seller. The second point is this. Suppose we had a differential price. It is all very well to say, take the consumer pay. "But, of course, 1½ million tons of the tonnage imported goes direct to merchants, and this means that the ordinary domestic consumer would pay. I feel that an arrangement of this kind whereby the consumer instead of the Coal Board bore the burden would work out unfairly as between one domestic consumer and another.

Mr. Nabarro

I do not wish to pursue this point in detail, but surely my hon. Friend will be aware that Western Germany has operated in the last four years a system of duality of this kind. I was very careful, throughout my speech, to make it clear that a price differential in this country could apply only to industrial coal. As the Minister of Fuel and Power controls the price of domestic coal, but does not control the price of industrial coal, I think my hon. Friend will find, on further investigation, that not only is my proposal absolutely valid but it is entirely practicable, and has an exact parallel in Western Germany.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Sir E. Boyle

May I just tell my hon. Friends, before they cheer too loudly, that since this point has been made, I will try to meet it and as fairly as possible. I am assured that the arrangements in Western Germany do not in fact work too well; that is my information. Furthermore, 5 million of this imported tonnage does in fact go to electricity, so there again the consumer, in the services he receives through other nationalised industries, would in fact bear part of the burden in the long run. I do honestly put it to my hon. Friends that this is not quite so simple a matter as one might think at first sight.

Next, I would like to mention Rhodesian coal.

Mr. Callaghan

Has the hon. Gentleman no proposition at all to put to us as to how the Coal Board can get this burden off its back, so that it is not unfairly saddled with a loss which does not arise out of its working operations?

Sir E. Boyle

I have put what I conceive to be the difficulties, and I cannot add any more on the subject now.

I know that this matter of Rhodesian coal is in the minds of very many of my hon. Friends. Certainly, we realise the importance of this subject, and it is being studied very carefully. It is important to remember two things. First, although Rhodesian coal is cheap at the pithead, the cost of transporting Rhodesian coal to the coast and thence to the United Kingdom would be very high; second, and even more important, in the short term there really is no prospect of significant quantities of Rhodesian coal being available for export to the United Kingdom. Therefore, however much importance my hon. Friends may attach to Rhodesian coal, it really can be no substitute for the Bill we are debating today.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster introduced the question of industrial boilermen. My hon. Friend has pursued for some years the subject of some sort of differential tax allowance for fuel-saving equipment. I think he will agree that we have done our very best to meet him on that point in this year's Budget. He has now raised this point about industrial boilermen, suggesting we should arrange for certificated standards of efficiency. That point will certainly be studied; but I think we ought to be chary about imposing too many burdens on industry at this time, too many certificates, too many sorts of petty clingisme of this kind. The suggestion will be carefully considered, but obviously it is not a matter on which I could give any definite promise now.

I shall return to the subject of Parliamentary accountability, but the other matter in my hon. Friend's speech to which I should now like to refer is his suggestion about investment in the coal industry being financed wholly out of taxation. I think it is an over-simplified view, for instance, to suggest that the Entertainments Duty pays for conveyor belts. It is surely not quite as simple as that. The point is that the object of my right hon. Friend's economic policy is to see that the total amount of saving done in the community balances the total amount of investment. That is the economic principle he has stated.

Mr. Callaghan

Forced savings.

Sir E. Boyle

Saving of all kinds. As my hon. Friends will agree, my right hon. Friend has done all he can to encourage voluntary saving. Our whole object is to ensure that we have sufficient savings to balance the total amount of investment in the community in any one year.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, South raised one technical point to which I should now like to refer. He expressed some suspicion about the fact that the annual limit on advances to the Board is now not only set at a higher figure—which in itself, of course, does no more than reflect the increase in the total borrowing powers—but is also to be expressed on a different formula. I can give the House an absolutely unreserved assurance that this change of formula, which is put forward because it has certain technical advantages, is not meant to, and in my honest opinion does not, render the limit in any way less effective or diminish the Parliamentary control which it implies.

To indicate briefly the technical significance of the new formula, it will enable the Coal Board to use funds in hand to make repayments to the Exchequer, instead of lending these sums to the Treasury, as is the present practice, in the form of Ways and Means advances. I hope that, in view of this assurance, I need not tonight embark on any more detailed discussion of what is admittedly a technical point.

I come now to the principal considerations which arise from the Bill and which will be in the minds of many people, not only in this House but outside also. First, what is the issue before the House tonight? It is whether we should empower the Government to advance to the National Coal Board, up to a maximum of £350 million, further capital towards investment in the mines and other capital expenditure of the Board, whose total fixed investment in mines and in ancillary activities, including sums to be provided from the Coal Board's own resources, is forecast to amount to some £600 million over the next five years. That is the issue before us tonight.

The Government are satisfied—it will be the object of my speech to re-state the case for this view—that the Coal Board must be put in a position to aim at making this forecast effective, and that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power should himself be put in a position to make advances up to this maximum figure, if that proves necessary, for the achievement of this planned investment.

The first question arising out of that general issue is whether the forecast of expenditure is realistic. In helping the House to make up its mind, I shall quote one or two figures—they will be very few indeed. In the calendar year 1955, the Coal Board spent £93 million on capital account compared with £85 million in 1954. For 1956, the approved figure for fixed investment by the Board is £107 million, after the deferment of the capital expenditure of £5 million which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced as part of his February measures.

Hon. Members will see from those figures that there is already an upward trend in the Coal Board's investment, and in the light of those figures I do not believe that an annual rate of investment of £120 million a year is either an impossible or unreasonable objective to aim at.

Having asked whether this forecast of expenditure is realistic, the next question which hon. Members will wish to consider is the even more important one of whether it is worth while. Let us consider, first, what would happen if the Coal Board did not carry out this investment. Presumably, all hon. Members are fully conscious that coal is an extractive industry, carrying the special problems that this implies. Furthermore—this bears on the point made this afternoon by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East—everyone realises that a great deal of capital expenditure is required to avoid a loss of capacity and output.

I expect that many hon. Members, on both sides, will have read the very interesting article by Mr. Bowman, the Chairman of the National Coal Board, in the last issue of the Sunday Times, in which he said: We estimate the inevitable loss of capacity to be replaced (before total output can increase) at 4 to 5 million tons a year, at present levels of production. This in itself is one of the main reasons for our investment programme. There is no reason to doubt that that is a fair estimate. Therefore, so far as the Board's programme is concerned with capacity, there would over the next five years be a loss of capacity reducing potential output, on this estimate, by 20 to 25 million tons a year if there were no capital expenditure on replacing capacity. As against this, given the achievement of the full programme which it proposes, the Coal Board estimates that output from the mines will be increased by 8 million tons a year in five years' time. So much for capacity.

What about demand for coal? We know that we are at a period when the whole trend of industrial activity and consequently of fuel requirements is steadily moving upwards. We are living in an expansionist period, which is a very good thing to do. We are living at a time when we have to make severe cuts in our exports of coal and still to import very considerable quantities. We are living at a time when the country is steadily having to make increased use of oil to fill the fuel gap, with all the obvious implications of that trend. It is hard to believe that anyone can seriously deny that we must aim at whatever increase in coal output is reasonably possible.

I know that there are some that believe that we shall soon get very great help from nuclear power, but anyone who has read the White Paper, published in February of this year, entitled "A Programme of Nuclear Power" will be aware that this provisional programme envisaged that nuclear stations, in the words of the White Paper would by 1965 be producing electricity at a rate equivalent to that produced by about 5 million to 6 million tons of coal a year". That was only a provisional programme and this is a field where we hope for very great advances of technique. But I am sure that the whole House realises that we have at least a further difficult decade to get through before nuclear power could even begin to make a significant impression on the fuel and power position.

This is such an important point that I hope the House will forgive me if I make a quotation from the Report of the O.E.E.C. Coal Committee, published only today, because it is a striking quotation. It comes at the end of the O.E.E.C. Report, on page 43. 1these words: Looking further ahead from 1956, there seems every reason to believe that, while there may be occasional periods of slack demand, energy requirements both in Europe and elsewhere will continue steadily to rise. On a conservative estimate, world needs for energy may well increase by something like two-thirds in twenty years' time and be three times as great as they are now by the end of the century. The development of all available sources of energy will be necessary to meet this vast demand. Although in the process of fitting particular forms of energy to their most appropriate uses (whether for technical or economic reasons) some displacement of one form of energy by another may occur, consumers will in general require all the energy they can obtain in the years to come. The Report ends as follows This conclusion is not invalidated by the advent of atomic energy. On present estimates atomic energy, far from displacing conventional sources of energy, will be required urgently to come to their aid in order to share the burden of ever-increasing requirements. The suggestion that the coal industry in particular, as the least tractable of the conventional fuels, may now be reduced to acting as a stop-gap until atomic energy takes over is misleading and dangerous. It is misleading because there is no evidence to support it; it is dangerous because it may encourage the producers of coal to limit or suspend their long-term investment plans, and thus provoke a more serious fuel crisis in the future than any which has so far arisen. I would like to say one word about the future, looking further forward. The figures for capital finance which 1d a few moments ago for the Coal Board are concerned with the next five years.

Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) is not paying any attention to him at all and is not listening to his reply?

Sir E. Boyle

It is not for the Minister necessarily to command attention from hon. Members on either side of the House. I apologise for having read a rather long quotation, but I thought it was of importance.

I would add that the plan described by the Coal Board is concerned with the next 15 years. I fully realise that there are a great many pitfalls in making a forecast as far ahead as 15 years, but if the Coal Board thinks it reasonable to hold out the prospect of a net increase of 30 million tons in annual coal output by that date, I believe—particularly in the light of the quotation which I have just read—that it is at least as reasonable to expect that this output will still be necessary and still be very welcome when the time comes.

The next question which I want to ask, and I think that this is one to which my hon. Friends will attach considerable importance, is whether the forecast for output in the Report is reliable. I am not, of course, going to make any dogmatic statement about this. I should be very foolish to do so. The mines may be progressively modernised and mechanised, but the result in the mines will of necessity still not be a state of automation. The coal industry will still be an industry where the human factor is of vital importance. Therefore, anything which has been said about investment-output ratios must be construed with that point in mind. But that does not alter the fact that the kind of investment proposed is a precondition of maintaining an increasing output, and without that investment the economic consequences might very well be quite disastrous.

The next question which I wish to answer is whether the £350 million worth of Government finance is necessary. The pitfalls which beset long-term forecasting are well-known to the House, and indeed I have already referred to them. But even with that important reservation in mind, hon. Members will, I hope, have taken some comfort for the longer-term future if they have read the Coal Board's publication "Investing in Coal", because they will have seen the indications that, after 1960, not only will the Board have got over the hump of capital expenditure, but, also if its expectations work out, it will have ceased to be a large-scale borrower. In fact, at a point beyond 1960, if the Board's depreciation provision continues to mount each year whilst its annual capital expenditure is abated, there should come a time in that period when the two figures are in balance and borrowings would cease.

If this picture is correct, then the question of how much of the capital for the programme is to be met by Government advances is really an acute one only for the first five years of the plan. Therefore, it is a question whether the Bill should confer powers for further advances to the extent of£350 million or only for some lesser figure. This figure of £350 million rests on certain assumptions. In the first place, it assumes that the Coal Board will achieve its objectives in terms of capital expenditure—and I have explained what the prospects are. If the Board falls short of its objectives, then clearly, other things being equal, the full £350 million will not need to be advanced in the period in question. But, I think very rightly, it has been thought correct to seek the approval of Parliament for the full amount of advances which may be necessary to enable the Board to achieve its objectives. It is in that sense a maximum figure.

I can best put the point in this way. If the plan is fulfilled, advances could be kept below £350 million only if the Coal Board provide further sums from revenue, whether these sums are expressed as additional depreciation provision or as trading surpluses. It is quite unrealistic to believe that these further sums could be found except by increases in the price of coal over and above any increases necessary to cover higher operational costs and to wipe off the existing accrued deficit. Therefore, if anyone wishes to press for more self-finance by the Board and smaller Government advances, he is pressing for higher coal prices.

Before I came to the matter of parliamentary accountability, I whish to say one word on the relation of the Bill to the subject of coal prices because it was raised specifically by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, south. My hon. Friend, in his extremely interesting speech, said in effect that whether we support dear coal or cheap coal we ought to be critical of the Bill, because if one is an out-and-out supporter of the price mechanism or an out-and-out supporter of what I may call the "Ian Little" attitude to coal prices, one would not need an investment programme of these dimensions.

I know that this question of coal prices is a very difficult and controversial one. On the one hand, it can be argued that coal is still too cheap when one considers that the selling price of coal in this country is substantially below the price at which it is being imported or exported. That is the argument which Mr. Ian Little has put forward in his book. On the other hand, it can be argued that coal should not be any dearer than it has to be especially when the price of coal enters into the price of other products. I think my hon. Friend made a fair point when he pointed out the interlocking between coal prices and freight charges.

However, there is one course which surely would have been wrong. I put this to my hon. Friend. It would surely have been wrong to have determined the figure to put into the Bill by reference to some purely notional and undetermined increase in the price of coal on the assumption of future changes in price policy, the substance and timing of which would need the most serious thought and judgment. If the plan had been based on the assumption of certain future increases it would have been very doubtful indeed.

Mr. Maude

My hon. Friend is putting a very reasonable view, but what we are saying is that the assumptions relating to cost-price in relation to investment in this plan are so meaningless that we ought to have an opportunity to reconsider the matter half-way through the term which is assumed.

Sir E. Boyle

I realise, of course, that my hon. Friend was speaking particularly with reference to the question of Parliamentary accountability and the possibility of Parliamentary review. I shall be coming to that in a minute or two.

The only other point I should like to answer on the Bill is this. It is a point we can discuss again in Committee, but I would give this interim answer now. Approval of the £350 million in the Bill does not give carte blanche to the Coal Board to draw on this sum until it is exhausted. The Board's investment proposals for each year will be scrutinised by the Minister in liaison with the Treasury, and the amount to be advanced in each year will be settled according to developments; but these annual programmes and instalments must be related to—and within—the framework of long-term plans, and I believe that from this point of view five years is by no means an excessive period to take for forward-looking purposes.

In the closing minutes of my speech I want to make suggestions, which, I hope, will be acceptable, on the matter of Parliamentary accountability. I think it is absolutely right that we in this House should feel strongly on this subject and that hon. Members should feel strongly on the whole question of the forward picture for investment in any one year. As I see it, this has implications of importance that go beyond coal or even the nationalised industries, because, after all, the most important indicator in our economy at any one time, after the balance of payments, is the level of investment that we are undertaking and the direction of that investment. Therefore, it is absolutely right that hon. Members should wish to have the greatest possible opportunity of being informed about, of studying, and indeed of discussing the investment that is taking place in our economy. [Interruption.] Let me inform the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East that the private sector increased its investment by a very large percentage last year—by some £87 million on 1954 costs, and did so well that it completely destroyed the last trace of the arguments for extending nationalisation beyond the basic industries.

Mr. Callaghan

How can the Government exercise any control over the private sector for example, over the Shell Oil Company, which is proposing to invest something like several hundred million pounds in the next few years?

Sir E. Boyle

The whole nation has done extremely well out of this investment in oil, and has nothing to regret there at all. I think the hon. Gentleman had better discuss this point with his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition who, I think, takes a slightly different view.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster spoke about the possibility of debating investment in the coal industry through some kind of statutory instrument, and cited an analogy with the Scottish hydro-electric scheme. There are real difficulties about this proposal, although my right hon. Friend will, of course, take careful note of what my hon. Friend has said and will consider it. I put it to my hon. Friend that the analogy with the hydro-electric scheme is not a very exact one. As I understand it. whenever a new scheme affecting local amenities, such as causing a lake to be clammed up, is introduced, certainly we have to have a new statutory instrument, but we do not have to have a new one for each tranche of expenditure on the scheme.

Of course, the House already has one means—which I believe will be most valuable—of examining the nationalised industries. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister this afternoon made a very important announcement about a Select Committee to examine the reports and accounts of the nationalised industries, and I should like to make it absolutely plain that my right hon. Friends intend that Select Committee to be a very important part of our House of Commons procedure, and intend to do all they possibly can to see that it is a very great success and really contributes to our work in the House of Commons. It is a matter to which my right hon. Friends attach very great importance indeed.

Mr. David J. Pryde (Midlothian)

Is that a promise or a threat?

Sir E. Boyle

No that is just an announcement.

Mr. J. Griffihs


Sir E. Boyle

I am sorry, but I cannot give way to the right hon. Gentleman. The Question on the Motion has to be put, and I have another proposal to make to the House which is of some importance.

Hon. Members will know that, in recent years, the Economic Survey has tended more and more to become almost entirely an economic history of the previous year, and this year the last section of the Economic Survey, giving the outlook for 1956, was very short indeed. I am authorised to say that we will look most carefully into the possibility of including in future editions of the Economic Survey a rather longer Part 2, which should include an investment forecast for the year; that is to say, such investment figures as can be published for the public sector, not only for coal but for other nationalised industries as well, and also the investment figures that we have got for the private sector. As hon. Members know, we now have a questionnaire sent out to private industry, the returns from which are of very great value. They are published every year in the Board of Trade Journal, and it should, therefore, be quite possible to publish them in the Survey so that hon. Members will have wider opportunity to study the investment that is expected to be implemented during the year in question.

It is not my job to make any promise about a debate, but if hon. Members, having the Economic Survey in their possession and therefore having these investment figures before them, wish to have a debate on the Economic Survey in advance of the Budget, they will know that there are certain courses of representation open to them. It might be possible, if hon. Members desire it and if my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal is able to find the time, for them to discuss the whole question of the prospect for investment in advance of the debate on the Budget itself. I am suggesting that this should not by any means be confined to investment in coal. We will look into the possibility of including the forward figures for the whole of the public sector, and also for the private sector, because those figures would already have been published in the Board of Trade Journal.

That is the suggestion which I make to my hon. Friends. We fully realise the importance which they attach to the question of public accountability. My right hon. Friends are only too keen that hon. Members should have as good a chance as possible of informing themselves about, and discussing, these matters which are of such vital importance not only to the House, but to the whole nation.

Sir C. Taylor

Before my hon. Friend sits down, will he say something about importing of labour from overseas to work in the coal mines? There was an Amendment on the Order Paper, but, unfortunately it was not called, because, I believe, it was out of order. My hon. Friend has four minutes left. Could he make a reference to that topic?

[That this House welcomes any measure which will increase the economic production of coal, but, having regard to the shortage of labour in this country able

and willing to work in the coal mining industry, urges the National Coal Board in consultation with the National Union of Mineworkers to take the necessary steps for the employment of skilled workmen from overseas in this vital industry.

Sir E. Boyle

I cannot comment, partly because the time is getting on; but I have seen the Amendment and can say that due note will be taken of it.

Question put, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 143, Noes 23.

Division No.179.] AYES [9.57 p.m.
Agnew, Cmdr. P. G. Green, A. Mathew, R.
Aitken, W. Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury) Mawby, R. L.
Alport, C. J. M. Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G. Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.
Arbuthnot, John Hall, John (Wycombe) Medlicott, Sir Frank
Armstrong, C. W. Harris, Reader (Heston) Neave, Airey
Atkins, H. E. Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye) Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham)
Barber, Anthony Harvey, Air Cdre, A. V. (Macolesfd) Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'th, E. A Chr'oh)
Barter, John Harvie-Watt, Sir George Nield, Basil (Chester)
Baxter, Sir Beverly Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)
Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.) Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G. Osborne, C.
Bennett, F.M. (Torquay) Hill, John (S. Norfolk) Page, R. G.
Biggs-Davison, J. A. Holland-Martin, C. J. Partridge, E.
Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P. Pickthorn, K. W. M.
Bishop, F. A. Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Dame Florence Pitt, Miss E. M.
Body, R. F. Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.) Pott, H. P.
Bossom, Sir A. C. Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J. Powell, J. Enoch
Boyle, Sir Edward Hughes-Young, M. H. C. Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)
Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P.G. T Hulbert, Sir Norman Redmayne, M.
Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A (saffron Walden) Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark (E'b'gh. W.) Renton, D. L. M.
Cary, Sir Robert Hutchison, Sir James (Scotstoun) Rippon, A. G. F.
Channon, H. Hylton-Foster, Sir H, B. H. Robson-Brown, w
Conant, Maj. Sir Roger Iremonger, T. L. Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)
Cooper, Sqn. Ldr. Albert Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Sharpies, R. C.
Cordeaux, Lt. Col. J. K. Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich) Shepherd, William
Corfield, Capt. F. V. Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Smithers, Peter (Winchester)
Craddock, Beresford (spelthorne) Jones, Rt. Hon. Aubrey (Hall Green) Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)
Cunningham, Knox Joseph, Sir Keith Spearman, A. C. M.
Currie, C. B. H. Joynson-Hicks, Hon. Sir Lancelot Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir P. (Kens'gt'n, s.)
Dance, J. C. G Keegan, D. Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.)
Davies, Stephen (Merthyr) Kerr, H. W. Stewart, Henderson (Fife, E.)
Deedes, W. F Kershaw, J. A. Studholme, H. G.
Dugdale, Rt. Hn. Sir T.(Richmond) Kirk, P.M. Summers, G. S. (Aylesbury)
Duncan, Capt. J. A. L Lambton, Viscount Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Duthie, W. S. Lancaster, Col. C. G. Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, S.)
Eden, Rt. Hn. Sir A (Warwick 'm' tn) Leather, E. H. C. Touche, Sir Gordon
Finlay, Graeme Leavey, J. A. Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.
Fisher, Nigel Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H. Vane, W. M. F.
Fletcher-Cooke, C. Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield) Vickers, Mist J. H.
Foster, John Lennox-Boyd, Rt. Hon. A. T. Wall, Major Patrick
Freeth, D. K. Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.) Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)
Garner-Evans, E. H. Lindsay, Martin (Solihull) Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.
George, J. C. (pollok) Linstead, Sir H. N. Whitelaw, W. S. I.(Penrith &Border)
Gibson-Watt, D. Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.) Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)
Glover, D. Macdonald, Sir Peter Wills, C. (Bridgwater)
Godber, J. B. Mackie, J. H. (Galloway) Wood, Hon. R.
Gower, H. R. Maclay, Rt. Hon. John
Graham, Sir Fergus Macmillan, Rt. Hn. Harold (Bromley) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Grant, W. (Woodside) Maddan, Martin Mr. Oakshott and
Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R.(Nantwich) Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R. Mr. E. Wakefield.
Burden, F. F. A. Horobin, sir Ian Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard
Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.) Hyde, Montgomery Teeling, W
Crouch, R. F. Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle) Turner, H. F. L.
Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West) Kerby, Capt. H. B. Wade, D. W.
Gough, C. F. H. Lambert, Hon. G. Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)
Grimond, J. G. Longden, Gilbert
Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.) McLaughlin, Mrs. P. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Hint, Geoffrey Maude, Angus Viscount Hinchingbrooke and Mr. Nabarro.
Holt, A. F. Orr, Capt. L. P. S..

Question put and agreed to.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. R. Thompson.]

Committee upon Monday next.