§ 11.5 a.m.
§ Mr. William Blyton (Houghton-le-Spring)
I beg to move,That this House, having regard to the present serious fall in the demand for coal in this country, the high level of coal stocks, and the decline in coal exports, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to frame as a matter of urgency a policy for the fuel and power industries of this country to secure a proper balance in the use of imported and indigenous fuel and the effective co-ordination of the three nationalised fuel industries—coal, gas and electricity—and to present proposals to this House to that end.As you will be aware, Mr. Speaker, I came second in the Ballot for today's Motions but, due to the unfortunate illness of my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton), I now rise to move my Motion. My hon. Friend intended to be here after a serious operation, but the surgeon has forbidden him to come, otherwise he would most certainly be here this morning. I am sure that I am expressing the sentiments of the House in wishing my hon. Friend a speedy recovery of health.
This Motion affects one of our main industries. It affects the lives of thousands of people, and there is alarm and despondency at the future of our mining industry. Pits are being closed, men are becoming unemployed, villages are now sentenced to death, recruitment has been stopped and output has been deliberately reduced. Stocks of coal are lying on the ground at the collieries for which there is no market and our export market is still dwindling. If something is not done by the Government to arrest the present trends of the pattern of fuel consumption, more pits than those now contemplated will be closed, with all the consequential problems.
728 I read with great interest the speech made by the Minister of Power in another place on fuel and power policy. He made his position plain for the Government. The Government policy is to maintain competition between the fuel industries as a means of securing their greater efficiency and, at the same time, encourage co-operation between them wherever it is likely to prove economically worth while.
The Minister's policy statement continued by saying that the basis of a thriving economy is the supply of cheap and abundant power. That was the cry in the years 1921 and 1926 which brought this great industry to a terrible state. It was this competition for cheap supplies of power that ruined our mines, made villages derelict, caused serious unemployment, brought wages to a low level and ruined the exporting districts of Durham, Scotland and Wales. It seems apparent to us today that oil has been given the green signal in our fuel consumption at the expense of coal and that the coal industry is again to be the whipping boy of this free-for-all economy. The Government seem to have declared war on coal.
§ Mr. Blyton
I am confident that if this policy develops of running down coal consumption in the interests of oil we shall find ourselves some day, when trouble arises, in the position that our industries will not be able to function. In future years, if the present trend of the Government's policy is not arrested, we shall all live to regret this crazy policy.
It is not in the national interest that our industries should be dependent on imported oil. Apart from the balance of payments questions, any trouble in the Middle East would affect our oil supplies, as it did in the Suez crisis, when the oil supplies to the electricity undertakings were cut by 90 per cent. The resources of oil in the world are limited, and with every nation in the world clamouring for oil the increased demand created by this Government may not be met in the long run.
729 So I say to the Government that it is their responsibility to ensure that we have a thriving mining industry, to ensure that we do not make our economy too dependent on imported fuel, and to ensure that where coal is the natural and economic fuel it should be used. It is to that end that a fuel policy should be framed. It is on that basis that I want to urge the Government to examine their policy on our fuel requirements and to turn back from the disastrous policy they are now pursuing, and I suggest that there should be changes now in their policy.
The causes of our great difficulties are mainly the result of this Government's policy. Their policy to meet the world economic recession was to operate a credit squeeze, create an unemployment market to make more competition for jobs, and stagnate the economy of our country, with disastrous results for all those who work for their livelihood. This policy has hit the coal industry hard.
Four years ago the industry was booming. There was constant demand for more coal and power. We were told that those demands would grow for years ahead. Indeed, we were told that the standard of life would double in the next twenty-five years, and that to meet the demand our energy programme for the future had to be implemented by oil and nuclear power. Surely the basis of the fuel policy given to us by the Government spokesman of 300 million tons in 1955 cannot hold today. It must be reviewed in the light of the changed economic situation of today. I know that I shall be told that we are to expand the economy and that in the months ahead everything will be all right, but does the Minister still believe that, with the changing pattern of fuel consumption which they are supporting, coal will still be the 240 million tons the Government depicted in their fuel policy in 1955? Personally I do not think so, unless there is a change of policy by them.
I think that our fuel policy must be based upon our own vast resources of coal and framed to ensure that where coal is the natural and economic fuel to be used it ought to be used, and the aim must he to give coal its rightful place in our economy. It will be a national disaster if we discard our valuable resources of coal and find ourselves in a situation in which, if coal is needed, our 730 mines are not available to supply our needs in an emergency.
I ask the Government in my Motion to present proposals to this House for a properly balanced policy for the use of imported and indigenous fuel. I think that a direction should be given to the nationalised power industries, that is, gas and electricity, that priority should be given to the use of coal in the production of gas and electricity.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)
I wonder if the hon. Member would tell the House whether he has any personal interest in this matter?
§ Mr. Blyton
My personal interest is that I am a full-time Member of Parliament who worked in the mines for thirty-two years.
§ Mr. Blyton
I have been a trade unionist since I was a boy of 14, and I am very proud to belong to the National Union of Mineworkers.
I think a direction should be given to the nationalised power—the gas and electricity—industries that priority should be given to the use of coal in their production of gas and electricity, and that the policy of generating electricity by the use of oil in the power stations should be changed in favour of coal. I spoke on this subject on 20th January this year, asking that at least four of the electricity generating stations now in the process of being changed over to oil should be put back to coal. Yet coal continues to be stocked. The Government will not change their policy.
In a Written Answer the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power on 15th December, 1958, gave a list of the coal-burning stations already converted and in the process of conversion to oil burning. It is estimated that the four stations already converted to oil burning are burning oil of a coal equivalent of 2,380,000 tons. That is a direct loss to the coal trade. Of the six stations mentioned by the Parliamentary Secretary as being in the process of conversion to oil, to be finished this year and next, at 731 Barking "C" and Poole a further estimated 400,000 tons will be lost to the coal trade. I have been unable to get estimated figures of coal consumption for Portishead "B," Plymouth "B," Little-brook or Brunswick Wharf, but it is estimated that the new stations of March-wood and South Denes, which will not be finished until the middle of this year or next year, will use nearly 1 million tons of coal per annum. The grand total of this lot is that if coal were used an estimated 3,755,000 tons would be consumed.
The consumption by the stations in the oil-burning programme has been stated to rise to 8 million tons of coal equivalent in 1965. All this was due to the Government's decisions in the years 1954 and 1955. I shall not go over the history of this again, but this dual firing was never intended to be permanent. I refer the House to a Written Answer given by the former Minister of Fuel and Power on 30th January, 1956, when he gave the House the impression that it took only from a few days to six weeks to put the stations back from oil to coal burning.
Why, then, did they sacrifice this market for our coal by making an eight-year contract for oil? I feel certain in the light of this that this market for coal is lost for good. I cannot see the oil companies giving up this market after eight years, and I consider that on this matter the coal industry was sold down the river.
This policy ought to be reversed. It has affected not only the mining industry; it has affected our coastwise shipping. Speeches made in another place by Viscount Runciman and the Lord Winster on coastwise shipping have drawn attention to the effect of this conversion and the consequent unemployment among shipbuilding workers. Lord Runciman, who is not a member of my party, also spoke about the sanctity of contracts, but he suggested that contracts should be looked at again and that consideration should be given to dissolving them by agreement between the parties.
Coastwise shipping is diminishing and if the Government allow the present fuel policy to continue they will find that it is too late to arrest the decline. Ships will not be built if no encouragement is given to their employment. Those engaged 732 in coastwise shipping say that these oil contracts have done more than anything else to persuade those who employ British coasters that their services are no longer required. The result is that the fleet owners are discouraged from replenishing let alone expanding their fleets. These oil contracts have struck a vital blow against our coastwise shipping.
I turn now to the gas industry. The use of coal in the gas industry has declined from 27.8 million tons in 1956 to 24.8 millions in 1958, a reduction of 3 million tons. Oil used has risen from .49 milion tons to .70 million in 1958, and a great proportion of the rise is in oil used for gasification purposes. Forty oil gasification plants are in operation or under construction and they will have a capacity of 100 million cubic feet a day. There are also two plants for reforming refinery gas and one trial plant using imported liquid methane, with a capacity of 52 million cubic feet a day. The South-Eastern Gas Board is now constructing on the Isle of Grain a plant which has a capacity of 20 million cubic feet a day and is design for extension to 60 million cubic feet. The North-West Gas Board has under construction a plant for oil hydrogenation with a capacity of 15 million cubic feet a day. The total gas-producing capacity of all these plants is 187 million cubic feet a day.
This capacity is equivalent to the carbonisation of 4.5 million tons of coal per annum. If it is assumed that there is a load factor in these plants of 75 per cent. and that 15 per cent. of the gas will replace water gas, their production is equivalent to the carbonisation of 2.87 million tons of coal. The Gas Board buys gas from the oil refineries and there has been a great increase in the quantity purchased. In 1957 the amount was 1,500 million cubic feet. By 1958 it had risen to 7,465 million cubic feet, whilst purchases of gas from coke ovens fell from 96 million cubic feet in 1957 to 94,670 millions in 1958. In October and November of last year the use of oil gases, in millions of cubic feet, had risen from 425 in 1957 to 1,673, whilst coke oven gas had declined from 15,287 to 14,534. These figures show how coal consumption is declining in the gas industry.
The gas industry is looking to the gasification of low-grade small coal as 733 a long-term objective. The industry has two Lurgi gasification plant projects in hand, whilst the oil hydrogenisation plant of the North-West Gas Board is expected to turn to coal later if the process can he developed successfully. This does not alter the fact that the gas industry is using a great deal of oil and oil gases and is placing considerable emphasis on this use, as also on plans to import liquid methane. I hope that I have shown that oil is now becoming a serious competitor to coal in the nationalised industries; and the present Government are still allowing that situation to continue.
Why are the Government so complacent about the situation? They adopted a quite different attitude towards oil when the mines were in the hands of the coal owners in 1933. We had plenty of coal then. Pits were working short time and the Government came to the aid of their coal-owner friends. The present position is that Customs duties of 2s. 6d. per gallon are levied on petrol and oil for use in the road vehicles. Nominally, all imported oils and products are liable to the same duty but a rebate is allowed on heavy oils not for use in road vehicles. These are the oils which are in competition with coal. The rebate is equal to the full amount of duty and, in effect, these oils, gas and fuel oils and kerosene, are duty-free.
The duty on imported oils was first imposed in 1909. Until 1933 all oils, except those used in road vehicles, were given a full rebate of the duty. In 1933 the rebate was reduced by 1d. per gallon, this making an effective duty of 1d. per gallon on fuel oil not used in road vehicles. This duty of 1d. per gallon was equivalent to £1 per ton.
The reasons given for this by the then Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Neville Chamberlain, in the Budget debate of 2nd May, 1933, were that these oils were left out of the general system of duties by accident. He added that the tax would prove a useful source of revenue and that representations have been made from the home industries, coal, gas and electricity, that the oils were competing with them and that it was not fair that they should have been left out of the duties system altogether. He added, and his words apply to the position today: 734… I do say that in a world which is constantly changing, and where developments are going on in all directions, it is a consideration we should keep in mind that we should not encourage developments which proceed in the direction of using foreign imported fuels in preference to fuels which are produced by our own people, and which give employment to our own people."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd May, 1933; Vol. 277, c. 742.]At the same time the Prime Minister said that it was not right to say that this was a tax on an imported raw material and as such was against our general fiscal system. This oil was a form of fuel and was in competition with home-produced fuel.
Such was the attitude of the Tory Party towards private enterprise in coal, gas and electricity in the bad years of 1933. The tax was abolished in 1947, at a time of fuel shortage, and at a time when it was wished to stimulate the use of oil the rebate was increased by 1d. a gallon, so in effect since then there has been no duty imposed on imported oils, except those used in road vehicles. This principle was embodied in Sections 195, 199 and 200 of the Customs and Excise Act, 1952, and the right to this rebate will remain until that Act is repealed.
Here is a situation where a Conservative Government went out of their way to protect coal, gas and electricity which were mainly in private hands, yet today we are told by the same party that coal will have to fight to maintain itself and that it is too bad if it cannot compete. At least the 1933 Government did something better than this Government in trying to protect the employment of the people in the mining industry. This Government do not intend either to protect or to stimulate the use of coal. Is it because of nationalisation that they are taking their present attitude on the question of fuel conservation? Certainly they are suspect on this issue. We are handcuffed in price policy by the Statute in competing with oil. The National Coal Board should have price freedom, as suggested by the Select Committee in its Report last year. Oil is given every encouragement, coal is given none, and our economy is slowly but surely being made dependent on fuel from abroad.
What are other countries doing to face this issue? The European Coal and Steel Community on 3rd January this year had 24 million tons of undistributed stocks, just over five weeks' production. Western Germany had 8¼ million tons or about 735 three and a half week's production. What is the High Authority's policy? First, it is financing colliery stocks by giving help to the producers. Secondly, it is making a reduction in third country imports. It may be interesting for the House to know that Western Germany, in attempting to reduce its imports from America, plans to impose a levy of £1 14s. a ton on all coal imported in 1959 over the free duty quota of 5 million tons. It is proposed that this shall take effect from mid-February. This duty-free quota is to be divided between the United States of America, Britain and Poland. Thirdly, and this is very important, it is to abolish the competitive advantages of other forms of fuel.
What is Western Germany doing to protect its coal industry? Germany is not a Socialist State; it believes in free, full, private enterprise. Western Germany has reintroduced the 4 per cent. turnover tax on oil to place coal and oil on a more equal footing. In addition, the Government have backed a plan to prevent heavy fuel oil from being sold below world market prices and from taking new markets from solid fuel.
The terms of the agreement which certain oil companies have reached have been published. As far as I know, the agreement has not yet been signed, but the Financial Times of 17th January stated that the major oil companies have now agreed to fix the heavy oil price lists in accordance with the principles of this agreement. The main principle is to last for two years, but the provision by which the oil companies agree not to take new markets from solid fuel is to operate for one year to the end of 1959. This is important and I think this Government could follow that good example.
Paragraph 3 of the agreement states that until the end of the coal crisis—that is, as long as pithead stocks amount to more than 7 million tons—… the Contracting Parties will not take any steps which will lead to the replacement of coal by heavy heating oils, and they will not seek to gain new customers for heavy heating oils.A further paragraph reads:The Contracting Parties will not grant financial assistance, whether direct or in. direct, for the conversion of appliances from solid fuel to heavy heating.It can be said of the European Coal and Steel Community and Western Germany 736 that at least they are trying to protect the livelihood of the men employed in the mines. Here it is different because, I think, the Government could not care less. Surely this Government can do what the Continent is doing to save this great industry of ours? It seems to me to be a great disaster to make us so dependent on imported oil.
Therefore, my first proposal, for all the reasons I have given, is that the gas and electricity boards should be told to give priority to coal. Measures taken by the Conservative Government in 1933 should be looked at by this Government, who should also take a lesson from the European Coal and Steel Community and Western Germany.
We are closing thirty-six pits, with all the attendant social problems this will create, and the National Coal Board is nearly at the end of its tether in trying to find sites for stocking coal. If we fail to stock, in view of the reduced coal demand the Board will not be able to work pits four days a week or to pay five days' wages under the guaranteed week agreement, and it will be forced to close more uneconomic pits than the 36 now scheduled for closure. It is because of this great fear that I have raised this matter today and because I believe that if we are not careful manpower will be lost forever to this great industry.
§ Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)
Will my hon. Friend allow me to interrupt? He has mentioned 36 pits, but in Scotland not only have we 20 which are closing but another 10 are scheduled for closure, making 46 pits which must be closed during this year.
§ Mr. Blyton
I am aware of that, but I was dealing only with the 36 pits closed as a direct result of the reduction of coal demand and with the deliberate reduction of our output because of the amount of coal we are stocking.
Now I come to clean air. The Clean Air Act was another example of deliberate discrimination against coal. Oil-fired furnaces have been granted exemption by order from the operation of the smoke controlled areas, but that exemption is not granted to mechanical stokers using solid fuel.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Will the hon. Gentleman permit me to interrupt? It has been said over and over again in this House by 737 spokesmen on both sides that the use of chain grate mechanical stokers enables even the lowest grade of coal to be used smokelessly. There is nothing at all in the Regulations made under the Clean Air Act which discriminates against the use of coal in industry, provided that the coal is efficiently burned, and if it is so efficiently burned it will be burned smokelessly.
§ Mr. Blyton
I am sorry to tell the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) that great pressure is now being brought to bear on the Minister by the boards of the nationalised industries to try to get an order of the kind I am seeking here today. The coal industry is subject to the decisions of a local authority, whereas oil-fired furnaces are exempted by order presented to this House by the Minister of Housing and Local Government.
Why this discrimination? What crime has coal committed that it should be discriminated against like this? It means that buildings now planned and industries in smoke controlled areas are being forced to take oil instead of coal, and this still further reduces our ability to sell coal. It is most unfair. I ask that the Government should end this discrimination against coal and coal users by introducing an order, as was done in the case of oil, to grant exemption from the provisions of the smoke controlled areas regulations to furnaces fired by mechanical stokers. The Minister of Housing and Local Government introduced the order to help the oil industry. Why should not similar action be taken on behalf of the coal industry? The hon. Member for Kidderminster may not like this, but it is a fact.
§ Mr. Blyton
There is general agreement among fuel technologists that if coal-fired mechanical equipment is properly installed, operated and maintained there will be no significant smoke emission.
§ Mr. Blyton
Another important factor should be recognised, that in general coal 738 does not emit sulphur to the same extent as oil as the sulphur contents of industrial coals are less than sulphur content of imported oil. Therefore, we are left in a very disadvantageous position. We believe that the Government are discriminating against us under the Clean Air Act, and that it should now he abolished.
I want to say a word or two on the question of trade agreements and coal exports. It is known that the Board of Trade is concentrating more on the export of machinery than on trying to push the sales of coal, of which we have too much. I would emphasise to the Minister that our embassies and the Board of Trade ought to be doing something to try to help sell our coal abroad. When she is negotiating trade agreements Poland writes in provisions about the sale of coal. I see no reason why our Government should not do the same.
I now turn to the subject of research on oil and coal. This is a subject which will come to the fore very much in the years ahead. We are not spending enough money on research for getting oil from coal. This development ought to be accelerated. The production of byproducts from coal is another great issue that we have to face. According to the Civil Estimates of 1958–59, Class IX.
§ Mr. David Price (Eastleigh) rose—
§ Mr. Blyton
I have given way enough already. The hon. Member can make his point later if he catches Mr. Speaker's eye.
According to the Civil Estimates of 1958–59, Class IX, under the heading of research and development projects £200,000 is devoted to oil synthesis. This includes work being done by John Brown and Company and other work. There is a pilot plant at B.C.U.R.A., Leatherhead. In addition, there is £450,000 for the Scientific and Industrial Research Department as its estimate for the Fuel Research Station. This budget includes an amount for the Warren Springs station, which carries out work on a number of subjects including oil synthesis and gasification.
Therefore, a small proportion of the £450,000 is devoted to the process of oil synthesis. The Gas Council research budget of £670,000 includes £300,000 associated with the gasification of coal. 739 These figures compare with the budget of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research of £10½ million and with about £800,000 spent by the Ministry of Power on scientific matters. Many Government Departments have their own special research activities, as, for example, the Ministry of Supply with a budget of £211 million a year.
I quote these figures to show the size of the effort in trying to get oil from coal as compared with other work. We rightly spend a lot of money on nuclear research. Why cannot we spend a lot more money and try to develop a market for coal by extracting oil from the fuel that lies beneath our feet? I believe that if this development is concentrated upon it will not only provide a market for our coal but will reduce our dependancy upon the trouble spots of the world for oil.
Are the Government, who are encouraging the use of oil as against coal, deliberately going to contract the coal industry? If so, they ought to tell us. Some of us believe that the present Government's policy will still give a contraction in mining even if there is a renewal of expansion in the economy. If this is a correct analysis, then it must be done on a planned basis. This can be attained as now by a control of recruitment, by the planning and redeployment of labour; by that means it could be done without any great harmful effects on the existing manpower in the industry. But this cannot be done if like a bolt from the blue we close collieries at short notice. It is known when a colliery will close, and plans can be prepared by the industry to re-employ the men elsewhere. Also, the Government must plan to provide houses for the men Who are to be shifted elsewhere, and they must bring in new industries to the areas where the pits are closed to provide work for the men and their families who will be the casualties of the Government's policy.
There is no doubt that in the years to come the country will be crying aloud again for men to go to the pits. The last few months have started to make those in the mining community look elsewhere outside mining for careers for their sons. Just as between the wars it was the ambition of vast numbers of miners to 740 keep their sons out of mining, that attitude is again being adopted, and we shall pay a heavy price in respect of our manpower for the future for the Government's calamitous policy. We did our best in the years after the war to encourage miners to send their lads to the pits. We thought they had a great future in mining. However, he would be a courageous man who went on a recruiting campaign in the mining villages to do this again. There is ever-haunting fear now that we are again heading for short-time working and more closures of the pits in Britain. Men feel that their bright hopes for the future are in serious jeopardy.
It is imperative, therefore, that the Government should let those who work in the mines know what part coal is to play in the future policy of our country. The industry is being run down in production, and its manpower has been greatly reduced in the last twelve months. Is our future manpower to be run down to 500.000, and is deep-mined production to go down to 180 million tons? What figures do the Government contemplate for production and manpower? We are entitled to know.
When the National Coal Board produced its plan "Investing in Coal" it produced a plan for capital spending and the creation of capacity building up to an output of 240 million tons in 1965. This was produced against a background of a continuously rising demand by an average of 5 million tons of coal equivalent every year for the ten years ahead.
Circumstances have now changed. Now there is a recession, an upsurge in the use of oil, and fierce oil competition with coal. Therefore, I ask what is the part that coal is to play in the future requirements of Great Britain, and what is the part to be played by oil and nuclear energy? Once everyone knows this, the part to be played by coal can be planned ahead and we can adjust our production plan and its effect on the employment of our men accordingly.
I have tried to point out what Western Germany and the E.C.S.C. are doing, and something has got to be done here if the livelihood of our people is to be safeguarded in the future. We are entitled to ask the Government what is required 741 of our men in the way of coal production. Will they have to do the same in 1960 or 1961 if there is a resurgence of output? If so, I must warn the Government that if oil is allowed to replace coal in conditions of recession a large capacity of coal production will be lost, not only by the present closures, but by more that will follow in the days that lie ahead.
It will be no use giving exhortations about more and more coal if by their present policy the Government cause capacity to be lost, or if we get into trouble in the oil areas of the world. Manpower as well as capacity will have been lost. The Government's policy is that coal and oil must fight for the markets, and if coal cannot compete, then it is just too bad for coal. Are we then to see a fight for the internal markets of Britain? If so, then the Government ought to give coal the same freedom to compete as the oil companies have.
The extent to which there is to be a "free-for-all" economy, or a "free-for-all" between oil and coal, will be determined by the overall policy to be followed by the Government. Free competition cannot exist at the moment because of the entirely different circumstances under which the publicly-owned coal industry works, as compared with oil. The Coal Board is not free to fix its prices in the way in which the oil companies are, but it must have that freedom to fix prices if it is to compete on an equal footing.
§ Sir Keith Joseph (Leeds, North-East) rose—
§ Mr. Blyton
No, I cannot give way. I am just finishing my speech.
Let the Government be more forthcoming and tell us what they intend to do. Their last plan is no use now, in the light of the changed circumstances. I do not believe for a moment that the conditions of the post-war years are likely to be repeated, and, because of this, we ought to know what the future policy is to be. The employment of the people in this great industry is my greatest concern. The policies of the Government's "free-for-all" is disastrous, not only to coal but to the nation as a whole. I conclude by asking the Government to give us their plan, if they have one, and to adopt a policy of giving priority to the use of our own fuel within our shores.
§ 11.53 a.m.
§ Mr. Norman Pentland (Chester-le-Street)
I beg to second the Motion.
I wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) upon his success in the Ballot and on his choice of subject today. I particularly wish to congratulate him upon the way in which he so ably moved this Motion, and, at the same time, emphatically pressed upon the Government in a very forceful manner a great many of the problems that will have to he faced in the coal industry.
I submit at once that this vital problem which we are debating today not only affects the livelihood of the miners alone, but if the answers are not found by the Government to many of the questions which my hon. Friend has put forward this morning, in the long run, thousands of other industrial workers will find their future security in industry jeopardised.
My hon. Friend mentioned shipping, and it is quite true that a number of other industries, either directly or indirectly, depend upon the coal industry for their prosperity. I know that the old pessimists are about, and that the usual red herrings have been dragged out once again to the effect that coal is a dying source of energy in this country, that it is the energy of the past, and that these people point to atomic energy and tell us that oil will always be cheaper than coal. They say that coal should not he burned, and that it is a waste to burn it and so on. I would like to suggest that these arguments cannot stand up to any examination at all.
I think everyone will agree on both sides of this Chamber that this nation is built on coal, and that, when nationalisation came, it was estimated that we had 40,000 million tons of coal still below the ground. I want to impress upon the House the fact that since nationalisation of coal took place 12 years ago, the miners have extracted from our pits 4,500 million tons of coal. I suggest that that is the real basis of our wealth today. I think that everyone will further agree, regardless of the realities or potentialities of atomic energy and so on, that coal will continue to be the real basis of our wealth for many years to come, and, I am quite sure, for the lifetime of everyone here today.
743 If that is accepted, it is high time, as my hon. Friend said, that this Government paid proper regard to the many problems that now face the coal industry, devised a fuel policy to meet the present situation, which, at the same time, would solve many of the problems that may face us in the future, because of our reliance on imported fuels.
What about the attitude of the miners in the light of the present situation? I refer to this matter because I have a feeling that the attitude of the miners will be mentioned here today. I say quite frankly and assure the House that the miners are understandably confused and just a little cynical about the present situation and how it has arisen. They remember that, not so very long ago, hon. Members opposite were condemning the miners for absenteeism, because they were not producing the coal which they thought they should produce, about their attitude towards bringing foreign workers into the industry and so on.
Further, we found not so very long ago that there were advertisements in practically every newspaper in this country carrying information for the youth of Britain encouraging them to enter the coal mines, and informing them that their future careers would be secure if they chose to adopt a career in mining. Many thousands of them did, as my hon. Friend said, but they were, in the main, from the mining communities. Fathers encouraged their sons to go down the pits, and, while some from outside came in, it was, in the main, from the mining communities that the new entrants to the industry came.
What do they find today? In South Wales, in Scotland and in Northern England, many of these young men, who married and settled down, are now worried about their future, because of having various commitments under hire-purchase contracts which they entered into, and because they now find themselves on the dole. No wonder they are confused. There is one thing, however, on which there is no confusion at all, and it is that the miners realise full well that if, in the present situation, the former coalowners still had control of the pits of Britain, the situation would be a thousand times worse than it is today, and that they would not have the same fair 744 crack of the whip which they have had from the National Coal Board.
I know that there are many factors responsible for bringing about the present situation in the coal industry, but the Government must take full responsibility for the part which they have played. It is no good blaming the Coal Board. There are many who are now coming into the open against the Coal Board, people who are opposed to nationalisation and who always have been. They blame the Coal Board for the actions it has taken and for the money which has been spent on long-term investment under the programme which the Board has set out to fulfil.
The truth of the matter is that the Coal Board has planned and was told to plan to meet an expanding economy in which industrial production would increase 3 to 4 per cent. each year. The Leader of the House based his estimate on that assumption when he said that the standard of living of this country would be doubled in 25 years. The only thing he forgot was that he was a member of the Tory Party and that the Government to which he belonged were putting into effect policies which were in direct contradiction to that.
What has happened has been recounted many times. Instead of expanding the economy, the Government have deliberately set about stagnating it. The aim has been not just to prevent production from going up, but actually to drive it down. In that respect the Government have succeeded very well.
Industrial production today is 2 to 3 per cent. down on a year ago. Steel production is running at over 17 per cent. less than a year ago and the situation is such that less coal is needed. The recent figures of the Ministry of Power show the picture very clearly. Taken at October last year, they show that the steel industry used 1 million tons less than in the same period of the previous year; coke ovens—and it is well known that the products of coke ovens are widely used in steel making—used 2 million tons less; the railways used ¾million tons less—no doubt the introduction of diesel trains affected that fall, but there was a falling off of freights due to reduced production; electricity was down slightly, and other industries used a total of 2½million tons less. No 745 one should be under the misapprehension that the grave situation in the British coalfields is not a political matter. It certainly is and the Government have a great responsibility for bringing about that situation through their policies.
I turn now to another aspect which puzzles me. I said earlier that the miners were confused about the situation, but there is also confusion among those who are responsible for fuel policy, the Minister of Power himself and the Paymaster-General. They have been making haphazard guesses about the future part of coal in our economy. For example, in a debate on nuclear power and oil supplies on 30th April, 1957, the Paymaster-General said:I should like to try to produce a picture of the development we may see in the course of, say, the next eight or ten years, I think that 1965 is a convenient date, because the investment plans of the National Coal Board run to 1965 and the recently announced nuclear electricity programme also runs to the end of 1965.The best estimate we can make is that total inland demand for fuel, which, in 1955, was about 250 million tons of coal and its equivalents, should rise by 1965 to about 300 million tons. That is an increase over the ten years from 250 million to 300 million tons of coal and its equivalents."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th April 1957; Vol. 569, c. 36–7.]The Paymaster-General's estimates at that time were based on an increasing industrial production. That has not taken place. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is not in his place, because he would have been bound to agree that his estimates of the growth of industrial production and his related estimates of rising energy requirements have all been adversely affected by the fact that industrial production has been stagnant since 1955, largely as a result of Government policy.
To come more closely up to date, winding up a debate on fuel and power policy in another place less than three weeks ago, the Minister of Power said:The Government are fully alive to the social and human problems, and to the other adverse factors resulting from unemployment among coal miners. They also realise—and I would ask your Lordships to be good enough to bear this in mind—that if the coal industry's manpower fell beyond what was necessary to produce the annual coal supply needed when industrial production resumes its upward trend, we could again face embarrassing fuel shortages of the same order that arose in the early post-war years. 746 I should like to stress the point that the present state of industrial production is a temporary phase, and that we can look forward to the early resumption of an upward trend, with the increasing demands for fuel supplies, particularly coal, which would accompany it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 21st January 1959; Vol. 213, c. 691–2.]Here is another guess, another prophecy, another estimate of our energy requirements made less than three weeks ago. That comes from the Minister himself and we must sincerely hope that he is right.
Let us assume that the Minister is able to persuade the Government to change their economic policy—and without being able to do so, his words will not come true. What will the Government do about the fears of an insufficient labour force in the pits if industrial production assumes its upward trend? From where will they get the miners? Do they think that we are still living in the days when the supply of miners could be turned on and off like a tap? I can assure them that that is not the position today.
Many miners now unemployed will never again go down the pits, and neither will they encourage their sons to do so. The National Union of Mineworkers has emphasised that time and time again. Do the Government take into consideration the serious wastage of manpower in the industry which occurs every year? It should be appreciated that the wastage of miners is about 60,000 every year. Some die, some are killed, some are seriously injured and unable to work again, some contract an industrial disease, some merely grow old and retire, but for one reason or another, 60,000 miners a year leave the pits.
Are the Government sure, in view of the Minister's statement, that they have done the best thing in the interests of the nation's economy in allowing the National Coal Board to be forced into a position where for economic reasons it has had to close down 36 pits? I know that in any circumstances some of these pits would probably have had to close, but I wonder if the Government are happy that they have done the right thing in forcing the Coal Board into the position of having to close down pits, and whether they are satisfied that, because of economic reasons, the Board might once again this year be forced into closing down more pits.
747 I ask the Government what they are going to do about it. How are they to assist the Coal Board to overcome its problems? They cannot have it both ways. On the one hand, the Minister of Power says that he is worried about an insufficient labour force if industrial production resumes an upward trend and, on the other, we are creating the possibility of a situation arising where the labour force in the pits will gradually fall until we have to face a serious coal fuel shortage. The Government would be well advised to give serious study to this problem, on the lines suggested by my hon. Friend, in view of the fact that the country might find itself facing a very embarrassing and costly fuel shortage in the near future because we have not sufficient miners working in our pits.
These are some of the things which the Government should be concerned about. As for the broader aspects of fuel policy, I hope that the Government have accepted what my hon. Friend has proposed, and will agree to give it every consideration. In an admirable speech my hon. Friend covered all the technical aspects that he would like to see applied in a national fuel policy. I would like to see closer co-ordination between all our fuel producing industries. I also believe that the time has now arrived when it is imperative for the Government to provide more extensive research into alternative uses of coal. A greater emphasis should be placed upon the extraction of chemicals, and we should be looking to the potentialities of plastics and all the other by-products. This could be linked up with the coal industry as part of a national fuel policy, to maximise the use of our coal resources.
These are some of the things we ask to be done. I can assure the Parliamentary Secretary that only a forthright statement from him upon a national fuel policy—a statement telling us what the Government mean to do, and showing that they are setting out to plan for such a policy—will alleviate the anxiety and fears which exist in the mining communities today. If the country is to return to its former position as one of the foremost industrial powers it is of the utmost importance that that should be done at once.
§ 12.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)
I beg to move, in line 1, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:having taken account of the present fall in the demand for coal in this country, the high level of coal stocks, and the decline in coal exports, endorses Her Majesty's Government's policy for the fuel and power industries of this country.I am indebted, as always, to the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton), for giving us the opportunity of debating fuel and power policy, which is not only a captivating topic of wide interest in this House and the country but is also one which has substantial financial implications within our national economy. I pause at the outset to respond to one sentence in the hon. Member's speech which I thought was exaggerated and unfair, and far below the standard of the remainder of his speech. He said "that the Government had declared war on coal."
That is manifest nonsense. The degree of support that Her Majesty's Conservative Administrations have given the nationalised coal industry is best illustrated by the figures authorised by successive Conservative Ministers of Fuel and Power—and latterly Ministers of Power—for annual capital investment by the Board. There is no better means of demonstrating the degree of support given by Conservative Governments. In the last year of Socialist Government, 1951, the extent of the investment authorised was £32 million. In 1958, authorised investment was £104 million. That figure is three-and-a-quarter times as large as the 1951 figure, and, even allowing for declined money values, it is still two and a half times as great in real terms.
§ Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)
I am sure that the hon. Member will agree that during the period of the Labour Government the Coal Board was never short of money for capital expenditure, and that the amounts that he has read out were the total amounts which the Board was able to use. For technical reasons, it was not able to use the whole amount.
§ Mr. Nabarro
That is a very early intervention by the right hon. Member. I am delighted that I have been able to 749 stimulate him so soon in my speech, and I have no doubt that I shall stimulate him considerably more as times goes on.
The Coal Board may not have been short of money, but consumers were very short of coal, whereas today they are not short of coal. [Interruption]. Does the deputy Leader of the Opposition wish to intervene?
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
I wanted to point out that, unfortunately, we were short of miners as well. We have been losing miners for twenty years.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I will deal with all these matters in due course. I evade nothing, as is well known. I shall answer every point put to me.
The plain fact of the matter is that in present conditions, and for the last three years there has been an abundance of fuel of every type in this country. In such circumstances I suggest that it is a little dangerous to endorse policies which will result in the Government at the centre dictating to end users, be they in industry, in commerce, or in their homes, what type of fuel they should employ for a particular purpose.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Does the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), a one-time Minister of Fuel and Power, wish to intervene?
§ Mr. Speaker
I would ask hon. Members neither to make interventions nor to encourage them. From past experience, I think that the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) is quite able to give us a full exposition of his views without assistance from anybody.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I am most grateful, as always, Mr. Speaker, for your protection and help.
That brings me to the reasons for the Amendments. The fundamentals of the fuel policy of the Conservative Government which are supported in the Amendment may be expressed briefly under three headings. The first objective is to provide sufficient energy—fuel and power—for British industry, commerce and the domestic consumer. That must take pride of place. The second objective is to give the consumer freedom to choose the kind of fuel that he wants for 750 the particular purpose envisaged. I shall deal with that matter in greater detail in comparing the merits of coal and oil for specific purposes.
I think that our attention today, whether we support the Amendment or the Motion, ought really to be directed to that simple consideration of whether the consumer is to have a free choice or is to be directed by the Government or Government agencies as to what fuel he uses for any particular process or purpose.
The third consideration is to use our indigenous sources of fuel and energy to the maximum providing that it is economically sound to do so. But surely it cannot be considered economically sound to keep open coal mines which, in certain instances, are losing large sums of money per ton of coal mined; or when the quality of the product from those pits does not suit the requirements of the end user or consumer and when that end user or consumer may infinitely prefer to employ oil or another alternative fuel to coal with much greater efficiency for his processes and purposes.
The right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), in his customary fashion, summed up this question of pit closures in South Wales in admirable terms. I commend them to the right hon. Gentleman the deputy Leader of the Opposition. The right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale is reported to have said that we cannot keep open uneconomic coal mines as historical monuments.
Speaking in the House on 3rd December, 1958, I used these words:The issue in my mind is whether the National Coal Board is to be run as a social welfare club, or as a commercial organisation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd December, 1958; Vol. 596, c. 1223.]An independent and impartial observer of those two statements, the one by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale and the other by myself, would say that their meaning was as near the same as makes no matter.
Coal must be mined economically. The Coal Board must pay its way, taking year with year. There should be no undue interference with the freedom of the end consumer to choose the particular fuel best suited for his processes or purposes.
That brings me to a major consideration. Of course, it is highly dangerous 751 for this country to allow too large a part of her global fuel requirements to depend upon imported oil fuel. The greater the percentage becomes the more dangerous the result for British industry, commerce and the domestic consumer. But let us try to get the matter into perspective today.
The hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring used a number of generalisations, but he did not tell the House what is directly the comparison between the total fuel oil consumption in this country today and the total coal consumption. It is about 1 as to 7. For every seven tons of coal used, one ton of fuel oil is used by industry, trade and commerce. I think that that is probably the maximum that we can endure with safety.
I want to remind the House how important it is not to tamper with the processes of production of petroleum products in this country, which is what the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring, with his direction from the centre as to the use of oil and coal by consumers, would lead us to do. Refineries are complex organisations. The Western European comity of refineries is very closely integrated.
The right hon. Member for Blyth is keenly interested in refinery production. It was the Labour Government between 1945 and 1950 which initiated greatly increasing production from the refineries of this country. Does the right hon. Gentleman know how greatly he has succeeded, that refinery production in this country today is sixteen times as great as it was before the war? But refinery production has to be balanced. For example, 1957, the last year for which I have full figures showing the inland consumption in Great Britain of petroleum products, demonstrates that 58.5 per cent. of the output of our refineries comprised motor and aviation fuels, tractor fuels, lubricants, bitumen and chemical foodstock and other petroleum by-products; and 41.5 per cent. comprised fuel oils, gas oils for gas-making and heating paraffin.
There is a fine balance between the production of these diverse petroleum products and by-products. It must not be upset. For example, to take that argument a stage further, out of the refinery production in this country in 1957, only 752 10.4 million tons was fuel oil, 5.9 million tons was motor and aviation spirit, 27.8 million tons was crude oil, 5 million tons was gas oil, 3.4 million tons for other products and 0.8 million tons for kerosene. That shows the House the multiplicity of petroleum and petroleum products depending upon this large-scale and complex refinery production.
We have to produce the fuel oil here and in other Western European countries if we are to produce enough motor and aviation spirit in balance to provide for the huge increase in the number of motor cars and motor vehicles on our roads. Today, there are 7 million motor vehicles on our roads, and it is common knowledge that at the present rate of growth in nine years that figure will increase to 14 million.
All these vehicles have to be fuelled, and motor spirit for them is only a practicable propostion in the requisite quantities so long as it is balanced with fuel oil and other petroleum producers. Therefore, it would be highly dangerous to do what the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring is suggesting, which is artificially to restrict the growth of the employment of petroleum and petroleum products for diversified industrial, commercial and domestic purposes. The hon. Member had a great deal to say about nationalised industries using oil.
I do not propose to go again over all the ground that was argued here on 3rd December last between the right hon. Member for Blyth and my right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General. What it came down to was that the electricity power stations are now burning oil as a result of large contracts entered into with the oil companies. Contracts must not be broken by Governments, by nationalised industries or by private commercial firms. A commercial contract has sanctity attached to it. Once contracts are entered into they must be honoured. Whether the contracts are renewed in due course is surely a matter to which the House might apply itself later.
The hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring and the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Pentland) seemed to put all the emphasis on the increased use of oil by such nationalised industries as electricity and gas. I hasten to assure them that the increased user of oil in these industries compared 753 with the user of oil by private industry and commerce is because oil is so clean, so flexible, so highly efficient, so easily controlled and so relatively stable in price. Coal has gone up by more than 25 per cent. since 1951. None can deny that. But the price of fuel oil today is the same as it was in 1951. I quite agree that at the time of the Suez crisis it rocketed up, but it came down again. Over a seven-year cycle the price has not gone up at all.
It is futile, therefore, for coalmining Members opposite—I call them "coal-mining Members" because they sit for predominantly coalmining constituencies—to behave like ostriches for the benefit of their constituents and to fail to observe the huge 'benefits that industry, commerce and the domestic consumer alike, derive from the employment of fuel oil for diversified purposes.
That diversity of purpose is not only associated with a coefficient of efficiency, but also with the fact that oil has remained so stable in price, whereas coal has continuously gone up in price during the last few years. These are indisputable facts—and here I pause for the benefit of the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street. For many years he was, I am told, a member of the National Union of Mineworker—
§ Mr. Nabarro
Good. I hope that after this debate he will go to see Mr. Ernest Jones, the President of the N.U.M.—
§ Mr. Pentland
Is the hon. Gentleman going to tell me about the union's headquarters being heated by oil?
§ Mr. Nabarro
I am going to tell the hon. Member a lot of things.
If I wish to sell my products in private industry, I develop a little showmanship. At present, I am endeavouring to sell my products to the House of Commons, and it is, therefore, appropriate that there should be a little showmanship. But, also, I go in for advertising and demonstrate to the world at large the superiority of my products by user in my own premises.
Has anyone ever in history encountered a paradox to compare with the fact that the new headquarters of the National Union of Mineworkers in Euston Road, 754 W.C.1, is heated by fuel oil? Not only is it a paradox; it is such shocking incompetence and inefficiency that, were I working in the coalfields as a member of the National Union of Mineworkers, I should move a resolution at once, demanding the discharge of the president of an organisation responsible for such a disgraceful blunder in public relations.
But that is not all. Do not blame the National Union of Mineworkers alone. Let us consider the National Coal Board, which is nearly as bad. In Manchester the Board is running a travelling exhibition. It is called, "Coalmining Today." It is staged in the premises of Messrs. Lewis. I should have thought that an exhibition for coalmining today would carry with it an implication that the products of mining should be providing the heat for the premises in which the exhibition is staged? But not so. In Messrs. Lewis's there are oil-burning boilers shown off as an example of the efficiency of oil. Who is behind this attempt to undermine the increased sale and user of coal in this country by these insidious methods?
§ Mr. Pentland rose—
§ Mr. Nabarro
I will give way in a moment. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street, and his 30 or more Parliamentary colleagues—present and ex-members of the National Union of Mineworkers—who sit on the benches opposite, really must protest in the most vigorous terms to Mr. Ernest Jones, their President, for his extraordinary dereliction of duty in this context.
§ Mr. Pentland
The hon. Member has "bashed" this matter round for some time. He has referred to it repeatedly in the House during the past few weeks. He forgets that the plans for the headquarters were laid when we were in dire need of coal, and imports of coal from America were being subsidised. The National Union of Mineworkers could not anticipate the follies of a Tory Government. It is the folly of a Tory Government which has brought about the present position and has left the union high and dry. Is it now clear to the hon. Member?
§ Mr. Nabarro
That is about as disingenuous a reply as I have ever heard. If the hon. Gentleman does not know already, may I tell him that to convert 755 an oil-burning boiler into a coal-burning boiler is a relatively easy and cheap process.
§ Mr. Pentland rose—
§ Mr. Nabarro
No, I have given way once and I did not interrupt the hon. Gentleman throughout his lengthy speech. I strongly recommend that he goes away and puts this matter into good order.
I wish to say something about Mr. Ernest Jones, the President of the National Union of Mineworkers. On 1st February, 1959—and I am deeply indebted to him for doing so—Mr. Jones wrote in the Sunday Pictorial a preview of the speeches made today by the hon. Member far Houghton-le-Spring and the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street in moving and seconding this Motion. Mr. Jones entitled his article, "Crisis Plan for Coal." He referred to six paints of policy in that plan. The first point was to draw up an efficient fuel policy.
The second point is interesting. It was referred to by both the mover and the seconder of the Motion. It is a proposal to control fuel oil imports. That is a dangerous creed, having regard to the fact that the exports of petroleum products from this country were worth £105 million last year.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Yes. I am obliged to my hon. Friend. Plus petro-chemicals exported.
That is a dangerous creed by an unitiated leader of the miners. I commend him to a study of petroleum economics, which will lead him quickly to the conclusion that any attempt to tamper with the free flow of the base materials going to a refinery will not only throw the whole production plant and sequence of the refinery badly out of gear and dislocate it, but will fundamentally strike at this huge export figure of petroleum products and petro-chemicals from the United Kingdom.
The right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) was the Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Fuel and Power for several years during the lifetime of the Labour Government. He knows full well that the primary reason for the Labour Government's backing of large investments in private enterprise refineries was 756 their export potential in the years ahead. That is coming to fruition today. There were more than £100 million of exports of petroleum products last year. Apparently, Mr. Ernest Jones thinks it would be a good thing to derange those exports.
The third point, made by Mr. Jones, and made again today by both spokesmen opposite was, impose a tax on oil. If we did so—
§ Mr. Nabarro
I said the spokesman opposite, the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring—[HON. MEMBERS: "The hon. Member said, 'Both spokesmen'."] I apologise. I gather from the intervention of the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street that he is not in favour of taxing oil—
§ Mr. Nabarro
I gather that the hon. Gentleman is not in favour and that his hon. Friend is. But the thing which matters is that the "boss" of the mineworkers Mr. Ernest Jones, their President, is in favour. He says, "Impose a tax on oil."
The effect of that would be to raise the cost of industrial production in a large number of our basic industries, notably steel. Of course, it would also create a situation in this country in which the only fuel directly taxed by the Government for industrial purposes was oil. Oil would be taxed. Coal would not be taxed, gas would not be taxed, electricity would not be taxed and coke would not be taxed.
§ Mr. Nabarro
The right hon. Member who sits mumbling on the benches opposite knows that petrol for road vehicles is taxed as a revenue raiser and is not directly concerned with industrial production. He should know. The right hon. Gentleman was Minister of Fuel and Power for many years. He will be remembered in the history of this country for posterity as the only member of any Government who succeeded in bringing 757 every factory in the land to a standstill, due to lack of coal supplies. That calamity will be affectionately known as "Shinwelliana" by historians. The right hon. Gentleman brought every factory to a standstill for lack of coal, and today he sits there writhing in jealousy and envy because my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself have created an abundance of fuel, including an abundance of coal.
It would he disastrous to put a tax on fuel oil. It would raise the cost of industrial production and would be highly discriminatory in character against every competitive fuel. I cannot believe that the House of Commons would endorse a proposition of this kind.
§ Mr. Nabarro
And not the House of Commons of which the right hon. Gentleman is thinking, in the unlikely event of a Labour majority. Not even a Labour majority, taking proper advice, would be quite so incredibly stupid as to take the course suggested by Mr. Ernest Jones.
The fourth point by Mr. Jones was, "Reduce the output of opencast coal." I quite agree, but the right hon. Member for Blyth does not agree. He used to stand at the Dispatch Box vigorously resisting my requests when I lead demands for a reduction in opencast coal mining because of the effect it had upon good farm land. Again, it demonstrates how divided and how out of step with one another are right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite and their friends in the National Union of Mineworkers. What I was saying in 1950 about the dreadful depredations of opencast mining on good agricultural land—I called it "the scourge of rural England"—used to make the right hon. Member for Blyth so angry that, notwithstanding his Ministerial status, he used to write letters in the Daily Telegraph replying to my allegations.
Notwithstanding all that, here is Mr. Ernest Jones saying "Reduce even further the output of opencast mining. It is no longer needed and merely destroys valuable agricultural land." Destroys it; that is exactly what I have been saying for years. I have a really good ally at last, and I hope that the right hon. Member for Blyth is now a 758 convert to the Nabarro cause. Mr. Ernest Jones says, "Let power stations give up oil and go back to coal." He would have the sanctity of contracts set aside. That is a dishonourable proposition, Mr. Jones. Contracts must be run out. When they have finished, then let us all consider whether oil should continue to be used in this way.
Finally, Mr. Jones says, "Start research into new uses for coal." Yes, notably smokeless fuel. The hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring, who has now returned to his place, had a good deal to say about clean air, and I shall not attempt to deal with it now, except to say that perhaps, on reflection, when he reads it in print, the hon. Member will realise how very wide of the mark he was and the whole succession of errors into which he fell.
The plain fact is that the production of smokeless fuel is well within the competence of the Coal Board. It could produce large additional quantities of smokeless fuel if it properly equipped itself to do so. It has magnificent research laboratories and a staff admirably trained for the purpose. There is no let, hindrance or impediment to the Board developing this huge new market, which is available to it, to cope with the national policy of smokelessness, efficiency and clean air.
The Board is doing very little about it. Phurnacite, the Board's sole product in this field, is very difficult to obtain, and the quantities are very small, notwithstanding the huge market available. I am constantly receiving complaints, and very recently, from householders all over the country that they cannot obtain sufficient smokeless fuel. Why cannot more Phurnacite, Coalite or Rexco be available? The two latter are private enterprise products. Phurnacite could be made available in much larger quantities except for the lack of initiative, enterprise and competence of the Coal Board, which has not yet applied itself to the new market requirements arising from clean air policy.
§ Mr. Robens
I know that the hon. Gentleman likes to get his facts right and will be the first to apologise if his facts are not right. Does he not understand that the Coal Board has now great stocks of Phurnacite, at least more than 759 150,000 tons? The problem is of distribution, for which the Coal Board is not responsible. What has happened is that the Board has large stocks of smokeless fuel but is unable to get it to the consumer because distribution, which is mainly in the hands of private enterprise, is unable to get it to the consumer. The stocks are there.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I will send the right hon. Gentleman's comments to the Coal Merchants' Federation and test the veracity of what he says. I would remind him that 25 per cent. of the distribution of domestic solid fuel is in the hands of the Board. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] Oh, yes. I would remind hon. Gentlemen that all over the country there are complaints that domestic smokeless fuel is not obtainable. Why does not the Coal Board go and meet that market demand instead of sitting quiescent and waiting for the customers to come to it?
§ Mr. D. Price
May I interrupt my hon. Friend to inform him that this morning I had to turn off all my heating in my house because my coal merchant was unable to supply me with smokeless fuel for the equipment I installed in my house five years ago on the advice of the Solid Fuel Council?
§ Mr. Robens
The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) has made a categorical statement. The figures are there. I come back to Phurnacite. The Coal Board is not the distributor for the hon. Gentlemen. The fault lies in the fact that distribution breaks down in the winter because it cannot meet the big demand.
§ Mr. Nabarro
The other day, Mr. Speaker, you ruled that we could not put down Parliamentary Questions on domestic coal distribution, which is a sad state of affairs—[An HON. MEMBER: "Reflection on the Chair."] It is not a reflection on Mr. Speaker at all, but I am very sad about the decision because it prevents my questioning my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power. It also prevents those characteristic and stimulating Monday afternoon exchanges to which the House has become accustomed for a long period of years. I will elicit further facts about what the right hon. Member for Blyth says.
760 May I conclude this part of my speech by making a simple observation? The Coal Board has not attuned its marketing and sales organisation to the new requirements. If it is to match the high level of efficiency displayed by the oil companies in selling their products the Coal Board must show very great improvement in salesmanship.
Finally, I quote from the Paymaster-General's speech on 14th July, 1958. Having regard to all the points I have endeavoured to build into my speech, this is an appropriate thing to say in final response to the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring. My right hon. Friend said:Although it is an advantage to use indigenous resources rather than to import, if that is done at an excessive cost we do ourselves harm on balance and it is not an economy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th July, 1958; Vol. 591, c. 936.]That is extremely apposite to our discussion. For all the reasons that I have given I have moved the Amendment.
§ 12.50 p.m.
§ Viscount Lambton (Berwick-on-Tweed)
I beg to second the Amendment.
Perhaps I shall he less contentious, and doubtless much less exciting, than my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro). This morning I wish to deal with one pit, because in miniature it shows the problems which are facing the Coal Board and the mining industry today and illustrates the inefficiency of nationalisation. I think one should analyse the present trend of the Coal Board's policy and see whether it is rightly or wrongly applied. Without doubt, I and certain other hon. Members are feeling pleased that, for the first time since 1951, under the Chairmanship of Sir James Bowman, economics are being related to the production of coal. Basically, the policy which the Board is putting forward in the closing of a large number of old, uneconomic collieries is one which the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) and others have agreed with and with which I do not think it is possible to cavil.
Unfortunately, as well as deciding to close these old, worn-out, exhausted pits, the Board included in the list the small Blackhill colliery South of Berwick. This 761 is a unique case because, by almost every comparison, it is a new pit. It was sunk 14 years ago, and capital expenditure has been very considerable on it for nearly the whole of that period. Without cessation, men have been encouraged to go into the mine and the local town of Berwick has been encouraged to build houses for the miners. As an aside, I cannot help thinking that the Coal Board should begin to have some sort of responsibility for the houses whose building it encourages. Otherwise, certain areas will find themselves with far more houses than they need and the rateable value will be upset and the whole economy of the countryside upset.
Generally speaking, the only justification for the expenditure on this colliery and for the Board's request for accommodation for miners was that the mine was to be run on a long-term basis, but suddenly, without any warning, these miners—men of the highest calibre—learnt through the columns of the Daily Herald that the mine was to close. How the leak came I do not know, but it was a very unpleasant thing for them to learn through the medium of the Labour Party's national newspaper that their livelihood was finished. This would seem a decision in which it is impossible to say there has been planning. How can one have any confidence in the whole general management of the Coal Board when after fourteen years in which capital has been poured into a mine it suddenly decides to close it? How can one give them without considerable doubt all the moneys for capital expenditure that they so jovially asked for.
What I think most interesting is the reaction to the closure. Almost at once there was a feeling universally shown by the miners that the closure of the pit for economic reasons was wrong because under the system of management which governs them it was quite impossible that the pit could have worked economically. Here we had a criticism of the machinery of nationalisation, not from outside which is always suspect by hon. Members opposite, but from inside the industry. The hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) was for years a working miner. I have a great admiration and affection for him, but he spends nearly all his time now—certainly for a great part of the year—in this place. I think the opinions of men working in the pit are more interesting and more relevant in the present 762 circumstances than those he has given us this morning.
These are the men who had to carry out the orders of nationalised machinery which appears so inefficient. These men came out with a plan, and I must say it seems to me a profoundly sensible one. I have it here with me. In it there are many sound ideas for economy. They say that the coal could be produced at 15 per cent. less cost than it is produced at present. What seems so extraordinary is how there is room for such economies as these and how when during these last three years the whole of the coal situation has been gradually tightening no notice has been taken of those who have to work in the mines and in whose hands the Opposition said the working of the coal mines would lie. Why was their opinion not listened to?
Is it possible to have confidence in a machinery which works so inefficiently that the coal face workers are so dismayed that, with all the facts behind them, in a very few days they can present such a plan offering such economies? Is it really sensible that the Board should continue to run affairs with inefficiency and capital expenditure holding hands to the dismay of the actual workers in the pit who have seen the remedies to be obvious and being neglected?
§ Mr. Blyton
Surely the noble Lord is not advocating an economic philosophy that men should work for nothing in order to keep a pit going?
§ Viscount Lambton
That is the most irrelevant intervention I have ever heard. I was saying that the men realise the enormous waste there has been in the pit and are able in a very few days to point out how there could be a 15 per cent. saving by economies. Can we really consider giving endless borrowing power to a central management when we have this example of how its present powers are being used and how its present expenditure is being used?
Let us be constructive and see what is proposed. It is proposed that they should work for six weeks without reward to show that the new pit can be economically run. They then propose to reduce the labour force and to continue to run the pit on an economic standing. These proposals were given to Sir James Bowman and in his reply, which has been 763 published already in the Press and to which I ask the hon. Member far Houghton-le-Spring to listen carefully, he said:I understand that the Plan referred to in your Memorandum does not have the approval of the National Union of Mineworkers. This I can well understand since they must at all times be anxious to safeguard the general conditions of employment of their members and could not readily agree to an arrangement which entailed men working for less than the normal rates for the job. For this reason alone the Board would be bound to reject the Plan.I find the attitude which the union thus expresses as callous and incomprehensible. What it amounts to is that it says to the Blackhill miners that in the name of uniformity they cannot work for nothing for six weeks even if as a result of what they then prove 125 families may continue to have employment. It turns down the suggestion in case it succeeds and suggests that 210 men are eventually to be without any sort of employment. What sort of morality is that? It is a very strange argument and I shall be interested to hear how hon. Members opposite can justify it.
One knows that what is at the bottom of it is the fact that the miners' union simply could not bear to see such a scheme work. So we have this Pecksniffian piece of phraseology. Had I been a Conservative Minister, I should have thought that here was an opportunity for inducing in the coalfield exactly that element of competition which I always thought the Conservative Party believed there should be. Why should it not be said to this pit and those pats which were to be closed last year and other pits which will have to be closed next year, "Among you there are some that will cease to produce. Which they are we have not yet made up our minds, but your pit must reorganise or go by the way. Within the next six months, in consultation with the men, present a plan which lessens labour and perhaps lessens production and cuts costs." Had that suggestion been made, I believe it possible that there would have been in all the pits concerned a reduction of labour and an increase in production per man that would have made it unnecessary to have closed more than a very few old, worked-out pits which would, anyhow, have been inevitably closed in the future.
764 Might not the Parliamentary Secretary take notice of such a scheme as this for the future? Would it not introduce just that element of uncertainty and competition into the large number of pits which may have to be closed in the next few years and let them see that if they could not run economically with reduced staffs they would be uneconomical? Hon. Members opposite do not like this idea. They imagine that it brings us back to the old brutal days of private enterprise. The question which one has to ask is whether to have a gradual and inefficient closing down of the pit or the continuance of such decisions as were made the other day, when a large number of pits were closed and given the death sentence without the right to answer. Which of these two choices benefits the mine, the country and the coal users?
I am quite sure that if such a question as that had been put to the miners of Blackhill, had they been told six months ago that they must reorganise or be closed down and had they been allowed to practise those economies which they suggest for a period of six months and then seen that the situation was hopeless, they would not object as they do today. What irks them and is beginning to irk more and more people in the mining industry is to find that, when the mines belong to the miners, they can be run with so little regard to sense, economy, or efficiency and then, when they are prepared to show that this need not be the case, they are not allowed to do so.
Lastly, I suggest to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary that mines with up to 200 workers might receive licences to work under private enterprise. After all, it was a Socialist Government that allowed the working of small drifts employing up to 30 men. Why cannot we increase this manpower, not so that it seriously threatens the workings of the Coal Board, but in a way that might allow the continuance of such isolated collieries as Blackhill, whose management seems to be out of the general sphere of interest? This pit which I have gone into very fully offers in miniature a chance of analysing all the problems which face the coal industry today. Therefore, I have great pleasure in seconding the Amendment proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Kidder-minster.
§ 1.3 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
As no hon. Member on the other side of the House Las had the decency—I repeat, "decency"—to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) on his admirable speech and on his initiative in raising this matter of fuel and power policy today, nor has ventured to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Pentland) on his equally admirable speech, I venture upon that task.
We listened to two balanced and constructive speeches, critical in part it is true, but, nevertheless, related to one of the most acute industrial and economic problems of our time. Both my hon. Friends deserve the highest approbation for their efforts, and I should have thought that hon. Members on the other side, who pretend to be interested in fuel and power, and in particular the noble Lord the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Viscount Lambton) who now pretends to be interested in the affairs of the mineworkers in his constituency, might, at any rate, have offered a meed of congratulation to my hon. Friends.
Compare those so well-balanced speeches with the succession of irrelevancies which we heard from the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro). Whenever the hon. Member for Kidderminster speaks, he reminds me of those lines of a poet, long passed away, to the effect that one wonders that such a small head could carry all he knew. That is a paraphrase of the lines which I read many years ago. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Goldsmith."] Of all the bombastic and bumptious braggadocio that we have ever heard in this assembly the hon. Member for Kidderminster takes the biscuit.
I do not deny for a moment that occasionally, perhaps fortuitously, the hon. Member offers some sensible observations. For example, his observations on the oil problem are, on the whole, sensible.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Nobody suggests that we should exclude oil imports from our country. That would be absurd, not only because those crude oil imports constitute the basis of petroleum products, 766 but because to exclude them would shatter our economy.
What worried me about the hon. Member's speech was this. We have been trying so far in this debate to extract from the Government some assessment of what should be the correct and balanced fuel and power policy for this country in the coming years. Surely that is a quite proper thing to do. We cannot leave things as they are. It is all very well to say that one must leave to the consumer freedom of choice—I will deal with that in a moment—or that we must have free, unfettered, unlimited and sometimes disastrous competition between the fuel and power industries. One can argue from the standpoint of private ownership, private enterprise and individualism to that effect, but it gets us nowhere in relation to the problem of what is to happen to our indigenous coal industry. What is to be the long-term relationship between our indigenous coal industry, together with the other fuel and power industries, and our economy?
The hon. Member for Kidderminster, not for the first time—
§ Mr. Shinwell
—and it may not he the last, because if anybody is guilty of repetition it is the hon. Member; we have heard the speech that he delivered today many times before, and no doubt we shall have to suffer it main; after all, that is one of the sanctions imposed upon hon. Members—has attacked me for what happened when I was Minister of Fuel and Power. I have never ventured to tell the story—
§ Mr. Shinwell
That is an admission and not bragging. It may be modesty, but it may also be a sense of decency and integrity, if I may say so, because if I were to tell the full story—I shall not go into details, obviously—I might have to involve other people, and that is not my desire. After all, in this world of ours, particularly in this political arena, we have to take hard knocks from time to 767 time. Who am I to complain? For often I have ventured to give them.
So let that pass. There I leave it—except to say this. When we consider what happened betwen 1945 and 1947 when we had a crisis, we cannot ignore the background of that crisis. I was here during the war years, as some hon. Members on both sides were, and I recall the difficulties which we encountered in the production of coal. If I may divulge a little secret history I would mention that I was asked in 1943, on behalf of the then Prime Minister, whether I would care to go to the Ministry of Fuel and Power, because there was trouble, so they said. Perhaps surprisingly enough, they approached me, and they did so because there was a shortage of coal. They could not get the coal. There was a real crisis. Would I go? Did I think I could get the coal? I ventured to give an answer, but eventually nothing happened, except that I remained on the Front Opposition Bench, to my advantage and, no doubt, to the advantage of the country, and certainly to the advantage of the Labour Party, because it formed a Government in 1945, two years later.
But consider that background, the neglect in the war years, the neglect before the war years, the absence of the requisite machinery for carrying on the coal production of the country, the disappearance of thousands of miners who, after the French collapse, when we were no longer exporting coal to France and to the rest of the Continent, left the mining industry, quite naturally so, to enter munitions works and to be called up into the Services. We were left with roundabout 650,000 miners, hardly any of them under thirty years of age, and many of them 60 and 70 years of age. It was a most intricate, perplexing problem, which would have baffled anybody, and, therefore, if it would have baffled anybody, it certainly had no difficulty at all in baffling me. But there it was, and there is a great deal more that could be said about it. But I leave it there.
What I am concerned with—excuse the personal equation—is: what are we to do about this coal industry of ours? There has been a crisis in the coal industry ever since I can remember. I have had a long association with it. Perhaps 768 hon. Members will forgive me for reminding them that I was Secretary for Mines thirty-six years ago, when we had a crisis. Several crises followed the year 1924. We had disputes which in 1926 led to the General Strike. Although we had something in the nature of a crisis in 1947, I am bound to say, with great respect to all my successors on either side of the House, that we appear to have had a crisis ever since. But I do not want to make a song and dance about that.
The question is, I repeat: how are we to resolve this problem? Before I attempt to present what I think is a constructive observation I should like to revert to a remark I made about the noble Lord the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed. Perhaps I may be forgiven. I said that he pretended to uphold the interests of the miners. It seems to me to have been something like pretension. I will tell the noble Lord why I said it, and also tell the House why.
Let us not forget that the noble Lord is a descendant of mine owners, a whole succession of them. They never troubled about the closing of a pit, throwing hundreds of men out of work. They never concerned themselves about the ugly and loathsome consequences of throwing men out of work, without asking a single question about the consequences, or even sitting down and considering with their mine-owing colleagues whether anything could be done to mitigate the harsh details of the closure of pits. They never thought of that.
To come along now, because of this closure of the Blackhill Pit—which we all deplore; I emphasise that: everyone of us deplores it—and talk in those terms about the closing of this small pit, and to pretend that, by reverting to a measure of private enterprise, that will solve the problem is not only completely to misunderstand the position but to lead these men into a situation which will bring about more dire consequences in the long run than the present situation.
§ Viscount Lambton
The right hon. Gentleman has made accusations against my family, saying that they closed down pits. Let him name those pits and the dates. They never occurred. Is it a proper Parliamentary proceeding to make accusations and not to substantiate them? 769 The right hon. Gentleman cannot substantiate them. It is proper for the right hon. Gentleman to make suggestions which he cannot substantiate? I should like to make this further observation, as well. He said that it was my suggestion that this pit went back to private enterprise. It is a suggestion by members of my party.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The noble Lord is, at any rate, presenting the case of men who believe that by reverting to private ownership there would be a hope of resolving the problem.
As to the closure of pits in County Durham by the Lambton family and the Joicey family and the rest of the coal owners, it is surprising that the noble Lords seeks in any way to refute the allegation. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name them."] It is quite impossible to specify a particular pit, but anyone knows that time and again men were put off work, left with only three days' work, with three days pay or three days on the dole. We know that that happened in County Durham. I was in County Durham before the noble Lord was born. And how I understand the distress which occurred in the 'twenties and 'thirties and before the First World War.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The noble Lord will have to take it as I have presented it. If he does not like it, I am sorry for him, but certainly not sorry for myself.
What I want to address myself to is the question: what should be the main objective of a fuel and power policy? I preface what I am about to say by this observation. It must not be assumed, because the Government have not got a fuel and power policy which is balanced, that we have one.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The hon. Member had better wait for it. The situation is in a very fluid state indeed. This crisis which has developed recently has created great difficulties for the National Coal Board and for the National Union of Mineworkers and for hon. Members on this side of the House.
§ Mr. Shinwell
It is not easy to present a constructive fuel and power policy off the cuff. We have to sit down and examine it in all its details and consider the consequences of whatever policy we ultimately adopt.
Certainly, suggestions can be made. To present a constructive proposal one must consider certain lines of thought in relation to this fuel problem. The hon. Member for Kidderminster, in one of his more sensible remarks, said that we cannot impose a particular kind of fuel on the consumer. Of course we cannot, if the consumer will not have it. If the consumer changes from the use of gas to electricity, or from electricity to coal or oil, we must accept the consequences, but we can encourage him to use the night kind of fuel, and that is where the Government could and ought to come in. The question is: what kind of fuel?
There has been a great deal of talk today about research. I agree that there ought to be research, but into what and for what purpose? I am not confuting what my hon. Friends have said, but I am trying to examine the problem. The Coal Board has spent a great deal of money on the production of smokeless fuels, briquettes, ovoids and the like. We were doing that thirty-six years ago. We were trying to encourage the mine owners and the gas industry to do it. To some extent we succeeded, but one of the reasons why we were not wholly successful was that there was plenty of ordinary coal. People preferred it, and it was cheaper than the synthetic product.
I would not spend any more money on the production of smokeless fuel. The money should be spent on the production of electricity. I shall say something which perhaps few people will accept, but I am so convinced that I am right that I venture to assert that to use coal in the raw state in an open fire or any other fashion is as old-fashioned and outmoded as the antimacassar and artificial fruit. It is all wrong and I said so and wrote about it years ago. I am still convinced that it is a mistaken policy. I know all about this sentimental romantic talk about the open fire and how beautiful it is. But people forget about the soot, the smoke, the waste, the 771 ashes and the waste of our indigenous resources. We should be turning coal into a variety of by-products. There is a vast range of them, chemical and otherwise.
Hydrogenisation has been mentioned in the debate. When I was Secretary for Mines, thirty-six years ago, I inquired about it, and we received almost 200 devices from a variety of scientists and inventors. They all wanted money, of course, to develop these inventions. The Fischer Tropsch process was then regarded as one of the finest. There were several others, the names of which I have forgotten. All were regarded as very great inventions. Nothing ever came of them. Hydrogenisation is very expensive and always will be, but if the country is short of indigenous fuel or of oil products we have to hydrogenate to boost up our fuel supplies.
I do not think, however, that that is the right line of approach. We have an abundance of certain classes of coal, particularly small coal. We all know the reasons for that—excessive mechanisation and thin seams and the rest. My miner friends know far more about it than I do, though I have made some study of the subject. That is the coal from which we can generate electricity on a vast scale. Why do we not do it? What is the reason for the use of oil in excess of its use years ago when there was a shortage of coal and we had to switch to oil? As a Labour Government we had to encourage the process. It is not easy to turn the clock back. I do not think that we ever shall. Whether we tax oil or whatever else we do, I do not think that we shall ever prevent industry using oil as long as it is available.
We know why the United States intervened in the Middle East. It was because it was apprehensive about the exhaustion of oil resources in Texas and Venezuela and elsewhere in the American Continent. We do not know whether oil resources of the Middle East will be always available to us. There is a great deal of politics in oil, as there is in coal, and we can never tell what will happen. Are we to leave ourselves high and dry some day because oil resources are no longer available or are available only in diminishing quantity, and then, in a panic and a frenzy, return to coal? That is not a policy. That is bedlam.
772 We must, therefore, have an objective. What are we to do with the small coal? Let us turn it into electricity and cheap electricity. It can be done. After all, the Electricity Authority has been to a very large extent successful and will be more successful in future. Any measures that we can take to turn small coal into electricity and thereby sell it more cheaply should be undertaken. Electricity is one of the fuels of the future and it must be linked with nuclear energy some day. We must look ahead to a time when small coal, producing electricity, and nuclear energy, developing electricity, are linked together.
What about other coal? I think that my hon. Friends will agree that there is a great shortage of gas coal and that there will be a greater shortage in the future. Indeed, we are importing natural gas, methane, from abroad, and we may have to continue to do that because we have not an adequate supply of gas coal. We have to choose between electricity for power, illumination and heating, and gas for industry on a diminishing scale, and that requires a balanced fuel and power policy. How are we to achieve that?
I would address myself to the Parliamentary Secretary in a most friendly and, I hope, in a most helpful fashion. I agree very much with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street. It has been said before, but my hon. Friend emphasised again that we must co-ordinate the coal, gas and electricity industries. I say that we must integrate. It was our intention years ago to do that, when we talked about fuel and power. The intention was not merely to take over the coal, electricity and gas industries and allow them to stand on their own heads or hang by their own tails. The intention was to build up an integrated industry in which we could provide a balance and in particular use indigenous products for the production of by-products.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I do not want to delay the House, but I will deal with that point. Too much is made of that. I say that quite honestly. In what is called a civilised society we have to accept many things with which perhaps we do not 773 agree. For example, many foods are packaged for us and we have little choice. We have to accept them. As a result of extensive advertising we are encouraged to use certain things. There is no compulsion, but we are so much encouraged that it amounts to compulsion.
Let us take this assembly as an example. Much as we dislike it, and I perhaps as much as some and more than many, we have to accept a certain measure of discipline. The same applies to every aspect of civilised society. Once we get a policy there must be a measure of direction. I would not say to the housewife who wants to have a coal fire with flames roaring up the chimney, creating soot and dirt and waste, "You are to be compelled not to have that coal fire." I would, however, encourage her to use electricity instead, and in the long run her home would be cleaner.
There is a great deal more to be said, but I w ill forbear. All I ask is, let the Government examine this matter again. It is not only a question of the interests of unemployed mine workers, though that is distressing enough. In my constituency, where some of the most prosperous pits exist, for the last couple of years we have been frightened about the closing down of certain pits. One wonders what is to be done about this difficult problem. We certainly cannot blame the Coal Board for closing down pits which are uneconomic and which do not deliver the goods.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I do not deny that there is something in that, but even the Coal Board must consider the closing of pits in a balanced fashion. Some thought must be given to this problem. The industry has been in difficulty for some time. First, there was a great demand and a shortage of coal. If pits are to be closed, let us at least consider the problem carefully, the reactions, the consequences, and then reach a decision.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Will the right hon. Gentleman permit me to make one interruption, as I have not interrupted him until now? His speech is highly interesting, but conclusions must be reached in a debate. I am curious to know whether he is supporting my Amendment or the Motion.
§ Mr. Shinwell
What I was dealing with for the moment was the distress that is occasioned as a result of the closing of pits. If anything is to be done, the closure must be organised efficiently and some alternative employment must be made available. I will not go into the details, with which everybody is familiar.
I conclude by answering the question: what, then, are my proposals? I ask the Government not to ignore what has been said about the need for a balanced fuel and power policy. I ask them to consider this matter carefully in all its aspects and to inform the House and the country without much delay what they believe should be done with our indigenous coal resources, what we ought to do about electricity and gas and what we ought to do about by-products and the rest. If the Government want any help, I am sure that not only the National Union of Mineworkers and the National Coal Board, but many hon. Members on this side of the House, and I have no doubt many hon. Gentlemen opposite, will render any assistance for which the Government may ask.
§ 1.34 p.m.
§ Sir Albert Braithwaite (Harrow, West)
We are indebted to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) for giving us the opportunity of this debate. I am sure that there is no reason for the House to panic on the fuel and power policy of the Government. We must move with the times and realise that there are certain things happening in the world which have made and aggravated the many difficulties which the country has to face. One thing that stands out in my mind is that during the past ten years we have lost our export markets for coal which we enjoyed and which were the balancing factor in our European trade.
The problem of sales by the National Coal Board ought to be examined carefully. I am not satisfied with the Board's ability to market its commodities to the best advantage. We have been told today that with a clean air policy ahead of us, and with the Clean Air Act passed by Parliament, the Board is holding 150,000 tons of smokeless fuel which it is unable to distribute although people would like to get it. That is something to be deplored and which should be put right at once. I therefore think that the commercial side of the Board's activities 775 should be considered carefully by those concerned, or that there should be a reexamination of the marketing powers enjoyed by the Board in this respect.
I am sure that the market for coal in Europe can be restored to us if we go about it in the right way. I am equally certain that it was not a very friendly act of the Americans to make 10-year contracts ahead for coal in Europe when we were in difficulties here. The European market is not a legitimate market for the United States, but it is one we must have to balance our European obligations. We are all concerned in trying to stabilise currencies, and so on, and, therefore, it is necessary that this country should recover that market.
I was shocked when the decision was reached to close down 25 per cent. of our opencast coal production this year. I was shocked not only by what this decision might mean for the people engaged in the industry, but because it is the cheapest fuel we get from our coal and is the only fuel that we can sell in the competitive market of Europe.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) has called the opencast scheme the scourge of the countryside. Well, that scourge of the countryside has provided the Coal Board with a profit of £58 million over the past seven or eight years, and it provides fuel for the nation at 15s. a ton less than it could be won from any pit in the country. If we were able to sell opencast coal freely in the European market we could get back the trade we have lost. It was tragic that this cut had to he made.
I am concerned for the miner, because I was a mine owner up to nationalisation. I have been engaged in the coal industry in some form or other throughout my working life. I understand the miners, I know what a great industry mining is, and I know what a backbone for our nation it has provided. It is on the mines that the strength of the country depends and anything we can do to stabilise the position we should do.
We have not had a full Government inquiry into our fuel and power policy since 1947 when the Ridley Committee reported on a national policy for the use of fuel and power resources. I believe that the time has now come when the Government should appoint another 776 Select Committee or a Royal Commission to examine our coal resources and their greater use. It should go into all the points which were mentioned by the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), including greater facilities for gasification and carbonisation.
It should not be forgotten that we have another menace coming along. There is a 30,000-ton vessel on the way from America today carrying compressed gas which amounts to the equivalent of 12,000 tons of coal. I have just returned from the United States and I understand that 30 other ships are to be built to further the sale of compressed gas all over the world. If we allow that gas to come here, and destroy our carbonising industry, it may be not 14,000 but 40,000 miners who will be out of work, and that will be a very serious matter for this country. One cannot train miners; mining is bred in the men. Working in the mines is a family tradition, and once it is destroyed it takes generations to restore it.
I suggest that the Parliamentary Secretary do what he can to have a Select Committee examine our fuel and power policy. It is a long time since 1947. Many things have happened since then. Nuclear power has come about. Also, the coal industry is going to lose practically all its business with British Railways. The dieselisation of our trains is partly responsible for this, and there will certainly follow the electrification of the railways, so that a considerable volume of trade will be lost to the mining industry. We must examine directions in which we can safely move to ensure a stabilised policy which will work.
I cannot help but agree with the closing of uneconomic pits. This has excited much attention in the country, but it was inevitable. We cannot have pits carrying on losing £2 or £3 per ton and having these losses carried by other pits, and while this is happening we cannot expect the Coal Board to carry on its improvement policy and maintain the basis of a solvent industry. As a result of all the money which has been pumped into it since nationalisation the industry ought now to be on a sound economic basis.
I hope that we shall now have a committee set up, somewhat similar to the Ridley Committee, to examine the situation and give the nation the benefit of 777 proper advice on the basis of the new factors which have come about in the meantime. I am sure that this will pay us in the long run. If the miners are given a reasonable assurance of steady work, they will put their best into it, but if there continues to be the fear that every year there will be more redundancy all kinds of difficulties will arise.
I stress the necessity for a considered sales policy on the part of the Coal Board. I am not satisfied with the present policy. When it was decided to reduce opencast working I wrote not only to the Board and the Minister but to the Prime Minister, asking him to give us an opportunity to try to sell the cheaper coal in the European market and so recover that market. Nothing has been done. The exports situation is getting worse and worse, and the domestic situation has not improved very much either. I hope that the Board will put into operation a modern sales campaign. Its present sales policy is archaic and out of touch with many of the industries in the country.
I am very grateful that we should have had the Motion before us today, and I hope that good will result from it to the lasting benefit of our miners and the miring industry generally. Upon this industry depends the prosperity of every other industry, and it is the duty of all hon. Members to do what they can to enable the mining industry to move freely and without fear.
§ 1.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Alan Fitch (Wigan)
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Sir A. Braithwaite), particularly in his suggestion that a Royal Commission or Select Committee should be appointed to examine the coal mining industry. I hope that suggestion will receive favourable consideration from the Minister.
My hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) has outlined a national fuel policy, a policy coordinating coal, gas and electricity, but I believe that we should go a little further than that and consider coal treatment and distribution. I do not believe we can divorce coal treatment and distribution from production. Until 18 months ago the demand for coal in this country exceeded 778 production. During the last 18 months the situation has changed considerably. It may interest hon. Members to know that the Miners' Federation, as it was before the war, advocated a national fuel policy as far back as 1933. Its policy document stated:We believe that if coal is to regain its former greatness it must supplant foreign oil in all those spheres in which oil has now a monopoly. British coal should be made to do all the work now performed by foreign oil, and the country should adopt a coal policy deliberately calculated to achieve this result within the shortest possible time.The statement concluded with these words:In the interests of the coal industry, in the interests of British industry, and in the interests of the Nation as a whole, we appeal, therefore, for a national fuel policy, which will have for its object the elimination of foreign oil and the creation of a great fuel production and treatment industry based on British coal.That statement was made in November, 1933. It has not been pressed so much because the demand for coal has been greater than the production. Now the situation has changed, and I believe we should seriously consider a co-ordinated fuel policy.
I hope there will not be the lack of action which has characterised the cotton industry. There the Government have taken no action at all, and we have had only moral appeals. Moral appeals may be successful when one is dealing with moral or social questions, but I do not believe they are very successful when one is dealing with commercial propositions. From Lancashire there comes an appeal to buy British cloth instead of cloth manufactured in Hong Kong, and I believe that that is a good appeal and support it, but, after all, it is a moral, voluntary appeal, and what we really need is Government action. Similarly, in the case of the coal industry an appeal to people to use coal instead of other fuels is not enough; we must have a coordinated policy.
This co-ordinated policy should include the treatment of coal. Coal treatment in some form can and must be made a more attractive proposition than the use of oil. The growth of smokeless zones under the Clean Air Act has brought a big demand for smokeless fuels. I understand that in London Coalite is being sold at £12 a ton and 779 that people are waiting two or three weeks for delivery. I am wondering whether the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act would not cover the manufacture of this sort of material by the National Coal Board, and if it lacks that power it should be given it, because it appears that private enterprise here is stepping in and taking over this lucrative business.
§ Mr. Fitch
That may be, and, though I mentioned Coalite as one, I am speaking in general terms of the whole process of coal treatment, which I believe should come under the control of the National Coal Board. The hon. Gentleman opposite may not agree with that.
Turning for a moment to the export trade, in 1938 we exported 46 million tons of coal, in 1948, 16 million tons, in 1957, 8 million tons and in 1958, 4 million or 5 million tons. Had this crisis occurred two years ago, and had we had large stocks of undistributed coal then, we could have got into the export market and probably sold a lot of this coal. Unfortunately, what happened was that the conditions which operated here, in the competition from oil and in the general slowing down of the economy, were also operating in France, Belgium and Germany, and so conditions there are very similar to conditions here.
I should like to say a word or two on coal distribution. There are in this country roughly 20,000 firms engaged in the distribution of coal. They range from the small man who sells ice cream during the summer and carts coal in the winter to large firms such as Charrington's and others like them. I must say that, as far as Charrington's is concerned—and I have looked over their plant—I was very impressed with what I saw, but many of the small firms, because they do not possess the capital, cannot possibly equip their yards with mechanical devices for handling coal. Therefore, we have the situation in which wagons of coal are unloaded by hand, the coal is then put into bags by hand, often taken to depots, dumped, and bags refilled again. All this is done by hand, which is a very slow job indeed.
780 Again, the delivery of coal is haphazard, in so far as one dealer will go to one house in a street, then perhaps to the end of the street and deliver more coal, and then go to the other end of the town. I suggest that although the Robson Report has referred favourably to coal distribution in this country, we should have another look at this problem. I believe that there is a case for zoning the delivery of coal. After all, a postman goes from house to house methodically, and the dustman goes from house to house collecting garbage. I believe that we could deliver coal far more efficiently on the same system.
The Robson Report suggested that the cost of distribution of coal was 30s. 9d. per ton, and that of this 40 per cent. represented clerical expenses. I feel that this is a very high proportion indeed. Many of the coal distributers have their own small offices, keeping perhaps one clerk, where they could have one central agency. I believe that the whole question of the distribution of coal should be looked at again, and that it would be a more efficient organisation if the units operating were larger units, on the same sort of basis as Charrington's, the National Coal Board, or the Co-operative Society.
Finally, I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to give serious consideration to the question of a national fuel policy. After all, the National Coal Board, if it is to play its full part in the economy of this country, must be given some sort of plan and some sort of direction, because it is entirely wrong to leave the Board groping in the dark, hoping that it will find a solution to its problems.
§ 1.55 p.m.
§ Sir Keith Joseph (Leeds, North-East)
The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Fitch) has made a most vigorous and interesting speech. He has unusual knowledge both of cotton and coal, and that is interesting, because miners use nylon and cotton workers use oil and both want to stop their own obsolescence, but each enjoys the fruits of processes which displace the other. It seems to me that the processes of change cannot be checked, and we cannot protect the producer without injuring disproportionately the whole of the consumers.
781 The hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton), who moved the Motion today, I thought descended to the very lowest of false arguments when he talked of the Government as being the enemy of coal and said that they were the enemy of coal because it was nationalised. The hon. Member for Wigan has shown very clearly by his own comparison of coal and cotton that what a Government cannot do is to arrest change. The Government are not against either coal or cotton, but they cannot protect producers of products made obsolete by newer, more convenient, more acceptable and more demanded materials.
Many hon. Members will have read the memorable article in The Times last week headed "The Battle for Fuel in the Future." This article forms the background to what we are discussing today. It ventures to put dates to the main fuels that we have and their use, and it suggests that from 1715 to 1925 was the age for coal, from 1925 to 1965 is that for oil, from 1945 to 1999 for uranium, from 1965 to 1999 for boron and from 2,000 onwards for hydrogen. It sets some sort of framework to a world which is changing so fantastically in the field of fuel.
Products are altering, markets are altering, rates of demand are altering, and the standards and expectation of life of consumers are also altering. Fuel efficiency is improving, and this accounts for some of the diminution in the demand for coal. The Clean Air Act is obtruding its influence, and the housewife—I am delighted, and I am sure everyone is—wants a cleaner and easier life. It is al forms of progress which, it seems to me, no Government can or should want to arrest.
§ Mr. Stan Awbery (Bristol, Central)
We all agree that these Changes are taking place, but our complaint is that the Government are not prepared for the changes that are coming.
§ Sir K. Joseph
Surely, the whole burden of the argument of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues is that the present pattern of production is to be petrified or ossified. The hon. Gentleman's colleagues do not accept the need for change. I would agree with him that change is to be anticipated where possible, but it cannot be prevented.
There is a conflict between producer and consumer. The producer wants the highest price he can get for the goods he 782 makes and wants to go on producing the same goods, whereas the consumer wants ever better and newer goods at the cheapest possible price. How much more is this conflict between producers and consumers true in the case of a dangerous and unpleasant industry? I worked for a week down a pit, and I have the greatest respect for the men who work in the mines. One week was quite enough for me. How much more is this conflict true when the consumer is handling a dirty product, inconvenient and heavy, with the price constantly going up, when the consumer is anxious to change to a product like oil, which is convenient and clean, and the price of which is far more stable?
Change always brings human problems, and the question is what should be done to anticipate and reduce those problems. It seems to me that one thing cannot be done. No industry can possibly demand a guaranteed future, even if it is a public enterprise. Private enterprise faces a changing world by diversifying its products, by moving into other industries, partially or wholly, and, in extremis, going bankrupt. Nationalised industries can diversify and switch far less than private enterprise can. That is one of the accepted disadvantages of public enterprises. However, the National Coal Board can look to new uses and to that extent diversify, but what it cannot do, and what no Government can possibly do for it, is to get a guaranteed protection of full demand. That is beyond the power of any Government which has the full interests of its people at heart.
However, we must recognise that expansion of industry at home and abroad will grow again from the very high levels at which it is now resting. There is and must be a future for coal at reasonable prices. There are large sections of the coal industry in this country—and I instance only the East Midlands and North-Eastern divisions—which are producing coal at prices which are extremely reasonable and competitive all over the world. Those prices and products can be improved yet more by organisation and methods inquiries, by work study, by mechanisation, and by incentive schemes. Those techniques are already showing an improved output per man-shift, and I should like to know whether 783 there is also a tendency to an improved output per man-year.
Change obliges not only the Government but other parties to any industry to anticipate. The time when industry should guard against damage to its employees is not during a slack period but during a period of high boom. Any dangerously dependent communities, dependent on one industry, like coal mining, should have been the responsibility of the National Coal Board and the trade unions who should have anticipated a day when high-cost mines could not be continued in full production.
I should like to know—and I am not criticising because I am not nearly sufficiently informed—whether the Coal Board and the trade unions anticipated this sort of happening in these areas. Where a whole community was dependent on high-cost mines, did the trade unions seek to negotiate with employers on fringe benefits, so that there would have been even more handsome compensation than is now to be the case, and so that the whole community would have been guarded against a contingency which should have been foreseen?
In Europe, the Coal and Steel Community levies a small charge on every ton of coal, and with the product of that charge enables people displaced from obsolescent mines to move into new industries and to be rehoused. Is there not something which we should have learned from Europe in this matter? I accept that we must maintain a large coal mining industry because mines and miners cannot be restarted at a moment's notice, but no Government can guarantee that every pit which has ever been in production will always remain in production.
There is much talk about the conflict between East and West. If we are to compare a free society with that of Russia, let us remember that Russia moves resources where they are most needed for Russian national interest. Russia uses directives and pressures which would be quite unacceptable to our society, but the Russians deploy human beings for optimum progress and they seize upon all new methods. Surely we have had enough evidence of that.
How on earth are we to compete and retain our freedom if one complete party 784 in the House of Commons seeks to ossify and petrify parts of the economy in a world of change? If we are to compote with Russia we must move and change in freedom, and it behoves us to oil the wheels of mobility so that the movement can be made with humanity.
I wish that in the period of high boom in this country the Distribution of Industry Acts and other incentives to mobility, which have been enormously but not completely successful, had been that last 1 per cent. successful, in which case the human problems which we are now discussing would not have arisen. It is a tragedy that people in communities entirely dependent upon high-cost mines should have to leave their homes. Let us learn that these disasters should be anticipated and guarded against in times of maximum prosperity, and let us hope that families involved will soon find other and better employment nearby.
§ 2.5 p.m.
§ Lady Megan Lloyd George (Carmarthen)
Before taking up one or two points in the speeches of the Hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) and the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), whose speech was described in such moderate terms by my right hon. Friend the Member for Easing-ton (Mr. Shinwell), I want to deal with one or two specific matters connected With the position in the South Wales coalfields. Out of the pits to be closed down, seven are in the South-Western division, six of them in Wales. This follows on closures in the steel and tinplate industries and has resulted in an unemployment percentage which can be rivalled only in a few parts of the country.
It was well known that a number of pits were due for closure, but it certainly was not contemplated that they were to be closed now. That is the answer to the hon. Member for Leeds, North-East. It was confidently expected that this would be a phased operation and that the new pits at Abernant and Cwmllynfell would be in production and would be able to absorb redundant miners. What has actually happened? Albernant will not be in production until the middle of 1960 and Cynheidre will not be in production until the end of 1960. What is to happen to the miners in the meantime?
785 If nothing is done for the redundant miners, if no alternative work is brought to the valleys, are these men likely to be available for employment when the new pits are opened? As has been said, a miner is bred in the bone and cannot be turned off some sort of production line. Migration is no solution for the problem in South Wales. We have already lost more than one-quarter of a million people who were driven out of Wales in the 1930s, and we are determined that there shall never again be enforced migration from our country.
Why should these people be uprooted from their homes and the valleys which have been their homes and the homes of their forefathers for generations? I would say to the House that special circumstances obtain in these communities, for if these communities which are Welsh in language and Welsh in culture are broken up, it will be impossible to rebuild them in England's green and pleasant land. We should have to accept the fact that an invaluable element in our national life would be lost.
We on this side of the House say that the Government's task in this situation is to bring work to the people and not take the people to find work. That does not mean that many redundant miners will not be prepared to find employment in other mines in South Wales. In that connection, I have two questions to ask the Parliamentary Secretary. Will the wastage during 1959 in the South Wales coalfields as a whole create vacancies equal to the redundancy created by the closures? Secondly, what provisions are made for men accepting vacancies beyond daily travelling distance, for instance, from South West Wales into the Rhondda Valley? I shall be very glad if the Parliamentary Secretary can give answers to those two questions.
Why has this crisis blown up now? The hon. Member for Leeds, North-East asked why the miners and the unions were not prepared for it, but I would ask why the Government were not prepared.
§ Sir K. Joseph
I did say that I was riot criticising the unions. I was asking why, in a period in which the unions had negotiated substantial wage increases, they had not—or it may be that they have—organised, fringe benefits, such as 786 compensation for redundancy if it should occur, instead of those wage increases.
§ Lady Megan Lloyd George
On the whole, the Coal Board has been extremely generous in this matter. I cannot imagine conditions of this kind being offered under private ownership. Provision has been made for redundancy payments for a period of six months.
Why has this crisis arisen so precipitately? In the years after the war the demand was for more coal and more miners. Rosy pictures of an assured future were painted. Only four years ago the demand was still for more coal and power. In 1955–56 we were importing coal. The answer to the question is that no one anticipated the stagnation and fall in industrial production which occurred as a direct result of Government policy of restriction and the credit squeeze. If the level of demand and the increased rate of production had continued these closures would not have taken place at this time. Even if the Government deny that I should be extremely surprised if the Coal Board would.
In his admirable speech, introducing the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) asked the Government to produce a policy which would achieve a fair balance between the various forms of fuel. Have the Government made any assessment of the proportion of the country's requirements which coal will be needed to supply? Have they any kind of five-year plan? Are they budgeting for recession conditions? Are they budgeting for the return of a Conservative Government, or for an increase in production? These are all very important questions, to which we should like to have replies from the Government.
Today, coal still produces the bulk of our power requirements, but for how long will it do so? Have the Government made any estimate? As far as I know, the Coal Board, the Ministry and its scientific advisers are not prepared to forecast what part nuclear energy will play in our fuel supply in the next few years. As for oil, the hon. Member for Kidderminster said that the Government cannot dictate what fuel industrialists are to use. But even he qualified that remark in the very next part of his speech, pointing out that even here we must proceed 787 with care. There could not be an unqualified freedom of choice. The hon. Member is quite right—for once. Not only is this a matter of efficiency or ease of handling, or, as the argument goes, a relatively cheaper price; important strategic considerations are also involved, not only in war but in present conditions of peace, such as they are.
I should have thought that the criminal folly of Suez would have brought that unpalatable fact home even to hon. Members opposite. What happened as a result of Suez? Not only were our oil supplies in the Middle East threatened overnight but within forty-eight hours the pipelines were cut. Will anybody say that the troubles in the Middle East are over? Does not everybody agree that at any moment trouble may blow up, however quiescent conditions may be at the moment? Therefore, not only is it dangerous for our safety and economic health to become too dependent upon oil; our very dependence on Middle East oil may be used as a political weapon against us.
These are all questions for the Government, for the Minister of Power, and not the Coal Board. It is the Minister's duty, under the Act, to secure "the effective and co-ordinated development of coal, petroleum and other minerals and sources of fuel and power in Great Britain." It is for him to formulate the policy and give the wide directives of policy to the Coal Board.
We on these benches say that the Government have a responsibility towards the mining communities in this country. When coal was in short supply, when the national need was desperate, we remember the response made by the miners. I remember the tributes paid to the miners by successive Ministers of Fuel and Power speaking at the Dispatch Box. And now the reward of the miners is to be thrown out on a limb, with whole communities threatened.
The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Viscount Lambton) spoke of a proposal made in respect of the Blackhill Colliery. A not dissimilar proposal has been made in respect of the Cwmllynfell Colliery, in South Wales, where the miners have appealed for a licence to work the mine as a private concern. This is all evidence of the determination of the men to find work. It is also a measure 788 of the failure of the policy of the Government. The precipitation of this crisis is a direct result of their policy of restriction and the credit squeeze, and also of a total failure to formulate a plan not only for the fuel and power industry but for the provision of full employment in this country.
§ 2.14 p.m.
§ Mr. David Price (Eastleigh)
This debate has now lasted for four hours and fourteen minutes, and no mention has yet been made of nuclear energy. To my mind, it is the most important factor of the situation, and I intend to devote a few remarks to it.
Before doing so, however, I want to take up the point made by the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Lady Megan Lloyd George) about the planning of a national fuel policy. Hon. Members on both sides of the House would agree that the first thing we must do is to get our facts right. In other words, there must be a future estimate of Britain's energy requirements. That is not as simple an exercise to perform as it may appear at first sight. It depends upon very many assumptions, not the least of which is the rate of economic growth. Further, we are thinking not in terms of three or four years, but of twenty or thirty years ahead. If we are considering putting up a new oil refinery, or sinking new pits, we must think at least upon a thirty years' time scale.
The second difficulty is to discover the exact relationship between the rate of economic growth and the rate of growth in the utilisation of different fuels, in view of scientific change. These are not simple exercises to do.
It will be within the knowledge of the House that there have been a number of attempts made to do it. Probably the best known was the Ridley Committee's Report in 1952. The figure which that Committee quoted for our energy requirements by the year 1980—and that is not so very far ahead only twenty-one years—was 330 million tons coal equivalent.
A little later the Economist made a serious effort to work out our future requirements. It gave an upper, a middle and a lower estimate. Its middle estimate for the year 1980 was 358 million tons coal equivalent. In the same year, 1955, there was the very notable paper read 789 by Dr. Daniels entitled, "Britain's Energy Prospects" which, I am sure, will be within the knowledge of many hon. Members. Dr. Daniels settled for a figure of 373 million tons by 1980.
A small error in one's estimate of what would be the rate of economic growth, an error in what may be a political situation, can mean that one of those figures could be easily out, plus or minus, by 10 per cent., and no one looking back could possibly blame the people who did the surveys and say that they were idle or delinquent in their duties. Therefore, in trying to plan ahead we have to allow for a reasonable margin of error. Anyone who pretends that we can rid estimates of that error is not dealing in the world of reality. How easy the world would be if one could forecast completely accurate.
We then have to look at the other side of the question—available supplies. What are our basic sources of power? I take exception to the Motion, which ties up gas and electricity with coal. Gas and electricity are two of the forms in which we can take power, but our basic sources of power are water, coal, oil and nuclear energy. It is true that at least two of those can also be used direct in final consumption, namely, oil and coal. But water and nuclear energy can only be used as methods of generating electricity lust as, of course, coal and oil can. This afternoon I would like to exclude consideration of gas and electricity, which I regard as secondary.
We have to consider how we should deploy our efforts in employing these sources of power. How do we "secure a proper balance", as the terms of the Motion say? I suggest to the House that there are three main factors. The first is our reserves of basic fuel. I invite the House to look thirty to forty years' hence. Secondly, what during that period are likely to be the trends of scientific development? It is not the balance at the moment that matters, but what the balance will be in the future allowing for the rate of technical change and not the situation in any one given year.
Thirdly, there are comparative costs. Again, if I am carrying the House with me, we must not be too worried about comparative costs in any one year. It is the trend of comparative costs that we must look at in all these matters of 790 national forecasting, whereas an individual manager would be deeply concerned with the day-to-day costs. As I say, from our point of view in this House, it is trends rather than the figures at any one moment that matter.
I have gone through these various estimates and, I will stick my neck out and suggest that by 1980 we shall be requiring, according to my estimate of economic development, between 360 million and 370 million tons coal equivalent. How will that be distributed? I am, perhaps, not carrying the same weight of responsibility as my predecessors who moved and seconded the Amendment to the Motion, but I will suggest to the House how these 360 million to 370 million will be met.
I suggest that 2 million will come from water, 220 million from coal, 38 million to 48 million from oil and 100 million from nuclear energy. If the House will bear with me, I will for a moment develop my reasons for choosing these figures.
The technical and economic factors set an upper limit to Britain's water-power resources at around 1960, when, thereafter, the production of hydro-electricity will remain constant, at 2 million tons coal equivalent. Tidal power is not really a runner because of the high capital cost, and capital spent on nuclear energy offers far greater prospects than the harnessing of tidal power.
A great deal has been said about coal, but the only observation I wish to make is that, generally speaking, in coal-mining a rising output involves more than a proportion of rising costs, the marginal costs being often well above the average costs. The reason is that we are mining the more difficult coal and going on longer with the older seams. It will be in the knowledge of those hon. Members who studied the National Coal Board's accounts for 1957 that whereas the South-Eastern division averaged a cost of 100s. 7d. a ton, the East Midlands Division averaged a cost of 61s. 7d. a ton. When we look at the areas, we find the Neath area, at one end, with 134s. a ton and the South Derbyshire and Leicestershire area at the other with 61s. 3d. a ton thus we can see the current spread of mining costs.
I suggest to the House—and I do not wish to develop the point further, that a spread of costs as great as that suggests 791 that the high cost producers will have either to become lower cost producers—and my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) suggested one way in which that can be done—or they will have to close down. I do not intend to say anything more about coal, because so much has already been said about it.
There is no doubt that for many people in industry oil is preferable. As for the political risk, in view of the experience of recent years it would be very delinquent if we did not recognise it. I submit that because of the advantages of oil and because other countries are using oil, we must use oil where our industries want it in order to remain competitive in exports. The consequence of that is that we must have foreign policies that support our oil interests and not ones which go contrary to it.
I submit that there are some of us on both sides of the House who have considerable doubts about the performance of the Foreign Office—I am not now talking about the political masters of the Foreign Office at any moment, but about the permanent staff—to be able to support in the field the dependence on oil which British industry needs and accepts. I am not certain whether my noble Friend the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Viscount Lamb-ton) was right in suggesting a measure of denationalisation in the mines. Be that as it may, I would say that we might do worse than denationalise the Foreign Office and put our diplomatic representation out to contract, to private tender. I suggest, at least, that Mr. Graham Greene would have been preferable in Havana to whoever was there.
I will not say more than that about oil except just to emphasise the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) made about crude oil. Crude oil is not a homogeneous product. It is a raw material that brings in a treasure of wealth from all the various things that can be got out of it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster endeavoured to say in his characteristic manner, one always has the problem of the balance between the various products that one takes out of crude oil. Therefore, to try to penalise the heavy oil side, which is only the heavier fraction coming from the distillation 792 and cracking of crude oil, will upset the balance of a refinery.
It will be within the knowledge of some hon. Members that already the potential demand for heavy fuel oil is greater than the ability of the refineries to supply it without completely upsetting the whole price structure both of the light fractions which, in my own industry, we take as raw material for synthetic fibres and plastics and from which, at a slightly lower level, we get the light aviation spirit, and kerosene needed for jet engines, and then we come down to the petroleum used in the ordinary motor vehicles.
So that, already, the economics of the refinery are holding back part of the potential market for the heavy fuel oils. I thought that some of the remarks of our mining colleagues on the economics of refining were a little short of the mark. I invite any of them who may be interested to accompany me round the refinery near my constituency so that they may see for themselves just how these things happen.
In this discussion I do not think that the House has paid sufficient attention to nuclear energy. We had an original programme which was announced in 1955 by which it was intended that by 1965 we should have a total capacity of somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 megawatts installed generating capacity. But in March, 1957, it was possible to review that programme and increase the total target for 1965 to 6,000 megawatts consisting not of 12 stations, but 19. That would be equivalent to a saving of 18 million tons of coal.
Such has been the technical advance since 1957 that the first 3,150 megawatts will be provided by the first seven stations. Whereas Berkeley is designed for a capacity of 280 megawatts the new proposed station at Sizewell, in Suffolk, will mount a capacity of 650 megawatts. This will indicate to the House the speed at which technical advance is taking place.
We know from two years ago that it was hoped that by 1975 we should have a target of installed capacity in this country of between 30,000 and 35,000 megawatts. That is the equivalent of between 80 million to 100 million tons of coal equivalent. So I say that by 1980 my estimate of 100 million tons of coat equivalent of installed nuclear capacity is not unrealistic.
793 What are the economics? We know at the moment that this may seem excessive. Capital costs per kilowatt installed are higher than those of a conventional power station either coal or oil fired. But fuel costs are much lower. I draw the attention of the House to the remarks of Sir Christopher Hinton when he delivered the Trueman Wood lecture last year:… if the development of nuclear power stations can continue at its present pace and if the present trend in coal costs continue, nuclear power will be cheaper than power from conventional stations by 1962 and that by 1982 it will be less than half the cost.But science is not standing still. There are great possibilities at Dounreay from the fast breeder reactor. From the calculations available to me, if that reactor proves a complete success and can be put to commercial use—and we see no reason why it should not—the cost of electricity would fall to as low as 0.3d. per unit.
We must also consider what will come from the eventual consequences of research on the new high-temperature gas-cooled reactor going up at Winfrith Heath. Elsewhere, work is going on to see whether it will be possible to generate energy direct from the nuclear power station without having to go through the conventional heat cycle. If that should be possible, we shall be able to double the efficiency of our new nuclear power stations. Looking beyond that there is the exciting possibility of harnessing the thermo-nuclear fusion reaction, popularly know as harnessing the H-bomb.
The difference between fission and fusion may not be within the knowledge of the House. To use a homely analogy, fission is like an elderly couple who have been married for many years—heavy, slightly ponderous—a heavy atom. Under great pressure they split and divorce. In that state they are said to be in a highly radio-active state and it takes them some time to settle down. That, of course, involves the creation of a great deal of power and energy. Fusion is like two young things—two little light atoms of deuterium—hydrogen of mass 2. Under the passion of 5 million degrees centigrade they join together and, as marriage is more permanent than divorce, so the energy created is far greater. In that analogy we see the possibilities which may flow from fusion reaction.
794 To date, great progress has been made by our friends at Harwell and also at Aldermaston, both by the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment and also by A.E.I., on their piece of equipment known as Sceptre III. I do not wish to go through the five basic stages of development necessary for complete success, but I would comment that many people appear disappointed at the results from Zeta. There was no attempt, in Zeta, to create a nuclear reactor for thermo-nuclear fusion. It was a piece of research equipment by which an attempt was made to do two things: first, to develop a method by which hydrogen isotopes in gaseous form could be run at high temperatures and kept at these temperatures for an appreciable time inside a containing vessel; and, secondly, to discover how the temperature of gases either of hydrogen of atomic mass 2 or atomic mass 3 could be raised to such a degree that clearer evidence of a thermo-nuclear reaction might be obtained. I submit that in both these attempts complete success was achieved. The technical problem here is that it is necessary to have equipment with which to raise the gaseous temperature up to a temperature near to 50 million degrees centrigrade when the estimated temperature at the centre of the sun is up to 15 million degrees centigrade. These possibilities are before us.
It is said that if we can bring the thermo-nuclear fusion reaction to a commercial stage, one ton of deuterium gas, heavy hydrogen would have the energy equivalent of 10 million tons of coal, and hydrogen is one of the commonest elements on the earth. Heavy hydrogen could be separated from the ordinary hydrogen isotopes of atomic mass 1 at a cost of about £25,000 a ton. At that price it would be equivalent to 1 per cent. of the cost of carrying the energy equivalent of coal from the collieries of this country to the consumers.
I wish to quote from an article which appeared over a year ago in the New Scientist. When we get Zeta and Sceptre into the form of commercial power stationsit will ensure world power supplies for perhaps a thousand million years at roughly a thousand times the present energy consumption rate.795 We have opened the Pandora's box of scientific knowledge. Let us apply it to the benefit of our people without prejudice, indeed, with energy and enthusiasm. For the mining—and later for the oil—industries there will be transitional problems, with all the attendant pain and heartaches of readjustment. I recognise them and I hope that I do not underestimate the personal anxieties that may be involved.
The happy resolution of those anxieties is a challenge to our humanity and our administration. The House will agree that they can best be resolved by anticipating them and by a gradual adjustment to them, rather than by ignoring them, opposing them or pretending that they do not exist. As a realist, I am always on the side of the inevitable. It is because I believe that the Government are also on the side of the inevitable and that hon. Gentlemen opposite are not, that I ask the House to reject the Motion and support our Amendment.
The mover of the Motion, the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton), in company with his colleagues in the Labour Party and in the National Union of Mineworkers, are, from time to time, I am sorry to say, awful old reactionaries. They sit, like Canute, before the inevitable certainty of the incoming tide of scientific advance. His and their fate will be the same. I ask only that our country should not be compelled to share their obstinacy.
§ 2.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)
I have listened to what hon. Gentlemen on Government benches have had to say. My hon. Friends on these benches have made a contribution to the debate on which the whole nation, and the mining community in particular, will focus their attention.
I speak not as a miner, but as a railwayman. The more I go among the miners the more I realise that they are the labour power responsible for the basic element in the British economy. The more I meet miners the more lovable they are. Nevertheless, the miner has become the whipping boy for many critics. The miner is only criticised because he is not understood.
Important references have been made to the National Coal Board. We have 796 to thank God that we have Sir James Bowman and his colleagues on the Coal Board, because when economies force their hand, and they have to look round to see what they can do inside the industry to ease the stresses and strains on the Board's finances, they agree, in consultation with the National Union of Mineworkers, to humanise their policy. What the Board has done is an example that the other nationalised boards should take into account. There is a lesson.
Let us look at the Coal Board's economic policy and at what it has been doing by way of research. It was generally recognised that to produce a new shaft and start producing coal took ten years. I learned a few days ago that the Board has succeeded in sinking a shaft and cutting roads to the coal in four years. If a nationalised industry can achieve such economies we are justified, on this side of the House, in saying that we have everything to he proud of in our nationalised industries.
Why is the Coal Board suffering? Why did it come to the House for borrowing powers, and why did the House decide, while recognising the need for borrowing powers, to leave the restrictions there which stop the Board from competing with oil or with any other type of energy? If the Board were allowed flexibility of price and the removal of unfair competition, customers could be won back which were lost when Britain needed coal most. We have men in the mines and on the Board who could do that.
Most hon. Members know that the coal industry has a very heavy export product, namely, coal, which is always very valuable to us. When Britain was importing coal at great cost to the Coal Board the expense was borne on the Board's finances. Industries which are consuming heavy oil are aware that the cost of their fuel is comparatively low only because of the high price of petrol, subsidising the by-product, heavy oil. If petrol were sold at a truly economic price plus a fair economic price for heavy oil, the coal industry could defeat its competition.
There is a great experiment going on—one of the finest examples of co-operation and co-ordination—near St. Helens, in Lancashire. There we have the famous Bold power station. I would like to see the development of this 797 co-operation and co-ordination among the other nationalised boards. This power station is literally built in the colliery yard, so that there is no extra expense for transport. If the House accepts this Motion, moved so well by my hon. Friend, the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton), we shall show the green light to the nationalised industries to go ahead and develop on these lines. When I saw this power station, I thought that it was one of the most beautiful pieces of engineering skill, administration and planning. The country requires far more development of that. Those who have been criticised so mistakenly will be complimented on achieving something which at present seems almost an impossibility.
One thing on which the Coal Board has been heavily and unfairly criticised is the shortage of supplies of smokeless fuel. I have had correspondence about this. It is always easy to blame the wrong person, but it is far more difficult to prove it. Generally, those who blame the Board and the coal industry have not been asked to prove their statements. The Board has large stocks of smokeless fuel on hand. If distribution is at fault there is a case for looking at the position and asking the Board, "What are your plans or proposals, if any, for rectifying this deficiency in distribution?"
Hon. Members should realise that the Board is not responsible for this situation. It is responsible for the coal being got out of the earth, but the distributors are to blame for the fact that thousands of people have been without fuel in the recent spell of cold weather. Distributors have failed to buy sufficient stocks to carry them over the period of cold weather.
The industry has to spend many millions of pounds and it has to work on a day-to-day basis, spending large sums of money on the mines, even those which are earmarked for closing. It has to make that capital expenditure until the day when those pits are closed. The Board has a reputation of which the nation can be proud. It has co-operated with and consulted the National Union of Mineworkers and in this way brought about a human approach to the problem whereby the heavy burden of unemployment has been eased. If miners are put out of work because of the economic policies of the Government which have 798 been partially responsible for the slowing down and the stagnation of industry, those men should be paid a full maintenance allowance, not the miserable benefit for unemployment that is paid today.
The Board has a right to know where it stands. We have no right to transfer millions of pounds from the Treasury to the Board and expect it to spend that money wisely and then, as it were, kick the Board's feet from under it.
§ 2.55 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
I shall not attempt to follow the hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs) into his defence of the National Coal Board and the coal industry, particularly as I do not frequently speak in debates on fuel and power, although perhaps I may claim a nodding acquaintance with the industry, having lived for ten years in South Yorkshire in the centre of a coal mining district.
One cannot help having memories of those times. I lived so close to coal in Yorkshire that in the hard winters after the war, popularly known in those parts as the "Shinwell Freeze," my family could go into the garden and dig up a few lumps of coal because the coal was so close to the surface. That would be against the law now because the Coal Board has a monopoly of digging coal in this country. I have some vivid memories of the South Yorkshire coalfield.
I have one memory of a miner who lived only 100 yards from my house. He cycled to work for every shift, two miles to the pithead. Then he went down and was brought all the way back under the ground on the "paddy train" for two miles until he was under his own house. He turned right and walked about three-quarters of a mile to the pit face. By the time he got back he had gone altogether about five miles over and under ground in the course of his employment. As the months went by, he got further and further from the pithead as the coal face advanced. That illustrates some of the difficulties the industry faces and how easy it is for a pit to become uneconomic as it becomes older.
I remember another instance of a speaker coming to a mining village in connection with the National Savings drive. After the meeting he patted the 799 heads of a number of lads who were standing around. They were all miners' sons and he said to them, "I suppose you are going to work in the pits?". Each of them said that he was not going to follow his father and to work in the mines. That was a great tragedy. We have to face the fact that in many parts of the country this is a declining and contracting industry. There are several reasons for that. One is that miners have priced themselves out of the market by pushing up wages and costs. Certainly we have priced ourselves out of the export trade.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
The industry has declined steadily since before the war when those great Yorkshire pits were pouring out coal for export and now they are doing hardly anything at all. I ask whether we are right in putting so much capital expenditure into the coal industry and ancillary industries. I have made inquiries about this, and I asked a Question of the Economic Secretary to the Treasury yesterday. In the last eleven years we have spent £700 million on coal, £500 million on gas, £1,819 million on electricity. That was more than £3,000 million capital expenditure on the coal and associated industries. During that time we spent £182 million on roads.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
I turn now to opencast coal mining. In the village of Wentworth in South Yorkshire where I lived houses and trees were uprooted and the farming land was spoilt by these enormous American grabs that were coming to get the coal. That may have been necessary when we were very short of coal, but the time has surely passed when opencast coal mining is desirable. It brought up a soft coal which was not very much use. We have millions of tons stacked on the ground and not being used by the electricity authorities.
Looking at the fuel picture as a whole, the annual expenditure on imported oil is £430 million. It is a terrible tragedy how much of that is wasted at the present time. The great majority of the oil that we bring across the sea by enormous 800 efforts is used by road transport. When one considers the congestion in the towns and built-up areas everywhere and the amount that goes in fumes through the exhaust pipes and is not used at all, it is a tragedy that we cannot rectify that. The Director-General of the Road Research Board, Dr. Glanville, has estimated that the costs arising out of road congestion are £500 million a year, and a great deal of that is fuel wastage.
On the new motor roads that have been built in America, Germany or Holland—and some hon. Members have seen those in Holland—the savings on oil and on petrol that have been achieved over twenty miles or fifty miles is of the nature of 40 per cent. In addition to that, there is a saving on tyres and vehicle maintenance on these new roads. Capital expenditure on the roads may achieve very considerable savings, sometimes as high as 1,000 per cent. by clearing a bottleneck, sometimes as low as 3 per cent., but broadly one achieves a saving of 10 per cent. by capital expenditure.
An estimate was published in the Manchester Guardian a short time ago by a very eminent county surveyor that, if £14 million were spent on a fifty-mile motorway, the annual saving in operating costs resulting from the construction of the motorway would be £1,650,000, which is 10 per cent. In addition, there would be an annual saving in travelling time of 11 million man-hours. It has been estimated that, if we could put a by-pass round Slough costing £2 million, we should make a saving of 10 per cent. and at Brentwood we should make a saving of 35 per cent.
Looking at the picture as a whole, if we could divert some of the tremendous capital expenditure that is going into the fuel industry to building roads and bypasses round our congested areas, we should be making a considerable saving in imported oil. We have the earth-moving and other equipment that has not been used for opencast coal mining. If we drop the opencast coal mining and relieve agriculture of that burden, we shall have even more manpower and equipment available. We are spending only £50 million a year on by-passes and new construction. If we did now what we were doing before the war, on the same basis we should be spending over £100 million a year.
801 Looking at this question of fuel and power as a whole, I urge the House and the Government to take into account not only the capital expenditure on what will produce fuel, but the capital expenditure that will save fuel. We want a spread of capital expenditure over all the services. We should divert some of the very expensive capital equipment from the mining industry to road building and thereby achieve a saving for the benefit of the nation and the community.
§ 3.4 p.m.
§ Mr. George Darling (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
These are fantastic economics which we have had from the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham-Cooke). I agree with him that we must spend more money on roads. It is a completely cockeyed economy that can produce Rolls-Royces and every other type of beautiful and very efficient car, but yet cannot build the roads on which to run them.
I agree with the hon. Member that we ought to spend money on roads, but why does he want to take it out of the fuel and power industry? I can give him a whole list of things on which we ought not to be spending money, starting with some of our armaments. Reckon up the amount of money that has been wasted on some of the curious ventures of the Ministry of Defence and other Ministries on aircraft that first we do not want and then we do want.
However, to cut off investment in the fuel and power industries is an outrageous proposal, because the whole of our economy is based upon those industries. If we have not sufficient power and energy to provide for industrial expansion we cannot have the prosperity we want. We cannot provide the roads, we cannot have a proper economic set-up for the whole nation, if we rob the fuel and power industries of investment.
§ Mr. Gresham-Cooke rose—
§ Mr. Darling
I want to sit down at a quarter past three and before that, if possible, so I will not give way now if the hon. Gentleman does not mind. He and I will have plenty of opportunity of discussing this in private and in other places.
During the debate hon. Members on both sides of the House have talked about a national fuel and power policy in one way or another, and obviously, as the 802 hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. D. Price) so rightly said, we must have some estimate of our fuel and power needs for the future, and we must try to plan policy to make sure those needs are supplied. It seems to me that in this there is this important first consideration, that in whatever we do we must make sure that we make the fullest use of our indigenous coal resources not only for the security reason which has been mentioned on both sides of the House, but also because the greatest economies in fuel can be made in this way.
At present, as hon. Members on both sides have said, it is stupid to go on wasting coal or the derivatives we can get from coal in the way that we are wasting them. Burning raw coal and sending up the chimney raw materials to pollute the atmosphere is a very silly way of using coal. We have, therefore, got to start by making sure, as I say, that we make the fullest use of our indigenous coal resources, but, of course, I agree also that in doing that we have to fit the use of coal into the overall requirements of our fuel and power policy.
I would quarrel with the hon. Member about his nuclear power estimates, not because I think I have got better estimates but because I was bewildered by the time he got to the end of that part of his speech in which he talked about nuclear energy. That rather suggests that the proposal I made some weeks ago, that we ought to have a Committee of the House on fuel and power, ought to be taken seriously, so that the hon. Member can explain in more detail the technical issues, which, I am sure, are important, but which went completely over my head. However, whether his estimates are right or wrong, the job of making full use of our indigenous coal is the primary job because it fits into the short-term picture, as well as the longer-term picture he had in mind.
In the present situation I am very worried about how we set about doing the necessary work. At the moment, we have the National Coal Board, with its own research organisation and research projects in this business. We have the Gas Council doing a certain amount of research. I have no evidence of this. I am making a pure guess and it may be completely wrong, but my guess is that the Gas Council is diminishing its research 803 into the proper use of coal and carbonisation in gas making. I say that because it seems to me that the energies of the Gas Council are increasingly devoted now to research into and development of making gas out of oil, and I think that that is a retrograde step which, if I had more time, I would develop a little more fully. I think that there is a slackening off of the Gas Council's research into the use of coal carbonisation projects, and so on.
§ Sir Peter Roberts (Sheffield, Heeley)
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that a great deal has been done by the Scottish Gas Board and the North-Western Gas Board on the gasification of coal—a great deal.
§ Mr. Darling
I was proposing to come to that point myself, if the hon. Member had allowed me.
I think that the Central Electricity Generating Board and the bodies connected with electricity supply and research are now devoting some of their research work to making use of the small coals. They are directing their research energies there. Surely, in this situation, we want some central organisation of research. An extension of the research departments of the fuel and power industries may not be sufficient for the job. We may need a new central organisation which will tackle the job of making full use of our coal and particularly total gasification. It should also see what can be done to gasify the washed small coals and see what can be got out of those now lying on the ground.
If we go on with carbonisation and gasification programmes, obviously we shall have more gas. Therefore, this coal research must be associated with the appliances which will use the derivatives of coal. We need a gas grid into which gas can be pumped under pressure all over the country, and that means that many industries will have to switch over their appliances. Research workers might look into what can be done by changing over to gas-fired furnaces instead of oil and coal-fired furnaces.
There certainly must be a change-over of appliances not only in industry, but in the domestic field. I suppose that a complete change-over industrially is impossible, but as we increase carbonisation at existing gasworks and steelworks 804 and the like we are increasing the available quantities of coke. Therefore, for even the domestic market alone we should be going on with research into appliances that will use coke. The research now going on into the making of briquettes and similar fuels should be speeded up.
I suggest, therefore, that we must have some central organisation, either to coordinate existing research or to provide a new body, whose job it should be to develop every possible line of research into the better use of coal and of the appliances that will be needed as we go on with the carbonisation and gasification programme in a big way. The present system falls short in this respect.
If we are to have a short-term fuel and power policy to help us out of our present difficulties, linked with the long-term objectives, which the hon. Member for Eastleigh so well described, we must tackle the research job straight away. I hope, therefore, that the Ministry is paying attention to the problem.
§ 3.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)
It was not my intention to intervene in the debate but merely to listen to the exchange of views on what is an extremely important topic. As I have listened, a few thoughts have come to my mind which I should like to put to the House. There is not the time now, nor is it desirable, for an occupant on the Front Bench to outline at great length a fuel and power policy for the nation.
I have been very interested in the excellent speeches made from both sides of the House and the many constructive views put forward. The views of the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. D. Price) will repay reading by any hon. Member who was not present when he expressed them. Then there was the suggestion of the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Sir A. Braithwaite) about a special all-party committee or a Select Committee to study this matter on a scientific basis. They were all constructive ideas and well worthy of consideration, so we ought to feel grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) whose fortune in the Ballot has enabled us to have this interesting discussion on a national policy for fuel and power.
I will make only a few random remarks and then I will make a suggestion to my 805 hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring who has given us the opportunity of a curtain-raiser to what ought to be a much bigger Parliamentary debate.
I think I shall express the mood of the coal industry correctly if I say that what has alarmed it more than anything else is not just pit closures but the dramatic suddenness of those closures, which has precluded any proper assessment of alternative employment, particularly for the older men in the industry. I will return to that point later.
What most of us are forgetting, although it must be at the back of our minds, is that the principal reason why there is a surplus of coal, particularly small coal, is that the industries which use fuel and power are not at the moment using as much as they did. They are not increasing their use of these resources for a reason, which everybody hopes is a temporary one. It is, however, part and parcel of the economic policy of the Government, which they have defended in this House in innumerable economic debates. It is not part of our debate today, except that it is the case that production has been more or less stagnant over the last few years. Certainly we have not had the anticipated yearly increases in production, so we have been left with the small coal and we have a surplus.
I myself believe that this surplus is temporary. If one takes the estimates of fuel requirements given today by a number of hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for Eastleigh, with whose figures I would not quarrel, it is clear that the estimated requirement for coal is about 220 million tons, which is more than we are mining now. Also I have always felt as regards deep-mined coal that we shall require all those engaged in the industry; so we do not want to lose any of them.
I regret the psychological jolt given to the industry, because we shall not only lose the ordinary miners but some of the technicians as well. I am thinking now of the young people at the universities who have a choice as technicians between a number of industries. They might be turned away from the mining industry in their choice of a career because of the temporary unsettlement in it. Therefore, I hope that nothing we shall say in this 806 House on this delicate matter will result in destroying the confidence of all those who work in the industry, however they are employed.
The Minister of Power in another place said that the basis of the fuel and power policy of the Government was competition between the fuel industries. On balance, I am not against the principle indicated in that statement. I do not want to direct people to use gas, electricity, solid fuel or oil, but I do want to see a fuel and power policy based on the use of the maximum amount of coal that can be mined. That would be a sound beginning, not only because it is important to use our indigenous materials to the full, but because we must make ourselves less dependent on imports from abroad than is necessarily involved in a large import programme of a fuel like oil. Also I believe we must have such a policy because of the social consequences that would flow from a run-down of this industry, which would he very serious for the country.
If one is looking at a fuel and power policy, one has to look just a little beyond even the economics of the actual fuel and power industries which we are discussing. One must also take into consideration the social consequences which are involved in an industry which in association with supplying industries is employing a very large number of people. Well over one million people are engaged in one way and another in the coal industry.
As I have said, from the consumers' point of view I do not object to competition between the fuel industries, but I do object to unfair competition. I have referred to this matter in the House on previous occasions, but I am bound to repeat it. At the present moment the competition between coal and oil is unfair. It is biassed and weighted in favour of the oil industry. There is no one on the Government side who has ever said that the conversion from coal to oil in the power stations was dictated by competition or commercial motives. Indeed, they have been at great pains to explain that the conversion was dictated by the shortage of coal. Unless a power station is on an estuary where oil can be unloaded easily, it is very doubtful whether at any power station in the country oil would have the edge on 807 coal on a purely price basis. The conversion was dictated by other reasons, very good reasons at the time, and no one can complain about the decision.
Let us next look at the way that oil is able to go into industry. This is where the problem arises for the National Coal Board. I am not suggesting solutions, but it is right that we should put the problems. The Board is prohibited from competing with the oil industry because under its Statute it may not discriminate. Therefore, people buying the same kind of coal must be offered the coal at the same price. The oil companies have a price list for their oil, but one can get rebates. These are privately arranged rebates and are known only to the oil supplier and those who are receiving the oil. Therefore, if an oil company wants to go into a specific area which is suitable to it, perhaps because its method of distribution is based on its oil refinery and it wants to go for a certain load for the reason expressed by the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), the balance of the refinery, it can offer an industry oil at the list price less a rebate which brings it below the price of coal. It may be an advantage to the oil company to do that because if it does not get rid of the oil it may upset the whole balance of its refinery.
The coal industry cannot do that. First, it is subject under Statute to provision for non-discrimination. Secondly, while there is no disclosure on the part of oil companies in relation to special rebates, in the case of a public corporation there would be complete disclosure of rebates of that character. Therefore, in the field of oil versus solid fuel fired boilers in industry the coal industry finds itself at a tremendous disadvantage. The industry cannot say, "Here is a pit with a surplus capacity. If we could sell the coal at a cheaper rate or rebate it in the way that the oil companies do, we could move it". It must sell that coal at exactly the same price to every single user.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I am very much in sympathy with what the right hon. Gentleman says, but surely it is a matter for this House. It is a matter of the amendment of the main Statute of 1946. I declare myself as being sympathetic if the right hon. Gentleman embraces his point 808 of view as Labour Party policy. If a Private Member's Bill were brought in I think that a lot of support for it would be found on this side of the House.
§ Mr. Roberts
I wanted to make it clear that this is a private Members' day and, therefore, I do not want to develop this subject at too great a length. I am expressing a few random thoughts upon what has been said. If I carry the hon. Member for Kidderminster with me in this argument, I can leave it at this point, that there is this problem. As I said, I am not offering any solution, because I want to make a suggestion to my hon. Friend from which a proper solution could be advanced from either side of the House, and I put it because it is an important point that must be considered.
The fact of the hon. Member for Kidderminster having intervened just now gives me the opportunity of going back to something which he said in relation to smokeless fuels. No one will disagree with the hon. Gentleman at all. We do not want to see raw coal being burned unless it can be burned smokelessly, and there are a good many places where we are unable to burn raw coal smokelessly and which therefore want manufactured smokeless fuels. It is quite true that one should emphasise the need for coal to be turned into smokeless fuel where it cannot be burned in its raw state without producing smoke.
What the hon. Gentleman was saying, I think, and I do not want to get him wrong, was that he was implying that the National Coal Board or the industry had failed to produce smokeless fuel, and I think the hon. Member for Eastleigh gave us his personal experience in being unable to get smokeless fuel at his own home. I intervened to say that this is not the problem of the Coal Board or the industry, but a problem of distribution. During the period that has elapsed since the hon. Member for Kidderminster spoke, I have been into the Library to look up the facts, and I find that they are as I said. There are 2½ million tons of gas coke at works, and 3½ million tons of hard coke, which is not suitable for many places, I agree, but there are also 130,000 tons of Phurnacite at works. Therefore, there is plenty of smokeless fuel in stock, and the real problem is one of distribution.
809 Distribution is not in the hands of a single company. The Co-operative societies, private traders, the Coal Board and lots of very small individual people are engaged in the distribution of coal and smokeless fuel. The real problem is that people burn a lot more solid fuel in winter than they do in summer. We get this peak problem with coal and smokeless fuel distribution, just as we do in transport, and it is physically impossible to deliver all the coal required during the winter months. The only thing we can expect people to do is to stock up as far as they can at their own homes. If we get a cold period, there is an enormous demand. It is not that the smokeless fuels are not available, it is that it is physically impossible in many cases to get those stocks to the homes of the people in small parcels.
I think we should look at this problem in a constructive perspective, but remember that if there is difficulty in handling certain fuels in certain localities, it is not because the Coal Board or the Gas Board have failed to produce the fuels. It is not that; it is because distribution, because of the peak load factor, does not lend itself to getting stocks easily distributed.
The lesson is that where there is a possibility of stocking, it should be done, and I imagine that if the hon. Member for Eastleigh, who is probably living in a place where it is possible to stock, had estimated his own fuel consumption for the winter as correctly as he has estimated the fuel requirements of the nation for years ahead, he might not have been in this personal difficulty.
§ Mr. Robens
That is the point; we must try to stock up as best we can.
I want to leave as much time as possible for the Parliamentary Secretary, because we are all very anxious to hear the contribution that he will make, but there are two things I want to say finally. First of all, on the question of pit closures, I must repeat what I have said before and what has been said by so many of my hon. Friends. There has never been any objection on the part of the miners, through the National Union of Mineworkers, to proper closing of pits, 810 either because the reserves are running out or because they are becoming completely uneconomic. Indeed, as my hon. Friends from Scotland would indicate, there has been a tremendous movement in the Lanarkshire and Fifeshire coalfields—a very extensive movement indeed—going on since the end of the war at a very rapid rate, and little or no complaint about the way in which it has been done. That has been because the plans for closing were known well in advance. Arrangements for alternative work and for compensation for those who could not carry on in that industry were known well in advance and alternative employment in other industries was sought.
In other words, the whole operation moved smoothly and I do not believe that we should have had any difficulty about carrying on what has been the declared policy of the mining industry—including the Board and the miners—about closing uneconomic pits. Nobody is against that, provided it is done in an orderly way so that there are not the terrible social consequences which will emerge in South Wales and Scotland, especially in small villages where men have nothing else to do except work in the pits.
To close down a pit in such circumstances is not like closing down a factory. Some of the pits in South Wales, Scotland and Cumberland have all the village life concentrated on them. If the pit is closed, there will not be a penny piece for the local shops or anybody else. This is a serious problem and we should treat it with special consideration.
The major trouble has been the dramatic suddenness with which the pits have had to be closed, the inability to make orderly arrangements. I am as anxious about this industry as anybody else, but I believe that, no matter how we view oil imports, coal will remain the basic fuel of this nation. We must do nothing to upset the psychology of those who work in it—management, men, technicians, and everybody else. I plead with the Parliamentary Secretary to use his influence to see that any future closings are so handled that they follow the pattern of previous closures, without disturbance and without difficulty.
I conclude with an appeal to my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring. Listening to hon. Members discuss this important subject, I have felt 811 that we have treated it in a first-class House of Commons way. There have been constructive proposals and a little enjoyable banter. It has all been worthy of a proper Parliamentary day. I think that we should have a Supply Day or some other day upon which to deal with the matter in a serious and constructive way.
I know that my hon. Friend is deeply interested in the subject and we owe him a debt of gratitude for enabling us to have a debate, but I appeal to him to be satisfied with the exchange of views. He has done a good job of work and has used his Parliamentary opportunity to the advantage of us all, but I hope that he will not press his Motion. I ask him not to crowd us into the Division Lobby on a matter of this kind on which there has been so much constructive thought and constructive work. I will undertake to consult my colleagues and, through the usual channels, to try to arrange a Parliamentary day upon which we can have a further debate on the nation's fuel and power policy.
The Chairman (Sir Charles Mac-Andrew)
The Amendment would have to be withdrawn before the original Motion could be withdrawn.
§ Mr. Robens
I cannot appeal to those who put down the Amendment. I can appeal only to my hon. Friend. I was suggesting that the House might debate the matter more thoroughly on a full Parliamentary day instead of a Private Member's day and that my hon. Friend might make a gesture, which might be followed by a response on the other side.
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power (Sir Ian Horobin)
I am probably the only person who has been in his place in this Chamber without a break since 11 o'clock this morning. I have heard every word from hon. Members on both sides of the House. At this stage, it very important that I should not get lost in a mass of detail, and I hope that hon. Members will not think me discourteous if I do not attempt to gabble through a whole series of disconnected points. I shall try to deal with some of them and to do so in a short and connected way.
I start straight away with two points which the right hon. Member for Blyth 812 (Mr. Robens) has just dealt with. He returned to a point which he has raised before on several occasions, concerning the fairness of the competition between oil and coal. All I would say about that is that the Government do not have a closed mind on that matter. It is up to the National Coal Board to put up detailed proposals. It is obvious that in this matter generalities are useless, but detailed proposals will be fairly considered. I would remind the right hon. Member however, that the Coal Board and the industry have sad memories of cut prices, and the matter is, therefore, not as easy to deal with as it might appear.
The other point that he raised, both earlier and in a lively interchange in his final intervention, concerns what I may call the marketing dispute. All I would say there is that to go into it properly at this stage would be quite impossible. It would take a long time, and I think that I would endear myself to hon. Members on both sides if I said that in my humble opinion they are both partly right and partly wrong. Apart from these extremely interesting special issues which have been brought before us by hon. Members on both sides of the House, I want to base my speech upon the main issue which has been put.
The Motion suggests, and the Amendment, in effect, denies, that a national fuel policy of a certain kind is desirable, but is not at present available. We have heard many rather general terms, such as "proper balance", and "co- ordination", but the burden of the complaint is that the country and the Government have not and ought to have a national fuel policy. In this debate, and in a similar debate going on outside the House, reference has been made to the speech of Mr. Ernest Jones, whom we all know. What we are faced with is just one pressure group, neither better nor worse than any other. The real complaint of hon. Members opposite is not that we have not a national fuel policy but that the nation is creating a fuel policy which they—perhaps for quite good reasons—do not like.
The harassed domestic consumer who decides that it is cleaner, cheaper and easier to have a convector heater or an oil heater instead of coal is part of the nation and helps to decide the fuel policy. 813 Some of our offices—although they may he thought peculiar—decide that they can better satisfy their tenants by one form of central heating than another. They are also part of the nation, and help to decide the policy.
It has been estimated that one ton of oil in industry generally is equal to about 1.6 tons of coal, and that 1 ton of oil in the steel industry is worth about 3 tons of coal, and that industry, which is making increasing use of oil, is a part of the nation. The gas industry, which finds that it can hold its own in competitive conditions and keep down the price of gas by using tail gas or imported methane, is part of the nation and, as such, plays a part in the determination of a national fuel policy. That is the only way in which the nation can decide upon a policy, in fact. With the best will in the world the matter cannot be decided by the most complicated calculations and crystal gazing on the part of any Department. At least, that is the profound view of the Government.
There is a certain amount of special pleading on the part of hon. Members opposite. They state—and it is a genuine point—that our oil supplies are in danger in many parts of the world. But when that argument does not serve them, there is always another which can be brought forward in favour of their interest, which is coal.
Methane imports, for instance, have nothing to do with the Middle East. I was most disturbed and shocked to see that the Government—actually by one of their supporters, though not in this debate—have been criticised for hurry in developing the nuclear programme. To my mind the suggestion that this country, having got right away in front of the world, in leading the world into this new realm of commercially available nuclear energy, should stop hurrying in an effort to please a particular old industry is more disastrous in the way of a national fuel policy than anything I can imagine.
I come now to the real issue at the back of this matter. We must be perfectly frank about it. This is really an appeal to us to hinder oil and to encourage coal. Everything in this debate, important, valuable and interesting as it has been, has come down to that. I do not think that the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton), who 814 moved the Motion in a speech which has been favourably commented upon in all parts of the House, could honestly criticise that description of the debate.
The hon. Gentleman suggested taxes, and other methods have been suggested for hindering this switch towards oil. I am bound to point out that, after all, this is our oil and this is a great industry that British initiative and enterprise have developed. It is a wonderful thing, when we think of the size of this island which has no oil, that here is far and away the greatest piece of international trade in the world, and the bulk of it in British hands.
It really seems to some of us that, carried to a logical conclusion, the suggestions that have been made as a basis for an allegedly national fuel policy would strike at the basis of the whole industrial structure of modern Europe. Are we to hinder the electrical industry because it uses copper from Rhodesia? Are we to do without motor cars because the motor car industry is dependent on rubber from Malaya?
Before I leave this part of what I have to say I must, in case there should be any misunderstanding, emphasise that from the balance of payments point of view any calculations from the crude cost of imports of oil are entirely beside the point. This industry has produced great benefits to the countries in which oil is being discovered and great benefits for the whole of the industrial countries of Europe, including our own.
I am bound to say that the history of the last ten years as far as Europe and this country have been concerned has not been a picture of coal having to come to the rescue of a shortage of oil, but of oil coming to the rescue of a shortage of coal. That is not to deny, of course—it would be ridiculous to deny—that there are anxieties about the way in which the Almighty has chosen to distribute the resources of oil. It was only the other day that, for instance, Estimates were put forward for increasing our stocks.
I think that as a basis for an allegedly national fuel policy the statements put forward have been one-sided. No one doubts the sincerity or the anxiety of hon. Members opposite who have been pressing us to discriminate in this way, but 815 it is the firm conviction of the Government that they are misguided in the true interest of their own industry. I am quite sure in my own mind, and so are the Government as a whole, that the policy of the National Coal Board in this matter is, broadly speaking, right. Indeed, were we not so satisfied we should not have continued to pour those very large sums of money into that industry—something like £100 million of capital and, in this difficult year, something like £60 million of short-term capital—to enable it to function successfully and to avoid unnecessary dislocation and unemployment.
But that policy is based on the only policy which holds out any hope for the industry. We must not try to retire behind unnatural restrictions which would only reduce the efficiency of British industry and the comforts of British homes. We must make the industry—as we believe it can be made, and is being made—a modernised, a more competitive and a more productive industry. That is going on. I need not develop the point at length, because hon. Members opposite perhaps know more about it than some hon. Members on this side of the House.
In that search for greater productivity, all sections of the industry have a part to play. It is vital that the recent admirable output per man-shift should be consolidated and taken further. That, by itself, is the biggest single way open to anybody to secure the future of the work-people in the industry. The Coal Board is playing its part. If time permitted, I could give some extremely interesting illustrations of the way in which, for instance, records are being made in the rate of tunnelling and in the sinking of shafts; all of which reduces the price of the final product and makes it more competitive with alternative fuels.
I agree with those hon. Members on both sides of the House who have said that the change in the industrial climate in the last 12 months—which we are not discussing today, but about which I am sure the Coal Board has no illusions—calls for a careful examination of the structure of its Marketing Department. Coal no longer sells itself and it is extremely important to remember that; although to say so is not to be critical but 816 merely to state one of the problems of which the Coal Board is perfectly aware. I do not think that it should be approached—I do not think it is being approached by the Coal Board—from the point of view of trying to see who can shift the blame to whom; of trying to see whether it is the distributive trade, or parts of it, which is at fault, or whether the fault lies elsewhere. That is not a constructive way out. These are all parts of one industry which is trying to satisfy industrial or domestic consumers with coal, if coal is the fuel they need.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I am trying to follow the hon. Gentleman's argument. Do I understand it to be that if the output per man-shift increases—if, in consequence, the price of coal is reduced—its competitive position is more favourable?
§ Mr. Shinwell
I see that the hon. Gentleman agrees. Therefore, it may have the effect of driving oil out of industry to some extent. But what is the advantage to oil?
§ Sir I. Horobin
I was not suggesting that there was any special advantage to oil; except that I think the immediate result would be—I hope it would be—that the oil people would be prompted to say, "How can we make further economies?" And the ultimate result would be that the consumer would get both cheaper oil and cheaper coal.
§ Sir I. Horobin
Is the right hon. Gentleman in favour of having dear oil and dear coal? Do not let us descend to that sort of argument at this stage in what has been an amicable and constructive debate. Surely it must be to the advantage of England, both domestic and industrial, that we should have as cheap fuel as is possible, and anything which can be done to reduce the price either of coal or oil is a good thing. But we do not believe that anything short of competition is likely to do that, and we are certainly not going to start by putting up the price of oil by a tax and hope that in some mysterious way it would have the effect of reducing the price of coal.
§ Sir I. Horobin
The right hon. Gentleman may think it is nonsense, but if he took a hurried poll of consumers about whether they would like cheap fuel or dear fuel the answer might be instructive to him.
I do not want to give the impression, however, that reconsideration of the policies involved is in any way ruled out. I never have been a believer in the idea that you can crystal gaze to five places of decimals 30 years ahead. It does not work out that way. Naturally, the National Coal Board and the other nationalised fuel industries are carefully considering the matter. The Coal Board, for instance, is engaged at the moment on an elaborate and most careful re-examination, in the light of events, as far as the Board can foresee, what its appropriate investment policy should be. I could give the House a long, long list of matters which the Gas Council and the other sections of the fuel industry are engaged in, in the way of research.
Therefore, I do not want to give the impression that these things are fixed once and for all. They are not. The general principle which the Government commend to the House is that the final person who must decide is the consumer, and that the only way of discovering what is a national fuel policy is to give the nation the opportunity to say what it wants.
I want to refer to a particular matter. [Interruption.] If I can have the attention of the House I have an announcement to make which may be of interest. The Government have been pressed on a number of occasions, and again today, to alter the conditions under which certain power stations burn oil. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite say that nobody could quarrel with the decision which was made at the time, but the conditions were very different then from what they are now.
The Government feel that the suggestions which have been put to them—indeed, similar suggestions have been put to them in connection with opencast mining—that contracts once entered into should be torn up or amended by pressure of some kind to the detriment of one party are quite intolerable. It would be a very grave disservice—if I may put it that way—to the advocates of nationalisation as a method of running industries 818 if it got about that one of the advantages of nationalisation was that Government pressure could be invoked to alter contracts entered into.
The same principle of commercial morality must apply to those industries as apply to private industries. The Government are just not willing to lift a finger to put unfair pressure on parties to contracts properly entered into by the National Coal Board in the realm of opencast mining, or by the Central Electricity Generating Board or in the realm of oil. I would take this opportunity of restating the Government's gratitude at the co-operative way in which the oil companies did alter firm contracts entered into some time ago to assist in reducing the increase in the quantity of oil burnt in power stations.
While, as I say, the Government would feel it quite wrong and improper not only to break contracts but even to put pressure, that does not mean that in great matters—after all, we are dealing with vast undertakings and national industries like those controlled by the National Coal Board and the oil companies—one expects short-sighted views to be taken. Those industries are used to thinking in terms of long periods and large sums of money.
Nevertheless, as a result of discussions which have been taking place, I understand that the oil companies, the Central Electricity Generating Board and the National Coal Board are considering together whether it is practicable within the framework of existing contracts—I will make it plain that nobody in the National Coal Board has at any time suggested to the Government that those contracts should be altered—to go further and to postpone the conversion of two more power stations during 1959 as a gesture by the oil companies to the coal industry in its present difficulties. If that is found practicable, the Generating Board, I am advised, will require a very considerable additional quantity of coal this year, which would be of great assistance to the coal industry.
I repeat, setting aside all the detailed, useful, constructive contributions which have been made, the issue put to the House is, shall we embark on a policy of deliberately switching the economic demands for fuel in the country for the benefit of one of the competing providers of power? The answer the Government 819 give to that is a quite definite and firm "no". We believe that the consumer should have the choice. He is the only person who can really know in each individual case what is best for his actual problem and for his actual work people, whose jobs are threatened if a competitor abroad can get a more suitable fuel.
We are not prepared, therefore, to embark on such a policy. We believe the policy that the Government and the Coal Board are carrying out in close collaboration is the right one in the national interest and in the long-term interest of the mining industry. Therefore, we feel that the Amendment deserves the support both of the House and of the country.
§ Mr. Robens
Before the hon. Gentleman sits down, may I ask what the coal involved in the power stations would amount to?
§ Sir I. Horobin
These discussions are going on, and if they came to fruition it would be, very roughly, something up to 1 million tons.
§ Mr. Blyton
If the hon. Member for Kidderminster agrees, I am quite prepared to withdraw my Motion if he will withdraw his Amendment.
§ Mr. Nabarro
If, with the leave of the House, I may speak a second time, I should say I do not propose to withdraw the Amendment which I have moved on behalf of my hon. Friends and myself.
§ Mr. Robens
May I know the actual position, Mr. Speaker? I made an appeal, with my hon. Friend, in the hope that we could have a Parliamentary day to discuss this matter at much greater length and not in private Members' time. I had hoped that the Parliamentary Secretary would add his words to mine, but he chose not to do so, which, I thought, was a breach of an undertaking. Is it a fact, Mr. Speaker, that if my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring wants to withdraw the Motion he is not permitted to do so and that the Amendment must be put?
§ Mr. Speaker
The position is that an Amendment has been moved and that 820 Amendment is now before the House. That is the Question before the House, and it takes precedence over the question in the main Motion. Until that is cleared out of the way, I cannot proceed further. As the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) is unwilling to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment, I should have to put the Question on the Amendment, which is the Question before the House.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
The Minister did not reply to one matter which is of very great importance and was raised by my noble Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Lady Megan Lloyd George). I hoped the hon. Gentleman would be able to say something about that because my noble Friend and I are deeply affected by it. It so happened that pits have been closed in our area and there are very few vacancies in immediate collieries. It seems, therefore—
§ Mr. Nabarro
On a point of order. May I ask you, Sir, whether the Amendment may now be put to the House, whether the Question may now be put on the Amendment I moved?
§ Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.
§ Question, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question, put accordingly and negatived.
§ Proposed words there added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.
That this House, having taken account of the present fall in the demand for coal in this country, the high level of coal stocks, and the decline in coal exports, endorses Her Majesty's Government's policy for the fuel and power industries of this country.