§ 3.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)
About forty-five years ago the Lancashire cotton industry was a thriving industry and it was employing about 622,000 people. At the end of last year the number of people employed in that industry had decreased to 246,000, and the position in Lancashire had reached such a state that the Government came to Parliament and asked for £30 million to enable the mill owners in Lancashire to smash machines, to close more mills and to declare redundant many more cotton workers.
The result of that is that in Lancashire towns there are houses to let—a phenomenon which is not found in many other parts of the country. Towns are emptying of their young people and are becoming the depressed towns that we knew in the days of the 1920s and 1930s.
It may seem a little strange to open a debate on the coal industry with that reference to the cotton industry, but I have done so because I wish to ask the question: is this to happen to the coal 33 industry? It must be remembered that cotton was so prosperous in those days that no one believed that that could happen, but it has happened; and it would be a mistake on the part of the Opposition if we were not, while the opportunity is here with us, to enable the coal industry to have its proper place in the economic development of the country. It would be a great mistake if we failed to bring these matters to the attention of Parliament and to invite the Government to pay some attention to what is happening now in this great industry.
It must be remembered that there are three quarters of a million men directly employed in this industry to-day, and that if one were to take into consideration the number of people engaged in the supply industries of the coal industry, I have no doubt that it would show that about one-twentieth of the working population of Britain is engaged directly or indirectly in this great industry.
There is the same peculiar position about coal that we have about cotton, inasmuch as its production is concentrated in confined areas, mainly in villages and small communities. The whole life of the communities in the pit villages is centred around the work of the pits themselves. Therefore, when there are pit closures, and great redundancy follows as a result, the effect upon the whole of the community concerned is tremendous. It leaves it desolate. It creates a situation which no one who has even been in a pit village when the pit has closed would want to see.
In July last year the Parliamentary Secretary was rather optimistic about the prospects of the coal industry, but I do not think that his optimism has been borne out. He was speaking of parents of young boys and of schoolmasters whose boys were about to leave school, and he said that it would be a great mistake if they failed to encourage youngsters to enter the coal industry. He said:It would be absolutely disastrous if there were any kind of feeling in the colliery districts that to go into this industry could he going into a dead end, and that after a year or two we might get back to the bad old days when there would be no work.He added:Any man in the industry who is doing well has not the slightest fear that, as a result of 34 this cutting down by the Board of the total of manpower …any man's job is at stake."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th July, 1958; Vol. 591, c. 828–9.]I see that the Parliamentary Secretary is apparently nodding. I am sorry that he was not with me during the weekend, in some of the coalfields. This is not the view of the men who work in the industry. The Parliamentary Secretary, who has told us that the men in the mining villages need have no fear, would want to correct some of his impressions if he had visited some of the pit villages and spoken to some of the men who are now working there. The fear is there. It is in all the coalfields. We cannot get away from the fact that throughout the whole of the coalfields there is grave anxiety. The anxiety on the part of the men now in the industry is that they do not know what their future is to be. I am hoping that as a result of this debate we shall hear from the Government what they think is to be the future of this industry and of those employed in it.
We must not forget—and I think this is where the Parliamentary Secretary went wrong—that although the wastage in the coal industry is about 60,000 men each year, this is very thinly spread over the whole of the coalfields, and, therefore, it does not always help in effecting a reduction in manpower in the sort of orderly way that the Parliamentary Secretary probably had in mind. It is not as though 60,000 men can come off the payroll without some pits being closed as a result. The truth is that because this wastage is thinly spread, one does not get the advantage of 60,000 men off the payroll as would happen in, say, the engineering industry, where very large numbers of people work under one roof.
Therefore, to contract the industry in the panic way in which it has been done in the last few months—that is to say, by closing pits without the long notice that is required to make the proper transfers to other pits and other arrangements—means premature pit closures which catch all the disabled men who are on light work. There is no chance for them quickly to find other occupations. It catches all the men of 65 who have decided to continue working a little longer—because all people have been asked by the Government from time to time to work longer. It catches those 35 and all who are approaching 65 years of age.
Premature pit closures bring a great deal of anxiety to the areas in which the pits are situated and they also bring real hardship, suffering and lack of hope to all those people whom I have mentioned and for whom there is no future in the industry. The future for them is the dole and National Assistance.
I do not myself see why there should not be a small contraction in the industry —and I shall come to some figures which I regard as reasonable later—but if there is to be a contraction at all it must be done over a long period. It must be properly planned and all the social consequences of the contraction must be taken into consideration. If we do not do that, we shall create a very serious situation which will have its effect upon the recruitment which the industry needs, the recruitment of young people and young technicians in other parts of the coalfields where pits are being developed.
We were asking for as much coal as we could possibly have right up to 1957. In 1957, there was a decline in the solid fuel requirement of about 7 million tons. In 1958. the decline went on to a further 13 million tons. At that stage, it was expected that during 1959 there would be a further fall of 8 million tons, which would mean a reduction in consumption of about 28 million tons from the base year 1957. It was on the estimates that there would be this fall in 1959 of a further 8 million tons that the Government agreed to the proposals of the National Coal Board that it should stock a further 3 million tons, that it should cut 3 million tons from opencast production, and that it should close pits which would reduce production by 3 million tons.
That was as recently as the last debate we had, in April last year, I think it was. The Government were then quite satisfied that that would meet the position in 1959. But will it? Eight million tons is the estimated decline for this year. In the first 15 weeks, which brings us up to 18th April, I think, already consumption has fallen by 5,200,000 tons. If it goes on at this rate, the fall will not be 8 million tons for 1959, but 17 million tons. Seventeen million tons is the product of the full-time work for a whole year of 60,000 36 miners. This is the situation we face this afternoon, the prospect that, if the fall in consumption goes on this year as it has in the first weeks, as compared with last year, the work of 60.000 miners will not be required.
I suppose that, if those people are put on the employment exchanges and National Assistance, it will cost the country at the very least £250,000 a week in maintenance. That will mean about £l3 million in a full year. That is the grim picture we face now. There has been this rapid decline in the consumption of coal. Obviously, wrong estimates were made last year about the decline, and the measures taken last year will not be sufficient. We shall want to know today what further measures are proposed.
There are two reasons for the decline. The first is the industrial recession created by the Government. Of that I shall say nothing more, because we have had very many debates in the House, on economic affairs and on the Budget, and we have dealt fairly thoroughly with the responsibility of the Government for the stagnation of industry. Undoubtedly, if industry stagnates its requirement for coal is reduced, and this is plainly shown in the figures which I shall quote of industrial use, particularly steel-making.
The second reason, perhaps the greater reason of the two, is competition from oil. The Government have taken the view that the coal industry has priced itself out of the market. I want to deal quite frankly with this suggestion. We have heard it said many times that the coal industry has priced itself out of the market and that is the reason that oil is in. It would be a mistake if we did not say something about that very important aspect of the matter today and also make it perfectly clear that we are not running away from this allegation which is wildly flung about, not just in the House but from platforms all over the country by Conservative candidates and others who say that the coal industry has priced itself out of the market and it is getting its just deserts because oil is coming in,
How far is oil coming in? The other day, the advisory council to the petroleum industry issued its report. It showed that, this year, there has been an increase in fuel oil consumption in this country over last year of no less than 52.7 per cent.
37 It showed that there was a 25 per cent. increase in fuel oil consumption for steam raising in industry. It showed that the power stations which, in 1957, took 642,242 tons of oil took 2,635,431 tons of oil in 1958. It showed that the gas industry which, in 1957, took 455,514 tons of oil, took 665,094 tons of oil in 1958. This is the measure of the competition which the coal industry faces.
Why has oil been so successful? Is it true that the coal industry has priced itself out of the market and opened the door for oil? I would remind the Committee that the nation, from 1940 onwards, has repeatedly—if I may use a colloquialism—torn the guts out of the coal industry. The nation, whatever the colour of the Government, has never said, "Produce only coal that is economic. Produce coal only if it is profitable to produce it". The nation has said, "Produce coal ", and week after week, month after month, and year after year, successive Ministers of Power have been constantly urging successive chairmen of the Coal Board to increase the tonnage of coal raised because it was necessary in the interests of the nation as a whole.
I was surprised in a recent debate we had on a Motion moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Springs (Mr. Blyton) to hear the Parliamentary Secretary airily say that, of course, it never has been the case that coal came to the aid of oil; oil had come to the aid of coal. When this nation really needed oil, the oil was not available. The coal industry was compelled to go on raising coal at huge losses. No one in the oil industry ever, at any time, produced a barrel of oil and lost a penny piece on it. This idea of the Parliamentary Secretary that free competition between oil and coal is the way to have a fuel and power policy is a bit of airy-fairy nonsense. As a nation, we have demanded all the coal we could have.
An indication of this is given by the number of pits which have been operated, but which have been uneconomically unsound. They still had to be worked, and if the Coal Board had refused to work them on the basis that, commercially, it was not worth working them, the Board would have had a direction from whoever was Minister of Power to compel it to work pits which were uneconomic. Since nationalisation, 250 pits have been 38 closed either through exhaustion or because they were hopelessly uneconomic. Despite that, 160 pits are still being worked by the Coal Board at which coal is being produced at a loss of £1 or over a ton. What private enterprise organization would keep 160 pits working knowing that on every ton produced it is losing £1? Only a publicly-owned enterprise could do that, because it is in the interests of the nation that they should do so.
Of course, we want to get rid of those 160 pits. No one would deny that it is better to raise coal in pits where it is profitable. Vast sums of money have been invested in this industry to develop new pits and to enlarge others and to try to concentrate the production of coal on economic pits. But this all takes time. This is not like the oil industry, where there is overnight flexibility of refineries. This is an industry where flexibility is nothing like so rapid. Changes cannot be made in the coal industry as quickly as in the oil industry.
I believe, therefore, that what is wrong with the industry today is mainly the refusal of the Government to take positive steps to assist it. The Government have based their whole fuel and power policy on the view that unrestricted competition and consumers' complete freedom of choice is the right approach to a sound fuel and power policy for the nation. That is a view which we cannot ever possibly accept.
To abandon coal production because of the narrow cost margins as between coal and oil would be the height of folly and complete economic suicide for the nation. Let me give my reasons for saying this. First, it must not be forgotten that industrial investment in coal is over £500 million in this country—an average of £1,000 per man employed. Secondly, on top of that, there is the investment in the houses in the pit villages in the form of the welfare and social services and everything else that goes to make up village life.
Thirdly, if we put more and more miners on the dole then we must meet the substantial costs which arise in unemployment pay and National Assistance. Fourthly, it must be remembered that private enterprise organisations receive orders to the value of nearly £200 million a year from the publicly-owned National Coal Board. If coal goes down, then 39 their orders go down. If the cumulative effects of reducing coal production are added together, a snowball of unemployment will be started which will give the Government and the rest of us a fairly serious headache.
On the basis of the Government's complete freedom of choice of policy, if the cost of imported fuels were reduced 10 per cent. below that of coal we should close every pit in the country. If imported fuel costs were reduced by 10 per cent. below coal we would gain only a part of 1 per cent. of the finished goods that come from industry. If coal prices were 10 per cent. above imported fuel prices, then, following the logic of the Government's view, all the coalfields could be closed and the nation would gain less than 1 per cent. through the reduction of productive costs. That is absurd. It is nonsense even to contemplate it. But where do the Government stop in the contraction of the industry? They must stop at some point. If the Government do not stop, they will go right to the end, and I think that I have shown that it is manifestly absurd even to think of that.
Coal must have its proper place in the national economy. The Government should state what that place is and we should organise around it. The Government have not failed to do that in other spheres. They tell the agricultural industry exactly what is required and they are prepared to pay millions of pounds year after year to maintain the place of agriculture in the national economy. The coal industry is just as important as the agricultural industry. It seems to me, therefore, that if the Government can put the agricultural industry in its right place, they should not run away from dealing with the coal industry and treating it in the same way.
There are other very important reasons why the Government's policy should be enumerated: first, coal is indigenous; secondly, no one can take it from us; and, thirdly, no one can deny the means of access to it. That cannot be said about oil.
I have shown that, far from the coal industry pricing itself out of the market, it has deliberately incurred enormous costs so as to be able to serve the nation. It was the right thing for the industry to 40 do. If the Coal Board had ever decided to run the production of coal on a purely commercial basis, then any Minister of Power would have had to give a direction to it to go on working uneconomic pits. Oil is coming into this country today at the pace which I have indicated. It is coming in at bargain prices because it has had a bar put on it in some European countries. Germany has put a turnover tax on imported oil to protect its own coal industry. Therefore, the refineries on the Continent have been turning to Britain and are dumping oil in this country where there is no restriction. Only one-quarter of the fuel oil being used in industry today is coming from refineries in the United Kingdom. Three-quarters of it is coming from refineries outside, and in the main from Continental refineries.
Fuel oil consumption in Britain has risen in the five years from 1953 to 1958 by about 6.7 million tons. The fuel oil output of the United Kingdom refineries has risen by only 1.5 million tons. The remainder has been brought in from foreign refineries. The Continental refineries have surpluses of fuel oil because of the increased consumption and, therefore, production of gasoline and light oils. Fuel oil is being dumped in this country at prices per ton which are far below the price per ton of the crude oil from which it is made, and stands in no relation to any reasonable calculation of costs of production. If the demand for fuel oil rises faster than the demand for gasoline, then fuel oil prices will rise again. While crude oil is being refined, the light and fuel oils must be extracted. To keep these in balance, if there is a tremendous demand for gasoline and light oils, then a market must be found for the fuel oils. When the bar is applied, there is not the demand on the Continent. Then, over it comes to the United Kingdom, and the Government have done little or nothing about it.
Our fuel policy should be based upon the first priority for the use of indigenous coal. The second priority should be to use the oil products from the United Kingdom refineries, and the third priority should be a reliance upon the oil products from the foreign refineries.
What should we say about the coal industry? What is its place? After giving fair consideration to this question, those 41 in and around the coal trade have come to the conclusion that the right figure of production of deep-mined coal is about 200 million tons per annum. This is a figure which would give plenty of scope for expanding the oil industry and for expanding our nuclear energy programme. It was only in July last year that the Paymaster-General was telling us that it was estimated that in 1965 we should need about 300 million tons of coal equivalent, plus, perhaps, another 10 million tons for export. If that is about the size of our fuel programme, to say that solid fuel—coal—should be responsible for two-thirds of that programme is not asking too much.
If 200 million tons is about the right amount, it is clear from the observations of the technical people in the industry that, given the time, they could gradually transfer the production of that 200 million tons of coal to the pits which are economic and to the new pits which are being developed and that around a figure of that kind we could build a sound, prosperous industry in which men would be secure in their jobs and into which young people and technicians would be attracted for a career.
It is only the basis of having a figure at which to aim that the industry can organise itself in a rational way. In organising and planning, it must have the assistance of the Government, because they also have a responsibility for other nationalised industries which are big users of coal. Electricity and gas are two of them. If, therefore, 200 million tons is about the right figure for our annual production of coal, it must be based upon a complete co-ordination of the requirements of gas and electricity as the main buyers of coal, together with other industries which take substantial amounts.
I am bothered about the gas industry, because it has never kept very much to the estimates of its coal requirements. I am bothered about the gas industry because it has spent too little time and money on researches into the gasification of coals other than that to which it is accustomed. In 1956, the gas industry was taking 27.8 million tons of coal. Today, the figure is 23.5 million tons. In two years, therefore, there has been a drop in the coal requirement of the gas industry of 4.3 million tons.
42 Two years ago, the gas industry's estimated requirement for the 1965 peak, to match the 300 million tons coal equivalent of which the Paymaster-General has told us, was 31 million tons of coal. Today, however, its estimated requirement for 1965 is, not 31 million tons, but 21 million tons. The reason is that the gas industry finds it easier and cheaper to bring in oil and to make gas from it.
This illustrates the craziness of the whole structure and the lack of policy. At a time when the gas industry is spending a lot of money on the construction of plant to make gas from oil, there is lying in the coalfields of Durham about 700,000 tons of the best coking and gas coal in the world. These are the economics of a madhouse.
Where lies the responsibility of the Minister of Power? His task, as laid down by Act of Parliament, is to coordinate the activities of the fuel and power industries, yet we are in danger of closing a large number of pits in Durham because gas coal is one of the coals which is extremely difficult to stock. The best gas coal in the world is lying there and the British gas industry is spending lots of money not only on building plant and importing oil, but in doing a tremendous job of research, and is spending much more money on importing liquefied methane.
It is difficult to pick out the gas coal-producing pits from the others, but looking at the balance sheet of the Coal Board I reckon that about £70 million is invested in the Durham coalfields, designed to produce gas coal, 700,000 tons of which is lying on the ground. I cannot understand why any Minister who thinks in terms of a policy for the country can permit the gas industry to go on behaving in the way that it is.
The latest thing that the gas industry is doing is the methane experiment. We on this side of the Committee have never been against research. We have not been against the idea of the methane experiment. What we are getting anxious about, however, is the cloak of secrecy that the gas industry has put over the whole experiment. Even Questions in the House are dodged by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power, who deals with three Questions at once but does not answer any of them.
There is a good deal of secrecy about the methane experiment. All we know is that the Gas Council is linked up, either 43 as a company or in some other way—this information did not come from the Government benches, but from the trade papers—with an American company called the Constock International Methane Company. I would have thought that the object of American enterprise in having a company like that and linking up with a nationalised industry here in Britain was to sell methane. I do not really think that the Americans are so fond of us that they merely want to spend a lot of their money in giving us the advantage of research. Research comes first, but the real object is to sell methane.
§ Mr. Robens
The Paymaster-General nods his agreement. That is good. Therefore, this physical link—and, probably, a financial link—between the Gas Council and this United States concern will have as its first principle the selling of as much liquid methane as possible to this country.
We have built a small tanker and in a year it will be able to bring in liquefied methane to the equivalent of 40,000 tons of coal. I asked the Paymaster-General about the building of more tankers. It is not easy to get the information by way of Question and Answer in the House of Commons, but I got the impression from the right hon. Gentleman that there was at present no intention of building further tankers. My information, however—which does not come directly from either the Gas Council, or from the Government —is that plans are in view for the building of four tankers, totalling 32,000 tons, to ship the equivalent of about 13 million tons of coal in the farm of liquefied methane to these shores.
That information has been published in American trade papers. I would believe that an American company associated with the gas industry here would be pressing hard to sell as much methane as possible. If gas made from methane is cheaper, there will be no concern as to who pays for the unemployed miner, about the desolation in the mining villages, or that there will be little or no difference to our industrial costs in the final analyses. What this means is that if only it can be proved that methane gas is slightly cheaper than that made from 44 coal, the free competition starts again and we shall buy the liquefied methane and make our gas from that. What I am told is that these tankers would be able to bring in a coal equivalent of 13 million tons. If that is true it means that the amount of gas coal that the Gas Council will want will be infinitesimal.
As I say, I am not against experiments to see whether liquified methane can be used in the gas industry, but what I do say is that it requires planning and that that planning, and the planning required for the nuclear energy power stations which will affect coal, should be co-ordinated. It should be planned with the coal industry, so that the coal industry will know, if it is wished to contract the coal industry. The coal industry would be delighted if the Government would only state a figure. I am saying that the figure is 200 million tons, because I think that that is about right, and I understand that the technical experts think it is about right.
I do not understand, therefore, why the Minister, whose function I always believed it to be, does not see the necessity of co-ordinating any diminution in the requirements of the gas industry, any expansion in the nuclear energy programme, any diminution in the requirements for coal elsewhere, so that any contraction in the mining industry may take place with the minimum dislocation. Since vesting day 250 pits have been closed without any upset in the mining areas. It can be done; but it requires time.
So I say that the Government have failed, utterly and completely, to see that there is a problem here, and to realise that it is necessary to apply a remedy. The remedy does not mean keeping all oil out. It does not mean not having any liquid methane experiments. It does not mean not making some gas from oil. It does not mean not extending the nuclear programme as fast as we can do it. What it does mean is looking at the whole picture, considering the thing as a whole in a regular way and giving coal the premier place in our fuel policy. That is what it means.
I think that I have said sufficient to demonstrate that there is a need for a fuel policy. We shall go on demanding this fuel policy, demanding a policy 45 which can give us a first-class coal industry with security for the people who work in it and for the nation in time of need, so that the country will not be dependent on the whims of either the boards or chairmen of the nationalised industries but will be dependent upon a sound fuel policy which gives coal its proper place in our fuel economy.
§ 4.13 p.m.
§ The Paymaster-General (Mr. Reginald Maudling)
The Socialist Party is always demanding a national fuel policy and implying that the Government have not got a fuel policy. Our policy has been stated on more than one occasion by my noble Friend the Minister of Power and can be restated quite simply. Our aim must be a cheap and abundant supply of fuel. Our policy is to obtain it by proper freedom of choice for the user and competition between suppliers, and to encourage co-operation between suppliers when this is economically justifiable.
This has been said time and time again by my noble Friend. It may not be a policy which the party opposite likes, but it is a policy. Indeed, I think that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) said in a debate in February that he was inclined to agree with competition. Today, he was rather disagreeing with competition, though he was very chary about specifying the ways in which he would inhibit competition.
The fact is that when the party opposite talks about the need for a national fuel policy it means one thing and one thing only—a new and special form of protection for deep-mined coal against its competitors. That may or may not be a good thing, and I should like to come to the arguments on it, but let us be quite clear that, every time the party opposite talks about the need for a national fuel policy, when it talks about the need for cutting down opencast production or the importation of oil or methane fuel, what all the time it is saying is that it wants a policy which will reduce the inroads which competition is now making on the deep-mined coal industry. That was the burden of the right hon. Gentleman's speech today. I think that that is the basis upon which we should examine the subject.
What are the arguments the party opposite would adduce for this protection for deep-mined coal, for maintaining 46 for deep-mined coal the share in the national fuel economy which it regards as a proper share, and which, quite obviously, by admission, is a share which may not be maintained in current conditions of competition?
§ Mr. Maudling
The right hon. Gentleman, I notice, is often out of scale.
However, taking that argument of the party opposite, there are, I think, three arguments which the Opposition have used on it—the economic argument, the strategic argument, and the social argument. I should like to say a word or two about each.
First, I do not think that the economic argument is at all well founded. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth talked again today about the large investment already made in this country in producing fuel. With respect, I think that that is a very out-of-date point of view. It appears to suggest that when we have invested large sums in producing energy in a certain form we should never produce energy in cheaper forms until that investment has been worn out. That seems to me to be the classic argument for industrial stagnation. [Interruption] If the party opposite is opposed to industrial stagnation why does it advance policies which will ensure it?
The fact is that the right hon. Gentle. man's argument is rather like saying," We cannot buy a motor car for there is still life yet in the old horse." Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite are fond of attacking private enterprise for failing to replace worn-out plant or to make provision for replacing it when it is worn out, but surely this applies to public enterprise as well as private enterprise. In this case, we have stocks of capital equipment being disused and which, admittedly, are already extremely uneconomic.
The second economic argument which the party opposite makes is that on balance of payments grounds it is better to use indigenous sources of fuel than 47 imported fuel and that it is more economic to use fuel and materials produced at home than to use imported materials. But one just cannot push this argument too far, because there are limits to which it is proper for this country to use expensive home-produced fuel and raw materials rather than to use cheap imported fuel and materials, when we have to compete in a market which uses cheap fuel and materials, when we have to compete in a market which uses cheap fuel and materials. [HON. MEMBERS: "Agriculture."] I shall come to the agricultural point later.
It is really quite wrong to think that it would help our balance of payments to adopt a policy which keeps out cheap imports when we in this country rely for our entire livelihood on cheap exports. After all, one must not forget, in dealing with the oil industry, that our stake in the world-wide oil industry is, in fact, a very large net earner of foreign exchange for us. Therefore, we have an economic interest in its expansion.
The second argument is the strategic argument. Here, there is a strong point to be taken, of the relative uncertainty, for political or other reasons, of much of our sources of oil supply. What I would say in answer to that is that we make provision against temporary interruptions, as we are doing by substantial stockpiling, in which the oil companies have been playing a large part. The fact is that our oil supplies have entered so far now into our economy, as they have into the economy of the whole of Western Europe, that it would be quite wrong to try to base economic policy on the assumption of any permanent interruption of our oil supplies, which, in any case, would be as much to the detriment of the oil producers as it would be to the detriment of us as consumers. We must make some temporary provisions, but we cannot base our policy on the permanent possibility of the total interruption of supplies.
Finally, there is the social argument, to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred. We would agree with much of what he said, but this is not a question of maintaining permanently an industry of a given size, nor is it a matter of maintaining permanently a given level of employment within the industry. As the right hon. Gentleman himself said, many 48 pits have closed in recent years and pits will continue to be closed. If the right hon. Gentleman envisages the production of coal at the 200 million ton level, obviously, with growing efficiency, that amount will be produced with fewer and fewer men, so he himself is envisaging a reduction of employment in the industry. If, however, this decline is too fast, or too concentrated in certain areas, or adequate alternative employment is not available, the loss of social capital is a matter which the nation must take into account in determining its fuel policy.
Those are the arguments of the Opposition in saying that they want a national fuel policy and that we have not got one. I think the right thing for us to examine today is what the Opposition says we should do that we are not already doing, because if they say that we are not doing what is right, we must see what is the alternative of hon. Gentlemen opposite. There has been mention of agriculture. Is it the proposition of the party opposite that we should subsidise coal mining in the same way as we subsidise agriculture?
§ Mr. Maudling
In that case, would right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite stop referring to agriculture, because it is irrelevant?
§ Mr. Robens
The right hon. Gentleman has got the point wrong. Agriculture was mentioned merely to indicate that the Government and the nation decided that agriculture had to play a specific part within the economy. To do that, it had to be heavily subsidised. We are not asking for heavy subsidies for the coal industry. We are merely saying that the same principle should operate and that the coal industry should be within the national economy.
§ Mr. Maudling
If it is on the same point, I can deal with it now.
The argument is that the home production of the agricultural industry would fall below the level at which we wish to see it because it is facing the competition of cheap imported products. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, and the party opposite is saying that the same thing is 49 true of coal. Therefore, presumably hon. Gentlemen are saying that we should apply the same remedy. The remedy in the case of agriculture is that of large subsidies. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] If hon. Gentlemen opposite are not saying that, they are saying nothing.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Why does the right hon. Gentleman jib at a subsidy for the coal industry? Has he never heard of a Conservative Government subsidising an industry? Is he not aware that the Government are at present subsidising atomic energy?
§ Mr. Maudling
I do not jib at anything. I was asking the party opposite what it was proposing. Hon. Members have referred to agriculture. I was asking them to take this to its logical conclusion; and I am hoping to show that it is illogical.
Their next point is that the competition is not fair, that the coal industry can face fair competition but not unfair competition. The right hon. Gentleman said that in his speech on a Friday afternoon in February. There are two points there. First, he referred to the dumping of fuel oil. As I understand it, dumping means selling in this market below the price charged in the market of origin of the product. I have no evidence that this is happening, but if the right hon. Gentleman will send me such evidence I will look into it, although I should be surprised if it is so.
§ Mr. Robens
Would the right hon. Gentleman be prepared to compel the oil industry to disclose the secret rebates it gives to consumers?
§ Mr. Maudling
I am coming to rebates, if the right hon. Gentleman will leave that point for a moment.
§ Mr. Maudling
I am coming to rebates. That point has been made in several debates; that by reason of statutes the coal industry has not the same freedom as the oil industry has to give rebates.
That is a good point but, as I have said before, if the Coal Board, which is considering this matter, wishes to come to the Government and ask for further freedom in this matter, we will gladly consider anything it likes to put up to us. But it must be for the Coal Board to do 50 this. If it feels that it is commercially handicapped, it should come to the Government, as I am sure it will, and ask for our assistance. I can certainly say that any such suggestion it puts forward will be considered carefully, but until the Coal Board does this it is not possible to make a point on it.
The third argument of the party opposite is that we should increase the total demand for fuel by increasing the total industrial output. I will not enter into this argument. I will only repeat that in his Budget my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave a stimulus to the economy which the party opposite has agreed is as large as is safe and wise at the moment. So I do not see how the party opposite could argue that it would do more.
That brings us to the main burden of the Opposition's case, that something should be done to guarantee the position of the coal mining industry by restricting the use of other forms of fuel. This argument falls into two halves: the policy of the nationalised industries and the policy of the privately owned industries. As regards the nationalised industries the first argument normally is that there should be a further reduction in opencast coal mining. Here, we would support the attitude taken by the Coal Board, which has already, in this current year, substantially reduced the amount of opencast coal being produced, which has gone as far as it can do without breaking contracts, and has said that it will not place any further contracts for opencast coal beyond those to which it is already committed or beyond those necessary in the national interest for the production of certain special kinds of coal.
Does the party opposite really wish the Government to order the Coal Board to break contracts? Quite apart from the question of the financial effect on the Coal Board of the loss of profitable coal and the payment of compensation, it would seem to me to be wrong to order a nationalised industry deliberately to break a contract entered into in good faith at a time when it suited that nationalised industry.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)
Was there not a contract between the Government and the N.U.M. some years ago to the effect that, in the event of 51 opencast coal being surplus to requirements, opencast mines would be closed rather than deep mines?
§ Mr. Maudling
I have heard that said, but I have not found any evidence of any such contract. This year, opencast output is being cut by 25 per cent. and deep mined by only 1½ per cent., if as much as that, so I think that the main burden has been laid on opencast mining. The Government would not contemplate giving any direction to the Coal Board to break a commercial contract.
The same thing applies to the use of oil in power stations. The history of this is simple. In 1955, when the electricity industry considered its future fuel requirements, it calculated that it would need 65 million tons of coal in the mid-1960s. At that time the Coal Board could not guarantee more than 53 million tons, so contracts were made for the supply of oil. Since then nuclear power has come on to the scene on a greater scale, and the coal position has eased considerably. As a result, in 1957, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, the first steps were taken to adjust the contracts for the supply of oil to the power stations and on two occasions adjustments have been made in the contracts.
Here, it is right to pay a tribute to the oil and electricity industries for the cooperation with which they have acted. It would be wrong, however, once again, for any Government to instruct a nationalised industry to break a contract entered into in good faith and for its own benefit. People who enter into contracts, whether in private or public industry, should stand by them.
§ Mr. Julian Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)
If that is so, why does not the right hon. Gentleman keep the contracts with the miners? Even up to 1957 contracts were being made with the mining industry for the employment of as many men as could be got, and within a few months the Government went back on the contracts.
§ Mr. Maudling
If the hon. Gentleman can produce any evidence of broken contracts on the part of the Coal Board, I shall be glad to see it.
Let us be clear about this. Does the party opposite want us to order the electricity industry to break the contracts? 52 If it does not want that order to be given, why raise the point? It is a dilemma. The fact is that as a result of the adjustments of the contracts—
§ The Temporary Chairman (Major Legge-Bourke)
Order. May I suggest to hon. Members, with respect, that there are many hon. Members who wish to speak in the debate, and that the more interruptions we have, the fewer are the chances of hon. Members. Perhaps, therefore, they would allow the Minister to make his speech.
On a point of order, Major Legge-Bourke. May I draw your attention to the fact that as long as the right hon. Gentleman continues to ask rhetorical questions there will be plenty of hon. Members on this side of the Committee ready to give him straight answers to them?
§ Mr. Maudling
I am told that my thirst for knowledge in these matters is great, but it has not been satisfied yet.
§ Mr. Maudling
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is an expert on when to answer and when to avoid questions. He does not need any guidance from me.
The consumption of oil in the power stations has almost reached its peak and will reach it in 1960 and decline thereafter, whereas the consumption of coal in the power stations is likely to rise between 1958 and 1965 by about 10 million tons, coming to a total in 1965 of about 56 million tons, or more than the Coal Board thought it would be able to provide when the contracts were made in 1955. Thus, there will be a substantial expansion in the consumption of coal by the electricity generating industry. That is in spite of the substantial development of the nuclear programme.I am glad that the right hon. Member for Blyth did not suggest in any way that we should retard the nuclear programme.
Finally on the question of the nationalised industries, I must say a word or two about the gas industry. What the 53 right hon. Gentleman said was a little misleading and in some ways unfair to the gas industry. Of the total thermal input of the gas industry last year, only 5 per cent. consisted of oil. I have been told that over many years it has been using 2 or 3 per cent. of oil for making water gas. Thus, the change last year was not a big one.
However, there is a fundamental fact that we must get clear. The gas industry is having to compete very hard with a number of other sources of energy. If the gas industry cannot sell its products it will be of no use to the coal industry as an outlet for coal. It is in the interest of the coal industry that the gas industry should flourish, and it can flourish only if it is on an economic basis and if the price of gas can be competitive.
In many cases this means making use of oil products, such as oil for making carburetted water gas when the coke market is weak, and oil for peak loading, for it is much more flexible than normal methods of making gas from coal, and the use of tail gas from refineries, which would otherwise be wasted. This is a good example of the enterprise of the gas industry in seeking every method of making gas cheaper. The whole Committee would wish to see gas made cheaper if possible.
If there was a large fall in the gas industry's demand for coking coal, that would create a serious problem. For that reason my noble Friend has asked the Chairman of the Gas Council and the Chairman of the National Coal Board to make a joint study of the matter and report to him when they have done so. This is a matter in which close co-ordination between the two industries is required.
On the point of liquid methane, the right hon. Gentleman was taking a rather strange attitude. He says that the Labour Party is not against experiments. But all we are doing at the moment is making experiments. What is the point of experiments if one is not to use the results if they are successful? The Opposition's view seems odd. What is wrong with the gas industry sharing a partnership with an American undertaking to carry out experiments? What is wrong with the consumers and producers of a new product carrying out a joint programme to 54 see whether it will be a success? Surely this is admirable and entirely satisfactory.
The position, as I have endeavoured to explain to the right hon. Gentleman in answer to many Questions, is that there has been one experimental shipment, and there must be several more before we know enough about the technical or economic aspects of the matter to decide whether or not the gas industry shall be authorised to go ahead. I can give the answer to what the right hon. Gentleman mentioned about the building of tankers. In these matters the gas industry cannot go ahead with a substantial new capital outlay without the permission of my noble Friend. It has not asked for such permission and would not receive it until the full results of the experiments are known.
In the meantime, it is odd that the Labour Party, which is so anxious to see our industry develop and which talks about the enterprise, initiative and new ideas of the nationalised industries, should be so carping and critical of a nationalised industry showing such remarkable enterprise.
In what the Labour Party has put forward on the subject of the nationalised industries, I cannot see any possible suggestion for a new national fuel policy. The Labour Party is not asking us to ask the nationalised industries to break contracts, it is not asking us to cut down the nuclear power programme, and it is not asking us to stop the experiments with liquid methane. It is not asking us to do anything that we are not doing now.
I now turn to private industry. If the Labour Party thinks that private industry is turning too rapidly to oil rather than coal, what is it going to do about it? There are only two things that one can do. One can issue a direction to people not to use oil, or one can put a tax on oil. In an earlier debate, the right hon. Member for Blyth declared that he is not in favour of issuing directions to people to use gas, coal or any particular form of fuel. I take it that the Labour Party does not intend to issue any form of directions about the use of competing forms of fuel. Does it propose to put a tax on fuel oil?
It is appropriate Ito ask these questions. The Labour Party keeps saying that there should be a national fuel policy, but never says what it should be. I want to know 55 What it should be, and I want to examine the implications of some of the questions which float across the Floor. Do hon. Gentlemen opposite propose to put a tax on fuel oil? The right hon. Gentleman referred to the action of the German Government, implying that if we were as enterprising we should put a tax on imported fuel oil.
§ Mr. Robens
I referred to the tax on the German oil as an indication that the German Government were keeping fuel oil out and that fuel oil was coming here at bargain prices, being dumped.
§ Mr. Maudling
Does the right hon. Gentleman want us to keep out fuel oil by import quotas or imposing a tax? I do not think that the Labour Party would support either step, for hon. Members opposite realise that the consequences would be far too unpleasant for them to follow the suggestion through. We cannot impose quotas by reason of our international obligations. I should have thought that a duty designed for the protection of coal would probably also be contrary to our international obligations. I am sure that it is so politically unattractive that the Labour Party would never dream of proposing it.
Therefore, we come to the fact that we have had a constant demand for a national fuel policy but not one single coherent suggestion from the Labour Party as to how that policy should be in any way different from the policy that we are at present pursuing.
I will quote what the right hon. Gentleman said on 6th February as a good example of the muddle into which the Opposition have got themselves: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th February, 1959; Vol. 599, c. 806.]Surely the point is how much can be sold. If all the coal that can be mined can be sold, there is no problem. If it cannot be sold and the right hon. Gentleman will not direct anyone to use it, what is he going to do with it? It seems to me that, as in so many of these economic problems, the Labour Party has no policy whatsoever, and has lapsed into a welter of empty promises and discordant arguments.
56 I now turn to the Government's view on these matters; first, the long-term future of the coal industry; and, secondly, the short-term future. As the right hon. Gentleman said, I gave some figures in the House, two years ago, of the Government's estimate of the likely consumption of fuel in this country in 1965. We then thought it should be a coal equivalent of about 300 million tons. I see no reason why we should depart from that estimate. As I said last December, whether we achieve it in 1965 or later depends on the speed of the industrial upturn, which is only now slowly beginning. [Interruption]. If I am interrupted I shall take more time, and I dare say that right hon. Gentlemen opposite would not enjoy that very much. The upturn is slowly beginning, and that is why the Chancellor in his Budget decided to speed it up, with the agreement of the Labour Party.
It seems to me that 300 million tons of coal equivalent is still a reasonable figure to assume for the mid-1960's. The question is what proportion of this will be taken by the coal industry. We would all agree that the proportion that coal is likely to take seems now to be less than we should have thought two years ago. I thought that, on the whole, the right hon. Gentleman was a little too gloomy. He seems to be thinking in terms of a decline from the present coal output of roughly 200 million tons a year and saying that we could take steps to avoid a further decline. I would have thought that we should think rather in terms of how much the coal industry can increase on its current level of output. That will surely depend on the competitive position of coal.
Looking at the outlets for coal, there are two very big users where there is not the same degree of competition. The use of coal in the power stations will rise very considerably between now and the mid-1960s and the consumption of coal in the coke ovens is also certain to rise substantially by the mid-1960s. These two items will account for about 100 million tons of coal by then. For the rest, there is bound to be considerable competition between coal, oil and other forms of fuel, and the effectiveness of the competition of coal must depend on the efficiency of the industry and the level of costs. That is very much realised by the Coal Board, which deserves the support of right hon. and hon. Members in the 57 efforts that it is making to concentrate on efficiency and lowering costs.
In recent months, for the first time for many years, the cost of coal production has been falling, not rising. That is rather an important fact. With the continuation of rising productivity and the elimination of the very uneconomic mines, which otherwise are an extremely heavy burden on the shoulders of the Coal Board—with both these processes continuing—surely we can look to an improvement in the competitive position of the coal industry, which should be able to carve out for itself a larger total demand from what will be an expanding market for energy in this country. In the meantime, it is important to continue pressing ahead with research and development into all other methods of using fuel.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman was a little unfair to the gas industry when he implied that it had been backward in its research into gasification of non-coking coals. I do not think that that is true. A lot of work has been done by the gas industry on Lurgi plants and other methods and I think that industry is entitled to credit for what it has been doing. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the Government are fully aware of the need to develop every possible use of general purpose coals, whether for total gasification, or chemical derivatives, or the extraction of oil from coal, all of which has been emphasised by the appointment by my noble Friend of a committee under Mr. A. H. Wilson, which, I am sure, will make a very big contribution to these matters. I think that the right hon. Gentleman was rather sceptical about the appointment of this committee.
§ Mr. Shinwell
For the last forty years we have been engaged in research on the production of by-products from indigenous coal. At last, in 1959, the Government have decided to set up a research committee into the uses to which the coal can be put.
§ Mr. Maudling
The right hon. Gentleman seems to assume that the Ministry of Power ground to a halt when he ceased to be Minister of Fuel and Power, I always thought that his famous statement about everyone knowing that there would be a fuel shortage except the Minister of Fuel and Power was his epitaph on the subject of power. Certainly, there will 58 be no disagreement on either side of the Committee as to the importance of pushing ahead with all possible alternative uses of coal, particularly of those grades of coal which are likely to be in very large supply. That is our view on the long-term position.
I will say a few words about the short-term position. The Coal Board expected the demand in 1959 to be about 200 million tons and that production would be about 209 million tons. It decided to deal with it by reducing opencast output by 3 million tons, by reducing deep-mined coal output by 3 million tons and by stocking three million tons. In fact, production has been running well but exports have been disappointing and it looks at if the amount to be put to stock will have to be larger than the estimate of 3 million tons.
The intention of the National Coal Board is to stock these additional amounts. I understand that the Coal Board does not intend to propose this year any further so-called economic closures. It has decided that it will have to increase the amount put to stock. I think that there is general agreement with that. However, in the long run, there must be some limit financially and physically to the amount of coal that can be put to stock. The closures that have been made so far have been carried out well with extraordinary co-operation between all concerned, including particularly the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers, and the proportion of men declared redundant who have been placed again is larger than we expected. That is particularly true in Scotland. We are all very glad to know this.
I do not think that there can be any doubt that the National Coal Board took the right steps this year in deciding to have a substantial cut back in opencast and to close some of the most uneconomic mines coming towards the end of their life, and to put a substantial amount of coal to stock. I think that it will be generally agreed that the National Coal Board is right, if necessary, to put more to stock this year than the 3 million tons that it had in mind. The fact is that we must not be panicked in any way by short-term situations. We must not, because coal has been piling up in this country, assume that the coal industry is facing immediate disaster.
59 The fact is that in the community of the Six the coal stocks piling up at the pitheads are proportionately larger than in this country. That is a general condition, largely resulting from a slackening in the growth of production throughout Western Europe. [An HON. MEMBER: "Stagnation everywhere."] We are usually accused of being the only stagnators. The hon. Gentleman must consult the league tables about the others.
The fact is that we must not be misled by the temporary large stocks that we have. They are a great problem both physically and financially, but a sharp upturn in industrial activity in this country and throughout Western Europe could soon make those stocks diminish; and any panic measures which led to excessive closure of pits or to the cutting down of the capacity of the industry below what we might need in the future would be very unwise.
I conclude on these lines, that the coal industry has been facing and is facing great difficulties. The Coal Board is undoubtedly taking the right steps by concentrating on efficiency and lower costs by revising its investment policies. It is only by efficiency and lower costs that the industry can maintain its position. If members of the party opposite try to pretend that there is some way other than efficiency and lower costs by which the coal industry can maintain its position, they utterly fail in everything they say.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Woof (Blaydon)
After listening to the Paymaster-General, I would certainly say that it should not be denied that the paramount duty of the Government, in being the ultimate guardian of the public interest, is, by any intervention affecting the running of a nationalised industry, to have a greater influence, whether for good or for ill.
By measuring the march of events, there are some aspects of the economic landscape in the mining industry's problems which seemed to be getting pushed further away from any chance of a response from the Government with a rational fuel policy. It should be quite clear that the basic principles underlying the property relation between the Government and the nationalised mining industry 60 ought to be one where complete honesty, each with the other, and free from antagonism, should be the prime function.
That is especially the case when it has been argued from the benches opposite that it is right for the Coal Board to concentrate on reducing output without reducing the efficient capacity for longterm production—with more concentration on costs in the context of new developments which are now taking place. That is precisely the argument which the Paymaster-General used on 3rd December last year, when we discussed the Coal Board's borrowing powers. Today he has said that the Government have a fuel policy.
One wonders exactly what credit the Government claim for having done everything to encourage and stimulate the Coal Board's drive for efficiency without irreparable harm to long-term production. Taking a sober view of the extreme gravity of the present situation, I suppose that the first casualty in any war or crisis, military, political or economic, will be the truth. In all the frustration, disillusionment and bewilderment created by a series of events, bow do we ascertain the truth from the indifference or inaction of the Government?
One of the laws of motion is that at every action produces an equal and opposite reaction. Many of us on this side of the Committee are familiar with strikes and lock-outs and all the complex feelings about "Black Fridays" and "Red Fridays" in compelling workers to surrender—because they end up with a terrible debt which has to be paid by good, honest, hard-working men, harassed with family cares, outlawed and practically driven to starvation for the ideals and moral principles for which they were prepared to fight.
Nowadays, one does not need to have an industrial or college education to see that property relations have undergone a transformation. However, with this change, in search of a redefinition, in attempting to find a key feature in the Coal Board's dilemma, I must also say that the whole technique has been changed from that of lock-outs and compelling workers to bend and yield, to demands of such immense force and pernicious influence that it is part of a wider calamity in which objectives are 61 being achieved through a very subtle method.
The inescapable facts of strongly competitive elements—and the competition will no doubt continue and probably intensify—exemplify the external and internal aspects of the Board's economic position in its efforts to sell coal within its present narrow and limited market.
How can the Board compete against oil companies which have captured markets traditionally supplied by coal, especially when the price of coal, as we all know, has been grossly inflated by heavy financial responsibilities which have put the Board, bridled and saddled with the actual operational costs, under a very severe handicap in its competition with oil companies?
This chain of events has not come about of its own accord and it is fitting to use figures to compare increases in consumption of coal and oil. All the figures quoted by the Paymaster-General today only showed the galloping consumption of the mining industry. The solid feature of the facts themselves, even from an outward appearance, reflects the scale of economic activities in the business life of the Board and the oil companies. The size and timing of the pattern of behaviour by the Government in their failure to provide a general fuel policy to mark the trend towards limitation of this competition have created more widespread alarm.
With such an advanced standard of output, never before attained in the mining industry, what is the clue to the present distress of the Coal Board? It cannot be one of destruction or failure in production or in resources. Is the Board to be driven to the wall in a fight in which it will be hard to save it from being crushed out of existence?
If it were a question of nature's resources failing us and of technical skill being inadequate, we should have no alternative but to endure. Surely the Board must have a goal towards which to be guided beyond this distressing path. What is intended to be the next step? Without any perspective or angle of vision from the Government, without any planning direction guiding it, how can the National Coal Board prevent disastrous dislocations and damage to safeguards to the public interest against monopoly abuses?
62 The right hon. Gentleman told us that we had nothing to fear from the new discovery of important natural gas deposits. He has said that before. He said that nothing could be done without the permission of the Government. He disputed some of the figures given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens). Fears of the known and of the unknown have been with us for a long time. There is no doubt about the general direction which is set by the big international oil companies which will make the next move.
The recent successful transportation of methane gas from the oilfield may well have extremely serious and important repercussions in reversing the demand for coal still further. It is my habit to look at a journal, the Voice of Industry, in the Library. I was interested to read an article in last month's issue of the magazine on the importance of methane gas. After immense technical difficulties have been overcome, we are now given to understand that one tanker of 30,000 tons, carrying this gas in liquid form ready to discharge into the gas mains without much effort, will be equivalent to 2 million tons of coal a year, and that ten tankers of this class will be more than necessary to meet the entire needs of the whole output of the British gas industry.
How can greater efficiency in the mining industry be exercised against this kind of competition? My right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth mentioned the position of the industry in the County of Durham when dealing with production for the gas industry. Those of us who have worked in Durham know a good deal about the coal industry there. There are approximately fifty pits that produce the type of coal needed for the gas industry, and I am not talking about pits which are on the decline or on the road out. Many of these pits are of long life and possess hugh reserves. In the daily task of restoring production and increasing efficiency the National Coal Board has spent millions of pounds.
What is the position now? The Paymaster-General said that the commercial exploiters of methane gas would have to get permission from his right hon. Friend. If they do get that permission, it will have repercussions in Durham County, and not only on the mining industry in the county. Everything attendant on the 63 production of coal will be affected. Surely, from the economics of the position, no wise Government would allow the sacrifice of such a great expenditure of public money in a public going concern.
In previous debates I dealt with the economic and social conditions affected by closures. In the debate on 18th March I referred to the closures as a "black death" and I meant what I said. The black plague of 1348 was extremely destructive of life by a mysterious disease. Today we are very proud that there is much to be boasted about in this enlightened and progressive age, but there can be no mystery about the industrial death to coal mining. My right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth gave some figures for coal production, but the latest figures show that there are 2¾ tons of unsold coal on the ground in Durham County. The Coal Board gave as the reason for closing thirty-six uneconomic pits the necessity for reducing output by 3 million tons. When the time comes to reduce output from 20 million tons to 30 million tons, the closures will be catastrophic and unprecedented in the history of British coal mining. It is not necessary for me to enlarge on the anxieties of whole communities caused by insecurities due to industrial change.
I was also interested in the reiteration by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth of what the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Power said about schoolchildren on 14th July last year during the debate on the Report from the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries. The Parliamentary Secretary was probably speaking with all sincerity and vision, but surely, by the events which have overtaken us, he has been caught within the net of his own words. Can any hon. Member of this Committee, with his hand on his heart, say that he is prepared to advise adolescents to enter the mining industry? I am not advocating the sending of young lads into the mining industry to work hard in this scientific age. Would anybody advise a university student to take up mining as a career in this country? It would be the last job I would tell a student to go to do because the future, as far as we can see it, is far from encouraging.
§ Mr. Woof
I know that, but if the present tangled state of affairs is allowed to drift and things are left vague and undefined and if tendencies in this critical period are not changed, the situation may become much more grim unless the Government are prepared to exercise responsibility with a course of action that will place the industry above the dependence on cupidity, and say exactly what they require from the National Coal Board. Or, to be more forthcoming, the Government should say whether they intend the Board to be like a ball of clay in the potter's hand to be moulded and shaped into an insignificant industrial asset.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Sir Peter Roberts (Sheffield, Heeley)
The hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Woof) put the case for the mining industry in Durham as we expect him to do, but I think he rather exaggerated the position. He took too gloomy a view of the future, but that is the sort of speech we have learned to listen to from hon. Members opposite. I was delighted with the speech of my right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General. He dealt with the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) extremely well. I felt that each rhetorical question that he asked, although there were a number of replies, took one more argument away from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth until he was left with very little on which to base a case.
My only criticism of my right hon. Friend's speech is that he was a little too complacent. I should like to draw his attention and that of the Committee to one or two points.
I wish first to say something about opencast coal. We have heard a great deal about opencast coal mining recently and a lot about the attitude of the mineworkers' union. I wish to mention some of the advantages of opencast mining. As my right hon. Friend has said, it is profitable. The £9 million profit made by opencast mining last year covered the whole of the losses in the North-Western division, amounting to £5 million; the whole of the losses in the Durham area amounting to £1½ million, and the whole of the £3 million loss in Wales. All those coalfields were, so to speak, subsidised by opencast mining. The wages would not have been there but for the profits made 65 in opencast mining. Those in the industry must realise the extent of the contribution made to the National Coal Board by opencast mining.
We cannot continually go against modern progress. It is interesting to consider what has been happening in Germany and America. I agree that the coal fields are different but the figures are still interesting. In 1880, 20 per cent. of the German brown coal was opencast. By 1937 92½ per cent. was opencast. Now it is all opencast. In the United States in 1937, 40 million Ions of bituminous and anthracite coals were produced by opencast mining and today the figure is 160 million tons. The coal is becoming cheaper and it is this coal which is coming over to compete with our coal on the Continent of Europe. The figure for the United Kingdom, at I believe 6 million, represents 3 per cent. We cannot ignore these figures nor the production methods used overseas.
I wish to reiterate something of which hon. Members are aware. The value of the coal won by opencast mining is ten times the amount of the agricultural produce which could be derived from the same land for the five years during which that land might be out of commission for agricultural purposes while the opencast mining is going on. It is sometimes claimed that opencast mining is bad for agriculture because of the effect upon the land. I believe that attitude of mind to be out-dated. In many cases the land is actually improved as a result of opencast mining.
In 1957, writing in the South Yorkshire Times, Mr. Hoyle, a farmer, said it was all "bunkum" about the land being no good when it was restored. He referred to the amount of wheat and grass which had been grown on the land after opencast coal mining had taken place. In the Western Mail the same sort of thing was stated by a Mr. Williams. I think that the bad name given to opencast mining is a result of bad compensation given in the past when farmers and owners and their neighbours had to give up amenities and other advantages, for which they received an uneconomic compensation. Under the new legislation the Coal Board has power to do better by way of compensation than in the past.
In America, for instance, people welcome the finding of oil on their ground, 66 even though the oil derricks may go up outside their front window, because the profits are available. The same thing could happen in this country with the coal industry.
§ Sir P. Roberts
In Canada the oil does not belong to the man on whose land it is found. The man would still have to live on his farm even with the oil derricks there. But he gets compensation at a rate which makes it worth while, and the same thing could happen in this country regarding coal. The redundancy problem is as great over opencast as over deep mining.
§ Sir P. Roberts
People who may be regarded as representatives of the mineworkers' union may not agree, but there must be hon. Members who represent other unions and who have met this case many times before.
The financial problems of the industry have been relieved to some event by the money brought in from opencast mining. As I see it, the present difficulty is that of stocks. My right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General said that he did not wish to be panicked by the stock position. The present figures are 20 million to 21 million tons undistributed and 15 million distributed.
The position regarding coal stocking is not the same as that of manufactured goods. I was always given to understand —I am sure that many hon. Members will agree—that the best way to stock coal is to leave it in the seam. If it is brought to the surface, the coal deteriorates and there are the expenses of stocking and handling it. It is not economic to have large stocks of coal and I do not think we should face the present position with equanimity. Action must be taken to reduce some of our stocks. I believe that the sight of large stocks of coal on the surface is depressing to the mineworkers.
§ Mr. William Blyton (Houghton-le-Spring)
Surely the outlook is the same regarding opencast. There is as much opencast coal on the ground as there is deep-mined coal.
§ Sir P. Roberts
Yes, I am now dealing with the whole problem. Opencast mining can help the industry and will not worsen the position. The whole question of getting rid of stocks is something which must be dealt with, because coal stocks impede progress in the industry and tend to reduce production.
What action can we take? I have tried to indicate the difficulty as I see it. We have asked what policy may be adopted. There might be a tax, or some form of import duty on oil but, as no such solution has been advanced, I wish to suggest one or two ways in which the position might be improved. I raised the question of exports two years ago and again last year and I wish to refer to it again today. Unless we can get back into the export market with long-term contracts, even, if necessary at slightly reduced prices because we have to make a start, the position will get more and more difficult. In May, 1958, during a debate on coal exports, I pressed the Parliamentary Secretary, as I am pressing him today, to do something about getting the export market going again. He took very little notice of what I said on that occasion. My hon. Friend said:Unless production increases, and unless we can be sure that it will increase over a series of years ahead, it is quite impossible, it would be almost dishonest, for the Government or the Coal Board to make the kind of statement for which my hon. Friend asks, because, production being stable, we shall either not be able to sell coal for lack of a market, or we shall need it at home."—[OFFKIAL REPORT, 14th May, 1958; Vol. 588, c. 5741That was a year ago. The position is worse now than it was then. We need exports. It is wrong for the Government to say that we need not do anything because we shall need the coal. This is a matter of basic importance. We need at least a 10 per cent. coal export, which would be something like 20 million tons under the target. It should be on a long-term contract basis and there should be continuity of supply. The sooner we get on with it the better. It is more difficult to do it today than it was a year ago and it will be more difficult in a year's time if the Minister does not do anything about it now.
I turn to home consumption. My right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General gave his views about oil. I supported the present Minister of Education when he 68 was Minister of Fuel and Power and when he made a move towards oil. In spite of all the arguments, it is clear that that move has gone far enough. I do not think that we should do anything that would discourage oil; I am not suggesting that we should prevent imports. We should help to make coal and coal derivatives more competitive. That point did not arise in the speech of the right hon. Member for Blyth. He has his difficulties but he should have suggested making coal more competitive.
It means that we should have to reconsider the coal-price structure. The right hon. Gentleman said that he was going to deal with the question of whether the Coal Board was pricing itself out of the market. I got my notebook ready to put down the arguments, and I waited and waited. Quite frankly, the arguments did not come. Nevertheless, unless the National Coal Board can make itself competitive, particularly in world markets, the present position will not get any better.
We come to the old question of power stations. I was delighted to hear that the target of 56 million tons of coal for 1965 was still in the Minister's mind. I thought he might have reduced that somewhat but he has not done so. Incidentally, he has not revised his ideas about the increased use of coke. On the subject of oil fuel in power stations. I agree that the power stations should not break contracts. The question I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to answer at the end of the debate is, how many more power stations are envisaged to be constructed in the next five years and how many of them are for oil fuel? We know that at great expense two power stations have been turned back from oil to coal.
Would the Minister consider making dual-purpose power stations for either kind of fuel? Once we build great power stations to burn oil only it is extremely difficult to turn them back to coal. The decision on this matter must be made now Once a power station is built we have committed ourselves to a particular type of fuel, perhaps for the next fifteen years. We must therefore have an answer to this question. I should like to be satisfied that dual-purpose power stations to use coal or oil are planned by the Electricity Board.
My second point concerns users of coal. The first of them I will mention is the 69 railways. We see great diesel engines thundering along the rails. What plans have the Government for increasing the electrification of the railways? Capital expenditure of that kind, although costly, can produce economic results. It would be cheaper to turn coal into electricity and to use it on the railways than to import oil. I am not advocating taxation or restriction of oil imports, but making coal more competitive.
The gas industry is one of our most up-and-coming industries, both for heating boilers and furnaces and for by-products such as smokeless fuel, chemicals and complete gasification of coal. The gas industry is one of the greatest customers of the National Coal Board but one of the difficulties is price. The Gas Board has been handicapped by the National Coal Board in having to pay more for its coal than does the Central Electricity Authority or the domestic consumer. The result is that it has been difficult for gas to compete with oil.
Let us look at the picture. In 1939, the price of coal to electricity undertakings was 19s. 4d. per ton, to gas undertakings 22s. 7d. and to the domestic consumer 43s. 2d. I have worked out the equivalent figures for 1957, which are the latest I could get. They should be, on the pre-war structure, electricity boards, 81s.; the Gas Council, 95s.; and domestic consumers, 180s. While electricity boards actually get their coal at 81s. gas boards have to pay not 95s. but 109s. and the domestic consumer pays, not 180s. but only 142s. We see that the price structure is weighted against gas.
As the result of policy on both sides of the Committee, the domestic consumer has been let off 40s. of the price he should he paying on the pre-war comparison, while the gas industry is paying more than the pre-war equivalent. That is one of the reasons why gas cannot compete with oil. I would ask whether it is not possible under the present price structure to get the price of coal to gas boards brought down.
I will leave aside the topics on which I next intended to speak, which included overseas commitments, Suez, and farms. Arguments have already gone across this Committee on those questions. I believe that we have a national commitment in our own raw materials in this country and that it is the duty of whatever Government there may be to foster our coal 70 industry rather than to put ourselves at he mercy of and at the whim of gentlemen in the Middle East, the Caribbean, or the Sahara.
Let me summarise what I have so far said. We must start immediately a real export drive, a task which will be harder than it was a year ago and even harder than two years ago. There must be a target of 10 per cent. of our production for export. Opencast coal, which is cheaper to produce, might be put into that market rather than cutting out the mining of opencast coal altogether. Let it be exported and bring in import money. We must give a boost to the gas industry to make it more competitive with oil. We must not cut back opencast any further. I have a certain interest in this matter which I will declare to the Committee although it is a minor interest. I know something about the machinery for opencast working. I believe that opencast working is an economic way of coal recovery.
There is the question of the mining fraternity. One cannot face this issue without looking at the position of the National Union of Mineworkers. The union makes its case here, and usually does so very forcefully. Nevertheless I will put certain facts to it. I noted that nationalisation came in for a few hard words from the right hon. Member for Blyth. The Gas Board, the Central Electricity Authority and even the National Coal Board seemed to need instruction from higher up according to him. Nevertheless, nationalisation puts more and more power into the hands of the trade unions concerned. I am not saying that that is a bad thing. So long as the leadership is imaginative, it is an advantage to the country. If that leadership is merely to push up wages and costs until the price of coal becomes uneconomic, the result will be disastrous.
We have to compete with oil, which is on an international basis. We have to compete with the coal which comes from America and Germany. Those are the conditions which control the price at which we can sell our coal. We must have regard to the enormous outside competition to this industry.
The wages structure in the mining industry can be pushed too far. I believe we have got to the limit now. I do not advocate trying to reduce wages. Some hon. Members may remember 1926 too 71 well. The only hope of increased wages in the mining industry must now come from increased efficiency in the Coal Board itself. There is room for that. All I am saying is that we have got to the limit. If we go further we shall see the British mineworker out of work. That will not be due to Government policy or slumps outside, but merely because coal has become too expensive—and the great element in the cost of coal is the amount of wages paid. The unions must look to the economic pits.
I come back to the crux of what I want to say about uneconomic pits. Stable employment in this industry can come only from good wages in good pits. I do not believe it can be sustained by problematical wages in inefficient pits. If we face the fact that only by cutting out losses can we deal with the problem, we come to the question of redundancy. I sat with great admiration the other day listening to the right hon. Member for Blyth making a magnificent speech in the debate on youth employment problems. I should be out of order, I believe if I were to read a passage from that speech, because it was made so recently, but I might be permitted to paraphrase what he said. [HON. MEMBERS: "The hon. Member can read it."] If I am to have that protection, I shall read the quotation. The right hon. Member said:When I read of the closures of pits, when I see contraction on the railways and in other industries, I wonder what is to happen to the man of 45 who loses his job, if only on the basis of redundancy. There is not another job as a railwayman or as a coalminer for him. Why should he not be given the right to take a three-years' apprenticeship, become a skilled worker, and start again on decent pay? … Is it not the best thing for the man himself, rather than that he should turn from being a skilled coal miner or skilled railwayman and become an unskilled labourer?—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 30th April, 1959; Vol. 604, c. 1484.1I believe that is the right approach to this problem. As a country we cannot go on supporting inefficient industries and trying to pay wages in an industry which cannot support them. We must see, the Government must see, if together we can work out a plan of rehabilitation. It is rehabilitation, not stagnation, that we want.
At present we have near-full employment. We must be flexible and prepared to change jobs. The trade unions in the United States of America have already 72 faced this problem. The union leaders say, "If it is necessary to have fewer men in the unions to get better wages, let us have that." That is a better way of approaching the problem. If the suggestions I have put to the Committee are not taken up quickly, I believe four things will happen. First, there will be more and more trouble in the coal fields as, over and over again, we face the question of closing pits. Secondy, the impetus of the industry itself will flag under the large stocks of coal accumulated. If that happens the money from the consumer of coal will go overseas and investment will go over as well. Lastly, we shall find oil becoming predominant.
I should like my noble Friend the Minister to call a conference, not only of his Parliamentary advisers on this side of the Committee, but of hon. and right hon. Members opposite if they would be prepared to join in also. That would be an excellent idea. I should call in the chairmen of the Coal Board, the British Electricity Authority, and the Gas Council together, with the leaders of the Mineworkers Union and other unions concerned, to see if we can work out a plan for the next five to ten years to deal with the whole problem of making the industry economic. The longer we put off this task the more difficult it will be to deal with. Such an idea should be considered by my noble Friend. I hope he will consider it to be a reasonable one.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Sir P. Roberts) made an interesting and well-documented speech. In that speech he proved to be much more progressive than the Paymaster-General, the Minister of Power and the Government. That, of course, is not surprising. It was obvious from the speech of the Paymaster-General that not only is he complacent, as the hon. Member observed, but that he fails completely to understand, not the economics, but the social intricacies of the problem which faces us in the proposed contraction of the mining industry.
The hon. Member for Heeley suggested in his summary that the Government might convene a conference consisting of the representatives of the three fuel and power industries and the unions concerned, but the responsibility 73 does not rest on the representative of the nationalised industries, nor on the trade unions. The responsibility clearly rests on the Government. It is the Government we are interrogating this afternoon. On the question of a conference, which obviously would be designed to effect some measure of agreement and, presumably, co-ordination, hon. Members on this side of the Committee are in complete accord. We have for long advocated some measure of co-ordination. Perhaps I might be permitted to develop the theme which has been voiced on several occasions in previous debates.
Before doing so, I want to express my opinion about the speech delivered by the Paymaster-General. We had a succession of petty, debating points and, of course, several oratorical outbursts. I hope he will forgive me for saying so and, naturally, I mean no offence, but it was reminiscent of the kind of speeches I have heard on occasion when attending debates at the Oxford Union and other university union societies. That, no doubt, is where he received his oratorical education, but he must not impose it upon us. We have got beyond that sort of thing. At any rate, we expect some measure of wisdom from members of the Government. On so grave a matter as the present condition of the coal industry and its future one is entitled to expect more from a representative of the Government —and a representative undoubtedly with considerable ability. We had hoped for a more constructive approach, setting aside all the repartee and rhetoric.
The right hon. Gentleman asked several questions of this side of the Committee. My first observation is that we often ask the Government questions, and I am bound to say we get a lot of silly answers, but no doubt the right hon. Gentleman expected rather more from us than we receive from them. We have an answer to his questions. Stripped of all the verbiage and the fallacies, the right hon. Gentleman's speech amounted to this question: do the Opposition agree with the Government that there must be fair competition within the fuel and power industries? We understand that the Tory Party believe in competition—indeed ruthless competition. They thrived on the advocacy of competition for a long time, but many people have suffered in consequence of competition, and if competition proceeds apace, fortified by the 74 ruthless character suggested by the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends, I am afraid that there is a very gloomy outlook for the coal industry. I go beyond that. It may have very grave repercussions on the electricity and gas industries.
The right hon. Gentleman asked whether we wished to protect the coal industry and what form of protection we advocated. I do not wish to indulge in debating points, but may I suggest that a large measure of protection has been afforded by this Government to the oil industry? I wonder what it has cost the taxpayers of this country over the last dozen years to assure protection for the British Petroleum Company, the Shell Oil Company and the others? In military expenditure alone it must have amounted to many hundreds of millions of £s. It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman, in that la-di-da fashion which is characteristic of him, to ask us whether we want to protect the oil industry, but they are protecting agriculture—I do not make a song and dance about that—and the oil industry. What was the Suez affair about? And all the trouble we have had in the Aden Protectorate? Why are we concerned about the Bagdad Pact? I am under no delusion about all these matters. They are all designed to protect our oil industry. I am not objecting to protection as long as it is essential to import oil to bolster the economy of this country; but if that is recognised, as it must be recognised by everybody, why boggle at a suggestion that some measure of protection should be afforded to the coal industry?
As I remarked in an interjection while the right hon. Gentleman was speaking, even Conservative Governments have recognised the importance of affording protection to the coal industry by subventions. If the right hon. Gentleman wants a suggestion, it may well be that it is worth while out of the vast profits provided for the Government from the production and importation of oil to provide a small subsidy for the coal industry.
The right hon. Gentleman may ask whether we are actually demanding a subsidy for the coal industry. Let me explain. Not very long ago the Coal Board was compelled, whether it liked it or not, to import coal. That cost a 75 lot of money, probably £100 million. If I am wrong, the Parliamentary Secretary can correct me. I agree that one of the provisions upon which the Coal Board bases its policy is contained in the Act for which I had some responsibility some years ago. The Board is responsible for the output of coal in this country. That is perfectly true, but it is not responsible for the importation of coal from other countries.
That responsibility, with all the finance it entailed and all the trouble which arose from it, should be clearly placed on the Government's shoulders. I feel that if the Coal Board had not been penalised by that financial sanction it would not have had the deficits, and certainly not such large deficits, which have accompanied its activities in the past few years. These are all matters which ought to be noted. It is no use the Government hiding their heads in the sand and pretending that these difficulties never arose.
The right hon. Gentleman indulged in the customary sneers about what happened in 1947, when there was a shortage of coal, for which it was alleged that I was responsible. He forgets that when we took over the pits we suffered from the gross neglect of the pits over many years while the industry was privately owned. That is not all. There may have been many reasons why the pits were neglected. The capital available may not have been sufficient to reorganise the pits at that time. Over and above that, however, is what happened during the war. I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman was still at school, or in what activities he was engaged. I was in the House, with many of my hon. Friends and some hon. Members opposite. Many of the pits were denuded of miners. This arose out of the French collapse. The French were not buying our coal and, as a result, many miners were compelled to leave the pits. They were called up or went into munitions work.
When we took over the pits we had insufficient men to undertake the activities required. We were faced with the neglect of bygone years and also with a shortage of manpower. I will say nothing about the phenomenal winter of 1947, unless hon. Members would like me to do so. Perhaps it would be a waste of time, When we take all these factors 76 into account we realise why there was a shortage of coal and what were the consequences of the situation for the Coal Board and the nationalised industry.
By way of digression, I would say that there is nothing wrong with the principle of nationalisation. I am not so sure about the implementation of nationalisation. It is just as well that somebody should say that, and perhaps it might as well be me. I am not always happy about the activities of the Coal Board, and I often wish that we had the opportunity to ask questions about its activities and those of other nationalised boards in the House. That is a democratic procedure which should be available to us.
I will take an example. This bears on the question asked by the right hon. Gentleman about a national fuel and power policy. He asked what use we are to make of our coal resources, beyond what is now being done. My answer is that if the Coal Board, backed by the Government, by the Ministry of Power, by the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends, had devoted as much attention to the production of oil and other by-products from inferior coal over the last ten years as they have to reorganisation, in the long run it would have been far better for the country.
I am not suggesting that there should have been no reorganisation. That was essential. But hundreds of millions of pounds have been spent on reorganisation. That is a very long-term affair, whereas by the expenditure of a few million pounds we might have got on the rails the very desirable project of developing by-products from indigenous co al resources.
What have the Government done? The right hon. Gentleman said, almost with dramatic effect, that the Government have appointed a committee to engage in research into these matters. When I mentioned that this had been going on for forty years, the right hon. Gentleman fobbed me off by suggesting that I thought that I was the only Minister of Fuel and Power, or Secretary for Mines, who knew anything about the subject. Of course I am not. I never suggested that I was. We have had several Secretaries for Mines and some Ministers of Fuel and Power from the opposite benches, but very little has been done in carrying 77 out research into the production of byproducts.
After all is said and done, inferior or small coal lies at the very root of the coal problem at present. There is no real problem about large coal. I was surprised to hear that there is a problem over the stocks of gas coal. I did not believe that there were such large stocks of gas coal, but there may well be and, if my right hon. Friend says so, I accept it. It is the inferior coal problem that is so troublesome.
We can do several things with inferior coal. First, we can turn inferior coal into ovoids, into briquettes, and into a variety of chemical products. That is what ought to have been clone, and sooner or later it will have to be done. That is one line of approach.
I wish to say this on the question of the Labour Party's fuel and power policy. What do we mean by a fuel and power policy? We have three elements in the fuel and power industry of this country. First, we have coal, which is the basis. In spite of the use of oil for gasification or for electricity power stations, there can be no doubt that coal is the basis of gas production and electricity generation. Secondly, we have electricity. Thirdly, we have gas.
When the Labour Government nationalised the mining industry it was our intention—I think that I declared it from the Dispatch Box in introducing the Bill—that one day these three industries, if not integrated, if not embodied into a complete unit, would be closely coordinated, not in competition one with another, which is the Government's policy, but dovetailed into each other.
In a situation of that kind one of the industries might not pay its way. It might be the coal industry It might be electricity. It might be gas. For example, when one effects co-ordination in a large departmental store or in an industry—it may be the engineering industry—one section often does not pay its way, but another section may more than pay its way. In consequence, the business thrives. That is precisely what we intended.
I ask the Committee to consider what has happened. First, the electricity industry is not subsidised, but what is happening? There is a two-part tariff, which means that some electricity consumers 78 are not paying the fair economic rate. Secondly, it is well established that some coals are sold to certain industrial undertakings at a lower than economic price. These things are now happening, whereas if the three industries were co-ordinated under one organisation and direction it is at least conceivable that it would be possible to bring about a greater measure of prosperity and security in the industries.
I agree wholeheartedly with what the hon. Member for Heeley said about the need for exports. I am satisfied that we could, if we desired, export a great deal of what is called inferior coal, the small coal—not in its raw state, but by turning it into briquettes or ovoids. An effort should be made to find a market for it in the furnaces, railways and other industrial establishments of foreign countries.
I come to the social aspect of the problem. The hon. Member for Heeley said that he thought that the Paymaster-General was too complacent. All I have to say about the right hon. Gentleman's observations on the social aspect of the problem is this. Not only is he too complacent, but the line he takes is most dangerous. If a large body of men are to be rendered redundant, it will create a social problem which will be very difficult for this or any other Government to tackle.
What is the position? The right hon. Gentleman says, "Be patient. By 1965 or perhaps 1970 everything in the garden will be lovely. We shall want 300 million tons of energy in this country—in nuclear power, electricity, oil, gas and coal. When that time comes the coal industry will make its contribution of, say, 200 million, or perhaps 210 million tons. Then all will be well." What is to happen now? What about the men who will be rendered redundant? It should be noted that the men affected will not only be men reaching 65. When men are made redundant at 65, with a pension and perhaps with the addition of the supplementary pension provided out of the Miner's Fund, it is possible to carry on. But what will happen to men rendered redundant at 45 or 50 when it will be almost impossible for them to obtain alternative employment? There will be unemployment benefit far a period, and National Assistance.
79 Is that the policy of the Government? Is that what they mean when they say that uneconomic pits must be closed? I agree with my right hon. Friend that, if uneconomic pits are to be closed, it should be done in a planned fashion over a period of time so that we can adapt ourselves to the social and economic changes forced upon us. We must do that. That is the essential and sensible way of tackling the problem.
Of course, I do not impute malice to the members of the Government in these matters. No doubt they are as sincere and honest in their views on policy relating to this industry as my right hon. and hon Friends and myself are. However, I think that the Government are mistaken. Their mistake may cost the country dearly.
I suggest that the Government should go ahead with its research. They should tell the Coal Board to produce its by-products whenever it can. They should speed that up Perhaps it will have to be done in competition with the chemical industry, even with I.C.I. It is the Government who ask for competition. If they want competition, let the gas industry and the Coal Board provide the byproducts in competition with the chemical industry of this country. It seems that the Government agree with me. That is an improvement. That is the first thing that could be done.
The second thing that could be done would be to bring these three industries together and let them hammer out a solution in a co-ordinated manner. And the Minister of Power must direct them. He has the power to direct general policy. We gave him that power in the original Bill. I had it myself, though for only a limited period, but I had little coal. He has all the coal he wants—and more—so he could handle the situation much more easily than I could have been expected to do.
I do not subscribe to all that the Paymaster-General had to say about opencast coal operations. Opencast coal production, after the war, and continuing for several years, was a very valuable contribution to our coal resources and a very valuable aid in assisting industrial production, but the time may have come to reconsider it. That is not for me to say. It has nothing to do with agriculture, the 80 desecration of land and all the rest of it—
§ Mr. Shinwell
The hon. Gentleman knows nothing about it, anyhow. I myself have seen places where opencast operations have taken place and the land afterwards restored. In the opinion of agriculturists, more expert than I or the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir) can hope to be, that land was far better afterwards than before. Perhaps, on economic grounds, it is desirable to contract opencast operations.
I suppose that it would be very difficult to prevent oil coming to this country, as the Government make so much profit from it themselves. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us what profit the Government do make. Perhaps he will also tell us whether the profit they earn from the oil industry is equivalent to the expenditure incurred on military activities for the protection of the industry.
In my mining constituency we are now suffering some redundancy. Large numbers of the coke-oven men have become redundant, and the Minister of Labour agrees that this is a very serious problem. It is not easy to find alternative employment for men, now unemployed, from the coke ovens in Durham and elsewhere. What is that redundancy due to? It is due to the Government's policy of—I will not say stagnation, but contraction of industry. Some of these redundant men have obtained work a long way from their homes, but it is not desirable to uproot people from the place of their birth, and where they have their associations. It is not a satisfactory solution of the social problem. Rather, it creates a social problem.
The Government must face redundancy. I see that my friend Sam Watson, General Secretary of the Durham Mineworkers' Union, has proposed that the Coal Board should make a payment of £100 for every redundant man. Well, I suppose that £100 is better than nothing—it is useful for various purposes—but even £100 will not go very far these days. Therefore, that proposal is not enough.
What about shorter hours of labour in the mines? I would remind the Committee that as far back as 1930 I represented 81 the Labour Government at Geneva, when we secured a convention for a 7¼hour day. We wanted a 7-hour day, but 7¼hours was agreed on. But that has never been ratified. When an industry is contracting, without impairing efficiency—and I am all for efficiency—but men are thrown out of work as a result, it is surely time to consider whether it is not possible, by reducing the hours of labour, to keep those men in work, or to absorb more men.
If it is said from the other side, as it no doubt will be, that this would make the industry even less competitive, I venture to say that if we had a satisfied mining community, with no fear of redundancy, a measure of security, proper industrial relations with the Coal Board and with whichever Government were in power, and the reorganisation now taking place, and projected, we would get all the efficiency necessary to make the coal industry competitive.
I should like to be able to tell my constituents that the Government had thought the matter over; that I had heard the Parliamentary Secretary refute much of the nonsense indulged in by the Paymaster-General. After all, the Parliamentary Secretary has often dropped a brick; another one will not do anybody any harm. I suggest that he enables me and my hon. Friends to go back to our mining constituencies and say, "We have some assurance that the Government are giving the closest attention to this problem, particularly to its social aspects." I hope that as a result of what he says, we can promise our friends that there will in future be a greater measure of security than there appears to be at present.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Colonel C. G. Lancaster (South Fylde)
Th right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) speaks with almost unrivalled experience of fuel and power matters. He has, of course, the added distinction of having been the author of the scheme by which this industry was launched on the sea of nationalisation. I do not hold that against him, because he frankly said that he was not altogether happy about the further progress of the child he had fathered. On a number of his points I found myself in almost complete agreement, but I will take those up 82 in the course of my speech and go back now to the origins of this debate.
My right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General destroyed almost every one of the arguments advanced by the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) I am very much in agreement with my right hon. Friend's general economic propositions, although I am not altogether happy about the social side of the matter. I sympathise very fully with the concern of right hon. and hon. Members opposite over the effect of what is now occurring on the lives and fortunes of the men engaged in this industry. For a few moments I want to deal with the problem as it is being tackled now, and then to try to make one or two suggestions as to how we can seek to solve it.
The principal reason for the coal industry's problems—not only here but everywhere in the world—is that there has been a change-over from solid to refined fuels; electricity, oil and the like. There has been a world recession, and there have been economies in the use of fuel by industry generally. We would be foolish to attempt to put the clock back.
What are the three main ways in which the problem is at present being tackled? First, there is the closure of uneconomic pits. In general, nobody will quarrel with that, but as the right hon. Member for Easington has said, this must be done in a controlled way. We must recognise that some pits are completely wasted assets. That happens in all extractive industry, and has been happening since coal mining first began. Once the reserves there are finished, that is the end of that story.
Nevertheless, the closure of a pit which, for one reason or another, has been shown to be uneconomic in certain circumstances may mean the loss for all time of the reserves in that pit, and whatever arrangements are made for transferring the men it will mean a certain loss and wastage of the trained manpower employed at that pit. Although, as I say, we must continue the process of closing pits, it must be done on a long-term and controlled basis.
The next matter is that of redundancy of manpower. We must be very cautious about this. We cannot turn off men and hope to get them back in the same condition as when they left. When a man leaves the industry, he may come back, 83 but it takes time for the co-ordination of his muscular and mental activities to return to the condition in which they were when he left and for him to become the useful man that he was previously. I would sooner see some scheme by which men are retained rather than turned away, although, of course, we must recognise that as the years go by an efficient industry will need fewer men than are required at present. However, that is a long-term matter.
Thirdly, there is the question of the further stocking of coal. We are informed that there is not much worry about adding to the present stocks, but I am beginning to wonder whether we are not getting very close to the point of no return. Stocking coal is no new thing. We did it in the past, and up to a certain level it was a practicable proposition. but there inevitably came a point where whatever benefits there were in keeping a pit in operation were discounted by the additional cost of putting that coal on the ground, further and further away from the pit itself, with all the loss and deterioration which thereby occurred. I am wondering whether we are not getting very close to that point at this moment.
I suggest that the solution comes under three headings. Two of these have been referred to at some length, but I think they require further emphasis. First, the coal industry is only going to regain and maintain its position in this competitive world of fuel requirements by becoming cost-conscious and competitive. We heard an encouraging account this afternoon of the improvement in O.M.S., and there has been a distinct improvement, although I wonder whether it represents more than might have been expected from the stoppage of Saturday working and from the pressure of investment which has occurred in this industry during the last decade.
In that respect, I should like to digress for a moment about the competition which the British coal industry faces at the moment. Let us take the analogy of the United States of America, not as between America and ourselves but within the United States. Their coal industry faced far greater competition than we do. They had not only great hydro-electric schemes, like that of the Tennessee Valley Authority, but natural gas in immense quantities and almost un- 84 limited oil. Yet, despite that indigenous competition, the American coal industry has retained its level within that frame-work, and it has done it by cutting costs. Until we are able to cut costs within this industry, we shall not be able to main-taro our position.
I have considerable sympathy with management at this moment, working as they do in an atmosphere of not knowing whether additional coal will mean merely additional stocking and will add to the complications and worries of the National Coal Board. There can be no urge and emphasis on improvement in those conditions. I believe it is necessary for the situation to be rationalised so that the advantages of the very elaborate and, indeed, efficient reorganisation which has been occurring in the industry can be given full scope.
In this respect, one must add the matter of cleaner coal. We shall not be competitive with other sources of energy unless the coal produced in our pits is sold clean. Last Saturday I was walking round a mental institution of which I happen to be a governor, and I was shown a heap of anthracite coal. There were about 30 tons of it. Something like 50 per cent. of the heap was shale. We cannot afford that. We must have clean and cheap coal. As far as possible also, we must have round coal. Round coal is in great demand. Our old Mediterranean market was almost essentially a round coal market. We went too far and too fast in the introduction of certain types of power loaders in this country, and we have introduced an excess of small coal. We should now reverse the process and produce as much round coal as possible.
I should like to join with my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Sir P. Roberts) and with the right hon. Member for Easington in urging the further development of our export industry. When it is realised that one commercial concern in this country has recently been advertising that it is selling about 50 million dollars worth of goods abroad and it is recognised that the whole of our coal export business at this moment is worth less than half of that, the Committee will appreciate to what a pass we have come. We are at the moment exporting barely 3 million tons of coal. There was a time when we exported 187 million tons. 85 We were the greatest coal exporters in the world.
It may be said that we cannot regain our position in the export markets because of prices, but I believe it might not be altogether unwise if to some extent we bought our way back into that market. It might be a sound investment. We can-not say that in due course we will get back; that time may never come. The time to get back into the export market is now and in succeeding months. An immense effort must be made in that direction. I sincerely support what my hon. Friends have said in that regard.
The next point that I want to discuss is research. One of the things that struck me, and I am sure struck hon. Members opposite, in the course of our work on the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, when we were investigating the affairs of the coal industry, was the very small amount of money being expended on research, whether into low temperature carbonisation, or the use of small coals or inferior coals for gas purposes, or the matter on which the right hon. Member for Easington spoke—the making of briquettes and ovoids—or, indeed, the pure development of coal itself as a primary commodity. At the moment, we arc spending about £120 million a year on capital account in reorganising the coal industry. I wonder whether it would be unreasonable if we spent about 4 or 5 per cent. of that annually on research.
The ordinary industrialist is not inhibited in short-time working by the circumstances of his wage structure, and yet with the guaranteed wage structure which we have in the industry, the problem of short-time working does become very difficult. Would it not be wise to look into the possibility of a guaranteed weekly wage? I say that in particular because, if management could so organise production as to secure that, during the summer months, the industry worked, possibly, a four-day week, with a full week during the rest of the year, that would represent 10 per cent of the production of the country at this moment and would give management the flexibility to deal with the great problems of coal stocking and production.
I firmly believe that it would be wise, whatever our predelictions with regard to existing wage agreements, to look 86 seriously into the possibility of whether something of that sort would be in the, interests of the industry and the men employed within it.
§ Mr. Blyton
Is the hon. and gallant Member for South Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) suggesting that the miners should do away with their guaranteed week so as to work four days a week for four days' pay?
§ Colonel Lancaster
No, I am not suggesting anything of the sort. I am suggesting the substitution of the guaranteed weekly wage for the present system of a guaranteed wage. In principle, there is not an immense difference between the two, but it would give management the opportunity to achieve that flexibility which the present arrangement precludes.
Above all, what seems to be needed at this moment more than anything else is some hard thinking. When all is said and done, since 1947 there has not been much change in a scheme which was acknowledged at that time as provisional and hasty and by no means perfect. The right hon. Member for Blyth frankly conceded that. Since then, there has been one inquiry by the Fleck Committee, a Committee which, in my view, was not ideally constituted and which did not deal very imaginatively with the problem. In fact, it made little or no difference to the position as it then existed. Can we really say at this moment that nothing is wrong with this industry, that nothing needs change in its structure, its organisation or its methods? Of course, we cannot.
I believe that the time has now come to consider the whole matter afresh. It may be that the difficulties with which we are faced has made this time particularly opportune. Certainly, the moment has come when there should be, both by Parliament and by the Boards, a great deal of fresh and imaginative thinking. Without it, we shall not succeed.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Alan Fitch (Wigan)
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. and gallant Member for South Fylde (Colonel Lancaster), even though one may not agree with his observations. He always speaks with great diffidence about a subject about which he has intimate knowledge.
87 The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Sir P. Roberts) spoke about opencast workings. I can tell him that land in Wigan which has been returned to the farmers after opencast working is completely unfit for any kind of agricultural work whatever, and I do not believe that that experience is unique.
§ Mr. Fitch
Yes, I am taking a present case. It is up to date.
The hon. Gentleman suggested also that if the opencast contracts were stopped, men would be thrown out of work. Nobody, of course, wants to throw men out of work, but it should be remembered that these men are employed by civil engineers. They are not miners. Therefore, there will be available for them alternative work which would not be available to men employed in deep mining. When one thinks of the needs of agriculture and the value of coal in relation to the value of agricultural products, it is obviously unnecessary to go on with any kind of opencast workings whatever, there being 22 million tons of coal at present undistributed.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) said that the reasons for the fall in the demand for coal were two: first, the recession in industry, which we have discussed in several debates; and, second, the use of oil. I want to say a word or two about oil. It has been mentioned much already, and, no doubt, other hon. Members will have more to say about it. It is generally recognised that many industries have gone over or are contemplating going over to oil, at least to a certain extent. The gas, electricity and steel industries are examples. The consumption of oil in uses where it competes with coal was, in 1956. 19 million tons of coal equivalent. In 1958, the level had risen to 28 million tons of coal equivalent. This is where oil was competing with coal.
The Economist of 4th October had this to say:Everyone concerned with forecasting fuel demand always accepted this growth in the use of fuel oil. But it used to be seen as satisfying the growth in total demand which coal would not be able to meet: since that growth ceased, the continued expansion of oil sales has been at the expense of coal.88 Now, oil is not complementary to coal but is in competition with it.
Two or three months ago, there was delivered through my letter-box a sort of newspaper, the kind of thing which, no doubt, many hon. Members have seen, a paper of no particular literary value and devoted to advertising. The proprietors obviously could not sell it; they had to give it away. I was interested to note that sandwiched between an advertisement for vegetable soup with stuffed bacon rolls and an advertisement for a vital vitamin was an article on coal by the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro). I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is not in his place today, because he is a regular attender at debates of this kind, and, had he been here, I should have informed him that I intended to quote from what he had said. In his article, the hon. Gentleman said:Socialists and union leaders have suggested that imported fuel oils should be limited in order to concentrate upon the use of indigenous coal. Surely, the only real spur to greater efficiency in the State-monopoly coal industry is effective competition from oil.If we are talking only about efficiency, nobody would disagree. No one on this side of the Committee nor, I am sure, anyone on the benches opposite would suggest that we should run industry, whether private or State controlled, in an inefficient manner. But when we are speaking about efficiency, we must bear in mind also the position of the two parties which are competing one with the other. I shall refer to them here as international oil, a very wealthy organisation, and the nationalised coal industry.
In 1957, British Petroleum and Royal Dutch Shell invested for capital development £486 million, nearly five times as much as the nationalised coal industry, which, in that particular year, invested £103 million. In the ten years until 1957, £240 million was spent on oil refineries in this country. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) pointed out, the National Coal Board started from scratch. It took over an industry which was run down. It had no assets whatever and had to build from that basis. The prices it was allowed to charge were limited to such an extent that it could make only enough money to cover its costs and the interest on compensation to the former owners. In fact, we were selling our coal at between 20s. 89 and 30s. below world prices. The Board was tied. It is fighting today with one hand tied behind its back. It has been made responsible for losses on imported coal. It has been made responsible for subsidence, something which I cannot understand, because subsidence has taken place over a long period. It is not something which has occurred since the industry was nationalised. I feel that compensation for subsidence should be paid out of interest paid to the former coal owners. The National Coal Board has had to meet high rates of interest. I believe that at present the Board is borrowing money at 5½ per cent. In 1947, money was borrowed at 2½ per cent. and in 1948 at 3 per cent.
There is also the human side. The National Coal Board took over an industry that was run down, not only economically but in human relations as well. Miners were some of the worst paid workers in the country. The Board has raised their conditions of work until they are now among the best paid. The Board introduced many schemes—pension schemes and schemes of social security. I wonder whether the international oil companies have looked after their workers, particularly non-European workers, as well as the National Coal Board has looked after the miners. I should like to know the conditions under which many people in the oil companies are working.
In 1955, a survey was made by the Ministry of Labour into the social benefits that certain industries paid per worker. The National Coal Board paid £63 2s. 6d. per worker per year in social benefits. No other industry in this country paid anything like as much. Some, including the cotton and engineering industries, paid only half this sum.
The Board has entered what might be described as this fight at a definite disadvantage. The competition is not equal. It is unfair to suggest that the Coal Board should stand up without any kind of policy and help from the Government and be expected to beat international oil cartels.
The National Union of Mineworkers has outlined a national fuel policy. I do not want to go into it in detail, but there are certain things which I should like to say about it. I have spoken before on the question of distribution because I 90 believe that it is something into which we should look. At the moment, 17,000 firms, mostly fairly small firms, are engaged in the distribution of coal. One of the things which should be looked into is the question of creating larger units on the zoning system so that we can have more efficient delivery. Since the price of coal was decontrolled last year merchants have increased their margin by 1s. 6d. per ton. The pithead price is now 93s. 3d. a ton. It is being sold to the householder at a 153s. 2d. a ton.
Much has been said about new uses for coal. I think that in what I am about to say I shall echo the views of mine workers. We are very concerned that Dr. Bronowski and his team have not produced far more by-products. We do not wish to be critical, but we are very concerned about this problem. I know that the National Coal Board has had many things to deal with and has had difficulties to face, but my criticism is that it has not given sufficient attention to the important problem of by-products and that where it has it has allowed private enterprise to get whatever profit there may be.
Referring to the export trade. it is interesting to note that America is flooding the Continental market. We have lost the Argentine market to America and Australia. Germany has now entered into competition with us and has taken markets in Sweden, Norway and Ireland from us. Russia is now importing oil into Italy at the lowest known price. It is costing the Russians the ridiculously low figure of two dollars per ton to transport coal from the Urals to Finland, which I understand is about 3,000 miles. Belgium has also entered the competitive field. We shall be very fortunate if at the end of this year we have exported 3 million tons of coal. This is a question into which the Minister should look. We cannot compete successfully with Germany at the moment because the Germans are charging 10s. a ton less than our reduced prices. The Poles are also charging 10s. to 15s. less than our prices. This is a problem to which we should give our urgent attention.
I must refer to Lancashire. Of the 36 pits closed last year, one, the biggest, employing 1,300 men, was in Lancashire. I am pleased to say that all those men have been found work in other pits, 91 and I venture to say that had this occurred under private enterprise those men would have been on the dole. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] That is my opinion. The good relations which have existed between the Lancashire area of the National Union of Mineworkers and the Coal Board have borne fruit and the men have been found other work. I am confident that this co-operation will lead to greater security for the workers.
Today, we tend to run down the mining industry and to talk about its inefficiency. In Lancashire, however, a record has been created. At the Bankhall Colliery in Burnley, great development is taking place. In five days an advance was made —mining men will know what I am talking about—in a 20 ft. by 12 ft. tunnel of 66 yards. This is a record for this country, and I think it is believed to be a record for Europe. In view of such developments, we should not talk too much about inefficiency in the coal industry.
Finally, the Coal Board has a difficult job and we as Members of Parliament have a difficult job. We on this side agree that the industry is bound to contract a little. We must face that in view of the developments in atomic energy, but we want that contraction to be orderly. We do not want the industry to contract in conditions of chaos. Moral appeals are not much use in dealing with commercial problems. We can appeal to the people to buy English shirts and not those from Hong Kong; we can appeal to the people to go to the cinema and not to look at television; we can appeal to people to use coal and not oil; but moral appeals are not sufficient. We want practical action.
We on this side are right in asking the Government to tell the mining industry what it is expected to produce and what its policy must be. In the national interest, we must have a national fuel policy which will remove from the miners that sense of frustration and insecurity which we thought had gone for ever when the industry was nationalised in 1947 but which unfortunately is returning again. The miner wants to know where he stands. In view of the advertisements which he has seen in the newspapers about the security of mining, he wants to feel that there is still a future for him in this great industry.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Sir Albert Braithwaite (Harrow, West)
I am very glad to have an opportunity of intervening in this debate, because only the other day I put on the Order Paper a Motion in connection with the coal mining industry.
[That this House, being aware of the vital necessity of maintaining a prosperous coal industry, calls upon the Government to institute an immediate inquiry into the urgent need for increased markets and the fullest use of our indigenous resources as the main basis of power, to ensure stable employment for a large section of our workpeople, and to safeguard the large capital investment made by the Government in this industry.]
I am sure that nobody in the Committee can view the present situation with any equanimity. It is a serious situation. I do not agree with my right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General this afternoon that this is a temporary phase. It is far more serious. It is much more likely to be permanent and it is likely to decline rather than to get better. If that is the case, it is our urgent duty to do something before we get the industry into a state when everybody in it is alarmed and uneasy. We should try to make practical plans for maintaining a level of production that will enable the industry to feel confident again.
It is easy to say things of this sort, but I shall make one or two practical suggestions which I hope, will receive the consideration of my noble Friend the Minister of Power and the Ministry. The loss of our export markets is now being felt to the full by the coal industry. It is only a few years ago that we were stopped completely from exporting any coal at all and other people stepped into the gap. So priceless was this market to other countries that the Americans cut their freight rates on transport from the United States from 100s. to 25s. a ton to secure the markets of Europe and they made long-term contracts. This is a serious position, because we used to balance our European payments by the export of coal from this island. In the past, we sent about 40 million tons a year to Europe in the peak years.
It is not too late to get some of those markets back again, but we must be prepared to go and get them, even if it involves a substantial reduction in price. 93 I shall come to the detail of this presently, but we must try to get these markets back again before it is too late for us to have any chance of them.
Let us consider the situation if we had 10 million tons of exports. That quantity of coal would give work for a year to 35,000 miners. It would produce roughly 5.000 cargoes for the small ships which we used to send abroad to the European ports, ships that were designed to go into the small harbours and build up reserves of coal in those areas. It would also provide 500,000 railway loads of coal to the ports. All this is ancillary to the mining industry and would give a measure of employment and bring prosperity to the country. Therefore, it is surely wise to go out to try to secure these orders in every possible way.
I have spoken on this subject before arid I have asked the Coal Board to give the public an idea of what the Board was doing. No reports of this nature are available and in the House of Commons we have had very little information on the day-to-day working position of the coal mining industry. If it is difficult to do this, however, there is one other thing which, surely, it is easy to do. If we cannot sell coal, I would like to see us selling power. We already have a line through to France, where there is a reciprocal arrangement for the sale of electrical energy.
Why should somebody else supply 12 million tons of coal to Ireland when only a 40-mile wire is required from Scotland to take the electricity to Ireland? Surely, some arrangement of this nature could be devised and could be deployed in Scotland to try to bring some life back into the Scottish coalfields by the production of electrical energy and its transmission across the water to Ireland. It is not a difficult engineering problem and it is surely something which, if we were able to secure the market, would afford an outlet for another 7 or 10 million tons a year. These are merely suggestions.
I am worried about the general situation of the industry. Anybody with any sense can see that it will be run down and will be a declining industry for the rest of its life. Therefore, plans must be made now so that it runs down fairly and squarely, to give the people who have been brought up in it a chance rather than that they should be shoved on the 94 scrapheap at any moment and all these 700,000 men and their families suffer in consequence.
No one, on either side, wants to stand in the way of progress. I am quite sure that every one of us is delighted to see the scientific approaches to new problems that will bring great benefits. When they harm a basic industry like this, however, we must make our plans in advance to take in these movements at the proper time and in the right proportion. We have serious competition with the oil industry, but the oil industry is much more flexible and is bound to make its appearance in industrial affairs. Oil is easier to handle and for some purposes it is better.
In all this, however, we must find a method of dealing with the situation. That is why I want an inquiry into the position of the Government and of the Ministry of Power in this matter. At what figure are they allowing the industry to run down? Are they knocking off 50 million tons next year and another 50 million tons the following year, or are they doing it gradually and taking it up in a sensible, reasonable way?
My suggestion is that there should be an immediate levy of 3d. per ton on all coal and coal equivalent, to be paid into a fund that would run the industry down in a sensible way and enable us to deploy the people who work in it in other industries as best we can. If a scheme of this sort is not prepared, the whole thing will be in a chaotic state.
§ Sir A. Braithwaite
It would produce £30 million a year. If it could be kept separate and dealt with over the period, some of the money, at least, could perhaps be used to secure larger markets on the Continent so that we keep more people engaged in the mining industry. At least, some stabiliser of this character is clearly needed at this time. I have no confidence that we will not be faced with staggering shocks in the industry unless plans are made.
I do not minimise the work of the Coal Board, but there are many things that are open to serious criticism. I do not see why, in its annual accounts, the Board should lose £2 million a year on its houses, After all, the Board has provided adequate remuneration in the mining 95 industry. There is no reason why £2 million should be shown as a loss in its accounts.
§ Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)
I do not know the area from which the hon. Member comes, but I have some idea of the loss in my own constituency. The Coal Board has been trying to keep houses in decent repair, and some of them have cost so much because they were in such a poor state, just as were the pits when the Coal Board took them over. When one looks at the expenditure which the Board has made on houses one finds that most of it goes in trying with very great difficulty to keep in decent repair houses which, if there were other houses available, would be knocked down.
§ Sir A. Braithwaite
Naturally, I have not got all the details which the hon. Lady mentioned, but this is an item in the publicised balance sheet of the Coal Board which it does seem to me ought to be corrected in some way.
§ Miss Jennie Lee (Cannock)
Would it not make more sense if that £2 million spent on an absolute necessity were borne by the general taxpayers instead of by the Coal Board?
§ Sir A. Braithwaite
I do not know just how this loss has occurred. The explanation that we have heard today may be the reason for it, but, at any rate, to bring it on charge account against the cost of coal and to bring it into the balance sheet of the Coal Board seems to me absolutely wrong. It would not be the sort of thing which would be done in an ordinary commercial undertaking. We want to see these nationalised boards based on efficient and economic realism and not on some theoretical figures.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
Just now the hon. Gentleman gave me a figure of £30 million a year as a result of a 3d. levy on coal and coal equivalent. Surely he means £3 million, not £30 million a year.
§ Sir A. Braithwaite
I took it on 300 million tons. I may have been wrong in my mathematics. It makes a substantial difference, I agree, and it may have to be 6d., or even more. It is the principle of the suggestion I want to put across to the Committee, that something of this nature should be done which is fair to all.
96 I do not want to say much today about what everyone in the Committee knows is a pet subject of mine—opencast working. I started it in this country, and I claim that it has been a substantial contributor to our national economy. However, I want to correct an impression which I think was given in reply to a Question the other day by an hon. Member opposite, who asked the Government whether any figure could be given of the damage done by opencast to main roads. Of course, no damage of any sort could possibly occur, because we do not go under main roads. We do not dig through main roads. We dig in land clear of the roads. I just wanted to put that right, because it was not made very clear the other day that this does not affect the road situation.
§ Mr. Roy Mason (Barnsley)
It does affect the roads. Is the hon. Gentleman not aware of the fact that the increased heavy tonnage on the roads, the heavy lorries running in connection with opencast workings, and running near main towns, do affect many roads?
§ Sir A. Braithwaite
At any rate, I am sorry that a situation has arisen which has led to the reduction in opencast. I hope that the indigenous resources of our country will be used to the fullest possible extent as contributors to our national prosperity, wherever they come from.
§ Sir A. Braithwaite
We have been through all that before. Amenities have not been disturbed in many places at all, but I am not going to argue that point with my hon. Friend.
In conclusion, I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary if he will please say whether there is any real study going on by any responsible group of people inside the Government in connection with a plan for dealing with this industry on a gradual basis and not on the basis of these violent situations which occur? Nobody on either side of this Committee wants to keep an uneconomic proposition going if we can possible avoid it. We 97 want to get these things on to a better, more profitable basis for the sake of the whole nation.
Therefore, I think that an inquiry is most urgently needed. We have not had one of such a character since the Ridley inquiry, in 1947. The time has surely come for a reassessment of the whole situation of national power, so that we may look forward to a future with security for those engaged in the fuel and power industry and with greater ultimate benefits to the nation.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Mr. John Cronin (Loughborough)
I was very interested to hear what the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Sir A. Braithwaite) had to say, for he has had such experience of this subject, so much so that one feels some diffidence in following him. He is certainly not miscast as the proponent of opencast.
I think that we ought to consider the problems of the industry from both the short-term and the long-term point of view. The short-term position, although it seems extremely serious, does seem to me amenable to comparatively simple measures. Obviously, the short-term situation is due to various factors which will change. First, there is the stagnation of production, of which we have all heard so much. There will perhaps be expansion of industrial production resulting from the Budget and certainly from changes in the autumn or even next year in the composition of the House as a whole. The weather has obviously had a serious effect this year, and we can always rely upon the English weather to change sufficiently for the worse for it to affect to a substantial extent a problem like this.
One must bear in mind that the accumulation of coal stocks is to a considerable extent marginal. I do not think that it amounts to more than about five weeks' production. Indeed, it is only about half the accumulation of the stocks of cotton or rubber or timber. So it is very important that panic measures should not be taken.
It is particularly desirable that the National Coal Board should be careful to cut only the really uneconomic forms of production in so far as it makes any cuts at all. It is very important to remember that the difficulties of the coal industry have existed only since 1957. 98 Before then, we had many years of acute shortage, and this present situation may well reverse itself. It is, therefore, very important that there should not be any irreversible cuts in useful production.
It is also very desirable that any closures which are made should be not only of a minimal nature, but also carefully planned. It is particularly desirable that when miners are transferred from pits which are closed they should go to other pits where there is housing accommodation and social amenities, schools, chapels; and it is very important, when it is not possible to transfer miners to other pits, that other industries should be brought to the area of the closed pit. These matters are really vital to the social aspect of the problem.
There is a real danger that the Coal Board may be induced to take measures which are more extreme than the situation really justifies. There is a steady psychological pressure on the Coal Board from hon. Gentlemen opposite and from the Press to make its transactions always of the maximum financial advantage without consideration of other factors. The Parliamentary Secretary himself, many years ago, was somewhat opposed to the concept of the nationalisation of coal, and still is. It would be reassuring to know that he has changed his views completely, Is the Parliamentary Secretary a black sheep who has become white, or is he a wolf in shepherd's clothing? One does not know.
The Paymaster-General often appears to be a sympathetic figure in matters concerning nationalisation, as far as that is possible for one on the other side of the Committee. Yet last December he said:The increase of 3 million tons in stocks is about as much as can be financially and physically tolerated in the course of the next year."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd December. 1958, Vol. 596, c. 1311.]This suggests that his reassurance today might not be as satisfying as it could be. If the right hon. Gentleman has changed his views since last December, he might change the view he expressed today. So we cannot be certain that the Government will take this lenient view on the increasing coal stocks which the speeches today suggest.
The long-term situation for coal is obviously unsatisfactory as matters stand. 99 Practically every hon. Member who has spoken today has referred to the competition of fuel oil. Most of us know that the sales of fuel oil last year increased by 50 per cent, over 1957 and 62 per cent, over 1956. In January and February of this year the sales of fuel oil were 45 per cent, higher than in the same period of 1958.
This is a serious situation which is following a geometrical progression and, obviously, it is important that effective and determined measures should be taken to combat it. Of these measures there are certain ones which are obvious and there are others which require careful consideration before they are put into operation. The most obvious is that the Ministry of Power should perform its proper function, namely, to co-ordinate the nationalised industries under its control. Most of us here feel that its co-ordination leaves much to be desired.
We have heard the Paymaster-General say today that the binding principle is freedom of choice for the user and competition between suppliers. If that is the case, why have a Ministry of Power? Why not let the nationalised industries compete haphazardly, without any Ministry? I certainly think that the Postmaster-General—I must apologise for the slip—I was probably thinking of a hypothetical book called "No Love for Reggie," which has not yet been written.
§ Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)
Will the hon. Gentleman find that on the road to Brighton pier? By Dr. Cronin?
§ Mr. Cronin
To turn to the more serious subject of co-ordination, it would be interesting to look at a few simple results of co-ordination, or lack of it, by the Ministry of Power over the last two years. We find, for instance, that the power stations, in 1957, increased their consumption of fuel oil four times. Is it really necessary for this situation to continue? The Paymaster-General said today that contracts have been made and must be honoured. We accept that, but it is possible and honourable to renegotiate contracts and ensure that adequate compensation is paid to anybody who loses thereby, or to divert the fuel oil contracted for into some alternative form of consumption.
100 If we look at the gas industry we find that in 1958 twice as much fuel oil was used as in 1957. These are appalling figures. We have a situation in which the Minister of Power, the Paymaster-General and the Parliamentary Secretary are responsible for the co-ordination of three different industries. One is unable to sell its products and the other two are doing everything possible to make its products less saleable. This is the antithesis of co-ordination; it is economic anarchy.
§ Mr. Osborne
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that this is the practical working of three nationalised industries?
§ Mr. Cronin
Obviously, when there is a Government which does not really believe in nationalised industries. There must be great difficulties, at best from a sub-conscious psychological point of view, even for well-meaning Conservative Ministers, in attempting to achieve such co-ordination.
The Paymaster-General has been a powerful advocate of the oil industry today. He pointed out, fairly, that oil offers us a net gain on the balance of payments, but what he unfairly did not point out was that fuel oil means a really serious net loss to us on our balance of payments, that three-quarters of our fuel oil is refined abroad. So there is a really serious danger to our balance of payments from its consumption.
The Minister said that the idea that fuel oil had been dumped in this country was wrong. He said that by definition dumping means selling in this country a commodity at a lower price than it is sold in its country of origin. That is a legalistic argument, because here quality fuel oil is being sold at a lower price than even crude oil is sold in its country of origin. This is worse than dumping and justifies some effective measures.
Our position over oil will become worse, because the French are now obliged to dispose of their oil from the Sahara. They are building a pipeline to Strasbourg and Karlsruhe, so more oil will come to Germany in bulk and there will be more by-products in the form of fuel oil which will be dumped in this country unless effective measures are taken. It is clear from the Paymaster-General's speech today that the Government do not contemplate any measures 101 against imported cheap fuel oil. The consideration of free competition has completely obsessed their minds. Even the High Authority of the European Coal and Steel Community is now asking its member nations to restrict the import of fuel oil and, as we all know, Germany imposes a duty on it.
The National Union of Mineworkers has proposed 'that there should be a tax on fuel oil. Obviously, there are arguments against this. There is a clear economic argument against imposing any tax which impedes the efficiency of industry, but that argument applies with much greater force to the 2s. 6d. a gallon imposed on petrol and diesel fuel. If there were some tax on fuel oil, that could be easily compensated by a reduction in the duty on oils for propulsion.
We on this side of the Committee have gone into the Division Lobby on past Finance Bills for some reduction in the duty of petrol and diesel fuel. It is a very difficult and contentious matter, but the suggestion by the National Union of Mineworkers of some form of tax on fuel oil deserves consideration. I am not saying at this juncture that it is essential or desirable, but the Paymaster-General rejects it completely even as a matter for study. Yet the Conservative Party had no hesitation in imposing such a tax between 1933 and 1947. I do not think that many hon. Members of the Committee would say that such a tax is now necessary, but it is something which requires rather more careful study than it is getting.
There is the obverse side to the matter, and that is whether the Coal Board is selling coal as much as it would do if sufficient measures were taken to increase the sales. One sometimes wonders whether the Board is adopting a sufficiently aggressive sales policy. One sees everywhere advertisements urging the public to consume more fuel oil, but there is never any suggestion anywhere that the public should burn more coal. There is room for a more aggressive sales policy.
Perhaps this is one of the very few criticisms that one can make of the Board, because, taking the long view of what the Board has done since vesting day, its financial achievements have been magnificent. When one recollects that half the pits taken over on vesting day 102 were producing coal at a loss, one cannot help being impressed by the very high standard of financial success achieved by the Board.
It seems that the Government ought to take some legislative steps to allow the Board to make rebates. The oil industry achieves an enormous competitive advantage by being able to make rebates for oil supplied in bulk. If the Board could have the same facility, I am sure that it would compete much more effectively with the oil industry, certainly when dealing with the electricity industry and the gas industry. The Paymaster-General said that the Board has not approached him for such legislative authority. Surely he is not a passive figure and does not have to wait to be approached on a matter of such obvious advantage.
Many hon. Members have some doubts as to how efficient coal distribution is at present. It seems absurd in these days of massive stocks of coal at the pits that there should be delays in delivery from the retailers. Yet one hears of that frequently in many places. Hon. Gentlemen have mentioned that wages form a very large part of the cost of coal. That is not really so from the retail point of view. The wage element is about 52s. per ton, and household coal is sold at about £12 a ton. So there seems to be considerable room for improvement in reducing distribution costs and making distribution more efficient.
There is very little hope for the coal industry while the Government persistently avoid any fuel policy. The industry can survive only if there is careful planning. Planning in economic matters is as foreign to hon. Gentlemen opposite as the conception of grand opera to Australian aborigines. Nevertheless, planning is the only solution to this very difficult problem. Therefore, I trust that soon the parties in the House of Commons will change sides and that the coal industry will then look forward to a happier future.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Rupert Speir (Hexham)
Not surprisingly, I do not agree with a great deal of what the hon. Member for Lough-borough (Mr. Cronin) has said, but he made two telling points, first, when he pointed out that the stocks on the ground in Britain today amount to only five 103 weeks' production. I also thought that he was on sound ground when he questioned whether contracts for opencast mining could not be amended, but I thought that the hon. Member was on extremely unsound ground, however, when he started to eulogise the planners. One thing that this debate has emphasised more than anything else is how wrong it is to put our faith in the planners; how, with the best information and the best will in the world, they have been totally wrong in foretelling the surplus which we now have. Anyone talking about the coal "problem" as recently as two years ago was referring to the shortage of coal, but now—in less than two years—if one talks about the coal problem one alludes to the surplus of coal. That does not speak very well for the planners.
I am one of those who consider that the mining community in the post-war period have behaved with considerable restraint. Not surprisingly, they made hay while the sun shone and did their best to increase their welfare and their pay. They would have been less than human if they had not taken advantage of the desperate demand for coal in the post-war period. Nevertheless, the mining community, by and large, have exercised restraint, have been reasonable in their demands, have not abused their position and have not held the public up to ransom in the way that they could have done if they had thrown restraint to the winds.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
That is different from the owners, when they had the industry in their hands.
§ Mr. Speir
Considering the harsh treatment which was meted out to the miners in the days when coal was plentiful, the miners have, I believe, behaved with considerable restraint. Now that there is plenty of coal, it is as well for the country and the Government to remember the moderation in demand of the mining industry in the immediate post-war period. Now that coal is plentiful, we should have regard to the social consequences of closing pits although they are no longer altogether economic.
Some hon. Members have been speaking today as though the coal industry was completely finished, as though the 104 demand for coal has gone for ever. It may well be that we shall be faced with a diminishing demand in the coming years, but my belief is that the diminution will be of a very slow character. It is absolute nonsense to talk as though the coal trade was finished. The National Coal Board is still the most important industrial unit in Western Europe.
The hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Woof) spoke as though the Government were hostile to the Board and were starving it of essential capital. That is not the position. Even today, after a difficult economic year, the Government are providing no less than £60 million—this year alone—as short-term capital for the coal industry, and, in addition, we are pouring additional long-term capital into the industry for development. Therefore, I do not think that one ought to speak as though the coal industry is finished.
Also, it is worth while remembering that even today Western Europe is not producing enough coal for its own requirements. The European surplus has come about because of long-term American contracts. In these circumstances, I sympathise with the request of the miners' leaders that oil imports should be curtailed and that our indigenous fuel supplies should be protected, but I would say to the mining community that if they want that protection brought into being they must prove to the nation that it would be in the national interest to protect our coal industry. I must add that having listened to this debate today. I think that so far they have failed to do so.
It certainly would not be in the national interest and would not, in the long term, be even in the miners' interest to protect our coal industry here at home if by so doing we put up the cost of British production and exports by 10 per cent. or even 5 per cent. I believe that the salvation of the coal industry must come about by increased efficiency on the part of the National Coal Board, and by more imaginative selling in ways suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Sir A. Braithwaite), with whose views on opencast mining I totally disagree.
The National Coal Board, as, indeed, the British Railways, must realise that they are now up against the cold wind of competition and neither the public nor 105 industry any longer want coal at any price. They want quality, efficiency and competitive prices.
I agree with those hon. Members who have asked today whether we in Britain really mean business in trying to regain our export trade, particularly with Western Europe. I was sorry that the Paymaster-General did not pay more regard to this subject during the course of his remarks. I believe that it would be well worth while, particularly at this juncture, to have regard for our longstanding traditional coal trade with Western Europe. Unfortunately, time corrodes tradition and if we are to get that trade back we must certainly act quickly and do our utmost, even if it means cutting costs to regain that trade.
Price concessions may well have to be made, but I would suggest a temporary cut in prices would be a much sounder policy than closing more pits. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) pointed out, we cannot turn the supply of miners on and off like a tap. If the demand for coal should increase, as I myself believe it may well do in the near future, it would be a great mistake if we had not the miners ready and available to fulfil that demand. It is also worth while remembering that at one time we had exports of over 80 million tons of coal a year. Surely we should try now to get back to a target of a mere 10 million tons of coal exported every year. We should remember that if we can achieve that modest target we shall be providing jobs for no fewer than 35,000 miners. We shall indeed be doing more than that. We shall be providing work for idle ships, freight for our railways and something like £30 million of much-needed foreign currency.
But whether we achieve an increased demand for coal supplies and whether these increased demands come about sooner or later, the time has come for a reconsideration of our policy of pursuing opencast mining.
There cannot be a case today, I consider, for the compulsory acquisition of good agricultural land for opencast mining. I understand that the Government say that they cannot curtail opencast mining any further at the present time because to do so would break contracts. The Paymaster-General made 106 great play about the sanctity of contracts. We naturally want to observe the sanctity of contracts, but surely it is perfectly legitimate, if a contract is no longer required, to go to the people with whom the bargain has been made and amend the contract and, if necessary, pay them compensation for so doing. That seems to me to be a sensible attitude to adopt — a legitimate and rightful attitude. I say to the Paymaster-General that it may well be in the national interest in existing conditions to pay compensation in order to end prematurely some of these contracts for opencast mining.
§ Sir P. Roberts
I cannot follow my hon. Friend's argument. Where we have a firm contract which neither side at the moment wants to break, why should the Government step in, and under what policy and principle is it suggested that the Government should come in in this matter?
§ Mr. Speir
I think that there are two reasons why the Government should step in. I am all for the Government stepping in where some good objective is to be attained. In this case there would be the objective of giving more employment to the miners and also the objective of preserving the amenities in the rural areas and the good agricultural land which is now being destroyed by opencast mining I think that the contractors concerned could move their heavy equipment to other forms of civil engineering, road making and so on. Of course, they would require compensation, but I believe that that compensation would be money well spent in the national interest.
These opencast contracts are today of great social concern. It appears to me that they are being clouded in a great deal of secrecy—far too much secrecy—and I should like to ask the Minister to tell us how long these contracts are to endure. How many contracts have been entered into during the past twelve months and during the period when we have known that there would be a surplus of coal? I understood the Paymaster-General to give some undertaking this afternoon about no further contracts being made for opencast mining, but I was not at all clear about the escape clause he popped in that undertaking, and so perhaps when the Parliamentary Secretary replies to the debate he will say what escape clauses there are or 107 whether it is in fact a completely firm undertaking that no further contracts will be made.
§ Mr. Maudling
I did not say anything that was new. I repeated what was announced in the House a little while ago.
§ Mr. Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)
Can my hon. Friend give one good economic reason for closing down one of the most profitable sides of the Coal Board's activities?
§ Mr. Speir
It may be a very profitable undertaking to take over some of the land in my hon. Friend's constituency and opencast it, but I am sure that he would be very much against it. There are good reasons from the social and economic point of view why opencast mines should be closed down. Another argument is that I think that it is a very good thing to have this form of coal available in case of a national emergency so that it can be used as it was used in war-time to supplement deep-mined coal, but I do not think that at the present time that is desirable.
§ Mr. Braine
My hon. Friend is running away from my question. I asked him if he could give one good, sound economic argument for closing down opencast mines.
§ Mr. Speir
I did give one economic argument and that was that good agricultural land was being destroyed by the opencast methods. I think that I have made my point sufficiently clear to both sides of the Committee.
In the meantime, so long as there is any danger of further pits having to be closed, I would say that on social grounds we should give longer notice to all those concerned. I was very glad that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Fylde, with his great knowledge of the industry, also emphasised the need for planning in this connection and pressed 108 for longer notice being given when pits are to be closed. Thirty-six pits have already been closed this year, one of them in my constituency, and many others are threatened.
Nationalisation has many disadvantages, but it has some advantages. Let us take advantage of the benefits which nationalisation ought to provide and see that there is better and longer-term planning for the industry. That can and should be done. It should be possible to give local authorities and others long notice of the intention to close a pit so that, in consultation with the Board of Trade, the authorities concerned can endeavour to arrange for alternative industry to re-employ miners made redundant. I do not think that that is too much to ask of a nationalised industry.
I urge that the time has come for the Government to reconsider the system under which licences are issued for working the smaller mines or drifts. The Ministry rather than a directly interested body, such as the National Coal Board, might be made responsible for considering applications to work these small mines. The Board has too much of a vested interest in this matter.
Also, after ten years or more of nationalisation, the time has come to consider whether it would not be in the national interest to increase the number of men permitted to work in these small mines from a maximum total now permitted of 30 to, say, 100. An amendment on those lines would in no way jeopardise the principle of nationalisation nor injure the Board's future, but it might be very beneficial to some small mining communities now threatened with complete extinction. It might help the running down of a mining community to be much more gradual in some areas and it might also be helpful socially, the importance of which, I was glad to hear the Paymaster-General emphasise. I ask the Government to consider this aspect of the problem as a matter of great urgency.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Grey (Durham)
I hope that the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir) will forgive me if I do not immediately follow the arguments which he deployed, except to say that I largely agreed with what he said about opencast mining.
109 Throughout the debate I have found a general anxiety—with the exception of the speech of the Paymaster-General—about the mining situation. For the first time since the war, there has returned to the mining industry that uncertainty which was its lot during the 1930s. It has returned because of pit closures which have given rise to despondency in many mining villages.
One of the arguments which we must deploy is that the Government themselves are responsible for the present position. With their lack of direction and unwillingness to put things right, they have allowed matters to drift along in a haphazard fashion. That is because of their inherent dislike and detestation of nationalisation.
It is fantastic that in the middle of 1957 the country was short of primary energy. Experts of the Government, the N.C.B. and the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation estimated that from 1957 onwards there would be a growing gap reaching a total of 40 million tons by 1965. That meant that we would have to use all the coal we could get as well as oil and nuclear energy. It was also based on the assumption that industrial activity would increase 2 to 3 per cent. per annum. As we all know, industrial activity has decreased and we now have lying on the ground stocks to the tune of 35.6 million tons, compared with 23.3 million tons a year ago. One can see the trend, but the position is that we have plenty of coal in this country for industrial use and for space heating.
It would be a complete lack of common sense on the part of the Government if we did not use all our energies and capacity for invention to use this great source of primary energy found under our feet and which provides work for approximately 800,000 men directly engaged in the mines, hundreds of thousands making machines for the mines and hundreds of thousands of others making other things as the result of the coal coming from the mines.
Altogether, millions of people benefit from a prosperous mining industry. As has been said, we have not as yet got one half of the products which are available through coal. I shall not mention all the things which can be obtained from coal, but it is a tragedy that in 110 1959 we are still thinking only haphazardly about the uses which can he made of coal and its products. I hope that as the result of this debate a greater effort will be made to see what can be done with this vital raw material.
It is elementary that we must sell our manufactured goods abroad and that whatever we import has to be paid for. In 1956, we bought £376 million worth of oil. In 1957. that figure was £440 million and in 1958 it was £434 million, still a very large figure. I admit at once that much of it is petrol, which is vital to us, hut much of it is fuel oil which it is not in the best interests of the mining industry or of the country that we should import.
What is utterly foolish and unnecessary is that we should import this fuel oil when we have an abundance of coal. Coal itself is not a currency earner. There has been much talk about the need for exports and I do not want to develop that argument. However, coal is a Currency saver. We have complete control over our native primary energy, coal, and no such control over oil. What happened over Suez, in 1957, vividly illustrates the great danger.
There is, unfortunately, uncertainty in the oil producing countries of the world due to riots and rebellions although, at the moment, these countries seem reasonably settled and an abundance of fuel is available. There is, however, no guarantee that this will be so in future.
Venezuela, Iran, Iraq and Indonesia are already well advanced in bringing the oil industries, either developed or potential, under their own control. Some countries are building their own refineries and some are taking control of new explorations, and so on. Iran is taking over the responsibility for the exploration of new oil fields and is seeking for a larger percentage of revenue on the oil. No one can blame these countries for doing this, because they are fighting for their own independence and they want to govern their own resources and control their own economy.
In January of this year the Arab Economic League recommended that in future the pipelines should be owned by Arab companies. This country is dependent on oil supplies from other countries and is, therefore, in an insecure position. 111 If we leave ourselves in the hands of the oil companies and the pipelines become choked or stopped and we cannot get oil from our normal sources, the alternative is to pay a higher price for American dollar oil. Our dependence on oil leaves us very vulnerable indeed. That is not a pleasant position for this great country to be in, especially when we have primary energy under our feet.
My second point is opencast mining. I do not know how far the hon. Member for Hexham would go on opencast mining, but, in principle, I agree with him. If there is a shortage of coal, as there was during the war, we should go in for opencast mining. But at present, when there is a lesser demand for coal, it sounds the more commonsense thing to do to reduce opencast operations. I suppose that there is a measure of satisfaction in the knowledge that it is intended to cut opencast working. Let us be thankful for small mercies, but I am not satisfied and I feel very strongly that when we have a surplus of coal the restriction of opencast should preferably occur before the closing down of the pits.
My chief reason for this point of view, and perhaps I will answer the question of the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine), is that we start with the assumption that there is still a great future for coal, and there is no greater need than to stress this at present. The speech by the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Sir A. Braithwaite) rather depressed me, because he thought there should be a rundown of the whole industry until there was nothing left.
Speaking for hon. Members on this side of the Committee, we believe that there is a great future for the industry, and we have no intention of allowing the same kind of burial service to take place over this industry as there has been over part of the cotton industry. We believe that if our scientists and technologists are given the support they need they will be capable of creating new uses for our natural wealth, thus solving the problem of what to do with the growing surplus of small coal. When this happens it will naturally lead to Britain needing more coal and not less.
If these assumptions are correct, and I have every reason to believe that they are, we shall always need plenty of miners to 112 mine the coal. My criticism of the Government is that they have no such thoughts in their mind. If they had, I believe that they would have acted differently and would have called for a bigger restriction on opencast mining. The way the Government have acted proves beyond all doubt that their eyes are only on the immediate rather than the future, about which they do not care.
What is to be the position when this revival of industrial activity takes place? What is to happen when this great millennium takes place under the Tory Government? I do not believe that it will take place under a Tory Government, but it will under a Labour Government. What will be the position when the need for coal becomes an acute problem? I can assure the Committee that it will not be easy to get the miner who has left the pit and become established in another job to go into the pit again.
There is a further point which I hope the hon. Member for Essex, South East will note. Once a pit is closed one cannot go back and open it out again immediately. It will take hundreds of thousands of pounds to do that. For those two reasons, and they are solid reasons, plans should be put forward so that there will be a labour force to man the coal when it is needed.
Opencast has not the same problems. My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Fitch) mentioned the position of men if opencast was cut down. Naturally, men are thrown out of work, but they can get a job elsewhere. The miner cannot. The miner is not an ordinary type of man. He is a skilled man who has been trained for the job, and one cannot make a miner in a day. It is that type of man that one has to be careful about and make sure that plenty of them are available in industry to mine the coal when it is needed. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will give us some further assurance on that and perhaps decide to make a further cut in opencast working.
I appreciate the point about the breaking of a contract. It sounds a dishonest thing to do, but it is more dishonest for the Government to break faith with the National Coal Board. The Coal Board was informed of the Government's plans for the future, but now those plans have gone haywire and the Board does not know where it is.
113 There is an abundance of coal on the ground, far too much, so what is the use of carving up the countryside? I will not say that the land is destroyed, because the restoration of farm land is done in such a way that in a matter of a few years it is quite good again. The hon. Member for Hexham might know more about this, but it takes years because one cannot take the guts out of a thing and expect it to knit together immediately. For this reason alone I believe that an attempt should be made to cut back further opencast working.
§ Miss Herbison
Would my hon. Friend agree with me that contracts have been broken before and compensation has been paid, and that compensation should be paid by the Government, since the coal industry paid £70 million for importing coal?
§ Mr. Grey
I thank my hon. Friend for her observation. I quite agree that compensation should be paid. I think that the hon. Member for Hexham mentioned that it would be a good investment for the industry, although it should be paid by the Government, of course.
Finally, I make this further condemnation of the Government. It will be recalled that at the beginning of my speech I referred to the fact that the Government have an inherent dislike of nationalisation. I am convinced that the Government and the whole Tory Party machine will not be satisfied until they have smashed it to pieces.
§ Mr. Grey
I am certain that they want to smash the whole machinery. If they wanted it to work, they would have done something more about co-ordination at the top. They would have had a better method of co-ordinating the fuel industry.
When we nationalised these industries as a road to Socialism, I remember that my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) put the point very well. It was his intention that these three industries should be co-ordinated so that there should be a fuel policy for the future. If the Government and the Tory Party as a whole had any intention of making these nationalised industries work, they would have done that very 114 thing, but they have created a sort of rivalry in the industry between the Coal Board and the Central Electricity Authority and the Gas Council. Despite the difficulties we are in, and the fact that there is only one solution—the coordination of the three industries—the Government have not tried to get them together.
On 23rd March, my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. A. Roberts) asked the Parliamentary Secretarywhat directions he has given with a view to bringing closer liaison between the National Coal Board, the Central Electricity Authority and the Gas Council.The Parliamentary Secretary replied:None, Sir."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd March, 1959; Vol. 602, c. 901.]That to some may appear to be a rather flippant reply and to others it might appear to be gross ineptitude, but I do not believe it was either. It proved to me that there was no intention at all of the present Government having a coordinated national fuel policy. Thus, we are to continue to have this uncertainty in our basic industry. More important still, I believe that it reflected the type of mind that does not like nationalisation and is prepared to go to any length to destroy it.
There are many ways in which one can destroy an institution. This industry has become an institution, it has become part of the country, and it would be criminal to destroy it. The way of causing the sectors in the industry to be divided against themselves is the most insidious way of all of destroying nationalisation. There is only one way in which to deal with this problem and to give some permanence to the industry, from which we are all to derive great wealth and benefit. That way is by co-ordination at the top. I do not mind if that means legislation.
There should be a central authority coordinating the whole of these sectors and ensuring that each is not going differently from the other. Then the Coal Board could plan ahead. At present, it has not a clue what to do. If such a method were adopted, this great authority, with all its experience, could plan with the certainty which it needs now so badly. If the Government will not do this, the only thing I can say to them is, "Get out and leave room for someone who will."
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)
Wherever we sit in this Committee we all appreciate the note of anxiety which has been sounded in this debate, but I cannot help feeling that a great deal of what has been said has been unduly alarmist.
The right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens), who opened the debate in an otherwise extremely able speech, made what I thought was a rather unworthy reference. He suggested that if we had been experiencing a recession this was something deliberately engineered by the Government. In point of fact, we have been passing through a world-wide trade recession and it can be justly claimed that this country has weathered that recession as well as, if not better than, almost any other industrial country. There are now welcome signs in the United States, Western Europe and this country that we are moving out of that recession. I see that the Economist has estimated that the concessions made by the Chancellor in his Budget should have the effect of stimulating an increase in industrial production of something like 3 per cent. to 4 per cent. this year.
If, therefore, we are moving into an era of expansion, it may well be, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir) said, that coal stocks—which represent only about five or six weeks' consumption—may start to move, that is, that portion of them which can be properly utilised by industry. The right hon. Member for Blyth also mentioned competition from oil as a factor militating against the coal industry. There is a great deal in that. One should recognise, however, that the re-export of refined oil products from this country earns us at least £100 million sterling a year, and there are other benefits which flow from that kind of activity.
I agree with all who have said in this debate that it is necessary for us to ensure the maximum utilisation of our indigenous raw material, coal. As my right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General made clear, the saving of the industry depends on the utilisation of its products in the most economic and efficient manner possible. But it follows from that—and the debate has made it more and more clear—that the opencast method of production is one which simply cannot be sacrificed. Yet, apart from my hon. Friend the Member 116 for Harrow, West (Sir A. Braithwaite) and the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), no one has had a kind word to say about opencast production.
Unhappily, it is not the facts that matter, but what people believe the facts to be. Opencast working is a target for the miners, who believe that it is taking the bread out of their mouths. It is a target for politicians, who find it a convenient scapegoat, particularly if they have agricultural interests in their constituencies. It is a target for the public, who quite erroneously believe that opencast production is inferior to deep-mined coal.
Such attitudes are both mistaken and unfair and, as hardly anyone has spoken for opencast methods, the case seems to be going by default. That is a very serious matter. It is a very serious matter for those engaged in the opencast industry—for the operators who have a great amount of capital tied up in plant and machinery and for the 11,000 skilled workers they employ. It is a serious matter for the makers of plant who, on the basis of what they are doing for our home industry, have been building up a substantial export trade. It is also a serious matter to the nation, as I shall presently show.
It might be helpful to the Committee if I put the matter in perspective, but in doing so I must declare a small interest in that I am a director of an engineering company which has some connection with the industry. The Committee may he aware that Britain is one of the few coal-producing nations which has deliberately held back opencast production in favour of more expensive deep-mined coal. In 1958 opencast output was only about 6.6 per cent. of our total coal production. That compares with a total of 26.8 per cent. in the United States or 50 per cent. of that country's anthracite production. If brown coal be included, which I know is very much easier to work by opencast methods, 98 per cent. of all the coal produced in Eastern Germany and 42.6 per cent. of all the coal produced in Western Germany is produced by opencast methods. It is difficult to obtain any figures for the Soviet Union, but I understand that about two-thirds of all the minerals mined in that country at present are extracted by opencast methods and that in the extensive bituminous fields 117 of the Soviet Union big dragline excavators are used similar to those employed in the United States.
There are at least three good reasons why other coal-producing countries favour opencast methods. The first is that underground working, as we know only to well in this country, involves very serious physical difficulties and dangers as well as unpleasantness for all who are engaged in extracting the coal—that tough race of men to which our nation, in particular, owes a great deal. The right hon. Member for Easington referred earlier to the closing of pits during the war and to miners joining the Forces. As one who served in a Midland county regiment, I can say that there were no finer and tougher soldiers than those former miners. As hon. Members know from their own personal experience, in the mines the problems of roof support, ventilation and lighting, and the ever-present dangers of gas, explosion and flooding, face these men all the time and these dangers increase as the tunnels go deeper and deeper.
Secondly, there is the economic argument that it is rarely possible to extract 100 per cent. of the mineral in a deep mine, Other countries have found that the quality of opencast production is in no NA ay inferior and often is superior to deep-mined production. The reason for this is simple. In a deep mine, particularly with mechanical extraction, it is difficult to avoid debris from the shale which lies above the seam or in bands within the seam, becoming mixed with the coal that is extracted. With opencast extraction, done in the daylight, it is possible for scrapers to take off the over-burden, leaving the clean coal exposed. The coal can be removed like the meat in a sandwich. It is not at all surprising, therefore, that the quality of opencast coal, coming from probably the same seam as that of the deep mine some miles away, is very often superior in that it is cleaner.
Thirdly, foreign countries have found that the development of modern earth-moving machinery, such as large dragline excavators, has meant that it has become more and more efficient and cheaper to mine minerals in this way.
I would say, therefore, that viewed on the basis of efficiency and cost the case for continuing and—after we have overcome the present difficulty—for expand- 118 ing opencast extraction is unanswerable. Let us look for a moment at the Report of the National Coal Board for last year, dealing with the results of 1957. In that year the output of deep-mined coal remained virtually the same as the year before—at about 210 million tons. The increase of 1.6 million tons in 1957 was due almost entirely to opencast production, since the operators had been able to increase their production by about 12 per cent.
If we consult the financial results of the Coal Board we can see just how fortunate that increase was, because the Report tells us that the Board's profit on opencast production rose from £8.6 million to £9 million, but the net loss was £5.3 million. In other words, opencast production saved the situation for the Coal Board to the extent of preventing it from going a further £9 million into the red.
When one breaks down the figures they are even more telling. On each ton of opencast coal the Board earned a net profit of 13s. 9d. compared with 7s. a ton averaged over the industry as a whole. It is not at all surprising, therefore, to find that the Board says in paragraph 42 of the Report:Opencast coal working makes an invaluable contribution to the country's energy requirements.One might add that it is making an indispensable contribution to the Board's revenue.
I recognise—and this has been made clear in the debate—that we must not judge the issue wholly on economic grounds. We are concerned, after all, with miners and their families, with whole communities and the social pattern of considerable parts of the country. If I were not aware of that, there are plenty of hon. Members from mining constituencies here who would remind me. But it is clear to me from some speeches which have been made and also from previous exchanges in the House that the opencast coal industry is not being judged on its merits at all. It has to face a fierce political prejudice based more often than not on wholly erroneous conceptions. It has been said in the debate—and I challenge this—that grave damage is being done to agricultural land and that there is a substantial loss of food production. That is just not true.
§ Mr. William Ainsley (Durham, North-West)
I could show the hon. Member some of the land which has been subject to opencast operation. He would be able to hear the observations of the farming community, who would tell him about land deteriorating for as long as seven or eight years afterwards.
§ Mr. Braine
There is no doubt that instances can be found. The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Fitch) mentioned one in his constituency, and I do not quarrel with the assertion of the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Mr. Ainsley). No doubt there are instances where this is so. On the other hand, I can quote a number of instances of the reverse taking place. I have here a volume of photographs showing land under healthy cultivation, under crops or with cattle grazing. I can give example after example in which, as a result of restoration, land previously of poor agricultural quality has been improved in the sense that it has been aerated, levelled, properly fenced, better drained and with new access roads put in. There are many such cases. I assure the hon. Member of that.
The point I want to make is that, taking the country as a whole, the value of the coal extracted is just over one hundred times the value of the agricultural product which would have been produced on the land had it not been taken into opencast coal production. The economics of the matter are unanswerable, although I agree that, while opencast operation is taking place, a peaceful vale may well became temporarily a hideous mound of rubble. It is ugly to the eye. It makes one feel that the fair land of Britain is being ravaged.
I suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary, however, that the National Coal Board might well organise a series of visits by hon. Members who have doubts on the subject both to sites where there has not been quite the success which was hoped for and the kind of restoration to which I have referred.
How much land is involved? Only 120,000 acres have been taken for opencast production since the scheme started in the war years. Eighty-four thousand acres have since been returned to agricultural and other users. Only about 36,000 acres are in current use, and that is likely to be a fairly stable figure. 120 Moreover, in considering disturbance it should not be forgotten that the deep mines of this country over the years have in many cases caused subsidence and fracturing of the strata, which have not had a temporary but a permanently deleterious effect, both upon the mine itself and upon the ground above it. This is part of the cost paid for coal extraction. But then this country is built on coal. It owes its life and existence to coal. I agree with the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Grey) that there is still a bright future for coal, provided that we face these problems together realistically.
If, therefore, opencast coal makes a fair, useful economic contribution to the coal industry, this side of the industry is just as entitled to expect fair treatment from the Government, from the National Coal Board and from Parliament as any other part of the industry. It is entitled to some assurance that it will not be sacrificed to blind prejudice and ill-considered political pressures.
The Committee should face the fact squarely that on a man-power basis opencast mining is the most efficient part of the Board's operations. The figures I am about to quote are those for 1957. The figures since then are even better. In deep mines the average output per man, on the basis of a labour force of about 710,000 men, was 296 tons. In opencast mining, on a basis of a labour force of 10,500, it was 1,240 tons. In other words, opencast mining is producing four times as much per man engaged as deep mining. Indeed, when the very largest machines are used I am advised that the output per man is nearly seven times greater.
Opencast mining is very much cheaper. It produces the kind of coal which we must produce if we are to recover the coal markets to which reference was made earlier. It is producing large coal now. Is it a surprise to hon. Members to know that in many parts of the coalfields large coal recovered by opencast methods is being mixed with deep-mined coal in order to raise the quality of the latter?
I suggest that the National Coal Board is not likely to welcome suggestions that this side of its industry, which, after all, produces only a small percentage of the total for the industry as a whole, should be further restricted or closed down. 121 I suggest that there are two arguments which can be adduced from these facts. First, deep mining is still a dangerous occupation. Surely it is economic non-sense and socially unsound to hold back a safe method of coal extraction in order to keep men in deep mines.
Having said that, I accept everything which has been said today about the necessity for ensuring that, if there is to be contraction—I may be wrong, but I do not believe that contraction over the next few years need be very great—there should be a concentration of the men around the new pits which are coming into production now or which are being reconstructed and will come into production later on.
Of course, we should take into account the social factors involved. I accept that there is a moral duty and obligation upon us to do that. But, in order to prevent a natural contraction due to changing economic circumstances, do not let us clamp down on a method of production which is safe, clean and economic and which produces coal at a fantastically cheap price.
May I make this point to the hon. Member for Durham, whose sincerity in this matter I do not impugn for one moment? He mentioned the possibility of cancelling contracts. The right hon. Member for Easington paid a generous tribute to those who went into opencast mining during the war and after it. Those operators who responded to the national call embarked upon the purchase of a great deal of heavy, complicated and extremely expensive plant, a good deal of which in the early days could not be obtained in this country and had to be imported with scarce dollars from the United States of America. If these machines are to be employed economically and lf coal is to be produced cheaply, they cannot be written off in a short space of time. Some reasonable assurance must be given to this section of the industry that they will have continuity.
My right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General said—I thought that he was very wise to say this—that we ought not to be panicked into cutting down production. If, then, there is to be retrenchment, which is bad enough, it would he fantastically stupid to shut down the most profitable part of the industry.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Albert Roberts (Normanton)
Before I go my own way I should like to make one or two observations on the opinions just expressed by the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine). The hon. Member said that opencast mining was profitable and welcome. Can the hon. Member produce a certificate from the National Farmers' Union saying that its members are unanimously in favour of opencast working? In my constituency I have seen many opencast sites. I know that there was a time when this coal was needed.
The hon. Member for Essex, South-East spoke about first-class restoration. He went even further and alleged that the land afterwards is in better condition than it was hitherto. If one starts to analyse the whole cost of opencast mining and talks about the return from land used for farming, one must understand that land for farming goes on for a long time. If land has lost its fertility for all time, the reward from opencast mining is very small indeed compared with what could be obtained from good farming land. I will say a word or two about that later.
I wish to say this about the Paymaster-General's opening speech. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has gone to seek refreshment. He has been sitting here all afternoon. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman must feel that the consensus of opinion expressed in this Chamber today has been more or less against the non-action of the Government. All hon. Members must appreciate that the opportunity has been afforded them today to debate a very important subject. We are debating it because we feel that the difficulties the industry is facing at present are the responsibility of the Government.
A few years ago the Government gave their glowing estimate of what was needed. The advertisements attracting recruits into the mining industry have all come from the opposite side of the Committee. As my hon. Friend the Member for Durham (Mr. Grey) has reminded the Committee, when, on 23rd March last, I asked the Parliamentary Secretary about what co-ordination was being arranged in the various Departments I was told that nothing was being done. One can only infer from that that the Government's policy is one of drift.
123 Four years ago the then Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the standard of living would be doubled in twenty-five years, and that an annual increase in production of 3 per cent. would be required to bring it about. We failed miserably in that respect in 1957 and 1958, and now we have the present industrial recession upon us. We are allowing a very important industry, one that has been the backbone of the nation for generations, to decline. Mention has been made from the other side of the Chamber of the restraint shown only a short time ago by the men in the industry. They could have broken the country's economy at any time they wished, but they realised that the prosperity of the United Kingdom depended upon their efforts.
The Paymaster-General expressed his pleasure that nobody has so far decried the nation's efforts in the field of nuclear energy, but I am not so sure of all this. The United State of America, Canada and Australia are relying upon cheap coal. The Ministry itself has said that it is anticipated that, by 1965, 15 per cent. of our total energy production will be from nuclear sources, but the estimated amount of nuclear energy in Canada, the United States and Australia at that time is 1 per cent. We must take cognisance of that very important point.
The Paymaster-General said how wonderful and how full of promise this source of enegry is, but I think that when it comes to be analysed we shall find that the country has been "sold a pup." What we are concerned about is electricity, no matter how it is produced. We are concerned with an end-product that is cheap and beneficial to industry, but those of us who are concerned with the coal industry are alarmed at the declining use of coal. In the first fifteen weeks of this year, compared with the same period in 1958, the gas industry used 9.5 per cent. less coal; the electricity industry, 4.4 per cent. less; the railways, 10.4 per cent.; coke ovens, 15.7 per cent; iron and steel, 18.2 per cent., and the engineering and metal trades, 16.4 per cent. less.
Such figures as those are sufficient to explain the apprehension in mining and industrial areas at present, an apprehension that we hon. Members from the mining areas hear expressed every week. 124 It should be remembered that in 1946–47 we were producing coal uneconomically—we were losing pounds on every ton of it. We knew it, but there was a scramble for coal then. In 1951, 1952 and 1953 we were still told that there was a scramble for coal and that we must exert every ounce of strength we had to produce it. I do not believe the Paymaster-General when he says that the pits are being closed because they are uneconomic. They are being closed because we are over-producing, but no notice has been given about the closures, and no preparation made for them. As has been said today, these closures have not only economic but social consequences.
We are experiencing extremely severe competition from oil, and this question should be very carefully examined. We were told by the oil people, individually, "Do not be afraid of oil. It is only complementary to coal." We know that the oil industry is an international one; that it has no scruples, and that is prepared to sell oil at a loss to get established, regardless of the consequences to those whose efforts in the mines have sustained the country for so many years—
§ Mr. Osborne
Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that the cheapest oil sold in this country is being offered to us by the Soviet at just about half the price that the Anglo-American companies are charging; and that if the President of the Board of Trade is to get more trade with Russia the only way to get it is for the Russians to sell more oil here? Does he propose to stop Russian oil coming into this country?
§ Mr. Roberts
I keep in mind the policy of the U.S.S.R., and what it all means. Industry must have cheap and abundant power. I want to see that. I want to see cheap coal—but not cheap miners. I remember the awful experience in former years, when we were far down the list of wage earners and attacked from all sides. The cry then was for cheap coal, and cheap miners were wanted, but I hope that those conditions have gone for good.
More can be done in the gas industry, on which unfair attacks have been made. Research is going on, but a greater effort could be made to use some of our inferior fuels to produce high-pressure gas. The experiments being conducted at Solihull 125 and at Westfield, in Scotland, could be extended. I am sure that the gas industry can stand on its own feet. Competition from oil and electricity is causing difficulties, but if the industry puts itself about a little it can do a great deal more with the inferior fuels than is at present being done. I am convinced that in view of the amount of capital that has already been sunk into the electricity and gas industries, these industries can produce at competitive rates.
I wish to say a word about nuclear energy. I want to see this industry progress. I know that there is an ever-changing pattern in industry and that we have to try to keep pace with it and to tit into it. At the same time, it is as well to examine the facts now and again. I shall quote from an article by Mr. Stretch, who was works manager at Calder Hall from 1954 to 1957. The article is entitled:Is Britain on the Right Track?Mr. Stretch says:The starting point for such a discussion must be Sir Christopher Hinton's Axel Johnson Lecture given in Stockholm in March, 1957, particularly as his opinion must carry weight in the Ministry of Power and the projected nuclear programme announced seems based on the analysis that he proposed there. The paper was indeed a valiant attempt to reduce crystal gazing to a science. Unfortunately, Hinton's high reputation has discouraged the ruthless examination of figures. assumptions and techniques which a paper of this importance demands As a result, his suggestion that nuclear power would be cheaper than coal-based power by about 1965 is now quoted as an established fact and the whole of our power generating programme has been geared it.Mr. Stretch was a very qualified person. It may well be 1980 before nuclear energy strikes parity with coal. In the traditional power station it is the industry which carries the cost, whereas the taxpayer bears the cost of nuclear power. It is costing millions of pounds. The Paymaster-General may well be the Postmaster-General in six years' time when these matters are brought into the light. We are being "kidded on". The Ministers who are responsible for these matters are, without doubt, experts in the art of "kidology". I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary is taking note of these points relating to nuclear energy, because Mr. Stretch's article certainly merits examination.
I want to refer to what was said by the Minister of Fuel and Power in 1955: 126To sum up, we cannot do without the coal industry transformed and reinvigorated to match the needs of modern Britain. … Indeed, there lies before us a fuel battle for some years to come which will be hard to win. But the Government's fuel policy, I dare to say, gives us grounds for confidence."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th July, 1955; Vol. 544, c. 392.]Let us hope that we can look forward with confidence. It is not the job of the Opposition to put forward a fuel and power policy. That is the Government's responsibility. However, we can give them a policy if they will accept it.
I hope that this debate will give some measure of comfort to the miners, will reassure them that proper planning will take place and that if there has to be a gradual slowing down it will be done in a humane way, so that other industries can take up any slack which may result. The miners are always ready to play their part, but they do not want to go back to the dark days of the 1920s and 1930s.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ Mr. G. B. H. Currie (Down, North)
I am sure that we all profoundly agree with the concluding observations of the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. A. Roberts). Some of us are old enough to remember the very troubled days when there was extensive unemployment in the mining industry and other industries in this country, but I really believe that we take too pessimistic a view if we even contemplate the possibility of days such as those returning.
I prefer the considered view of my right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General, in his opening speech this afternoon, when he took, I thought, a not overoptimistic view of the future, but certainly a view which was not gloomy. It was obviously a considered view and one on which he, at all events, and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, together with my noble Friend the Minister, were in some measure basing the outlook of the Department for the future. For my part, I feel satisfied—perhaps that is a foolish thing to feel in this place—about the future outlook not only from the point of view of the miners and those engaged in the electricity industry, the gas industry and other industries largely dependent upon coal mining, but from the point of view of the ordinary consumer.
The hon. Member for Normanton will forgive me if I confine my observations 127 this evening to the position of the consumer. This has been an excellent debate, but I do not consider that enough importance has been attached to the point of view of the consumer. Few speakers have referred at all to the man at the other end, the consumer who has to pay. My right hon. Friend gave some attention to the consumer, and I liked his definition of the objects of his Ministry. As he defined them—paraphrasing them now—they were to provide coal in sufficient quantities, at an economic price, and at the right place. I think he included "at the right place"; if he did not, I hope that, on reflection, he will, because I feel that it should be a matter of particular concern to us this evening.
As the Committee knows, I represent a constituency in Northern Ireland. We have heard much today about the use of our indigenous commodity, coal. which lies under the ground in such profusion. In Northern Ireland and in Eire, unfortunately, we do not have that indigenous commodity lying under our soil. Geologists tell us that glacial action in the Ice Age removed the carboniferous deposits which at that time lay under our soil, scouring them away, so that the whole of Ireland, North and South, is virtually bereft of coal. Thus, we in Northern Ireland and our neighbours in Eire import all our coal and all our fuel from the United Kingdom. We are therefore dependent on the production of coal and on the supplies of oil which come through this country for use in Northern Ireland. People in Eire are in the same boat.
The price and quality of the coal supplied to us in Northern Ireland are of considerable concern to us. Our industries are dependent on this product and our people are dependent on it for their employment. Our domestic consumers are dependent on it for the heating of their homes and for protection against the elements. At times we have a particularly damp and wet climate in Northern Ireland.
Many of us are somewhat alarmed at the steadily increasing price of coal and the detrimental effect of a poorer quality of coal than we used to have. Before the war and before nationalisation, I am told that we in Northern Ireland obtained the bulk of our coal from the Scottish 128 coal fields. Here I pay a tribute to hon. Members who come from Scotland. Scotland supplied to us coal of the very highest quality at prices which were well within the reach of the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland. We received excellent coal at an economic and competitive price.
The right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) is not present, unfortunately, but he had something to say about the birth of the National Coal Board. Indeed, as I understood his speech, he took a measure of responsibility for the setting up of the organisation and for its early days. It has been a difficult child. Perhaps in some ways it has been an illegitimate child. However, it has taken a long time to get through its teething troubles and has cost its parents very dearly. When one considers the price of coal, one realises this. Scotland, which under private enterprise supplied enough coal for us in Northern Ireland, is today not only unable to supply us with coal but has itself to import coal from the northern part of England. This is a curious commentary on the working of the National Coal Board, but I do not want to go into that. The National Coal Board is in being and we must accept it. No one today has suggested any measure for returning the mines to private industry.
Therefore, in Northern Ireland we must obtain our coal from the English coal fields. I am told that our supplies come from Lancashire, Derbyshire, and North-East England. I am also told that the freightage costs to port head are computed in such a way that the f.o.b. price at Merseyside, which is the place from which most coal is shipped, is a level price irrespective of the distance of the haul. We then have to pay a sum which approximates to £2 a ton for the carriage and distribution of the coal in Northern Ireland. Hon. Members can well see that the price of delivered coal in Northern Ireland is found my many of our citizens to be beyond their means and this inflicts great hardship, not only on our industry, but on individual consumers.
When we submit ourselves to these prices, however, and to a quality which we consider to be much poorer than it was before the war, we turn our eyes southwards and many of our constituents say to us, "How comes it that the 129 National Coal Board supplies coal to Eire at prices infinitely lower than those obtaining in Northern Ireland?" I know the explanation, that we must look for export markets for our coal, as, I agree, we must, but it seems to me to be very curious that Eire, so close to Northern Ireland, should be used as an export market when there is the possibility of coal being sent over the border from Eire into Northern Ireland at prices that would defeat the National Coal Board prices in a shipment straight from Merseyside.
Because one should not criticise unless one is constructive, I ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, who is to reply to the debate, whether it might (not be possible to "postalise" the delivery charges of coal in the United Kingdom. Consumers in London and in the southern part of England and the South-West pay a higher price for coal by virtue of delivery charges because of distance from the pithead than do consumers who live nearer to the pits. We in Northern Ireland pay most of all because of the sea haul in the journey from the pithead to our part of the United Kingdom.
"Postalisation" would be fair to all residents in the United Kingdom. It would help in the decentralisation of industry, which would help with our unemployment problem, and I think it would be acceptable to all who live in the United Kingdom. I sincerely ask my hon. Friend to give this matter consideration to see whether he could make a suitable recommendation to the Ministry, in which he plays such an outstanding part.
I was delighted to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Sir A. Braithwaite) refer to the possibility of laying an electric cable between South-West Scotland and Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for Normanton referred to the possibilities of nuclear power. I think that for Northern Ireland those possibilities still lie a long way ahead.
One of the problems is that in all our individual countries—in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Eire—the peak period of load very often does not coincide and yet each of us must be prepared at any time in our generation of electric current to cope with a peak load. European countries have appreciated the advantages of a cable connection between the individual countries. In 130 Canada there is a submarine cable which has been laid to connect Vancouver Island with the mainland.
I can see no reason whatever why we in the United Kingdom should not take advantage of similar opportunities. The advantages are enormous. Over here we have a national grid. On a period of off-peak load Northern Ireland could supply current to the National Grid over here. On periods of off-peak load over here this country could supply current to Northern Ireland. The advantage would, of course, lie with us, because we must pay approximately £2 a ton for every ton of coal shipped across the Channel. We must pay that additional £2 by way of freightage charge.
I would ask my hon. Friend to look at this. We would not be adverse to cooperation with Eire. It might be a very happy way to find co-operation, if Eire could be persuaded to come into this grid. The advantages might be enormous, and I hope that this problem will be examined.
In conclusion, I would say to my hon. Friend that we are completely satisfied that the Government have done everything possible to help the National Coal Board, the producing body, to go ahead, and we wish it well.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Mr. William Blyton (Houghton-leSpring)
We have had a long debate today. In opening it my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) attempted to lay before the Committee the serious situation in what I would term a splendid speech, and I am very sorry that the Paymaster-General dealt flippantly with the case my right hon. Friend presented. His speech demanded a more serious answer from the principal Government spokesman than the one we got.
Many of the question which have been raised in the speeches of my right hon. and hon. Friends I hope to answer as I go along with my own speech. I would say to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Sir P. Roberts) that though I disagreed with many of his arguments I did agree with the appeal he made to his own Front Bench to stop at some point their reliance on oil because he believed it had gone far enough.
131 I would say to the hon. and gallant Member for South Fylde, (Colonel Lancaster), who talked about the guaranteed week which the miners have, that, if we would abolish it, it would mean a four-day week or short time for the miners. I warn the Government that the miners will fight to maintain this condition of employment, and that if there is any attempt to interfere with it there certainly will be industrial strife.
This is the third time during the last twelve months that we have tried to get the Government to tell us what their policy is for the fuel and power industries of the nation. We have pointed out exactly what we would have to face. We raised this matter on 14th July, 1958, and again on a Private Member's Motion on 6th February this year, and though the situation in the coal industry is getting serious no policy is yet forthcoming from the Government as to what part our own coal is to play in the economy of our country in the future. I have come to the conclusion that the Government could not care less.
Lords Mills, Minister of Power, in a letter to the National Union of Mineworkers, dated 5th March this year, said, of the Government's policy:At the same time, in considering the national interest, they must have regard to the need for an abundant, cheap and efficient supply of fuel if our national products are to keep their place in the world.He stated, further:They believe that to continue to afford the consumer a choice of various fuels freely competing with one another is the best way to secure over-all efficiency and keep down costs.That was the policy, I remember, in 1919, 1920 and 1930. It ruined the coal industry and had serious results for our people who sought their livelihood in the mines. It was the competition of cheap supplies of power that closed collieries between the wars, that made our villages derelict, caused widespread unemployment, brought down miners' wages to 6s. 6½d. a day, ruined the export trade of Durham, Cumberland, Northumberland and Wales, caused two great industrial upheavals in 1921 and 1926, and made it impossible for youths to get work from the time they left school until we had another war in 1939.
132 It created a hatred and a bitterness that we had thought, during the last four years, that we had left behind. When we nationalised the gas, electricity and coal industries we contemplated that we would get co-ordination, not the insane competition the Government have created, which is proving disastrous. Government policy now, quite plainly, is to play off coal against oil. A price war in the public industries is suicidal and is bound, in the long run, to do permanent harm to all those industries.
I listened to Lord Mills at the Institute of Petroleum dinner, in February. There is no doubt that he is oil-minded. He most certainly gave oil the green light that night, and coal can expect no help from him. I regard Lord Mills and the Minister of Education, who was formerly Minister of Fuel and Power, as the two greatest disasters for the coal industry that we have seen since we nationalised it.
If the policy is that our energy needs should be supplied in the cheapest markets, why do not the Minister and the Government tell us what this policy will do to our standard of life in the coal industry? I cannot understand why, in publicly-owned fuel industries, the Government should expect to get coal below the cost of production and, if they cannot get it, should threaten a price war by resorting to the use of oil.
The Government should recognise that unemployment has its price in exactly the same way as oil, and that to create unemployment in the coal industry by extending the use of oil will be a costly affair. We must add to the price of oil the huge amount we shall have to pay in unemployment benefit. The social consequences of closing mines and bringing poverty to mining villages cannot be measured in money values. Unless we are to leave many men on the scrap-heap, as we did between the wars, we shall have to bring work to these areas, which will become destitute as a result of the Government's policy.
It is crazy economics to think that this country should depend on foreign imports for a great part of its fuel requirements and so make miners unemployed. It is about time that the Government economists looked at this side of the picture. Four years ago the industry was booming. It is only two years ago that 133 hon. Gentlemen opposite were severely criticising us because our men were refusing to take Hungarians into the pits.
We were told by the Minister, in 1955, when there was a great demand for coal and power, that these demands would grow in the years ahead. We were told that our standard of life would double in the next twenty-five years and that to achieve our energy programme in the future it had to be augmented by oil and nuclear energy. In fact, we were told that we had never had it so good.
The plan then was for our mines to produce 240 million tons by 1965, and the Board was instructed to plan to that end. That plan is dead, and it ought to be stated now what part coal is to play in the future of our economy in the light of the changed pattern of consumption which has been deliberately encouraged by the Government.
I know there are those who say that the economy will expand in the years ahead and that everything will be all right. I do not believe this for one moment. Just as the Government are contracting the cotton industry, so I consider that the post-war years of mining will be repeated and that the Government's present policy will still mean a contraction in mining even if there is a revival in our economy.
In 1957, consumption of coal fell by 7 million tons and in 1958 by 13 million tons and consumption in 1959, if it continues at its present rate, will be 17 million tons less than last year. If the loss runs at its present rate it will mean that we shall have lost 37 million tons over the three years.
In the first sixteen weeks of this year, consumption is down by 5,205,000 tons compared with last year. Output is down by 2,400,000 tons, though productivity is the highest it has ever been in the history of the mining industry. Stocks at the pithead and opencast sites have risen to 22,100,000 tons, which I believe is the maximum the Government have said can he tolerated. On the other hand, the labour force has been reduced by nearly 28,000 in a year, and we are not yet in a position to bring output into line with demand.
Therefore, do the Government intend to give assistance in stockpiling over the 22 million tons which they say they can tolerate? If not, and if demand continues 134 to fall, the mining industry will be faced not with a redeployment of labour, but with unemployment. If we have to face the issue of bringing output into line with demand, it will not mean merely 37 pits to be closed this year as a result of the Board's decision last December. We shall face not only the closing of collieries with ten or eleven years of life in them, but the closing of efficient pits, with large reserves of coal, upon which there has been much capital expenditure.
I believe I heard the Paymaster-General say that the Government intend to increase stocks this year above the amount of 22 million tons. I wonder whether 1955 will be repeated. The Government refused a price increase before the General Election, and then it went up afterwards. Do the Government intend to stockpile until the General Election is over and then leave our men to face the full impact if they get back to power? Some of our investments which produce gas coal for the London market will be hit if the crazy economics prevail of one part of industry using imported energy fuels and reducing its requirements for our own fuel. Not only will the gas areas be affected. Every area in the country will be affected, because there are stockpiles at every pit in the land.
I want for a moment to look at the gas industry, the electricity and oil prices and price policy, and the need for a future fuel policy. Gas consumption of coal dropped by 3 million tons last year, and on the basis of the present figures it looks as if there will be a drop of a further 1½ million tons this year. Many of us thought that demand in 1960 to 1965 would be higher than in 1956 when it consumed 27.8 million tons.
It is no good blinking the fact that the gas industry is now as oil-minded as the Minister himself and is planning for a substantial and continuous fall in coal requirements. The Gas Council is to use oil for gasification purposes to take the place of coal. There are 40 gasification plants now in operation or under construction. There are two plants for reforming refinery gas, and a trial plant for using liquid methane. This means that these plants will produce 187 million cubic feet per day, equivalent to the carbonisation of nearly 5 million tons of coal per annum. While the gas industry is looking forward to the gasification of 135 low grade small coal, that does not alter the fact that the gas industry is using more oil and oil gases. It is placing important emphasis on this and it has plans to import liquid methane.
A few years ago it was estimated by the Gas Council that its requirements would be 31 million tons of coal in 1966. Now it estimates that its requirements will be 21.5 million tons in 1966, a drop of nearly 10 million tons in its future estimate of the use of coal. This will have a serious effect on the gas coal producing areas of Durham and South Yorkshire. There are 43 pits producing gas coal in Durham and six of the smallest are scheduled for exhaustion in eleven years' time. The remainder are long-life pits, with vast resources and upon which vast capital sums have been spent.
The present position is that if the trends in the gas industry continue not only will the pits in Durham with eleven years of life close, but the modern collieries, with all the money spent on them in the reorganisation programme, will close as well. There is need for a policy to ensure that large capital sums will not be wasted on those pits while, at the same time, there is equally large capital expenditure on the construction of ships to bring in liquid methane which will result in the closure of these collieries and putting miners out of work. I have just left some people who work in the gas producing areas of the South and they are equally upset because the use of liquid methane in gas processing will mean unemployment for the gas workers as well.
The Government have made it clear that their policy is what they term "consumers' choice". If that is to be the unalterable position of the Government, we have to face the fact that methane and oil can be imported until gas can be used more cheaply than coal can be produced. That will mean the pronouncing of the death sentence by the Government on the gas-producing coal mining areas. When stocking ceases, as it shortly must, what alternative will the Coal Board have but to shut down not uneconomic pits, but those with long life upon which we have spent so much money? With this policy there is bound to be unemployment in the mines, with all the social consequences to the people in the mining villages.
136 I want now to refer to the production of electricity. I have said before, and I now repeat, that the Government struck a vital blow at coal when they made contracts with the oil companies and put generating stations on to the use of oil. In that respect, we have lost a market using 4½ million to 5 million tons of coal, and it is the most important market, since it takes small coal.
When the then Minister of Fuel and Power, now the Minister of Education, told us in 1955 that generating stations were to go on to dual firing and that it would take only a few days to change them back to coal, none of us thought that in the offing there were eight-year agreements with the oil companies to take this market from the coal industry. We did not find out about that until the end of last year.
I consider that that market is lost for good. If we got it back, a huge amount of compensation would have to be paid. It might be that we will have to face paying compensation to get that market back, but it is a little hard, after spending £70 million on importing coal when there was a shortage, that we should now have to consider compensating the oil companies so that we can get back a natural market which was ours before the Minister of Fuel and Power sold us to oil in these eight-year contracts with the oil companies.
The bright side of the electricity picture is that demand will increase in the years ahead, until by 1965 it is 9 million or 10 million tons. Beyond that, everything will depend on whether the new power stations are to use oil, nuclear power, or coal. The Coal Board will supply the coal and it is vital that coal should be used as far as posible. It is especially important to the mining industry, because this form of consumption uses so much general purpose small coal.
Another feature of the Government's policy is found in coastal shipping. The carrying of coal to the gas and electricity industries from our coal ports gives considerable employment to seafarers. Coastwise shipping interests are already very alarmed. Viscount Runciman, in another place, told the Government that the eight-year contracts with the oil companies had done great harm to coast-wise shipping. The Gas Council's present policy will also inflict another blow on 137 coastal shipping if it continues to go over to the use of oil. Shipowners will not only not replenish their fleets, but will not expand their fleets if they do not have any encouragement to do so.
Further inroads are being made by individual consumers changing over to the use of oil. More than 600 consumers converted to oil in 1958, representing a rate of 1¾ million tons of coal per annum. That is bad enough, but the trend continues. According to my latest information, another 200 consumers are converting to oil, involving another 1 million tons of coal, while 380 consumers are considering the change over, involving another 1 million tons of coal this year. This means a further reduction in our market of 3¼ million tons.
It is as well to observe that the question of the discrimination against coal under the Clean Air Act is now under active consideration. I notice that in a letter to the National Union of Mineworkers the Minister stated that the Minister of Housing and Local Government was now considering the practicability of exempting modern mechanical stokers from the provisions of the Act. All I can say is that I am pleased that this discrimination against coal is likely to be removed. I do not forget that the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) rebuked me when I made a statement about this in the debate on 6th February.
Another factor is that all the Coal Board's marketing and research will have to concentrate on producing smokeless fuel to meet the requirements of the Clean Air Act if we want to maintain our domestic markets. The Board will have to equip itself with large additional quantities of smokeless fuel and it must develop this new market. If the Board does not do it then other people will, because, as more smokeless zones are created under the Act, the demand will be greater; and if we do not do it oil most certainly will do it for us.
Now I come to opencast mining. We always regarded opencast mining, and Saturday working as a stout cushion for us if there was a recession in our industry. In fact, this undertaking was given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. P. Noel-Baker) when he was Minister of Fuel and Power. We agreed to opencast mining only when 138 there was a shortage of coal. We never regarded it as a permanent feature of our industry.
If contracts have been entered into, and it is necessary to pay compensation to end them, it will create such financial losses that I consider it impossible for them to be carried on the Board's finances. What is needed is an orderly contraction of opencast production. In the next three to five years opencast mining ought to be run down to 3 million tons per annum and kept at that figure until we can abolish it entirely without paying compensation.
§ Sir P. Roberts
How would the hon. Member deal with the £9 million profit which opencast mining is now making?
§ Mr. Blyton
If the hon. Member would allow me to finish the statement I have to make, he might find the answer in my speech.
My reasons for saying this are that the Board's investment in opencast machinery was £5 million in 1957. I know that contractors have large investments in specialised plant, and that for loss of their contracts they would claim for that plant and work lost, in addition to heavy costs for preliminary work and for compensation to tenants, which is spread over the whole output from the site. The loss will be very high if incurred without full working of the coal on the site.
In my opinion, the total of these contracts—and I only give it as a guess—would be six times the amount of £5 million that the Board has invested in opencast. If we face a figure of £40 million, that, as I see it, cannot be carried on the finances of the Board, hence my wanting an orderly contraction of opencast production to avoid what would be a terrible financial burden in the economic circumstances of today.
I am against opencast mining. I should like to see this easily got coal kept as an insurance for our future, but the losses to face by way of financial compensation are so great that I am reluctantly forced to the opinion that I have just expressed.
The last thing I want to see is our getting into a price war either with oil or coal. That brought too much destitution in the years which have gone. I do not want a repetition of that insane policy. Cheap coal can only be got by 139 cheap miners. It would lead to an attack on the standards of life established during the years of nationalisation. That policy would mean industrial strife on a scale that we saw in the past.
We shall most certainly have to do our best in the export market, but not at the expense of having a price war. That would mean the impoverishment not only of ourselves, but of miners all over the world. In my day, when competing with the Continent, we found that every time we had worse conditions, and the price was reduced, the Germans and French went one better, and the vicious circle started to revolve again.
I return to the question of the Select Committee's recommendation last year, the price policy and freedom of the Board in this matter. Although the oil companies have scheduled prices, they use other prices as seem to them desirable, and it is known that many consumers of fuel oil have a price below scheduled prices. Leading officials of the oil companies have expressed the view that flexibility of prices is essential in the sale of oil or coal, but there are vital differences between the powers and responsibilities of the oil companies, on the one hand, and the Coal Board, on the other.
Under the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act, the Board is bound to avoid undue or unreasonable preference or advantage. The provisions of that Act have an important effect. There is a strong political feeling that customers are entitled to absolute parity in the matter of price, but that does not apply to oil. I say to the Government, on the price policy issue, that if they believe in a free-for-all economy, if they believe in free competition, they ought to take the handcuffs off the Coal Board and let it enter the competitive field on a fair basis.
I say to the Government that the day is coming, and may come more rapidly than we think, when the oil-producing countries will take over their oilfields for themselves. I cannot see that being prevented in future. Iraq is heading for the take-over of the oilfields. The Cairo conference of oil-producing countries is a warning of what will happen in future. If we make our economy dependent on oil there will come a day when we shall not only pay an economic price for oil, but will most probably be held to ransom. 140 There are no great profits to be made in coal, but there are great profits in oil. Hence we find the Government lending their weight to the profit-making oil barons against the coal industry of this country.
I say to the Government, quite frankly, that the people believe that this is a deliberate Government policy of downing the coal industry. They do not intend to denationalise it, but we are convinced that they intend to murder it. Because we believe that, because the livelihood of our men is at stake, because we believe that it is not sound national policy to carry on in the way the Government are carrying on, and because we are not prepared to see tragedy brought to our people, I shall most certainly ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to divide against the Government tonight.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Hamilton
On a point of order. In view of the fact that, unaccountably. no Scottish hon. Member has been called in the debate, Sir Gordon, and in view of the further fact that we are unlikely to hear anything new from the Parliamentary Secretary, do you not think it right and proper to call a Scottish Member to speak now?
§ Sir I. Horobin
Until the last interjection and the last speech, on the whole this has been a very serious debate on both side of the Committee. I confess that one is warned to be a little careful, by some slips by acknowledged experts. For instance, one of my hon. Friends surprised hon. Members on both sides of the Committee by quoting a figure for prewar exports which was 100 millon tons wrong, and another made a suggestion for assisting the industry which he said would bring in £30 million a year and which in fact would bring in about £3 million. If I make mistakes, which I hope I shall not, I shall at any rate be doing so in. good company.
141 We have also heard a certain number of hardy annuals. We have had the suggestion that there are vast sums to be obtained out of the distributive side of the industry. One need only point out that the National Coal Board, producing and selling at the same prices as other people, in the north-western area, does not find the distribution of coal a gold mine.
In these miscellaneous points with which I shall deal first, I should like to reply to the suggestion by the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) about the dumping of oil. Our information is, generally speaking, that there is nothing in that point at all, although if he will give information of a particular case we will look into it. He himself seems to have fallen into an error which did not vitiate his main contention but which we might as well put right. He said that about three-quarters of our fuel oil came from abroad. I think that he has fallen into the error of not noticing that we export very large quantities. If we ignore even bunkers and so on, the net imports from abroad are only about one-tenth of total consumption.
§ Sir I. Horobin
I may have misheard the right hon. Gentleman. I thought that he said three-quarters were imports.
A suggestion was made about the possibility of a power line to Northern Ireland. That has been considered, and our information is that it could not hold out any hope of being competitive with supplies available to them.
I should like to make one or two observations on the speech of the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell). To use his own phrase "stripped of its verbiage," what his suggestion amounted to was that the coal industry should receive a subsidy either from the taxpayer or from the electricity consumer. I am afraid that neither of those possibilities commends itself to the Government. As for his suggestion about shorter hours, I can only refer him to the remarks of the chairman of the National Coal Board. In all parts of the Committee we should naturally like to see shorter hours as soon as we can, but if they are to cost the Coal Board anything like the amount which the Chairman thinks they will—and I am 142 sure that he is well advised—4then I am afraid that the chances are extremely slight, at any rate at the moment.
With regard to the suggestion for flexibility of pricing by the National Coal Board, which the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) mentioned and which has been mentioned several times before, I want to make it perfectly clear that Her Majesty's Government would look at any such suggestion sympathetically. It is up to the Coal Board to come forward with some suggestions, which it has not done. I warned the House in an earlier debate that it is not as easy as it looks. The Coal Board is not finding it easy to produce a scheme which it is prepared to recommend. It is not the Government who are standing in the way of anything of this sort. If and when we receive any suggestions from the Coal Board, we shall look at them very sympathetically.
The only thing I want to say about opencast mining, which was referred to by one or two hon. Members, is that a balanced view is necessary. Very strong arguments were advanced by one of my hon. Friends, both on financial and economic grounds. There are arguments on the other side, in same cases at any rate with regard to agricultural interests, and so on. A balanced view is necessary, and that is just what the Board has taken. It has cut production by 25 per cent. It has not gone either to one extreme or to the other.
So much for a certain number of what I may call, without disrespect, miscellaneous points.
I will first answer a specific question of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Sir P. Roberts) about future power stations burning oil only. I have checked my information, and it is not intended that any future stations should be commenced which will burn oil only.
My hon. Friend's more important point was on the question of exports, and several other hon. Members referred to this aspect. There is no dispute between the parties that we want all the exports we can get, if we have the coal to export. It does not do any good putting down a paper figure of 10 million or 20 million tons. That does not get us anywhere. We have to sell it.
§ Sir I. Horobin
I am glad to have, evidently, the support of an hon. Gentleman of great experience. Our great anxiety is to stop our exports falling. We are having to put pressure on the Germans, for instance, and we are in the midst of extremely difficult negotiations with the High Authority. It is not realistic to talk about channelling 10 per cent. of our actual production into exports.
I will draw the attention of the Committee very briefly to some of the points made. Our main competition at present comes from the United States, as everybody knows. I wonder whether every hon. Member in the Committee has posed the problem to himself in this way. In order to avoid any possible misconception, I should say that I am not using these figures as any criticism of the National Coal Board or the miners or anybody in this country, because the conditions are different. But it does not alter the final result. At present, in very round figures the Americans are producing twice as much coal as us, with a quarter of the men. [Interruption.] I am not saying this in criticism of anybody. It does not alter the fact that that is extremely difficult competition for us to face. It is not only competition with oil. It is competition with very cheaply produced coal. The fact is that, with the current level of American f.o.b. prices and with the present level of freights, we must be realistic: the chances of a very drastic increase in our coal exports are not, to put it mildly, extremely encouraging.
That is not to say that we are not all doing our best. The National Coal Board is doing its very best to export more. Any assistance which the Government can give is being given. There is no restriction on the export prices which the National Coal Board can charge. I do not think that there is anything between the parties. Anybody who thinks, however, that it is likely that we shall have a very great increase in our exports of coal in the near future is being, to put it mildly, very optimistic.
§ Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)
When the Parliamentary Secretary quotes conditions in American mines and compares them with conditions here, he ought to explain that the geological and physical conditions in the American mines are 144 much more favourable to production than they are in ours.
§ Sir I. Horobin
I have already said that we are not criticising the Coal Board, the miners or anyone. We are merely saying that we have to face competition from some extremely cheap coal, and it is no good blinking our eyes to the fact. It is not only competition from cheap oil that we have to face, but competition from cheap coal.
Before leaving this question of exports, I want to make another point. The figures I am about to give have been quoted before, I know, but it is as well to remind ourselves that since 1951 the price of coal has gone up by about 50 per cent, and the price of oil has gone up by about 7 per cent. A great many of the suggestions that have come from the other side today have been in the nature of complaints that the Coal Board was not allowed to put up the price of coal still further; but, taking everything together, I think that any suggestion that the Government have in some way lost a great opportunity, and so are culpable, in the export trade—or that the Coal Board has—will not bear examination.
Coming now nearer to the nub of this debate, I turn to the speech of the right hon. Member for Blyth. With a great deal of what he said—as would be expected in one who knows as much about the industry as he does—I do not think that anyone on this side would be likely to quarrel, but I should like to deal with something he said about manpower. I hope that I misunderstood him here, but, if not, it is important that it should not get about and cause unnecessary alarm and despondency.
If I understood him aright, the right hon. Gentleman suggested that trends now going on, and which might be expected to continue in the near future, would bring about a fall in the number of men required in the industry of, I think he said, about 60.000 people. If that were right, it would mean that instead of the current manpower of approximately 677,000, at the end of the year the figure would be down to 617,000 or 620,000. If any figure of that sort is in anybody's mind then, short of something completely unforeseen, and so improbable as to be unrealistic, I say without the slightest hesitation that any such picture is completely wide of the mark.
145 Having made that preliminary comment, I want to refer to the remark of the right hon. Member for Easington, who spoke about a proposed contraction of the industry. Nobody on either side of the Committee will accuse me of being one of those who are very fond of crystal gazing, but I think that a good deal of the talk on those lines is quite unnecessarily pessimistic.
It is neither possible nor desirable to give exact figures of demand in 1965, or whenever it may be, but I can go so far as to say that the best information that we have in the Ministry, in consultation with the Board—and it can be only an informed guess—suggests that something not very different from present production —and it is likely to be slightly higher rather than lower—would be a fair picture of the likely production and demand in 1965. If we are anything like right in this—and it is the best picture that either we or the Board can, at the moment, give—it makes some of the rather alarmist suggestions we have had today a little beside the point.
Of course, if a picture of this sort is correct, it must not be taken to mean that there will be no further closures of uneconomic pits. We have already said that there will not be any needed this year. But it does mean that as new pits come in, so some of the less efficient ones which are losing money and producing expensive coal will have to be closed. It also means that it is a manageable situation. We are not, so far as we can see, faced with a catastrophic fall in the production of or the demand for coal.
Again, if that be true, and if, as we must hope, output per man shift and output per man year will continue to increase, it becomes clear that if the total demand is, if anything, likely to be slightly better, so any suggestion that there will be a further very heavy fall in the manpower required in the immediate years to come is unduly pessimistic.
If I can go on from there, I think it might help the Committee and encourage some of us if I were to give the latest figures that I have relating to what has happened this year, in which a substantial operation of closures has had to be carried out. First of all, in Scotland there are 20 closures scheduled and 9 have already taken place. Two more have 146 started, I understand, but 9 have taken place. At those collieries, 1,780 men were employed and the latest figure that the Board was able to give me this morning was that out of those 1,780 only 41 remain unemployed and were in receipt of redundancy payment at the end of April. Do not let us damage the industry and cause quite unnecessary pain and anxiety by exaggerating difficulties which undoubtedly exist. So much for Scotland, After all, Scotland was one of the most difficult and tricky places where more closures had to take place than anywhere else.
In England all 9 economic closures have taken place. We are over the hump. There were 3,580 men employed at those collieries and over 2,900 have now been found other colliery work. In other words, 670 men remain unemployed; and here, as I want to give the bad as well as the good, I must add that unfortunately 550 of them are concentrated in Northumberland and Cumberland. The Coal Board informs me that about half of those at present unemployed in this area will have been re-engaged by the end of the year.
In South Wales, 7 economic closures have all taken place, and of the 2,685 men previously employed at those collieries, over 1,300 have been found other colliery work and a further 260 have obtained work in other industries.
The position, therefore, at the moment is that about 80 per cent. of those to be affected have already been found other employment in one way or another. That is not to say that the remaining 20 per cent. do not present a serious problem, but in fairness to the Coal Board, the Government and all concerned, we must keep a sense of proportion.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr Tydvil)
Could the hon. Gentleman give us the net figure of the miners unemployed in South Wales as a result of the closures?
§ Sir I. Horobin
As a result of the closures in South Wales, of the 2,685 previously employed, over 1,300 have been found other colliery work and a further 260 have obtained work in other industries. That would be approximately 1,000 now unemployed as a result of the closures, and the Coal Board expect that most of those will be employed—
§ Sir I. Horobin
If that be the situation in a particularly difficult year, I think it is serving no useful purpose to suggest as some hon. Members have done, that we are on the way back to the days of the 1930s, the 1926 strike, and all the rest of it. [Interruption.] If that is the feeling, I am afraid that it is being encouraged for one reason or another, and if I can say anything On behalf of the Coal Board to put it right, this debate will, perhaps, in spite of what appears to have been the intention in some parts, have served a useful purpose.
I was taken a little to task, in a very good humoured way—I do not object—about an earlier reference of mine to juvenile employment. I do not take any of that back; I still believe that, over the years, opportunities for highly paid, skilled employment in coal mining are quite as good as they are in most industries, and better than many. Again, no useful purpose is served by crying "stinking fish" about that matter.
While on the subject of previous prophecies of mine, perhaps the Committee would like to know how another one fared. In an earlier debate, I took the opportunity of saying, in answer to some rather pessimistic accounts, that I did not think that the Coal Board would in that year, even from a financial point of view, do so badly as some people thought. I ventured to say that it might well be that the loss would be only about £5 millon, which, in a difficult year, seemed to be not bad. A £5 millon loss is a £5 million loss, but it might have been a lot worse. I am happy to be able to say that, while the final accounts are not yet available, the indications are that the Coal Board has done rather better than I had hoped when I last addressed the Committee on this matter.
Once again, let us not be too extreme. Let us not give exaggerated, alarmist accounts. The situation is difficult. The Coal Board is coping with it fairly well, and so are the Government. No useful purpose is served by pretending the contrary.
I want to say a word or two about oil, gas and nuclear power. First of all, on the subject of oil, we simply must face the fact that, in many respects, oil has 148 reached a position where its advantages are quite overwhelming. Generally, one can take, perhaps, the factor of coal equivalence as being 2 to 1, but the Committee must bear in mind that that is an average and the competitive advantages of oil are sometimes much greater. In some branches of the steel industry, for instance, I am advised that the ratio is as high as 5 to 1, and in some branches of transport, oil has the advantage of a ratio of 10 to 1 as compared with coal.
It is, therefore, really absurd, particularly for any party calling itself a progressive party, to think that this country, faced with all the competition we have in the world to earn our living, can, in one way or another, saddle British industry with a type of fuel which has, for technical reasons, ceased to be reasonably competitive. But there again, let us not exaggerate.
The position in the gas industry has been referred to several times. I will give this one figure. It was pointed out. I think, by my right hon. Friend earlier, that at the moment the gas industry's thermal input derived from oil is only 5 per cent., but even with all the allowances made for the possibility of the use of liquid methane and so forth, it is not expected that in ten years it will be more than 10 per cent. Again, one cannot tie oneself to exact percentages, but coal will still remain the main basis of the gas industry. It is equally true, however, that carbonisation will not remain. If one tries to tie the gas industry to carbonising coal, one will merely finish up with no gas industry at all and then there will be no market for the coal.
The gas industry, with great energy and initiative—I only wish that we could say the same for all experiments in nationalisation; it is probably due to the fact that most of the people in it were brought up in private companies—is carrying out a whole series of experiments. Apparently, right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite do not mind experiments so long as not the slightest use of them is made after they have been carried out. If the gas industry is to keep its markets it has to move away from carbonising coal, which is immensely expensive both in labour and capital and uses a very expensive kind of coal which is becoming rarer. It has to move away to oil in some form, 149 or methane in some form, or hydrogenation of low quality coal. So much for the position in the coal industry and for the likely prospects in oil and in gas.
I will say only a word on nuclear energy. I was very sorry to see one hon. Member opposite—and I am glad that it was only one hon. Member—set out even to crab nuclear energy. It is surprising and disappointing to discover how many hon. Members opposite seem to think that the only thing that matters—although it does matter—is deep-mined coal and that everything else should he sacrificed to it.
I think that a statement made by no less an authority than Sir John Cockcroft only a day or two ago in Australia will interest the Committee, because, again, it enables us to put the matter in some kind of perspective. He held out the hope that in 1975, 50 per cent. of our electricity will come from nuclear power. That is a very high figure and straight away I say that I am not committed to that figure, but it comes from one of the world's greatest authorities and it must be treated with some respect. Suppose that that were so, and that our advances in the nuclear sphere, in which we in this country were pioneers, were so successful that at that time 50 per cent. of our electricity was produced from nuclear energy. It would still be the case that the electricity industry would be using rather more coal than it is today. Therefore, I hope that we shall not panic and lose our heads.
§ Mr. A. Roberts
The hon. Gentleman is referring to me. Sir John Cockcroft said that by the turn of the century the electricity industry would not be using any coal at all.
§ that I do not believe that anybody can be particularly bothered with it. But what may happen in 1970 or 1975 is something which we must take into account. It is important that the Committee should realise that, whatever may be the highest likely rate of increase of nuclear power in the next few years, the electricity industry will still be using more coal than it does now.
§ What do the proposals from hon. Members opposite come to? They want dearer gas and they want the gas industry prevented from getting opportunities of reducing its prices. They want dearer electricity, because they want electricity to be milked by a subsidy to the coal industry. They want dearer oil by putting a tax on it. They even want dearer coal because they want to cut opencast coal mining, and they do not want any more nuclear energy—and this is the progressive party! The answer is "No"!
§ I do not think that the country will be foolish enough to provide itself with an alternative Government which has a policy like that; but, if it does, the only result will be not more employment but more unemployment. If we put up the price of the fuel of British industry when all our competitors are finding it possible to have cheaper, more flexible and more convenient sources of energy, goodbye to full employment. That is a policy which does not commend itself to the Government, and I do not think that it will commend itself to the Committee.
§ Question put:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 231, Noes 310.153
|Division No. 98.]||AYES||[9.56 p.m.|
|Ainsley, J. W.||Bowles, F. G.||Corbet, Mrs. Freda|
|Albu, A. H.||Boyd, T. C.||Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth||Cronin, J. D.|
|Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)||Brockway, A. F.||Crossman, R. H. S.|
|Allen, Soholefield (Crewe)||Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Cullen, Mrs. A.|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)|
|Baird, J.||Brown, Thomas (ince)||Davies, Harold (Leek)|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Burke, W. A.||Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)|
|Bence, C. R. (Dunbartonshire, E.)||Burton, Miss F. E.||Deer, G.|
|Benson, Sir George||Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||de Freitas, Geoffrey|
|Beswick, Frank||Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Delargy, H. J.|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Callaghan, L. J.||Donnelly, D. L.|
|Blackburn, F.||Champion, A. J.||Ede, Rt. Hon. J C.|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Chapman, W. D.||Edelman, M.|
|Blyton, W. R.||Chetwynd, G. R.||Edwards, Rt. Hon. John (Brighouse)|
|Boardman, H.||Cliffe, Michael||Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.||Coldriok, W.||Edwards, Robert (Bilston)|
|Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S.W.)||Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead)||Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)||Lindgren, G. S.||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)||Lipton, Marcus||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Fernyhough, E.||Logan, D. G.||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Finch, H. J. (Bedwellty)||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)|
|Fitch, A. E. (Wigan)||McAlister, Mrs. Mary||Ross, William|
|Fletcher, Eric||McCann, J.||Royle, C.|
|Forman, J. C.||MacColl, J. E.||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||MacDermot, Niall||Short, E. W.|
|Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||McInnes, J.||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|George, Lady Megan Lloyd(Car'then)||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Gibson, C. W.||McLeavy, Frank||Skeffington, A. M.|
|Gooch, E. G.||MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)||Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.)|
|Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)|
|Greenwood, Anthony||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Snow, J. W.|
|Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Grey, C. F.||Mason, Roy||Sosklce, Rt. Hon.|
|Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Mayhew, C. P.||Sir Prank|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Mellish, R. J.||Sparks, J. A.|
|Griffiths, William (Exchange)||Messer, Sir F.||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Hale, Leslie||Mikardo, Ian||Stewart, Michael (Fulham)|
|Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (CoIna Valley)||Mitchison, G. R.||Stonehouse, John|
|Hamilton, W. W.||Monslow, W.||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Hannan, W.||Moody, A. S.||Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)|
|Hayman, F. H.||Moss, R.||Stross, Dr. Barnett(Stoke-on-Trent, C.)|
|Healey, Denis||Moyle, A.||Swingler, S. T.|
|Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis)||Mulley, F. W.||Sylvester, G. 0.|
|Herbison, Miss M.||Neal, Harold (Bolsover)||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Hilton, A. V.||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. (Derby, S.)||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Hobson, C. R. (Kelghley)||O'Brien, Sir Thomas||Thomas, George (Cardiff)|
|Holman, P.||Oliver, G. H.||Thomas, lorwerth (Rhondda, W.)|
|Holmes, Horace||Oram, A. E.||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)|
|Houghton, Douglas||Orbach, M.||Thornton, E.|
|Howell, Charles (Perry Barr)||Oswald, T.||Timmons, J.|
|Howell, Denis (All Saints)||Owen, W. J.||Tomney, F.|
|Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Padley, W. E.||Viant, S. P.|
|Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Paget, R. T.||Warbey, W. N.|
|Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Paling, Rt. Hon. W.(Deame Valley)||Watkins, T. E.|
|Hunter, A. E.||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)||Weitzman, D.|
|Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Palmer, A. M. F.||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Pargiter, G. A.||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Irving. Sydney (Dartford)||Parker, J.||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)|
|Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Parkin, B. T.||White, Henry (Derbyshire, N.E.)|
|Janner, B.||Paton, John||Wigg, George|
|Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T.||Peart, T. F.||Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B.|
|Jeger, George (Goole)||Pentland, N.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Jeger, Mrs. Lena(Holbn &St. Pncs, S.)||Plummer, Sir Leslie||Williams, David (Neath)|
|Jenkins, Roy (Stechford)||Popplewell, E.||Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Ab'tillery)|
|Johnson, James (Rugby)||Prentice, R. E.||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Jones, Rt. Hon. A. Creech(Wakefield)||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Jones, David (The Hartlepools)||Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)||Williams, W. T. (Barons Court)|
|Jones, Jack (Rotherham)||Probert, A. R.||Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)||Proctor, W. T.||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)||Pursey, Cmdr. H.||Winterbottom, Richard|
|Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Randall, H. E.||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|King, Dr. H. M.||Rankin, John||Woof, R. E.|
|Ledger, R. J.||Redhead, E. C.||Yates, V. (Ladywood)|
|Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Reeves, J||Younger, Rt. Hon. K.|
|Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Reid, William||Zilliacus, K.|
|Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)||Rhodes, H.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES|
|Lewis, Arthur||Robens, Rt. Hon. A.||Mr. Pearson and Mr. Simmons.|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Butcher, Sir Herbert|
|Aitken, W. T.||Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A.(Saffron Walden)|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)||Bennett, Dr. Reginald||Campbell, Sir David|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Bevins, J. R. (TOxteth)||Cary, Sir Robert|
|Amery, Julian (Preston, N.)||Bidgood, J. C.||Chichester-Clark, R.|
|Amory, Rt. Hn. Heathcoat (Tiverton)||Biggs-Davison, J. A.||Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major Sir William||Bingham, R. M.||Cole, Norman|
|Arbuthnot, John||Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Conant, Maj. Sir Roger|
|Armstrong, C. W.||Bishop, F. P.||Cooke, Robert|
|Ashton, H.||Black, Sir Cyril||Cooper, A. E.|
|Astor, Hon. J.J.||Body, R. F.||Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.|
|Atkins, H. E.||Bossom, Sir Alfred||Courtney, Cdr. Anthony|
|Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M.||Bowen, E. R. (Cardigan)||Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)|
|Baldwin, Sir Archer||Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A.||Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. 0. E.|
|Balniel, Lord||Boyle, Sir Edward||Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)|
|Banks, Col. C.||Braine, B. R.||Cunningham, Knox|
|Barber, Anthony||Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.)||Currie, G. B. H.|
|Barlow, Sir John||Brewis, John||Dance, J. C. G.|
|Barter, John||Bromley-Davenport, Lt. Col. W. H.||Davidson, Viscountess|
|Batsford, Brian||Brooman-White, R. C.||Davies, Rt.Hn. Clement(Montgomery)|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley||Bryan, P.||Deedes, W. F.|
|Beamish, Col. Tufton||Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.||de Ferranti, Basil|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Burden, F. F. A.||Dodds-Parker, A. D.|
|Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. MCA.||Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Pike, Miss Mervyn|
|Doughty, C. J. A.||Jennings, Sir Roland (Hallam)||Pilkington, Capt. R. A.|
|Drayson, G. B.||Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Pitt, Miss E, M.|
|du Cann, E. D. L.||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Pott, H. P.|
|Dugdale, Rt. Hn. Sir T. (Richmond)||Johnson, Howard (Kemptown)||Powell, J. Enoch|
|Duthie, W. S.||Jones, Rt. Hon. Aubrey (Hall Green)||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Eccles, Rt. Hon. Sir David||Joseph, Sir Keith||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W)|
|Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West)||Kaberry, D.||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.|
|Elliott, R.W.(Ne'castle upon Tyne, N.)||Keegan, D.||Profumo, J. D.|
|Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn||Kerby, Capt. H. B.||Ramsden, J. E,|
|Errington, Sir Eric||Kerr, Sir Hamilton||Rawlinson, Peter|
|Erroll, F. J.||Kershaw, J. A.||Redmayne, M.|
|Farey-Jones, F. W.||Kimball, M.||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Fell, A.||Kirk, P. M.||Remnant, Hon. P.|
|Finlay, Graeme||Lagden, G. W.||Renton, D. L. M.|
|Fisher, Nigel||Lambton, Viscount||Ridsdale, J. E.|
|Fletcher-Cooke, C.||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Rippon, A. G. F.|
|Forrest, G.||Langford-Holt, J. A.||Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)|
|Fort, R.||Leather, E. H. C.||Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, 8.)|
|Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)||Leavey, J. A.||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)|
|Freeth, Denzil||Lennox-Boyd, Rt. Hon. A. T.||Roper, Sir Harold|
|Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D.||Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.)||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard|
|Gammans, Lady||Lindsay, Martin (Solihull)||Russell, R. S.|
|George, J. C. (Pollok)||Linstead, Sir H. N.||Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.|
|Gibson-Watt, D.||Llewellyn, D. T.||Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.|
|Glover, D.||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. G.(Sutton Coldfield)||Sharpies, R. C.|
|Glyn, Col. Richard H.||Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Shepherd, William|
|Godber, J. B.||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)||Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)|
|Goodhart, Philip||Longden, Gilbert||Smithers, Peter (Winchester)|
|Gough, C. F. H.||Loveys, Walter H.||Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)|
|Gower, H. R.||Low, Rt. Hon. Slr Toby||Soames, Rt. Hon. Christopher|
|Graham, Sir Fergus||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)||Spearman, Sir Alexander|
|Grant, Rt. Hon. W. (Woodside)||Lucas, P. B.(Brentford & Chiswick)||Speir, A. M.|
|Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich)||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Spence, H. R. (Aberdeen, W.)|
|Green, A.||McAdden, S. J.||Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir P. (Kens'gt'n, S.)|
|Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans)||Macdonald, Sir Peter||Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard|
|Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)||Mackeson, Brig. Sir Harry||Stevens, Geoffrey|
|Grosvenor, Lt. Col. R. G.||McLaughlin, Mrs. P.||Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)|
|Gurden, Harold||Maclay, Rt. Hon. John||Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.)|
|Hall, John (Wycombe)||Maclean, Sir Fitzroy (Lancaster)||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm|
|Hare, Rt. Hon. J. H.||McLean, Neil (Inverness)||Storey, S.|
|Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)||Macleod, Rt. Hn. lain (Enfield, W.)||Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)|
|Harris, Reader (Heston)||MacLeod. John (Ross & Cromarty)||Studhoime, Sir Henry|
|Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon)||McMaster, S. R.||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||Macmillan, Rt. Hn. Harold (BromleY)||Sumner, W. D. M. (Orpington)|
|Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd)||Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)||Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)|
|Harvie-Watt, Sir George||Maddan, Martin||Teeling, W.|
|Hay, John||Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W.(Horncastle)||Temple, John M.|
|Head, Rt. Hon. A. H.||Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark)||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.||Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)|
|Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G.||Marples, Rt. Hon. A. E.||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)|
|Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Marshall, Douglas||Thompson, R. (Croydon, S.)|
|Henderson-Stewart, Sir James||Mathew, R.||Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. P.|
|Hesketh, R. F.||Maudling, Rt. Hon. R.||Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin|
|Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.||Mawby, R. L.||Tiley, A. (Bradford, W.)|
|Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)||Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.||Turner, H. F. L.|
|Hill, John (S. Norfolk)||Medlicott, Sir Frank||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Molson, Rt. Hon. Hugh||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Hirst, Geoffrey||Moore, Sir Thomas||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.|
|Hobson, John (Warwick&Leam'gt'n)||Morrison, John (Salisbury)||Vickers, Miss Joan|
|Holland-Martin, C. J.||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles||Vosper, Rt. Hon. D. F.|
|Hope, Lord John||Nabarro, G. D. N.||Wade, D. W.|
|Hornby, R. P.||Nairn, D. L. S.||Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebone)|
|Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.||Neave, Airey||Wall, Patrick|
|Horobin, Sir Ian||Nicholls, Harmar||Ward, Rt. Hon. G. R. (Worcester)|
|Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Dame Florence||Nicholson, Sir Godfrey (Farnham)||Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)|
|Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)||Nicoison, N. (B'n'm'th, E. & Chr'ch)||Watkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold|
|Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives)||Noble, Comdr. Rt. Hon. Allan||Webster, David|
|Howard, John (Test)||Noble, Michael (Argyll)||Whitelaw, W. S. I.|
|Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.)||Nugent, G. R. H.||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J.||Oakshott, H. D.||Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)|
|Hughes-Young, M. H. C.||O'Neill, Hn. Phelim(Co. Antrim, N.)||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Hulbert, Sir Norman||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Hurd, Sir Anthony||Orr-Ewing, C. Ian (Hendon, N.)||Wood, Hon. R.|
|Hutchison, Michael Clark(E'b'gh, S.)||Osborne, C.||Woollam, John Victor|
|Hutchison, Sir James (Scotstoun)||Page, R. G.||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Hyde, Montgomery||Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale)|
|Hylton-Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Harry||Partridge, E.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|lremonger, T. L.||Peel, W. J.||Mr. Legh and|
|Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Peyton, J. W. W.||Mr. Edward Wakefield.|
|Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth|
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ It being after Ten o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again..154
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow.