§ 4.5 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON rose to call attention to the coal situation and to ask His Majesty's Government what steps they propose to remedy it and to prevent a recurrence of the present difficulties. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I think all your Lordships will agree it would have been unthinkable that we should separate for the week-end without discussing in this House the very serious situation in which we find ourselves. We are very grateful to the noble Viscount the Leader of the House for re-arranging our business in order to enable us to have this debate to-day, and we can now discuss this situation after that further consideration and reflection which in another place the Lord Privy Seal suggested might be fruitful. I trust that it will prove so.619
§ May I make plain at the outset that, however unready and inept may have been the handling by the Government of the situation—and I shall certainly have something to say about that—it is the plain and clear duty of us all to carry out and we will all loyally do so, such plans as there are, and will co-operate to the full. In return I am sure that the noble Viscount the Leader of the House will treat the House with that complete frankness which we always receive from him. If I may say so, that will be in agreeable contrast to certain replies, or absence of replies, which have been given by the Minister principally concerned. May I, in the first place, ask the noble Viscount—and I have given him notice of the particular points I am going to raise—what is the real truth about the order for bunkering ships? Is it a fact that an order was made by the Minister of Fuel and Power to stop all bunkering and to hold up ships, and that within twenty-four hours that order was cancelled? If a foolish order were given in panic it would obviously be sensible to revoke that order, but it would be equally right and sensible to tell Parliament the plain truth about it. The Minister's answers on this matter were—I will not use the word "humbug"; I know that is an expression which the Leader of the House does not like, but might I perhaps substitute another and say that his answer about bunkers was "bunkum."
May I also ask him about double-bunkering, that is, the bunkering of ships on the other side for the round voyage in place of the ordinary procedure by which ships bunker in the port of departure sufficient for the voyage, and then bunker again for the return voyage in the place of arrival. The Minister was asked about this is another place on February 11. He was asked if he would make a statement on the negotiations in progress in Washington for the purchase of American coal for bunkering purposes and the result. The Minister of Fuel and Power replied:
No such negotiations in Washington are in progress but it is hoped that arrangements can be made as a temporary measure to revert to the system of double-bunkering …
Then he was asked a question as to whether there were any further negotia-
tions in America if not in Washington. Mr. Shinwell replied:
As far as we are aware, there are no negotiations in the United States.
On February 13 there is a, Reuter dispatch in The Times as follows:
Washington, February 12. British officials here disclosed to-day that arrangements had been reached with American officials to double-bunker virtually all British ships at American ports.
That may or may not be a very sensible arrangement, but surely it would have been more consistent with the tradition of Parliament—assuming that this Reuter telegram is correct and in fact that negotiations were taking place in Washington—to be quite open about it. Double bunkers—double bunkum!
§ I am sure, too, that the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, will consider on their merits any constructive suggestions that we may be able to make, now or in the future. In reviewing the position I is impossible to absolve the Minister of Fuel in particular and the Government in general of a grave dereliction of duty. The charge against the Government is this: that for months they have been wrong in their appreciation of the position and they have made completely inadequate plans, whether short-term or long-term plans, to meet a situation which they must have known existed and was certain to continue. Our anxiety is not only with regard to the present dislocation but future prospects. Here, if ever there was one, is a case for planning, and indeed for planning by Government. Planning requires a knowledge of the facts and a just appreciation of the situation. Plans should be prepared with the best assistance that can be obtained, and prepared well in advance to meet different contingencies. That is what is meant by joint planning. Not only should those plans be made to meet contingencies, but everyone concerned should have sufficient knowledge of the plans to work them. In the old military maxim: "Everyone should have a sufficient knowledge of the general idea to carry out the particular operation."
§ You may well say that all that is most commonplace and axiomatic. If I may, I would like to give an analogy, farfetched, may be, and impossible. Supposing Field-Marshal Montgomery in the African campaign had gravely under-estimated the enemy strength and completely over-estimated his own resources; 621 had gambled that Rommel would not attack; had prepared in advance inadequate plans, if, indeed, any plans at all, either for defence or attack, and had failed to communicate such plans as he had to his Corps commanders until the battle was already joined. In such an inconceivable eventuality two things would have happened: first, without question, the General would have been removed from his command; and secondly, we should probably have lost the battle. We are not going to lose this battle, in which we must all fight, even if we fight, as it were, in slit trenches and with hardly any orders or direction. We must carry out such orders as there are, however improvised the plan or however inept the leadership.
Yet that analogy which I have given, farfetched in the parallel as applied to the Field-Marshal, is exactly true in every particular of the actions of the Minister of Fuel and Power and of the Government. They should have known—they must have known—what stocks were required for the winter. They must have known, month by month, how far they were falling short in the accumulation and distribution of those stocks. Yet the Minister of Fuel and Power continued throughout to make wholly unjustifiably optimistic statements. On October 24 he said:
Everyone knows there is going to be a serious crisis in the coal industry, except the Minister of Fuel and Power."—
He Was very blameworthy if he did not know—
I want to tell you that there is not going to be a crisis in coal, if by crisis, you mean that industrial organization is going to be seriously dislocated and that hundreds of factories are going to be closed down.
Are we dislocated to-day? Are not hundreds of factories closed down?
§ The Minister said that he had been surprised by two things: by the amount of electricity consumed, and by the weather. He had no business at all to be surprised by either. Increased consumption of electricity is the common experience of all countries, and I speak from practical knowledge of this. It is the result of cuts in domestic fuel. I think I am right in saying that the extra consumption by gas and electricity companies in this country is roughly equal to the amount of the cuts which have been made in the supply of domestic fuel to householders. But the Government also have known that. All through last year the sale of electrical 622 appliances—electric fires, for example—has been going up by leaps and bounds. They present us—and it is one of the best things the Government have done—with an admirable monthly digest of statistics. Perhaps they are beginning to regret that they give us so much information.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
I take that back. We are very grateful for it. I wish, however, that the Government would profit themselves by the information they give to others. If you turn to page 58—and this is published every month—you see how the sale of these appliances has grown. The sale of electric fires has grown five, six or seven times as compared with what it was a year ago. People do not buy electric fires as ornaments; they buy electric fires to keep themselves warm. And, of course, when they buy an electric fire, they turn it on. The Government knew about all this. The Lord President of the Council not so long ago was boastfully saying that everything was not going for export but that the consumer at home was getting something, and he particularized these electrical appliances which are using the current and said how splendid it was that the sale of these appliances was going up so much. So much for the consumption.
There is then the weather. Well, what a gamble! I am going to say something now which I venture to think I shall prove, and I ask the noble Viscount the Leader of the House to correct me if I am wrong in any of my figures. The weather has accelerated the crisis, but the crisis would have come upon us irrespective of this exceptional blizzard. What we are suffering from is not an act of God but the inactivity of Emanuel. I am going to prove this. In July the Minister had been warned, and emphatically warned—and he never challenged this that I know of—by the electrical undertakings and the local authorities on their collective statistics that we should need 559,000 tons of coal a week in order to build up the necessary stocks to carry the electrical undertakings through the winter. Always, of course, they have to have large stocks piled up during the summer months in order to see them through the winter. That is the common 623 experience every year. That was the figure, 559,000 tons, which as far back as July the Minister knew was required to see us through. Every week the Minister knew exactly how much of that 559,000 tons was being delivered, and by how much, week by week, he was falling short in his deliveries; and therefore, week by week, he knew how gravely the risk was increasing. Yet all the time he made no plans for the emergency that was bound to come.
You would have supposed that in such a situation there would have been the closest consultation between the Minister, the electrical companies and local authorities, the makers and distributors of electricity, and that what the Army call "Staff rides" exercises—would have been carried out, so that everybody would not only know the plan (and incidentally that you would have a plan that would work) but would be able to carry it out if and when the time came. But there was none of this. I am going to ask the Leader of the House to correct me if I am wrong in any particular. There was no consultation with the power or distribution companies, who had to work the scheme, before the Minister framed and announced his scheme in another place last Friday.
These companies—the instruments which had to work it—knew nothing about it, apart from what they heard on the wireless, until Saturday morning. They did not know until Sunday which industries and users were included in the plan, and which were excluded from it, and when they did learn on Sunday what the scheme was (and it was to be put into force at midnight on that day) it was clear they could not enforce it and carry it out. Was there ever such a lamentable failure? Why did not the Minister consult them and inform them? I suppose he was too busy and his departmental officials—poor people!—were too busy drafting the Electricity Bill and preparing his speech for the Second Reading of it. What a Nemesis! We shall pull through, and what will pull us through will not be the Minister but the efforts of all those who are engaged in getting and shifting coal, and the loyal co-operation of every consumer.
So much for the short term. I am afraid I cannot see much more evidence of long-term planning, and yet always and all the time we shall need more coal. I am not going to criticize the miners 624 (production is going up, and I think it will go up more), but I do take the strongest exception to the statements of certain prominent Ministers. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, for example, could find nothing better to do in a week-end speech—he was wanting us all to get together, or the Prime Minister was at any rate—than to abuse the coal owners and private enterprise and to suggest how much more coal we were getting to-day. He must have known from the Government's own statistics that in 1941, which was the last year during which private enterprise was in effective control, with almost exactly the same amount of labour (it only differs, according to these figures, by 1,000 or less) and with less mechanization in the mines, 26,000,000 tons more coal were produced than in 1946. We should not be in the position in which we are to-day if we were producing what almost the same number of people were producing in 1941. Strictures of that kind are a libel on the whole industry, and not least upon the miners themselves. For the sake of the solvency of this country, I sincerely hope that the Chancellor's financial calculations bear some nearer relation to the truth.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
May I interrupt the noble Viscount for one moment? I am trying to check his figures. What was the year to which he referred?
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
1941. I will give the noble Viscount the exact figures. He will find them in the Statistical Digest for January if he looks at Tables 28 and 31. The weekly average of the number of wage earners in 1941 was 698,000, and the weekly average in 1946 was 697,000. This is just 1,000 difference. The weekly average production in 1941 was 3,957,000 tons, and the weekly average in 1946 was 3,462,000 tons. I think if the sum is done it will show that my total figure of 26,000,000 is practically—in fact I think absolutely—accurate.
I want to come now to those specific questions I said I would ask the Leader of the House, and to make certain suggestions as I go along. I will deal both with the emergency and with the future. As regards the emergency, I trust now that—I was going to say at the eleventh hour—well after the twelfth hour there is real contact between the Government and the electrical undertakers (the companies and the local authorities) and industry. I would like to be assured that that is so. 625 It certainly was lamentably absent all last week. Then I would ask whether all possible reinforcements of men and material, and perhaps of scientific invention, are being used. One would have supposed that all that had been planned long in advance, but we know it was not. Are they doing all they can now to make up for lost time?
Are the Services co-operating to the full, and with what I may call full local discretion and responsibility? It makes a great deal of difference if a wide discretion is given to local commanders on the spot to do the best they can without reference to higher authority so that they can get on with the job and know they will be covered. With regard to the Army, are personnel being used to the full? Is all possible equipment being used? Can tracked vehicles be used to blaze a trail where lighter vehicles fail? There were, I believe, certain vehicles designed in the war particularly for snow conditions. They were, I think, called "Weasels." I do not know whether they would be of value. Are all useable vehicles, whether on Army establishments or in dumps, being mobilized? Is there any generating plant with units, or in store or in dumps awaiting sale or disposal, which could reinforce local supplies and factory plants? Would train ferries be of any value in certain areas in bringing full trucks and returning empties?
Is the Navy, with all its ingenuity and resources, being fully used? We employed submarines to generate electricity as far back as 1926, and I think the Navy have used them a good deal for that purpose since. Are they all being used in the right places and to the best advantage? Then I would ask whether there is the most practical organization to use volunteers—the, alas, millions of people who are being thrown out of work. We on the outside can only make these tentative suggestions, but we make them with a constructive intent. The General Staffs of all the Services should be mobilized to work with the Departments as if this were a war operation. Then I want to know—and I am sure I speak here for all your Lordships—what the result is of this improvised plan up to date, and how far it carries out the Minister of Fuel's forecasts—because he gave very definite forecasts in another place. Your Lordships may remember that on February 7—that was on Friday—he said: 626It is hoped that this wilt not last for longer than three or four days, or at the most for a week. We must give ourselves a week and we shall notify industry accordingly.That is pretty positive. Then, on the following Monday, February to, he said:If we can hold down consumption for four or five days, perhaps a week at most and build up the stock pile—get another week out of it and in addition to the stocks available to the undertakings at the present time we can get through, and that is what our aim is.Now we have had four days operation of this plan. What is the position as it stands to-day? I am sure the Viscount the Leader of the House will tell us with absolute frankness, because it is much better that we should have no more optimistic statements. We would much rather know the worst, and indeed we would be very thankful if the worst was not realized and that we came off a little better than is forecast. I would also ask: What about gas?
I turn for a moment or two to the future and the need of long-range planning. This is not a question of just getting through a sudden emergency, but it involves our whole industrial and financial future. Coal is the foundation of all our domestic life, of transport and of industry, whether it is industry producing for our home consumption or industry for export. Indeed coal itself was, in the past—and pray God will be again—one of the most valuable exports that we have ever had. If to-day we were able to export the volume we exported in 1938 at present prices, I do not think I shall be challenged when I say we should probably be realizing something like 100,000,000 of foreign exchange. How greatly that would improve our trade balance with countries like the Argentine where we have to buy. It would bring us wood for housing from Scandinavia and from Sweden, and would enormously strengthen the hands of the Foreign Secretary and ease many European difficulties. Mr. Bevin, speaking somewhere only yesterday, said that if he could have 40,000,000 tons more coal he would have three times the power he has in Europe.
The Government must have a target and have the knowledge, and I therefore put this question: How much coal do we need, and how many men do we need to get that coal, not in ten years time, but this year and next? Professor Robbins has calculated that it might be 100,000 men. I dare say that might be too high, 627 but to get an extra output of something like 50,000,000 or 60,000,000 tons will require considerable reinforcement. How can that be got? Well, as far as we possibly can it should be by our own people. Every inducement should be given to the miners to increase individual and collective output as long as it is related to output. Indeed, I believe that throughout the whole of industry that is the vital need to-day: to relate reward to output. It is the production per man-hour which means salvation. Every effort should be made to bring in British recruits, and some success has been achieved. I believe I am right in this, and again I think the figures are in this Digest: that if you take all the entrants in 1946, the new recruits and the soldiers returning from the Forces, it barely balances the wastage of miners leaving the pits. I think that figure is roughly right.
How much coal ought we to have? I put these figures forward. We need to produce, say, 15,000,000 to 20,000,000 tons more for this country for our expanding industry and for the great development in electricity. In an emergency we may have to turn temporarily to oil, but it really would be a terrible thing to have to accept the fact that this country, which used to export 40,000,000 or 50,000,000 tons of coal in export and bunkers, should now turn to dollar oil as a basis for its industries and its transport. Surely that is not accepted as something which is going to last? Therefore I say we need 15,000,000 or 20,000,000 tons for this country and 35,000,000 to 40,000,000 tons for export and bunkers, which is roughly 50,000,000 or 60,000,000 tons in all.
How are the Government going to get that figure or whatever the right figure may be? First by encouraging the miners and intensive recruiting. But will it not be necessary as a temporary expedient to reinforce all the British labour we can get. I do not believe that the total so required is very great. Certainly there is no risk to employment. We are, according to the Government—and I do not challenge this—going to be short of man-power for a decade. If ever there should be any surplus of manpower the foreign entrants should go first—that should be a condition of their employment, and I 628 do not doubt that other jobs would be available for this not very great number. The Poles are here, and we have accepted, and rightly accepted, obligations to them for what they did with us. There may be some specially qualified displaced persons abroad. I do not believe there would be a great many, but I do not think a great many would be needed, and certainly the test should be their skilled qualifications. As General Morgan has said, living as they are they would put up with very temporary quarters.
The Ministers say that all this takes time. Well, all the more reason for taking it in good time. There are difficulties I agree, but nothing like the difficulties if we do not act, and Ministers are there to overcome the difficulties. I do not underrate the difficulties, but I think they are exaggerated, and I am sure they are not lessened by the misplaced optimism of the Minister of Fuel. He has certainly put his target far lower than the national need. The country wants the truth, and it is only by knowing the truth that it will pull through. He did not even want to give any of the Poles a chance because he said it would not be necessary. Mr. Low, a friendly critic, said of him in that cartoon which your Lordships may have seen, reproducing an even more popular character, Colonel Blimp: "If we are to have no coal, gad, Sir, let it be British no coal." We need not fear a modest and probably a temporary addition, and the numbers are modest compared with the total number employed in industry and the further numbers still required. The number needed for the mines, I believe, would be actually and relatively small, but increased coal production now is literally vital. The livelihood of this country depends upon it.
Difficulties of all kinds will be overcome, and only overcome, by telling this country the full facts and the true facts, and having a policy based on those facts and a policy which is adequate to meet the situation. Omne ignotum pro magnifico, said Tacitus—the less men know, the larger loom the difficulties. Strangely enough that passage goes on, Sed nunc terminus Britanniae patet—the bounds of Britain are laid bare. Even the Daily Herald urges the Government to take the country more into its confidence and tell the whole truth. Will the noble Viscount the Leader of the House make a start today? Will he tell us the whole truth— 629 I am sure he will—with regard to what the Government are doing and going to do to meet not only the present emergency, but the whole grave situation of the industry in the future?
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, the House will be grateful to the Opposition for having requested a day for this debate, and to the noble Viscount the Leader of the House for having granted it. We should indeed be remiss in our duty if we did not give expression to what we all know are feelings widespread throughout the country. The colder grows the weather, the hotter grows the temper of the nation. The public will do what they are compelled to do. They will submit to discomfort and losses, for indeed they can do no other, but I am sure that throughout the public are not convinced that all this could not have been avoided. The immediate cause, of course, is the spell of cold weather, but, after all, in Britain it is to be expected that the weather during the winter will be wintry, and that some winters will be hard. The ant took such facts into consideration, the grasshopper did not, and the grasshopper failed to survive because he had the wrong philosophy as to the conduct of life. The Minister of Fuel in his speech in another place a few days ago said:I would agree that if the stock position had been good in the last three or four months, we could have avoided any difficulties that are likely to emerge in the next few days. But the stock position has been had.That is the clue to the whole situation. So long ago as last September the electric supply companies issued a joint statement in which they declared that their stocks were dangerously low. They said—these are their actual words:Some Companies have less than two weeks supply. This means that the slightest hold-up will result in some power stations closing down.A few weeks later, on October 8th, the Minister of Fuel and Power said at a conference to promote fuel efficiency that we were running a very grave danger of a breakdown and he appealed for a voluntary diminution of consumption. He said:We are obliged to set a target for this effort, and to ask for an all round voluntary saving in consumption of so per cent. This saving of so per cent. is needed in coal, gas and electricity and must apply to all consumption not only in industry but also in the 630 home and in public and commercial undertakings.Was it to be expected that a nation such as ours, engaged in all its vast and multifarious activities, would make up its mind simultaneously to an agreement to cut the whole of the fuel consumption of the country by to per cent., just as you put on clocks an hour or put them back at the beginning and end of summer and autumn? It could not have been expected to succeed by a voluntary request for a reduction of to per cent. in factories and homes. And of course that approach to the matter proved futile.
On October 24 he used words already quoted by the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, in which he said there was not going to be a crisis in coal resulting in hundreds of factories closing down. So the pendulum swung between alarm and complacency. And now we find we have 2,000,000 people-thrown out of work, the whole production programme of the country upset, with consequences that have yet to be suffered in export trade, dollar exchange, and other matters of great importance to our national economy. There has been an appeal, naturally, for a rapid step-up in industry, bit in the present situation the more you develop industry the more you will increase coal shortage. Meanwhile the whole population are being subjected to great discomfort and in some cases to extreme hardship by the compulsorry restrictions now being imposed in the home. Of course, it would be exceedingly hard to enforce them by the penalties that have been provided, and to detect infringement and take action. It as a general rule, unsound administration or legislation to make laws you do not know are enforceable.
Nevertheless, in a state of emergency such as this, where the whole nation is aroused and where legislation is intended to be merely temporary, probably the Government were right to take this step, and indeed there is no alternative that could be proposed. There is also the psychological factor. It can be very annoying to someone who is a good citizen and observes the regulations made by the Government to see that his neighbour is not conforming to the regulations. One of our poets has said:I can endure my own despair,But not another's hope.To-day it is announced that a Cabinet Committee has been formed to take most 631 drastic and vigorous action and it has associated with it the heads of the Coal Board, the Electricity Board and the railway Committee. This is undoubtedly a wise step, for transport which is involved in this matter affects it as much as production. It is at last being dealt with at Cabinet level, and none too soon. Indeed, it is much too late. Other measures are now being proposed and we look to the noble Viscount the Leader of the House to tell us what they are.
The noble Viscount who has just spoken suggested the importation of additional labour from abroad, and has mentioned Polish ex-soldiers in this country. That matter has been discussed for months and practically nothing has been done. How far is that due to the opposition of the trade unions? Trade unions in days passed were very restrictive in some of their activities in regard to methods of production and the introduction of machinery. Are they now being equally restrictive in the matter of the intake of foreign labour? We know this Government is naturally very sensitive to trade union opinion in view of the fact that the trade unions hold a large majority in the Labour Party Annual Conference and provide the greater part of Labour Party funds. There is, in the opinion of many of us, some dangerously close connexion between that economic interest and the Government of the day. We are in a situation in which we would wish to be assured that the Government are not being entirely influenced in this matter by any representations which might be made by the less progressive sections of the trade union world.
As to the substantial measures which should be taken, I submit that is not really our business in this House. That is the Government's business. It is the expression of the true relationship between the Executive and the Legislature that it is the Government's business to govern and it is the business of the Legislature to control the governors, to approve when approval is merited, to warn where there is danger, and, where there is failure, as in this case, to say so. The Government cannot complain that they have been in any way hampered by the reluctance of either House to give them full powers. They have been accorded all the powers to deal with a situation such as this. The responsibility is wholly theirs. We, as a 632 Legislative Assembly, can judge only by results. As the noble Viscount said, in war a General is so judged. One General will win victories where another, in exactly the same circumstances, will suffer defeats. And the rule which is applied in war applies in politics and life in general. Those who succeed get the benefit of their success; those who fail must bear the penalty of their failure.
We have to see this crisis in a larger setting. It is, may be, not the only crisis of the kind that the country will have to undergo, and the fact is that, with their vast programme with its many ramifications, this Government are, in my judgment, straining the nation too hard—the nation and especially the Government themselves, the Parliament and the Civil Service. Every appeal is made for maximum output per man-hour. I think that a record output per man-hour is being achieved by Ministers, by Government Departments and by Parliamentary draftsmen. In addition, various problems of the Commonwealth and of an international kind that will not suffer delay are pressing upon the Cabinet and upon individual Ministers. The consequence is that there is now, and has been, during the last year and a half, a sense of hurry and scurry and a lack of timely forethought and careful preparation.
Some of the Government's legislative measures are urgent and wise. They deserve, and they have received, full priority. Some, in the view of noble Lords who sit on these Benches, are good in their purpose but are not, perhaps, in the same category of first urgency, while some, it may be, we should be better without, and postponement at any rate would be an advantage. But, in any case, a grandiose legislative programme cannot be put forward as an excuse for administrative failure. It was said of Lord John Russell, when he was Prime Minister, that so long as he kept the flag of civil and religious liberty flying at the masthead he thought that all was well, although, all the time, the little leaks below were sinking the ship. Let the Government and the Minister of Fuel and Power not forget that one such failure as this, or even two, may be survived, but a succession of them will be fatal.
§ 4.53 p.m.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF YORK
My Lords, I shall detain the House with only two or three observations. Silence 633 from these Benches might make it appear as if we were so engrossed with our own ecclesiastical affairs that we were indifferent to the great crisis through which the nation is now passing. We are passing through a crisis which is both a disaster and a tragedy. It is a disaster because the progress towards recovery which we were gradually making has been put back, and put back, possibly, for months. It is quite impossible to estimate the results which will flow from this sudden stoppage of so many great industries. But more than that, this is a tragedy—and I want to dwell on this for a moment—to hundreds of thousands of homes in this country.
At this moment in our great cities there are something like 2,000,000 men and women who have been suddenly, through no fault of their own, and without warning, thrown out of work. Many of their ordinary amusements have come to an end through necessary restrictions. Many of these people are standing about or wandering in the streets, not knowing when work will be resumed. When they go home they find their homes cold and cheerless through lack of fuel. Many people suffer, also, through lack of food, as so many of the large canteens in industries will, naturally, have been closed. I am quite certain that while this House is discussing the larger economic questions it will not forget the immense personal suffering which is felt through the crisis. I venture to say that I do wish that the Minister, while he was defending himself, had also expressed what I have no doubt he feels: his own sense of the suffering which this crisis has brought upon the great mass of the people of this country.
I do not propose to attempt to pursue the inquest as to who is responsible, or what are the causes which have led to this crisis. Although the crisis has come with appalling suddenness, it has really been the result of a gradual deterioration in the position. Of course, the weather has had a good deal to do with it, but it is not the weather alone. No sensible person would ever speculate on our British weather, still less would he speculate on it when the happiness and welfare of the people of the country are concerned. I think that if anyone had consulted a Yorkshire farmer he would have been told that he and his kind were all 634 expecting a very bad winter. I will not say that their predictions are always accurate but, in this case, I was certainly told at the end of last year that a hard winter was coming.
I cannot help feeling that the crisis may partly be due to the way in which the Government—through no fault of their own and quite, apart from their own Bills—are overwhelmed with all kinds of international problems. When there is that heavy pressure on different Ministers it means that responsibilities (we all know this in business I in administration) have to be delegated more and more to individual Ministers who are responsible for special Departments. Their colleagues rely on them, and if one of those Ministers makes a grave error of judgment, whether in business or in government, the rest: of the Ministers are bound also to share in the responsibility and to suffer, very often, through no fault of their own. As I have said, I do not wish to pursue the question of who is responsible, though I must, in honesty, say that I feel that there has been a lack of foresight and courage. I cannot help contrasting the present position with that which existed when the Minister of Food took action some months ago. He then insisted on bread rationing. It was a very unpopular step to take. He was criticized up and down the country, but he insisted upon it. I admired his courage, though at the time I was not so certain about his foresight. Events have shown that his foresight and his courage were both justified. I cannot help feeling that if there had been something like the same foresight and the same courage shown in dealing with this question, the country might have been saved a great deal of unnecessary suffering.
There are two comments which I should like to make. Whatever we may think of the causes of the crisis, it is clearly the duty of everyone to carry out most loyally the directions laid down and to co-operate with the Government in every way in bringing this crisis to an end. Speaking for the Churches, as I am sure I can in this matter, I say that we will do our utmost to use our influence and to call upon people to observe these regulations and to fulfill in every way the duties laid upon them at the present moment. I cannot say that we will call upon them to fulfill these duties with "a song in 635 their hearts" or without criticism. That would be asking too much. But I am quite certain that the Churches of this country will do everything they can to help the Government in this matter.
My other comment is really to endorse something that has been said by the noble Viscount who opened this debate. I do hope that the Government will tell the country the facts. It is no good exhorting people to work, and no good blaming people for not working, unless they know why they have to work. After the war, people were tired everywhere. Many were underfed. It is no good merely saying you ought to work; I know from experience that the exhortatory sermon is out of date. It is no good telling people to be good; you must tell them what goodness means, and why they have to be good. It is no good urging people to work unless you tell them why they have to work.
It is of vital importance that the Government should make the whole country aware of the way in which—quite apart from this particular incident, though it is not a mere incident, it is a crisis—we are on the verge of an economic precipice. Everyone who knows about public affairs realizes how great the danger is, but the mass of the people of the country do not understand. I would like to see the Government, through the wireless and through the Press, bring home to the people in the simplest possible non-technical language the realities of the danger of the present position. I believe they will find that the people of this country will respond in a way they will not respond to mere exhortations or criticism. After Dunkirk, when the people understood that they were fighting for the liberties of this country, they responded. When they understand that now they are called upon to fight for the preservation of a decent standard of living and for our economic position in the world, I believe they will respond fully to any claim made upon them.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, I do not intend to attempt to reply to the noble Viscount who opened this debate. That I can safely leave in the hands of the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, who will reply. Neither do I intend to indulge in recriminations; first, because I believe it would be out of 636 temper with your Lordships House, and secondly, because I do not think the British public needs to be reminded of the sins and omissions of the past, as its awareness and, indeed, its judgment upon those sins and omissions is reflected in the fact that the noble Lords opposite are sitting upon those Benches and not upon these from which I speak.
I face the present position rather in the spirit of the lines of Kipling when he said:Let us face the position squarely as the British people should,We have had no end of a lesson, it should do us no end of good.The lesson which we have had, stark and clear, is that there can be no such thing as full employment in this country until we produce the coal to power our industries. The second lesson that is implicit in the first is that until we can increase the production of coal to approximately 200,000,000 tons a year, without any thought for export, and increase our stocks from about 10,000,000 tons in the spring to 18,000,000 tons in the autumn, power-using industries will have to work short time. There is no help for it. Until we can get our production and stocks up to a safety level, I would estimate that the average working week in our power-servicing industries will have to be about 36 hours, with plus-hours for first essential industries, and minus-hours for non-essential industries. This means a very stringent rationing or allocation of coal. In fact, we must use the coal allocation to expand the ability to employ in our first priority industries, and to depress the ability to employ in those industries which are nonessential. If I attempted to make a list of priorities for coal and power after coal production it would be in coal-carrying transport and in our electrical power stations. It is insufficiently realized that the consumption of electrical energy went up in this country by 75 per cent., and we have been trying to produce that extra capacity with equipment that is in pretty poor shape. That is the industrial scene as I see it, and I think the public have got to realize it.
I turn from that to the domestic scene. The present position calls for a drastic and immediate fuel rationing scheme right through this country. But I would warn the public that it can never be a simple scheme. I remember that a member of your Lordships' House—the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge—produced a fuel ration- 637 ing scheme in 1942. I will not dwell on why it was never put into operation. Perhaps it was fear—stark fear—of public opinion; perhaps it was some other things which I will not mention. But perhaps that scheme has got to come out, and we have got to face it. There are other things which I am going to suggest to His Majesty's Government. Daylight saving should be re-imposed at the first available opportunity when there is a net gain in daylight, and it should be increased to two hours again on the first available opportunity. I think His Majesty's Government must also pay some attention to the control and the output of those industries which, as the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, mentioned, have been producing consumer goods which consume a thing we do not want consumed If ever there was an ironical situation it is to-day, when the goods in the most plentiful supply upon which the public can spend their money are electrical household appliances. Something must be done. There must be some rationalization. There are many other things that we have to face, but, above all, we have to make the British public aware of the present situation.
For years some of us have been preaching in the wilderness that the industrial and economic battle which faces this country is as hard as anything which we have had to endure in the past war years. It is very easy to make the public conscious of the necessity for effort when bombs are falling. If some of us have failed, it has not been from want of trying. But it is said, and I think it deserves an immediate answer, that His Majesty's Government should jettison all their long-term plans of Situation social security and betterment. What shades of 1931! What shades of after the last war! Is this Government going to be condemned by a future generation, as the present generation have condemned, and rightly condemned, those who ran away from their responsibilities all those years ago? Would you have us follow the easy path and be so condemned?
I am surprised that such things are brought up. This is not the time for panic. This is the time for courageous leadership. This is not the time for recrimination, because if there is going to be recrimination, and bricks and mud hurled from one side to the other, then there will be a pretty fair supply coming from quarters that would be very disturbing 638 to noble Lords opposite. I do not think that the temper of your Lordships would stand such a thing to-day. I am quite confident that if out of this travail comes a realization of the strength we must show in the future battle we have to fight; if it will make labour and some of our trade union colleagues realize that it is useless in future talking about 40-hour weeks; if it will make them realize that there is only one thing that will pull us through, and that is productivity by everybody in this country without exception, then perhaps when we are through this travail, as assuredly we shall come through it, we can look back and say: "Well, perhaps after all it did serve some useful purpose."
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
My Lords, I do not intend to detain the House for very long this afternoon. Perhaps your Lordships will realize that, coming quite recently, as I have done, from the warmth and sunshine of our West African Colonies, the state of affairs in this country is somewhat of a cold douche. It is a state of affairs which I believe need never have occurred. During the war we were always faced with the question of having to stock-pile coal in all important areas, year after year. I remember very well how, when I was at the Ministry of War Transport, we had to give priority to that coal for stock-piling against the winter. I believe that what has happened is that the Minister of Fuel and Power has gambled on just getting through, and I think it would have been much more frank of him to have said: "I did take that risk; I took that gamble, and we were wrong."
When I say that the situation could have been avoided, it will be expected of me to say why I make that statement. I think the first thing that should have been done, when it was quite clear that our coal supplies were not sufficient for our own internal needs—although I should have deplored it having to take place—was to have cut off some of the coal which we exported during the year. Naturally, we want to export as much coal as we possibly can. But it is far better for this country to have its people at work and producing goods requiring a large labour force than to export the raw material, the coal itself. During the course of the year we have actually exported, apart 639 from bunkering coal, which I am leaving out entirely from my figures, 4,454,000 tons of coal. I believe that if the Minister concerned had really been watching this situation and indeed had been paying attention to the warnings given him by those running the electricity industry and others, we could have stopped some of that export of coal and not had this disastrous situation which has been referred to so feelingly by the most reverend Primate; a situation which is causing so much distress throughout the length and breadth of this land, and which will cause more next week.
The second matter on which I would like to reinforce what my noble friend Viscount Swinton said in opening this debate is to ask why, in this situation to-day, cannot we get some of the displaced persons and some of the Polish soldiers who fought with us in the war into their old occupation of mining. After all, if it was good enough for our soldiers to fight side by side with the Poles during the war, surely no miner can say that it would be infra dig for him to work side by side with one of these men. I do make an appeal to the Government to impress upon the trade unions Concerned that there is no likelihood in the future, as far as we can see, of there being any unemployment in the coal mines. I am quite certain that we shall not see more people trying to get into the mines than we want to see working in the mines. In circumstances like these, when we have these men, some of them still in concentration camps in Germany—as referred to yesterday in the debate in this House—some of them still here in the Polish Forces, or elsewhere in those Forces, ready and willing to come into the mines, I believe that the ban on taking them in ought to be removed, and voluntarily removed, at the earliest possible date. If there had been more active pushing by the Government and the Minister concerned, that might well have been done before this situation occurred.
The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, referred to the close connexion between the trade unions and the Government. In some circumstances that might turn out quite well, but where you have a Miners Union which is, as I understand, still pretty strongly against the idea of the Poles being employed—I hope I shall be told that they are not—and where you 640 have the Minister of Fuel and Power, as it happens, sitting for a mining constituency, perhaps all the pressure which should have been applied to get this extra manpower into the mines has not been exercised. I notice that the Minister of Fuel and Power rather prided himself on having got some 70,000 new entrants or returned soldiers into the mining industry, but, as my noble friend Viscount Swinton said, that has hardly made up for the wastage in the industry, and there is ample room for taking in those other people to whom I referred.
The noble Lord who has just sat down commented that the fuel rationing scheme was never put into operation. I do not know whether the particular one was put into operation in 1941, and I do not know what happens in the noble Lord's own house. I do know, however, that I am very severely rationed as to the amount of coal I may have. I always thought that there was a domestic rationing scheme in operation by which the local fuel controller told you how much you could and how much you could not have; and, as a matter of fact, you were pretty lucky if you got what you were entitled to.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
The noble Lord will forgive my interruption, but he is, of course, aware that electrical energy is not rationed for domestic use.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
Yes, but I was not referring to that. I happen to live in one of those old-fashioned houses which is not on the grid, in which we still make our own light, and so we do not have those heating appliances. I agree with the noble Lord when he says that there should be some limit upon their use. The thing is to see what can be done. Naturally—and I agree with every other noble Lord who said this—we will all co-operate to try and get the country out of the difficult situation in which it is placed. That, I think, goes without saying. I would, however, also reinforce the plea made to the Government to be more frank with us. What I would like to be told, not necessarily to-day but well in advance, is when these present restrictions are coming off. I hope it will not be like the bread rationing, which was said to be going on until August but has continued long after that date. I hope that we may be rid of these most severe re- 641 strictions, which are causing great difficulty and distress to millions of people in this country, as quickly as possible.
It is most important for industry that they should have some notice, and particularly those industries in which preliminary processes have to take place before any electrical power is used. Take, for instance, the cigarette making industry. In that industry for three or four days they are preparing the tobacco before it goes into the cigarette making machine or into the packing machine. If the Government adopt the policy—and I hope they will not adopt it—of suddenly saying that these restrictions are off, as they suddenly said that they were on, then all the people working on the machines will be four days, or whatever period it is, behind the other processes before they can be taken back to work. If it is known that the coal supplies are again becoming adequate, and that the restrictions can be taken off a week hence, or whenever it may be, I beg the Government to give that notice to industry so that the preliminary process workers, who do not use electricity or current, can be taken on, and when the cuts come oft the whole of industry the way will be open for them to go straight ahead.
I must say that I think—and this was suggested by the most reverend Primate—that the Minister of Fuel and Power has been too much concerned to justify himself, rather than to show sympathy for the distress which his inaction has caused. Several quotations have been made of what he has said, but no noble Lord has yet referred to what he said on September 13, when somebody had made a statement that coal supplies were going to be short and electricity might have to be rationed. He then said:I happen to be the Minister, and I should know.I agree entirely with him that he should have known. He went on to say:We have never contemplated the rationing of electricity.I believe that if it is investigated it will be found that in September, when these stocks were already not completely adequate, instructions were given from the Ministry of Fuel and Power to draw for current needs to the month of September on the stock-piles for the winter. That was not looking very far ahead.
642 I think the best thing would be to transfer the Minister of Fuel and. Power, not necessarily to your Lordships House, but to some occupation in which he may not have another chance of leading the country into the serious situation in which it is now. The noble Lord who just sat down quoted Kipling:Let us face the position squarely as the British people should.I believe if the Minister of Fuel and Power had faced this position clearly and squarely in the summer and autumn of last year, which is the time when stockpiles have to be made up, we should not be in the position we are in to-day, and I very much hope that some other employment may be found for the present Minister of Fuel and Power, shall I say, in due course. The one point that I particularly want to emphasize is that the Government should take us frankly into their confidence and give ample notice to industry, which is a really important point. While we do not, by any moans, hold them blameless in this matter—personally feel they are blameworthy—we shall, at any rate, all try to see that the country gets out of this difficult situation as soon as it possibly can.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ LOAN MARLEY
My Lords, the most hopeful aspect of the debate so far has been the unanimity that has been shown by noble Lords, and by the most reverend Primate, in the desire to co-operate loyally in an attempt to be rid of the difficulties that are facing us at the present time. This afternoon I would very briefly like to touch upon an aspect of the problem which has not so far been mentioned and, as it provides a means by which all industry can co-operate in solving the difficulties and preventing a recurrence of this situation, I hope it may have some value as a constructive suggestion. We have heard about the difficulties of diminished production, and we have heard about the difficulties of diminished deliveries of coal. The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, dealt with the problem of exports. I am not going to deal with that other than to point out that something like a half of those exports are to countries in the British Commonwealth of Nations, and we would not desire that they should suffer from a diminution of the exports upon which they have been counting in the past in order to live.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
I appreciate the point the noble Lord makes, but from what we are told, even saving half of those exports would have meant that we need not have had these cuts, because the amount of coal saved in forty-five days of the present cuts would come to half the export figures.
§ LORD MARLEY
I agree with the noble Lord and I would only remind him in passing that there were other exports, to France for reconstruction purposes, and to Sweden and Denmark, which are necessary if we are to bring in the food, another commodity of which this country is in need.
We cannot get the food without paying for it by exports. However that may be, the constructive suggestion I want to put before the House is not based upon production but upon consumption. We have heard about rising consumption but nothing has been said about the inefficient utilization of coal and the waste of coal resources by industry. This is a subject which has boon before the House and before the country for many years. I would remind your Lordships that as long ago as 1943 there was a Committee on National Expenditure which said that there was a need for further fuel economies by some industrial users. The industrial users, then, are those to whom I would particularly refer. The first thing that was done was to institute research to see how these savings might be effected. I do not need to remind your Lordships—it was stated within the last year in this Chamber—that in the last war there was established the Government Fuel Research Station under Dr. Parker. That organization has done excellent work, but that work has not been used by industry. Then there are industry's own research organizations—the British Coal Utilization Research Association, the British Colliery Owners Research Association and the Gas Research Board. They have made recommendation after recommendation, but those recommendations have not been acted upon by industry in order to save coal in the production of power. The British Government has for many years supported the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. That organization has given the taxpayers' money to research associations but its recommendations have not been adequately adopted by a considerable number of industrial con- 644 cerns, although if that had been done enormous economies might have been effected.
Let me particularize very briefly. As long ago as 1944, and again in 1946, Dr. Oscar Faber pointed out method after method by which factories might immediately have saved fuel. I am not laying emphasis upon the modernization of machinery because that was, of course, difficult during the war, but heating appliances in factories are often in the wrong place and radiators are kept on far too long. I have been in factories where throughout the dinner hour electrical machinery was left running, consuming fuel wastefully which we desperately needed to conserve. In one great factory in which I was there were doors as tall as this Chamber left open at either end of the building and there was sometimes a 20 or 30 miles per hour breeze blowing through the factory, destroying the whole of the heating arrangements for the 7,000 workers employed, diminishing production and wasting the fuel employed in heating.
Dr. Faber suggested that in an emergency we might in the first place reduce the actual temperatures in the factories by, say, from 2 degrees to perhaps 5 degrees so long as we maintained an even temperature for the workers. He recommended the turning off of radiators before they became so hot that it was obvious the workers were working in too heated an atmosphere. He recommended the checking up of jointing in the roofs to prevent heat escaping, which is another source of waste of fuel. He recommended mechanically-operated doors so that there would not be these draughts destroying the warmth built up in the factories at the cost of coal. He recommended the thermostatic control of heating—so simple and so easy and yet so seldom used in very many of our great industrial establishments. He underlined again and again the utilization of waste heat as a simple and inexpensive means of saving fuel. The insulation of buildings was, of course, too difficult a problem to deal with during the war but it should be borne in mind in the factory buildings which are now being constructed.
I would quote one other authority, and that is Oliver Lyle. He wrote a paper which was read throughout the country early last year, and I may say that he presented it to an organization which is largely supported by members of your Lordships House—the Parliamentary 645 Scientific Committee, of which I think at that time the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, was President. Oliver Lyle was even more specific than Dr. Faber. He pointed out four methods by which something could have been done immediately to prevent the waste of fuel in industry and to ensure its better utilization. First of all, he pointed out that many of our machines were very much out of date and were running under conditions which resulted in a lower output than that which might have been obtained if minor modifications were made to them, such as having lighter moving parts, better lubrication, better bearings or better design. He estimated that we might have effected a saving in this country form this source alone rising to 23,000,000 tons of coal a year.
His second main point concerned railway electrification. One railway has been partially electrified but none of the others have moved in that direction, yet the extra efficiency to be gained from the electrification of our railways was estimated by Mr. Lyle as likely to result in a saving of 9,000,000 tons of coal per year. The Weir Committee (which reported on this matter previous to the publication of this paper) estimated that by the electrification of our railways we could save 10,000,000 tons of coal a year. But what did the railways do about it? They did very little in the years before the war, with the one exception of the Southern Railway, to whose directors we should be, I think, very grateful for the electrification projects which they put into effect on so many of their lines in the southern parts of this country.
There is one other point I would make, and it is concerned with waste in collieries. In collieries we have found winding engines discharging their exhaust into the air. In one case, a colliery was heating the water for the pit head baths by electrode heaters supplied from the grid, while the waste heat from the winding engines was being discharged into the atmosphere. The iron and steel industry has done a great deal. From 1913 to 1937 they have reduced the number of hundredweights of coal per ton of pig iron from forty-one to thirty-three. In 1941 a committee appointed by the much-maligned Ministry of Fuel and Power—I refer to Dr. Grumell's Committee who examined the position in 1941 and 1942—reported that investigations carried out by the Committee show that in general the standard 646 of fuel efficiency in industry was still low, in spite of the economies effected since 1914, due to inefficient tactics and the existence of old-fashioned and inefficient plant. According to Dr. Lyle's estimate these alone could have built up a gradual saving of 37,000,000 tons of coal a year.
There is one other industry I would quote, and that is the brick industry. Why is it that in the production of one type of brick—flettons—we use 2½ cwt. of coal per 1,000 bricks, whereas in other makes of bricks the average consumption is 11 cwt. of coal per 1,000 bricks? The difference between 2 cwt. per 1,000 to 11 cwt. per 1,000 represents a waste of something like to tons of coal for every house built in this country—10 tons of coal unnecessarily wasted if bricks other than flettons are used. I am not aware whether there is something in the clay of Peterborough which makes the fletton bricks able to use less coal.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
They are not four times as efficient, and the explanation is entirely in the clay.
§ LORD MARLEY
Then in that case it is a pity that we have not concentrated, and did not concentrate during the war, in the utilization of Peterborough clay, of which there are unlimited quantities in an area with excellent accommodation and water supply and thus save coal, instead of leaving it to the private industry organizations to make bricks with this wastage of fuel. We have a right to know whether industry in fact has responded during this past twenty years. I venture to say that the reason why some industries have failed is because coal has been so cheap and so abundant that it was not necessary to trouble to economize. Yet coal is the property of all the people of this country, and has been for very many years, and no one has a right to waste what is public property.
So far as it has wasted coal, industry stands condemned for contributing to this crisis over the past twenty years by wasting unnecessarily the national assets. I am not touching upon domestic heating and I am not touching upon the failure to bring in district heating, which has been talked about, written about and examined, and which we are assured could save something in the neighbourhood of 27 per cent. of fuel for the same amount of heating. I am not touching upon smoke abatement. 647 Millions of pounds a year are wasted in sending fuel up chimneys which, by proper re-utilization by the furnaces, could not only have saved fuel but have saved us unnecessary laundry bills—which I think is a very personal and difficult problem, even to members of your Lordships House—amounting to millions of pounds a year. The question on the Order Paper asks for information as to the preventing of a recurrence of these problems in the future. One method of preventing a recurrence of a similar crisis in the future is the education of managements in industry to understand the possibilities of saving coal and of better utilization of coal, and the urgent demand that the resources of this country shall be used in the best and most efficient way in the days which are to come.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ LORD HUTCHISON OF MONTROSE
My Lords, I am grateful to your Lordships' House for allowing me to address you now instead of a little later on, and I want to make just a few observations on this terrible coal crisis. The problem really is not so much a problem of production as of transport, and personally I do not blame the Minister of Fuel and Power nearly so much as I do the Minister of Transport. In a great many pits in the country there is plenty of coal which cannot be moved. In Scotland our production has been going up steadily, and last year it was very good indeed. In our own mines, mines that I know so well, we are steadily going ahead as regards production, but in order to get that coal to the industrial and home users it has to be conveyed either by waggon, ship or lorry, and it is no use until it is delivered at the points where it is to be used. To-day, partly owing to the fact that so many waggons and hundreds of locomotives have been sent to Europe—that is, Germany and elsewhere—we are short of haulage power. We have done nothing—partly owing to the fact that we have been through a very devastating war—to improve the garages which receive the coal at the various large cities, such as London, Birmingham, Manchester and other places.
The result is that coal trains come in and they have no room for fresh loads until the waggons have been emptied and the empty trucks hauled back. The round turn should be made quick enough to bring in fresh supplies of coal. The Government would do well on their 648 medium-range policy to look into this question of transport, especially as regards the terminal places to which the coal goes. I have had experience in coal fields in Scotland, where again and again we have been held up by the fact that waggons filled with coal have not been hauled out by garages to make room for empty waggons to come in to take the coal coming straight from the washers and cleaners. This transport question also includes that of the coastal shipping, that is, small ships of about 1,700 to 2,000 tons. This shipping is a very important means of transporting coal, especially coal coming to London and elsewhere. Those ships, as your Lordships know, were used very largely during the war for Admiralty purposes, and the result is that many of them have not yet come back to conveying coal. Consequently we are now short of small coal-carrying ships. Places like Merthyr and Burnt Island and West Coast ports are willing or able to fill up these ships, but the ships are not there to take the coal. This transport question, and the question of distribution when the transport arrives is, to my mind, one of the reasons why we have suddenly come against this jam.
I do blame the Ministry of Fuel and Power, who all along have had the statistics of the various conditions of stocks all over the country. When they saw those figures going down they should have had the courage to deal with that question of stocks and tell the country what they had to give up in order to enable stocks to be built up to a safe proportion, especially as the winter was coming along. The weather undoubtedly has had a very serious effect on this shortage, but it is partly due to the fault of the Government in not taking earlier steps to build up stocks. Bearing in mind all these large generating stations for electricity, the gas works and the consumption by big consumers of coal, it was perfectly obvious what was going to happen. Stocks went down from three weeks supply to a fortnight's, and then down to ten days' and a week's. Obviously stocks had to be piled up if we were to get through the winter.
The Government have taken drastic steps, indeed somewhat too drastic, but the country will back them up in seeing the crisis through. It is no good looking back to find recriminations as to who is to 649 blame, and so forth; the thing now is to get out of the difficulty and to get back fairly quickly to creating the stocks needed by large consumers of coal. Of course, the closing down of any industry—the motor industry, the steel industry, the cotton industry or anything else—always has repercussions. Immediately you close down a large industry, all the trades making raw materials or spare parts get choked up with stock and have to close down. So it is a regular snowball which rolls back on everyone, down to those at the very beginning. Perhaps the Government ought carefully to consider how long they are going to carry out the very drastic programme they have laid down at the present moment. The sooner they can vet rid of this drastic programme the better it will be for industry and for every one else.
I believe we shall get all the coal we need, provided we can move it. The best mines now are gradually improving in production. They are getting more mechanized and the bands moving the coal from the face to the hoppers at the bottom of the shaft are having an appreciable effect on increasing output in various pits. The pits in the North, round which an American deputation from the Mineworkers Union have been going, are among these. No doubt a report will be issued, and from remarks we have heard on the field it will not be very pleasing. Of course, American coalfields are one thing—there you have big pits of level coal, whereas we have all kinds of dips and faults which are rather more difficult to handle, and this they have to appreciate. It is a very good thing for people from fields other than our own to come here and say what we ought to do to bring them up to date.
However, in the programme to get over "the jam" now, it is necessary to do something which is going to give quick relief. I believe that by handling the transport side we will get quicker relief in this unfortunate position, than by trying to deal with production to any drastic extent. Production is gradually getting better. More men are going back into the pits—at least into our pits in the North. We have had many men from the Services returning to the pits, and I have no doubt the mining population will face the problem and put in their best work in order to give the country what they need. Also, I am 650 certain that our people want to be told the truth. They will stick it and see it through, but they will not stand unnecessary hardship. When they think it is unnecessary they will kick. The Government would be wise if they looked very carefully at this programme, and made the worst part of it extend over as short a period as possible: that is, until we get back to a reasonably safe level of stocks.
The bottle-necks in the larger centres are a terrible thing. You get bottle-necks when a train runs in and there is no labour to unload, resulting in people using waggons for storage. The curse of the coal trade is that so many coal pits and coal companies own their own waggons. The result is that they use these waggons for storage, though they ought to use them only in carrying coal from the pits to the user. We have also to do something to improve the labour situation in distribution from the coal arrival point to various user points. It is not good enough to use men from the Army and the Navy to act as coal heavers. Perhaps a great deal might be done in settling the question of foreign labour. What the miners dislike more than anything e...se is for foreign labour, Poles, and so on, to go down into the pit when they do not understand the language. It is only now, during this crisis, that we shall be able to get the Miners Federation to accept a small percentage of dilution of labour, with Poles and others, but it is no good sending down foreign workers unless they are trained.
The Government ought to start now with a training scheme, so that men will be available when the better weather comes along to take their place and gradually work into the scheme of coal production. Any training scheme should see that workers should be very carefully trained before they go down the mines; in fact, they must be so before our men will accept them. After all a careless or ignorant worker may do infinite damage and risk the lives of many men working there. We ought to learn our lesson from this situation. We have had coal crises again and again, but never one like this. It is partly due to neglect so far back as October. We ought to have started then to pay attention to the extra pressure on our stocks.
If we want to get the country back on a level keel again, I think transport is likely to give better and quicker results 651 than the production side. The production side is all right, and gradually improving. Furthermore, I have no fear but that ultimately we shall have very fine coalfields throughout this country. In the old days we used to export over 50,000,000 tons of coal. Where has that production gone to? It will come back; the coal is there. There are new sinkings taking place in various parts of the country. New fields will come into operation. What is needed now is a short-range policy to get over our present difficulty. I do not want to detain your Lordships any longer, as others want to speak, but I thought I would give my view on the transport question.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
I understand that the noble Lord who has just spoken is attending this House for the first time following a prolonged illness. I am sure that your Lordships would wish me to convey to him our pleasure at seeing him amongst us once more, and to express the hope that we may hear him speak frequently in the future.
I hesitate to address your Lordships at this late hour, and I only do so because I feel that it is right that someone from these Benches other than the Minister should say a few words in support of the Government and their Ministers. The debate, in so far as it has been critical, has been conducted on a basis far too narrow to bring good results. We have been talking about a crisis. The crisis, however, arises out of the action of the weather upon a problem that has existed for generations, and it seems to me that something has been lacking on the part of noble Lords who have spoken, in that nothing whatever has been said about the problem while a good deal has been said about the crisis. We have been reminded every few years that such a problem does exist. There have been committees and there have been commissions. Quite a number of the chairmen of these commissions have been members of your Lordships' House. They have reported to you in no uncertain terms.
To one of those commissions I wish particularly to refer—that is the Commission which was presided over by a former Lord Chancellor, Lord Sankey. In the twenties of this century, he and his Commission reported on the conditions in the mining 652 industry, and recommended, in the strongest possible terms, the nationalization of the mines. It is the opinion of our Party, and it is the view of the Government that if the Governments that have been in office since that period had put the Report of Lord Sankey's Commission into operation there would have been no crisis at this moment because there would have been no problem. There could not have been a crisis without a problem. For the fact that there is a problem the present Government is not responsible. Its existence is the responsibility of the Governments of the last twenty-five years, and we shall be misleading the people of this country by our discussions, even though they may be heated, if we forget to inform them that there is a problem as well as a crisis.
Now I want to do an even more unpopular thing. I want to say a good word for Emanuel Shinwell. He is a man with a temperament. He is a man with a vigour of expression. Few people, even amongst his friends, escape the exercise of his critical faculties. But there is no keener intelligence in the Government than that of Emanuel Shinwell, and there is no Minister, at this moment, who has concentrated so much upon his job as Emanuel Shinwell has done. We are not doing a good service to the people of our country if we convey to them the impression that this crisis, arising out of the problem, could have been prevented had it not been for one man. The Minister of Fuel and Power is a loyal member of the Government. The actions that he takes are the actions of the Government. The policy that he follows is the policy of the Government. So, if there are to be bouquets thrown or if there are to be condemnations uttered, please let them be directed to the door of the Government rather than to that of an individual.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
Quite true, but we know that Emanuel Shinwell could not have carried out the coal policy of this Government without the co-operation and consent of his fellow Ministers. That being so, the responsibility is then transferred from the Minister to the Government.
Would the noble Lord say that no Minister who 653 makes a failure is ever to be held responsible for his failure because the responsibility has at once to be borne by the Government? That seems to me a very strange doctrine.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
I am not contending that for one moment; I am dealing with the case of Emanuel Shinwell. At some other time, perhaps, there may be an opportunity of talking about the subject in general terms, but that time is not now. There is another point which I wish to mention, because I think that the position of the Government in this matter has been thoroughly misunderstood. Some noble Lords have spoken to-day as if the simple decision of the Government lay between a very heavy system of rationing and the methods which the Government have operated during the last few months. There has been no such choice open to the Government. We know that, apart from those matters, the Government have been preoccupied during that period with other important questions. We have had to borrow money from America in order that the dollar exchange may remain steady and enable us to purchase the things that we require. The race in the time between now and the expenditure of that loan to achieve some measure of prosperity is an ever-present consideration, and if noble Lords may forget it, in a debate of this kind, rest assured that the Government cannot.
Therefore, when they have to consider a problem like that which relates to coal, the Government have to think not only of the things that concern this country within, but also of the things that concern this country throughout the world. Supposing that in October last the Government had not waited; that they had not allowed things to go by chance but had brought in their system of rationing. What would have been the attitude of noble Lords opposite? It would, of course, have been the attitude which noble Lords opposite have taken up recently in debates in this House. Is not the Government being pressed constantly to get rid of controls, to get rid of rationing? Can there be any doubt that if the Government had proposed, in October last, a drastic scheme for the rationing of coal, noble Lords opposite would have been loud in their condemnation?
§ LORD SHEPHERD
The noble and learned Viscount opposite said he doubted it very much; but if we are to judge noble Lords by their speeches and by their Motions in this House we can only anticipate that what happened when bread was rationed would happen when coal was rationed.
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord again, but is he saying that the Government did not do what they thought right in October because they were afraid of criticism? That is how it appears.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
No, the noble Lord must not read that into what I am now saying. The Government at that time knew that if they were to ration coal it would lead to extensive short time in industry. That extensive short time in industry would have led to a reduction in exports, and would have widened the breach between ourselves and solvency. The Government, rightly or wrongly, decided that they would run a risk in the hope that they might weather the storm. Therefore, if the Government are to be condemned it is not because they have been neglectful; it is because, in trying to carry on our country's trade as smoothly as possible without undue disturbance of industry, they have run into a weather crisis which has brought about the present immediate situation.
May I ask the noble Lord whether he was a member of the Government, because he says he knows of these interesting facts.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
If the noble Viscount is a diligent reader of The Times, or if he is a diligent reader of the speeches that are delivered in another place, he will not need to be told by me that these are the points that have been raised in speeches in another place and in the Press. They give the reasons why Government policy has followed the line it has done. I try to read, and I try to accept what I read when I believe it to be right, and it is on that basis that I am speaking to your Lordships to-night. Finally, I want to say just a brief word about the future. We must get a substantial number of young men into the coal industry. The old men now there cannot produce the goods that are required, and the industry has to be made as attractive as possible if the younger 655 men are going to be enticed into it. When these young men are brought back into the industry, I am confident that they will do their best if whatever Government are in control of the mines act fairly with them. The difficulties in the trade union movement, the difficulties in the workshop, and the suspicion that exists, are not the result of the teaching they had at school, nor are they the result of the teaching they have had from the Labour movement. They are the lessons they have learned from a bad social and industrial system, and we, on these Benches, are convinced that unless we can co-operate one with another for the public good, under public organization, we cannot break through the difficulties that exist and thus restore the people of this country to prosperity.
My Lords, I think it is very important that we should get this whole crisis into its proper perspective, and I fully support the views put forward by the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton. This is not only a short-term crisis but also a long-term crisis which has involved the nation at the present time. It is also true to say that the cold weather has precipitated matters, but if the crisis had not arisen now it would most certainly have arisen a few weeks later because of the continual drain on our stocks which have not been replenished since the summer. I hope the Government will be able to inform your Lordships why they waited until Friday of last week before making known the drastic cuts which the Government considered were necessary to put upon electricity, and to impose these cuts on sections of this long-suffering nation at a time when industry was approaching the week end, thereby making it doubly difficult for industry to produce any emergency plans. We are all aware that criticism will not immediately release the supplies of coal at the pithead, and that what is wanted are constructive ideas and suggestions.
The present form of rationing can never be very effective for technical reasons. The periods of the cuts are far too short. They are so short that the furnaces at the power stations cannot be put out, and the best that can be done is to bank the fires. It is for this reason that the saving in coal is so very small. A far more comprehensive scheme of rationing will 656 become necessary, not only until the movement of coal from the mining districts becomes possible, but also until the production of coal has been increased. Surely it would be possible to work out a scheme so that for a period industry and domestic users could be rationed on their normal requirements. Meter readings would indicate the consumption of electric power, and if the ration percentage were exceeded power could be cut off from the offending parties. What is more, industry would know what power was going to be available to it, however small, and could make plans accordingly.
I understand that the Minister of Fuel and Power consulted only the Electricity Board and the Commissioners, and did not take the power and distributing companies in to his confidence before making the cuts we have to-day. If this is true, it really is a most astonishing position, and I hope His Majesty's Government will be able to give some explanation of this state of affairs. It appears that it is only during the last twenty-four hours that really active steps have been taken to make use of all the resources of the country to combat this immediate crisis, and also to call upon the Armed Forces to lend their assistance for the movement of coal from the frozen North. We have been told that colliers laden with coal and bound for London River have been held up in the Tyne by fog. Surely these ships could have been put into convoy and escorted by one of His Majesty's ships equipped with radar, to assist them in navigation? Convoys were not stopped during the war because of fog—I have had personal experience of that—and I cannot help feeling that a little more forethought and planning from a Government of planners would have eased the situation. We have heard of 3,000 coal waggons which cannot be unloaded because their contents were completely iced up. Yet a little organization of a steam jet from a railway engine or some other appliance would have got over the difficulty.
I am glad to see from this morning's papers that the crisis is at last being really appreciated by the Government in all its magnitude, and a special Cabinet Committee, under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister, has been formed. Full warning had been given by the great industries, especially by the electrical supply companies, to the Minister of Fuel and 657 Power that the situation would arise. Their warnings seem to have been disregarded. Stocks of coal could have been built up during the summer months of last year if a proper co-ordinated rationing plan had really been commenced. It has already been remarked in your Lordships' House that bread rationing was introduced last summer as a national measure, but why was not electricity rationed? Why was electricity not considered of equal importance, and also rationed? Was it fear, on the part of the Government or further unpopularity on account of more austerity measures, or was it because the Minister of Fuel and Power was engaged upon the production of the Electricity Bill and did not see the dangers that lay ahead? One is driven to the conclusion that it is a combination of both fear and preoccupation.
I should like to draw your Lordships attention to one other point. When the mines were under private ownership, in the years before the war, the coal was properly graded and screened and the ash content kept down to a reasonable figure. At the present time I think it is true to say that from twenty to twenty-five per cent. of the coal delivered to industries consists of ash, which has no heating value whatever, and (what is important to note) this is equivalent to thirty coal trains a day, carrying ash about the country and serving no useful purpose. Perhaps I can put the matter in another way by saying that this ash content is equivalent to a loss of 3,000,000 electrical units a day, which is equal to the output of an electrical power station of the size of Fulham Power Station. I hope that the National Coal Board will take steps to get rid of this ash and this wasteful transport as soon as possible. Another point to which I would draw your Lordships' attention is the attempt to convert industry to oil-burning plant, which, although it may not be realized, is proving a failure, largely due to the fact that on most factory sites there are no adequate storage facilities for oil and it is most difficult to arrange for them.
We must look very much further than to these palliatives for our salvation. We must produce the coal we require for our industries or we shall quickly become a second-rate agricultural nation, unable to maintain our present population and with a standard of life going back to some 658 centuries ago. We must face up to the real facts in the coal industry as they are to-day and not try to gloss over the unpalatable truths which some noble Lords on the other side may not be ready to admit. It was mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, that in 1946 the production of coal was less than that in 1941 by 26,000,000 tons, notwithstanding the increase in mining machinery during war years and the return from the Forces of men who had left the industry in 1941. Perhaps I can put the matter in another way by saying that the output of coal per man per annum in 1946 was 259 tons as against 296 tons in 1941, a drop of 37 tons per man per annum since 1941, the last year in which the mines were under the control of the industry.
Would the noble Lord allow me to ask him a question on that? I know he will not mind. Is he taking into account the fact that most of the young miners went into the Army or other industries in 1941, and that we have not been able to get them all back?
I quite appreciate that it has not been possible to get them all back, but a great many of them have returned. Perhaps if the noble Lord will allow me to continue my argument, he will see what I am getting at. The immediate problem, to my mind, is how to restore these 37 tons per man per annum. Perhaps it can be summed up in the words "the will to work." Given the will to work, more and better machinery, improved underground layouts and transport will produce more coal with fewer men; but unless this will exists, not all the machinery which can be made available or the most far-reaching plan that can be produced by the National Coal Board will be of any use at all. This lack of the will to work can be traced to many reasons, perhaps the strongest of which is lack of incentive. In these days, after a certain point, money will not buy anything that is more desirable than leisure. The miner cannot with his extra earnings buy anything that he would like to have, and perhaps what is more important, he cannot buy those particular things he would like to buy for his family. Under our present economy, the goods are simply not in the shops and they cannot be bought. He is, therefore, quite content to work five days a week or less. I have little doubt that if incentive, and, what is also important, discipline, could 659 be restored to the mines, we should see very great improvements.
We must make it really worth-while for the miner to do a full and a really good day's work every working day, and avoid the penalties and consequences of slackness and irregularity. The miners task is not an enviable one. I have myself been down a number of mines, including some of those with a very short life and in very poor state before the war, and I know something of the conditions under which the miners have to work. I am in favour of giving special consideration to them, and the provision of every amenity which would tend to lighten their labour and bring back that incentive to work which is so necessary in this industry to-day, the industry above all others on which England's greatness has been built. We are on the threshold of a great national disaster. The sands are running out, and we must plan not only for a short-term policy but for a long-term policy which will lift the coal industry out of its difficulty and restore this nation to the proud position which it has been accustomed to hold amongst the nations of the world.
§ 6.25 p.m.
My Lords, I suppose when noble Lords went away last Thursday nothing seemed more unlikely than that there would be a debate on coal this week. Now it is quite clear that we are in the middle of a crisis of the first gravity involving every industry and practically every home in the country. That is the measure of the suddenness with which this great cloud has come upon us. It is the measure too, am afraid—if noble Lords opposite will forgive my saying so—of the contempt or, at any rate, neglect with which the Government have treated Parliament in this matter. At any rate, I am sure that it will now be recognized in all quarters of the House that a free and full discussion of the matter in Parliament is absolutely essential.
The debate which is now coming to an end has, I think, been in full accord with the highest traditions of your Lordships House. It has been serious; it has been constructive, and, on the whole, mere debating or Party points have been avoided by both sides. For instance, we have not had the very disingenuous argument that 660 was used by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in another place when he said that the present difficulties are partly due to the fact that we have had under a Labour Government full employment in time of peace for the first time in the history of this country and that the assessment of our industrial needs was therefore difficult. No doubt that would be very successful amongst the right honourable gentleman's supporters.
What are the facts? In April, 1920, that is, sixteen months after the First World War, the figures of unemployed were 337,000—I am giving the round figure. In January, 1946, which is seventeen months after the Second World War, the number of unemployed was 401,000. I am not producing these figures to make any Party point at all, but merely in order that the true facts should be made known. I would say that such reckless statements as those made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer cannot serve to clarify the position in which we are at present; they can only serve to muddy the waters. Neither have we had to-day the rather crude argument which has been used, and which I thought rather more reminiscent of a private school than Parliament: "Yah, what about the Tories before the war and their 2,000,000 unemployed." I thought I detected the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, getting a little near to it in his speech, but he very properly restrained himself.
We on this side of the House would be very ready at an appropriate time to discuss the pre-war unemployment position. No doubt it might have been very differently handled, and possibly it might have been handled better than it was. We have all learned a great deal since then, as the White Paper on full employment to which all Parties subscribe shows. At any rate, I would submit to your Lordships—I am no economist—that that crisis has not the slightest relevance to this one. The pre-war situation arose from a great international depression which started in the United States and gradually spread over the rest of the world. The noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, will correct me if I am wrong, but I think it arose from a great number of different considerations, and partly from over-production leading to an unwillingness on the part of buyers to buy all that was produced. The noble Lord will say if that is inaccurate. In any case, the present position is quite 661 different in its origin and in its nature. It is purely local. There is no question of any unwillingness on the part of buyers to buy; buyers are panting to buy. There has never been such a sellers market. The present position arises purely from the under-production of a particular commodity—coal. To try and draw such an analogy between the two crises seems to me to be an insult to the intelligence of Parliament.
I would like to say one word about the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. He tried, I thought with considerable skill, to divert the attention of the House from the present crisis, on which the Government have clearly done extremely badly, to a general problem which he says has lasted for years and years and years. On that general problem we have, of course, had a great deal of discussion—the noble Viscount the Leader of the House will remember the discussions in recent years—on various occasions and over the Coal Industry Nationalisation Bill in particular. But the fact remains that in this situation the Government, faced with a certain set of circumstances, had to do the best they could in those circumstances. We on this side of the House believe that the Government could have done very much better; we believe that almost any Government could have done better. We believe they have been guilty of a grave dereliction of duty, and I submit that we are bound to say so.
I would like now to turn to the main theme of the debate, and I hope that I shall be able to maintain the high tone which has hitherto characterized it. I will try to keep off Party lines, for I really believe that the situation is much too serious for that. I may, indeed, criticize the Government, but it is not because they are Socialists it is because they are inefficient. It is on the grounds of inefficiency—and this is clear from the speeches of the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, and many others—that the charge against the Government is serious, and serious indeed. I think it is quite evident from what has emerged from the debate in this House and in another place that the Cabinet, or at any rate the Minister of Fuel and Power, must have known weeks ago, and even months ago, the appalling danger in which this country 662 stood. The Minister has indicated himself that all would probably have been well but for the unexpected bout of cold weather. Of course, we must all of us recognize, if we are at all fair-minded, that the weather conditions are entirely exceptional, and they must have put a very severe strain upon the resources of the country. There is no difference of opinion about that.
But is it, in fact, any excuse for the breakdown that has occurred? During the war the noble Lords, Lord Wootton and Lord Leathers, to whom the country owes so much, were constantly faced with unexpected problems of this kind, almost every day and certainly every week, but they always exercised foresight, and so they had an alternative plan when the emergency came. Trey always had, I believe the expression is, "something in the kitty," and that was the measure of their success. After all, it is the primary duty of responsible Ministers to provide against emergencies, however improbable those emergencies may be, and to warn the country of the danger of such emergencies. But the Knister of Fuel and Power took a very different course. He seems neither to have recognized himself nor to have discussed with other interests concerned the possible future perils which faced the country. He made no plans; he just hoped for the best.
It is not as if the Government had not had their attention drawn to the gravity of the situation. The House has had already some examples of those warnings, and I do not want to weary your Lordships by undue repetition. I would, however, like to give one quotation which has not been made by any noble Lord. As far back as October 16 of this year there was one member in another place, with a special knowledge of the coal industry, Colonel Lancaster, the Member for the Field Division of Lancashire, who, after reviewing the figures of production and consumption, said this:If the figures I have given prove to be correct, we shall face a crisis in February of next year. One of two things will happen. Either we shall have to discontinue entirely our exports, or some considerable sections of our industry will have to go on slow time and there will be a great deal of domestic distress.When I read those words in Hansard—and I think your Lordships will agree that they turned out to be a remarkably accurate forecast—I looked forward to seeing 663 what were the comments made by the Government spokesmen on a prophecy so formidable as that. What did I find? There was no reference of any kind to the speech. Apparently it was not considered worthy of any comment from the Government Front Bench. Then there was the warning to which the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, has referred, which was given by the electricity companies, which only drew the comment from the Minister—the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, did not make reference to the comment—that it was a lot of nonsense and just propaganda. I would remind the House that these companies that gave that warning and so accurately forecast the future are the same companies which are now to be taken over by the State, because it is asserted by the very Ministers who were responsible for the present catastrophe that they are incompetent.
Week after week and month after month, the effect of Government statements has been to lull Parliament and the people of this country into a false sense of security. I do submit to your Lordships that that is a terrible indictment both of the Minister himself and of the Government who allowed him to say these things. Even on Thursday last, when the storm was about to break, and when the Government's own supporters were seriously worried, the Leader of another place did his utmost to avoid the debate, and the Minister when he did speak attempted to describe the proper anxieties of the critics as Party propaganda. I feel sure the noble Viscount the Leader of the House who is going to wind up this debate will not attempt to take up that attitude this afternoon. Believe me, these things I have said are being said by thinking men and women of every Party all over the country to-day. The truth is, and the whole country now knows it, that this crisis has been brewing for months. No doubt it was brought to a head by the cold spell. That was very bad luck for the Government. But they had no margin of error. The Government was not like Joseph, that admirable administrator, when the lean years came. I am sorry to say that they seem to me to bear a far closer resemblance to the Foolish Virgins. No preparations of any kind seem to have been made against what may be called unforeseen contingencies.
664 I understand—and no doubt the Leader of the House will deal with this when he replies to the debate—that the Government are at present engaged in negotiations to arrange for double-bunkering of ships which visit the United States. I personally hope that the Government will succeed. In the present emergency we cannot neglect any step, however deplorable that step may be in itself. But that is in fact—and we must not blind ourselves to it—buying American coal. If we are now prepared to take such a step in spite of the drain upon our dollar resources, why did we not do it in, say, September last, when it was clear that a crisis was impending and when that crisis might still have been averted? That would have been the time to buy that coal. There appears to have been no foresight at all. Moreover, it is evident from the facts which have been exposed by the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, and by other speakers, that no plan was worked out before-hand—no plan of any kind, not even the first elements of one—in this country in conjunction with the industries concerned. As I understand the position, even the electrical companies which were to operate this scheme were not informed before-hand of the steps to be taken and only heard about it after the Minister's announcement was made on Friday. Can anything excuse incompetence of that kind? It is the worst which I remember in my public life. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, in the debate upon the Address chastised the Opposition for what he called the "economics of the jungle". I must say that I prefer the economics of the jungle to the economics of the bungle.
Even now we do not know the full extent of this calamity. At one moment I see it suggested in the newspapers that there will ultimately be 3,000,000 people out of work, at another moment I see the number has risen to 5,000,000—that is not people now out of work, but those who will be out of work—and another estimate, which is darker still—and here I am quoting from the Minister's own statement to the Press—is:If consumers do not co-operate in this period of emergency we shall find ourselves in a position of complete disaster.And when he was asked what that meant, he said, "No fuel for electricity at all." Without, I hope, being accused of scoring a Party point, we may fairly ask what the Government propose to do to remedy this 665 frightful situation, the hard, cruel facts of which the most reverend Primate spoke this afternoon in such moving terms. It is evident that there is no complete immediate remedy, although of course we can employ measures of alleviation such as were suggested by the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, the noble Lords, Lord Lucas and Lord Teynham, and others. Things of that kind can be done, but, broadly speaking, for the moment the country will just have to clench its chattering teeth and to show that courage and endurance which it always shows in times of serious crisis.
We must, all of us, of course, do exactly what the Government tells us in this emergency. I have gained the impression from the newspapers that the response of the public has not been so good as might have been hoped. That no doubt is due to the fact that the public has been so bullied and badgered with rules and regulations during the last few months that it has become rather allergic to them. That is one of the results of this policy of bureaucratic interference upon which the Government have embarked. But in this emergency no patriotic person must allow such ideas to influence his mind. The country is in danger and we must all do our utmost to pull together and to get it out of its present mess. That is a public and a personal duty, however stringent are the measures which may be necessary. But the people of Britain may, I think, fairly ask what steps the Government (to whom, after all, they entrusted their welfare two years ago) propose to take to prevent a recurrence of the present deplorable situation. This is not merely a temporary problem due to an unfortunate turn of the weather, as has been suggested in some quarters. We have authority for that from Sir Hartley Shawcross himself who is, if I may say so with all due deference to him, worth his Weight in gold to this country because he can always be depended upon to let the cat out of the bag. In a speech which he delivered at Prestwich over the weekend, after a rather obscure remark in which he said "These are great days we live in," he went on to say:This immediate emergency—this weather-produced crisis—will pass in a comparatively short time, but we shall still be faced with the permanent problem that fuel consumption is running ahead of supply, and the position next winter will be at least as serious as now unless we can find a remedy.666 That is, of course, perfectly true. But what do the Government propose to do about it? What: is their target for coal during the coming year and how do they propose to attain it? I hope we may have some information about that. There are certain steps which can be taken immediately. The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, suggested some, and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, in what I thought was an extremely interesting speech, suggested some more, while others have come from different parts of the House. I would like to suggest another, and I do so with all deference. I suggest that the Government would do well to move the Minister from his present post. I do not say he should be dismissed; that is a matter for the Prime Minister and not for me. Nor do I say what I have said in any personal spirit. I have not the honour of having more than what may be called a nodding acquaintance with Mr. Shinwell. He may be the most admirable and charming of men personally, but from now on—and the Government would do well to recognize it—nobody in this country will believe a word he says. He has entirely lost the confidence of the public. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, in his speech thought, as I understood him, that this loss of confidence ought to be extended to the whole Cabinet: it was unfair that it should only apply to Mr. Shinwell. If that is his view, I do not mind. He can have it whichever way he likes.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
We are very much enjoying the speech which the noble Viscount is making, but we understood him to say at the beginning that it was to be a non-Party speech. That is a very strange non-Party speech.
I do not think that is a Party point. After all, it is nothing to do with the Opposition qua Opposition which Ministers the Government have. On the whole, the more inefficient those Ministers are, the better it is for the Opposition. I ought to be pressing the noble Lords opposite to keep Mr. Shinwell in his present job, if I were speaking merely from a Party point of view. But I am speaking entirely from the national point of view. I therefore repeat that, whatever Mr. Shinwell's merits may be, I feel certain that at the moment he would really be far better off in another job.
667 The second step is that the Government must find (they may say this is rather a large order) some means of increasing the production of coal. I know very well that they are already attempting to tackle this problem. Up to now they have had a certain success—perhaps not enough, but a certain success. They have tried to increase the number of workers in the industry. The number who have gone in and the number who have gone out up to now about balance each other. Unfortunately, it appears that our young men no longer want to go in the coal mines. The Government view, as I understand it, is that the fact that the coal mines are nationalized will improve the atmosphere and induce a change. That may be so; I wish I could believe it, but I do not see any great sign yet of a change of heart. I wish the Government luck in their efforts and I hope that all will go well. It is to the interests of all of us that the number of workers in the coal industry should be increased. It may be that some further inducements could be offered to the miners in the form of better rations, more food and drink. I know there are great difficulties attaching to any proposals of that kind, because almost certainly there would be immediate similar demands from all the other heavy industries. I do not press the proposal, but I should be interested to know what the Government's view about it was.
There was another suggestion which I think was put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, that more goods should be released for the home market. The idea is, I take it, that the miners would get their share of these goods, and that the possibility of buying goods for themselves, their wives and their children, if they were in need, would provide an incentive to produce more and earn more. I shall be quite interested also to know whether the Government have considered that possibility. Then there is the proposal for the introduction of foreign labour, which has been put forward by several speakers to-day. It has, of course, been tried in other countries and it sounds a pretty easy way out. But I must confess the more that I personally look at this proposal, the more I recognize that we must not under-estimate the difficulties of it. I think they are considerable. There 668 are the difficulties of language, the difficulties of housing, the difficulties of introducing an alien population with different traditions and a different way of life. No doubt every possibility, at any rate of temporary expedients, must be explored by the Government, but that one does seem to me—although it is worth considering—to have very real difficulties attaching to it. At any rate, whatever may be said about this proposal or about that proposal, all of them are in the nature of palliatives; they do not touch the real root of the problem.
As one examines—as I have tried to examine, and as I suppose other noble Lords have examined—this most complex and difficult situation, I have been driven back to the conclusion that the only real solution lies in the hands of the miners themselves. It is not disputed, I think, in any quarter of the House that the production of coal per man has steadily gone down year by year since before the war. I believe there has been a slight rise within the recent weeks, but it is still far below the pre-war figure. Over five years before the war, some figures I have—which do not entirely coincide with those quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham—show that the men on the colliery books produced 299 tons per year per man, and in 1946 they produced 270 tons per year per man, which means a reduction of about ten per cent. I think the figure given by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, of 37 tons is probably a difference between the categories of men who were employed; but my figure, in fact, does come from the Statistical Digest, and I believe it to be quite correct.
It is not my purpose to-day, in any sense of the word, to criticize the miners. I have a very high respect, as I suppose we have all in this House, for that very sturdy community. Their reduction of output is no doubt partly due to natural weariness, spiritual and physical, consequent on six years of war. They had a very gruelling time in the war, and one must understand that an experience of that kind leaves its after-effects. It is also partly due to their getting less food than they did before the war of the type to which they were traditionally accustomed. Finally if I may say so with all deference, it is partly due, I think, to the unremitting propaganda of the Labour Party and other more extreme groups, over a long 669 period of years, who always told them that with the coming to power of the Labour Party there would be less work and more wages for everybody. That has been said throughout this country, whereas any competent observer could have told that after the dissipation of all our resources in the long war everybody would have to work very much harder than they did before, if we were to keep our heads above water.
But the hard fact remains—possibly because the miners do not even yet entirely recognize the full dangers of the situation—that the individual miner is producing less than he used to do, in spite of the fact that there has been the introduction of mechanized equipment into a number of pits. I am told that if the individual miner were hewing as much coal as before the war our present difficulties would never have arisen with regard to supplies of coal for home use—I do not mean the export trade, but for home use. Millions of working men would not now be without a job. Millions of women and children would not now be living in the utmost discomfort without light and without heat, and our vital export industries would not now be fatally hampered. I would ask the Leader of the House to say whether in his view that is true. It is surely only fair to the country and to the mining communities themselves that the truth should be known. I would ask also whether, if what I have said is true, the Government have made the position clear to the National Union of Mine Workers, and what has been their response.
I would ask finally whether the Government has told the National Union of Mine Workers, without mincing words, what is the grim alternative. Coal is the lifeblood of the body of industry, whether that industry be nationalized or un-nationalized. If that blood does not flow freely through the veins the whole body will die. That will mean untold misery not only for their fellow workers but for the miners themselves and their wives and families. It may mean, if the situation gets had enough, starvation for some. It must mean a catastrophic fall in the standard of living for everybody. In my opinion this ought to have been said publicly by the Government long ago. Are they willing to say it now, and are they willing to appeal to the mining community, who have always shown 670 themselves patriotic, sensible and courageous, to step up production at toast to the pre-war level?
I fully realize that plain speaking of this character is difficult for any Government, and it is especially difficult for this Government. It means doing something which is extremely unpalatable to them, and indeed I have a shrewd suspicion that the reason they have not done something of this kind already is that they have been reluctant—and I say this in no offensive sense—to take action which would be likely to alienate large sections of their supporters. But there is something more important than any individual section of the community, however powerful, and that is the welfare of the country as a whole. Unless the mining community can be made to realize—as I cannot believe they do now—the full gravity of the situation (which cannot be over-estimated), it will not merely mean that the Labour Government will fail, which seems to worry Sir Hartley Shawcross so dreadfully, judging by his weekend speech, but, as he quite rightly added, the whole prosperity and future of this country will be at stake. If it is not an impertinence for me to say so, this is the testing time for Labour. This is the time when they must show whether they are statesmen or mere creatures of certain sectional interests. I am sure that all of us, whatever our Party may be, will be patriotic enough to hope that the Government will come to the right decisions.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
My Lords, I am sure that there is no difference of opinion as to our agreement with some of the important opening statements of the noble Viscount who has just sat down. He drew attention to the value of full and free discussion, and we have had one of a singularly high character this afternoon, and it may well be that there will be more to follow on this topic, or what may arise out of it. I would like to say at once to the noble Viscount, and the other noble Lords, that the Government court full and free discussion on this issue and will do everything they can, without reserve, to inform the nation as to the facts of our economic position, because there is every advantage in the public knowing them, fully stated, rather than half stated as they are sometimes. I would like to remind your Lordships that some time ago the Lord President of the Council announced that we were preparing a Paper which 671 would shortly be issued on this subject. I can tell your Lordships that very much work has been done on that Paper, and I feel sure that when it is published—which I hope will not be very long hence—there will not be a single member of your Lordships' House on either side who will say we have failed to be frank with the people.
Before coming to the main issues of the case I must say I was exceedingly attracted by a single feature of the noble Viscount's speech. I shall read it again in a quiet moment by the fireside and I am sure I shall cherish it in my memory, because he insisted so many times that his observations were not in the least in a Party spirit. He said the Attorney-General was worth his weight in gold because he let the cat out of the bag. I think that is a strange metaphor which he must have invented while he was on his legs. Why a man should be worth his weight in gold for letting cats out of bags I am not sure.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
That is the point I had in mind; it must have been a cat exceedingly welcome to the noble Viscount. He valued it so highly that I think it must have been a Party cat. He drew attention to the Government and said, I think, that it had chattering teeth.
I said "the country," in view of the Government's lack of preparations, has no option but to clench its chattering teeth. I am sorry the Government's teeth are not chattering: perhaps they should be.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I took the delightful phrase down and I understood it was the Government which had chattering teeth, but I will not stress the point. What struck me about the tone of the noble Viscount's observations in this regard was, shall I say, its exhibition of impartiality. I am sure he gave it a high degree of priority and I shall look at it again in that light. However, to put aside lighter matter I should like to say how much we all feel just as the right reverend Prelate 672 does about the miseries that must attend these deprivations. I feel sure that that is fully realized. Before I finish I hope I shall be able to throw some light on the facts. I am quite certain the people of this country will rally to the needs of the situation with their accustomed fortitude.
In answer to various questions as to the facts, I have just been supplied with the figures of the savings of the first three days and I will read them to the House. The savings on Monday, the first day, were 22,550 tons of coal; on Tuesday 24,500 tons of coal; on Wednesday 26,300 tons. So that there is 73,350 tons in all, which I should say is a very gratifying response. The small but steady increase in these three days has proved, I think, that the public response is sincere.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
Are these figures for the whole country or that part of the country in which the Friday scheme came into operation?
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
It relates to power stations' savings in the area to which the limitation applies. As I go along I will try and reply to some of the points, but before coming to the main case it may perhaps be as well if I gave now the reply to the questions which have been asked in respect of bunkering. The noble Viscount kindly gave me notice of this question, and I may say that it has been put to the Minister in another place to-day. The question was:On what authority and for what reason were instructions sent out relative to the bunkering of ships on the week ended February 8, and on whose authority and for what reasons was the order countermanded?The reply is:As a precautionary measure I gave instructions on Thursday, February 6, to hold up foreign bunkers, but I issued further instructions withdrawing the ban on Friday, February 7, before the debate in the House that afternoon.There is a quite definite and explicit reply with regard to foreign bunkering, for a similar question was put to the Minister in another place to ask him what was being done about it. His reply was:No such negotiations in Washington are in progress but I hope arrangements can be made as a temporary measure to revert to the system of double-bunkering on the other side by shipping companies.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I have not the text of the Reuter despatch in my hand, but this reply was given in another place on Tuesday last. Well, my Lords, the Government have been accused all through of a lack of foresight and of a lack of preparation before-hand in the accumulation of adequate coal stocks—that is the gravamen of the charge. Let us just look at some of the realities of the situation. The power to accumulate coal stocks clearly depends upon the weekly use of coal as compared with its production. There has been a very remarkable increase in the demand for coal both from industry and from electricity undertakings, and it is a factor, of course, in the active employment of the country that this should be so. So it could only have been possible to have diverted coal from industry in the summer-time, for the accumulation of stocks, by the restriction of certain activities in industry. That is a mathematical certainty; it is the only way in which it could have been done. Stocks, also, are accumulated against expectation, and it is reasonable to base your expectation of demand on what happened in previous years.
Let us now look at the situation as it really was. We were endeavouring—and I knew of no adverse criticism—as we have been endeavouring all along, to keep industries, and particularly those that make goods for export, as fully employed as possible, and there is no doubt that when you allow for the steel industry, the railways, and other industries, from which you cannot divert coal, you are limited to those manufacturing industries which, in the ordinary way, use, I understand, about 40,000,000 tons of coal. You may say that the railways, gas and water undertakings, coke ovens and the collieries themselves are ruled out. They must have their full supply. So you are limited to what you can take out of the rest, and "the rest" really comes down to the coal used by other industries that is, 40,000,000 tons—and the coal used by households. Those are the two big classes of users who are left. Restriction in the use of household coal has brought consumption down from 40,000,000 tons per annum to 29,000,000 tons. That is a very large reduction. Therefore, you are practically driven—apart from what you could get by further restricting the householder—to the industries to which I have just referred.
My Lords, may I just say that we, on this side of the House, do not wish to appear to be guilty of any discourtesy to the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, but we would ask him to remember that this is a question and not a Motion, and therefore my noble friend Viscount Swinton has not the right to reply. So if he finds himself obliged now and then to intervene for the purpose of clarifying a point I hope that the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, will understand.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
Of course, I understand. The noble Viscount, I am sure, will treat me as I always treat him—that is, quite fairly. But I am entitled to reply to criticisms that have been made, and that is what I am trying to do. I proceed now to rule out all the vast users of coal in respect of which you could not possibly have made any reduction. When you rule them out you are left with groups of industry using coal to the extent of 40,000,000 tons and the householders from whom to take your parings in order to accumulate stocks. It is true, I should think—I must put it in that form—that by restricting a considerable number of industries in the summer-time—I cannot specify them now—it might have been, and would have been, possible to have saved a certain amount of coal and to have diverted it into stock. Welt, I think it is fair to ask what would have been the criticism if, in the summer-time (because that is the only time when you can think about accumulating stocks), the Government had issued a number of regulations restricting the use of coal by a vast series of the smaller user industries. I am certain that we should have been met by something like the delightful phrase which was used by the noble Viscount a few minutes ago. He said, I recall, that we are: "being bullied and badgered to death by bureaucratic interference." That is what would have been said without a shadow of doubt. And it would have been exceedingly difficult, at that time, to make a case for restricting the supplies of a vast number of industries in order to accumulate a stock of coal.
675 It is all very well to be wise after the event, but what we deliberately decided was that it was not right, then, to pare coal off great numbers of industries with the inevitable result that enormous dislocation would have been caused in our manufacturing entity. That was our deliberate conclusion, and I believe that, with all their sapience, if noble Lords opposite had been in our place they would have come to the same conclusion. Those are the reasons why it was not possible to divert coal from industrial use into stock. There is one other consideration which has not yet been mentioned but to which attention ought to be drawn—that is the user of coal. I will return to this in a moment, but I pause to say that I think that the House owes a great debt to Lord Marley for the entirely disinterested speech which he made, in which he drew attention, giving chapter and verse, to the—shall we say—waste of coal. I can tell him that one of the decisions of the Government with regard to long-term policy is that we must take as much advantage as we possibly can of the lessons of science and apply them to industry so far as they relate to the better utilization of coal. But, incidentally, there are some very remarkable facts with respect to the utilization of coal by electrical undertakings and industry about which this country has had no chance of doing anything since 1938.
I am taking now the last complete year before the war. Let me give you some figures relating to the sales of electricity by distributing companies. These figures are in terms of millions of units. For domestic purposes, in the last complete year before the war 5,360,000,000 units were sold. For industrial purposes, 10,311,000,000 units were sold. That is the amount that was sold by all the electricity companies. In 1945—I have not the complete figures for last year—the figure for domestic consumption was 8,848,000,000 units, and the industrial figure was 17,692,000,000 units. In other words, the sales in 1938 were 15,671,000,000 units and in 1945 they were 26,540,000,000 units. That means that there was an enormous increase in the demand. But bear in mind that during those years it had not been possible to re-equip our generating stations. We were engaged in the war, and the result was that the demand on the generating 676 plants, substantially now, in the condition they were then, has had to be met from the existing stations. However, so far as the long-term plan is concerned, it is quite evident that a pressing need of this country is to increase the generation of electricity on a very large scale. That is perfectly evident.
I should like to say a word with regard to a question which another noble Lord used—I think it was the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton. He asked whether we were proposing to make use of the smaller units of electrical generation which had been used by the Army and other people during the war. I may say that we are, and that the possibility of using them is being actively pursued. That is only by way of interjection, but it answers his question. The result of this enormously increased use of electricity during a time when there was no opportunity at all of increasing the capacity of the power stations is reflected in their use of coal. For instance, the weekly consumption by electricity undertakings of coal in 1939 was 306,000 tons, while in 1946 it was 504,000 tons, so there is an additional 200,000 tons per week going into these power generating stations.
Noble Lords will say: "You must have known all about that in June. Why did you not allow for it?" Well, here I have a rather elaborate table—though I will not weary your Lordships with the whole of it—from which I will give the House the sum and substance of the estimates which were made, not by the Government with chattering teeth, but by the experts in the industry, and very competent people no doubt. Of course, we had to go by these estimates. From November 1 to December 27 the estimate was that the power stations would require an average of 557,000 tons a week. They actually used 584,000 tons in November, and 646,000 tons in December. Take the first dismal two weeks which we are now finishing. The estimates were that the requirements for the week ending February 1 would be 676,000 tons; but the actual consumption was 727,000 tons. The estimate for the week ending February 8 was 647,000 tons, and the actual quantity used was 732,000 tons—something like 80,000 tons more in one week. With all the animadversions on my right honourable friend the Minister of Fuel and Power, I do not think he can be blamed for differences of that amount. 677 These were the estimates made entirely bona fide by those who were running the industry, and I have given them to you with the figures of coal that were actually used.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
Will the noble Lord allow me to interrupt? It is very important to get these right because there is a complete challenge between what the power companies say and the figures which have been given to the Minister. I will not follow it further now, but I am informed that the amount the power companies said would be required was 559,000 tons every week. This was the July figure, and, of course, there is a much greater increase in consumption in November and December. Now the Minister is giving some other figures, and I would only ask him this: Are these figures he has given us in that estimate the figures given to the Minister by the power and distributing companies, or by the Electricity Commissioners, or somebody else? I think that is a fair question.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
It is a perfectly fair question. I am having it verified, but my information is that the figures were supplied by the Central Electricity Board.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
It is all very Well, but I have complete confidence in the Central Electricity Board. It is a very competent body of people. And who else were the Government to ask for estimates? We had to get our estimates from the authoritative body that is in charge of the whole business, and that was the right body to go to. These are the figures they gave, and it is a fair case to make that it would not be reasonable to expect the Government, or the Minister of Fuel and Power, or anybody else, to anticipate, with these figures before us, the enormous actual consumption.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
Of course it is, and if the noble Viscount could have suggested any practical expedient whereby we could have accumulated large stocks it would have been exceedingly welcome. It was the inability to devise that expedient without chopping industry to pieces that led to the situation. There has 678 been, and is, a much greater consumption of coal in the power stations than was anticipated, even in the winter. Of course, the consumption is higher in the winter, and the estimates were much higher for the winter than for the summer. The point I am making is that the discrepancy was very great. It was not just a few odd tons, but a very large difference between the actual consumption and the estimate given beforehand. No doubt this is due to the large sale of electrical gadgets, of which we have been told, which are now in very many more households than they were. As the noble Lord has told us, they were bought, and people buy electric fires to keep themselves warm. Of course they do. Their purchase was due no doubt to the in-creased use of electricity. I must ask noble Lords if they are going to condemn the Government for allowing people to buy these things, because that is the in-reference. Then they must be willing to say that if they had been in office they would have accepted the responsibility of telling the public they would not be allowed to buy.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, from the other side of the House, was the person who raised the question of electrical appliances.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, quite properly pointed out that people buy electric fires in order to use them, and several speakers have pointed out that there was a large increase in the manufacture and supply of electrical gadgets to be used in houses.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
The noble Viscount has referred to me. It is perfectly true I raised this in the first instance. I said that from the figures in the Digest of the sales of these gadgets it must have been perfectly obvious to the Government how greatly the consumption would be increased. I did not comment further upon it. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said—I paraphrase his words—that no Government in their senses would have allowed the sale of such things if they could not provide the electricity for them. That is what happened.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I am only saying that this Government did not decide to stop their sale. We accept the responsibility for that. All I have to say is that if there is any complaint about their use making a large drain upon electricity, the only way to have removed the cause of complaint was to have prevented the sale of the apparatus. That is the point I am making. We did not prevent the sale of the apparatus and I think we did rightly. It is true that the production of coal has not kept pace with the demand, and here I come to some of the points raised by the noble Viscount who last spoke. I would like to say how much I appreciate the way in which he dealt with them, but I think that he did not attribute sufficient weight to a very, very important matter. In 1941 young miners were recruited wholesale for the Army. That was a mistake. We recognized it later on. Those men who went into the Forces were, of course, the pick of the miners. Thereafter followed five or six years of weary war. We all recognize that mining is a very trying occupation. In view of the fact that so many of the active young men went away and left the much older men in the pits, it was only to be expected that output per man would decline. I do not think that that is an unfair statement.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
It was inevitable, and I am sure that the noble Viscount would be the last to make any—
I did not for one moment wish to make any charge against the miners and, indeed, I never did so. All I said was that it seemed to me the only immediate cure for the situation was if they could be persuaded to produce a little more to tide us over this emergency. I realize that the miners have had a very hard time.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I know that the noble Viscount put it that way, and he put it perfectly fairly. The point I am making is that the explanation for the fall in output per man from 1941 to 1946 is, in the main, due to the type of the men working in the mines, being the older men. We abstracted, in very large numbers, the ablest of the young miners, therefore the men who remained were older, and one could not have expected their output to be so high as that of the young 680 men whom we took away. However, I am glad to say that lately we have had some much more encouraging figures. Perhaps the House would be interested if I gave them. The figures I am about to give are the average weekly increases over the figures for the corresponding period to the previous year. There has been no increase in men. The number of men is substantially the same, because those who have come in have really replaced those who have gone out.
In September the miners produced an average of 110,000 tons a week more than in the corresponding month of the previous year. I will not give the figures for every month. In December the increased output was 235,000 tons as compared with the corresponding month in the previous year. For some reason in the first week of January there were 420,000 tons more than in the corresponding week in the previous year. That seems to have been an exceptional week, because on the 11th, 18th and 25th there were increases of 228,000, 264,000 and 258,000 tons. I think it is fair to say—and I am sure the House would like me to say—that, notwithstanding the horrible weather and the conditions at the pits, last week they actually produced 70,000 tons more than for the corresponding week of the previous year. Therefore, it is fair to claim that progress of a very substantial kind is being made in the right direction. However, that does not in any way minimize the importance of the fact that in this country we must increase our output of coal. There is no question between us about that. The figure of 200,000,000 tons was mentioned by some noble Lord. All I have to say is that it would be gratifying indeed if there were some improvement on that figure this year. I hope that we may be able to exceed it, but I am not an expert in these matters. At all events, I should like to assure the House that the Government are doing everything they can to devise ways and means of assisting to increase output. I want to say something with regard to a matter mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham. He said, as I understood him, that a lot of this coal had 30 percent of ash in it.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
This much-maligned Government only became responsible for the coal mines on January 1. 681 Therefore one cannot expect these bad habits of turning out this poor stuff, which have grown up, to be minimized in the course of a few weeks. They have grown up under the former system. Let us hop, that before long they will be eradicated.
Would the noble Viscount not agree that Mr. Bevin, Mr. Attlee and Mr. Morrison were members of the Labour Party?
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
Yes, they were—and very fine members—but they were otherwise occupied. In those days we had not nationalized the coal mines and, although there was nominal direction: they were really being operated by the same people. However, there is no doubt at all that there is great need for improvement in the equipment of the mines, in the transport of coal from the face, and in a hundred other ways. All I can say is that I am sure, having settled the issue last year, we all hope that the National Coal Board will get on with the job and make good progress. Referring to the employment of foreign labour and other matters of that kind, I should like to say that the discussions with the unions are characterized by remarkable good will. There is everywhere a disposition to do everything possible to help the country in various ways with regard to labour, improved output and so on.
May I mention two or three other things to which reference has been made) The movement of ships is as follows. Twelve ships carrying 21,000 tons have reached London in the last twenty-four hours. Between noon on Tuesday and noon on Thursday fifty-one ships in all left the north-east coast for London carrying 104,000 tons. A further thirty ships carrying 25,000 tons left the north-east coast for other ports. There are still six ships held up in the north-east coast ports and a further thirty-one are loading to-day. I find, unfortunately, that I made an incorrect statement a few minutes ago which, of course, I must correct. I said that, notwithstanding the atrocious weather, the miners actually increased coal production last week by 70,000 tons. That was a mis-statement and I must 682 correct it. It should have been minus 70,000 tons. Nevertheless, considering that a large number of collieries were out of action and in view of the severe weather, I think that that was a remarkable effort, and I am sure that your Lordships will wish to express your appreciation. With regard to emergency measures, these are already familiar to your Lordships as a result of the published statement. I would mention that there are 95,000 railway wagons loaded in transit at the present moment compared with an average used of 65,000, and vast numbers are being brought into use. I referred earlier to the published statements on this matter which will be found in the official publications which come out this evening.
With regard to long-term policy, I should be very happy indeed if some time in the immediate future we could have an opportunity for discussing these matters. The proposition is too long, too big and too attractive to go into fully at this stage. I know that your Lordships want to get away. Perhaps when the Paper to which I have referred conies out we may have a suitable opportunity for discussing it. Nobody realizes more acutely than His Majesty's Government the need for the improvement of the organization of this industry, and the need for a greater output of coal, upon which our whole industrial and economic system is based, and we shall spare no effort to achieve that end. I think it is fair to say that many of the animadversions to which I have listened to-day have been, shall I say, rather coloured in their disposition, and I think an impartial examination of the actual facts of the case as they were last summer, and as they have progressively been since, coupled with the greatly increased use of electricity both by industry and the household, will explain a great deal. In conclusion, I would say that, as we well know, it is extraordinary easy to be wise after the event, and my conviction is that if noble Lords opposite had been in our place they would probably have taken the same decisions in the summer.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
Before the noble Viscount sits down—which always seems to me to be rather a curious way of putting it—I wonder if he would deal with one specific, point which is not at all a Party point. I quoted two statements of 683 the Minister of Fuel and Power, one made on Friday and the other on Monday, that he expected, if there were reasonable savings, that this rationing would only last for, I think his words were, three or four days, or a week at the most. The noble Viscount has told us very fully what is the result of the saving of the three days. Can he tell us whether that forecast of the Minister is likely to be right, or would he give any other?
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I am afraid that the forecast in those terms must have been a little sanguine. I am not at the moment able, and I do not think that the Cabinet would be able either, to give any immediate forecast. It is better to be frank about it. The weather is beastly cold, and it remains so, and I do not think it would be right to make any promises at all.