§ 3.11 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT HALL rose to call attention to the recently published Report of the National Coal Board; and to move for Papers. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, it is some time since your Lordships' House had an opportunity of discussing the question of coal, which is one of the questions usually referred to in any economic debate which takes place in this House or in another place. I thought that, with the presentation of the Fifth Annual Report of the National Coal Board, the time was opportune to discuss the subject. I have taken part in debates on coal in your Lordships' House and in another place for almost thirty years. Usually, these debates have been acrimonious. Coal has been almost always a subject of bitter Party controversy, and it was pleasing to note that the debate which took place in another place on fuel and power three weeks ago was a contrast to former debates. Anyone who has read the Report of that debate will agree that it was one of high standard, with scarcely a word of political controversy uttered by any Member on either side of the House. That is how it should be. My noble friends and I have always held that the coal industry and 447 the other basic industries are so vital to our national prosperity that they cannot carry out their immense tasks when involved in continual political and industrial conflict. I trust that this will be the test, not only of my remarks but of those of other noble Lords who are to follow me in this debate.
§ Before dealing with the Report, I should like to say a word about the work of the National Coal Board and particularly about the work of their first Chairman, the noble Viscount, Lord Hyndley, for the Report covers the period just before the noble Viscount relinquished his position. It must be remembered that for some twenty-eight years the noble Viscount has been associated with successive Governments, rendering outstanding service to the nation, before he became the first Chairman of the National Coal Board. Five years ago he and his colleagues on the National Coal Board were set the task of transferring this great and difficult industry from private to public ownership. This task was carried out with great courage, with tact and industry. There has been little controversy or industrial conflict, and this speaks well of the ability and patience of the Board as a team, and especially of their Chairman, whose services to the coal industry and to the nation are well known and much appreciated. It must give satisfaction to all members of the National Coal Board to know that the present Government do not intend to interfere with the fundamental structure of the present Board. We shall listen with interest to the first speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Hyndley, in your Lordships' House, which I understand he is to deliver later in the debate.
§ The Report before us reveals that during the past five years the coal industry has had the greatest social, industrial and technical upheaval in its history. We now have a contented manpower. For the last five years we have been free of what might be regarded as official industrial disputes; we have an increasing intake of manpower; output is going up, and we have national planning of the industry, which is vital to its success. The Report covers an immense range of subjects concerning the coal industry and its ancillaries, so that it is possible to touch upon only a few matters of importance, such as production, manpower and efficiency in the use of coal. Last year, 448 the output of coal, both deep-mined and opencast, was almost 5,000,000 tons greater than in 1950. The increase over 1946, which was the period just prior to the National Coal Board taking over, was 32,000,000 tons, but output was 5,000,000 tons below the 1938 output. Should the increase in output which has taken place during the first thirty weeks of this year continue for the rest of the year, then the 1938 output will be almost reached. Last year, the output per man-shift in the United Kingdom was higher than it has been for some time; indeed, it was higher than that of any other Western European country, with the exception of the Netherlands. The output per man-year, too, reached the high figure of 303 tons. While we greatly appreciate the efforts made in the mining industry to produce this increase, I should say at once that there is great need for further increases, and in spite of the progress to which I have referred, there is no room for complacency.
§ Basing the increase of the output for the first year upon the year 1946, whilst it is a good measuring rod for the first five years of the National Coal Board, there are certain factors which must be taken into consideration. The year 1946 was an abnormal year, due to the fact that this was a disturbed industry during the first year after the war, with the result that the output was, on the average, very low. The same thing applied to the first postwar year after the First World War. Then the output was well below the average. Therefore, we must not in any way allow the 13,000,000 tons increase to deceive us, for the increase from 1919 to 1923 amounted to 50,000,000 tons, although it is true that man-power in the industry at that time was greatly in excess of what it was in 1946. The out put of 303 tons per man-year last year was an achievement, but it should be known and remembered that 80 per cent. of the 1951 output was machine-cut. In 1937 the output per man-year was 309 tons, with less than 60 per cent. Machine-cut.
§ Then, when we are dealing with outputs of this kind, my memory goes back to some sixty years ago, when my noble friend Lord Lawson (I regret that owing to urgent business he is prevented from being with us to-day) and I commenced work in the pits. At that time there was not a single ounce of machine-cut coal. 449 For ten years, from about 1884 to 1894, the man-year output averaged 308 tons. I am not giving these figures to show for a moment that those were "the good old days," but to show that there is a considerable difference to-day from what conditions were in those days. At the present time, we have a forty-hour week in the pits. Sixty years ago the hours averaged sixty per week, or 50 per cent more than they are at the present time. There were no holidays with pay—during the whole of my thirty years' association with the production of coal I never had one single paid holiday—and economic conditions were so different that men had to work very hard to live. There is no doubt that the machine has indeed lightened the labours of the coal miner, and has become indispensable to coal production.
§ But what I think is disturbing those with a long experience of the industry is that the increase in the individual productivity is not much higher than it was. The increase per man-shift does not seem to reflect fully the increased mechanisation introduced, particularly during the past twenty years, from 1931, when 35 per cent. of the coal produced was machine-cut, to 1951, when 80 per cent. was machine-cut. It may well be that many further experiments in mechanisation will yield little more in the weight of increased production. One factor which must be causing concern is the disparity of output between the different divisions. The output per man-shift overall for the industry last year was 1.21 tons. The output in three divisions was well above that figure, and one division was exceptionally high; but in five divisions the output per man-shift was well below the average—indeed, the division with the highest output had a figure double that of the lowest. I will at once say that geological conditions account for many of the difficulties to which I have referred. I have no doubt that this matter is being considered, as are other matters, now that the National Coal Board are taking stock of the first five years' work and are moving on to a more fundamental long-term development by bringing into operation the plan for coal which was approved in October last as a broad outline of the expected development of the coal industry during the period to 1960–1965. I am sure that they will consider every aspect of further coal production.450
§ The plan is a bold one It is estimated to cost some £630,000,000, and approval has already been given to an expenditure of £230,000,000, of which £135,000,000 has been spent. The plan, of course, so far as manpower and output are concerned, can be regarded only as tentative. I am of the opinion that the estimate made of the nation's requirements of coal, and of manpower to obtain it, will be greatly modified from the 240,000,000 tons mentioned, because that figure will not meet all our internal requirements and the export of 25,000,000 to 35,000,000 tons. The National Coal Board must have in mind the large increase in the requirements of the electrical and gas industries during the next ten years. The output of steel during the same period is expected to reach 20,000,000 tons per year, which will require annually some 7,000,000 to 8,000,000 tons of coking coal. We cannot continue for any great length of time to produce 11,000,000 to 12,000,000 tons per annum of opencast coal, and provision will have to be made for that problem. Then the domestic consumers who, after all, have had their supplies considerably reduced during the past ten years, will expect some relaxation, if it is only half the difference between what they consume now and what was consumed before the restriction was applied.
§ The Federation of British Industries, in their evidence to the Ridley Committee, estimated the total requirements (including 30,000,000 tons for export and bunkers) at about 290,000,000 tons a year. I think that is a more realistic figure than the other, but I doubt very much whether the production will reach that figure. I also think that the estimated requirements for manpower will have to be modified. The estimate in the plan is that the amount of coal which it was anticipated would be won, 240,000,000 tons, could be produced with 100,000 fewer miners than are now employed. When figures like that are being used, particularly with declining manpower, it may well mean that the best of the younger men will be reluctant to enter what is regarded as a declining industry, and I think the Coal Board should correct those figures as soon as possible, so that the population will not be misled as to future employment in the mining industry. The National Coal Board Plan 451 requires further examination, because I believe, as I have already said, that it is much too modest, and there must be a greater drive for largely increased production, both for home and export requirements.
§ Some short time ago I read with interest comments on a paper which was prepared by Mr. Humphrey Browne, the head of the Production Department of the National Coal Board, which, I think, was used for a Conference of the British Association of Colliery Managers last year. In this paper Mr. Browne said that he recognised the weakness of certain assumptions upon which the plan for coal was made, in particular, those concerning manpower. He stressed the importance of technical advances which must be made. He said the most important must be in the coal face, such as the elimination, wherever possible, of the present rigid twenty-four hour cycle in long-wall mining, by the introduction of new power-loading machines and the rearrangement of conventional operation. He further said that there is no doubt that the coal industry's greatest weakness is the lack of sufficient men of the right kind.
§ It will take a long time to break through this twenty-four hour cycle, which really means that out of the twenty-four hours just one shift may be regarded as the real filling or productive shift—there is one shift for cutting; one shift for the transfer of the conveyor and the packing, and one shift for filling the coal. The difficulty is that the time spent in the actual filling of the coal is regarded by Mr. Browne—and, I think, by many mining experts—as being much too short. Of course, there is the power loader which is operating on an experimental basis in this country at the present time. Of the 170,000,000 tons of coal produced by the machine last year, only 3,000,000 tons were power loaded, and it is going to take some time before power loading will be able to operate fully in this country.
§ One of the ways in which this 24-hour cycle could be broken through in some of the mines which are suitable and where there are the thicker seams—say, four feet and above; and two-thirds of the coal produced at the present time are produced from such seams—would be for the Coal Board to consider adding to the 20,000,000 tons which is now hand-cut by the restoration of the old 452 stall and heading system for hand-cut coal, particularly as a number of the older miners and, indeed, many of the younger miners, would infinitely prefer to work in a system of that kind than work in one of complete mechanisation, as they do at the present time. I have been approached by numbers of miners who do not like machine mining. Many left the pits for that reason, and they have now asked me to make the suggestion, not only to the Coal Board, but to the Minister. A very distinguished mining engineer, with some fifty years' experience in the pits, informed me a short time ago that in his collieries they had worked both systems—mechanised mining and hand-cut mining—side by side. He said that the output was as high on the hand-cut side as on the machine-mined face. The costs in many cases were lower and the quality of coal was infinitely better. The percentage of large coal—which, under our present system, is less than one-third of the total production—would be very much greater. What is more important, in the event of there being an adequate amount of manpower you could double your shifts at the coal face and greatly increase your production. What is also important is that the coal face could be used for training many of the youths who are absent from the coal industry at the present time.
§ Dealing with this question of manpower, I should like to link it up with the suggestion I have made. In 1951 the total number of youths under twenty-one years of age on the colliery books was only half the number on the books in 1938. There are fewer youths under eighteen years of age working underground at the present time than there are elderly men over sixty-five. This balance must be readjusted. Unless we can get the younger people, properly trained, into the coal mines we can never hope to get that highly-skilled worker, the face worker or the technical worker, who has been the pride of this country for a very long period. The trouble with all mechanised collieries is that you cannot train, and indeed you do not require, youths at the coal face. You want the strongest men possible; and once the youths, the younger people of mining families, commence work in any other industry they will not throw up their jobs there to take up work in this very unattractive industry of coal mining.453
§ I would beg the National Coal Board—this suggestion may seem impracticable, but men who have had years of practical experience say it is quite possible—to realise that a little more laborious work would not be objected to by these men in preference to working on a machine face under the conditions which prevail there at the present time. I hope the National Coal Board and the Mines Department will give consideration to that matter. And, while it is pleasing to note that intake of manpower has shown some improvement this year, the improvement is, nevertheless, not large. The latest figures given by the National Coal Board show that the increase of manpower for the first six months of this year as compared with last year is about 3,000. That is not a sufficient intake to give the production of coal which is required. There must be a continued drive to get more young entrants, otherwise it will be impossible to get the necessary trained personnel. There are great possibilities for young men with ability, particularly those in mining families, if they can be satisfied that there are adequate means for training. The noble Lord, Lord Leathers, will recall that I have already discussed with him some aspects of training which I hope will be inquired into with a view to bringing about an improvement.
§ In the main, the preliminary training is, on the whole, very good; and the National Coal Board is to be complimented on the success of it. Much of it is educational work such as at the summer schools, where men from the coal face foregather with managers, technicians, salesmen, and others, for discussions cm a variety of subjects in addition to mining questions. Then there is the university scholarship scheme, which is an excellent scheme. There are now 200 young men from the coal fields studying at the universities; and I have heard nothing but the greatest praise for these schemes. I trust that this work will continue to be greatly appreciated by those who take advantage of it.
§ In addition to the output of coal, the other question which looms very large in fuel policy is that of fuel efficiency. In this matter the Committee which was very ably presided over by the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, has a heavy responsibility. Already we know that 454 much evidence has been submitted to the Committee, and that the largely increasing demand for coal makes it essential that every consumer, large or small, should use every means to economise. The essential industries such as electricity, gas, coke ovens and collieries used nearly 100,000,000 tons of coal last year. Almost half the total of our whole consumption was used by those three industries and the demands of the next ten years will be much greater, it is believed, than they are at present.
§ I have heard some criticism of the low thermal efficiency of the steam generating plants in this country, where the average was 21.5 per cent. and is scheduled to rise to 26 per cent. by 1960. A 1 per cent. increase of thermal efficiency saves 1,500,000 tons of coal. It is essential therefore, that everything should be done. It must not be thought that I criticise the electrical industry for what they are. doing, but there is an obvious comparison with the thermal efficiency prevailing in America, which one hears has reached something like 35 per cent. to 37 per cent. Well, my Lords, I have been to generating stations in both countries; and I have great sympathy with the generating engineers of this country, who are using the worst possible of coals. Nine-tenths of the 35,000,000 tons of coal used by the British Electricity Authority consists of slacks, smalls, duffs, and slurries, which no one else would think of burning. In the United States they have the best grade coal, analysed and tested which makes the work much easier and gives much better result. I think it can be said that the electrical industry is making a great contribution at the present time, although the thermal efficiency is not as high as they would like it to be. At the same time they are using in this country coal to the extent of nearly 30,000,000 tons which no one else would use.
§ We await the Report of the Ridley Committee with great interest. I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, whether the terms of reference of the Ridley Committee cover the use of fuel by the railways, who are very big consumers of the limited supplies of large coal. Could the noble Lord also give any information as to the working of the scheme for providing equipment for fuel-saving purposes out of the loan of £1,000,000 which has been set aside 455 for that purpose? There is one other question I should like to ask the noble Lord. Could he give me some information concerning the small mines which are licensed under the Act of 1946? These small mines, employing thirty or fewer men, produced last year about 1,750,000 tons of coal. These mines find their own markets locally, but during the early summer of this year a number of these pits were over-stocked, for they have little stocking room. Markets, therefore, could not be found for them, and the result was that the mines had to close down—which is rather expensive. I would ask the noble Lord whether it is possible for some arrangement to be made for the output from these small mines to be taken by the National Coal Board and a market found for them.
§ In conclusion, I would say that it is pleasing to note that the Coal Board are continuing with success the work in safety, welfare and conciliation. Had it not been for the very sad accident at the Easington Colliery in May of last year, where eighty-three brave men lost their lives, the number of fatal accidents in the mines of this country would have been smaller than in 1949, the lowest so far, and about one-half of what they were in 1938. It is pleasing to note that the total of those injured in reportable accidents fell to a very low record.
§ On the conciliation side, it can be said that the Coal Board have conducted their work very satisfactorily. As I have already pointed out, there has not been a single official strike in the industry since the Coal Board took over. Last year two increases of wages were negotiated and the wage at 42s. 5d. a shift is higher than it has ever been before—more than three times the 1938 average. But, although the wage question was settled, with thousands of other matters which periodically come before the pit committee or the conciliation organisation, 1,100,000 tons of coal were lost through unofficial strikes during the period of last year—an amount almost equal to that which was imported into this country from the United States and elsewhere, and unfortunately upon which the National Coal Board lost £5,250,000. This prevented the Coal Board wipingout its deficiency of previous years. It is sad to think that, since the Coal Board 456 took over, the industry has imported more coal than at any other time within living memory, with the exception of the coal difficulty in 1926. What a loss there was last year through irresponsible action! The price paid for imported coal is an indication of what would happen if our own coal industry in this country failed us. The nation just could not afford to pay nearly the price which was paid last year, and it would be a very sad day in the history of this country.
§ There are still many other problems facing the coal industry. But they must be faced with courage and frankness, if the existing position as to wages and other conditions now enjoyed by the workmen is to continue. The problems are that output must be increased, particularly in the low average divisions. More coal must be exported. That coal must be of good quality, for in the future customers will be more selective as to their coal, both in relation to quality and to price. They will certainly want a higher percentage of large coal. Then, all questions of importance must continue to be approached with tolerance and understanding of the general economic and financial effect upon the nation. At the present time the attitude of the nation to the coal industry is one of great confidence. It is still our greatest asset, with its great reserves, both in the valuable product in the earth and also in personnel, men and management. With the leadership that the National Coal Board can give, great progress can be expected of the industry. No one must be complacent or satisfied. The industry will then play an even more worthy part in righting many of the difficulties which still confront this nation.
§ 3.56 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT HYNDLEY
My Lords, I have been a member of your Lordships' House for over twenty years but, for reasons into which I need not go, this is the first time I have had the honour to address your Lordships, and I crave the indulgence which you always so generously accord to those who find themselves in that position. It would hardly be proper for me to say a great deal about the National Coal Board's Report, since for more than half of the year 1951 I continued to take my part in the responsibility for the management 457 of the British coal industry. However, there are, I think, one or two points which I can offer without overstepping the mark.
First, I regard the Report as a well-prepared document, and one that continues what has now become a tradition for the Reports of the National Coal Board—that they should be comprehensive, clear and to the point. I am sure that the Boards of all the publicly-owned industries take very seriously the preparation each year of the account of their stewardship. The year 1951 was the industry's fifth under public ownership, and in addition to reporting on that particular year the Board have, as it were, stood back and taken a view of the first five years as a whole. The Board have clearly called attention to the main problems of that time and have shown what progress has been made in coping with them.
Perhaps the biggest difficulty with which the Board have had to grapple in their first five years of responsibility for the industry has been the shortage of manpower. Chapter I of the Report shows that in 1951 30½million tons more coal were produced than in 1946. The whole of this increase in production was accounted for by higher output per man-shift. The number of shifts worked by each man was greater in 1951 than in 1950, but remained less than in 1946, the last year in which the industry continued to be conditioned to a week of six working shifts. In 1951, the industry was, on average, no better off for men than it was in 1946. The shortage of manpower was serious, not only because it held back current production but also because it weakened the industry for the future. Not nearly enough boys and young men were going in. The manpower situation was at one time a source of the gravest anxiety, but it is heartening to know that the industry's manpower is now on the increase; particularly encouraging is the much higher recruitment of boys. It will not be easy for the industry to get consistently all the men it needs. Because of this, and because milling is a hard job calling for men of fine qualities, the industry must be able to pay better wages than most others and to give better conditions. Mining has for some time been pretty well at the top of the industrial wage ladder. which I believe is right; and I 458 have for long felt that a pension scheme for miners is justified.
Last winter was a comparatively good one on the coal front. The country ended the winter with reasonably good stocks, but this must not lead people to think that they can now sit back and that all will be well. The drop of a few degrees in the average temperature increases coal consumption by millions of tons in a year, and it is very hard to move and handle coal in winter. It would be difficult indeed to provide enough fuel in particularly bad weather next winter, if there were not enough coal in stock before the winter started. Consumers must stock regularly and fully over the summer, or they will be taking a big risk, not only for themselves but for the whole country. It would be worth while, at any rate, for some consumers to go to the trouble and expense of holding bigger stocks than customary, even if this means for some of them finding more stocking grounds; indeed, I think it is imperative that they should do so. I think I am right in saying that in general this country does not stock anything like as heavily as many foreign countries do.
On the other hand, the reasonably good stocks which we held at the end of the coal winter should, I hope, have meant some relaxation in the relentless pressure for current coal production under which the industry has been labouring for the last ten years or more; and it should have enabled managements in the industry to start catching up, at least to some extent, with development and reconstruction. This point of view was, I thought, effectively put in the Financial Times newspaper a short while ago. However, I am sure that that pressure cannot be relaxed for long. I very much share the hope expressed by Sir Hubert Houldsworth, that we have finished with having to import coal into this country. Indeed, it is accepted on all sides that the country's interest demands an early increase in the rate of British coal exports. The recent decision to increase the amount of British coal exports this year is much to be welcomed. To my mind, it is vital that we should before long find ourselves once again big suppliers in, I should have hoped, most—if not all—the markets we used to supply. But I think we must make up our minds that we cannot go 459 in and out of foreign markets. Once back in we must stay there. The industry and the trade—indeed, the whole country—must help to make that possible.
I was sorry to see in the Press a short while ago that there had been a certain amount of renewed criticism of the Board over the number of non-industrial staff which they employ. The Board never did seek to build up a large staff for the sake of having a large staff. I know well how very cost-conscious the Board are on that aspect, as they are, I am sure, on all other aspects of their business. But it was, and will continue to be, absolutely right that there should be a building up of those kinds of staff on whose number and quality depends the successful reconstruction of the industry. Indeed, to find enough people able to plan and oversee the carrying out of the work of reconstruction has been one of the Board's biggest headaches. I am sure that we all wish the Board well in their efforts to overcome this and any other difficulties that stand in the way of the right and speedy development of the mines.
I should like now to refer to an important change in organisation which was decided in 1951. Chapter VII of the Board's Report refers to the agreement made between the Board and the National Union of Mineworkers for changing the pattern of administration of miners' welfare. On July 1, the day appointed by the Miners' Welfare Act, that change took place. I should like to take this opportunity of paying tribute to the selfless service devoted by many people to the Miners' Welfare Commission, and particularly to those who, as "independent" members, have given of their time and energy in a voluntary capacity. Mention has already been made of Sir Frederick Sykes and of Professor Collis, the last surviving member of the original Miners' Welfare Committee. May I also mention by name the last of the long line of "independents," General Sir Ronald Adam, who, in addition to having distinguished military service, is Chairman of the British Council: Miss Margaret Herbison, an Under-Secretary of State for Scotland in the late Government, and Dr. S. W. Fisher, for many years the Principal Medical Inspector of Mines at the Ministry of Fuel and Power. Nor should 460 I wish to forget the assessors appointed by the Ministry of Fuel and Power, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland, who have helped in the work of improving social conditions in the industry. The change that has now come about has been made in a sensible and helpful spirit on the part of all concerned, and an excellent example has been given for other industries.
I was sorry to learn that the Board were not able to wipe out in 1951 the remaining £4,000,000 of their financial deficiency. I am sure that it was a disappointment for the Board. The Board's difficulties inevitably show up in their financial results. They have had, and still have, difficulties to face—difficulties greater than I used to think some of your Lordships, and some of those in another place, believed them to be. Five years is not a very long time, but I make bold to say that I believe progress has been made; and I, for one, have no doubt that it will continue to be made. The Board will, I am sure, be ready, as they have been in the past, to adapt their policies to changing needs. I greatly appreciate the kind words of the noble Viscount, Lord Hall; his remarks were more than generous. Finally, my Lords, I should be sorry not to take this opportunity of paying tribute to the splendid work of the staff, in London and in the coalfields, during those early and difficult years of public ownership. Their task was a most difficult and taxing one, but they never failed to give to my colleagues and myself that strong support without which nothing could have been accomplished. They did a fine job.
§ 4.8 p.m.
My Lords, I find myself more than ordinarily privileged in following the noble Viscount who has just sat down, in having the first opportunity to congratulate him on his maiden speech. Speaking, as the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, told us he would, with what amounts almost to a lifetime's experience in the industry, one listened with great attention. But I think one might say that he spoke with something more than that—he spoke with a lifetime's enthusiastic service and devotion to the industry, which, I believe, amounts to more than mere experience. I am sure we are all more than glad to feel that he has now come to join us in 461 our debates. Listening to what he said, I felt that my hopes had been more than fully justified. All that I can add (I am sure other noble Lords will agree with me), is that we shall look forward to many contributions in the future—contributions not only on the coal industry but on the thousand-and-one kindred industries which depend upon it.
Before I come to the more particular points that I want to raise this afternoon, there are two of a general nature that I should like to mention. The first. is one to which I think the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, also referred, in a way—namely, the impossibility in a single debate in this House of dealing adequately with a large Report such as that which we are discussing to-day, with its mass of detail and very interesting data of one kind or another. I believe that is a point of some real substance. I make it because I want to emphasise again what little real chance Parliament has to scrutinise the work of a great national industry like that under the National Coal Board. I suppose it may be argued that there are great technical organisations of one kind or another, and including the consultative committees, whose job it is to go with a fine tooth comb through the details, and it is as a result of their studies that the major points can be discussed in your Lordships' House or in another place. That may be true, and the detailed points which I want to raise have come to me in that way. They have come to me mainly through a large trading organization—the National Union of Manufacturers. Yet, even so, there is room for more thought before we can really be said to have arrived at a satisfactory method of public control of this industry by Parliament, who, after all, can be regarded as the nominee shareholder of the industry for the nation.
My second point is that whilst there are, of course, many matters of internal administration arising out of a report like this which ought to be discussed, the number of members of your Lordships' House who are really qualified to discuss detail of that sort is, I am afraid, strictly limited and is perhaps falling. Of course, there are great exceptions, like the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, and now we have the noble Viscount, Lord Hyndley; but, on the other hand, there are many issues which ought to be discussed but which 462 may certainly involve trespassing into rather wider fields. I have in mind electricity, gas and so on, and I am moved to suggest, therefore, that it may be of advantage at some future date to have a debate on fuel policy generally. In the meantime, however, I am going to follow the example of the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, and trespass rather wider in my remarks.
Coming to the more detailed points, I am rather encouraged by what the noble Viscount said because I believe I shall have a somewhat larger measure of support than I had expected when I say that all the present trends, except possibly a recession in trade, point to a serious gap in coal supply and coal demand developing over the next ten or fifteen years; and that can be said without belittling in any way the efforts the National Coal Board and its 690,000 employees are making to increase production. It is not easy to assess the size of that gap, but, taking into account certain factors that we know—some have already been mentioned; the British Electricity Authority's power house expansion programme, the hoped for and indeed urgently required expansion of industrial production, the housing programme, and the need for more coal for export—one has to realise that the gap cannot he a small one. On the basis of a figure that has already been quoted, the National Coal Board's own estimate for export in the years between 1960–65 of something of the order of 25,000,000 to 35,000,000 tons a year, the gap has been estimated, authoritatively I think, to be of the order of 40,000,000 to 50,000,000 tons a year. Now that is so, even despite any increased production that the Coal Board's "Plan for Coal" may be able to produce.
Like the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, I certainly should not like to mention a figure like that, which would appear to be alarmist—it is a very large figure, and these large figures are sometimes difficult to grasp—but if one remembers that that figure is comparable to the whole of the coal which industry uses at the present time, one sees what a vast gap that may be. It is obviously a very serious matter, especially as coal is the only major indigenous raw material that we have; and whilst it is clearly essential that every effort should be made to produce more coal, it is equally essential, 463 whether we take the short-term view of saving coal now, so that we have more for export, or the longer-term view of conserving our total national resources of coal which, after all, cannot be regarded as inexhaustible, to do everything possible to use the coal we have with the greatest possible efficiency. Now, I am going to give a parallel which I hope the noble Viscount opposite will appreciate. I think he will. I would suggest that we ought to approach our use of coal in something comparable to the way in which all right-thinking people in the war approached the use of petrol, when they realised that for every gallon of petrol they used the lives of the Navy and Merchant Service were being endangered. That is exactly the attitude we ought to have towards the use of coal to-day. Every ton of coal saved is going to do something towards preserving the very lifeblood of the economy of this country.
On pages 30 to 31 in the Report there are some interesting figures showing how consumption is spread, and while I should not wish to weary you with a string of figures, there are four I desire to quote and which I have transposed into percentages of total consumption. In 1951 power house consumption worked out at 16 per cent. of what was available: industrial users 21 per cent.; domestic demand, including miners' coal, 15 per cent; and only a mere 5 per cent. for export, a figure which compares with 20 per cent. for export in 1938. I hope I shall not be accused of misleading your Lordships because those percentages do not add up to one hundred, but I have left out a number of other users of great importance—coke ovens and gas, collieries and railways and so on—as I do not want to trouble you with other than the four users to which I have referred. Let me take first the largest of them—the 21 per cent. of available coal that is used by industry. The question that occurs to me is, what chance is there of our being able to make any major saving in consumption by industry? I think the answer to that is that technically there are extremely good chances. A tremendous amount of research over years past and continuing to-day, as shown in the Report, has been and is being carried out by such organisations as the British Coal Utilisation Research Association and 464 other associations and universities. Even more important, an enormous amount of built-up practical experience on potential saving is available, and indeed there are a great many enlightened firms—I think that in this respect one might almost say patriotic firms—which by good management, ingenuity and, in some cases, quite small outlays on special equipment, have been able to show really astonishing savings in coal. But I am afraid that there are also a very large number of other firms in whose cases a great deal more could be done, and ought to be done, by way of coal-saving.
Of course there is nothing new in this. It is a fact, the importance of which has been generally agreed and admitted by all concerned, industry, the National Coat Board, the Ministry and everyone else. Indeed, ever since coal was first used in industry there must have been some effort to save coal and to use less. To-day the need to save coal and to use less is more vital than ever it was—and I use the word "vital" advisedly. Is it not therefore rather strange what little inducements there are for industry to embark upon these fuel-saving projects such as I have suggested? It may not be so difficult for the larger firms with stronger financial backing, though even many of them, no doubt, owing to the present restrictions on capital investment are in difficulties in this matter. But for the mass of smaller firms, which form such a very large proportion of British industry, the offer to which the noble Viscount has referred—the Minister's offer of £1,000,000 to be made available in the form of loans at commercial rates of interest for approved schemes of fuel saving—really constitutes very little inducement to them at all, as I shall try to show in a few moments.
It has been put to me by one manufacturer that even though it may be argued—I think with justification—that the reduced fuel cost so often achieved with fuel saving equipment not only repays interest on the loan but in many cases also repays the capital itself in the course of a few years, yet with the uncertain outlook facing a great many trades to-day, and the net saving so tremendously reduced by taxation, it pays him better to leave the old wasteful plant as it is. When he is running his factory he has, admittedly, to pay more for his coal, but at least he can be sure that there will 465 not be a heavy interest charge to pay on his loan, whether his factory is running full-time or whether it is standing idle. In other words, he has more liquid resources in his hands if he falls on bad times. That is clearly a very serious line for any manufacturer to adopt and it can hardly be said to be in the national interest. Yet I believe that it is a very understandable one.
That brings me to a proposal that I know has been put to the Minister before, and, I am afraid, has been turned down. But I am going back to it, and I hope that the noble Lord who is to reply will reconsider it. Indeed, I trust that he will use all the powers of persuasiveness of which he is capable in backing it up. I am inclined to think that it could be successfully argued that it would pay the country, in approved cases, actually to give for nothing to industrial firms certain fuel-saving apparatus. However, I am not going to suggest that; but I am going half way towards it. What I am going to ask is: would it not be possible for expenditure incurred by a manufacturer on fuel-saving appliances—provided, of course, the scheme were approved by the Minister—to be allowed as a deduction in the computation of profits for income tax purposes? I know all the arguments against this—difficulties of definition of what constitutes fuel-saving apparatus (there may be border line cases of course) and difficulties arising because this is a very special and unusual form of tax relief. I agree that it is giving special treatment for a special case, but I believe that it is more than a special case: it is a unique case, because as I have said, coal is, after all, our only major raw material. If that is not a very good argument, I will put forward another, which is perhaps better. Even if what I ant suggesting might cost the Treasury some sterling in taxation, every ton of coal saved would mean an extra ton which could be exported and so would produce more hard currency. I shall come back to that point at the end of my speech; I have a few other things that I wish to say which bear on it.
I should like now, if I may, to turn to the next chief user of coal, the British Electricity Authority, and the 16 per cent. of available supplies which it uses. The last Report of the British Electricity Authority, that for 1950–51, showed an overall efficiency for their power stations 466 (this figure, I think, has been quoted already to-day) of no more than 21.5 per cent. With the noble Viscount, I should like to ask whether there surely is not room for some saving of coal here. I am given to understand that there are three main reasons for this low efficiency. The first is the huge and ever-growing domestic and extremely wasteful use of electricity, which compels retention in service of the older and less efficient power stations. The use of electricity for space heating in houses is, I understand, one of the most wasteful forms of heating possible. The second reason, it is suggested, is the fundamental inefficiency of the system normally employed by the British Electricity Authority, which allows so much of the heat generated—something like two-thirds of it—to he lost in the condensing plant, instead of being put to some useful work such as industrial process heating or domestic district heating, or something of that kind. The third reason mentioned is the opposition which up to the present (I gather they have now relented somewhat) the British Electricity Authority have put up to what are called parallel operations with private generating plants. In certain respects they have killed the advantages by the very high stand-by charges which they have imposed. Many industrial firms like to have a power plant of their own but want to have the advantage of some stand-by supply from the grid.
Turning now to the question of district heating, an enormous amount of thought and work has been put into this subject, but very little seems to have come out. If my information is correct there was a sub-committee—I think it was called the Stubbs sub-committee—which as far back as 1946 produced a Report on district heating for the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. That Report, for some reason which I do not know, and have not been able to find out, has never been published. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, will be able to give us some information on that matter. It may be that the reason it was never published was that the capital cost of these schemes was regarded as putting the whole question out of court altogether. That may be a good answer, but I believe that I am right in saying that no one really knows—and we ought to know—what the true facts are as to what that type of district heating scheme might 467 have to offer. By some who are well-qualified to comment on this matter I have been advised that the chief pilot scheme on district heating—which is in operation not very far from this House—the Pimlico-Battersea scheme, is not only technically somewhat unsound but also is not capable of giving us the information we require, because it is confined solely to housing and does not include office and business premises.
That is all I would say about the domestic load. In so far as we could have district heating schemes to heat houses and offices, worked through the British Electricity Authority's power stations, the wasteful heating that is inherent in housing and offices generally would be relieved. But, of course, district heating has no possible universal application. It is only one way in which domestic use could be kept down. Obviously, there are a host of other ways that would have to be explored. I do not want to deal with them, except to say how important it is in domestic use that every encouragement should be given to the installation of more efficient stoves and heating appliances. If we are to take these three users of coal—industry, the British Electricity Authority and the domestic user, which together use more than half of the available coal—I suggest that there is something we ought to do. Although it may not particularly pay either the National Coal Board or the British Electricity Authority, as individual industries which, by Statute, have to make both ends meet, from the national point of view and so long as there is a restriction on further capital investment I think we ought to consider whether it would not be wise to take a small proportion of the £600,000,000, that has been mentioned as authorised under the plan for coal, and use it to see what can be saved in the coal we already have and use.
I realise that only a proportion of the £600,000,000 is to be spent on new pits, and I understand (no doubt the noble Lord will confirm this) that when a new pit is sunk it takes something like seven years before it can be said to be effective. The sort of savings I have in mind could be made effective far more quickly, I believe; and therefore it might be worth while in the national interest to defer if only by a year or so the completion of 468 the National Coal Board's plan for increasing production. If we are to get progress in that way, it may be that the Minister may have to use his powers of direction. I am certain that in regard to the point on taxation he will have to use his most persuasive powers with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Treasury if we are to get any favourable reply there. I can see that. But surely now is the time to attempt it. It is now that we want coal, now that we must save coal, and now that we need coal for export. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will be able to give me some encouragement that he will be able to do something along the lines I have suggested, which I believe are probably just as dear to his heart as they are to mine.
§ 4.34 p.m.
My Lords, may I be allowed to join the noble Lord, Lord Rochdale, in the fine words he used, which I am sure your Lordships feel were very appropriate, in expressing appreciation of the maiden speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Hyndley, and in paying tribute to the remarkable work he has done for this great industry? The noble Viscount, Lord Hall, is certainly the most experienced miner in your Lordships' House, and he speaks on these matters backed by some twenty years' experience in the mines. With your Lordships, I have listened with close attention to all he had to say. The noble Viscount speaks with a deep understanding, forged in the fire of experience by working for at least ten years at the face.
I should like to offer a few observations on the technique of production. As your Lordships know, the National Coal Board have embarked on a vast programme of modernisation and mechanisation, spread over some fifteen years and costing £500,000,000. As I understand it, this programme will ultimately result in an increased output of 30,000,000 tons of coal a year and the employment of 68,000 fewer miners. Perhaps my noble friend Lord Leathers, the Minister, when he comes to reply, will indicate how this fifteen years' programme is going. Presumably, it is already showing an increase in output, and I would ask if the position has yet been reached when manpower is being shed, due to the introduction of new mechanisms and techniques. As a production engineer, I must confess that 469 I find it most surprising and unsatisfactory that this very large expenditure on the introduction of new equipment and the necessary techniques should be set to show so poor a result. In short, it means an increase in productivity of less than 2 per cent. a year per person employed.
May I illustrate my point by taking as an example what is done in an expanding, as opposed to a non-expanding, industry? For example, our power stations under the British Electricity Authority, already referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Rochdale, are perhaps the National Coal Board's best customer, certainly one of them. What, therefore, is the power station efficiency? Take a medium-sized power station, burning some 1,600 tons of coal a day, which is about the output of a medium-sized pit. During the last thirty-five years, productivity in the handling of coal in power stations has increased as much as eighteen times. As an indication of this, in 1915 it cost 6½d. to move one ton of coal from the wagon in the power station siding to the bunkers in the boiler house. To-day it costs ¼d. with wages approximately five times more than in 1915. This illustrates the great difference in overall efficiency between the expanding and the non-expanding industries. In the former, there is no question of labour redundancy and there exists a zest to find, invent, install and use labour-saving equipment. In the non-expanding industries, the same urge does not exist, except in isolated cases, it being damped down by the fear of redundancy. This is very natural, since human beings are not economic units, and unless the seriousness of the national situation is explained in simple language, the natural law of self-preservation will maintain, as it does, a high resistance factor.
I am convinced that these difficulties can be overcome, and that the way to reach the goal is that pointed out by my noble friend Lord Kirkwood, in his maiden speech. The noble Lord gave some sound advice on how to get all the men on the job, in the mines and on every other job, pulling their weight. This speech impressed me very much, as it did your Lordships, and I should like to quote a few sentences. The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol 176, Col. 695]: 470We have got to explain, in a way and with a clarity we have never achieved before, the full background of the threat from 'Mr. Crisis,' and the full meaning of what will happen if we fail to beat him. And we have got to give them some idea of what the reward will be if the battle is won. Until we do that we will not get that extra drive, that extra sense of urgency, that industrial fervour which the economists tell us our critical condition demands. Convince the workers that the danger is real. Convince them, I repeat and I am certain that they will not let you down.Having worked at the bench myself and spent all my life with engineers, I am convinced that what the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, said is absolutely right; and his view has been ably supported by the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, who initiated this interesting debate.
As I have said before, in the mining industry, which is a non-expanding industry, there is not in the main the same active determination to apply new techniques, except in isolated cases. I will take one by way of illustration. At a northern pit the number of miners was reduced during the last two years from 1,400 to 800 in less than twelve months, and the output of coal remained the same. Those miners rendered redundant were absorbed into nearby pits. When the labour force in that mine had been reduced from 1,400 to 800, without any decrease in output, the working at the pit was reorganised on lines to fit new labour-saving equipment and the necessary techniques, and as a result output has been considerably increased. This shows convincingly what can be done, and that it is not impossible for a non-expanding industry to equal in overall productive efficiency one that is expanding. The point I wish, with respect, to urge on my noble friend Lord Leathers is that if similar measures were adopted in all suitable pits, as well as other productivity-increasing devices, it is quite clear that the output of coal would be greatly increased, or, were the same output to be maintained as now, the number efficiently employed decreased. I venture to suggest that existing equipment could be more efficiently used with increase in output.
The miners who were not required in the reorganised pit that I mentioned were absorbed into other pits. But such a state of affairs cannot go on, and, therefore it becomes necessary to plan for 471 the introduction of those not required in the mines into other industries. This involves effective investigation into the relationship between the amount of labour to be absorbed into other industries each year, the amount of capital per person employed, and the amount of purchasing power to absorb the production of such labour. I venture to suggest that it is essential that this matter should be dealt with, and that those going into a new industry should not merely be directed so to do, but fully welcomed and encouraged by that industry and all concerned therewith. Unless this is made clear, exhortation to do more will be useless.
Yesterday, in another place, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said how necessary it was that more coal should be exported. This statement, which has already been referred to, is to be welcomed, since we can supply some of the coal that Europe requires to-day and cannot at the moment raise herself, and which she is therefore drawing in large measure from the United States. Your Lordships will, I feel sure, agree that coal will certainly lose, in fact, has already lost, some of its market if it is uneconomical. It is not, perhaps, surprising that 75 per cent. of all ships being built to-day are diesel motor driven ships, the largest being oil burners. Such a move by ship builders follows from the high price of coal. In fact, the miners have priced themselves out of this market and probably lost it for ever. The whole indication, therefore, is that every effort should be made to increase output by overcoming the fear of redundancy, and so raise coal by power production methods with less manpower.
If the miners were to be paid all the increase in productivity that would result from the fifteen-year programme of modernisation and mechanisation, in terms of increasing wages they could expect about 4s. a week increase per year. This, of course, would allow nothing for reducing the price of coal. This vast State enterprise must be run on a business basis, and it certainly does not help to create the right atmosphere of national understanding when the Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers says at Scarborough, as he did about three weeks ago: 472Why should we be bothered with a balance sheet? Why should we be bothered with financial jugglery?and so on. I feel sure that the approach to these matters by the President of that Union, one of the foremost to fight the danger of atheistic materialism—Communism—is much more realistic. He speaks, as does that great figure in another union, Mr. Arthur Deakin, in constructive terms to those he leads. I say with conviction that the country owes him a great debt of gratitude. He said recently, as your Lordships will have noticed, that the minority which have refused to work with the Italiansshould hang their heads in shame … We must condemn this crime against helpless men and their families, otherwise liberty and the sacredness of contract cease to have any meaning.I am sure your Lordships will agree that Sir William spoke well—and let us see that it was not the British mining community en bloc that was responsible for this attitude, but a small, thoughtless minority.
In conclusion, I would say this. The President of this Union, Sir William Lawther, said recently, referring to the wage negotiations that are going on, that "the whole 'caboodle' would come down"—the "caboodle" in this context, as I understand it, being Her Majesty's Government. How true that is! Not only will the "caboodle" of to-day come down, but so will that of to-morrow and the day after, unless this vital industry is operated economically, at high efficiency, with the full use of labour-saving devices and the attendant techniques.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ LORD TEVIOT
My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships for more than a few minutes. Unfortunately, I was called out soon after the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, began his speech, in which I was extremely interested, and got back only towards the end of that speech. However, I was fortunate enough to be here when the noble Viscount, Lord Hyndley, spoke, and I should like to align myself with what has been said with regard to his presence in your Lordships' House, which I am sure will be of the greatest possible benefit to us in future years. Both the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, and the noble Viscount, Lord Hyndley, 473 referred to manpower. A few months ago I asked a Question in your Lordships' House as to how many miners we required in order to enable the mining industry to work to full capacity. The answer was that we should require another 15,000 miners. Since then 1,000 Italian miners have been sent away; and now, as the noble Lord who has just sat clown said, we are told that there is to be a considerable increase in the export of coal. I would ask my noble friend Lord Leathers: can this be done without inflicting hardship on consumers here? Taking into consideration the number of miners working, and the coal now being exported and used here, it seems to me that it is very questionable whether this can be done. I should be grateful if my noble friend Lord Leathers could reassure me on that point.
My noble friend who has just sat down referred to foreign labour. I can see no reason whatever why the Government should not go "all out" to induce all the influences in the mining industry to enable us amicably to bring in miners from Italy and Germany, who are readily available. Their infiltration into the mining industry here would undoubtedly enormously increase our output, and feel that we should make every effort to enable this to be done. Unemployment in the mining industry looks like something altogether outside the picture, and I cannot see any reason why any miner should object to foreign labour. Some of your Lordships may not know it, but I was a miner myself for the first ten years of my grown-up life. I worked in various mining camps in Canada, America and South Africa, and I worked cheek by jowl with every conceivable type of man, from all countries of the world. We got on very well together, and I can see no reason why we should not do so to-day. Undoubtedly an abundance of coal here for export and home consumption would be of enormous advantage and the greatest possible help in the dangerous economic situation in which we find ourselves. An increase of coal production appears to me to be possible, and I believe that it should be achieved. I only hope that my noble friend who is to reply will be able to give me some assurance that a great effort will be made to increase the coal output of this country.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE CO-ORDINATION OF TRANSPORT, FUEL AND POWER (LORD LEATHERS)
My Lords, it is rather the custom of your Lordships' House for a Minister, when rising to speak on a Motion such as this, to express his thanks to the noble Lord who has moved the Motion. I follow this custom to-day with more than usual thanks, and with warmth and sincerity. For it is right that your Lordships should have an opportunity, once a year or so, to consider the activities of this great coal industry which is now jointly owned by the whole community. And it is particularly agreeable that the question should be brought to our attention by the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, who has had such a long and close experience of the industry, and who speaks of it with such freedom from any partisan feeling.
It is an added cause for pleasure to have the noble Viscount, Lord Hyndley, with us this afternoon and to have heard him making his maiden speech in your Lordships' House. As the first Chairman of the National Coal Board for five years, and as one who has spent a lifetime in the coal industry, he has unique qualifications to speak to us on this subject. From the lucid and attractive way in which he has addressed us this afternoon, I hope that he will become a regular contributor to our debates. If, as I shall seek to suggest to your Lordships, there are certain solid grounds for satisfaction with the way in which the coal industry has developed during the last five years, a great deal of the credit for that fact attaches to the noble Viscount. I will not embarrass him by making this point at greater length, but rather will hope that what I have to say will speak for itself.
Perhaps the most significant of all the facts which claim our attention when we contemplate the coal industry to-day is that coal is no longer a political subject. If one looks at this state of affairs and compares it with what has gone before. I think one can take comfort from the thought that here at least real progress has been made. The noble Viscount's Motion draws our attention to the Report of the National Coal Board published last May. Although I may range a little outside the scope of that Report, I shall 475 concern myself primarily with the Board's activities as there described. I should like to congratulate the Board on their wisdom in expanding this Report so that it does not cover merely the year 1951 but looks back also over the first five years of nationalisation. I have seen a suggestion that the Board were slow in producing their Report. I should not wish to discourage them from striving to do better than this in the future. I hope they will. But I must say that for an undertaking of this size to produce so comprehensive a record of its activities, together with its audited accounts, within four and a half months of the end of its financial year does not seem to be a bad effort. I am sure that there are many smaller organisations, both private and public, which might well try to reach the same standard.
We have been living for a number of years now in a condition of chronic and serious coal scarcity—indeed, that is still the position to-day. For that reason it may be appropriate for me to invite your Lordships to consider first the trend of coal output. In 1938 we produced 227,000,000 tons of coal. The level of production fell during the war, and by 1945 was down to 183,000,000, including 8,000,000 tons of opencast coal, about which I shall have more to say later. Since then it has risen each year: in 1947 it was 197,000,000 tons, again including opencast coal. In 1948, it was 209,000,000 tons, and so on up to last year's figure of 223,000,000 tons, 11,000,000 tons of which were opencast coal. I dislike crystal-gazing, and it is probably more rash in this particular field than in most. But I shall be very disappointed if production this year falls far short of 226,000,000 tons, including about 11,000,000 tons of opencast coal. Thus, while the rise in total output from one year to the next has not been dramatic, it does represent an increase in the past five years of some 15 per cent.
But this increase in production has by no means solved our difficulties, since it has been accompanied by an even greater increase in demand. Just before the war, inland consumption of coal was about 175,000,000 tons a year; in 1947 it was 185,000,000 tons, and since then has risen to nearly 210,000,000 tons. This increase in consumption has had two results. First, ever since the war we have been short of 476 coal for our own home use, and in particular have had great difficulty—even with the help of coal imported at great cost from America—in building up by the end of the summer sufficient stocks to tide us over the winter. The second, and in some ways even more serious, result has been that we have largely failed in what could almost be regarded as our national duty—to meet a considerable part of the coal needs of European countries and other parts of the world. In 1938 we sold overseas in exports 36,000,000 tons. That was a great deal of coal, and so high a figure might not, of course, be possible to-day, even if we had the coal to sell. Other sources of power, such as hydro-electricity and fuel oil, have been increasingly used in many countries during and since the war, and it would be foolish to suppose that our coal export trade could be rebuilt on exactly the pre-war pattern. On the other hand, we have fallen far short of meeting even the most urgent needs of a number of countries. It is true we are doing much better this year than last year in the matter of coal exports. But it remains a serious matter from our own point of view, since we desperately need the foreign currencies that additional exports of coal would earn us. And it has been serious for other countries, particularly those in Europe, since they have had to spend the precious dollars that they can ill afford on importing American coal, inevitably at high delivered prices.
It is not surprising, therefore, that Europe as a whole and the United States Government have been most reluctant to see dollars allocated to Mutual Aid used for this purpose, and have been exercised by the urgent need to eliminate as soon as possible the importing of coal from America into Europe. I have had the honour in recent months to represent Her Majesty's Government on a small Ministerial Coal Production Group which was set up by the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation last January to consider what steps could be taken to remedy this situation. It so happens that the last meeting of this Group took place only the day before yesterday, and it gave me great pleasure to welcome my colleagues to London for the first meeting which we have held here. The goal which we had set for Europe was to eliminate the need for what were termed "exceptional imports" of coal—that is to say, 477 imports from America—by the end of 1953. This is not an easy task. On the other hand, after careful study we came to the conclusion that it should not be an impossible one, provided that all the countries concerned made a big effort and that the prevailing trends continued. At any rate, we felt that we should be failing in our duty if we set ourselves an easier task. So far as the United Kingdom contribution towards that objective is concerned, we have been asked to increase coal production from 223,000,000 tons in 1951 to an annual rate of 236,000,000 tons by the end of 1953—quite an heroic task.
There are two main factors on which our chances of achieving this will largely depend. The first is the size of the labour force in the coal industry; the second is the level of productivity in the industry—that is to say the quantity of coal that is produced by each man employed. So far as the industry's manpower is concerned, the position is that there are now fewer men in the industry than there were before the war—quite considerably fewer. This is a severe handicap and one which we must at all costs overcome if we are to secure the greater output we need. The prospects here are rather mixed, and it would be wrong to strike a simple note either of gloom or hope.
On the one hand we have seen, as your Lordships will be aware, a setback in the arrangements we made last year, with the agreement of the Executive Committee of the National Union of Mineworkers, to bring Italians to work in the mines. This scheme has been largely frustrated by the action of a section of the mining community which has been as unreasonable as it was unfair to the Italians concerned, and which has been roundly condemned by the President of the Union.
On the brighter side of the manpower picture we have seen that, whereas the number of miners usually rises during the first three months of the year and then declines during the next six months, this year the summer falling-off has not happened. There seems to be a very good hope that we shall end the year with a mining labour force substantially greater than at the beginning of the year. One particularly good sign is the number of boys we have been recruiting—over 14,000 in the first six months of this year, as compared with about 10,000 in the 478 first half of 1951, which was itself a record year. That young men and boys are realising that there is a worth-while career open to them in the coal industry, and that they are more ready to follow their fathers into the pits, is indeed a most heartening sign. The Coal Board's target is to secure within the next eighteen months or so a labour force 25,000 greater than in 1951. As things are shaping at the moment there seem to be good grounds for hoping that we shall be over halfway towards that goal by the end of this year.
However, there is still a long way to go, and neither the Board nor the Government can afford to relax their efforts. Many different steps have been and are being taken to make the industry attractive as a career. Miners are already paid more than workers in any other industry and, in addition, they enjoy many privileges. They now have a special pension scheme which came into force on January 1 last, and which over three-quarters of the men have joined. Your Lordships may recall, too, that we announced in March a special housing programme for the mining industry. We hope that this step will be of real help and encouragement to men, particularly young men, to enter the industry and, having entered it, to stay in it.
Turning now to the other main factor, that of productivity, the outlook again is rather a mixed one. We have made a good deal of progress since the war. Between 1945 and 1951 the output per man-shift rose by over 20 per cent. to a level higher than ever before in the history of the coal industry and higher than elsewhere in Western Europe, except for the small Dutch industry. Holland has always had, as we know, a better showing on output. On the other hand, the results achieved so far this year may seem rather disappointing. Output per man-shift at the face has been maintained at 3.17 tons, but there has been a slight decline in overall output per man-shift from the level of 1.21 tons in the first 24 weeks of last year to 1.20 tons this year. The main reason for this is that the industry has in recent months taken in so many new and inexperienced recruits who have had to be trained and who cannot make a true contribution to production for some time. However, this is essentially a temporary phase; and any disadvantages of a slight temporary 479 fall in productivity are, of course, greatly surpassed by the benefits that will soon accrue from this welcome extra manpower. An encouraging sign that this phase is already coming to an end is provided by the fact that in recent weeks the proportion of face manpower to total manpower has begun to rise again
It would, however, be quite unrealistic to suppose that we could continue indefinitely to count on a steadily rising level of productivity, as if in accordance with some natural law. Year by year the coal has to be dug deeper, and seams get thinner and we have almost come to the end of the period in which greater output could be achieved by short-term methods. Conventional forms of mechanisation of the work at the coal face have by now been developed almost as far as is possible. I am not sure that it is generally realised that already over 80 per cent. of our coal is being won and conveyed by machines. Where it is still being cut by hand, either the seams are so easy to work that a machine would not help or else they are too thin to permit of machine cutting.
There is still plenty of scope for the development of new types of machines, but I think one must recognise that the scope for extending what I might call the conventional types of mechanisation is rather limited. Some people may regret the extent to which the machine nowadays plays the part which used to be played by the miner's own skill and strength—I am thinking now of what Lord Hall said. But clearly we cannot reverse the whole trend of modern development which gives each man working underground greater power at his disposal than he could possibly provide by the old method and from his own physical strength. I feel sure that there is a satisfaction in the skilled maintenance and operation of these modern machines, with the teamwork which most of them require, which fully compensates—at least in the minds of the younger workers—for any loss of pride in their individual jobs.
I have already explained why we cannot expect to see any further dramatic increase in output per man-shift as a result of short-term measures. Nor would it be realistic to imagine that we can get any great increase in the average number of 480 shifts worked by each man. The most we could expect would be some five or six shifts extra each year, and this would depend on at least maintaining the present trend of Saturday working, something of which we cannot be sure. Certainly, however, we could not easily afford any reduction in the present average number of shifts worked by each man. I hope that it follows clearly from what I have said that in seeking further increases in productivity we must look principally to the longer-term development—in particular, the introduction of new methods and machines, and to the completion of large schemes of colliery reconstruction.
Your Lordships will recall that the Reid Committee of 1945 advocated an extensive scheme of modernisation, particularly of the underground haulage arrangements, which in many pits are quite inadequate. Much of the thought that went into the Reid Report and the Board's own ideas on the future development of the coal industry are reflected in the Board's Plan for Coal which was published in October, 1950, and approved by the Minister of Fuel and Power last year. This long-term development work takes many forms. First, a good deal of exploratory boring is being done. In order to plan ahead, the coal industry needs detailed knowledge of the resources and reserves of coal that are available and the probable working conditions underground. Little of the necessary boring was done between the wars and so, to catch up, the Board have been doing about ten times as much of this work as was done before the War. This has provided a great deal of valuable information. For example, in Scotland large reserves of coal have been proved in the Upper Forth Estuary. In North Staffordshire, valuable reserves have been found south of the present workings.
In the development and reconstruction of collieries the National Coal Board had by the end of 1951 approved the sinking of seven new pits. These will be of great help when they are able to get to work, but the biggest task in the Board's development plans is to reconstruct existing mines. So far eighty-one of these major reconstruction schemes have been approved by the Board. Some have already been completed and the results are most encouraging. For example, at Wheldale in the North Eastern Division 481 and at Huncoat in the North West, output per man-shift has gone up since reconstruction by about 75 per cent. But, although a great deal of progress has been made, there is no doubt that the Board's development plans are not going ahead as fast as they should. Both last year and the year before, the expenditure on colliery development was only about two-thirds of what had been intended. This is a very serious matter and one that deserves analysis.
It is certainly not the lack of capital that is limiting the reconstruction of the British mines. Most of the capital required for these schemes can be provided from the internal resources of the industry. They have the money. But the Coal Industry Act of 1951 enables capital to be provided by the Government in suitable circumstances, and although this provision has not yet been used it is always available if the need arises. It is true that the Government has had to cut the scale of capital investment in many directions, but these cuts have not held back the Board's plans. Their proposals have usually been approved in full by the Minister, even though it has seldom proved possible for them to be carried out in full.
Nor can the lagging of the Board's development plans be fairly laid at the door of the steel shortage. The Board have, it is true, had to compete with other industries for the steel they need and. even though the steel allocation schemes has improved their position, I realise that they are not getting as much steel as they would like. But the Government fully recognise the need for adequate supplies of steel and machinery equipment for the mining industry, and the Board have received generous allocations in respect of the steel the industry uses itself, though I will not say every ton they have wanted. They have been cut only a little below their demand and, indeed, have been treated better than the defence programme and much of the export programme. As for steel for the manufacturers of mining equipment, my right honourable friend the Minister of Supply has endeavoured, not without success, to meet their essential requirements. We are, of course, keeping the whole matter under close review.
There seem really to be two different factors which have limited development in 482 the last few years. One—and it has been unavoidable—has been the need to concentrate on current output and on short-term measures to get immediate increases in production. If you are seeking to get more and more for the immediate, you are bound to involve a little delay in development; the two cannot go on simultaneously. This is a difficulty which will be overcome only by a general improvement in the coal situation. Although it is not in sight yet, the day may not be too far distant when the Board will be able to divide its attention equally between the day-to-day position and the longer-term development of the industry.
The second big difficulty hindering development is the shortage of mining engineers with the necessary experience of planning major development and reconstruction schemes. Our mining engineers are among the finest in the world, but not enough of them have had this planning experience. This is an aspect of the general problem of raising the standards of technical management in the industry. The production of more highly trained mining engineers is inevitably a slow process, but the Board are going forward a great deal. They have provided a large number of technical scholarships to men from within and without the industry. Three years ago the Board also introduced a scheme of directed practical training for potential colliery managers which has now been extended to include mechanical and electrical and other engineers. By the end of 1951, 264 men were in training, and it is hoped eventually to take 200 trainees a year.
Any account of the Board's training activities would be incomplete without reference to the careful introduction to work in the mines that they give to new recruits, particularly juveniles, in their schemes of preliminary training, and without mention of the "ladder plan." This plan not only includes courses at technical colleges suitable for men who want to train as overmen and deputies, tradesmen and surveyors, but it also enables lads from the pits who have the brains and the will to tackle senior courses to, aspire to the highest positions in the industry. Since 1947, the Board have allowed time off work to attend technical college courses. All measures of this sort inevitably take time before their 483 full effect is felt, and we must face the fact that for some time to come the Board's technical manpower is likely to remain stretched to the limit.
While I am on the question of development plans perhaps I may deal very briefly with a criticism which I saw made after this Report was published, that the expenditure on development had not been distributed between the various coalfields in a wise manner. This is, of course, largely a technical matter and one which is primarily the Board's responsibility, but, since it is an important point which may have attracted a certain amount of attention, I ought not to let it pass without mention. I think that the main target for this criticism was the fact that only about two-fifths of the money spent on large projects in 1951 was spent in the East and West Midlands and Yorkshire—that is to say, the divisions which produced half the total output of coal at much the lowest costs while, at the same time, a quarter of the total was spent in South Wales, which produced less than one-eighth of the coal output at much the highest cost.
This criticism overlooks two points. First, it relates only to the major schemes. While the South Western Division (which includes South Wales) accounted for one-quarter of the expenditure on these major schemes in 1951, it accounted for only about one-sixth of the total development expenditure on collieries. On the other hand, since Vesting Day, total development expenditure on collieries in the East Midlands and Yorkshire has been higher than in any other division. The second point is that the way in which expenditure on development is distributed among the various divisions must take into account not only the productivity and costs of production in the different coal-fields, but also the types of coal produced and the difficulties of development. For example, the coal-fields in the East and West Midlands produce, for the most part, general utility coals, which are less valuable and less scarce than many other kinds. Yorkshire produces coking and gas coals, and costs of production are well below the average and will remain so. For this reason, the Board are planning a big expansion of production in the Yorkshire field. On the other hand, production at some of these pits can be expanded without the 484 expense of big schemes of reconstruction. That means that output can be increased at a lower capital cost per ton than in many other coalfields, so that the total costs of development may well work out lower than elsewhere.
South Wales, on the other hand, produces a wide variety of valuable coals ranging from anthracite to very good coking coal. These types of coal are very scarce and are greatly in demand for exports. But mining conditions in South Wales are difficult, as the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, will know. The coal has been worked for a long time and many of the more easily accessible reserves are exhausted. This means that output can be expanded only at a high capital cost per ton and by giving South Wales a higher proportion of development expenditure than might seem justified merely by comparison of output figures in the various divisions. I mention these points, which I am afraid are a little technical, merely to show that the Board have not taken their decisions without carefully weighing up the relevant factors.
I have been speaking at some length about development plans, and it is true that new methods, new machines, new men and a vast expenditure on reorganisation of the collieries and on the surface are essential. But it is equally true, as the Reid Report pointed out, that human relations constitute the most difficult problem that the industry has to face. The National Coal Board have not ceased to emphasise this point in their Annual Reports, and they have recognised that if full co-operation could be secured throughout the industry many of the problems of production could quickly be solved. But co-operation does not simply mean co-operation on the part of the men over whatever the management require of them. It means cooperation and understanding by the management as well, and very often this may require a change of attitude on their part. With human relations I would like to have discussed at length the welfare of the miner and the problem of his health and safety, but time does not permit me to say more than that both these are subjects of intensive study and research by the National Coal Board, who fully recognise that the arduous and hazardous life which a miner leads places 485 on them, as employers, a very special responsibility for his welfare and health.
I have been speaking up till now principally a bout deep mining, and, indeed, during the five years covered by the Report, that was the only form of mining which the National Coal Board undertook. I feel sure, however, that your Lordships will expect me to say something about opencast production, particularly since it has recently become the responsibility of the National Coal Board. I think it is generally appreciated that the opencast coal production programme was purely the child of necessity. It inevitably means disturbing, for some years at least, a large amount of land which may be of value for agriculture. But the hard fact is that we could not during the war, and we still cannot at this time, do without this coal. Since opencast production began ten years ago, it has produced over 95,000,000 tons of coal, and it would hardly be an exaggeration to say that this marginal output has more than once saved is from disaster. While we hope to avoid the more dramatic forms of fuel crisis of which we have had chilly experience in recent years, as I have been trying to show, the need for maximum coal output is still as great as it has ever been.
The division of responsibility between the Board and the Ministry for deep-mined and opencast production, which was perhaps never entirely logical, has now lost its advantage and, accordingly, the Government decided that the National Coal Board should take over opencast production from April 1 of this year. The Board are carrying on opencast production at full pressure, and the results this year have already been most encouraging, showing an increase of about 6 per cent. over last year. There are two assurances in connection with opencast production which your Lordships may like to have. First, the transfer of responsibility to the National Coal Board involves no change in the procedure under which opencast workings have to be approved in each case by the Minister. This means that my right honourable friend will continue, as his predecessors in that office did, to give the most careful consideration to any proposals for opencast working and will ensure that all the various aspects, including in particular the agricultural value of any land, 486 will be taken fully into account. Secondly, a new code of restoration of the land affected was brought into force last year. Without making any extravagant claims, I think that I can say that what is done nowadays is the best that can be done on the advice of the agricultural experts. The National Coal Board will continue, and if possible improve upon, the present methods and standards of restoration.
There are many other points on which I can only touch very briefly, if I am not to keep your Lordships too long. One is that of the small mines which are still worked privately, under licence from the National Coal Board. These little mines, which employ only a couple of dozen men or so, sell most of their coal to industrial consumers fairly near at hand. Their scale of operation is very small in relation to the industry as a whole. But we are anxious that they should carry on, and have no wish to see them squeezed out of existence. A few weeks ago, some of these small mines, particularly in North Staffordshire, began to find difficulty in selling all their output, mainly because of the recession of trade in certain industries. The mines were given permission, and indeed encouragement, to supply domestic consumers while these difficult times persisted, and the National Coal Board have given ready assistance by withdrawing their own coal, where this would help small mine owners to sell, and by suggesting that consumers and buyers who might open accounts with the small mines should take those supplies. This was a temporary and local difficulty, but I have no doubt that the Coal Board would willingly consider taking similar action if the same problems arose elsewhere. They may arise again from time to time, and now that this system has been applied I think it would cover any anxiety that might be felt following a temporary difficulty of this sort. Of course, this does not in any way affect the national need for the production of every possible ton of coal, even by those small mines.
The noble Lord, Lord Rochdale, was good enough to warn me that he was going to raise the question of efficient fuel utilisation. This is a little outside the main scope of this debate, since the promotion of fuel efficiency rests as much with the Ministry of Fuel and Power and 487 with other bodies as with the Board itself. I cannot describe in detail all the various ways in which this work is being carried on. If the noble Lord is interested I shall be glad to discuss it with him. But certainly we are fully aware that it is not enough merely to produce the coal: it must be used to the best advantage when it has been produced. So far as their own consumption of coal is concerned. the National Coal Board are making strenuous efforts to replace a great deal of old and inefficient plant—both steam engines and electrical generators. This means a saving of coal, and a greater use for inferior coal which might otherwise be unsaleable. This, indeed, is true of electricity generation generally. While we shall doubtless continue to see a steady improvement, the modern power stations of the British Electricity Authority already represent a very considerable advance in fuel efficiency as against the stations built, say, twenty years or so ago.
I will not go further into details since I have already spoken long enough. In any case, we shall be able to discuss these questions of coal utilisation more effectively when we have studied and digested the Report of the Committee presided over by the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley. This Report is now in the hands of the Minister of Fuel and Power, and I hope that it will be published before many weeks have passed. I understand that the Report deals with the question raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, in respect of coal for the railways and so I would rather not deal with it to-day. The main factor is, of course, that our locomotives are designed to burn large coal, and coal of a certain type: and obviously we cannot change that overnight or even in a short time. I think we have to recognise that the locomotives, constructed as they are and designed to burn only large coal, would present us with a problem beyond anything I can describe if we did not give them that coal and if we substituted something of an inferior type. We must ensure that the railways are kept fully going. We shall be studying the whole thing when we get the Report from the Ridley Committee.
It is a difficulty of a debate of this sort that a Minister inevitably finds himself explaining a wide range of activities for which the Board is itself primarily 488 responsible, and he can easily slip into, the position of appearing to be a mere advocate for the Board in question. I should like to end, therefore, by saying a brief word about the relationship between Her Majesty's Government and the National Coal Board. Our view is that it is the Government's task to appoint to the Board the best men it can find, too give them all the advice, encouragement and practical help that it can, and then to leave the Board, so far as possible, to run the industry itself. That, very briefly, is the relationship which we have been trying to maintain. Where we can be of help to the Board, for example in the matter of getting more houses for miners, or in securing that the Board get an allocation of steel sufficient for their essential needs, then we strive to give the Board all the backing and help that is in our power. Where the Board have to make decisions which are essentially the Board's own responsibility, we are always willing to give them the advice that we can; but we are careful not to interfere. This sort of relationship can, of course, endure only on a harmonious and satisfactory basis, and I should like to make it clear that the Chairman and his Board have the full confidence of Her Majesty's Government. While there are still many difficulties to be overcome, I myself feel quite sure that that confidence is not misplaced.
My Lords, I have not been able to deal with all the points that have been raised. If there are any particular points which I have left unanswered I will try to take them up and communicate privately with the noble Lords concerned as soon as I can. What I have tried to do is to survey very briefly the present state of this huge industry and to show, as I myself feel, that, while there are still many problems to be faced and overcome, there is much in the outlook which inspires confidence and hope.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
My Lords, I should like to join with other noble Lords in extending my congratulations to the noble Viscount, Lord Hyndley, on his very practical maiden speech. He has had a unique experience, which to-day was displayed in his speech, and I hope that when other debates take place in relation to any aspect of the coal or fuel and power question he will make his valuable contribution. I should also like to express my 489 thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Rochdale. There was a great deal in his speech with which I agree. A ton of coal saved is very valuable, and everything possible should be done with a view to securing the greatest fuel efficiency that it is possible to obtain. I will join him at some time—perhaps after the Recess—in a much wider debate on the fuel question, bringing in coal, electricity and gas. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Sempill, for having intervened in the debate.
I am obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, for his excellent review of the coal situation. There were many things that he said with which I could not agree or contribute to, and I am afraid that unless the Board are going to do something more than he has mentioned in his speech then we shall not see the output or production which the nation will expect during the course of the next three, four or five years. I hope that I shall be proved wrong, and if the noble Lord is in his present position in a year or two years from now we might read over one another's speeches to see whose opinion in this debate is proved right. There is nothing more that I want to add. The debate has been a very useful one and I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.