§ 4.36 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, I beg to move that the Coal Industry Bill be read a second time. Coal is an emotive word, woven deep into our economic history, past, present and future. It speaks of the foundation, and life blood, of our industrial greatness; of an industry which, even to-day, has an annual turnover of £900 million; provides two-thirds of our primary energy; and thus forms the basis of our economy. Coal also speaks of generations of struggle and tragedy; of the miners who labour in darkness and danger; of their pride, fierce independence, unquenchable loyalty, and the 639 social solidarity of the mining communities. All this is contained in the cold, unemotional terms of this short, but vital, Bill, which will help to ensure the future of this great industry and protect the interests of the fine men who work in it. In a matter of such great importance to everyone of us there is, in my view, no room for Party politics, and there will be none from me.
The Bill's bare bones can be quickly exposed. Clause 1 replaces the National Coal Board's existing borrowing powers, which expire at the end of this month, with new powers, to borrow up to a limit of £700 million, which may be increased to £750 million by Ministerial order. Clause 2 provides for a capital reconstruction of the Board's £960 million debt to the Exchequer by permitting the writing off of £415 million worth of debt in respect of vested assets and advances. The remaining balance of £545 million debts will be replaced by a loan of the same amount which is included in the £700 million to which I have already referred. The clause also lays down the framework in which the writing down of these £415 million assets shall be treated in the Board's accounts. Clause 3 gives the Minister power to make grants, not exceeding a total of £30 million, against expenditure incurred in the redeployment of miners who lose their present jobs because of the acceleration of the closure of uneconomic pits. Last year the Board spent £3,800,000 for this purpose. And the Government's future contribution will be equal to half the additional cost above that figure, in any one year. Clause 4 will enable us to bring pension arrangements for Coal Board members into line with those already in force in the gas and electricity industries.
Now I should like to clothe these bare bones with the facts behind our proposals. First, the £415 million. In 1947 1,000 pits were still working: to-day there are only about 500, and 216 pits have been closed since 1960 alone. Pit closures are part of the natural history of coal, because pits become uneconomic or exhausted. But the increased incidence of present closures arises largely from the policies of the recent past. In the early 1950's the Government of the day, acting on the best advice, encouraged the Board to lay plans to satisfy a market for coal 640 which might be as large as 240 million tons a year. This involved large-scale investment, some of it known to be risky, which was nevertheless undertaken to provide the coal believed to be necessary in the national interest. In the peak year, 230 million tons were sold. Since then, demand has contracted sharply, and in the last six years has been more often below than above 200 million tons. A further drop in demand is probable over the next five years.
The net result is that, in serving the national interest, the Board has become saddled with a volume of unremunerative investment. Last year over 150 pits, with a capital investment of some £140 million, incurred losses before charging anything for unavoidable overheads, capital interest, or depreciation. A further 100 pits, representing a capital investment of £110 million, paid overheads and depreciation, but not interest on capital. The fortunes of pits vary from year to year. Some in the doubtful category will survive, but unquestionably uneconomic pits are a crippling burden for the industry. Within the next five years some 200 pits will be closed, many of them because they are exhausted. The Government consider it right that the Board should be relieved of the burden of capital which is likely to be unremunerative in the years ahead. Then there are coking, ovens, which the Board was persuaded by the Government to build, or reconstruct, at a time of shortage of coking capacity. The expected increased demand on the Board did not materialize, and the Board has been forced to close excess capacity, and incur a capital loss on continuing plant of £16 million.
Next I come to coal prices. For a number of years where was a sellers' market for coal and the Board could have made substantial profits and accmulated considerable reserves if it had been free to exploit the situation. But, again and again, upwards of a dozen times, from considerations of national policy the Government of the day intervened I make no complaint of this—and the Board deferred or cancelled proposed price increases, and thus accepted a substantial loss of income it would otherwise have enjoyed. To-day we see the result in an accumulated deficit of £91 million. The process continues, because £15 million of the total which it is proposed 641 to write off has been added in recognition of the Board's relinquishing of its recent intended price increase. It has been said, quite truly, that the taxpayer has to foot this £415 million bill. But, on the other hand, it must be pointed out that we taxpayers, as consumers, have, over the years, already received and enjoyed this money in lower prices and other benefits. We are merely now repaying our debt.
What benefits will it bring to the industry? There will be an immediate saving of £20 million a year in interest, and £10 million rising to £20 million in depreciation, which will no longer need to be provided—a total improvement of £40 million a year. In addition, the Board hopes to save a further £12 million to £15 million a year by a streamlining process which will reduce its administrative staff by upwards of 13,000 people over the next five years. Overhaul was obviously necessary to meet the needs of the more compact industry of the future. The changes will be made without creating substantial redundancy. In the process, the present five distinct levels of management will give place to three—just the Board, the areas and the collieries. This tighter structure will not only save a lot of money but will lend itself to more direct and intimate central control and greater scope for local initiative.
In short, my Lords, Clauses 1 and 2 of this Bill will provide a realistic capital structure, realistic interest charges, a clean slate, and a fair start towards a viable, economic, coal industry. And the Government are determined to ensure the right climate for success. We shall continue the duty of 2d. a gallon on fuel oil and the ban on the import of coal. The gas and electricity industries are using more coal this year, and electricity will have a massive dependence on coal for the foreseeable future, with its demands increasing by about a quarter over the next five years. This adds up to very substantial support, but it is based on common sense, not sentiment. Coal is our main indigenous fuel. It is a large import saver and places no direct burden on the balance of payments. Large quantities of coal will be needed for a very long time to come, in particular to enable our power stations to supply the country's needs.
642 We have a large number of very efficient modern pits and they must be fully developed with adequate manpower, so as to make the best use of our substantial capital investment in them. The continuing collieries—more than 300—have a lot of expensive equipment. Nearly 80 per cent. of our coal is being won by mechanised methods compared with 2 per cent. in 1947 and only 37 per cent. as recently as 1960. We are entering a new era, not only of mechanisation but of electronics and automation, such as ROLF (Remote control for operating long wall faces). The fact that we shall be operating one of the most advanced mining industries in the world is an exciting, not a depressing, prospect. My right honourable friend, the Minister of Power, has refused to set limits to the future level of production in the industry. He rightly points out that the trends in fuel consumption indicate, according to the best informed estimates, that the demand for coal in 1970 is not likely to exceed 170 million to 180 million tons. But there are many imponderables, and we all know that for decades the "best informed estimates" have been consistently wrong.
What is needed is what is being done: creating an efficient, viable structure and favourable market conditions. The Board obviously shares that view, because between now and March, 1971, it will be investing in collieries £380 million in plant replacement and machinery, further mechanisation, et cetera, and it aims at finding this large sum from its own resources without borrowing. In these conditions, what is needed is not rigid targets but a determination to secure for coal whatever share of the energy market can be won by efficient effort.
And that brings me to the sad, but absolutely essential, step of closing 200 uneconomic pits. This, understandably, is bitterly attacked because it means that 120,000 men must lose their present jobs, and it is difficult, if not impossible, for them to view the question objectively. But of what use is it for men to toil in these pits every day, knowing that every ton of coal they produce not only loses money but makes things more difficult for the good pits? The salvation of coal lies in the development of the best and most remunerative seams. It is in the worst possible interests of the miners to 643 permit the industry to be dragged down and held down because the good pits are made to carry the bad ones. The sooner we change this situation the better for everyone.
Obviously, however, everything humanly possible must be done to help the miners who will be displaced. Fortunately, jobs are waiting for more than half of them at pits within daily travelling distance of their homes, where their services are badly needed. Thousands more pit jobs will be waiting for those who are willing to move house. In all, over the next 5 years, £80 million (including the £30 million to be provided by Government) is expected to be spent in defraying the social costs arising from these changes. It is not an easy thing to move one's home and start work in strange surroundings. But the Government and the Board are determined to do everything they can to help, including the provision of houses for transferred miners, and education authorities will be kept in touch about schooling needs.
In addition, the Board is offering what my noble friend Lord Robens of Woldingham, the dynamic Chairman of the Coal Board, has described as the "best transfer scheme in British industry". I understand that the Board proposes that daily-paid workers will he guaranteed the same pay as before. Pieceworkers who move to new pits will receive at least three-quarters of their previous shift earnings, plus a five-day-week bonus and any overtime. This guarantee will last for from twelve weeks to two years, according to length of service. Those miners who travel daily to new jobs will have the cost of transport subsidized. if their increased fares exceed 5s. in a week. Temporary lodging allowance of £4 a week will be paid to those who move to other coalfields, and fares will be paid for visits home. When they move house, removal expenses and a £100 settling-in grant will be paid. Any extra rent for new houses will be paid by the Board in the first year, and rent aid will last four years.
I think it is fair to claim that these measures are well calculated to ensure that every displaced miner for whom a job at another pit is available is being given every encouragement to take it. 644 We certainly need their help and skill. Unfortunately there will be perhaps 20,000 for whom, either because of disability, domestic reasons, or even geography, a job at the pits is no longer a practical possibility. We realise that, for human and economic reasons, it is of paramount importance that they should be quickly employed in other productive work.
The Government are acutely conscious of the problems of the areas that may be affected by such redeployment, and intend to take these into account in preparing plans for the regions concerned. My right honourable friend the President of of the Board of Trade announced on October 22 additions to the development districts, and these now cover all the closure areas where the employment position is difficult. Under programmes announced since this Government took office, 32 new advance factories are being built in mining areas. The Ministry of Labour is providing new industrial rehabilitation units for the retraining of disabled miners, and the areas concerned are generally well covered by Government training centres. Where the National Coal Board cannot offer suitable jobs within the coal industry, the men will be entitled to new and improved benefits under the Redundancy Payments Act which came into force on the 6th of this month. The National Coal Board will be giving particular consideration to the position of men affected by closures who may have special difficulty in finding other jobs.
The Government are determined to keep the position under close scrutiny in consultation with the economic planning councils. We shall keep in constant touch with the National Coal Board's detailed plans for colliery closures and with all changes in those plans. The object will be to ensure, as far as is humanly practicable, that alternative employment opportunities are available where and when they are needed. I would emphasise that any expenditure on these measures by the Ministry of Labour, Board of Trade and other Government Departments will be on their Votes and therefore additional to the £80 million. Every penny will be well and gladly spent. We think the action we are taking will prove adequate, but if other steps should prove necessary we shall not hesitate to take them.
645 It has been alleged that morale is low in the coalfields. This is understandable, but unrealistic. It may well be that a few years hence we shall regard the industry as fortunate compared with others, in that in the change from a labour intensive to a machine intensive industry there is proper planning and full financial support to ease the pangs of transition. I would emphasise that the industry's future will be in no way confined. The Board will be encouraged to use its wide powers to develop its ancillary activities. It will seek to develop commercial schemes for new products in addition to existing byproducts, such as crude benzole. I think it is right for me to point out here that this Bill does not authorise the Board to engage in any activities which are not already permitted to them. The Board will have another stake in the future when, in due course, we ask Parliament to provide the necessary powers to take up the options which, as I announced recently, have been offered to them by two companies, to participate in petroleum operations on the Continental Shelf.
In this Bill, and with the other actions I have outlined, a British Government has, for the first time, recognised and ensured the position of coal in a comprehensive fuel policy. In this we are serving not only coal but the interests of the whole nation. With a greater proportion of output coming from a smaller number of efficient, modern units, the industry will make a major contribution to the strength of the economy and provide satisfactory and remunerative employment for hundreds of thousands of workers. We shall still have the largest coal industry in Europe, and one of the most efficient. With this Bill we are taking major steps towards the fulfilment of these major objectives. I believe it will enable coal to play a vital part in the future economy of the nation, and it is in that belief that I commend it to your Lordships. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill he now read 2a.—(Lord Stonham.)
§ 5.0 p.m.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has been kind enough to give your Lordships a fairly clear exposition of this Bill, and indeed it is a very important Bill, because, after all, it is re-altering entirely the construc- 646 tion of the Coal Board's finances. One cannot help thinking that it is a curious state of affairs that when a Bill of such importance comes before either this House or another place—for, after all, it is authorising the expenditure of £750 million and, at the same time, writing off about £400 million—relatively little interest is generated in it. If you shut up a battery chicken in a cage, you get demonstrations in Trafalgar Square. if you dispense with £450 million, relatively little interest is generated. But that does not mean, of course, that this is not of the highest importance; indeed it is.
The coal industry is subject to a great number of curious vicissitudes that are, I suppose, unique to it. They are the kind of situations that any primary industry has to deal with. There are the hazards which are connected with the coal industry; the method of working down underneath the ground is not one that readily attracts itself to many people. It is in that respect, and in the respect of having a unique part in the economy of the country, that it finds a special place in the affairs of the country, and on occasion has to have special treatment such as it is having under this Bill. It has, obviously, had a tremendous past.
The noble Lord. Lord Stonham, says that two-thirds of the energy of the country nowadays comes from coal. It is quite a salutary thought that only fifteen years ago 90 per cent. of our energy came from coal, and indeed the whole of the gas and electricity industries depended upon it for all their needs. Indeed, it has a tremendous future as well; but a future in which it requires to be reshaped, a future in which it may turn out that it will have different commitments and different responsibilities, and certainly a different method of going about them than it has had in the past.
This Bill helps to reshape the industry, and in that respect we welcome it. The noble Lord has given us a fairly detailed explanation of what it is about. There are one or two points about which I feel that we should possibly have more information. It is true that many collieries operate at a loss. In fact, I believe that in 1964 half of the industry's 540 collieries amassed total losses of about £60 million. Her Majesty's Government have recognised this difficulty, and have produced this Bill in order to try to help. 647 I think it is bound to be only a question of help. I do not believe that this Bill in itself is a solution, despite the enormity of the sums involved, because about half of the Coal Board's losses is due to interest, and even if we eliminate the interest, it is still highly probable that there may be an operating loss. But if we write off £415 million (which, by any standard, is a gargantuan sum of money), I think that the Government must give the assurance that the rationalisation of the coal industry, which is so necessary, will really come about quickly, and in the quite near future.
The removal of this sum of money, and the interest on it which amounts to £20 million, must not of itself induce a higher production than the demand requires. Many flags have been nailed to various masts over the last two or three years about the coal industry. People have said—indeed, many people of the Party of the noble Lord opposite have said—that the coal industry should be entitled to set, or should set, as a target 200 million tons. This is what it was hoped they would be able to produce. Of course, the danger of nailing these flags to the mast is that it is rather difficult to prevent oneself from getting into an entrenched position. Indeed, the Minister of Power himself said in February that the present capacity of the coal industryis around 200 million tons, and there is no question of the Government arbitrarily requiring a reduction in this.Since then we have had the publication of The National Plan, which has said that it is likely in 1970 that the demand will not be 200 million tons, but 170 to 180 million; so I suppose that in that respect the noble Lord's right honourable friend has had to make a meal of his own words. Not that I bear him any grudge for that; I merely think that it is a danger if we set too strong a target on the amount of coal that is to be produced.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, if the noble Earl will allow me to interrupt him, I did say, I thought quite clearly—but if I was not clear I must say it again —that my right honourable friend has not set any rigid target, nor indeed any target at all. He has merely said that he thinks on the best advice available that the demand for coal may well be no more 648 than 170 or 180 million tons five years hence.
My Lords, with the greatest respect to the noble Lord, I think that this is, up to a point, a question of splitting hairs, because The National Plan says that the expected demand is likely to be 170 to 180 million tons. But surely it would be unreasonable to expect anyone, be he a Minister of Power or a Chairman of the Coal Board, then to say, "Our target should be higher," because there is no point in setting a target higher than the expected demand. This, I think, is a point which needs some clarification, because the Government of the noble Lord has produced The National Plan which states this figure, and yet the Chairman of the Coal Board has consistently said that it is its intention to go for higher figures. Indeed, he has saidWe believe that it does not necessarily follow that the industry will inevitably contract to the 170 to 180 million tons.That is understandable. But then, only the month before last, the Chairman of the Coal Board, when speaking to colliery managers, said:You and I are going to make a monkey out of that figure because we are going to make it 200 million tons.Indeed, he is also reported as saying:The thing is to make the planners' plans go wrong if it suits your business to do so.These are fine sentiments which I thoroughly admire in a leader of an industry, and I do not wish to decry that in the slightest. I think this is the kind of leadership that the Coal Board requires. But it seems to me that there is here a possible danger, because there is another side of the coin. The other side of the coin is that under this Bill we are removing a debt. It is not being eliminated: it is being removed from the Coal Board, and placed on to the shoulders of the taxpayer. I do not necessarily say that that is wrong, and I do not quarrel with it. But if Parliament is going to saddle the taxpayer with this debt, then they have the right to expect an assurance that this great relief (and it is a great relief, because it amounts to £20 million a year) will result in the rationalisation of the industry, and not conceivably in a possibly unwarranted extension of its efforts.
649 I do not say that in any attempt to make Party politics or Party capital out of it, because, as the noble Lord says, this is a question which in many respects is non-Party. But I think that there is a real danger that we might, by relieving the Coal Board of its liability, possibly encourage it to go for the production of coal which may not in the future be required. If, of course, we are going to write off the sum to the Coal Board—not remove the debt altogether. but write it off from the point of view of the Coal Board—and pass it on to the taxpayer, I think it is right for your Lordships' House and another place to examine most thoroughly exactly what we are doing and to scrutinise it most carefully.
I am bound to say at the outset, with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, that I am dumbfounded by the mathematics which have been used in the calculation of £415 million. The looseness of calculation of this sum is quite extraordinary, and I would point it out to your Lordships. We are, in fact, under the Bill, writing off £415 million, of which £15 million is due to the fact that the Coal Board was prevented from putting up its prices until April 1. That brings the total down to £400 million. Lord Stonham was careful enough to give us a breakdown of the figure. I do not know whether your Lordships had a pencil and paper handy, but the aggregate of the figures he gave did not add up to £400 million.
As I see it, £91 million is the figure for accumulated deficit at March 27, 1965; £16 million is the writing down of the assets of coke ovens; £140 million refers to the writing down of investment of 150 pits which incurred losses before charging anything for overheads, interest or depreciation; and £110 million relates to the writing down of assets of 100 pits which incurred losses before charging interest. That total amounts to £357 million. There is an odd £43 million outstanding.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, the noble Earl is not alleging that I did that sum, because if he studies Hansard tomorrow he will find that I did not. I mentioned the £91 million and the £16 million, but in my addition I did not include the other figures which the noble Earl has mentioned.
The noble Lord was astute. I am not surprised, but the fact remains that had he done so he would have been bound to admit that there was a curious sum of £43 million which did not appear. Indeed, the noble Lord has gone so far as virtually to admit that he omitted to do the sum on purpose.
I should like to ask him what has happened to the other £43 million. Why has it been added on to the sum we are being asked to write off? The Government cannot just write off £43 million without some very good reason. The noble Lord has given us excellent reasons for writing off £357 million, but we are entitled to know precisely to what the other £43 million refers. I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Stonham—he has a second chance this afternoon, and no doubt he will be able to overcome his coyness—to tell us what this refers to. I hope he will give us a more direct answer than was given by the Parliamentary Secretary in another place, who said that they felt it right to take a cautious view and to allow this figure as part of this rounding-up exercise. I believe that we are entitled to a slightly better explanation than that.
The trouble, in dealing with figures of this magnitude, is that one tends to see them relative to one another and "43" may not seem very much as compared with "400", but one tends to lose sight of their individual enormity, which is vast. To expect anyone to write off £43 million without a very clear account of precisely what it is for, is stretching the bounds of patience a little far. So I hope the noble Lord will explain precisely what the £43 million does refer to, why it has been added, and how such loose calculations can have got beyond the Treasury. This is extraordinary, for the Treasury is not renowned for its largesse in this respect. Indeed, the noble Lord might explain to your Lordships why the taxpayers as a whole should now be subjected to £2 million interest per year on this sum.
The noble Lord explained that the remainder of this Bill deals with the pits which will have to be closed, and he mentioned the hardship which is bound to follow from that. It is true, and it is understandable, that pits will have to close. It is understandable, too, that hardship is bound to follow. It is only 651 right to say, in all sincerity, that our hearts go out to people whose lives are going to be affected by this change—and this is going to be a vast change. In so many instances, the lives of people, their whole communities, they way of life, their friends—everything centres on the pits and the place where they work. Their friends work there; their grandparents have worked there, and possibly they may expect their sons to work there. The disruption which will occur is bound to be substantial, and much inconvenience will be caused.
Clause 3 of the Bill is designed to lessen the hardship by providing £30 million towards redeploying men in the industry whose colliery is closed by helping with redundancy payments, premature retirements, housing allowances for transferred miners, and so on. This is good, in so far as it helps people who are going to be put into inconvenient situations, but let us not lose sight of the enormity of the figure of £30 million. The whole object of the Bill is to reorganise the Coal Board, both physically and financially, and to rationalise it. This must be right. But nowhere are we told how long this rationalisation period is to take. I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, is not prepared to commit himself to a hard-and-fast figure. But I should be grateful if he would say whether he considers that it will be likely to take three years, five years or ten years. Can he give us some indication as to the period it will take to rationalise the coal industry, so that we can see it put on to a proper footing, against the background of the reliefs which are given to it by the Bill? The objective should be so to organise the Coal Board that it produces sufficient fuel for the nation's needs—and produces it not at a loss—and provides proper and suitable conditions for those engaged in it. Everybody would like to see that. Although it sounds simple, heaven knows! it is difficult to put into action. If it were a simple matter, a solution might well have been found years ago, but in trying to reorganise the industry Her Majesty's Government have our good Will. I think that they may find that they have a tiger by the tail. I hope they will succeed in controlling it, even if they have a little difficulty before it finally comes to heel. But, on the whole, we 652 wish them luck with this Bill, and we hope that it will prove as successful as they desire.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ LORD BLYTON
My Lords, I am sorry that I have to inflict another speech on the House to-day, but it so happens that to-day two subjects have arisen which are near to my heart. On February 10 this year I put a question to the Minister:To ask Her Majesty's Government to make a statement as to when we shall get a coordinated fuel and power policy."—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, Vol. 263, col. 125.]My noble friend Lord Stonham requested that I should wait, after T had asked about the 200 million tons of coal which we had pledged as part of our fuel policy. In a supplementary question, I asked:… is the Minister aware that there is terrific pressure to try to put this industry back to a 160 million or 175 million tons? And is he further aware that this would mean the closure of 100 collieries, and that 100,000 men would be displaced, after the manpower has been reduced by 250,000 in the last five years?"—[Col. 127.]I then asked him if the Government subscribed to that policy or whether they would carry out the pledge which was given. Lord Stonham replied that he had seen the reports to which I had referred, but he thought that they had been dealt with by his right honourable friend the Minister in a Written Answer the previous day. The Minister's Answer was that coal would be kept at 193 to 200 million tons per year. Then my noble friend Lord Stonham, quoting his right honourable friend, said:I hope this statement of the Government's intentions towards the coal industry will dispose of recent alarmist reports in the Press about the prospects of employment in the industry.
§ LORD BLYTON
I was quoting from HANSARD of February 10. Lord Stonham then said:My right honourable friend was referring to exactly the type of statement to which my noble friend has just referred, and the Government … repudiate them."—[Col. 127.]That is in Hansard. The pressure to cut this industry back was known by us for 653 a long time before I put this Question, and I was really pleased when the Minister repudiated this, but I am sorry to say that my happiness was short-lived. By the end of March it was apparent that coal output was to be cut back. Surely the Ministry knew in February what was likely to happen at the time the Government were repudiating reports which they said were alarmist.
In July, on the Gas Bill, I again raised the question of the proposed cutback. I had no satisfaction. I pleaded with the Government for our pledge to the industry to be carried out, but my efforts were in vain. In the Recess, The National Plan came out. The position was far worse than I had expected when putting my Question in February. If my Question was alarmist in February, then The National Plan was really frightening. Instead of 100 pits being affected, it was 200 pits. Instead of 100,000 men having to go, it was 120,000. It was really astounding. In February the Government repudiate, and in September they do worse than we expected. The Minister's speech about the future of this industry, on the Second Reading of this Bill in another place, is also alarming. It is quite apparent, as I heard a prominent man say last week, that we have now moved from nationalisation to State capitalism.
I remember the night of the Third Reading of the Bill to nationalise the mines, in your Lordships' House. I can still see the scene that night in the Not-Content Lobby (which was then the "Aye" Lobby of the House of Commons). We sang the Red Flag and Cwm Rhondda as we registered our votes, and my noble friend Lord Stonham was there. The long fight against the old coal owners was over. To-day, however, I am afraid that the beautiful brass bands in Durham, where so many pits are to go, will now play the Dead March in Saul. The Nationalisation Act of 1946 had the cardinal principle that the Coal Board's attitude was to be that stronger districts would help the weaker and take us away from the awful district ascertainments which we knew in the old days, when every district had to stand on its own feet. Now, however, the new principle that I note is that every colliery by itself must stand on its own feet and, as the Minister put it, the Coal Board 654 aims to close collieries which fail to cover their running costs and are not likely to do so in the near future.
Another statement by the Minister is that the whole plan is to prevent pricing economic coal out of the market. This is the same philosophy that I listened to for years from the coal owners in the 1930's, when we worked the pits. Let us face it. This is a departure from the principle on which the Nationalisation Act was passed. We recognised then that the price of coal would be so fixed that, broadly, the industry should make neither a substantial profit nor a substantial loss, and average prices were designed to cover average costs. This was also said by the Select Committee on Coal in 1958, when we sat for over two years investigating this industry. The Select Committee said that the Board's undertakings must be looked at as a whole.
I am not for one minute arguing for pits where the reserves are worked out. You cannot keep a pit open if there is no coal there. But to declare a policy that all pits which do not meet their running costs must go, regardless of the reserves of coal in the pits, is to waste our national reserves which one day we shall need very much. Does the new policy mean that pits with special coals, like anthracite and coking coal, are to go if they are uneconomic?—because we cannot meet the demand for anthracite to-day. And on this basis, every miner knows that the economic pit of to-day can be the uneconomic pit of to-morrow. So even "A" pits under this plan are not safe in the future.
I know I shall be told that what we did in 1947 does not fit the pattern in 1965. I regarded the basis of the 1946 Act—and I sat on the Committee which formulated the Act—as enshrining a Socialist principle, that stronger districts would help the weaker. I believed it was a good principle, and I still believe in it. But what will happen is to be seen in The National Plan. Closures are to be quickened, pits with thousands of pounds' worth of capital investment in them, with good reserves of coal, are given notice that the guillotine will fall upon them if they are uneconomic or "B" pits. The men in "A" pits now have a terrible fear that their turn may come to he "B" pits. Can you wonder, my Lords, that the men are angry, anxious; that their morale 655 as to what the future of this industry holds for them is shaken to the very core? The men at the pits now are watching with deep suspicion, and this suspicion is grounded in fear—fear that once more they are to be the expendable counters in the giant game of economic chance.
This new policy for coal is linked up with The National Plan based on a 25 per cent. increase in national productivity by 1970, giving us XYZ millions of pounds extra in the national kitty. This increased revenue will be spent on social advancement and on meeting the increased imports of oil and natural gas. I believe it is estimated that oil is going to cost about £80 million a year extra, which will be a charge on our balance of payments. It is, therefore, on this basis that coal is cut back to 170 million or 180 million tons. I know it was said, "If you can produce 200 million tons and sell it, good luck to you!" But what this plan is doing is not only to prevent our getting the 200 million, but to cut us back, by capacity and by loss of manpower, so that perhaps we shall not get even the aims stated in The National Plan. The Plan is not directed to get 200 million, and what will happen is that, before we see 1968, there will not be the manpower to achieve the aims stated in the Plan.
However, production in this country has been rising by 2 per cent. per annum these last few years, and this year it will not be much more; so during the next five years we must increase productivity by 5 per cent. per annum to get to our 25 per cent. by 1970. I pose the question: what if we get only 15 per cent.—an average of 3 per cent.? What happens to all the calculations upon which we have based our ability to meet our balance-of-payments problems and to pay for the bringing in of oil in place of coal? You will not be able to re-open the pits you have closed; manpower will have gone; and again, no doubt, as in the past, there will be loud cries for coal and miners to get it. It will be a sad commentary if, some day, we have to import coal while leaving our own coal lying in the ground.
The National Plan and the White Paper, Fuel Policy, say the same things about coal, and this Bill is a reflection of the White Paper. Although it is admitted that the present growth in oil consumption carries with it risks to the 656 security of supply, and increasing costs to our balance of payments; that in the long run, as exploration and recovery get more difficult and expensive, oil prices will rise, and that in the event of world trouble we leave ourselves very vulnerable, there is not much detail on these points in the White Paper as I read it. I support the Bill for the reason that its purpose is to provide £400 million to pay for the mistakes of the past.
The Plan for Coal in 1950 geared the industry to 240 million, excluding exports; the 1955 plan, Investing in Coal, geared the industry to 240 million, including the exports; and this £400 million is to pay for wrong guesses about the coal industry in the past. It is also to meet the cost of selling the output of coal at less than the cost of production, as was done in the past. It is to pay for the ten times when increases were refused to the Coal Board at a time when, in a sellers' market, they could have got a very high price. Much of the capital investment based upon the 1950–55 plan became unremunerative as coal sales started their downward trend.
Again, in the 1950's the Board had to give priority to the home market, which restrained the Board from building up or even maintaining their export trade and also involved the Board in costly imports. Coal imports caused the industry a £70 million loss as they had to sell the imported coal from America at the inland price, involving a loss of £2 10s. per ton. At the same time, their export market was given up: America got these markets in Europe, on long-term contracts, and we have not yet recovered them. The fact is that the Board can export only after the home market has been satisfied.
In paragraph 9 of the Select Committee's Report, when we investigated coal, there appears this comment:The Board found themselves in a kind of half world in which they were neither wholly a public service nor wholly a commercial undertaking.It follows, therefore, that to criticise the Board for not always behaving like a commercial firm would be unjust, and might not be relevant to their proper function under the existing legislation. The Committee also said that it would be right to treat the Coal Board as hybrid, 657 part-time business and part-time public servants. This is therefore the background to the £400 million embodied in the Bill. It is to relieve the industry of burdens they ought never to have carried.
The Coal Board also had to carry the burden of stocking coal in 1958 and 1959. The Board kept the pits open by stocking coal, and saved this nation hundreds of thousands of pounds in unemployment benefit, because if the collieries had closed the State would have had to pay the miners' unemployment benefit. The Board carried that burden, which ought to have been the nation's. We pay as a nation for storing our strategic oil reserves, but we paid nothing to coal. Another burden the Board had to carry —and still do—is that of mining subsidence. The old coal-owners never had the cost the Board have to bear of £1¾ million a year for mining subsidence damage. I am glad, therefore, that the Bill will give some recompense to an industry that has carried burdens which in the past should have been a national responsibility. I say to my own Front Bench that this Bill has at least revealed how utterly unreliable past Government planning for coal has been, and it should at least be a pointer to the Government to indicate that they, also, will probably be wrong in the future.
In my last speech in this House on the Address to the Throne, I gave a great many examples of how help had been given to other indigenous industries in this country—industries which are getting more relief than coal and which have never been asked to carry the burdens that coal has carried over the years. The £15 million that the noble Earl referred to in the Board's current financial provisions is, in my opinion, completely justified. For a few years now there has been price stability, and the increased productivity which has helped to bring this about is a credit to all in the pits, for this price stability could not have happened had we not increased productivity. But costs have risen and proceeds are falling, due to the small coal which now represents, and will continue to represent, a large part of the coal market. In these circumstances, the Board wanted an increase in price, but, due to Government decision, this has been held up. The Select Committee on Nationalised Industries (and 658 this was a Conservative Committee: there were only a few of us on it) always took the view that where a Government made decisions against the commercial interests of any nationalised industry they ought to bear the loss. We said that in the cases of coal, gas and electricity. There is no reason whatever why a nationalised industry should suffer because of political expediency. This means that a total of £415 million will be written-off.
I come now to redeployment and the £30 million to be given up to 1970–71 to help in this massive job. The men affected are to be uprooted and sent elsewhere, many hundreds of miles from their homes where they have spent their lives; they have to lose their life associations; their children have to go to a new, strange school; and they have to find a house, probably at a higher rent than they were paying. They will be leaving employment in their villages, where they have face-worked and will go to a job that will give them £10 a week—a loss, maybe, of £5 to £6 a week. I know this will be cushioned for a certain time; but, ultimately, they will come down to about that figure. There will be men who are buying their own houses, who had thought their future secure but who will now find their whole lives upset and the worry of the mortgage still on their hands. Men of 55 years of age or over have not much chance of migrating, and the sick men, the injured men, the pneumoconiosis cases, have no hope at all of getting light jobs at the receiving collieries; for these jobs are already filled by the same types of men at the receiving collieries—and the mining industry employs more men of this type than any other industry in this country. Men will have to travel in their own counties some ten to twenty miles a day to an "A" or a "B" pit. And this puts two to three hours on their working day. There are the problems that the men in the affected areas will face.
My Lords, let me be quite frank. There is anger and gloom, not only in the areas affected but also in the receiving areas. We are to see in the future men breaking years of traditional attachment by advising their sons not to go into the pits. Miners' wives, in particular, are now taking this line—and no amount of exhortation will move these people from 659 the attitude they are taking now. And if a man decides to migrate, what protection will he have? He might go from his village to an "A" pit only to find in two years' time that it is an uneconomic pit; and then he is again on the wander. It must be remembered that the basic principle in a pit is "Last come, first go". His chances of face work are also not too bright because the young men of the receiving pits will have first claim to move up to the face. Already the Yorkshire Miners' Council has decided to call a temporary standstill to the transfer of men from other areas because of the closure of 13 pits and because of the ten threatened pits in Category "B". But whatever men can be got to transfer, the cardinal principle must be that they are protected, given a fair chance, and given some hope in the future in the new areas to which they go.
What of the men who have to travel long distances in their own county? It is easy to talk about this when you are not affected; but to these men it means a longer working day. Even in the circumstances, men will get less wages than for the face work they have left. So they will get a longer working day and less pay into the bargain. Last week I talked to men who have come to pits in my area, which is a receiving area, and who had travelled 15 miles a day each way. They all told me that if another job came along they would leave the pit, because, as they say, the travelling each way is "killing them". I warn the Government now that this job is not going to be easy. We are dealing with human beings whose lives are being terribly upset.
Now, my Lords, for a moment I turn to the light-rate compensation men and to the sick men. Some of these men will go out of the industry altogether because their age and disability will not allow them to be retrained. But there are many thousands of men of this type and they cannot be left on the scrapheap—as they were and as I have seen in the days that are gone. And we must remember that these diseases and injuries affect the young men as well. Something must be done; and I would suggest to the Minister that no closure should take place until new industries are brought to these devastated areas and until these poor men 660 are trained and given work. I would suggest that these closures be phased over a longer period to allow more chances of work being brought to the area. The Durham Miners' Union, like those in Wales, Scotland and Cumberland, are very anxious about what is going to happen to their people. While I disagree with the energy plan, we must see, if it is to be carried out, that the least possible hardships will affect the kind of people from whence I come.
The Durham Miners' Union have put forward a five point plan: one, that men who travel long distances to new pits must not be worse off financially as a result of having to travel; two, that account must be taken of the fact that the working day must obviously be longer; three, that in the case of families who have to move house, adequate arrangements must be made to provide new homes; four, that there must be special consideration and help for men over 60 years of age; and, five, that for men declared redundant there must be large training schemes and every effort must be made to bring new factories to the areas to prevent unemployment of these men.
In the time ahead, the people who will face the men who are finished work will be the trade union officials in the districts affected. Their job will be to protect their men as far as they can. I can assure you that this will not be an easy job. I should like to see in the unions in the affected areas—places like Durham, Wales, Scotland and Cumberland—represented on the Regional Planning Boards. It is essential, in this large redeployment of men, that the unions should have representation on these Boards and that they should have a voice in the new work that has to come—and especially in how it will affect the position of men of 55 years or over. I feel that in the coal areas affected by redundancy this representation ought to be given; and I hope that the Minister will bring my point of view to the proper quarters.
I welcome the provision of the £30 million cushion. The question I pose to the Minister is this: is it enough? The Board can build houses, make settlement allowances, pay for travelling, probably pay for loss of earnings for a while, and pay for men finishing work before they are 65 years of age. This amount has to be spread over all the coalfields. I am 661 the first to appreciate that what the Government have done in this connection is something new, but I still think that the amount is too low. After all, it is a Government decision to cut out the redundant and uneconomic pits. I ask that they should pay a higher amount than is provided for in their formula, as in this great changeover, which will cost over £80 million, the Coal Board has to find £50 million. The coal consumers will have to pay that £50 million, and it should be a charge on the nation. The users of oil will escape.
My Lords, many of the problems which I have tried to express will have to be settled between the unions and the Coal Board, and all I can say is that I do not envy them their task. The tragedy of this National Plan is that for coal the decline is planned. In a future rising energy market, not only will coal get nothing, but production is to be cut back. Is there any wonder, then, that people in the mining villages are dismayed, and that young men are getting out as quickly as they can?
I notice that in another place the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry said that if we look at electricity, the industry which is the main customer of the coal industry, we see a vast increase in demand for coal which will run at about 24 per cent. between 1964 and 1970. If this does not happen, the future will really be desperate, for the target then would be 130 million tons or 140 million tons. Nevertheless, it remains the fact that, on the Government's own statement, the energy demand will rise 6 per cent. each year, and coal industry production is being cut back to 170 million or to 180 million tons. We are dropping back, not advancing. The object of this Bill is to reduce capacity and the output of coal. Lord Robens of Woldingham fought against this, as he was entitled to do, and I believe that he was defeated by the economists. He has fought hard for the industry, and I think it ought to be said that whatever other disagreements may exist, the plan banks on a continued import of oil and natural gas from the North Sea, together with nuclear power.
My Lords, I listened to the Minister talking about ROLF. Let me say, as a man who has spent years in the mining industry, that the remote control machi- 662 nery for operating long wall faces will not operate in Great Britain as a whole, but only under suitable conditions. Therefore it is wrong to bank on this machine as being the Alpha and Omega of output in the 1970's. Behind all the facade of high-sounding words and impressive predictions, the energy policy in the Plan is really a question of speculating with our future.
For security reasons, we must have an indigenous source of fuel. At the moment, coal is an insurance, but in order to balance our mining books we are to increase our vulnerability, and lose a skilled labour force which may be needed some day, perhaps sooner than we think. In my opinion, this country must protect itself against to-morrow, even though this may appear to involve an uneconomic investment to-day. It is not the help which the Government have given to the mining industry of which I am complaining; it is that those who have advised the Government to cut back on the industry have not shown imagination in their approach to our own fuel industry, or given hope to those employed about their future. Unless this hope is given, I am afraid that redundant men will seek other forms of livelihood, and redeployment will be made much more difficult. I ask the Government to look at this matter again, beause I think that we are treading a very dangerous road.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, for more than twenty years your Lordships have had the privilege of hearing in this Chamber the authentic voice of the coalfields. Lord Hall and Lord Lawson are no longer with us, but I am sure that we are all very pleased that my noble friend Lord Blyton is here to carry on the tradition. As he mentioned, I have listened to the music of his voice for many years. The music was just the same to-day. On this occasion, however, I found the words to be a little out of tune in some cases with my own thinking, and sometimes, indeed, with the facts. Nevertheless, his words were welcome. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Blyton, for saying that he welcomed the Bill, and to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, for his welcome, and for the fact that he desires the Bill to go on its way with his good wishes.
663 In between, there seemed to be some doubts expressed by both noble Lords. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, managed on one occasion in one sentence—this is the first time I have ever heard it—to nail flags to masts and get into entrenched positions. That may have accounted for the apparent confusion in some of the points which he put to me. I would say earnestly to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and to my noble friend Lord Blyton that I should be extremely grateful if to-morrow they would read the speech which I made about an hour ago. With respect, it seemed to me that both speeches to which I have listened were made without any reference to what I had already said; and if the noble Lords would be kind enough to do me the honour of reading what I did say, they would find that a great many of the questions they asked had already been answered. I shall certainly go carefully through the report of their speeches to see whether there are any other points with which I am unable to deal now. I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I am brief, because there is a great deal more business to come.
The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, asked for an assurance from the Government that the rationalisation of the industry will be undertaken soon. That is a paraphrase of his words. I do not know exactly what the noble Earl means by "rationalisation", but it is certain that the Board, as it has announced, intends to close approximately 200 pits over the next five years. Of these, it is hoped to close more than half within the next two years.
But, of course, the process of rationalisation goes on beyond the mere closure of pits, because there is mechanisation, and further improvement in techniques. My noble friend Lord Blyton mentioned ROLF. I agree that this does not provide the whole answer, but these things have their part to play. Rationalisation is not only in the pits, it is in the whole organisation; and the intentions of the Board with regard to administration have been announced. They too will proceed over the next five years. All these things are part of the rationalisation, and if it is achieved, as it will be, within five years, I think that it will have been extremely speedy. If I wished to be contentious, I 664 could say that it is a pity that it did not start five years ago I want to make the point that rationalisation is a continuing process; one cannot say in five years' time that the industry is rationalised: leave it alone". It is evolving all the time.
Both noble Lords made a great deal of the target figure of 200 million tons. I dealt with this in my speech and was very careful in what I said. My noble friend took me to task about what I said on February 10 in your Lordships' House. I interrupted him at one stage to ask where he was reading from, because I could not identify what he was reading with anything that I said. I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I repeat what I did say.
My noble friend asked me:Is the Minister aware that we pledged, in our own energy policy, that a minimum of 200 million tons of coal would be used in the country? Can we be assured that that policy will still continue?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 263, (No. 37) col. 125; 10/2/63.]I said:… my noble friend the Minister of Power made the position perfectly clear when he said yesterday in another place that the Government accept for the present the case for trying to maintain the position of coal at around its recent level of 190 million to 200 million tons, and are studying methods of assisting the industry's efforts accordingly.I was then asked by the noble and learned Viscount. Lord Dilhorne (col. 127):… does the noble Lord agree that a pledge was given, as was suggested by the noble Lord who asked this Question, by the Party opposite to keep the output at 200 milion tons a year?I replied:I cannot recall any pledge having been given in the precise terms as I heard them stated just now. The pledge which was given was one which was again repeated by the Minister of Power in another place yesterday, and his answer indicates that the pledge, like all the pledges given by this Government, is being carried out.I did not recognise what my noble friend said to-day as a quotation from Hansard.
§ LORD BLYTON
My Lords, would my noble friend repudiate the fact that 100 pits will close, and that 100.000 men will be out of employment?
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, I do not want to read the whole of Hansard, but I do not repudiate anything, and I have nothing to retract now. What my 665 right honourable friend announced on the Second Reading of this Bill is entirely in line with the statement I made in February.
Let us come down again to the question of what the sales of coal are likely to be. I repeat, we have not fixed any target. I hope that my noble friend will not go around the country saying the kind of things he has been saying, because it is not helpful. I can well understand that the miners are concerned, as my noble friend says, about the future; but it does not help if one of his experience and eminence in the industry takes on the role of Cassandra and keeps on saying things which have not been said and are not intended. The figure for coal depends on a great number of assumptions, including relative fuel prices, and if the Board—I say this advisedly—succeed in reducing costs sufficiently, the demand could well be higher; and with the necessary additional men, additional quantities could be produced to meet such a demand. The Government are not seeking to prevent the Board from exploiting such a situation, should it arise.
Having taken the most expert advice possible, it is thought that five years hence the demand for coal may be only 170 to 180 million tons. But that is not fixing a rigid limit. I must again say to my noble friend quite categorically: it is not true to say, as he said several times, that we have cut back the coal industry, or that it is being cut back. That is certainly not true.
§ LORD BLYTON
My Lords, what is the reason for the exercise of closing 200 pits, if it is not cutting back?
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, I should have thought that my noble friend, with all his experience, would know the object of the exercise, which I tried to explain. If there are pits that are exhausted or pits which are losing substantially on every ton of coal mined. then they are dragging down the good pits; and if we continue to extract coal in such circumstances this could well ruin the industry altogether.
My Lords, is the noble Lord really saying that the Government are not cutting back the coal industry? Because my interpretation of it is that they are proposing to do this on 666 purpose. That is the reason why I support them in this. If he is saying that they are not cutting back, then we shall have to think again.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, I hope that the noble Earl will think again, because I am saying this advisedly. If the noble Earl wishes me to do so, I will repeat the statement. It is just not true to say that the coal industry is being cut back. I will spell it out again. The demand for coal in five years' time will he between 170 and 180 million tons. If the noble Earl reads my first speech, he will see that I then said, "But we know that the experts have always been wrong." I said that also deliberately. But if that is the best advice we have, it behoves those in charge of the industry—including my noble friend Lord Robens of Woldingham as Chairman of the National Coal Board—to have regard to this figure. Obviously, the Board cannot run up tremendous deficits by producing more coal than they can sell, a principle which would apply in any other business. And if the Board do not produce coal that they cannot sell, that is not deliberately cutting back. I mentioned the favourable climate for coal which we have created in the market and we shall continue this. It is right that these facts should be known.
The noble Earl asked me about the figure of £415 million and said that the mathematics used in this calculation was extraordinary. The problem which confronts the Government on this matter is not to decide how much of the Board's investment was unremunerative at some past date, but what part of its capacity is likely to be unremunerative in the years ahead. In looking at the problem, the Government have in mind the heavy losses that have been incurred in the Board's coalfields, implying low earning capacity for their assets in future, and also the large number of pits that have failed to earn anything towards their interest charges; and in looking ahead they had to decide whether the amount of unremunerative capital in 1964 was likely to increase or decrease.
That is not a question which could be decided by calculation, because many of the elements which would have to enter into the sum are not predictable with sufficient precision. What I am thinking 667 of, for example, is the rate of improvement of productivity, the extent to which the Board can hold its labour force together in the profitable coalfields, and the level of demand for coal at varying prices. Having regard to the difficulties which confront the Coal Board, the extent of their currently unprofitable activities and the expected further contraction in the market for coal, the Government thought it right to take a cautious view of the future earning powers of the Board.
With the other items that I mentioned in opening and the accumulated deficit of £91 million, we decided on the sum of £400 million as the right amount for cancellation. I emphasise that this was not arithmetic, but judgment. And with the interim statement of revenue results for 1965–66, which we now have, I do not think anyone can reasonably contend that the Government's judgment was wrong.
My Lords, may I just ask the noble Lord this question, because I think it is important? He has given us a series of figures, which are arithmetic, of what is being written off, which adds up to £357 million. There is £43 million extra. From his reply, which I must say, with respect, is totally unsatisfactory, it looks as if the £43 million has been added in order to make a convenient round figure of £400 million. Is this really the answer the noble Lord has given? If so, why was the figure of £400 million chosen as opposed to £350 million? The noble Lord says that he is being cautious; but he has added on £43 million, which I should have thought was being quite the reverse of cautious.
§ LORD STONHAM
The noble Earl's fundamental error in his arithmetic is this. There are £91 million accumulated deficits, £16 million coking ovens, totalling £107 million. He deducts that from £400 million and gets £293 million. He then says, "All right, £140 million is in respect of 150 pits, and £110 million is in respect of 100 pits; that is 250 pits." It is not like that, because it is not certain that the 150 pits or the 100 pits will necessarily be the ones to be closed. As I indicated in my speech, these things change. To put it another way, some pits in the "B" list may be all right, while others, even in the "A" list, might not be. So you cannot do the arithmetic 668 in this way. I repeat that it is not a matter of arithmetic, but a matter for judgment.
I do not want to detain the House any longer than is necessary, but I should like to answer one or two points made by my noble friend Lord Blyton. He asked passionately: "What are you going to do about special coals, such as anthracite?" The answer is that, in arriving at their conclusions on closures, the Board have taken into account the need to maintain essential supplies of quality coals. It does not mean that pits producing such fuels will close or that they will necessarily stay open. This is a matter for the judgment of the Board.
My noble friend said that he believes in Socialist principles, and that the strong should help the weak. He said that an eminent friend of his had said that what we were doing was not nationalisation, but State capitalism. What are we doing?
§ LORD STONHAM
I do not think this is a joke. I think this is a very serious matter, and of the greatest moment to some of the best men in this country. I do not think it is a matter for laughter. It is expected that some £80 million will be spent in the transfer of 120,000 miners who are expected to be displaced to other jobs. At the utmost extent of our hopes, I do not suppose that anyone will imagine that we shall be able to persuade out of that 120,000 more than 80,000 to go to jobs in other pits. If we succeed in doing that, and spend £80 million to transfer 80,000 men, that is £1,000 a miner. I do not say it is not worth every penny. My noble friend may be right to ask: Is it enough? But nobody can suggest that it is niggardly. Nobody can suggest that we are not trying to encourage these men, whose skill and services we need, to move to other jobs. My noble friend said that some of them will have to travel to other parts of the county. I pointed out that extra travelling expenses will be refunded to them. He spoke about singing the Red Flag in the Lobby in 1946. I can think of some great friends of his, and mine, not in 1946, but in 1930, who had to walk all the way from Durham to Somerset before they could get a job.
I, for one, am very happy to think that it falls to this Government to make 669 the arrangements that we are now making to endeavour to transfer these valuable men from pits which are exhausted to others where their services are badly needed and where there is a deficiency of workers whose labours can help to make this industry, not only viable, but very successful, and can increase its contribution. I think that this is a worthy task to do, and that it can be accomplished by means of this Bill.
I would only add, finally, that if it should prove that there are any things that still need doing, other than what is now promised, we shall certainly consider them: because it is the firm intention of the Government, in so far as it lies in their power, to give coal once again a firm and efficient basis, and to see that it has the chance to go on in the foreseeable future to supply the energy, or a great part of the energy, that we in this country need.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.