I beg to move,
I feel that in view of the slight warmth engendered just now, the House will welcome a return to the more tranquil atmosphere which generally governs a Debate on coal. When the adoption of the last Order was moved by me, many hon. Members in many parts of the House suggested that it would be more acceptable if I took a rather wide view of the discussion, and gave them more information with regard to the industry. That is what I propose to do this afternoon. Last April, when the increase in the price of coal had to be announced, a demand was made for this Debate, to which I readily acceded and, of course, when that demand was first made the circumstances were rather different from what they are to-day. The decision to increase the levy on the price of coal by 3s. a ton was made by the preceding Government. However, since that decision was made, if I may say so, a great deal of water has flowed under Blackpool pier, and I have now the privilege of seeking the agreement of hon. Gentlemen to this levy across the Table rather than, as I did before, round it. The presence on the other side of the House of former colleagues, apprised of the recent history of the coal-mining industry will, I am certain help to ensure that the Debate to-day will be conducted with a full knowledge of the importance of the issues involved. I am sure that my motives will not be misunderstood if I say that I am well aware of the debt I have incurred to my former colleagues and, in particular, to my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) who has given me valuable assistance and loyal support as my Parliamentary Secretary during the last three years. The Coal Charges Account, as the White Paper recently issued shows clearly, is a fair index to the condition of the industry after nearly six years of war. The Account has been used, as the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) mentioned last October, as a means of maintaining equilibrium between district and district in an industry which war-time conditions such as the withdrawal of man-power, loss of export trade, the necessity of maintaining production at uneconomic pits, would otherwise have thrown into disequilibrium. In particular, it has become the means of levelling out the effect of the very substantial increase in wages resulting from the Greene Award, the Porter Awards and the Supplementary Wages Agreement of a year ago. I must emphasise this point. By far the most important increase in the war-time cost of our coalmining industry has been in the form of wages, which have accounted for over two-thirds of the total increase. Both mineworkers and consumers should be aware of this. The increase in the price of coal, we all realise, is very large. At the pit-head it is to-day double what it was in 1939, and the effect of this increase on our national economy is, and will be, felt in more ways than its consequences for the domestic consumer and the rise in the cost of living. Yet, with all the increases to which I have referred, the present wage of the miner is not, in my view, excessive compared with other industries, and I think few will disagree with me when they reflect on the character of the work which has to be performed. Coalminers' earnings to-day stand about twelfth on the list of industrial wage-earners compared with 81st in 1939, but in wages per man-hour, they stand second—higher than for any other industry except the motor cycle and aircraft manufacturers. I think I have made it clear that the miner is now in receipt of a wage worthy of his job. Yet, unless that wage is to be cut, the only way to lower the price of coal is greatly to increase the output per man—that is, greatly to increase the efficiency of the coalmining industry. That we should select the latter alternative can scarcely be in doubt. I do not think anyone would wish to repeat the unhappy, the almost dreadful, experiences of the greater part of the period between the two wars. In 1921 the average earning per shift to the miner reached a peak of 19s. 2d. In the next year, it sank to 10s. It went down at other times to 9s. I do not think at any other period between the two wars it had ever gone beyond 11s. It was in this period between the two wars more than in any other, in my opinion, that the seeds were sown which brought forth a harvest of discontent, of suspicion, and mutual distrust. If I may illustrate how deep this is, I would like to tell the House of a thing that happened to one of my controllers some time back. He was asking a miner how he liked the particular mine where he worked and the miner said he liked it very much except that they were rather inclined to cut rates. This man said, "Well, I have been here now for some years and I do not know of a single occasion on which rates have been cut since I have been in this colliery." The miner said, "I know, but my father used to tell me about it." It gives one a feeling of how deep distrust and suspicion have entered as a result of the experiences of the past. As a result of this attitude in industry we have seen a loss of man-power, a steadily decreasing rate of entry into the coalmining industry which, before the war, could no longer attract recruits adequate either in number or in quality. High wages, however, involve the recognition of responsibilities and in this connection I must refer to the decline in production which has taken place during the war. The total output of coal in this country has fallen by nearly 50,000,000 tons since the war. A large part of that, of course, is due to the serious loss of man-power in 1940 and 1941. Output per man shift, however, which is the figures which matters, was 1.14 tons before the war and it has now gone down to 1 ton. This decline in output, of course, is reflected in the rise of the price of coal, though to a lesser extent than a good many people imagine. It is important not to over-emphasise the effect on the price of coal of a lowered output for, if you take the 17s. 6d. which represents the increase in cost per ton since 1939, some 3s. 6d. only can be attributed to the reduced output. That a part of this decline in output is inevitable I have no doubt and is due to the increase in the average age of the miner, war-time conditions, fatigue, and what is known as "green" labour—the optants and the Bevin boys—but I think it is only fair to recognise here the contribution that the Bevin boys have made to the working of this industry, not only in that some thousands of them have gone to the face but, what is even more valuable as a contribution, they have enabled about 11,000 more experienced workers to be upgraded to the pits, which is a very great contribution. I recognise, too, and would again pay a tribute to, the whole-hearted effort of most miners throughout the war. Nevertheless, having said that, production should not have fallen each coal year to the extent it has, and no one—miners' leaders and, I would say, the majority of the mine workers themselves—would try to excuse the absenteeism and unofficial strikes which have marked and marred the war-time record of this industry. I have to receive every day dispute sheets, and sometimes they make quite astonishing reading. Time and again you come across a dispute of which nobody knows the purpose. Disputes are not always confined to managements and men. There was a case last week when somebody travelling along a single line with an empty tub, met somebody coming in the opposite direction with a full tub. Neither would give way, and the result of that was a stoppage. That is not an industrial dispute in any sense of the word. I came across another case on the same day, where a pony went down the pit and it was found that the water had not arrived. The pony was taken back to the stables and 60 men went out and stayed out, although the water was available very shortly afterwards. Nobody could say that that was an industrial dispute. There has been a good deal of unofficial striking which has been a blot on the industry since the war started. Members will recall that during the Debate on the Bill which established my Ministry as a post-war Ministry the chief charge made against my Department and the war-time control was that we had not arrested the decline in output. It was a natural charge, and no one would regret more emphatically than I the fact that it can be made. Nevertheless, I felt that during that Debate Members on both sides of the House were less than fair to the efforts made by my Ministry both to maintain production, and what is equally important, to maintain supplies. During the war the amount of coal required for the making of gas has increased by 10 per cent., for electricity by 60 per cent., for the railways by 15 per cent., and for the engineering industry by 100 per cent. The work of those industries on which our war effort has so largely depended, has been maintained through having the coal which was required. The production of munitions for war purposes has never been allowed to suffer through lack of coal. This has been made possible only by strict and efficient planning and control, and a great contribution to the war effort in this field, as in so many others, has been made by the domestic consumer. I am fully aware of that debt to the domestic consumer, and although, as the House knows, supplies of coal will be difficult, I will do my best to meet that debt so far as I can. I am doing my best to stimulate production by a new technical drive undertaken by my production staff, which I intend to follow up myself. We may also hope for solid benefit from the 12,000 underground miners, who will we hope be released, according to the present programme, by the end of September. But in distribution to-day London, as always, is the problem. Special pockets of difficulty are to be found in the Provinces, but London is the main problem, and I am now engaged in strengthening the organisation which will have to tackle that task next winter. On the question of production, I would impress upon Members that although output has fallen I believe that the trend has been slowed by measures taken by my Ministry. I think it is only right to point out that if you take the decrease in output of the last war and compare it with this war it will be found that the trend was very much greater in the last war than it is to-day. It may be of interest to note, also, that if you compare the decrease in output per man shift in this country with Germany it will be found that this country has a better record in this war than the German miners."That the Coal (Charges) (Amendment) (No. 1) Order, 1945, dated 25th April, 1945, made by the Treasury under Section 2 of the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939, a copy of which Order was presented on 1st May, be approved."
The fact remains that the actual index figure of output in this country compares more than favourably with that in Germany. I can think of no genuinely constructive measure which it was possible to apply in war-time that I have not applied since my Ministry came into being. Mechanisation has been tried to the utmost possible extent, and there are great difficulties attaching to that. The concentration of undertakings has been tried. Group production directors have been appointed in order that they may be helpful to other undertakings without the same advantage. A great deal has been done with regard to upgrading. It is interesting to note that at one period during the war the percentage of face workers to the rest of the industry was declining, and that we have been able not only to maintain that but actually to increase the percentage of face workers. Every effort has been made to recall miners from the Services and other industries and large numbers were, in fact, recalled. Very important welfare measures have been taken with regard to medical services, canteens and so forth. Training schemes, despite all the difficulties of war-time conditions, have been initiated.I also felt, during our last Debate on this industry, that Members rather forgot the circumstances which led to the setting up of the war-time control. It was set up as an emergency measure and, like so many other war-time measures, it was a compromise. It was set up because of the critical situation of the mining industry in the spring of 1942. I have no doubt in my mind—and it is borne out by the views of many in the industry—that the rate of decline in output would have been far greater and the actual situation far graver if the control had not been set up by the Government in 1942 and operated on lines which are now very familiar to the House. The control has provided—and Debates in this House are proof of that—a buffer state between the two sides of industry and, more important, it has gained the confidence on the whole of both sides, with whom, I think, it has dealt fairly. I saw a speech made by an hon. Member of this House in which he said that I was determined never to offend anybody. Well, if I may say so, I was not put into this Ministry in order to offend people, although it is not so difficult to do sometimes. I was put into this Ministry to operate the control, but that does not mean that I am not prepared to go for what I think is right at the appropriate time. That is a totally different thing from saying that my main object is not to offend anybody. Hon. Members will not forget that the control and Ministry have introduced measures for the lasting benefit of this industry in the field of technical advance and human relationships. I referred a few moments ago to training schemes, and I would now like to refer to another important matter—training for the purpose of increasing the efficiency of the industry. In conjunction with the Ministry of Labour we set up a training centre in Sheffield, where miners from all over the country become acquainted with the various machines which they have to operate and go through the courses which make them into skilled fitters. Incidentally, a report from the instructor states that these miners compare favourably with any other type of worker he has come across in the art of acquiring such skill. I went there a few weeks ago and spoke to men and boys from all parts of the country, and without a single exception they were all enthusiastic about the course they were taking and the training they were acquiring. It was most encouraging because I believe such training is an essential preliminary to any real increase in the efficiency of this industry. In addition, university courses have been started, which are proving very popular, and there is a steady improvement in the pit production committees. It will not be an easy matter to get these committees into the pits into which we would like to see them. I have attended myself some of the admittedly good production committees, where tremendous interest was shown by the men in the development of the industry, and in the mines in which they were working. They were taken into the confidence of the management, were shown all the possibilities, and took a great interest in the life of their mines and what would be the development when a certain district was worked out. The production committee is something which must be persevered with. There is also a great expansion in pit canteens, but the only thing that worries me is this: I have had complaints ever since I have been in office about food for the miners. Everything that can be done under war-time conditions, particularly with regard to the extension of canteen facilities, has been done, and it is disappointing to find such a small percentage of the mineworkers not taking full advantage of these facilities. In our present situation I believe it is right that advantage should be taken of them. I would like to say a word or two about health services. Rehabilitation centres, with the great assistance of the Welfare Commission, have been greatly increased during the last three or four years and in particular with regard to one aspect of health which affects miners mostly in West Wales and South Wales—the question of pneumoconiosis. We have been able to increase our staff of doctors, with great difficulty, in order to cut down the waiting list, and I am glad to say that we are to have a research centre where, I hope, will be found a cure for this disease, about which so little is known at the present time. We have done everything that engineering skill can do in connection with preventive measures, and now we must tackle the bigger question of the prevention of this most terrible disease.
Could the right hon. and gallant Gentleman say the speed at which he is reducing the waiting list of pneumoconiosis cases?
I will let my hon. Friend know, because I think there has been some alteration since we obtained increased medical staff. The waiting list was at one time 3,000, I think. When I think of the importance of these measures—which I have sketched briefly because I have already given a full description of them to the House—the benefit of which is recognised throughout the whole industry on every side, I am sometimes surprised that anyone, particularly on the opposite side of the House, as happened during the last Debate, should challenge the value to the war-time effort of my Ministry. Many of the measures I have referred to have been of immediate advantage in war-time, but they will be of even greater benefit to the industry in peace-time. I cannot think that any one of them will disappear. Equal in importance to these measures I myself would put the Wages Agreement of April, 1944, which, although it did not fulfil the hopes for increased output, expressed at the time, marked the beginning of a period of stability within the industry, backed by a Government guarantee.I would like here to pay a warm tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Central Wandsworth (Mr. E. Bevin) for his help at that time. His vast experience and knowledge and ready co-operation were of great value at that difficult time, and I would like to take this opportunity of expressing my appreciation of all that he did. This Government—and this is important—adheres to the undertaking which I gave in the House on 21st April, 1944, that the necessary financial arrangements, such as the continuation of the Coal Charges Account, shall operate until the termination of the present wages agreement in 1948. That assurance was given last April, and I want to repeat it because it is important that it should be known. I have now the reply to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. E. J. Williams). We hope to get rid of the arrears in nine to 12 months.
How many specialists are there for pneumoconiosis?
We have had four panels, and my recollection is that at the head of each is a doctor who is a specialist in the disease. When we get other panels, other doctors will come in and be trained under them.
This is an important point in view of the fact that the Minister has already stated that 3,000 men have been waiting for examination. Will he tell me how he chooses the doctors? I have a feeling that there are many who have the requisite qualifications, but who have never been approached.
I would not know that, but the qualifications are such that it is not as easy to get the right men as my hon. Friend thinks. It is very difficult to get them. I am told that one cannot regard the ordinary tuberculosis specialist as having any real knowledge of this extraordinary disease. We hope that after the Japanese war we shall have many more who have had experience of the disease, and I hope that, as the result of the research centre which we are putting up, we shall be able to have a proper clinic and get contacts with other countries where they have the same thing in different forms. At the moment, very little is known about it. There is a tremendous amount of work to be done, and I am determined to do everything that can be done to carry on with the work.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has really not answered the question. Is not there a shortage of medical boards and a large number of applicants waiting for examination? If so, what steps are being taken by any Government Department for the training of either young medical men who are just being taught, or of older men who are experts in respiratory diseases, so as to enable them to get the requisite knowledge of the disease?
I answered the question in the main part of my speech. We had a large number of arrears waiting for examination, and we have increased the panels in order to do the examinations. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the late Minister of National Service who gave me tremendous assistance in this matter. There is a great shortage of medical men of all categories in this country, and it was with the utmost difficulty we were able to get men who could be trained. We have substantially increased the number of panels available for this purpose, and I am hopeful, now that hostilities in one theatre have come to an end, that we shall be able to increase the number. I am as anxious as anybody to clear off the waiting list, which is one of the worst aspects of the whole problem.I would like to conclude this survey of our work during these three years by a reference to the series of reports which I have had prepared and laid before the House during the last 12 months. The series includes the Regional Surveys, some of which, have already been published and others of which will be got out as soon as possible, the Reid Report, the White Paper on the Coal Charges Account, and the Statistical Digest, a new part of which was issued yesterday. The purpose of issuing these various reports and White Papers was to provide Parliament and the country with all the essential information on which to base their decisions as to the conditions and future of the coal mining industry. There is probably more talked about this industry with less knowledge than practically any other industry. [Interruption.] It is important for all sides to get the information. We try to give such information that nobody in any party will suffer by acquiring it. Never before has so great and so clear a mass of information concerning any industry been available. Of these reports, the most important, I am sure hon. Members will agree, is the Report of the Technical Advisory Committee, the Reid Report. Before coming to its recommendations, I must emphasise the background against which that Report was prepared. The coalmining industry in this country, taken as a whole, has fallen behind its competitors. The output per manshift is far too low and the price of coal is far too high. Labour relations within the industry, although, as I have said, they have benefited by the period of control, are not satisfactory, and for a number of years the industry has ceased to attract recruits of sufficient quality or sufficient quantity. Further, because of the war, we have lost our export trade, and the present high cost of coal will make it extremely difficult for us to regain it. It is important for us to realise that it is not the war which is responsible for the present condition of the mining industry. But the war has done this: owing to the shortage of supplies and the consequent restrictions imposed upon consumers, coupled with high prices, attention has been concentrated upon the industry. I will not attempt to summarise the Reid Report with which, I am certain, hon. Members will by now be fairly familiar. I would, however, refer to two passages in it which convey graphically in a few words and figures how far the coal industry in this country has fallen behind technically. The first is in paragraph 158, which deals with the comparison between the coal industry of Britain and that of certain other countries. The Committee lightly take the European coalfields as being more similar to ours than others. They take the basic year for Poland, Holland, the Ruhr and Britain. The interesting thing is that in 1925–27 the output per manshift in Great Britain was higher than in Holland or the Ruhr. By 1938 we had fallen behind two of the countries. The increase in output per manshift in Holland was 118 per cent. between 1925 and 1938; 81 per cent. in the Ruhr; and only 14 per cent. in Britain. It is important to remember that, in that period when this great advance was made in coalfields not dissimilar to our own, we could increase our output per manshift by only 14 per cent. All three of these competing countries had, in 1936, an output per manshift of 10 to 13 cwts. higher than in this country. The second point in the Report I want to emphasise is that the Committee drew particular attention to the loss of efficiency in underground transport. They do this in paragraph 184, where we find that in Holland the haulage worker deals with four to five times as much coal as the haulage worker in this country. In America, which is, of course, totally different, it runs up to as much as ten times.
Did the Minister say Holland?
It is the nationalised industry there.
Not all of it.
Nine-tenths of it is.
This is not a point to score off. It is a point to think of. Here is a very competent Committee which reports that one of the most vital parts of the reorganisation of our coal industry is an improvement in underground haulage, and to support that they say that in the Ruhr and Holland there is a far greater output per manshift because of the improved haulage system. It is a point that we should seriously think about. I do not propose to go at length into the technical details of the problem of haulage ways, but I would draw attention to the importance of providing man-riding facilities, by which there would be a great saving in time and a consequent improvement in productivity. I have had several examples looked at in this country. A walk of 2,000 yards is not out of the way, and there are others where the workers walk three miles. I came across one instance where the miner has to walk three and a half miles before he gets to the working face. Leaving out the question of the working conditions, that cannot be economically very sound. That is one of the things which the Committee rightly presses as questions to be faced. Indeed one Member of the Committee said to me that we had in this country mechanised at the wrong end first. There is a great deal to be said for that.Let me turn to the effect of these conditions on the cost of production. The need for reorganisation, particularly underground, is obvious, and if coal is to play its part in our national recovery re- organisation must be begun without delay. Reorganisation of this type, however, cannot be undertaken with the industry constituted as it is to-day. I will read paragraphs 752 to 758 of the Reid Committee's Report, because they are very important in this respect:
"There are mines on the point of exhausting their reserves; mines which should be closed down altogether and their reserves worked from adjoining collieries; mines where the remaining reserves can, under no scheme of reconstruction, be worked profitably; mines between which valuable coal has been sterilised to form barriers; and mines which, for a period of their reconstruction, will have to be completely closed down.
There are undertakings which have a lease of coal that could be worked to better advantage by another undertaking; and undertakings whose mines are widely spread through a district, and even among several districts.
There are new sinkings required where the reserves which should be worked from them are leased to two or more undertakings; and new sinkings where, by reason of the depth to be reached, so long a view has to be taken and such heavy interest payments incurred, that the cost of the shafts, plant and development is likely to be beyond the resources of the undertaking owning the leasehold."
It sounds like an old speech from this side of the House.
If hon. Members will forgive me saying so, I do not think they went as deep as this. This is a much deeper shaft. The Report continues:
"There are surface plants to be erected which should serve a number of mines, which may be under different ownership.
There are districts where the reconstruction of certain mines would enable the output required to be maintained, leaving for the time being at least, no place for the remaining mines in these districts.
There are many other spheres also, including systematic research into methods of work, and a wide range of problems from mine drainage to the training of the personnel of the industry, in which combined action upon a broad basis presents the only satisfactory solution.
and this is very important—Unfortunately"—
"there is a serious dearth of mining engineers who possess the knowledge and experience necessary to undertake the far-reaching-schemes of reorganisation which are essential. The services of those who are so qualified will consequently be required for the wider benefit of the industry."
Whose fault is it?
That sort of question does not get us anywhere. I am not concerned with whose fault it is. I am concerned with trying to get something done for a most vital industry, and we shall not get anything done by saying, "Whose fault is it?" [Interruption.] I think I am entitled to reply when an hon. Member makes an interjection. I have read out the main parts of the recommendations of the Reid Report. Hon. Members are entitled to ask what are the Government's intentions to meet this situation, in view of the vital importance to our industry and to our export trade. Therefore, the Government are taking this early opportunity of outlining their general policy on the coalmining industry. The Government consider that the working, treatment, and disposal of coal should continue to be conducted by private enterprise—
Mismanaged by it.
—provided these are planned in accordance with the national need and conducted with the maximum efficiency. Coal is to-day owned by the State. It is, further, a wasting asset; some qualities are wasting far more rapidly than we like to think. Therefore, it is right that it should be conducted in accordance with the national need and with the maximum efficiency. War-time measures are not necessarily suited to peace-time conditions and a new practical start is needed. The position cannot be remedied by mere change of ownership. That offers no solution. The Government have, therefore, decided that a central authority, appointed by the Minister of Fuel and Power and subject to his general direction, should be set up to insist that the necessary measures are taken and to provide such help and guidance as are useful. The measures to which I refer centre upon the proper development and efficient conduct of operations in each coalfield, according to the best modern practice. In so far as the grouping or amalgamating of collieries is necessary for this object, it will be carried through, voluntarily if possible, but otherwise by compulsion. We do not propose amalgamation for amalgamation's sake, for in this diversified industry, where conditions vary widely, there are often to be found highly efficient undertakings which are sometimes not large. In such cases amalgamation would only be proposed if there were clear advantages to the nation and to the industry. The making and the carrying out of these plans will be undertaken by the industry itself. The duty or the central authority will be to satisfy itself that the scope and the effect of the plans conform to the national requirements, and it will have powers of enforcement in reserve. The policy will preserve the incentives of free enterprise while safeguarding the industry from political interference in its day-today management. It will also provide the necessary sanctions for making sure that the essential improvements recommended in the Reid Report are carried through.
Are we to gather that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is now putting before us the Government's policy? Will he explain how this differs from the coalowners' policy put forward by Mr. Foot?
I am rather surprised at the hon. Gentleman asking what is the difference. If he studies what I have said, he will see that there is a great difference. In the first place, there is a central authority.
Mr. Foot proposed that in his supplementary report.
This authority will also have power. I have said that amalgamations will be voluntary if possible, but otherwise there will be compulsion.
Mr. Foot said that.
I am sorry to disagree with the hon. Gentleman.
It is the coalowners' policy.
Is provision to be made for any appeal against the decisions of this central authority?
I would not like to go into great detail at the moment. This is the first day of the new Government, and I have outlined the Government's policy to implement the findings of the Reid Report. I understand the Report finds great favour in the eyes of practically every hon. Member in all quarters of the House. Surely, that is not a thing to quarrel about. With regard to the very important detail to which the hon. Member referred, that matter will have to be gone into, but naturally one wants to avoid any appeals which might mean long delays. There is no doubt at all that the Government, in the statement I have just made, propose in fact to implement the main recommendations of the Reid Report.
May we have one question at a time?
What will be the constitution of the central authority? From what sources will its personnel come?
There is a very great difference between the Foot plan and what I have announced. This central authority will be quite independent; it will be appointed by the Minister, and will have the powers I have just mentioned. If hon. Members think that is the same, they should think again.
From where will the central authority draw its members?
I must ask the hon. Gentleman to forgive me for not going into great detail. There will be plenty of opportunity for further discussion.
Will this policy be embodied in a Bill later on—if the Government are returned to power—or will it be done by regulations? What form will it take to secure that there is adequate Parliamentary criticism?
I have outlined briefly what are the Government's intentions in regard to implementing the main recommendations of the Report. Obviously they imply legislation.
The Minister has outlined the machinery which is to be set up to implement the recommendations of the Report. How is the finance to be obtained? Is the finance necessary to sink new shafts, provide new equipment and so on, to be obtained from the Treasury, and if so, are these things then to be operated by private enterprise?
Obviously the hon. hon. Gentleman cannot expect me to answer that question at this stage. I am not making a Second Reading speech on a Bill, but sketching very broadly the Government's intentions. If hon. Members opposite were to get up and say broadly that their proposal is to nationalise the mines, I do not think I should be entitled to get up and say, "Will you explain exactly how it is to be done and give the details?" All I am doing is to state what are the Government's intentions, and when those intentions are put into practice, obviously a good deal of discussion will take place. I thought hon. Members would like to know what are the Government's intentions in regard to putting into effect the main recommendations of the Report. At this stage I cannot go beyond that.
These proposals are important not only to the coal industry but to the country generally. They are sufficiently important for a White Paper to be published. Can the right hon. and gallant Gentleman say whether, when the proposals are ready for submission to the House, they will be submitted in the form of a White Paper?
The right hon. Gentleman will realise that I cannot commit myself at the moment, but that is the course I would prefer to follow. Certainly, I will consider that suggestion. I have endeavoured to put before hon. Members the lessons not merely of my three years' experience of the coalmining industry, but also the experience of the mining engineers responsible for the Reid Report, to whom I think we can all say the nation owes a deep debt of gratitude. I do not think we could have found a body of mining engineers with greater experience and knowledge, and we are extremely grateful for the work they have done. That is something I want to say also to many others in this House and outside who have given me the benefit of their knowledge and experience. I believe that the great step forward which the Government intends to make if returned after the election is the answer to the present critical situation in this basic industry. It is an industry which is full of controversy, but on one thing surely we must all be in agreement—the need to bring its technical efficiency to the highest possible level. The great difference obviously is to be found in the question of ownership. That question must, and will shortly be, decided by the electorate. I trust that, when that issue is decided, we can all bend our energies to the very formidable task that I have outlined. The Reid Report warns us, in its very last words, that there is no time to be lost. I agree. To regain the ground that we have lost, that is the task that we have to do, to regain our export trade, to lower prices and last and by no means least, to make the conditions of work in our mines worthy of what is, after all, our greatest basic industry.
What are the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's proposals to stave off a coal shortage next winter?
To do what we have done before—stock up in the summer, and get as much output as we possibly can. It may help hon. Members if I say that, with the leave of the House, I shall be prepared to reply later in the Debate to any questions that are put.
On a point of Order. Shall we be in Order in continuing this Debate in regard to technical matters which cannot possibly affect the Order in question? I submit that we should not be quite in Order in discussing matters which cannot be put into force for many years.
I have not heard the whole of the discussion but I have heard a great deal of it and it seems to me that Mr. Speaker will allow, and I will allow, a wide discussion on the future of the coal industry. The Minister has put forward one point of view as to how to deal with it. Obviously there may be other ideas and it seems that this has become an occasion for dealing with the future of the industry based on this Order. Clearly we cannot go into technical matters too closely, but a general outline of policy such as the Minister has laid down, would seem to me to be in Order.
I will try to keep within your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, in seeking to unravel many of the points which have been made in the Minister's speech. While the right hon. and gallant Gentleman welcomed the tranquillity which prevailed at some of these discussions, I do not regard this extreme dolefulness as a necessary concomitant of a Debate on coal. I should despair of the prospects of the coal industry if I felt that we had surrendered to a kind of fatalism and a feeling of industrial inepitude such as the Minister has displayed. He began by saying that we had suffered decline, decay and deterioration, and that something must be done to improve the situation in the industry. That is quite true. The Minister has been in office for nearly three years. I was in office for two years, before he became Minister of Fuel and Power. I knew that the industry was not in prime condition in 1940 and 1941. It has in fact been in a state of decline and decay for a quarter of a century.Reference has been made to pronouncements made recently by people who have taken upon themselves an unwarrantable authority to speak for the industry. Mr. Foot—I do not know whether we are entitled to name such an exalted person in this connection—said he knew nothing at all about coal. He knew nothing about the miners, he had not seen them in their homes or at their work until he was commissioned, at a high rate of salary, to write a report. I decline to accept the authority claimed for such a person. After all, what we found in the Foot Report were long quotations from the Sankey Commission which we all knew by heart. Everyone of us on this side could quote thousands of words from the Sankey Report and many speeches made in the House and outside and give definitions of mining problems and examinations of the evils of the industry and explanations of technical and other failures as found in that Report. Mr. Justice Sankey presided over probably the best Committee of Inquiry that has ever examined the industry. We all know what had also been said by the Samuel Commission—though I am not quite sure that the Minister does, from what he has said to-day. The Samuel Commission said very clearly many things to which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman referred—for example, the simple elementary condition of human economy in human labour by the carrying of men to distant parts of the mine. The Samuel Commission said that more precisely and more fully than either of the people, who have now reported upon the problem. There is nothing very new in the problem and nothing new in the setting in which the Minister has placed it. As I noticed the way he handled his subject, I was not sure whether he was turning over a patient on the way to a hospital, or a corpse on the way to a grave. But the fact is that the patient is seriously ill, and is in immediate need of attention. Then we get quacks telling us how to deal with the problem.
Who are the quacks?
One is Foot, who earns his literary salary under false pretences. I am using hard words because the time has come for plain speaking. When I was in the Mines Department, I gave advice to the best of my ability, and I do not withdraw one word of the advice that I gave. I said, long before the right hon. and gallant Gentleman appeared on the scene, that the time had come for public ownership of this industry, with a national plan of production, distribution and use of coal. This industry, of which I form a part, to which I belong, which has drawn from me the best of my physical and mental powers, this industry in which I am still intensely interested, which is the foundation of our national life and our political activity, and upon which the whole superstructure of Britain's life, commercial and industrial, has been built for the last 150 years—this industry which has given strength and prestige to Britain as nothing else has, is now subjected to neglect and selfish exploitation and to a lack of patriotic interest. It is going down, and down, and down. Not a word said by the Minister to-day will prevent it sliding down deeper. It is already lower down in production than it was 50 years ago. The Minister does not appear to be very concerned. Apparently no one is. They are prepared to go on, and on, and on, and with, a measure of political effrontery, they present reports to us showing how well the coal industry has been served, not in Wales or Scotland or England, but in Holland, in Westphalia, in Silesia, in the Ruhr, in France and in Belgium. There are higher technical standards, better production, better conditions of work and a far higher degree of safety in all Continental coalfields, and the Minister quotes a report which says all that. We knew it all. I knew that production was better in European countries and in the United States. We have tried to explain that where superior conditions exist you expect greater production, but you do not expect greater production where inferior natural conditions exist on the Continent.When I started taking an interest in mining my first concern was safety. I never wanted to be a mining engineer for the sake of getting a higher salary. I was a very modest person with modest ambitions. I knew I had a taste for and a knowledge of mining, inherent and acquired, and I wanted to qualify by public examination on the same terms as anybody else, in order that my voice might carry strongly in defence of the lives and the limbs of the people I represented. I qualified, and I found that in those days, 38 years ago, we had the lowest death rate of all the mining countries. It was not more than one-third of the death rate in American mines, and it was lower than the rate in France and Germany, in the Ruhr and Silesia. I watched the relative decline. I found a public led by a baneful Press, prejudiced against the miner and unheedful of his just complaint. I have seen the death rate standing high, and I have seen an improvement elsewhere. The Americans have reduced their death rate to nearly one-third in the last 40 years, and every country on the Continent of Europe has achieved not quite as great but relative improvement. No explosion by fire damp has occurred in France in the last 15 years. We have had scores of explosions in this country during the same period. Why has there been no explosion in France? Because the French have gone far ahead of us in the application of mining and engineering technique. Ventilation is vastly improved. I was on the Commission on Safety in the Mines from 1935 to 1938, and it was agreed that we had much to do even then to catch up with the conditions under which men worked on the Continent of Europe. They saved lives and limbs, less people broke down, and mining employment was more congenial. I would ask the Minister to listen to this. For the moment he holds a responsible position. Let him examine this. Do not ask Mr. Foot about it. He does not know and I doubt if he cares. Let the Minister ask some of the engineers whether or not, if you make a mine safe and healthier to work in, you get better production as a first result. You must improve mining conditions, not with a view to getting more coal, but if you make your mines safer and better to work in the coal will come better as a result, and you will not drive the men away. The men will go back to the pits if you make the pits better. You will not get the next generation to undergo the mining conditions that I have known in my time. I would not allow anybody's son to work as I did, with the leather harness on my slender body, dragging coal in a place less than two feet high. One cannot forget those things. The Minister said there are memories of cuts in wages. I challenge the engineers who wrote the Reid Report, and I challenge Mr. Foot and those who hired him, to quote one case, with the backing of experience, to show that the employers ever offered a halfpenny a ton more to the men. They are always cutting and there have been miserable squabbles for halfpennies to enable the miners to keep body and soul together. I must not go on too long. After all, we need a new chapter. I hope we are opening a new chapter. The Minister has admitted that. He dare not stand before his own constituents, as none of us dare appear before our constituents, whether we represent suburbia, slumdom, the rural areas or the mining constituencies, to defend the present mining policy. The Minister has told us that he knows the industry is in a bad way. He almost wept tears this afternoon. He said, "It is in a bad way. Get your mourning ready. This industry is dying. It is losing strength. Its pulse is getting weaker every day." But he said, "I have got a remedy for this." In these conditions of profound failure, sadness, decline, decay and pessimism, when conditions are becoming worse in this vital industry day by day, there is no remedy which the Minister can give. He said, "We will make quite sure that we will give the patient a good send-off. We will hoist the flag of private enterprise." That will not do. I say in all solemnity that the men in this country will not have it. You cannot bury your misfortunes and troubles. You must bring them up to light in order to examine them and prescribe remedies. I know Mr. Carlow Reid and some of his colleagues. I say nothing against them as engineers. I am an engineer, too. I have a profound respect for the engineer in the mines and for the worker anywhere. The nation owes a tremendous amount to the skilled workers who experiment and demonstrate and develop new methods. This engineering profession has been thwarted by selfish private enterprise. The Minister declares that the coal now belongs to the nation. It is national property. He said, "That is very good. We ought to be proud that we have acquired possession of this invaluable treasure." We know nothing at all about it yet. The future will find in coal treasures of various kinds which will serve mankind as it has never been served before by any other natural element. The Minister says, "It is good that this coal belongs to the State, but the profits shall belong to private enterprise." You may hoist the flag of private enterprise, but you will not touch this problem. What is the gist of the Reid Report? The Minister himself quoted examples of operative practice and of development in the Dutch coalfields. I would say to him that the Dutch coalfields are all the better for being in State possession.
If the hon. Member will allow me to say so, it is important to get this matter of the Dutch coalfields right. There are 12 pits at present operating in Holland. Eight of them are privately owned and four are State-owned. Recently the head of the Dutch State mines was over here and I had a conversation with him about the comparative efficiency of privately owned mines and State-owned mines. He said the privately owned mines were slightly more efficient than the State-owned mines, although the latter evened up matters by a higher standard of discipline. It is a great fallacy to go away with the idea that all Dutch mines are State-owned.
I do not know what has happened in Holland in the last six or eight years. Few of us do. Of course, one may meet a Dutchman who is a partisan of private enterprise—a collaborator with the Germans, perhaps. Why should the Dutch have State-owned mines if they did not think they were better than the others? They have nationalised the mines.
Some of the mines, not all of them.
The practice in Dutch mines is quoted in the Reid Report. They say the mining practice is better—
What about the United States of America?
It is a wholly private enterprise. It is run in a scandalously wasteful way. If I were to be allowed to live another lifetime instead of one, I might in the future have a chance of joining my colleagues in this House in commiserating with the U.S.A. in their mining troubles.
Might I ask how many mines in the United States are owned by the State?
The mines are privately owned. If my hon. Friend believes that better mining exists in the United States of America because of private enterprise, he had better go back to school on this subject before he speaks again.
The hon. Member on his own showing said that private enterprise produces better conditions and better mining results in the United States.
This is a reasonably wide Debate but we ought to get one speech finished at a time.
The proposed new private enterprise means that private people in this country find the finance for the re-equipment of the mines on the lines of the Reid plan, with these special organisations to supervise and to compel amalgamations. Private people have to supply the financial resources to pay for the cost of new development. Hon. Members will judge of public opinion themselves. Suppose the coal industry to-morrow were to go, cap in hand, on the lines of the recommendations of the Reid report, and ask for £200,000,000 or £300,000,000 to enable the mines to be re-equipped with machines and new pits to be sunk. Do hon. Members think that John Smith, citizen, is going to loan his money to people who are responsible for the doleful and miserable account which the Minister has given us this afternoon of this industry which is falling into decay and is incapable of saving itself? It has to come to the country to borrow £200,000,000 or £300,000,000, which is more than the industry ever carried. This industry is to borrow twice as much as the old capitalised value of the industry at the time of the Sankey Report. At the time of the Sankey Report the whole capitalised value of the industry was held to be £135,000,000. That £135,000,000 has been repaid over and over again from 1920 to this year. Now it is proposed that private enterprise should spend £200,000,000 or £300,000,000 to build up a new industry over which there is to be complete private control, either individually or in small collective corporations, managed by private enterprise. I assure hon. Members that that is not the conception of the future of this industry which will have the slightest influence for good.This House has to make up its mind and the Minister and his Department have to make up their minds to proceed at once to a betterment of conditions in the mines of this country. If the capital cannot be found for it by private enterprise, let the State find it. This country cannot live without coal, and it cannot go on very long with the price of coal rising and rising by shillings per ton. We are now charging something approaching 5s. per cwt. for coal, and the public of this country will not tolerate it. We are wastefully mining and distributing our coal, and this has been done under private enterprise. Private enterprise stands condemned by its own results. I warn this House—and I appeal to the people of this country as far as my voice will carry—that if we are determined to have a strong and efficient industrial system in Britain, we must make quite certain of our foundation, which is coal, got from the mines by the miners of this country. Treat the coalminers right. Develop our coalmines right. We cannot go into detailed technical discussion on the subject in the House of Commons. We really must learn the lessons, even the lessons of the Reid Report, the lessons which Mr. Foot stumbled upon in trying to earn his pay. Let us learn those lessons, and realise the danger in which the industry stands and, in the interests of decency and safety, and of the real wealth of the country, and of an abundant supply of fuel and power for our industries, let us make up our minds to make a job of it. Let us get the industry organised, planned and sustained by the whole resources of the State, as a vital element in State property which we all have a right to enjoy.
Once again I have the privilege of following the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) in a Debate on coal, and once again I must, straight away, say that I do not agree with his conclusions, although I recognise the sincerity with which he expresses his views. For a moment, I would like to deal with a few figures of the present situation. We are producing coal to-day at 39s. 6d. a ton, and at the rate of about 177,000,000 tons year. Absenteeism is going up daily. That is the position with which we are confronted. It is somewhat analogous to what occurred in the last war when the country embarked on its first experiment in State control. During the years from 1913 to 1920, output dropped by about 70,000,000 tons, more or less the same as the drop on the present occasion. The production cost of coal went up from 11s. to 37s. 6d. just as it has now gone up from 16s. to 39s. 6d. There is one other set of figures. The index figure for coal to-day is 211 as against a pre-war figure of 100, a figure in advance of any other raw material or manufactured article in this country. The House can, therefore, readily recognise what an effect that will have upon our competitive ability and our prospects of exporting coal after the war.Confronted with this situation, the hon. Member for Gower has suggested nationalisation as the solution. I do not believe that the House or the country is particularly interested in political theories of ownership. What they are interested in is, How are we to put this matter right? And at this moment we have the inestimable advantage of having before us the report of the technical advisory committee under Dr. Reid, a body of experts who have investigated the circumstances of the industry and have given us, for the first time possibly, an opportunity of assessing the position both from the technical and from the more general point of view. I ask hon. Members to mark that that Committee has not recommended nationalisation.
They recommended a pup of it.
It was not within their terms of reference to do so, but they were free agents, and had they wished to do so, I have no doubt that they would have done so. Neither did the independent experts of the Sankey or the Samuel Commissions recommend anything of the sort. The experts do not, for the very good reason that it is not the solution. Nationalisation has not yet proved itself anywhere. It is a political concept of how the industry should be owned; it is not a method of producing coal. What the Reid Committee set out to do, was to indicate the broad lines on which the re-organisation of the industry can occur. They have not fallen into the error, into which some hon. Members have fallen to-day, of thinking that because we are producing less coal than we need, and have not got the men to produce more, that is the standard to apply to this industry. Before the war, we were producing all the coal we required both for our internal consumption and our export markets. There was no shortage of men; in fact, there was unemployment. What was wrong was that we were producing coal at an output per man-shift which did not allow us to compete successfully in world markets.The causes were manifold; wasting seams, redundancy of undertakings, and various factors adding up to a situation which was not, from the financial point of view, enabling the industry to pay adequate wages or to command a body of technicians and officials completely adequate to the problem. The Reid Committee has approached the problem broadly along two main channels. So far as the technical aspect is concerned, they recommend the introduction of room and pillar extraction under mechanised methods wherever possible. The great majority of the seams in this country today are less than 40 inches. The vital necessity of mechanically extracting coal of that thickness needs no emphasis and the fact that this particular technique enables us to do it satisfactorily is the reason for the very strong manner in which the Committee have recommended it.
Does not the Reid Report lay it down that the best method is the long wall retreat?
I was referring specifically to the shallower seams, but I agree the Committee do recommend that the long wall retreating method should be used in thicker seams. I mentioned this because it brings into the picture the introduction of American mining methods. About three years ago, when the Ministry undertook this new development, it was urged upon them that they should give the fullest facilities to technical management of acquiring first-hand experience and practice in the introduction of this type of mining. They did not profit by that suggestion. They purchased a considerable amount of equipment, and attempted to put it into the mines as quickly as they could. The industry could not digest it, because the men and the officials were not trained to accept it. We lost about two years. Since then the Ministry have taken steps to remedy that situation. Managers are going across increasingly to the United States and, as has been said, a school has been set up in Sheffield where practical experience can be obtained. The result is that this particular technique is now gaining ground, and I think it can be safely claimed that within the next 18 months very satisfactory results will be forthcoming.As to the method of extraction, I feel that the Reid Committee fell down slightly by limiting themselves to recommending the general principle. They did not get down sufficiently to its practical application or give a clear lead to managements. If managements are to embark upon such a revolution in their methods it is essential that they should be furnished with the latest information and knowledge on as broad a scale as possible. I urge that this matter should be put right at the earliest possible moment, and that the methods and technique to be applied should be specified in far greater detail. Their other main technical approach to this problem is the necessity of the reorganisation of underground haulage. Here again we can profit by Continental and American practice. We suffer under a severe limitation in regard to the introduction of the particular type of haulage they have in use on the Continent and in America. It is likewise essential that the safety regulations in regard to underground electrification should be reviewed at the earliest moment possible. The machinery in connection with both underground haulage and this technique of American mining in room and pillar work in the first instance, comes from abroad, and I suggest that we should be unwise not to profit to the full by the experience, particularly, of the United States. They have 15 or 20 years' advantage over us in this respect, and it is fair to say that the dependability and construction of their equipment are in advance of ours at present. Our manufacturers are catching up as fast as they can, but I think they would be wise to model themselves, as close as they can, on actual American specifications for the time being. Those ate the two general technical approaches to which I wish to refer in this matter. The other matter dealt with in the Reid Report which is of vital importance is the question of amalgamations. The bottleneck in regard to amalgamations is undoubtedly the shortage of good managerial ability. Although amalgamations must be based on geographical and geological conditions, we have to recognise that if we are to undertake this immense task of reorganisation we shall have to use our available colliery managers in the most widely dispersed manner we can. To illustrate what I have in mind, I would say that one cannot generalise on the question of the size of amalgamations. In South Yorkshire it might be quite practicable to have an amalgamation of anything up to 5,000,000 tons or over, but to attempt to do the same thing, shall we say in the thin seam areas of Lanarkshire and West Durham, or the faulted deep and often inclined measures of Lancashire, would be quite impossible, and there we should have to limit ourselves to a figure nearer 2,000,000 or3,000,000 tons. So long as this question of amalgamations is approached sensibly, from the aspect of the ability of a management to control a given output, there can be no question that inherent in the whole question of reorganisation of this industry lies the necessity of recognising that amalgamations must occur. So far as the rest of the Report is concerned there are, of course, a great many important and valuable points which we might profitably discuss, but I have purposely limited myself to these two main aspects of the situation, the technical aspect and the matter of amalgamations, because I feel they are fundamental to any attempt to put this industry on its feet. In implementing this Report, it will be necessary, as my right hon. and gallant Friend said, to set up the necessary machinery at the earliest possible moment to give sanction to this question of amalgamations, and I hope the necessary Bill will be introduced at the earliest moment. As the Report rightly says, a great opportunity lies at this moment before the industry, before all those connected with it, owners, managers or men. There is, throughout the world, an immense advance in methods and technique of which we can take the fullest advantage, and which we can turn to the benefit of this great industry, but as the Reid Report so rightly says, the time do so is now. We must get on with the job
It is always a pleasure to listen to an enlightened coalowner, and that is a pleasure we have whenever the hon. and gallant Gentleman speaks. The mining industry would be in a very different position to-day if there were more persons associated with it with the mind and temper of the hon. and gallant Gentleman. But we have to take the coal industry as we find it, which is a rather different matter. My right hon. and gallant Friend, in opening his case, dealt with a large number of different ways which have been adopted by the Government during the war to try to improve the situation in the mines. I will mention one or two of them. We must clearly keep in mind that no one particular item can be a solution of this problem. We can only get matters right by adopting a number of different methods, some of which are absolutely essential, while others will be of great value. The Minister referred in particular to the wages agreement of April, 1944. That is certainly a stabilising and valuable element in the situation, but it is only one. Then there are production committees, and the Minister gave a picture of the working of certain production committees. I was delighted to hear that account. It would be an admirable thing for the whole Industry if discussions could take place between the owners and the miners, over the whole range of matters connected with a particular mine or the industry, in the sort of temper indicated there. I hope that these committees will be a permanent feature of our mining organisation. I am sure that they have a valuable part to play in instilling a spirit of partnership.The Minister referred to the question of mechanised haulage, and great developments are necessary in that direction. I can give an example within my own experience. A number of miners whom I have the honour to represent here, who work at Hilton Main colliery, complained to me for many years about the very arduous nature of their task in having to walk up and down an exceedingly steep incline and having, when they got to the bottom, a long march to undertake. I went down that pit the other day by courtesy of the management, and found that things have changed. I was whisked down by mechanical haulage. The whole situation from the miner's point of view is entirely different. One gets from a picture of that kind an indication of the immense changes for the better that can be brought about in the work of the miners by the introduction of these essential methods, which have been far too long neglected. The Minister made reference to the work of the Miners' Welfare Committee. I saw something of that when I was a member of the Departmental Committee which went into the matter in 1930. One appreciates the most valuable work which, under the chairmanship of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Nottingham (Sir F. Sykes) is being done in this field. The miners deserve every encouragement in the way of pithead baths and other amenities which can possibly be associated with the mines. I always feel that the precedent set in the mining industry, by which a charge per ton is made available for amenities, might well be adopted in other industries which have neglected matters of that kind. The other point in this connection, to which the previous speaker referred, was the importance of obtaining the highest possible technical qualifications in the management of mining. We cannot attach too much importance to that. I am very glad that that is being attended to as well. In introducing this subject my right hon. and gallant Friend said that the Government's scheme which had been working throughout the war was a compromise. So it was. He then proceeded to describe a new policy of the Government, and it seemed to me also to be a compromise, based to a considerable extent on the Reid Report, which will be a landmark in regard to this subject for a great many years. It is proposed to set up a statutory committee, with compulsory powers to amalgamate a large number of private enterprises in different parts of the country. That was recommended by Lord Samuel in 1926. One would have thought that steps might have been taken to put that recommendation into operation before now. There is nothing new in that. A mining commission was set up, with powers to bring about compulsory amalgamation, but for one reason or another nothing came of it. Apparently we are to take that step again. The choice seems to me to lie between two things, that is, that we should have piecemeal amalgamations into a number of different mines, working under private enterprise, or amalgamations into public utility companies. So far as speed of action is concerned, I should have thought that there was no doubt that the public utility method was by far the quicker, if we want to get things done with the utmost speed. It is perfectly clear that a very large capital investment will have to be made by somebody in the mines of this country to bring them up to date. It is clear from the Reid Report that it will be much easier for that capital to be found by the State at a low rate of interest, and made use of wherever it is needed in the mines, than for industrial companies to find it on their own. The State will have to provide a great deal of the finance, and it is very difficult to see how that can be handed over to private enterprise. From another point of view, I think it important that the State should be associated with the mines. We are looking forward to a policy of full employment; we are all committed to it. In the years immediately ahead, difficulties may not arise but they will arise later, and it will be very convenient for the State to be able to turn to one of its own undertakings and say, "We have here vast opportunities. We can go ahead on our own. We can spend money and provide employment through capital investment on a large scale." From the point of view of full employment I think the arguments are in favour of the public utility company. The last reason I would give against a scheme of leaving the matter to private enterprise is that we will not have the cooperation of the miners so long as that state of affairs remains. My right hon. and gallant Friend said that there was no remedy by mere change of ownership. There will be no remedy without a change of ownership. That alone will not do it; a lot of other things will be needed as well, but if we are to get where we want to get that step is vital. After the terrible experiences, the misunderstandings and the friction there have been for so many years, a psychological attitude has been produced, which makes it impossible for the mines to continue under undiluted private enterprise. We want to look, therefore, to a system by which there will be a number of public utility companies—it is impossible to say exactly how many will be required—where there would be decentralisation of operation and where the supremacy of the national interest would be kept in mind the whole time. The companies would have to carry on their work without subsidies, of course. I believe there is no reason why under such conditions there should not be the fullest opportunity for personal initiative, which plays so great a part in the minds of all individuals and in the development of any enterprise, whether public or private. My right hon. and gallant Friend interjected in the course of the discussion, "Let them think again." I hope he will think again. I think that he will have to go further than is intended at present. This is a step of a kind, but further steps are essential to reach our goal. The target to aim at is that of making the mines a national possession, willingly worked by the miners, for the benefit of the State.
Debates on the coal situation in this House have been marvelled at by the people in the country. We do not seem to make any progress in the direction that we desire to go, after these Debates. People outside, and many people inside this Chamber—and, I know, the miners—are sick and tired of Debates in this Chamber, after which there is no evidence of improvement in the mining industry. It has been said, and I repeat, that this country has been blessed by the Divine Creator with the best coal ever put into the bowels of the earth. We have the best miners, who, by their craft and their skill, can produce that coal. We have the best brains, which our mining colleges and technical institutions have developed. We have three great assets: the best coal, the best miners and the best technical advisers; yet we cannot, under the present system, make the coalmining industry a paying proposition. Report after report has been made, inquiry after inquiry has been held; yet we find ourselves unable to give satisfac- tion to the miners, and certainly we cannot at present give satisfaction to the consumers of coal.What are the reasons? There are many. One of the things which appealed to me in the two previous speeches was the hint that there should be amalgamations—piecemeal in some parts. If amalgamations of groups of collieries are essential, it is even more essential that nationalisation should take place. As an ex-miner of 35 years' experience underground, I have tried, in my humble way, to focus the minds of the people responsible on to the direction we ought to take. We are often accused, as miners' representatives, of not attempting to bring the industry into a state approaching perfection. We are reflecting to-day the Debate that took place in the House of Commons on 4th July, 1919, when there was a very animated discussion on the increase in the price of coal by 6s. a ton. We were told that we had no interest in the industry, and that we were not concerned about whether it rose or fell. May I be permitted to show our interest, as miners, in this question? I quote from the records of our Federation in 1919:
That is a statement made by the Miners' Federation in 1919. We are now in 1945, and no attempt—and I say this with all respect—has been made by any Ministry, whether it be the Ministry of Mines, the Board of Trade or the Home Office, which used to be responsible for the mining industry from an administrative point of view, to put into operation the recommendations either of the Interim Sankey Report or of the full Sankey Report. What is standing in the way? Why do we allow things to drift, drift, drift, instead of making up our minds, not so much from a party point of view as from a national point of view, that certain things ought to be done? As far back as 1816 a very important and eminent mining authority in this country wrote a treatise on the Northumberland and Durham coalfields. He said:"This annual conference of the Miners' Federation, of Great Britain, having heard the report of the miners' Members of Parliament on the discussion in the House of Commons on the proposal of the Government to raise the price of coal by 6s. per ton, declares that such increase is not necessary and should be avoided. It regards the problem as one of production only, and it is of the opinion that production can only be increased to a point which will make the industry self-supporting without additional charges to the consumer if the economies set forth in the Interim Sankey Report are effected and the recommendation of the majority of the commissioners as to an immediate change of ownership and control of the mining industry passed into law. It therefore informs the Government that it is prepared to co-operate with them to the fullest extent to put such economies into effect and such recommendations into law."
Those words have never been denied. They were written as far back as 1816; since then many waters have flowed under the bridges, there have been reports, inquiries and investigations. Despite them all, all our advocacy, all our appeals, have fallen on deaf ears, and the position of the mining industry is such as has never been experienced before in its history. One thing that troubles me is that people keep complaining about production falling, and saying that we cannot meet the needs of the community. If we cannot meet the needs of the community at present, what will be the position when all the industries are revived? God help us in the years ahead unless we adopt a bold courageous policy. I wonder whether people who try to put the responsibility on the miners ever trouble to discover the gradually diminishing personnel in the mines. That is a very vital factor. It is well that this House and the public should be reminded that in 1913 there were employed in the mining industry, in men and boys, 1,110,884 persons. They were responsible in that year for producing 287,439,473 tons of coal—the highest that has ever been produced in the history of the industry. What was the position in 1943? There had been a slowly, gradually diminishing personnel in the mines, and 707,800 people were employed in the industry. They produced 194,493,000 tons of coal. We have a saying in the pit that neither wise men nor fools can work without tools, and you cannot produce coal without the men. A great deal has been said, in this House and in the Press, about absenteeism in the mines. It is well that the figures should be analysed. I do not want it to go forth that there are any miners' Members or people interested, in the mining industry who stand for avoidable absenteeism. We do not stand for that; we believe that our men should play their part. But what is the position to-day in relation to that of 1919, after the last war? I guarantee that if hon. Members analyse the figures to-day they will find that the position is similar to that which existed after the last war; so why attach this importance to the question of absenteeism? In December, 1941, absenteeism in the mining industry amounted to 9·65 per cent. In December, 1942, it had risen to 10·79 per cent. In December, 1943, it was 14·40 per cent. For the second quarter of 1944 voluntary absenteeism among face workers—and here is an important point, because some people try to classify all men alike—was 8.6 per cent., and involuntary absenteeism was 5·8 per cent. Therefore I hope that there will be fewer accusations against the miner on the question of absenteeism. It is all very well for people outside the mining industry and people who have had no experience of deep mine working, to talk about absenteeism in the mining industry. This House and the public outside should be reminded that we have men working to-day in deep-shaft mines which are 1,000 yards deep to start with, and have a gradient of one in five, who, when they get to the coal face, are working in a temperature of between 90 and 100 degrees. We have tested them out, and we know that they have lost in seven and a half hours at the coal face, 13 lbs. in weight. I challenge anybody to deny it. How can you expect men working in these conditions, and almost naked, to continue working five or six days a week? The strongest could not do it. I myself claimed, when I was in the pit, to be as strong as the next man, but I could not stick it. I think the longest period for which, I worked six days per week was two months, and, finally, I had to yield to the effect it had upon my physical condition. Let us get away from blaming the miners. We are not without faults, but do not put them all on our shoulders. We will carry our own, and stand up to the best man living, but we do not want to be charged with responsibility for the reduction in the output of coal. A great deal has been said by the two previous speakers about mechanisation. Let us see how far we have travelled in that direction. Again, I speak with some knowledge of the introduction of machines in the mines. In 1913, there were, in this country, 2,895 coal-cutting machines producing 24,368,000 tons of coal. This was eight per cent. of the total output of coal, produced by machines in 1913. In 1920, seven years later, we had 5,071 machines producing 30,194,000 tons—13 per cent. of the total output of this country. In 1930, another ten years later, we had 7,637 coal-cutting machines, which produced 75,758,000 tons—31 per cent. of the total output. In 1941, the second year after the war began, we had only raised that figure to 7,794, but—and here is a very important point—despite the fact that there was only a small increase, we produced 134,131,691 tons. Sixty-nine per cent. of the total output in 1941, produced by machines. I want the House to realise what this means to the men in the mining industry. We used to be prejudiced against the introduction of machines. That prejudice has been broken down. We are now prepared to accept them, provided that one very important thing is done, and I hope the Minister will take note of this. We are prepared to lend a helping hand and co-operate with the Minister in the introduction of more efficient machines into the mines, if the first thing that he does is to have regard to the safety of the men who have to operate those machines. I am glad of this opportunity of addressing a few words to the House on this subject. I think it is time to realise that whatever Government are in power after the General Election, they must cease to tinker with this business, and make up their minds, not so much for the benefit of the miners, but for the nation's benefit, that this industry has to be put on its feet. An hon. Member on the opposite benches said that, in 18 months, if certain things were done, we might expect greater prosperity and a greater increase in production, because of the American machine-mining methods. It is as well that he should be reminded that he offered the very same words two years ago, and that he put forward a proposal that we could expect greater prosperity and output. One is tired of accusations against the miners, and of listening to the wails and moans of the people who cannot get coal. I have every sympathy with them, but we shall never get the coal that this nation requires. unless we are prepared to set ourselves on a bold, courageous policy. That policy can only be the policy recommended by the Sankey Commission—despite all that is said against it—namely, the nationalisation of the mines of this country for the benefit of the country and the people."If ever a Government is justified in interposing its authority between the interests of the public and individuals, it must be in instances where the good of individuals is daily trespassing upon the moral probity of the country and the social happiness and industrial prosperity of the community."
I have listened to all the speeches in this Debate and I cannot help being impressed by the tremendous importance of the subject we are discussing. When we consider that the coal industry is the basis of the whole of our industrial activity in this country, on which everything else depends, and which, in the past, has been our biggest export trade, it makes us realise that it is far above the question whether the miner has done all that he can, or whether management has done all that it can. We are really discussing now whether we shall get more coal, cheaper and better coal, for industry and export, under the system of nationalisation, or under the system of private enterprise. There is another point which one must bring into consideration, and that is the effect on the enormous number of men and women concerned with the colliery industry. All should realise that this question affects not only the collier and the colliery industry, but all other industrial workers who are dependent upon the products of the collieries. We are therefore engaging to-day in a very much wider Debate than we have had for many years. It involves the question of whether we should do better under nationalisation than under private enterprise. I do not think I can possibly persuade hon. Members who have already made up their minds on what is the best course to pursue, but I think it very important that all who are associated with the industry should put before the public the various arguments one way and the other. In a very few weeks, the people will have to decide, by the votes they cast in the General Election.Having thought it over, I cannot see that we should get any more coal, or get cheaper coal, by means of nationalisation, than we get under private enterprise. It is possible, as a political argument, to say that a man might be happier if he felt he was working for the nation instead of for a private employer. That is one con- sideration. Another is whether big industries throughout the country will get better, cheaper and more coal by a change of ownership. The last speaker talked about the diminishing personnel. I am not at all sure that, by State ownership or nationalisation, we should increase the personnel in the mines in any degree. It seems to me that the only method by which we can get more coal out of the mines is by the system of intense mechanisation suggested in the Reid Report, and I entirely agree with the view expressed in that Report. The mining industry is not an industry that men really like. It is an ugly industry, from the point of view of the workers, and, therefore, I do not think it is possible to get greater personnel in the mines by public than by private ownership. So far as the handling of the industry itself is concerned, I must put this view—that State management is quite unsuited for an industry which has so much detail connected with it as coalmining. Such a system would be unsuited to the amount of detail which must be dealt with in the coal industry, whether in the treatment, the marketing or the shipping of coal. I do not think these matters should be a State responsibility or that the State is suited to handle that class of industry. So far as cost is concerned, I cannot see that any reduction of cost would be achieved. I do think that the solution to this problem is to leave the initiative and individual effort of those who have been brought up in the industry and have inherited skill, though I would add that it is the responsibility of the State to control, in the broad aspect, the management of the industry. The State must be able to say that it insists on certain amalgamations, on certain conditions and rearrangements, on certain rates of wages to be paid to the miners and on certain provisions and facilities for welfare to be given to the miners by the colliery companies. But to nationalise the mines and run them as a national enterprise would be, to my mind, no improvement whatever on what has been going on in the past. I strongly feel, although I know others have a different view, that this is a view which must be put before the people at the Election so that they may realise that there are two sides to the question. My view is that the way to get better results in the industries of the country is to leave the production of coal in private hands instead of applying nationalisation. Personally, I am entirely in favour of having the industry under private enterprise, because I believe that in that way we can get better coal, which is the raw material of the industries of the whole country. It would be all wrong that a basic industry of this nature should be carried away by a political force, without consideration for the reactions which may follow an enormous change of policy. I welcome the statement of policy from the Minister, and his indication that the industry is to be left to private enterprise to manage, while the Government will set up a Commission or Committee to insist on certain improvements being made.
I have listened to mining Debates now for something like 11 years, but I have never heard such a melancholy statement by the coalowners' representatives as that which we heard to-day. One of them has been preaching what is almost a funeral sermon; I have never heard anything so doleful. Another mineowners' representative has said: "We know we have been a complete failure in the past; we have not been able to deliver the goods, but give us another chance, and we will see what we can do." The coalowners have had a chance ever since before the Sankey Commission. I shall never forget the Sankey Commission. I was working at the coal face at the time and every night the evening papers in Yorkshire published the evidence and the miners swallowed it wholesale. It is rather a remarkable thing—and I want the Minister to listen to this—that on the appointment of the Sankey Commission the father of the present Minister promised almost everything this side of Heaven.
That is not true.
The Government at that time stated definitely that they were prepared to bring in legislation to implement the Sankey Commission, and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman cannot get behind that.
Not before it reported. Is the hon. Member suggesting that any responsible Minister would promise to introduce legislation to implement the findings of a Commission before that Commission had sat?
I challenge the Minister to deny that the Government at that time stated that they would set up a Commission because of the unrest and that they would implement the findings of that Commission. That is on record, and no one can get behind it. But they did not implement it. They gave us the Miners' Welfare—the penny a ton—because they found that the living conditions of the miners in those days were a disgrace to the British Isles. They introduced the Miners' Welfare in order to help. I am not saying that that was not a good thing, but it was not sufficient. I hope that all the mining community will read the speeches in this House to-day. The coal belongs to us. It is ours. We bought it from the royalty owners for a round £100,000,000—[An Hon. Member: "Sixty-six million pounds."] It was £66,000,000 plus £5,000,000 per annum for four years, plus another£10,000,000. So that it was close on £100,000,000 that we paid to the coalowners. It is our coal. What do we do with it? We say, "We bought the coal, it belongs to us and we will let somebody else work it for us." We hire out the coal to the owners instead of working it ourselves, and working it better than the coalowners have worked it up to now. I hope that all the coalowners will swallow the Reid Report. They swallowed the Foot Report, but the Foot Report did not last three weeks.
It was foot-and-mouth disease, and when we criticised that Report, Foot goes back into chambers and makes an attempt to alter it. The coalowners themselves do not unanimously agree with him. I spoke to half-a-dozen coalowners and they condemned him, though all the others acquiesced in the Report. The coalowners had to go outside the coal industry to get the assistance of a man who had never seen a piece of coal at the face and did not know anything about the workings. He said that he would have to go to Yorkshire, Lancashire and to Scotland and have a chat with those concerned, and he made out his Report without any experience whatever, only theory. And now we have the Reid Report. The Minister appointed to that Committee mining engineers belonging to big firms which want to swallow up the smaller firms. The Reid Report, from Genesis until Revelations, is a condemnation of the present working of the mining industry. They say, "Let us have amalgamations." If they want bigger amalgamations, why do not they come out for them in a full-blooded fashion? What is wanted is public ownership, not private enterprise, for the good of the entire country. Miners are far more educated now than they were when I was a lad. They can argue out a thing and look at it from both sides. They do not want the mines merely for the sake of an advantage to the miners. If one goes into any mining village he will find that they demand that the mines shall be owned by the nation, so that they can -produce coal not for a couple of million miners and their wives, but for 44,000,000 people in this country.The Minister has talked about a decline in output. There will be a bigger decline than that, and why? I have been at home this week-end and I met some of our miners' wives. Both the wives and the men complain of the rations being cut down. They are being cut down to such an extent that the men will not be able to work five days a week, in fact it will take them all their time to work four days a week, on the amount of food they are to get. If I ask the Minister of Food for a bigger ration for the miners he will say that they have their canteens, but they get only one meal a day there and have to have the other three meals away. They will not be able to take bacon fat with them because the bacon ration has been cut down. A miner said to me last week, "George, I have had to get coal on dry bread." This is not theory, but something straight from the horse's mouth. How can you expect men to get more coal on nothing but tea cakes? They have to get steam up on tea cakes. I wish the Minister of Food were present, so that we could put this across. I predict—and I have predicted a few things since I have been in this House—that less coal will be produced because of ration cuts. An hon. Member opposite said that State management is not suitable for miners. State enterprise in other things has been successful and there is nothing to prevent State enterprise being successful in the mines. It was said that we want more managers. That is all bunkum and eyewash. We have scores of men working at the coal face who would make first-class managers. They have grown up from boys of 14 at the pit. They have their deputy's certificate, their under-manager's certificate and their manager's certificate and they are awaiting the chance of a manager's job. We have the men, they have the brains and they can do the job. With regard to production committees, it was understood that the manager was to be responsible to the coalowners on the financial side and to the State on the production side for the time being. I suggested speaking from the very place from which I am speaking now that no man could serve two masters. Managers have been expecting control to go off again and that as soon as control went off they would get the sack, and they were watching that sort of thing. I leave that and come to the actual production committees. The Minister told us at that Box that 75 per cent. of the collieries were not working the production committees.
I did not say that 75 per cent. of the collieries were not working the production committees, but that 25 per cent. were very good and that the others ranged from good to indifferent. I am only correcting the hon. Member.
I am certain that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman made the statement that 75 per cent. of the collieries were not working and I wish I could get Hansard to prove it to him. If 75 per cent. had not been working and had been absentees, what a row there would have been in the country. I want to tell the Ministry why the miners have lost confidence altogether in the production committees. It is because the miner on this side of the table has not the same power as the owner on the other side of the table. I can cite cases from the pit where I worked, in which, when the men's representative put proposals before the management, they said, "No, we shall not carry them out." Our chaps said that they were sick of it and at the branch meetings which were held every week there was controversy because of the reports of the production committees with which they were very dissatisfied. So I ask the Minister not to depend too much upon the production committees.The Minister says that we want to increase production because we must get more coal. There as a pit in my division in which there are 2,300 men, and about which I asked a Private Notice Question. I put my Question at a time when the Prime Minister was expected to come just round that comer into the Chamber and all eyes were turned in that direction. I wanted to follow it up, but everybody was waiting for the Prime Minister so I had to cut my questions short. If we had known that the Prime Minister was not coming in until later the chaps on these benches would have followed up my supplementary question and would have made things a bit awkward. Let me put this point. There has been a fire at the pit. In addition to that they talk about operating it to the far end, and bringing it back on long wall work but they cannot stand that, because there would not be any profit for 20 years. As soon as ever the pit is sunk they make the shift pillars as short as they can, so that they can get into the coal and turn it out and make profits. This pit, without a doubt, was sunk on that system and if you went to that pit to-day you would find the roads and the ventilation and everything else like a dog's leg—our folk understand what that means. There is hardly a straight main road in the pit, yet it is one of the latest pits sunk in South Yorkshire. As I say, a fire occurs down the more profitable side of the pit, the South side, and the men at the coal face there, with advantages, are producing twice as much as the men at all the other sides of the pit. We try to stem the fire but it becomes boss, so they seal the pit off, not a long way from the pit bottom on that side. The other side of the pit, which does not pay so well, could work alongside this one, but immediately the South side is sealed off the coalowners says, "There are some fires in the others." As long as you are packing your roads with coal instead of sending the coal out of the pit, there will always be fires. That is the up-to-date way in which the mineowners of to-day are carrying on the pits—packing with coal, leaving dry wood in the pit. In the district I have mentioned it was all right to work whilst there was a productive South side, but immediately they seal off the South side they say, "This other piece is dangerous now." Yet the conditions are no worse now than they were when the South side was work- ing and producing coal. I want to put this to the Minister. They stop that side altogether, they stop the pit altogether. Why? The owners said, "We cannot carry on because it will be a loss of so many thousands a week to us." I say that if the mines belonged to the public they would not have said to these miners, "We are stopping this lot here." No, the good mines would have helped the poor mines out, and the men would have been working there to-day without a doubt. There is something else. Those men—some 1,700 of the 2,300—have now drifted somewhere else. Some have bought their own houses, so these folk are away from the district. I know what the Minister's reply will be—"But you know we are taking them over in a car and they go home at nights." I do not think the Minister understands that miners like to be together as a branch, and the men that are working at Bullcroft and Rossington and Bantley and the other South Yorkshire pits, never get to a branch meeting. They go home. They live 10 to 15 miles away and they have not the community of interest which they would have if they were all living together, so they lose the opportunity to know what is going on so far as their trade union is concerned. I have nothing else to say but I felt I must protest against the idea that we are shutting down a portion of a mine where we can produce, if the mine is developed, not less than 8,000 tons of coal per week. Will the Minister tell us whether it was his technical advisers? He took the technical advice himself without ferreting into this case because he got the technical advice on a Saturday night about seven o'clock and they decided on the Monday morning that the pit was closed. I finish with this. You will never get increased production under private enterprise. Private enterprise is played out without a doubt.
I have listened with close attention to what the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) has said, as I always do, and I hope he will forgive me if I do not follow him, because I want to take the Debate back to another aspect of this problem as it relates to the consumer. The Debate began, I understand, on the question of the raising of the price of coal, and also on the information we have received of a possible shortage of fuel. That is causing a good deal of anxiety in my constituency and other parts of the South of England, which last year were quite short, and people there fear that in the coming winter they may not only have insufficient fuel for heating but may even be short of fuel for cooking. In towns, and in quite a number of suburban districts, there are alternative resources in the form of gas and electricity, but that is not so in the rural districts, though, of course, agricultural workers often get wood fuel. What emergency preparations has the Minister made if it is found that in the coming winter, there is a real scarcity of fuel in the country?I would like to suggest that all alternative resources are explored, such as the provision of wood fuel in forest districts. There is a great deal of it about, and much more could be cut and, in the cutting of it, only good would be done. What arrangements have been made for the use of that fuel? Another alternative method, I would remind the Minister, is that a great part of the Army abroad in the Middle East during this war have heated their huts and tents and cooked very successfully on crude oil and water. Very simple cookers could be made to use that method of heating and, as an emergency method, I believe that something of that sort might be prepared and be of use in a real crisis in districts where gas and electricity and solid fuel were not obtainable. To return to the more general tenor of this Debate, I would say that though I have roots in the coal industry, everything I say here is said entirely as a free lance and I am not representing anybody. I listened to the Minister's exposition of the Government's policy as regards coal with great interest. I cannot in a few moments give a considered opinion but, by and large, my appreciation of it was that it was a thing which should be welcomed. It occurred to me that the Government were trying to combine the best of the Reid and Foot Reports and, particularly, to carry out the technical recommendations of the former. I think there is a great deal of good in both those Reports and I believe that if the Reid Report were given some teeth, so that its recommendations could be implemented, there lies in it a great prospect of solving some of the problems that beset the industry at the present time. Naturally there has been in this Debate a lot of talk about nationalisation. The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) gave as an example of how successful nationalisation could be, the case of the Dutch mines. I suggest that perhaps his example is not altogether a fair one. The story is gone into in some detail in the Appendix to the Report of the Royal Commission in 1925.From that it appears that the earlier attempts to nationalise the mines in Holland were not a success. In the early nineteenth century there was a State mine called the Danielli. It ended in disaster and apparently, having learned a lesson from that, when the big new Limburg coalfield began to work, the State reserved by law the greater part of it for national exploitation only, and the development of private mines in that part was strictly circumscribed. I suggest that it is not really a fair test, and that quite possibly private enterprise might have done as well, or even better. I do not want to go over ground that has already been covered, but if our export trade is some day to be restarted, and become an important thing in our business life once more, as I fully trust it will, I feel that to nationalise the coal industry might be internationally dangerous. To compete as a State against the private businesses of other countries would leave us in a dangerous position. At present the private exporter forms a buffer, and prevents a direct clash. As regards the provision of finance to reconstitute our coal industry, based on private enterprise, I believe that the best of our mines to-day can get all the money they require, and that if the industry was reorganised on the lines suggested there would be little difficulty in finding the necessary money, particularly if owners felt that for some years ahead they would have security. I realise that lack of security of employment has probably been one of the principal causes of dissatisfaction among mine workers ever since the bad days following the last war, but I think it is sometimes forgotten that that same feeling of insecurity is felt by mine owners. Security is wanted on both sides. If owners were assured of security for some years I believe there would be little difficulty in getting the necessary money for the industry. Finally, I want to say a word or two about getting miners back from the Forces. It may be necessary, but I hope this policy will be considered most carefully before it is put into effect. If we depart from the policy of re-allocation of man-power which has been announced, and which Servicemen have had carefully explained to them and understand, a great deal of dissatisfaction might be caused. I saw that for myself after the last war in France, when men from first one industry were called back and then from another, quite regardless of how long they bad been in the Army or had been abroad. That dissatisfaction lasted for a long time, and although no one has a higher regard for the soldier miner than I have—many served under me and they are the best fellows you can get—I feel that we should not return them to civil life before men of equal age and length of service without grave consideration. Release should be granted only as a last resort, because any departure from the system of what is commonly called demobilisation and technically re-allocation would be very unpopular, and might cause a lot of ill-feeling in the Forces
The hon. and gallant Member for the Drake Division of Plymouth (Lieut.-Colonel H. Guest) said that the mining industry was an ugly industry—
I used that word by mistake. May I now say "unpopular"?
The hon. and gallant Member used the word "ugly," and I want to say that so long as mineowners are in the picture that term can apply, but that when they are cleared out that term, or the word "unpopular," need not apply. The important thing about the mining industry is that it is the life's blood of our other industries, and it is essential to every home. Therefore, it should be under the control of the people as a whole, through the Government, and not under the control of particular individuals. Mention has been made of the Sankey Commission of 25 years ago which recommended the nationalisation of the coal industry. This recommendation the Government refused to accept. What have we had since then? Just a policy of drift from one crisis to another, each crisis worse than the preceding crisis until, in the past winter, in this, the first coal-producing country in the world, thousands of people were sitting in their homes without a piece of coal, without a fire in the house.Last winter the people of this country became coal conscious. So desperate has the situation become, and so untenable is the position of the mineowners, that they have had to engage an expert, Mr. Robert Foot, at £8,000 a year, to do something about the industry. Mr. Foot produced a report for the mineowners, and at the very beginning of that report he asks the question, "What do we expect to get from the industry?" He gave three categories each of which expected something from the industry—the miners, the mineowners and the consumers. Then he says: "If we are to get something from the industry we must give something to the industry," and he listed as those who contribute to the industry, the miners, the mine managers and the consumers. There is no mention of the mineowners. They take from the industry but even Mr. Foot cannot find a place for them, so far as the production of the industry is deemed concerned. The miners are sick to death of the mineowners. They do not want to risk life and limb to make profits for the few; they want to labour and face all the hazards of the industry in the interests of the people as a whole. It would make an enormous difference to miners and to production if they felt that their services were really being given for the benefit of the community, and not simply in order to provide profits for owners, whose sole business is to take from the industry and give nothing in return. After the 25 years which have been lost from the point of view of bringing the industry up to date we are faced with a crisis that demands, in order to solve it, the complete reorganisation of the coal industry. Reorganisation, of course, means reorganisation of the conditions under which miners work and live. There must be in the mining villages and areas every desirable amenity in order to ensure the best possible life and opportunities for culture and sport and the like for miners and their families. Pithead baths have been constructed in greater numbers, but sports fields, bowling greens and tennis courts are required, which means that abundance of land must be available and not be held up by private owners. When will the owners carry through that job? It is not possible for them to reorganise the industry, because the substance taken out of the industry has been wasted by them. They have not been concerned with the development of the mines, they have used them purely for profits, and not for progress. That sort of thing must be ended. There must be reorganisation in the villages, at the pitheads, and in the pits themselves. This will call for a tremendous effort and the expenditure of much money, and it is only by the Government taking control of the situation that this can be carried through. I want to say this, because of the criticism which has been made of miners by mine owners and by their Tory supporters—and I challenge anyone to deny it: the miners of this country have a record of labour far above any reward they have ever received. Will anyone dare to deny that or would anyone dare say that on behalf of the mineowners? No. Not even Mr. Foot could say it. We have to see that in any reorganisation that takes place, the miner gets the standing and conditions in the industry that will satisfy him that he is getting real consideration for the service he is performing. If we do that, if we have the machinery in the pits and proper organisation at the pit head, together with a proper lay-out of the villages, including amenities, it will not be an unpopular industry. There is no reason why people should not be attracted to it. It is only unpopular and ugly now, because the mineowners are there. The Reid Report cannot help but take note of that. It is one of the most valuable reports on the mining industry we have ever had, and we must speak with the highest praise of the men who constituted the Committee, particularly in view of the fact that in making their investigation into this industry they had to divest themselves of their garments of ownership and of association with ownership, and approach the whole question naked of any prejudice, but as highly technical and skilled engineers. They realised the necessity of saying this—and I wish every coalowner in the House would take note of it:
If they had allowed their association with the coalowners or with the ideas of coalowners to interfere with their technical examination, we should never have got the Reid Report. They make the following generalisation on the industry:"We should like to make it clear that we have undertaken this task in our capacity as mining engineers, and that all our conclusions and recommendations have been formulated from our professional viewpoint."
That comes 25 years after the Sankey Report. Never was there a stronger condemnation of any group of private profit-makers than that. There is nothing that can be said for the mineowners and their record during the past 25 years since the Sankey Commission recommended nationalisation."We are satisfied, however, that throughout the industry drastic technical re-organisation is not only practicable but vitally necessary. We believe there are no coalfields nor any mines to which some or all of our recommendations could not with advantage be applied."
The hon. Member said that the Sankey Report recommended nationalisation. Surely that Report was divided between the three independent Members and three coalowners against the other members and the Chairman. It was not a unanimous Report.
The majority of the Sankey Commission recommended nationalisation, and the mineowners were successful in getting the Government to reject it. There is nothing in the record of the owners since then which deserves anything but the utmost condemnation, and this generalisation in the Reid Report should be sufficient condemnation for anybody. Yet what a parody of politics we have when we see a professed Liberal representing this Government of tattered Tories, trying to find ways and means of keeping these useless parasites, these harmful parasites, the coalowners, battened on to the mining industry. The Minister's erstwhile colleague, the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Sir G. Mander) comes out. not quite full-blooded for nationalisation though well on the way, but the one who should be giving a lead to the others in the Liberal Party is in the Government trying to hold on to the coalowners and to keep them attached to the mining industry where they only serve to hold the industry back.The Reid Report is a thorough condemnation of the owners and a recognition of the fact that the majority of the Sankey Commission was correct 25 years ago. We see in the Report the keen, clear minds of the Committee examining into the various questions that affect the industry, but when it comes to a solution, their association with the owning side of the industry affects them and they halt at the tape. All the investigations they make and all their arguments are directed towards what should be the only conclusion—nationalisation of the mines, but instead of that we get only a vague formulation that the Minister should concern himself with an administrative authority. The Report proposes an authority which should have the power to re-organise the whole industry wherever it is considered necessary, and it says:
The Committee suggest that Parliament should take responsibility for organising the mining industry by giving powers to a national authority, but the Committee, after reaching that point, refuse to face the fact that if Parliament takes the responsibility for re-organising the industry, it must nationalise it in order to make a thorough job of it. We would accept the Reid Report as bringing out the weaknesses and failures of the mining industry, and as recommending measures that must be taken to bring about an industry that will provide the nation with the coal it requires; we accept all that, but we must ask the Minister and the members of the Reid Committee to accept the logic of their arguments and realise that only by the Government taking over the industry as a whole will it be possible to get the necessary technical changes down the pits and the necessary new conditions in the mining villages and mining areas. Only by such means will it be possible to give the miners the reward they are entitled to in wages and conditions for the services they are giving. Only by nationalising the mining industry will it be possible to supply the industries of the country and warm the homes of the people. That is the task which lies before whoever will be responsible for the renewal of this great industry on which all of us so much depend. I am certain that that will be the verdict of the people of this country in the Election that is taking place within the next few weeks."The existence of such an authority endowed by Parliament with really effective powers for these purposes is, we are satisfied, a cardinal necessity."
It seems to be an irony of fate that the new Government should meet the House to-day on this controversial subject of coalmining. I deeply regret the severance of our association with the Members opposite, particularly in connection with the re-establishment of this great industry. I had hoped that we might have been able to carry on in the next few months and produce together a scheme which would take away some of the political bitterness from the delicate problems associated with the industry. I believe that the coalmining industry is a war casualty. It supplied in the early days of the war large numbers of men, who have fought gallantly in different regiments all over the world. They have been the admiration of the commanders in the various theatres, and they have played a wonderful part in the winning of the war. We lost these young men, thousands of them, at a time when the country needed an increased output of coal, which only they could have given.Then, at the beginning of the war, we put the miners on to a six-day week. I have protested many times during the war that it is impracticable to work a mechanised coalmine for six days a week. It does not give time to cool the pit, to maintain and repair machinery, and to keep up efficiency. The result of running the six-day week with the machinery that we had has been to impair the whole efficiency of the industry. It will be a long and difficult task to get the necessary maintenance done and the machinery back to where it belongs.
May I ask the hon. and gallant Member what effect the six-day week has on the miner?
I am coming to that. By working six days a week underground the miner has carried through one of the hardest jobs that any section of industrialists has done during the war. I want to pay my tribute to the courage, skill and tenacity with which these men have done their work. There has been a considerable amount of discussion about absenteeism and that sort of thing, but these men had never before the war worked six days a week underground. In some of the pits the conditions are intolerable for a six-day week. The miner has played his part magnificently and has produced the coal which has led us to victory.But the country is not satisfied with the present state of affairs. It is intolerable that the coal industry should not be corrected and put right. I will not debate the merits of nationalisation or private enterprise. It does not matter a row of pins to the nation one way or the other as long as we get the coal at the right time and in sufficient quantity to keep the industries of the country going, so that they can be competitive all over the world. We need coal very badly, but it is a little unfair of Members on the other side to keep harping about the coalowners as though they were a set of lazy, indifferent, in efficient people. The success which this country has had has been built up on the solid foundations of the coal industry—
And on the wages of the miners.
We have produced coal over the generations. There must have been some measure of efficiency and capacity among those responsible for building up this great industry. There are many causes for the evil times on which the industry has now fallen. Hon. Members opposite know as well as I do that the political elements in the mining industry have not been helpful to harmony for a very long time, I have come to the conclusion that the whole psychology of the industry is wrong. Whatever plans may be put forward by one side or the other will never be accepted by both sides. There must be some higher intervention to produce a workable plan. I think that some hon. Members opposite have been a little unfair towards the Foot Report. Mr. Foot produced a report that was very well written and very understandable. The principal theme of that report was that there should be at the head of the industry a national council for coal which would control the destiny of the industry. I accept that principle, which I think is a right one.I think that such a national council should exist and have full authority from Parliament to do many of the things necessary to make the industry safe, sound and strong; but I want to see on that national council not only those who are running the industry but the miners as well. [Interruption.] I do not care whether Mr. Foot agrees with it or not; I am putting forward my own views for what they are worth. I want to see the miners taking a responsibility. I have watched the growth of pit production committees. I have seen the way the miners have accepted responsibility, and I want to pay a tribute to the contribution the men from the pits have made on those committees towards the running of the mines during the war. If those men are taken to every level of the structure of the control of mining, I am satisfied there will be a better balanced and better run industry. There are men in the industry who could well come right to the top and join in the running of the industry as a great national enterprise. It does not make any real difference who owns the capital of the industry. I want to see within the framework of this national council some real check on efficiency. Therefore, I suggest that the pits should be operated by operating companies, unified and amalgamated in a proper way so that there will be economic units, and that the pits should pay for the privilege of operating a licence fee to the central council of 1s. per ton of coal raised. I want this 1s. per ton to be put back into the industry so that it will always be maintained in an efficient manner. Over the past 20 years only 2½d. per ton of the whole of the coal raised has gone back into new plant and development. That is not a sufficient amount to keep the industry sound and capable of carrying out its great task. One shilling a ton on the national output to-day would give the central controlling body £10,000,000 a year, which would be quite sufficient to yield them £200,000,000 of capital to put back into the industry for redevelopment on proper lines. It would then be possible to start immediately great schemes of development. I think it was in 1942 that I told the House that if we were to maintain production at an efficient rate we would have to sink 80 new pits, and I suggested that in the South Lincolnshire area, South of the South Yorkshire area, there was virgin coal for 300 or 400 years which would yield, on a mechanised basis, 250,000,000 tons per annum if the area were properly laid out and co-ordinated. This big virgin field, which is the only one of this size left, ought to be developed immediately. The pit sinking would be a long job. As is known to the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell), whose great knowledge of the industry has been of great benefit to us, it would take a long time to sink the shafts for 50 new pits. I want the German prisoners to dig those shafts before they go back; I want them to get on with it at once, and then when the shafts have been dug, we can mechanise the pits on a reasonable basis.
In order to get the full advantage of the development and in order to avoid the miners who go to work there being squeezed to the smallest compass, would the hon. and gallant Member be in favour of the Government taking over control of the land in that area so that there would be the widest possible development of amenities for the miners?
If the hon. Member will read the speech I made in 1942, he will see that I said we would have to establish new communities around the new mining area. I never want to see again segregated mining villages. I want the miners to live in places alongside other people of all trades, so that they can get a diversified view of our industrial life. Segregation has done a great deal of harm to the mentality of the miners.
In spite of that, they become very good soldiers.
Certainly, but the hon. Gentleman will agree with me that living in communities with all the amenities that can be offered is better than living in small villages, many of them very ugly, particularly in the part of the country which he represents.
This is a subject which touches me on the raw. The story that the miners are half imbeciles because they live in segregated communities has been disproved.
I regard the miners as some of the most intelligent men in the country. I made no suggestion of the sort which the hon. Member implies. I know the thought that the miners have to put into their jobs. I want to give the House some idea of how the national controlling body to which I have referred should be constituted. I would like it to be composed of three mining operators, three miners, three mem- bers of the Coal Commission owning the coal for the nation, one member representing public utilities, one member representing the consuming public, and one member representing industrial fuel required by heavy industry. One thing is certain—10s. a ton will have to come off the price of coal if our heavy industries are to be efficient. We can get that, and more, by proper mechanisation and still maintain a very high level of wages, which it is only fair to do in this great industry. With regard to the financial results of mining, do hon. Members realise that the year before last, out of a total production of 200,000,000 tons, with a gross value of £360,000,000, the coalmining industry produced a net profit figure for those who had money in the industry of only £12,000,000, and at the same time the ancillary industries of electricity, gas, and so on, took away from coal a profit of £142,000,000? No one can say that those in control of the capital of the mines have had a very good financial deal.
Can the hon. and gallant Member, who has great knowledge of colliery owners, say to what extent the colliery owners' investments were in the ancillary trades?
I have only the trade returns, which are also available to the hon. Member. I do not know what their investments are, but those industries which rely fundamentally on coal for their prosperity got that vast sum in profits, while the producers of the raw material received only the small amount I have mentioned. To sum up, I want to see the industry unified into properly balanced productive units. I want to see a national council set up which will control the industry. I want to see every ton of coal put on licence to that national council, and if the recommendations of the council are not carried out, I want it to have power to revoke the licence and hand over the undertaking to someone else. I want to see put back into the industry at the earliest possible moment a sum of not less than £200,000,000 or £250,000,000. I say quite frankly that, whatever hon. Members may say about the Foot Report, the spirit of that report is national service as the basis for the control of the industry.
Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman tell us from what sources he hopes to get the £200,000,000, which we agree the industry needs very badly?
I want to see a levy of 1s. per ton, which will bring an annual revenue of £10,000,000 to the controlling body, and with that £10,000,000 they will be able to raise £200,000,000 as they require it, and loan it back to the undertakings at a low ratio of interest, and so enable the undertakings to get on with the work of providing the extra machinery and carrying out the necessary development.
Why not get it from the people who took it out of the industry?
It is no good attacking one another on this thing. The job has got to be done. Let us get the coal industry put right so that we place ourselves in a position to compete with other countries. Let us get the industry harmonised so that it can make a national contribution. Do not let us bicker and rake up old things which ought to be out of the way. I am bitterly disappointed, as I said at the beginning of my remarks, that the National Government have not been able to last long enough to carry through a great plan of unification before splitting up. Whoever wins the General Election will have to do something in regard to this industry. It cannot remain as it is.I would like now to say one or two words about the enterprise for which I took some measure of responsibility at the beginning of the war. My right hon. Friend who was then Secretary for Mines gave us an opportunity to dig coal with machines. We have not justified all the rather extravagant claims I made at the time; I am afraid they were extravagant because I had to make an impression in order to get something done. At any rate, what we have done has been to produce during war-time, without a single miner, nearly 17,000,000 tons of coal, quite a contribution in these difficult conditions. We have let them do all kinds of things to people's land. We have had to destroy good land and we have made a lot of unsightly heaps all over the place, which we are steadily removing, but in the main I think the House owes to the Government Departments which have been run- ning the job, and those who have organised it, a debt of gratitude for the work which they have done. We did not know much about it in the early stages but we have learned a great deal. I want to pay my tribute of thanks to the American people for sending us that great volume of machinery a year ago. We have a lot of it at work now, and I think it is going to make a contribution. As to the future, we cannot go on for ever doing that because we have nearly exhausted what we have, but there are 50,000,000 tons of this coal in the ground. We have got 17,000,000 tons and there are still 30,000,000 that we can have. I am sure our knowledge of the industry will enable us to get it at an economic price for the nation. I hope it will be continued as long as this emergency lasts. This great industry, on whose broad shoulders the whole industrial future of our island home depends, needs very wise, sane, counsellorship to bring it steadily through to a proper basis. I hope that, whatever the outcome of the General Election, the Government of the day will give the industry such attention as will make it attractive to our young men and safe to work in, and a contributory power in our industrial life which will make England greater than ever it has been.
I should like to deal for a few minutes with a problem of the mining industry which will exist whether that industry is under national or under private ownership. It is the question of the medical arrangements and the accident and disease rates appertaining to the industry. Both accident and disease rates are high, and there are diseases peculiar to the industry. What medical arrangements have been made, and will have to be made even under nationalisation, with regard to the medical treatment and handling of miners, with their accident and disease risk? When the Ministry was formed there was a new medical inspectorate. What the number is now we do not know, but at first there were about nine for the different districts. What is the nature of their work? Does it deal purely with safety arrangements? Has it anything to do with environment from the point of view of ventilation or humidity? Can we get any really detailed statistics of illness and accidents—I mean the whole question of the health statistics of the industry as a whole.The geological formation of the mines differs in different areas. Some with lighter coal, with great carbon content, are not so dangerous as the harder anthracite areas in Wales. The Minister has the best intentions, but he is a layman. Industrial surgery might be had to a certain extent but let him remember that industrial medicine is not taught in our schools. Up to two months ago in all the 42 schools there was not a professorship. Now, through the munificence and generosity of our industrialists, there are three teaching schools with professorships. In London there are no lectureships connected with industrial medicine. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman ought to have a list put before him to decide who these medical officers are to be. What is the machinery with regard to these most important medical appointments? Has he a Medical Appointments Board? How does he recruit and train these men, and who selects them for his appointment? Medical men do not know, and everyone who sees the appointments wonders how in the name of goodness they are made and what are the methods adopted by which they get them. Ordinary medical men who want to train for industrial medicine do not know how it is done. There is dust in the hard coal areas, which causes diseases with a liability to tuberculosis. What arrangements are being made for the selection of a Silicosis Board? There are nearly two years' arrears of applicants waiting for examination and for compensation—a terrible outlook for the men and their wives and children. What arrangements are being made for the recruitment and training of the necessary doctors and for their proper selection and proper keeping up to date? What expert medical officers are there in the Department? The senior officer of the Silicosis Board cannot do everything. He cannot train the necessary number of men unless you take him from the Board's fob. There is also a very good doctor in the Ministry of Labour on the Pulmonary Diseases Committee, but these two doctors cannot do the whole thing. What arrangements are being made? The Colonial Office advertised for a silicosis officer for the Rhodesian mines and they offered to give him training. What is being done in the way of selecting men and giving them an intensive training to meet this arrears problem, knowing that the more machinery we put into the mines the more dust and the more cases of disease there will probably be? This is an important point medically, and it is important from the point of view of the health, and also the psychological outlook, of the miner. He is in a very dangerous occupation and he knows that he runs these risks. He hears of people who are slowly dying from them, but there are no arrangements for the proper rehabilitation of men who are in the initial stages and are likely to be affected. I am trying to infiltrate into the mind of the Department the idea that they should reorganise the whole medical aspect with a view to providing a decent medical service, not only surgical but medical rehabilitation, catching the men early, taking them away for a rest, seeing that their lungs run no risk of infection, and then bringing them back to the industry. It is not an easy problem but I cannot see any Government Department being sufficiently interested in the miners and their medical welfare to lay down machinery for the selection of these men. The problem is important from the point of view of workmen's compensation. I have often wondered at the patience, the long-suffering and the endurance of the miners and the way they are treated when they are fighting for their compensation. Now, of course, a new Bill is proposed by which they would have partly to pay for the workmen's compensation which they are to get. I do not like the scheme. Up to the present, whether he is suffering from silicosis or any of the other conditions, the miner has had to fight, time and time again, against the very best medical opinion that the coalowners could get to prevent him from getting his compensation.
I would like to get that point clear. The hon. Member said just now that the miner is placed in the position whereby the mineowners call in the best authorities in order to keep the miner from getting his rights as far as compensation is concerned. Is that correct?
Yes, I am sorry to say, as one who has worked for the past 25 years on the question of industrial medicine and dealt with a whole series of workmen's compensation cases in every aspect, that my experience has been that the forces of the owners and the industrialists of this country, whether they are coal-owners or not, have been in the past—though they are getting a bit better now—perfectly disgraceful from the point of view of fighting the poor suffering, wounded man or the medically disabled man so far as concerns compensation. They fight him along the road, inch by inch, going to every possible expense to beat him in the courts. I have seen applicants for workmen's compensation being absolutely bulldozed when examined by so-called specialists on behalf of insurance companies. In the courts they have been led to give answers which would invalidate their claims. Steps should be taken against men who, to my knowledge, deliberately make mistakes with regard to medical diagnosis which, if they were taken before a proper medical board, would prove that they had made false statements with regard to the men.I know the Mines Department has not much to do with this, but there is the question of medical referees. I would like the Minister, if possible, to promise that this whole subject will be considered from the points of view of the medical handling of cases in mines; of his medical inspectors ensuring that when accidents happen roads are made free so that the badly wounded workman can get out of the mine easily; of giving him adequate first-aid treatment as soon as he comes out of the mines; of getting him into the hospital and rehabilitation centres. I want this not only in the dramatic cases of the surgically injured but, for medical cases which come on insidiously and quietly but more dangerously. Could not the Minister enliven the members, of the Medical Research Council and undertake some medical researches himself? Some years ago a very interesting medical paper was written in collaboration with a well known tuberculosis expert, Professor Lyle Cummins. He got one of his lady assistants to examine some of the retired miners in one of the mining villages in Wales. They were coughing. On examination of their sputum, these men were proved to be old cases of tuberculosis.
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I would remind hon. Members that this is a Debate on coal. I am aware of the necessity for dealing with health, but we ought not to go too closely into the question of health and health insurance. I do not want to limit the Debate, but we should keep it to coal.
With great respect, I am not touching the question of health insurance at all.
I should have said compensation. The hon. Gentleman was touching on that, and I was afraid he was going right off the subject of coal altogether. I do not want to limit him too much, but in a Debate of this nature we should keep it to a coal issue.
I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I was only going into workmen's compensation in relation to the mining industry and from the point of view of health. I am asking the Minister to review the whole medical arrangements from the point of view of the medical officers, the inspectorate and the method by which research is to be carried out. I am pointing out that research was carried out on coalminers at a time when it was said that coal dust would not produce disease and when, in fact, it had so damaged the lungs of these old miners that it was found from their sputum that it was the cause of tuberculosis. It was then said they were suffering from a benign tuberculosis. I have heard of a malignant tuberculosis; I have certainly not heard of a benign tuberculosis. I thank you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for your courtesy in allowing me to say what I wished to say. Medical aspects in relation to Debates of this kind are sometimes too much neglected, and I hope that as a result of these few words of mine the mine workers who are helpless under these conditions will receive some consideration from the Minister.
I do not often intervene in a Debate about coal, because I have some financial interest in the industry. I want to make that perfectly clear and that I have not intervened in the past because one has always felt that, however sincere one's intentions, there may be at the back of the minds of hon. Members some thought that there is some ulterior motive which is not in accordance with the national interest. In view of the remarks which have been made earlier in the day with regard to those who are interested in colliery ownerships and direction, it is with great temerity that I rise. I ask the House to accept my assurance that, although what I say may arise from a knowledge of the industry, it is said solely with a regard to what is likely to be in the best national interest.I hope I shall not be regarded as provocative when I say this, but in the past—and to some extent there has been evidence of it to-day—I have always felt that in the coal Debates a great many extravagant and incorrect remarks were made which were badly interpreted outside and led the public to believe that matters in the coal industry generally were, in fact, even worse than they were. There are two instances which I can give to-day. The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths), whom I am glad to see in the Chamber, in that jocular manner which we all appreciate but which in cold print conveys a completely different meaning, made an accusation about the Ministry of Food, and he said a collier was going down the mine and getting coal on dry bread. To paint a picture of that kind, and to assume that that is the general state of affairs, is completely wrong. I am glad to pay my tribute to the Minister of Food, who has been very considerate to the mineworkers, even in the most difficult days of shortage of food. In the most up-to-date mines there are facilities for miners to get additional sustenance they may require, but it is also true that many miners do not want to take anything in the nature of a heavy meal when they are in the pit. Therefore, I can tell the House of a case of a colliery where there is sufficient food for, say, 1,000 workmen, but we may find that only 100 or 200 partake of it.
May I finish what I am trying to say? My hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) knows that what I am saying is not exaggerated, as he knows of the particular district to which I am referring.
The hon. Member has exhorted the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) not to exaggerate, but surely he cannot mean what he says, that the whole of the subsistence that the miner needs can be found for him at the colliery? Perhaps he would moderate that statement.
I did not say that. The hon. Member for Hemsworth stated that he was sorry the Minister of Food was not present because he wanted to talk to him. In my own opinion the Minister of Food has done a good job of work, and has been very considerate to the mining community.
I am sorry, but I was not in the Chamber when the hon. Member was referring to this matter.
If the hon. Member wants to talk to me privately I shall be very glad to repeat and explain what I said in his absence. Another thing happened, connected with the interpretation being put upon the Reid Committee Report. The hon. Member for Hemsworth, again in a jocular way, made a statement which might be considered very unfair, taken literally. He said that Members of the Committee were all associated with large colliery undertakings and that they just wanted to merge other collieries together with their own. That is not true, and I want to correct the hon. Member's observation by saying that that is an inaccuracy that ought not to pass unchallenged.
Will the hon. Member tell me one member of the Committee who is not connected with a big concern?
Yes. There may be others, but I can name one, Mr. Crofts, the managing director of Chatterley-Whitfield Collieries. They have an output of something like 400,000 or 500,000 tons per annum, it may be more, and, as I happen to know, are not at all interested in the kind of thing which the hon. Member suggests they want to do. The Minister, this House and the country owe a very great debt of gratitude to these gentlemen for their magnificent report. It is not a political report. It does not consider the same issues that were raised by the Sankey Commission and the Samuel Commission. The terms of reference of this Committee were:
They have done that, They were candid enough to say—and for this I give them great credit—that they went about their task as skilled engineers, determined to report to the best of their ability as to the most improved methods of mining and ways in which mechanisation would help the industry. They say frankly that they have themselves practised various methods which they now condemn and that they have come to the conclusion, as a result of their joint deliberations, that their recommendations are better than the methods which they themselves may indeed have practised. When we talk about criticisms which are made in the report I would like to make an observation. This is a technical report, prepared by technical people as to the existing condition of things. It is objectively made and is not concerned with who was responsible in the past for whatever failure may have happened. They were concerned with how the industry could best be worked in the future. I would like to say this. Whatever industry it might be, even the Post Office or any nationally administered organisation, if a committee of experts were set up to make a report about it objectively, not biased by any consideration except what was in the national interest, I do not think one of them would come out unscathed. Some of the Government Departments I could mention would not come out of it so worthily as does the coalmining industry. The Committee say in their report:"To examine the present technique of coal production from coal face to wagon, and to advise what technical changes are necessary in order to bring the industry to a state of full technical efficiency."
I am sure that is right. That is the kind of spirit in which we should read the report. It is not a condemnation of things in the past but an effort to determine how things can be improved in the future by lessons to be learned from experience at home and abroad. My hon. Friends on the Labour side have, I think, wedded themselves to a theory and I believe they make a profound mistake in saying that the solution of all the troubles of the coalmining industry and the cause of all its struggles, will be settled by nationalisation. One of the grievances used to be that coal royalties were owned by private people and it used to be stated that unification of royalties, would allay the feeling of resentment. Well, royalties have been unified. I will ask my hon. Friends one question, without going into the merits or demerits of the case. It is: Has output in fact been increased now that the case which used to be made against the private ownership of royalties has gone? I suggest that hon. Members make a mistake in assuming that a mere change of ownership will create a new spirit in the mine-workers of this country. There is something much deeper than that. I recognise, as one who is intimately connected with the industry, that in matters of negotiation the coalowner has always somehow seemed to be in the wrong in the public mind. I do not know whether this may be due to faulty publicity or a misunderstanding or misstatement of the coalowners' position, but they are men who are very deeply concerned—and I know quite a number of them—about the welfare of their mining people. Furthermore, I have myself attended production committees, and I have never heard all the bickering which is sometimes referred to in this House. I have, on occasions when it has been a question as to how much a man should be fined for being an absentee, known the men's representatives to have been much more severe than the manager and his representatives. With regard to pit production committees as a whole, I believe that they are capable of very useful work. I do not take the view that a miner or any other artisan should be divorced from management. I take the view that the workmanship on the one hand and the managerial functions on the other are quite distinct and that the respective responsibilities are different, but because of that I would not say that the miner must never come into the board room. I hope that it maybe possible in the greater scheme which may be evolved that he should do so. This is a problem with which we have to deal. What would happen would be that the workmen's representative in the board room would become the ambassador of the employers in relation to the troubles with which they were faced. I welcome the suggestion that there should be more direct and personal and intimate contact between both sides of the industry. My hon. Friends talk about nationalisation. I will make another concession. The State has not only the right but the responsibility to take an interest in how our coal is won. The State is now the owner of the coal. The hon. Member for Hemsworth said the State paid £100,000,000 for it. The actual figure was £66,500,000, and the State made a very good bargain out of it. Therefore the State has not only the right but the duty to see that that coal is worked in the best interests of the nation, for whom the State is the trustee. Therefore, I say, bring the State into consultation, but whatever you do do not make the State the final arbiter. If there is one industry in the world in which adventure, enterprise and initiative are necessary it is the coal industry. My hon. Friends say they will socialise industries one by one. May I give them this friendly advice? Do not start with coal, because it is the one industry which the State will mess up even more than it is messed up to-day. Can anyone imagine anyone in Whitehall going to a place and saying, "Let us sink a shaft here, let us run the risk of expenditure to the extent of £200,000 or £500,000"? Will there be people in Whitehall with the courage to do that, when they know that people in Westminster are ready to criticise them? The result will be masterly inactivity, and nothing will be done. It would be good for my hon. Friends not to be too much involved in, and carried away by, this idea that the nationalisation of coal will be a solution of the coal industry's troubles. If I thought that it would be, both my hands would go up for nationalisation here and now. I honestly believe that it will not be the solution to the troubles of the coal industry. So I was glad to hear what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman had to say to-day. In passing may I say that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman undertook a very difficult task, and both he and his predecessor, with whom I had some contacts, have had a frightfully difficult job to do. They were handicapped in the first instance from the, early days of war by the ruinous diminution of the man-power in the mines. We have never recovered from that. Something else has happened too. It is no use merely saying that there has been absenteeism on the one hand and inefficient management on the other. There has been such a diminution in personnel that it has not been possible to carry on the ordinary development work which is an essential part of normal mining operations. There is also the fact that machinery, which it has not been possible properly to repair and to maintain, has broken down more frequently than would have happened in ordinary circumstances. War conditions generally have hit the coal industry to a very marked degree. Having some little knowledge of some of the circumstances, I believe we can be very thankful that by and large we have come out of these troubles so well. I include all sections of the industry when I say that. They have all done their utmost, under difficult circumstances, to play their part in the national effort. I hope that these new suggestions which are to be made by the fight hon. and gallant Gentleman will have regard to the state of the realities not only of the men who win the coal, not only the coal owner, who is not really acting in a personal capacity. It is a mistake to assume that there is only one terrible person, who is concerned only with profits, because as a rule there are a good many shareholders, in most colliery undertakings, and if there are profits made the Chancellor of the Exchequer is also very much interested. One of the things the Chancellor would like to see would be not diminished, but increased profits, because the State is in the happy position of taking 10s. in the £ of all profits and having no responsibility for losses. As one interested in the coal industry, I believe that the consuming public to-day have been very patient. They have had to put up with bad coal; coal of a very inferior quality, and it has been difficult for many public undertakings to carry on in their normal fashion. They have, in fact, recognised the difficulties and not made complaints even when they were justified in making them. We do not want an industry in which masters and men can control prices. Therefore, I say that the consumer must come into this matter too. I conclude by paying a tribute to the work which the Minister of Fuel and Power and his predecessor at the Ministry of Mines and their officers have done in a very difficult period in the life of our country."When we come, therefore, as we must, to point out the mistakes which were made in these early years of the coalmining industry, let us beware of merely being wise after the event, or of withholding the meed of praise due to a great race of men, employers, mining engineers, workmen and machinery makers alike. For whatever their faults, they were fit to rank with the greatest of Britain's industrial pioneers."
It occurs to me that the proceedings during Question Time will quite likely have more interest for the country in the Press tomorrow than this Debate to-night, if these empty benches are any indication. Some time, I hope very soon, we shall have, not merely in the House, but in the country, much more interest in this problem of coal than to-day, for of a surety we cannot, unless we have solved this problem of coal, give to our industries that expansionist outlook which we all must have if we are to raise the standard of life of our people. Candidly, as one who has taken part in these Debates on previous occasions, and who has listened with respect to the Minister on many occasions, I thought he made to-day a most doleful speech, holding out scarcely any hope for the country that this problem was to be dealt with to any extent. He mentioned a number of Reports that have been sent into his Department quite recently for consideration.I am sure the country is, if I may use the term, really "fed to the teeth" with Reports on which so little is done. When the Minister remarked to-day that miners' wages had advanced, I wondered whether he considered how low those wages were before the war. In my own county of Yorkshire, one of the largest coal-producing counties, the lowest wage before the war for people working round the pits was 7s. 9d. a day, with an average working week—occasioned then not by absenteeism, but by the depression in the industry—of four days. After the last war the wage paid to the lowest-paid worker in Yorkshire was 18s. 2d. a day, with a six-days' working week. The decline in conditions had brought about the state of things that I have mentioned. Was it any wonder that, when an opportunity came for miners' boys to work elsewhere, there was that trek to other industries? When the Minister was discussing how wages had improved, he should have mentioned how low they were before the war. A lot of discussion has centred on the Reid Report. The Minister, naturally, eulogised a good deal of the Report, as we do ourselves. If you approve of the Report you should have regard to the question of who is responsible for the troubles in the industry. A few Members who have said that they were interested in the mining industry have taken part in this Debate, and I think the tone of their speeches, and particularly that of the hon. Member for Faversham (Sir A. Maitland), has been commendable. I do not agree with all the points he made, but the tone of his speech was good. The Minister, however, failed to pin the responsibility for the conditions mentioned in the Reid Report on those who ought to bear it. We have not had any declaration today that the miners were the cause of the conditions that the Reid Report cites. The hon. Member for Faversham said that we were wedded to a theory: I think that he and the other coalowners are not wedded to a theory, but are married to a practice. The wrongs of that practice cause dire results, not merely to the industry but to the nation. Unless we can have a ready flow of coal to industry, we cannot make much progress. One or two coal-owner Members had said that they envisaged some control board at least on which miners' representatives could sit, but the Minister did not follow that idea. The hon. and gallant Member for Buckrose (Major Braithwaite) and the hon. Member for Faversham have given the impression that they, as individuals, stand for that principle; but let us be honest and straight, and say that the party to which they belong, and to which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has given his support, do not adopt any idea of that kind. The country, with the opportunity of voting on these matters in a few weeks' time, should have regard to that fact. It will not be sufficient to quote the speech of a Conservative Member of this House: what matters is the policy outlined by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman; and we have had it made crystal clear that at no stage are the miners to sit on any board of control. Indeed, as I listened to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, I thought how peculiar is the situation with which we are confronted. The party to which he gives support is crying out loudly for the abolition of control, and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman suggests to the mining industry some form of control. Is anything more inconsistent? It is a sad commentary upon those who have hitherto run the industry, the coalowners, that in a few weeks' time a Government which will go to the country calling "No control" is to impose control on a set of industrialists of that description. I worked in the mining industry for over 30 years, and I have seen at my pithead a position which was general. If any of the miners made suggestions to the owners about methods of working, a ready reply came, that miners were not paid for thinking: we were paid for working—work of an arduous nature, by brawn and muscle. It is sad to think that these people, in sole control, as they were at that time, are going to be allowed by the Government plan still to control this much troubled industry. The Minister, I thought, sought to please the House by pointing out that the problem of the ownership of the mineral royalties was now over, and that the State now had the ownership. I wondered what posterity would say about a House of Commons which could allow the commodity basis to be publicly owned, and yet allow the industry upon which the nation so much depends to be consigned to the bad administration that we have had. This has to be said in the interests of the people who have helped to give us the right to say these things in the House of Commons. History reveals the stark fact that you cannot do without the miners but that you can do without the mineowners. Was there ever a state of things existing in any other country like we have existing now? This island home of ours is practically built on coal. It must be a genius who in a situation like that, can produce a shortage of coal, and yet we have that now, and, listening to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's scheme for the future, it is apparent that we are likely to have it in future, too. I am going to make a few practical suggestions, and I hope that, instead of the hesitancy of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman when he said he could not disclose, at this juncture, where the finance was to come from for these schemes of improvement, we are going to have more ready remedies coming from his Department. The fact is that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has been at the Ministry of Fuel and Power since 1942, and the output of coal has progressively declined. I am not suggest- ing that the fault is his, but, at the same time, the Department must be judged on the results that have been achieved. Some time ago I asked the right hon. Gentleman what progress was being made in transporting miners to their work inside the mines. I have done this job. I have walked from the shaft bottom, 600 yards down. Going down was no effort, because we descended by the cage, but I have travelled along low galleries and roadways, sometimes only about three feet high, for an hour before striking the first effort in the work that I was to do as a miner. I felt neither mentally nor physically fitted to give of my best after an ordeal of that description, and you faced the exacting nature of the work at the coalface with the knowledge that you had that journey to do again before you got to the shaft bottom. All this was calculated to set back the actual results. I have been out of the pit for a few years now. I came from the pit to Parliament seven years ago, and I can assure the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that a good many pits in this country have got those conditions to-day. Surely, in all conscience, we should be saying to the owners, who, we gather, have got in their minds a new orientation of things, that these schemes for transporting the miners inside the mine should be made effective without delay. We are suffering sadly in our mines from lack of materials. I assure this House, as one who is in his division every week-end and who has in his division men from a score of pits, that one frequently hears complaints of waiting periods in mines due to lack of the necessary materials required to carry on this job of coal-cutting. Mechanised mining requires these things much more than the old methods. The cycle of operations in a mine where eight-hour shifts are worked means that if one shift is delayed, due to a breakdown when the necessary replacements are not available, it encroaches on the other shift, and you may, consequently, have a hold-up in actual production. I also want to ask the right hon. and gallant Gentleman if he will concern himself with the speedy bringing back of miners from the Forces. It would help us if we could get men who were miners returned from the various theatres of war, for they could produce the necessary materials to shorten the war with Japan. I am hoping, too, that when these men do come back they will have a little better welcome than one man had at a colliery in my own home town. This man, going back to his old colliery and doing the very job that he did before he donned khaki, had his wages cut to the extent of 2s. 3d. per shift by the colliery company, because he was receiving a pension. A strike resulted. I admit that the strike was wrong, and that the men should have used the machinery for reinstatement introduced by my right hon. Friend the former Minister of Labour. But is it wrong, in a moment of provocation caused by the mineowners, to show some kind of loyalty to a friend who has come back from the horrors of war as this man did? Would the right hon. and gallant Gentleman express his displeasure—merely as mildly as that—with the colliery company, as an indication that he did not support this treatment of a serving man, and I hope that it would deter others who might be prepared to follow that awful example? There was no response from the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to that idea. Let me assure the House that that fact created a very bad impression concerning the overlooking influence of the Minister of Fuel and Power in the industry. With regard to the financing of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's schemes of reorganisation, we in the mining industry, in the normal way of things, must be concerned over the capital cost of any reorganisation scheme, in view of the disturbance that takes place and the fact of the capital cost having to be borne partly by the miners as well as by the mine-owners. We therefore urge the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to make up his mind without delay on this question. It is a factor which must be considered in the national interest. Too long have we been confined, in the localities of the kind in which I live, to this idea of one industry in the district, with no avenue of work for our womenfolk, and, as a consequence, the one income going into the home has often had a dire effect upon that home, particularly in times of stress. May I conclude on this note? I admit, frankly, that the phase on which I now touch does not come within the purview of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's activities, except that, as I am sure he will appreciate, we have a system of mining in Britain now in which our miners cannot continue so long in years as they formerly did. The ravages of the industry and the stress and strain are such that there is a contraction of the working life of the average miner. That should warrant increased wages while the work is being done or, better still, an earlier pension. I hope that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will feel inclined, and I say this with respect, when his colleagues in the Cabinet are demanding, as they are, coal and still more coal, to tell them some of the difficulties that we are having to meet on this matter of pensions. On this matter of pensions, it is reasonable to put before the Chancellor that it should be done by means of some contribution from the State as well as from industry. I was in New South Wales, Australia, last year—
I am rather doubtful if this can be dealt with under this Order.
I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I was merely trying to point out that the scheme in Australia is of such a character that miners, mineowners and the State make it possible for miners to be pensioned at 60, and you have more men coming into the industry in consequence. But I have finished with that, and I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I hope that the humble contribution I have made will be regarded as being in the interests of the industry and the nation as a whole.
The Debate has covered a wide range and has dealt with the past, present and future of the coal industry. It has, like many other coal. Debates, been notable for speeches from Members who, like the hon. Gentleman the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Collindridge), have given many years of service to the industry either in the form of work in the mine or as mineowners. I want to turn the attention of the House for a few minutes rather to the problem of domestic supplies. It is, after all, a more immediate problem than the other, though one is connected with the other. The supply question in the home is going to affect everybody during the coming winter. We are almost at Midsummer Day and the position is really a very serious one.This Debate is primarily concerned with the Coal Charges Order, and as far as I can gather few seem to object to that Order, except the pensioner on a fixed rate who always suffers from these additions to his expenditure. One can only hope that in this connection the assistance boards will deal favourably and leniently with those upon whom this extra charge would be a burden. The only other complaints that I have had are these. It is said, "Could not the amount have been 3s. 4d. a ton instead of 3s. 6d. and then we could have paid the 2d. a week on our bag of coal instead of 2½d., as it is now in some districts?" There seems to be great objection to that extra halfpenny, not on the ground of expense, but because it is difficult to bother with the extra halfpenny, and it would have been so much easier if it had been the round figure of 2d. I want now to refer to the supply for the coming winter. In the North Western area with which I am primarily concerned, which lies near the Pennine Range, the supplies for the coming winter are quite inadequate. They are not really enough to maintain the people in health, not to mention comfort, and I am nervous about the health position in those districts during the coming winter. This may seem to those who live in the South to be an exaggeration, but I can assure my right hon. and gallant Friend that such is not the case. There is a great gulf, and it seems to get greater every year, between the weather in that part of the country and in the South. As one who knows both very well, I can vouch for that fact. The position up there is totally different. The rain comes down day after day, summer and winter, and even when it does clear up, the roads do not dry like they do in the South. The clouds remain overhanging, the darkness remains, and the dampness remains for days and days and weeks on end, and together with that there is the piercing cold, in the winter at any rate, which accompanies a damp atmosphere. The walls in the houses are damp, the furniture is gradually ruined and the houses themselves gradually deteriorate. A good deal of this has happened during the last three or four years. But the main question is the health of the people. After a long war there have been the continual strain, the lack of food and the shortage of clothing and of blankets which will all add to the difficult position in the coming winter. I do wish that a larger difference could have been made between the allocation to the South and that to this particular area of the North, even if possibly the whole of the North of England and Scotland would have had to be included. The East coast however is very much dryer than the North Western area. Is it really the best that the Ministry can do? Could not some of the supplies have been cut from our export trade? Little has been said to-day about the export trade which is being done at the present time. I do not know whether the Minister can enlighten us on that point. I wonder if it might have been possible to send rather less coal abroad just now—although we all know the great need there is for that coal—and to do a little more for the districts I have mentioned. I would also refer to the anomalies in distribution, and this is certainly an equally difficult and important point at the moment. We are told that during the summer months we must fill up our cellars, and, if possible, get in supplies for the winter. But supplies during even the summer months have been woefully short of the maximum permitted amount, and in such a position, how can anyone save up for the winter? I know one firm of coal merchants who have an allocation of more than 100 tons a week. During the present month of May, for two weeks, they have received something in the neighbourhood of 85 tons, but during another week they only received 65 tons and, therefore, some of their customers have had to go short. These customers are naturally very annoyed. But it is really not on the merchants that they should put all the blame. The merchants have done, and are doing, a good job; they are doing their best under these conditions but, like the shopkeeper, who gets blamed whenever there is a shortage of anything in the shops, they get the blame. As regards this particular firm no alternative supply was available; at any rate, they were not allowed to draw on any available alternative supply. Although, I believe, the situation was partly due to a fire which took place in the South Yorkshire colliery which was supplying them, nevertheless, one would have thought that alternative supplies could have been found for them. We are not talking now- of a village or even of a small town away in a rural area; we are talking of the industrial towns close to the Lancashire coalfields and not very far away from the great South Yorkshire coalfield. It should not be so difficult to obtain coal when it is fairly near at hand. We have heard to-day about open-cast coal. This particular firm was also told that they would receive five tons of open-cast coal a week. That was last November. So far they have not received any such coal. In another district in my constituency they were 125 tons short in the month ending 19th May. That was the town about which I asked my right hon. Friend a question just before the Whitsun Recess and in his reply he said that it was due primarily to hard weather conditions last winter which made it impossible for merchants locally to remove the coal and get it to householders. That is hotly denied and the statement has been resented, I am told, by these merchants, who have stated in proof that no demurrage charges whatever had to be paid in that particular town during that period. The position really is a serious one in this town. Last winter there was not even enough coal to provide the amount necessary for doctors' certificates for those who were sick. There was no dump there, and, finally, they were allowed to share in a dump which was open some little distance away. Recently, 100 tons of coal were stocked in a mill in the town, but orders have just been given, apparently, for that coal to be distributed throughout the region. That again has caused considerable feeling, as that 100 tons would have been a most valuable asset during the coming months. Last winter the dumps saved the situation but they may not be there this year and they certainly will not be available in any size to save the situation again. A super-human effort, if one can call it so, really is demanded now of the Ministry. I know the Minister is doing his best, and I am not saying this in criticism of the Minister himself, but I think the Department as a whole have never realised the position in this North-Western area. I am quite certain that they have nothing like sufficient knowledge of it. Every local authority in my constituency—and there are half a dozen—has written to me expressing the gravest apprehension at the position. It applies throughout the area and I urge the Minister, if he can, to make a personal investigation into this particular district. Perhaps, if he is in Manchester, as he no doubt will be at some early date, he could come over to my constituency and spend a short time there. It is but a 20-minute journey by car from Manchester. Then he could have a talk, not with a view to being met with criticism, but with a view to discussing the situation with the local authorities concerned and seeing how best the problem could be solved. Meanwhile I urge the Ministry to concentrate every possible effort to avoid the serious difficulties which occurred last winter. Would it not be possible to guarantee the maximum permitted quantities which are allowed for each consumer? That would go a long way towards raising hopes and assuaging the nervousness which has been created, if a guarantee could be given by the Minister that the maximum permitted allocation for each householder would be available by the time winter arrives. If something on those lines could be done, I can assure him that it would go far towards solving the present difficulties and would create more confidence in districts which have been so badly hit.
I have listened to most of the speeches to-day, and I have been very much interested in the contributions which have been made from the Government benches. Reflecting a little on those contributions, I want to say that it is not a happy reflection. The Minister started off on the same old text, which Government spokesmen have used during the last generation in this House. From my own personal experience the text adopted by our most modern Minister for Mines has invariably been that which I heard from the coalowners, not only a generation ago, but considerably longer than that. May I say, with all the kindliness in the world, that the speech made by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to-day will not increase the output of coal in this country even if every word of it were implemented during the next 12 months? To-morrow, we shall read in the newspapers that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has said that output is too low, and costs too high. There is nothing new in that. That is the ancient slogan of the coalowning interests in this country, which has been uttered many times by the stalwart and persistent defenders of those coalowners in this House.Is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman satisfied that any of the suggestions he has made will alter the content of that slogan? He cannot imagine that the rather pretentiously constructed ideas he has put forward to-day will effect the output of coal. A great deal of capital has been made out of the Reid Report. May I ask the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to give us a single suggestion or recommendation in the Reid Report that has not been made in this country for the last quarter of a century? For instance, an hon. Gentleman to-day placed considerable emphasis upon the improved methods of mining coal as suggested by the Reid Committee. One of those methods is that by adopting the long wall method of mining coal by far the most economical one would be what is known as long wall retreating. That suggestion has been placed before the House to-day as if it were brand new. In my very early youth I remember sitting for my first examination in what was called the Science and Art of Coalmining. I was a lad of about 15, with three long years of experience in the coalmines, and I remember distinctly the first question on that elementary examination paper was, "Describe the comparative advantages of long wall retreating and long wall advancing." This is a hoary question that was set to youths in those days, when it was scientifically obvious to a colliery boy of 14 or 15 that if the avidity of private ownership for immediate returns after a shaft had been sunk were ignored, the driving of the main roadway to the boundaries and taking the long wall face back to the shaft bottom, was by far the most economical method. We now get it in the Reid Report, and an hon. Gentleman puts it across the Floor of the House to-day as if it were a wonderful 20th century discovery. It was old in my very young days. As the result of comparing examination papers of years before, I knew that this grand old question would come up again, and I was ready for it with all my technical and scientific knowledge at 15 years of age. We heard to-day an admission by a man who is very much interested in coal on the owners' side that one of the doubts he had in amalgamating a large number of colliery undertakings was whether we had the technically efficient men who were highly qualified enough to do that job of work. What an admission with respect to one of the oldest large-scale industries in the country, and one of the oldest industries on a large scale in the world, that, with all the wealth that has been taken out of the industry, there is a fear that the coalowners have not taken sufficient intelligent interest in industry to produce the type of man who is mentally and otherwise equipped, to run these new changes in the industry. One of the most pathetic aspects of the Minister's speech was that he did not show the faintest glimmer of an understanding that the mining industry is now ripe—belatedly so—for a technical and a technological revolution.. No concrete suggestion has been made to-day that there may be a far more intelligent way of utilising coal. The Minister's speech was scientifically barren, ridiculously and unpardonably so. Do not the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and his advisers know that during the last 20 years a new science has arisen in regard to coal? In matters of that kind the Mines Department is unpardonably ignorant or criminally negligent with respect to one of the most precious assets of this little island of ours. Apparently it has not the slightest appreciation of the great technical changes that are awaiting us. Amalgamations will effect nothing. In South Wales we know what amalgamations and combines mean. More than half of our steam coal, two-thirds of the coal in South Wales, is being handled by one concern; I say deliberately and with regret, mishandled in a disgraceful fashion, having regard to the great deal of scientific research that has been done in regard to coal. All the splendid scientific discoveries that have been made over a quarter of a century prove that the method of mining and using coal to-day is the last word in unpardonable wastage, but the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is not prepared, and is probably afraid, to put an end to that wastefulness. May I tell him a few well known facts, a few things which the collier boys in our coalfields know to be facts? In almost every seam of coal in Britain the solids can be completely converted into gases and liquids. Has the right hon. and gallant Gentleman put this question to an independent unprejudiced technologist or scientist: what percentage of the scientifically low values of coal is being extracted from that coal? There are distinguished research scholars in this country who will answer the question. In all probability there is not a person in this country whose opinion would be worth considering who would not tell the Minister that at the present time the country is not getting more than 30 per cent. of the known values in that coal. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman proposes to continue this criminal wastefulness which has characterised the mining and utilisation of coal in this country. Hon. Members may smile. I saw comparable smiles on that side of the House when collieries were wantonly abandoned and completely ruined in the inter-war period, precisely because of the policy adopted by those who smiled quite as happily in those days as they smile to-day when our national asset is being misused. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has made his bed and has chosen his associates. They will bring him far more regrets than any pleasure that he will ever derive from them and from the mishandling of coal. The attitude of his Ministry in regard to the subject-matter of this Debate is criminally and un-pardonably wanton. Before many months the truth of what has been repeated over and over again from this side will come home to him. Unless he shows courage to grapple with the matter in the way it obviously ought to be grappled with, and ceases using the great potentialities of his Department just to cater for the hunger for miserable profits, it will end in the destruction of this great asset, which the country cannot afford.
This Debate has concerned not only the miner but the mineowner, and it very much concerns the citizen who has to pay the higher price for coal which is reflected in this Order. In addition, even with the higher price during last winter they were not able to get the coal they needed. An hon. Member opposite pointed out that this is midsummer. It is just as well that he reminded us of that fact because I was not aware of it myself. I should think that, even though it is midsummer, there are people who would be very thankful for some coal. The average citizen cannot too often be reminded of some very elementary facts connected with the shortage of coal. There is a tendency to give the impression that the miner is to blame for that shortage. I live in a mining area and, knowing something of present-day facts, as well as having had long years of experience, I think a great deal of credit is due to the miners for the fact that on the whole we have kept such a level of output and served the needs of the country during this crisis through which we have passed.It cannot be too often emphasised that in the main the most supple and strong of the younger men were taken away for the Forces in the early stages of the war. The key men were taken away, and I have heard serving Members in this House pay the same tribute to those men as was paid during the last war. But that does not explain what it means to lose these younger men from the mines. I read somewhere something about its being easier for someone to go through the eye of a needle—I do not know, but perhaps it was a coal owner—and a young miner has sometimes almost to perform that miracle. He has to be supple, swift and strong to an extent that cannot be understood anywhere outside a mine. I have seen all classes of work, and the average person outside a mine does not believe it until he sees it. An hon. Member spoke about working in a two-foot seam. That is not an uncommon thing at all. The Reid Report has suggested schemes of transporting men more quickly and easily to the coal face. The miner will be pleased when that is done, because not the least of his work is to walk to the coal face. I believe the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has been down several mines, and I think he will agree that when he has gone along these lower seams to the coal face, the experience of walking with his chin tapping on his knees is one that has to be experienced to be believed. Those young men were taken away, and some of the older men who were driven out of the industry years before the war have had to go back. You cannot repair that kind of thing so easily. Another factor is that the meat ration has been so low during the war. A miner cannot do heavy work unless he gets plenty of meat. There is no doubt about that. I knew what was the right food when I was in a mine, and I could not have been satisfied without a good meal of meat. The miners cannot get it now. The Minister says that they do not always visit the canteens: I think that is right. I have been told by men recently that the canteens are all right for something light but they do not make up for a good meal. The pies are sometimes rather too light. That matter will have to be attended to in the long run, because mining is a wearying business for men who have in work in low seams. There is another factor about canteens, which is that the men like to have a bath and then go home to get a good meal. Although one gives these explanations, the country asks, and has a right to ask after the long and stormy history of this industry and the revelations which have been made by the men who have examined it technically recently, What is the matter with this industry? The miner is a good citizen on the whole. He goes into the Forces, where he is reckoned to be steady and not undisciplined, and makes an intelligent soldier capable of doing a good job; but when he gets back to the mines he becomes a curious kind of creature to the public. We hear criticisms about him. An hon. Member said from a back bench opposite that the miner was all right in his own community, when he had not been out into the world. That is what they say and is the regular explanation in some circles nowadays. I have seen it in journals of fairly good standing. The miner is an intelligent, hardy and self-controlled citizen. He must be so in his village, because he is so esteemed when he comes out of it to take his place in the Forces. Coal produces power for the whole of industry and light and warmth for the average citizen, but those are almost the least of the things which coal represents. There are hundreds, and perhaps there are now thousands, of new uses for coal looming upon the horizon. It is generally agreed that whether it is supplying the needs of the ordinary citizen or those of industry, this commodity called coal means almost life and death to this country in the years to come. It is a great pity that we are compelled to have these Debates at a time like this, when we should be bracing ourselves for the task which will be so necessary in the coming years. When we should be bracing ourselves in a spirit of optimism and, if you like, courage and heroism, it is a pay that we should have to spend hours almost in gloom, when dealing with the prime industry of this country. We cannot get boys for it. That is a very serious matter. When one asks why they will not go in, people say they will not do so because they are educated. I never have encouraged anyone to think that mining is an employment which is beneath their dignity. I cannot believe that the men of the industry in which my father spent the greater part of his life, in which millions of men in this country of the most courageous and finest type have spent their lives, have been creatures of a lower type, who were simply there because they were ignorant. I did what I could to get what little education was possible, and I deliberately went back to the industry after I had got some education. What is the matter with the industry that boys will not go into the mines? The Dutch coalfield is much less than ours, but the boys go into the Dutch mines. I would advise every Member who can get hold of it to read page 22 of the Reid Report in the section dealing with Holland. All the details are given. No boy goes into the mine until he is 18 years old, but he has been educated and trained for the four years as a miner, and why should he not have been? It is a great craft, a highly skilled craft. It took people a long time to understand that, and I am not so sure that it is accepted yet. One has to be almost brought up with the coal to know what we call its nature, to speak of coal as a sailor speaks of a ship and call it "she," to know just the moods and the nature of the coal, how it is connected with the roof above, and so forth. Incidentally, I heard someone speak about the kind of coal that people were getting—mixed up with stone and other rubbish. I have seen some of that coal in London lately, and I do not believe that it comes from the pit at all. There are rubbish heaps around the pits, and I believe that someone has been taking that stuff from them. I would advise the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to make an investigation into where that stuff comes from. This Report speaks of the training that is given to the Dutch boys. This is a very illuminating page, and I think that the gentlemen who have written it are entitled to a vote of thanks. They say:
"A more than adequate supply." I know that there is something being done about training, but it is not being done in anything like the comprehensive way that is mentioned here. Boys now leave school at 14—the age will become 15, and soon, I hope, 16. Thank God, they do not go in at 12, as we used to do. But you have not only to make new conditions; the boy is not merely educating himself, he is living in a new world technically, and much broader and more sweeping views ought to be taken in preparing the workman for his work in the coming years. There is another factor, and you cannot banish it. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman said that it was no good going into the past, but, unfortunately, the present is rooted in the past. The 10 years we had in Wales and in Durham before the war broke the faith of whole communities in their industry. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Faversham (Sir A. Maitland) has gone, because I should have liked to compliment him on a more than usually well-informed speech. But the dulcet tones in which he spoke of the coalowners would have moved me very much if I had not known something of their record over the past 30 or 40 years. I am not speaking about them personally: there are good and bad men among them, just as there are among workmen. But the hon. Member pointed out that output had gone down in spite of the fact that royalties had been nationalised. We have given reasons for the output going down, but the Report points out that it was a very good thing for the mining industry that the royalties were nationalised. Indeed, it became absolutely inevitable, in view of the state of the trade. We had proposed that the royalties should be nationalised for long years, and the coalowners opposed that nationalisation. I can conceive that the day might come when, if the country did not accept Labour as the Government of the day, the very facts of the industry might compel ven a Conservative Government to nationalise the mining industry. This is not a theoretical question; it is a matter of dealing with something that is vital to the life of this nation. All that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has given us to-day is a Central Board—I think he calls it—and concentration. There is nothing new about that. That is a proposal that has been talked of before this House and in the country for long years, and I must say that it sounded very much like the Foot plan. I know the right hon. Gentleman did not propose to let the coalowners be the sole people on the Central Board. I gather that the Foot plan was to nationalise the mining industry for the coalowners, and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman did a little better than that, in that it is going to be a Government-appointed Central Board. I am telling the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that that will not meet the needs of the hour. I think there is only one thing that is going to meet this problem. It has to be met in a bold and courageous way, with vision big enough to realise the big things that are coming. The only means by which we can deal with this industry are means whereby the people and the country shall use it as a service for the nation, treating its human elements at their full value, as well as its mechanical elements. When the nation does that, I am telling this House and the country there will be no lack of men or boys for the mining industry. We shall get men ultimately, who will have pride in their industry and restore that ancient pride of workmanship which this country needs, not only in mining but in all the other industries."The training scheme, which is designed to inculcate the feeling that those who have gone through it are among the élite, has had the effect of ensuring a more than adequate supply of properly trained recruits to the industry."
Since the Minister has already spoken, and I understand that he is entitled to speak again only with the consent of the House, I want to challenge the consent of the House being granted to the Minister at this stage, and I do so, apologising to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman as one Welshman to another.
I am afraid the hon. Member is mistaken. The Minister has the right to reply on the Motion.
Is not this exempted Business?
Yes, but the right of reply is allowed by the Standing Orders on a Motion of this sort.
I am sure my hon. Friend and the rest of the House will appreciate that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, who would have been happy to reply, has been in office only something under 48 hours, and, while he has had a great deal of experience in office, obviously, on a matter as complicated as this, he rightly prefers that I should deal with the specific points raised in this Debate, which are very technical in some respects. I agree with a great deal of what my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. J. J. Lawson) said about the mining community of this country. Since I have been in my office, and indeed for many years before that in my own part of the world, I have come into contact with that community, and there is no one who has a greater admiration for them than myself. I agree with a great deal of what he was saying with regard to their service from the Service where I have had experience of them. I understood him to say that I was rather indicating that the miners were solely responsible for the shortage of output, but there is nothing that I have said to-day or at any other time which could possibly bear that interpretation. I said that most of them had done as good a job as any, but that there were many cases where that was not so. I agree with him that the key men were taken away, and they were the men who were in the most productive age group in the industry.There is another point—that of nutrition. I have the greatest sympathy with the miners on this matter. I came into contact with the question before I came to this Ministry, when I was in the Ministry of Food, and we devised a method by which we were able to give miners who did extra work some extra rations. It was that which gave a fillip to the canteen system. That system had been started earlier but it was enormously increased. I must say, with some experience of the matter, that while my hon. Friend talks about the lightness of the meals—and I gather some doubt was also expressed as to their content—I can assure him that the canteens provide really first-class meals with the highest possible rationing. The fact still remains that a very small percentage, in some cases, take advantage of the canteen. I fully appreciate the custom of the miner who prefers to have his food at home, but I ask the hon. Gentleman to face realities. The position at the moment is very difficult with regard to food supplies, and this is purely an attempt to extend to a body of men, who do heavy physical work, some little addition. While we all appreciate the custom which makes them prefer to have food at home, if it is a question of a shortage of food, I do not think it is too much to ask that advantage should be taken of these very excellent facilities, where they are provided.
May I put this proposition to the Minister? There are several collieries where they have no pit-head baths. The men come out of the pits with bundles of clothes under their arm and wet clothes on their bodies. Does the right hon. and gallant Gentleman expect them to take food in canteens in that condition?
Of course, I do not. I said that this was an attempt to meet the need. I realise that there are several pits in the country without pit-head baths and I appreciate the difficulty there. But at mines with excellent bath facilities and some of the finest canteens, only 25 and 30 per cent. of the miners take advantage of the canteen facilities. [An Hon. Member: "They will not."] It is all very well to say that they will not, but in the present situation of the nation I say that advantage should be taken of this facility. That is all I ask.The hon. Member for Rochdale (Dr. Morgan) raised some interesting points about medical services. This is a matter in which I have been keenly interested since I went into the Ministry, and it is one on which the Government laid down part of their policy in the White Paper. The hon. Member will appreciate that there has been and is a serious shortage of medical men, but, even so, we have been able to make a start—and I do not put it higher than that. We have another doctor at headquarters and another in each region and we hope they will study local conditions, disease incidents and things of that sort, which they have been asked to investigate. We are co-operating closely with the Medical Research Council on the question of the arrears in the examinations of men in the terrible diseases of pneumoconiosis and silicosis. We were faced with the difficult problem of getting more medical men, men with a certain type of knowledge to deal with the problem. I was greatly assisted in this by my right hon. and learned Friend the late Minister of National Insurance, and we have been able to double the panels working on these pneumoconiosis cases. At the head of the panel is a man experienced in these diseases, and he trains the new man under him. I have the loan, for a certain time at any rate, of a radiological unit which, I hope, will also help very much in that matter. I fully agree with what my hon. Friend opposite said about the need for training in schools in connection with these various industrial diseases. We have made a start, and I intend to pursue the matter as much as I can Questions were raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) and my hon. Friend the Member for Royton (Mr. Sutcliffe) about the supply of coal. Obviously, the position does not get any easier with the serious decrease in output, but since the war we have used the method of building up stocks for emergency use. Those stocks were used when the emergency arose, and it is our purpose to build up supplies of fuel during the summer to as high a level as the supply position will permit, and by all other means in our power, especially by the supply of wood. I hope there will be a substantial increase in the wood supply this year, although the difficulty there is transport and labour, as in so many cases the wood lies in remote areas. We have, however, made arrangements to increase considerably the stocks of wood. My hon. Friend the Member for Royton talked about the difficulty of stocking in summer, and about allocations not being fulfilled in his area. The reason there was a serious fire, which has been referred to already, in a colliery which had a very substantial output, and it takes a little time to readjust the source of supply, particularly when the period coincides with the Whitsun Recess and also with V-E Day, which gave us its quota of interruptions. But I can assure him that that will speedily be put right. I cannot say that this Debate has been very different from any other Debates to which I have listened in this House. I was accused, apparently, by a good many of my hon. Friends opposite of being rather doleful. Well, I do not know whether they think that the coal industry presents a particularly happy picture at the present time or not. I was also told that I simply said what everyone has known for the last 25 years. I was told that I said the industry was slowing down. Well, is it not? [An HON. MEMBER: "Of course it is, and whose fault is it?"] I am not discussing at the moment whose fault it is. I was trying to state the facts in my speech. One hon. Gentleman went further and said that I did not seem to be very concerned. I take the strongest exception to that remark. I would say this to him, that I am quite prepared to put my record of achievements to the industry and particularly to those who work within the industry, and to show that in no other period since the mining industry was started has there been—
What a challenge.
I make that challenge now. Does the hon. Gentleman deny that the miner has had a fairly good deal since this Ministry was formed? I would suggest to him that the miner has had as good terms since this Ministry has come into being as at any time.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman seems to interrogate me, but what I want to know is, has he done all that is intended to be done for the miners?
That is not the point.
Yes, it is.
No, that is not what the hon. Gentleman said.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman—
The hon. Gentleman has made his observations and I am entitled to reply to them. The hon. Gentleman said that I was not very concerned, and I said that I resent that state- ment, because I am very much concerned. What shows my concern is what has happened since I have been in office. When he asks me whether that is all I propose to do, he must know perfectly well that it is not. At any rate we have made, if I may say so, at least as good an advance as has been made in any other period I can remember. I am quite content to leave it at that. The hon. Gentleman talked about safety, and said that the record of this country compared very unfavourably with that of almost any other country in Europe. I do not accept that. As far as Holland is concerned, I agree, but Holland has a very small coalfield. I have not the figures here but I am quite prepared to compare this country with Germany, and other countries in Europe, in regard to safety. May I say, further, that in wartime, as my hon. Friend knows, safety conditions sometimes deteriorate but I have been able to announce—and nobody was more pleased than I—that for this last year we have had the lowest record of fatal accidents in the whole history—
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman must not put into my mouth suggestions which I did not make. I was not referring to him when I was dealing with the question of safety. I said that the problem of safety has to be tackled by his Department. I did say that I was three years on the Royal Commission on Safety in Mines and the evidence there showed that far greater steps had been taken towards improved safety on the Continent, in countries such as France, Belgium, and Germany, than had ever been taken here. Do not let the Minister quarrel with me on this. Let him look up the reports in his own Department.
I am not quarrelling with my hon. Friend but he is rather inclined to make statements of that sort.
I resent that remark most strongly.
My hon. Friend was pleased to make his statements to me, and he must listen to what I want to say in reply. He made a statement which I resented, and I am replying to it. He made a statement with regard to safety, and I am prepared to look at Hansard to see whether I am right in the impression that he said we, as a country, were behind other countries in Europe. That is a statement I cannot accept.
The Minister must take what I said. He cannot make accusations against me without quoting my words. I said that the Royal Commission on Safety in Mines went into this fully, and the evidence was that safety conditions had been vastly improved in other countries compared with ours. The Minister really must look at the Report, and if he finds I am right, I hope he will apologise.
My hon. Friend knows very well that if I find that I had got the wrong impression I will apologise. The impression I got from his remarks was that we were really behind all other countries in Europe, and I cannot accept that, except with regard to Holland, a smaller country where the conditions are different. There is a tremendous lot to be done in regard to safety in mines, and my hon. Friend knows that a great deal was in preparation before the war and that I had given an undertaking that as soon as conditions permit it will be proceeded with, as we regard this as one of the most important things in conjunction with the Reid Report.In the speeches to-day I have been told that there is nothing new in what I propose to do. May I say without offence that I have heard nothing new in any speeches from the other side to-day. I have been in the House nearly 25 years, and I have heard the same speeches on this subject, on and off, during that time. I do not blame hon. Gentlemen for having a rehearsal for the other performance that is coming on later. The tact remains that what they had to offer was nationalisation. I said earlier that the electorate would decide who were to be the owners of the mines. May I put this to hon. Gentlemen who have said that we propose nothing. What has been done has not been done in a haphazard way. The first thing I decided to be essential was that there should be security for a reasonable period after the war, at any rate for those engaged in the mining industry, to an adequate wage. The result of that was that we eventually got the four years' agreement, which was accepted by both sides in the industry, and which the Government are going to back. The pur- pose of that was to start with a period of comparative tranquillity, during which we could commence the work of reconstruction. Having got that achieved, the next thing was to think out what should be done. It is all very well to say that all these things have been said over and over again. I have heard hon. Gentlemen on the other side say that they are sick of reading reports. That may be, but what matters is what it is proposed to do after a report has been made. Suppose hon. Gentlemen were to carry their proposal for nationalisation; what is the first thing they would have to do? It would have to implement the recommendations of the Reid Report. No one will deny that it is essential to raise output of coal in this country as the only practical method of bringing the price down to such a level as will enable us to compete in markets abroad and enable our own industries to get the power they need at the lowest possible price. It is agreed on all sides that the only possible way of doing that is by reducing the prices, and it is further agreed by all thinking people that the only way to reduce the prices is to increase the efficiency of the industry. After all, there is a limit to what the human hand can achieve unaided. One of the great things we have learned in this war is that, while you may have an increase in cutters and conveyors, it is essential to have an increase in mechanical shovels in order to aid the men as much as possible. Therefore, I repeat the first thing that would have to be done with a policy of nationalisation would be to take steps to implement this Report.
Not at all.
I am quite prepared to accept the views of seven engineers who are at least as good as any engineers that can be found in this country.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman is not talking about engineers. He is talking about economics.
The hon. Member is getting a little mixed. At the moment I am talking about the practical steps that would have to be taken to increase technical efficiency. That is going to be done by some sort of work underground —by better winding, better shafts, or better roadways, so as to move away as expeditiously as possible the coal that is acquired at the face by better machinery. I suggest that, whatever the ownership of the industry is, speaking by and large, the recommendations of this Report would have to be carried out. What the Government propose to do is this. There has been an inquiry. I do not think that in their heart of hearts hon. Members in any part of the House can do other than agree that a very great contribution towards a solution of the difficulties of this industry has been made. Apparently the only thing that lies between us is who should be the owners of the mines. All I can say is that this is a matter for the electorate, and if this Government is returned, it will be to carry out this plan; and I can only repeat the words which I used this afternoon—we shall provide the necessary sanctions for making sure that the essential recommendations contained in the Reid Report are carried through.
This is a very important matter. We began the Debate on a Coal Charges Order, and the Minister has taken advantage of this to put forward the Government's policy. This is probably the last Debate on this subject that we shall have before the country decides. The Minister says that the Reid Report must be implemented. That is agreed. The fact is that the coal-owners have not carried out this job; if they had, there would have been no need for the Reid Report. The Minister says there must be sanctions. He also says that the job can be done by private enterprise. If private enterprise can do the job, why have sanctions?
That is rather beside the point. Various methods have been tried in this industry, and there has been a great deal of talk in the industry for a great number of years. I came into it only three years ago. I am not concerned with what has gone on before, except to the extent that we must learn some lessons from what has gone before. The Government accept the Report of the Committee as that of men who are competent to express an opinion. They have come to the conclusion that in the national interest something of this sort must be carried out, and they will take steps to carry it out. If amalgamation cannot be done voluntarily, it will be done com- pulsorily. I need say no more than that the Government are determined to take whatever steps are necessary to put this Report into operation. If the hon. Gentleman expects me to give full details, which I could do on the Second Reading of a Bill, I can only say it is not possible at this stage. I have stated the Government's intentions, and the Government will implement what I have said to-day.
Have not the coal-owners defied Governments in the past?
If they broke the law, I assume action would be taken. The Government mean what they say and that is what they propose to do. I am sorry it was thought that I went rather wide, but the last time we had a discussion I kept to the actual charge and got into hot water fordoing so. At any rate, I have taken the opportunity to give as much information as I could as to the past and as to what we propose to do in the future. I am certain that, whatever the ownership of the industry may be, we have got to do something of this sort if we are to make it the foundation of the economic life of the country.
One thing is certain. The whole country is deeply interested in the mining industry and its immediate future. The Minister says he has given as much information about the Government's plans as he can. He means that he has given as much information as he cares to give, which is nothing. The fact is that the country is left with as little knowledge and as little planning as it had at the outbreak of the war, and we are going forward into the future with as little knowledge and care about the well-being of the country as we have shown at any time in the past. The Minister says the miners have had as square a deal as they have ever had. As a matter of fact they have only had that which could not be withheld from them, so let the Ministry take no credit for that.About nutrition and canteens, how many times did we warn the Government that the miners would not use the canteens? The Government preferred to give, not coupons to the miners in their homes but meat supplies to all kinds of canteens. We warned them against it. Why, then, complain that the men have failed to use the canteens? It is lack of insight and foresight on the part of the Ministry of Food that has led to this position. To complain about it to-day is adding insult to injury. In my experience there are two subjects about which the most uninformed opinion governs the House. One is finance, and the other is mining. Frankly, I do not know of any other two subjects upon which uninformed opinion influences this House so much.
That is not a matter for the House. That is for the professions, and they know little about it. During this Debate I have listened to some complaints about quantities of coal distributed in the North, South, East and West, and in some way hon. Members seemed to assume that there are disparities between North, South, East and West in this country. I represent a mining area, and I am here to tell the House that no part of this country suffers from a scarcity of coal more than does the Rhondda. Thousands of homes in the Rhondda, the richest mining valley in the world, have had to maintain themselves for 24 hours a day on 16 lbs. of coal. There is no electricity or gas, and for 24 hours a day they have to try to keep a fire going with 16 lbs. of coal. And this is called organisation. This is a mystery of fuel and power, not a Ministry of Fuel and Power.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would allow me to ask him whether the Rhondda miners get no free coal or coal at reduced prices. In Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire the miner gets a ton a month in the winter in addition to his basic ration, and he has so much coal that he sells it to other people.
I do not object to that question. I am not speaking merely for the miner employed in the Rhondda but for the 20,000 munition workers outside the mines—20,000 men and women in the Rhondda who work in munition factories and ordnance factories of all kinds, who have no other form of fuel. They have to depend on 65 lbs. of coal per week. That is the allotted quota for working men and women in the Rhondda this week to provide for all their needs, to cook all their food and to provide baths—but they never get a bath unless they are on coal work.People talk about prices. There have been broadcast in this country complaints about the recent increase in the price of coal to consumers in this country. Let me as a miner say to hon. Members in this House and to the community in general: You have no right to cheap coal. A short while ago my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) reminded this House of the terrible toll of life in the anthracite district of South Wales, resulting from silicosis. I grieve to say to this House that anthracite takes second place to-day. The Rhondda is the greatest death pit in the world. Pneumoconiosis and silicosis take 1,200 lives per year in the coalfields of this country; they are mainly in South Wales, and the highest percentage is from my division. Hundreds of men to-night are waiting for medical boards to examine them, and hon. Members in this House complain that the price of coal is too high. There are dozens of men dying in my division to-night. You do not talk about the social cost of coal. You talk about that miserly, mean price per ton in the markets of the country. I am losing dozens of my fellow-miners every day and every week, while the country is talking about the price of coal and the cost of administration. They are having their coal too cheap. They are not paying for coal at its proper cost. I say to them: "You are burning men's lives and souls in your grates, and yet you are complaining that it costs too much." What the Minister proposes is miserly and puny. The mining industry will laugh to-morrow at this attempt to justify this mystery of fuel and power. If the next Government of this country were to be decided by the mining industry of this country, I could tell hon. Members what it would be. It would not be a Tory, a Liberal, a Common Wealth or a Nationalist Government; it would be a Mining Government, a government of the mining population.
It is a good job we are not all miners, then.
It would be an intelligent Government, anyhow.
That is questionable, judging from the hon. Member's speech.
The Minister's reply to-night was inadequate. He said that underlying the Debate was the question of nationalisation or private ownership. I venture to put to the House the point that, if the plea the Minister put forward is that nationalisation must prove itself superior to private ownership, then equally private ownership must prove itself superior to nationalisation, if the Minister has decided that the former is to continue. It is by increased efficiency that either one or other system will justify itself. Up to now, all that the Minister can decide is that there is continued decline under private ownership. At what stage will he convince himself that it is time to make a change?
What about America?
They are running in the same direction. As a matter of fact, the Minister fails to appreciate what has been known to some of us, and has been mentioned in this House, that the tendency in the mining industry is for the average age of the workers to increase. There are no boys coming into it now. Recently the Minister came to my Divison and asked a very large audience whether any of them would send their boys into the industry; no one would. Why? Because there is no security in it. Whoever starts in the industry to-day cannot say that he will be there in five years from now. In South Wales the personnel of the industry has declined in the last 25 years from 270,000 to 100,000. How long are the 100,000 to remain? Down, down, down—that is the history and the record of private ownership. Mark this—I think my fellow miners here would join with me in saying this—we were proud of our job as miners. Never were men prouder of their craft than we. Whatever may be the dangers of the mines, they never frightened us. They may frighten a good many other people in this House, but not us. We dared. We faced the danger, and we did so proudly. But that is no reason why we should send our sons there, when we do not know if they will be there in a year's time.The mining industry offers no prospect of a career. What is the use of talking about sending boys with secondary school education and advanced education into the pits? You cannot even say they will be there six months hence. Pits are closing down; the mining industry to-day is closing down. In the last 25 years no more than three new collieries have been opened in South Wales. In the last 30 years nearly 30 pits have closed, and in South Wales three have opened in 25 years—and they talk about private ownership and maintaining coal supplies! The country is faced with the most critical situation imaginable in the next 50 years in regard to coal. If you talk about the future of this nation, what is the good of talking in terms of five, or ten, or 20 years? When we talk about the security and prosperity of Britain we ought to talk in terms of centuries. Here we have private coalowners quite satisfied to allow existing mines to exhaust themselves and die away, and the supply of coal to diminish and disappear. The facts are there. Ask the Minister himself. He is bound to confirm my statement. We are up against the fact that a decision must be made. Either we are going to rely on private ownership and gradually allow this nation to become bankrupt from the standpoint of supplies of coal, which is the necessary basis of the industrial prosperity of Britain, or the nation itself must take the matter in hand. No longer is it a question of whether you can administer one pit or a dozen, on the basis of national ownership as against private ownership. The question that faces the country is whether the mining industry itself is going to continue to exist and develop in private ownership. We are here to inform the House that there is no basis on which the mining industry can be maintained and developed, except that of the nationalisation of the industry. That is the issue.
Would the hon. Member outline how this improvement can be brought about by nationalisation?
Yes, I can well reply to the hon. Member by referring him to the Foot Plan, the very plan put forward by the coalowners, who calmly ask this nation to put our national credit at the disposal of the private coalowner to develop the industry for private profit. When the credit of the country has to be expended for profit, I think we should spend our credit at least for public profit.
Question put, and agreed to.
"That the Coal (Charges) (Amendment)(No. 1) Order, 1945, dated 25th April, 1945, made by the Treasury under Section 2 of the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939, a copy of which Order was presented on 1st May, be approved."