[13TH ALLOTTED DAY]
Considered in Committee.
[Major MILNER in the Chair]
Civil Estimates, 1949–50
Motion made, and Question proposed:
"That a further sum, not exceeding £60, be granted to His Majesty, towards defraying the charges for the following services connected with Fuel and Power for the year ending on the 31st March, 1950, namely:
|Civil Estimates, 1949–50|
|Class VI., Vote 6, Ministry of Fuel and Power||10|
|Class IX., Vote 4, Ministry of Fuel and Power (War Services)||10|
|Class VI., Vote 18, Department of Scientific and Industrial Research||10|
|Class IX., Vote 1, Ministry of Supply||10|
|Class VI., Vote 13, Ministry of Transport||10|
|Class VII., Vote 1, Ministry of Works||10|
—[ Mr. Glenvil Hall.]
Fuel And Power
The Opposition has many reasons for seeking this Debate. The first is that we believe, despite the Chancellor, that a fierce gale of competition in the export markets will strike this country soon, and strike it hard. The Chancellor has recently been praising the delicious food of Italy. To that, I suppose, we owe the rosy speech of last night. Let me say that from the point of view of the Opposition we are delighted by the Chancellor's well-deserved repasts, but I have profound views about the wisdom of the speech he made last night. However, I have often said ditto in this House and elsewhere to the praises given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, by the Lord President of the Council, by the Minister of Fuel and Power and many other Ministers to all who have helped us in our stern effort to restore solvency to Britain.But let us remember, in the light of the Chancellor's speech last night, that we are in the middle of a long and rough road which we must tread uphill for many years. I am certain that this country will be animated by the spirit of Sir Harry Lauder's famous song, "Keep right on to the end of the road." I believe that there is no division between parties in this Committee on the necessity of following Sir Harry Lauder's advice. We can, I believe, keep right on to the end of the road unless we are weakened by false optimism or unless by extravagance and maladministration, we overburden the shoulders of John Bull. It is because I am unhappy about the drafts now being made on our scanty reserves of gold and dollars that I am making an appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Fuel and Power to recognise that there are great dangers ahead. Of course, if we were Americans we could derive great benefits from trying to spend our way to prosperity. But we are in the unfortunate position that we must buy 45 per cent. of our food and almost all our raw materials in the markets of the world, and the right hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food knows that that is a difficult task. To do this—to try to spend our way back to prosperity—would, of course, quickly exhaust our resources of dollars and gold. Let me repeat that I am most profoundly disturbed by these drafts on our reserves at present. I would have wished that the Chancellor last night had called attention to this extremely sad development. I aver with sorrow that we are entering into times of depression. How deep that depression will be I know not. But here I again address an appeal to the Minister of Fuel. The Minister's responsibilities, heavy as they now are, may become overwhelming. The right hon. Gentleman has so many tasks set him that in some ways I believe it is almost impossible to discharge his office with success. I am perfectly certain that from time to time, whilst he is lying in his bath or enjoying himself in the country—and he gets rare occasions for that—he will agree with that remark. I disagree with many of his policies; he need not be a Sherlock Holmes to have discovered that during the course of the last few years. I care little for most of his appointments, but I must also recognise that he works with all his might and that he has many disappointments, some undeserved, others well deserved. We of the Opposition share many of his disappointments. The future of the country is all in all to us and, when it is threatened, party differences are of no account whatever. The Ministry of Fuel and Power is one of the tightest monopolies in the world. The old Standard Oil Company in the United States was an amateur Heath Robinson affair by comparison with the Minister's Department. That is not to say that his Department is not also a Heath Robinson affair, but it can cripple the competitive power of many thousands of exporting firms in Britain. It plays a large part in maintaining the high prices that are now causing deep unrest in industry and plague almost every household in the land. I think so far, on the whole. I have carried the Minister with me. Of all the responsibilities of the Minister coal is, of course, the greatest. We are very anxious about the happenings in that industry during the first quarter of this year. Our thoughts, let me tell hon. Gentlemen opposite, about the coal industry are not infected by political prejudice. We know that the miner's calling is hard, dirty and dangerous. We also know the sombre background of the industry in the past.
In the past the party opposite treated them rottenly.
That is what the Fabian Society are saying about what the Coal Board are doing at present. I do not believe the hon. Gentleman's statement, nor do I believe in the Fabian Society's accusation against the Coal Board.
On a point of correction. Reference has been made to the Fabian Society. I hope it is clear to the right hon. Gentleman that their objection is that there is too much Conservatism in high quarters in the Coal Board.
I must say that the hon. Member's attack on Mr. Ebby Edwards will be resented everywhere.In the past, the coal industry has been convulsed by the efforts of political agitators and also, and perhaps what is more important, by extravagant political promisers—
—who led the miners to believe that nationalisation and syndicalism would run well together. I have already referred to the Fabian pamphlet. It confirms my opinion that today many miners are deeply disillusioned, not to say bitterly cynical. Hon. Gentlemen opposite should join with us in deploring that development. We want to try to get the best possible spirit in the mines. I am merely recording that there is bitter and deep cynicism among the miners. I hope that this will be removed by better public relations from the Coal Board and by the co-operation of all parties in this Committee. Let us say nothing by way of exhortation or unfair criticism that will add to the cynicism of the miners.
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman by what right he speaks on behalf of the miners? How many are there in his constituency?
That is a rather irrelevant interruption. I know my constituency contains no miners, but let me remind—
I really must be allowed to finish my sentence. Let me remind the interrupter that, despite the demerits of my constituency, the Socialist Party is constantly taking every opportunity to hold their annual conference in the borough of Bournemouth.
The miners and others have a great sense of fun, and I should like to invite the right hon. Gentleman to come to my own constituency and attend a meeting of miners, when he might get to know something about the subject which he is discussing.
I should be only too delighted, as I believe that one of the great Tory victories of the next General Election will be in the hon. Lady's constituency.
Are you coming?
Let me say that, while it is quite true that I have no experience of mining here, I have in my amateur way a fairly wide experience of mining in various parts of the world, but I would not claim to be an authority on mining.Let me go back to what I have just said. Both sides of this Committee must do their very best to get rid of the disillusionment and cynicism in the coalfields, and so, for that reason, I am not going to prescribe another brand of politics for those who serve the coal industry, not that they are likely to call me in. Nevertheless, in so far as I can, I am most anxious to keep the coal industry out of politics, because politics have bedevilled the industry in the past.
I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way to me, because I should like to ask him a rather serious question, and to leave this hilarious atmosphere which he has created. He has made the rather sad statement that there is disillusionment among the mining fraternity. Will he give some evidence to this House of the disillusionment to which he has just referred?
I am not at the moment going to talk about strikes or anything else, and shall deal with that later, but may I say to the hon. Gentleman that he should read a book by a gentleman who is not fully employed by Lord Woolton—a gentleman called Mr. Gollancz, who has published a book called "Men and the Pits," which is a very remarkable book. Secondly, I beg him to read the Fabian pamphlet, because it is very much in confirmation of what I have been saying.Now let me get off controversial matters, although I have not raised any so far and the interrupters have. Here I think I can express a generality or platitude; I am not quite sure. The nationalisation of the coal industry without any carefully prepared policy was a colossal risk, not to say a gamble. We on this side of the Committee have many times expressed our doubts about the strange system of organisation established by the National Coal Board. I shall not say much today about this faulty organisation—I shall say a few things, but not much—save that it is appropriate and very necessary that, at the first possible opportunity, we should be given a day to discuss the Report of the National Coal Board. Last year, the Minister was not entirely wise in withholding this from us, but I am perfectly certain that, in order to discuss the coal industry today, we must have an opportunity to consider the Board's second Report. I have already said that we are anxious about happenings in the coal industry during the first quarter of this year. Absenteeism, most regrettably, has greatly increased. I am fully aware that absenteeism is a word that can be interpreted in a different way by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee, but I am equally certain that mining Members here deplore the fact that, in the first quarter of the year, absenteeism has exceeded 15 per cent. The Lancashire strike was the worst for many years; it is probably the worst since 1926, and if I am wrong perhaps hon. Gentlemen opposite will correct me. I was truly delighted at the news that that strike had been settled, because it is of the highest possible importance to the country that Lancashire should make its due contribution to our coal production. Now, however, I get the grievous news that the strike may recur, and hon. Gentlemen on both sides will agree with me, therefore, that this is not the time to comment on the strike or to say anything that will exacerbate feelings or make it impossible for a settlement to be reached. Now I turn to the Government's targets for coal production, and I am greatly grieved that they have not been achieved; in fact, they have been very much missed, though the T.U.C., which includes a number of miners, though not a majority, declared that the targets set by the Government were much too low. In the most friendly way, may I remind the Parliamentary Secretary of a speech which he made at Oxford last year? I must also remind him that I am quoting a metaphor which can only be described as very confused. He said that the target set by his Ministry was "not a theoretical figure, but an absolute minimum." We all know that that target has been missed, and we also regret it, and hon. Gentlemen opposite will join with my hon. Friends on this side in saying that scarce, bad and costly coal is still a great burden on Britain. Despite many promises of improvement, little has been achieved. The Minister will have his opportunity of saying what has been achieved, but he would not, generally speaking, deny what I have said. We are greatly disappointed by the bad, scarce and costly coal which afflicts communities today. I shall say nothing very much about opencast coal, because my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Fylde (Colonel Lancaster)—whose constituency has been bisected but who will still be the Member after the next General Election—will out of his great knowledge deal with that matter. I must say in passing, however, that the amenities of the countryside and good land which must be greatly prized by the Minister of Agriculture, are being ruined to provide opencast coal. As the Minister has to make a speech, he may welcome some questions, and my first one is this: Is there any truth in the suggestion that a large part of this opencast coal is unsaleable? I should be glad to have an answer to that question. Deeply disappointing are the results of the first quarter of coal production in Britain during 1949, and we take no joy in these developments. We deplore them as much as the Minister does, and we very much hope that the production of coal will greatly increase during the present year, because it is of the most vital importance, both to the industry and to the country, that such a development should come to pass. I have spoken about the consequences of bad, dear, and scarce coal to British industries. May I now make an appeal to the mining Members opposite to consider carefully what I am about to say to them? Do they not recognise that in the next vital 12 months, in a buyers' market, great dangers face the coal industry in Britain, dangers that may cause unemployment with its consequence of social misery? I am sorry to say, from the point of view of Britain, that coal scarcity is ending, because I look upon coal as the true begetter of England's industrial greatness, and I am very sorry today to have to say that coals are no longer the black diamonds they were during the last four years. Fierce competition faces us now. Poland is most active in her attempts to develop export markets. Germany will certainly come into the export markets in a big way, and will make a great endeavour to cut prices in order to secure markets which we have hitherto enjoyed. South Africa, a country that did not really bother very much about its coal before the war, is now an important coal-producing country and is a competitor with us in many markets. Of course, the United States intends to try to export coal in a big way for cash. She is exporting coal at the present time for nothing, but the Americans greatly desire to get into our export markets, and we shall find ourselves up against great competition there, because the price of coal in the United States is very much below the price of coal here. I have read speeches by politicians, both on platforms and in another part of this building, which I can only describe as silly attacks on those British exporters who provided Polish coal to Ireland. The simple reply to those attacks is that the National Coal Board could not fulfil its obligations. Therefore, I think that the Government of Ireland were perfectly entitled to make their arrangements elsewhere and to ask their British exporter friends to help them. But, of course, British exporters have been exporting American coal with the full knowledge of Lord Hyndley, the National Coal Board and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. They have been exporting coal to many countries, to France, to Italy and to the Scandinavian countries. They would, of course, like to sell British coal. Alas, it is not available. There is nothing wrong in British exporters selling foreign coal when they cannot get British coal. After all, with the fullest approbation of His Majesty's Government, the British shipping companies are earning large profits for Britain by transporting foreign goods to markets in which we are anxious to compete, and long may they continue to do so and swell our hard currency revenues. Believe me, they need swelling at the present time. I have been watching with considerable anxiety messages sent to me from correspondents connected with the business for which I have some responsibility, who say that there is a great desire among certain countries in Europe and the Middle East to obtain more gold from Britain, or rather to put great drafts on our very small reserves.
Would the right hon. Gentleman explain the point he made with regard to exporters in this country sending American coal to Ireland?
The right hon. Gentleman said American as well as Polish coal.
If I did, I was in error. I have already mentioned Polish coal, and I have also said that American coal is being exported through British agencies to Scandinavia, to France and to Italy.
May I point out to the right hon. Gentleman that if British exporters were to buy American coal, they would have to pay for it either in gold or hard currency and to export it to a soft currency area, which would mean a loss in our dollar exchange. Consequently, it cannot be done.
Apparently the hon. Gentleman has not heard of Marshall Aid. I do not blame him because he is so constantly interrupting in this House that he can barely have time to listen to what is said or to read the newspapers.I once again return to the defence of these exporters because, of course, much of Britain's prosperity has been created by the enterprise and energy of merchants, shippers, bankers, and insurance companies who have provided services unequalled by any other nation. I am sure that the Minister does not disagree with that. In his days as a lecturer on political economy he must have repeated these platitudes to thousands of students. However, that was before this period of Government-controlled trading. We need a serious reminder that unilateral trade is a return to primitive bartering, but before departing from this subject of coal I wish to put a few more questions to the Minister. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept the statement of Lord Balfour—there are many Lord Balfours, but the one to whom I am referring is the chairman of the Scottish Regional Control Board—about prices, because Lord Balfour recently declared that we might possibly expect a reduction of less than 5s. in the price of coal in 1965. What a prospect! Vast sums of money are being expended today on providing new machinery for the pits, and I regard that expenditure as wholly desirable. But I must ask the Minister, in the light of what has been happening at Grimethorpe, whether he has secured the union's agreement that restrictionists will not be allowed to prevent the utmost use of that new machinery. That machinery is being paid for by the British taxpayer, and the sums involved are immense. We require some assurance from the Minister that when the machinery is installed the restrictionists will not be allowed to destroy its utility. I often wish that we could all put it across to the miners and, indeed, to many other people in this country, including employers, that the machine is not the enemy of the employer and worker or of the miner; in fact, bleak indeed would be the future of the miner, without machinery. When I was a Minister during the war it was one of my duties to have close contact with American generals. The Ministry of Information had the responsibility of looking after the welfare of American troops in England and of keeping a close contact between the Cabinet at that time and the generals of the American Army and Air Force. I was very much impressed one day when I went into the office of one of the brightest of all the young generals. He had a placard on the wall, a placard which had been distributed all round the barracks over which he had authority, and the words of that placard ought to be repeated, and indeed printed, by the National Coal Board and circulated extensively in every mining area in Britain. Here they are:
I greatly hope that the Minister has a clear understanding with the great union responsible, that these costly machines, some of which are imported from the United States and some of which are being built here to the disadvantage of our export trade, will be used all-out; and if there is any help which can be given by my party in this attempt to persuade the miners that the machine is the friend of man, I hope very much that we shall be called in. We may not be asked to prescribe, but this is a point of great importance. I do not want to say very much more about this matter of restrictionism, save to say that the body of Captain Ludd has long since mouldered in the grave but his ideas still march on in Britain and I regard this new Luddism as a fatal barrier to our recovery. As I say, we should give up a whole day, doing our public duty with such competence as we possess, to the National Coal Board's second report. Let me turn to this question of electricity, which is causing so much excitement in various parts of the country. It is not required of me to go into the history of this industry under nationalisation. After all, it has not been nationalised for very long. This compliment I must pay to the British Electricity Authority, however; they are well fulfilling the tradition of the nationalisers. I hoped I should get a cheer from the other side for that. They are well fulfilling it because the first act they perpetrated when they took over their responsibilities was to raise the price of electricity. This has imposed the harshest of burdens on millions of people, particularly those who live in all-electric houses. Some hon. Members may be under the illusion that the only people who can afford to live in all-electric houses are Sir John Ellerman and a few other great millionaires, but in point of fact many local authorities in the great cities have built houses and flats and have attracted people to take them on the grounds that they were all-electric. I think I am right in saying, therefore, that the recent increase in the price of electricity has been a very harsh burden on the dwellers in those houses. I should like to ask a question of the Minister. I am asking him a lot of questions this afternoon, and I am sorry to say that I intend to ask him a lot more. How much electricity was actually saved by what is called—and I apologise for this Whitehallese—the "Clow differential charge" imposed last winter? The British Electricity Authority must have profited greatly by this heavy impost, but it has deeply worried people of small means. In fact, from some correspondence which I have received, I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that it has worried them to distraction. I regard it as a prize example of the planners' inhumanity to man. Leaving out their inhumanity, I want to say something about their intelligence—that is, of the planners responsible for generating plant. In 1948, these gentlemen cut their 1947 plans by a half. Hon. Members will remember the tremendous praise given to the planners for their great scheme for providing more generators in 1947. If blue-prints could provide more electricity, then electricity would be in excess in Britain. But these planners have not got very much further than their 1947 blue-prints which, of course, are now fly-blown, for in 1949 they cut their 1947 plans—these new plans that were going to be of such service to all of us—by one-third. We all know that the war prevented the building of many much-needed generating stations. They are of the most vital importance to industry. The right hon. Gentleman will perhaps forgive me for saying that Ministerial muddles have played a very considerable part in the disappointment we feel because of the lack of more generators, but there is also one thing I must tell him. In doing so I am not attacking him personally; I am attacking quite a number of his colleagues who played a great part in the disillusionment which has come to the public. In October last year the Minister of Supply announced that generating plant was ready. Their public relations officers went all round Fleet Street saying, "Generating plants are ready." But they also said that they must be stored because the buildings to contain them were not ready. I think that public relations officers of the Ministry of Supply have no right to start criticism of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Works. I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman will try to deal with them, but my long experience of public relations officers makes me feel that nobody can keep them under control and that a strait-waistcoat is the only remedy. I ask the Minister, what is the position now? This matter is of high consequence. I am told that one of the reasons we have not more generating plant is that the efforts of the Minister's colleagues have been frustrated by endless form-filling, and we all know there have been many reversals of policy. We also regret to note that the time now taken to build a big power station is twice as much as it was in pre-war days. The only explanation of that is that there seems to be no drive or efficiency among the many Departments responsible for building new power stations. Another word about the British Electricity Authority, I must say the Board's policies are disconcerting, to put it mildly. Its administrative machine seems enormously unwieldy. How we look forward to getting the first report of that Authority in Parliament, and discovering the numbers of persons employed at what is called the top. Here, in passing, I must say something about the unfair methods of trading adopted by the B.E.A. or its subordinates in the provinces. Its area boards are now advertising goods on hire-purchase terms, while the Bank of England is requesting or directing the joint stock banks to discourage hire purchase. Of course, that Bank of England directive is formed after confabulations with the Treasury. The Minister will be glad to hear that we share his joy in examining into the first report of the B.E.A. Now I turn to the subject of gas. The Minister and I have some amateurish experience of that industry, but neither of us is prepared to draw upon it today. You will not be surprised to hear, Major Milner, that, following the good old nationalisation tradition, the day gas was nationalised an arrangement was made to increase prices. I must say that the only thread of consistency in the present Government's policies in that when they nationalise they increase prices."Always strive to find a machine that will replace human toil, and use it to the full."
Were the increases justified on the facts?
It is hard to say, and I shall tell why; because we read criticisms of the local authorities, and we are told that some of the local authorities were so wicked as not to charge the consumer the real cost of the gas he used. So I looked at that argument. What did I find? That the attack is, generally speaking, directed against Socialist municipal authorities. At least, they were Socialist until the electoral disaster of last week. I think it is wrong to blame the local authorities for this matter. If they believe in providing a cheap service to the public, we should applaud that belief.But I want to complain about something which is, perhaps, of lesser importance. It is about that most squalid example of political jobbery that has been set by the newly-appointed chairman of the North-Eastern Board. I do not know whether he is a constituent of the right hon. Gentleman; I do not know whether he has that advantage or not; but he is certainly a citizen of Leeds. This gentleman was until recently a director of the Co-operative Wholesale Society Bank, and almost his first act as chairman of the North-Eastern Board was to order the transfer of the banking accounts of 76 companies in the area to the Co-operative Wholesale Society's Bank.
How much money was saved thereby?
That is a very interesting question. I am going to deal with it. I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman. First of all, as he perhaps knows, the Co-operative Wholesale Society's Bank is not equipped to deal with these accounts. It is not in the Clearing House. It has no adequate branches. Therefore, I am told that the Co-operative Wholesale Society's Bank will do a deal with the joint stock banks that have done the work in the past, and will be required to do the work in the future. Somebody must pay for that deal. Let me assure hon. Gentlemen that there is no economy in this business. The Co-operative Wholesale Society does not work for nothing, and so will get its commission, and I forecast that the person who will pay for this dirty deal is the unfortunate consumer—as he does all the time. I know that the Minister, in Committee, promised us time after time, that there would be no politics in the gas industry. I am furthermore prepared to believe that the Minister feels today that there should be no politics in the gas industry. I, therefore, feel it is his duty to remind the new chairman of the North-Eastern Board that his loyalties should be given to the State and not to the Co-operative Wholesale Society's Bank.
Send him back to the bank.
An hon. Member suggests that we should send him back to the C.W.S. bank. I am a man of genial, generous disposition, and I would not send him back to the bank, where he probably received a salary of £1,000 a year, whereas now he must be receiving something like £4,000 from his beneficent Member in Leeds.
The hon. Gentleman has no right to call him Santa Claus. It is, in fact, out of Order. I am only suggesting that the chairman of the North-Eastern Gas Board came from Leeds, and I hope he has the happiness of being represented in Parliament by the right hon. Gentleman.Now let me turn to oil. Oil is a subject which interests all Members, and is likely to interest them very much more during the next few months. I hope I shall get some support from hon. Gentlemen opposite in describing the Government's handling of oil as being very rough in relation to the public. I say that the public have been very roughly handled by the oil department of the right hon. Gentleman's Ministry. The Government do not seem to like motorists very much. The Secretary of State for Scotland has declared that motorists are the most selfish people in the community. I have never seen the Secretary of State either hiking or bicycling, but I do think that that is a pretty wounding remark. The Government not only seem to think that the motorists are selfish, but that they are very gullible. Here are some of the justifications given for petrol rationing. One is the Berlin airlift. I have seen the most wonderful descriptions—not from the Minister, but from some of his colleagues—in answers to Questions when we have tried to find out the Government's policy, and to get answers to the question why the public could not get more petrol. It naturally occurred to his colleagues to say that the answer was the Berlin airlift. But his colleagues were let down in a harsh way the other day by the Secretary of State for Air, because he told us that the petrol used in the Berlin airlift was only a drop in the bucket. We are told again that one of the reasons we cannot get more petrol is that there is a shortage of rubber. I must say that that tale should be told to the most senile of all marines.
Where did that idea come from?
The right hon. Gentleman's own propagandists.
Cannot we have the quotation, please?
I should be very glad to give the right hon. Gentleman the quotation, but I have not carried it with me. However, does the right hon. Gentleman deny that it has been stated that the shortage of rubber was one of the reasons?
I have never heard of it.
Only a couple of years ago it would have been a quite good justification. It is merely not up-to-date. If the right hon. Gentleman is looking for authorities from me, I will give him one on another aspect of the Ministry's apolooia—the shortage of tankers. The right hon. Gentleman has made many speeches about the shortage of tankers. Is it not a fact that an order given for some large tankers has recently been cancelled? I should like an answer to that question. Furthermore, I should like to know from the Minister what are our present stocks of petrol. What is the necessity for silly secrecy about this matter? Does anyone believe that our country's fortunes will be imperilled because the Minister gives us the figures of his petrol stocks? A few months ago hair-raising stories were being told to us about the world shortage of oil. Our American friends were not backward in circulating those stories; but the truth is that today Americans are cutting prices at home for petrol but they are not cutting any of the prices of the petrol they are selling here, nor do I think that they would be allowed to do so by some of the controllers of prices employed by the Ministry.
They cannot do anything about prices.
What are we doing, may I ask the Minister, with the large production of oil in the sterling area? Is there any truth in the statement that large quantities of oil have been sent to China—China of all countries? How much petrol has been sent to Scandinavian countries, and has petrol sent to China and Scandinavian countries been paid for in dollars? These are serious questions and deserve a full reply. Again, let me ask a question to scotch a rumour. The only person who can scotch it is the Minister, not a much-despised Member of the Opposition. Do the Govern- ment give instructions to the Anglo-Persian Oil Company about the disposal of their products?I throw the suggestion out to the Minister—and it is a very helpful one if he will take note of it—has any approach been made to the great American oil companies to keep a part of the enormous profits which they are making here at the present time in sterling instead of turning them into dollars? I know that they have a right to turn them into dollars, but has any approach been made to them to keep most of these profits in sterling for the time being? I am no bear of sterling. I think that sterling is one of the best currencies in the world. I think that as the years go on and we have a change of Government, it will be one of the hardest. The American oil magnates seem more lucky than the film magnates in Britain. Hon. Gentlemen opposite know that for many years the American oil companies have made immense profits here. They got into this market before the British really woke up to the future of petrol. [An HON. MEMBER: "What Government were in power then?"] It was the Liberals on that occasion. They have built up tremendous profits here in Britain, and to their credit, much to their profit, they have large plants here, and other installations of immense value. I believe that the American oil magnates recognise that they have a big stake in Britain. Again, I ask the right hon. Gentleman, has any approach been made to the heads of the American oil companies to keep most of their profits in sterling and keep them here for a few years?
Is it not a fact that Royal Dutch Shell have very large concerns in the Western Hemisphere which in turn serve this country very well? I accept that there is an adverse dollar balance at the moment, but I am asking the right hon. Gentleman if it is not a fact that the company I have named does enjoy a very large dollar income from sales in the Western Hemisphere, which of course, in turn, benefits the sterling area.
If the Dutch are in this transaction to which the hon. Gentleman referred, I must remind him of an old poem, actually composed by a Prime Minister, one of the few who could write reasonable poetry—not that this an outstanding example in poetry
"In matters of commerce, the fault of the Dutch
I am not talking at the moment of the Dutch; I am talking of the great American oil companies. [Interruption.] I know perfectly well the relationship between Shell here and the Shell interests overseas, but that would not help the Minister much, as he knows. What I might call the installations here—the petrol pumps all over the country—are largely controlled by the Americans. As I have already stated, they have a large stake in the country, and I think that they ought to stand by this country at the present time. Furthermore, as I must repeat myself, they ought to have faith in sterling. If the installations and the very valuable plant which they possess here are worth anything, they ought to show more faith in this country. I am not suggesting for a moment that the Americans have done anything that is not absolutely within their rights. I think that the Americans can say to us, "You must honour agreements to enable us to convert our sterling takings into dollars"; but I think one could go a little beyond agreements by a personal appeal—and only a personal appeal—to keep some sterling here; and if they do not agree, that is the end. I know some of the heads of the American oil business. They are tough, but they are also generous men. They know that it would be well worth their while to earn the good will of millions of British motorists by meeting us in the way I have suggested. Nothing that I have suggested has anything to do with the repudiation of agreements. I merely ask the Government to put it up to, say, the Standard Oil Company, whose subsidiary here is probably the biggest of all distributors, that it would not do them any harm financially to keep their earnings here in sterling for a few years, and the public would be grateful to them if they would do so.Is offering too little and asking too much."
By increasing the supply of petrol?
Now that the supply of petrol has greatly increased, surely the Minister can deal generously with British motorists? I appeal to him to take a risk in this spring time and give the public an opportunity of a happy holiday in the summer. If the risk goes wrong, the right hon. Gentleman will certainly not be blamed from this side. I do not think that he will be taking any very great risk because oil now is very much in the buyers' market, and I cannot believe, unless the Minister contradicts me, that we have not very large stocks of petrol or of oil.I have said that the Government have treated motorists in this country roughly, but what can be said of the treatment meted out to the industrialists by the late Minister of Fuel and Power, so happily translated to the War Office? That gentleman, in a panic, called on British industrialists to convert their plant from coal to oil. Vast sums were spent by industrialists in achieving that conversion. In December, 1947, it was estimated that nearly 1,300 industrial firms had converted from coal to oil. Then they were suddenly told that oil would not be available and that they must go back to coal. Poor "tinkers' cusses"! Enormous waste resulted. I have seen plant, now rusting in various parts of the country, which was bought because the former Minister of Fuel and Power ordered, or directed, industrialists to convert from coal to oil. He may not have had any power of giving them a command which would have the force of law, but he could always deprive them of their raw materials if they did not fulfil his instructions. That is another example of planning in the Ministry of Fuel and Power, but again I must say that the present Minister had no responsibility whatever for that policy, because a Parliamentary Secretary has no responsibility for the policy of a Department; nowadays it is only the Minister and, apparently, the Parliamentary Private Secretary who take the rap. Nobody in industry today seems to understand the Government's refining policy. If the right hon. Gentleman does, I hope he will give us the benefit of his information. I do not want to press him if he has not the information; he cannot come along here with every detail of his Department's work, any more than I could come along with the small quotations required by his ever-bubbling Man Friday; but it would be a great advantage to the country if the Minister could give us some information about the refining policy and the plans of the Government to increase the refining capacity of the country. The war held up all sorts of hopeful schemes for building great refineries here, and it would be an advantage if the Minister could tell us when those plans are likely to be fulfilled, because it is no use for us to get blue-prints of the refineries of the future until we know that. We have had that one before, and we are now looking for a carefully prepared time schedule. I think every hon. Member on this side of the Committee—and for once I think I can speak for the other side—will join with me in saying that we are all in favour of increasing our refinery capacity, because we can create many new industries out of the by-products of oil. I have always taken the view that in the end the chemist would probably save Britain, and I am all in favour of the establishment of adequate refining resources here. I hope the Minister will cheer me up by telling me that he has that very much in mind, and by giving us some indications of his plans. I am sorry to have taken up so much time. Of course, I did afford interrupting hon. Members opposite an opportunity of participating for at least a few minutes in this Debate in case they could not catch your eye, Major Milner. I have no complaint to make of that, because I think that one of the best things in the House of Commons is for a speaker to give way to reasonable, or even unreasonable, interruptors. Some hon. Members opposite seem to doubt my statement that our export industries must soon face a depression. Now, "depression" is an unfashionable word. When I was very young I had an opportunity of witnessing the great slump in the United States, and nobody objected to that being called a depression. But in the middle thirties America was afflicted by another great weakening in sales, and the politicians, who had to win elections, declared that this sad development could not be called a depression. They said, "Anyone who calls this new development, the falling off of sales, a depression is foolish. He is the sort of man who will neither believe in Moses nor the prophets." Then, of course, Americans had to invent a new name, and they called the depression of the middle 'thirties a "recession." Today, the Americans have found a new name for the decline in sales—and, let me remind the Minister, a heavy decline in oil sales. They are not willing to call it a depression, and I must say that their new name is a very attractive one: they call it "a slide." I do not know whether or not it will be a toboggan slide. I greatly hope that it will not be, because a great depression in the United States would be one of the greatest tragedies that could afflict the world. I say to the right hon. Gentleman that we too must prepare against a slide, and the Minister of Fuel and Power can greatly help us to do so by cutting some of the extravagant overhead charges for which his Ministry is responsible. I am not suggesting that the Minister has too many civil servants. I get very bored from time to time by these attacks on the civil servants, and the civil servants are not merely bored but are afflicted by frenzy when they have a look at the vast multitude of gentlemen who serve these new national boards, and who are loosely described by the public as civil servants. Most of them certainly would not have passed a Civil Service examination, although they might get through "Cissbe."
What is "Cissbe"?
"Cissbe" is an establishment set up by the Foreign Office to judge of the manners and general habits of young gentlemen who wish to join the Foreign Service. I hope the hon. Gentleman is satisfied with that explanation.If the Minister does not face up to this responsibility, he will be doing a very great disservice to Britain. Now, I am not asking hon. Members to accept my view of the dangers ahead to Britain. I want to make a quotation from the chairman of the Cunard Line. I do not know whether he is a Conservative or a Liberal; for all I know he might even be a member of the party opposite; or he might be one of the many sensible people in England who do not belong to any political party. This is what he said only a few weeks ago:
I see present many hon. Members opposite who represent mining constituencies, and I beg of them to take note of that remark. We really are pricing ourselves out of many markets, and the effect will be catastrophic to the mining community. That is the reason why I have asked the Minister to face up to this problem. I am not throwing the whole burden of responsibility on him, but in my judgment he alone can make the necessary economies in overheads in some of the nationalised industries. But, of course, as he well knows, economies are trivial by comparison with the fact that the only sure way of getting out of our troubles is by increased production. Alas! as I have said before, we are the only great industrial Power in the world who must import nearly half our food and almost all our raw materials. In a world slump we shall suffer much more than any of our competitors. Whatever our critics may say, there are few people in the world who doubt the quality of our goods, but many buyers today are resisting our prices. Our worst danger lies in the ghastly rigidity of our economy, and I beg the Minister to play his part in reducing that rigidity."Under the new National Coal Board British shipping and shipbuilding have lost the benefit of home-mixed coal at world prices. Bunker coal in New York at 61s. 2d. and in London at 98s. per ton tells its own tale. It is fortunate for British shipping that as British coal prices itself out of overseas markets and bunker deposits, other and cheaper supplies of coal and oil in fields abroad are being developed in its place."
This is the first Supply Day connected with my Ministry that we have had since last summer. In the circumstances, it was quite natural that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) should have covered a very wide field and inevitably taken rather a long time in doing so, although we on this side have no objections whatever to that. It devolves upon me to present a report of my stewardship for a period covering almost a whole year, and I, too, shall have to cover a rather wide field. I shall be as quick as I can, but I apologise in advance if Members should feel that I am taking up a little too much time.
We shall only have time for about two more speeches.
I realise the difficulty, but the Opposition have put down a lot of Votes and have asked many questions.I should like to begin by saying something about the petrol and oil situation, with which the right hon. Gentleman dealt towards the end of his speech. It is, of course, one of the major responsibilities of my Department, and as far as the public are concerned the main issue no doubt is petrol rationing. I have not really a great deal to say about petrol rationing as such, except that it is an extremely difficult job, that we do our best to do it fairly, and that we have to have rules, otherwise there would be chaos, and at the same time restrain consumption, otherwise the purpose of rationing would not be achieved. I suppose that a good many people, and perhaps some Members, may be asking why we have to have rationing at all. The right hon. Gentleman referred to a number of different reasons which, as he said, have been given as answers. I must say that I have not heard anyone really suggest that the Berlin Air Lift was the reason for continuing rationing. No doubt it was suggested by some people that the Berlin Air Lift consumed petrol which might otherwise have been available for British motorists; but we know that it is a very small amount, that it is aviation spirit and that a certain amount would be consumed by the R.A.F. in their ordinary training operations anyway. As for the rubber story, we have very little to go on, and if any Member can produce any evidence my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will go into it.
I was talking about tyres.
The right hon. Gentleman did not give us the connection. I have not heard of it, and in any case it is not true. The direct answer to why there is petrol rationing is that without it, motoring would be an extremely uncertain affair, much more uncertain even than buying sweets. It would be most awkward, if rationing were abandoned and nothing was done about petrol supplies, for motorists to find themselves stranded in different parts of the country.The real question is not why we have rationing, but why we cannot increase our imports of petrol so that we can do away with rationing. The first answer is that imports, from whatever source they come, have to be paid for. Sometimes all of us are inclined to speak as if imports from certain parts of the world, particularly from sterling areas, come into this country in some mysterious way without having to be paid for. That is absurd. It is true, of course, that the problem of finding means of payment in dollars is much greater than in the case of sterling, but the means have to be found from wherever the petrol comes. The petrol comes at the moment partly from United States companies, and therefore costs dollars—that is the basis on which American companies trade. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that they might be prepared to leave their sterling balances here, and I think it is only fair to tell the House that some American companies have quite considerable plans for the construction of refineries in this country—I am sure we all welcome that development and the investments that will be made in this country. It is often said, "Why bother to get petrol from American companies? Why not get it from British companies?" One newspaper quite recently asked why we should not make the American companies, even if they distribute here, get their oil from British companies. I should like, if Members will bear with me, to explain in some detail what is the answer to this question. The first thing to remember is that the so-called British companies are not wholly British. The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company can certainly be described as wholly British, although there are some foreign shareholders, but the Royal Dutch Shell Company is 60 per cent. Dutch-owned and only 40 per cent. British-owned; it is true, of course, that we have a controlling interest, and that the management is primarily in British hands and situated in London, but it is not wholly a British company. The second point is that these sterling companies do not produce very much oil in the British Commonwealth. I think the figure is about 10 per cent. of their total production. For the rest of the sterling area we might add another 5 per cent., and so say that 15 per cent. comes from the British Commonwealth and sterling areas. Although they may accept payments in sterling for the imports into the United Kingdom, we must not overlook the fact that they have pretty heavy dollar expenses. They have to buy some dollar equipment, although I am glad to see that British equipment for oil production and maintenance has gone up a good deal. They have to pay pretty heavy royalties in Persia and Venezuela. Although these may not be paid directly in gold or dollars, the fact that the companies have all these expenses, as well as the expenses of production and refinery, places our balances with these countries in such a condition that we have to pay in gold or dollars, and so as a result of these companies producing in these areas dollar and gold payments are certainly involved. These sterling companies sell their output of oil, petrol and motor spirit all over the world, and they sell it, Shell in particular, in dollar markets as well as in other markets in the sterling area. The direct answer to the question, "Why not get more motor spirit from British companies and pay sterling for it?" is that at the moment these companies, in order to meet the demands for their products, have to purchase additional motor spirit from the United States companies. In other words, they have to do exactly what it is suggested we should make the American companies do, and the reason they do this is because what they can produce from their refineries is not as great as the total demand they have to supply. Therefore, it follows that if tomorrow you, Major Milner, were to say to me that it really is time we had some more petrol for Summer motoring—and I sure you will be only too glad if I could say "Yes"—I should be bound to reply, "If that is to be done, then the only way to obtain it is either to pay dollars for the whole of it by making the British companies buy some more dollar petrol, or by the British companies giving up some of their other markets." Those other markets are predominantly in the sterling area, and obviously, if the companies gave up these markets, the inevitable result would be that the sterling areas would come along and say, "We must have dollars to buy petrol to take the place of the petrol you are no longer supplying." If it was a case of taking the petrol from a dollar market, there again we should be losing dollars. There remain the other countries. Some of these—indeed, most of the rest of them—would be countries in the Western Union, in the O.E.E.C. scheme, who we supply with petrol as part of the whole arrangement under Marshall Aid. One must not assume that there is a vast number of soft currency markets where we can simply cut off supplies at a moment's notice. The position, as I expect hon. Members will agree, is changing all the time. Some six months ago a country may have been a soft currency country, and it may now have become hard currency; later it may change round the other way. However, we keep under review all the time the question of whether the oil companies are putting just a little too much into one country or another.
I think I know what the right hon. Gentleman wants to ask. We do not direct the oil companies, in any direct sense, and I should say to the House that it is very doubtful exactly what powers in any direct sense we should have. One must remember that these products are not produced here and subject to export licensing, or anything of that kind. They are produced in different parts of the world, the oil companies being international concerns. That is the short answer to the question. This is essentially a dollar problem.
The British Government is the principal shareholder in the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and might be entitled to direct them. However, I wanted to ask a question about China. Has petrol been sent to China, and have dollars been received for the despatch of that petrol? Also what sort of compensation did we get if we sent oil or petrol to Scandinavian countries?
I am afraid I cannot answer that question without notice. It would depend, so far as both countries are concerned, on the general payments arrangements with them. I am afraid I have not got the information available at the moment.
I presume the Parliamentary Secretary will have time to get the information between now and when he replies?
We must understand first of all, even so far as concerns the Anglo-Iranian Company, that in relation to commercial policy the Government have not the power to intervene. There was an arrangement made with the Treasury when the shares were originally purchased, which gives the Government certain powers in relation to strategic matters, but not in relation to commercial policy. These are arrangements concerning a private company and I shall have to consider whether we can disclose them.
Of course, if the arrangements were made by a private company the Minister could not give the information, but my information is that the petrol was sent to China by direct orders of the British Government.
We will certainly inquire before this evening. If there is no reason why we should not disclose the information, we shall certainly disclose what we know about it.I can well understand the right hon. Gentleman saying, "Yes, we appreciate that at the moment British companies have only got so much petrol available and, therefore, if we were to have more here it would mean cutting the supplies down to somewhere else. It would mean directly or indirectly losing dollars or some other valuable commodity which we need if oil supplies play a considerable part in the various trade negotiations. But surely there has been a large expansion in the production of these British companies?" That is perfectly true. I am glad to say that there has been. I suppose one should say that primarily there has been an increase in production of crude oil from the Middle East, but there has also been some increase in refinery output. For example, we expect that this year the output of motor spirit by the sterling companies will be about half a million tons above what it was in 1948—not a very big increase, but still it is an increase. But the point is that while production has gone up, consumption has increased as well, not only in the sterling area and not only in other markets, including dollar markets, but also in the United Kingdom. Perhaps it is natural for the public to assume that we have kept petrol consumption rigidly down to the level that it was two or three years ago. That is not at all the case. There has been an increased consumption by goods vehicles and industry, and I may say that owing to the increase in the number of cars on the roads and the needs of individual applicants—or perhaps it would be fairer to say, the needs of individual applicants becoming known to us—supplementary petrol allowances this year are running at an annual rate of about 150,000 tons more than last year. We do our best, and it is our duty, to keep these down, but we also wish to administer the petrol rationing scheme in the fairest way we can. Hon. Members in all quarters of the House are pressing me to give more to this or that constituent, but I must warn them that the demand is going up all the time and we have to keep a check on it. What is true of motor spirit is also broadly true of most other petroleum products, with the exception of fuel oil on which I will touch in a moment. That is to say, if we need more we have to pay in dollars and we have to pay for the whole of it in dollars. I am not saying for a moment that this will always be so. On the contrary, as the output of the sterling companies increases we should certainly benefit. We should certainly get quite an improvement as a result of the construction of refineries in this country. The right hon. Gentleman asked me how we were getting on. The latest information I have got is that this year we hope that the through-put of the refineries here will be over 6 million tons compared with about 3,500,000 tons in 1948, which is a pretty substantial increase. As I think hon. Members know, we hope that in the course of the next two, three or four years the output will rise to about 20 million tons. That is the refinery programme. I was interested to hear the right hon. Gentleman refer to the plans that were made before the war and so on, but, as I recollect it, the policy of the Conservative Government before the war was not at all in favour of home refining. On the contrary, it was pressed from time to time and turned down. The Government then in office accepted the Report of the Falmouth Committee which was opposed to home refining. I feel that that was a mistake; I am glad that we have put the matter right and, of course, I am also glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman supporting us. He is always ready to change his mind, and one of these days we shall have him crossing the Floor of the House.
That will sink you.
I must, however, issue one further word of warning and damp down any feelings that hon. Members may have that as refinery output goes up here and in the Middle East we shall be able at a moment's notice to get rid of petrol rationing altogether. The reason is this. Even when output has gone up, we shall not altogether have got rid of the dollar element in oil. To begin with, even when British companies give up having to purchase petrol or other petroleum products from American companies, there is still the fact that we import direct from American companies quite a lot of oil both here and in the sterling area. Secondly, our own companies, as I have said, have a good deal of dollar expenditure as well.What we hope is that steadily over the next few years as the new refineries are completed, we shall be able to achieve quite a substantial reduction in the net dollar deficit of the sterling area as a whole. That is still pretty large as far as we can make out, and it certainly imposes a very heavy burden on our dollar resources; but so long as there is a dollar shortage—and my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is tireless in his warnings to the people of this country that we must still face this extraordinarily difficult problem—we have to watch consumption here and we have to keep it under control. It is, therefore, not just a matter of whether we can produce more oil. It is a matter of whether we can afford the dollars or whether we can afford not to save dollars which may still be a very important issue for us even when our oil production has gone up. The right hon. Member for Bournemouth referred to the coal-oil conversion question, and I must reply briefly to that. In 1946, the output of coal in this country was very low, although it had gone up a little from the lowest level of all, in 1945. The state of the coal industry when we came into power was extremely parlous, and we all know that as a result of that, and the steady decline in stocks during the last few years of the war, we were faced with, and eventually ran into, a fuel crisis. It was because of the prospect of that crisis that the Government decided to encourage industrial firms to convert from coal to oil. In that we had the full support of the Opposition. Yes, it is no good the right hon. Gentleman shaking his head, especially the right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson), who took part in many Debates at that time, when we were attacked for not going fast enough with coal-oil conversion. Having left the coal industry in the condition in which they did leave it, and having supported the policy of coal-oil conversion, the Opposition now criticise us for carrying out that policy. It is true, of course, that conversion schemes did not go as smoothly as one would have liked. What was the reason? When the plan was first drawn up the oil companies were of the opinion, that they would be able to supply without difficulty an extra 5 or 6 million tons of fuel oil. At that time it was residual oil; they were unable to dispose of it, and it would have been comparatively easy to obtain. It is also true that they would have had to obtain some from the American companies because the Petroleum Board was still in existence, and pre-war quotas were still being maintained.
I am not clear whether what the right hon. Gentleman is now saying has any reference to locomotives which I think are not included in the Estimates for 1949–50.
I think so, Major Milner. I was not referring to locomotives, and especially in view of what you have just said I shall not do so. I was replying to the right hon. Member for Bournemouth.
It would not be in Order to deal with the question of locomotives, which I have seen mentioned in the Press, because that would not come under the Estimates for the present financial year.
Through the kindness of some advisers I was told to "lay-off" the subject of locomotives, and I challenged the Minister about the 13,000 private companies who accepted his predecessor's instruction to convert.
I think I can show that this falls within the activities of my Ministry and that some part of the time of my officials was taken up with some part of the conversion programme.
May I draw your attention, Major Milner, to the fact that we have tried to ensure that our criticisms of the Government would be in Order?
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. All these classes of Votes refer to estimates for the present financial year. It would be in Order to relate any matter to these Estimates, if included in them.
I was saying that conversion schemes did not proceed too quickly to start with, but after the fuel crisis there was a rush and we had to find something like 5 or 6 million tons of extra oil by the Spring or early Summer of 1947. There then followed a striking increase in the United States' consumption of fuel. I would remind the Committee that the United States' consumption is two-thirds of the world's total consumption, and that in 1947 the total increase in all forms of oil consumption in America was more than the whole of our annual consumption.In those circumstances it was inevitable that a shortage should occur. Incidentally, there was a shortage of tankers at that time. It is true to say that there was a shortage of tankers then, but there is not now, as my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary made clear in the Debate last year. On the other hand, at the time this shortage occurred, just after I became Minister, I felt it was unlikely that it would continue indefinitely. Nevertheless we had to say to the firms in process of converting, "Do not complete conversion, because we cannot be sure that the oil companies will be able to provide oil." If we had not done that we should have been open to severe criticism. As it happened, the fuel oil position changed again very rapidly and in 1948, almost exactly a year after that warning was given, I was able, in effect, to lift the ban on the completion of conversion schemes, so that those on the deferred list who wished could go ahead. It is entirely for them to decide whether or not they will convert to oil. The right hon. Member for Bournemouth says they cannot go back to coal, but that is not so. In my view there is no reason why the Government should be apologetic about this matter. We took essential action before the fuel crisis. The oil is available now, and those who want to complete conversion can do so.
I take it that we shall be in Order if we traverse the whole of this history, Major Milner?
Certainly. The Minister has assured me that some part of the administration of his Department in relation to this matter comes within this year's Estimates.
Some part of the time of some of my officials is certainly spent in dealing with the tail end of the conversion programme.I should like next to turn to the question of electricity. The major problem is the shortage of generating capacity. I need not weary the Committee with the reasons for it, of which we are all aware, but we know there was a sharp increase in peak demand in the period 1938 to 1947, and that capacity could not be increased during the war to meet that demand. Inevitably, the result—as those concerned realised—was that if there was a cold winter there would be a great deal of load shedding. Since then we have attempted to deal with this problem, on a temporary basis, by operating various schemes for load spreading, in which we have had the assistance, and have been grateful for it, of both sides of industry. We have tried by every means to hold down demand while doing everything we can to expand generating capacity. The right hon. Gentleman made some criticisms of the so-called Clow differential. Following the very severe winter of 1946–47 we were faced with a very difficult problem. Many industrialists and trade unionists felt that the domestic consumer was not playing his part. They knew perfectly well that there was a big increase in domestic consumption, and they took the view that steps should be taken to restrain that increase. There was the real danger that if nothing were done they would decide not to go on with the load spreading schemes. We would have been criticised had we done nothing about it. So first of all I appointed a committee under the chairmanship of Sir Andrew Clow to see what could be done. The only proposal they made which could be put into effect in time to affect the problems last winter was the differential tariff. There was nothing particularly new about this. The industry had had a differential tariff previously. True, it was introduced with the object of increasing the consumption of electricity, but the point is that in certain areas and districts they had this differentiation in winter and summer tariffs, the summer tariff being lower than the winter. What the Clow Committee recommended was that this system should be introduced, giving a higher tariff in the winter and a lower one in the summer. I asked the British Electricity Authority and the Area Boards to apply the scheme. I did not tell them by how much they should put the tariff up in the winter or down in the summer. They decided to put it up by 35 of a penny in the three winter months and reduce it by 1 of a penny for the rest of the year. I realise that this was an unpopular measure. One could not be Minister of Fuel and Power without knowing it, but I must point out that it would have been an extremely unpopular thing if there had been heavy load shedding last winter and a lot of unemployment as a result. That is what we had to reckon with. The right hon. Gentleman asked me how much we had saved by introducing the differential. It is impossible to prove how much has been saved. I can say fairly it was probably one of the factors which limited the expansion of demand and enabled us, with the mild weather, to get through last winter much more easily than we anticipated. I cannot prove that it has saved anything, nor can the right hon. Gentleman prove that it has not saved a great deal, because we do not know what the position would have been if the system had not been in operation.
But we know that the poor public had to pay the bill.
Let us be clear about this. There was never any intention that the B.E.A. or the Area Boards would gain anything by it. Consumers would pay more at one time in the year and at another they would pay less. It was made clear by the British Electricity Authority when they announced the scheme that if they made out of it the money would go back to the consumers later on. Indeed, it could not go anywhere else. The industry is nationalised, and it does not have to go into the pockets of private shareholders. The money is bound eventually to come back to the consumer if a profit is made out of the scheme.
I cannot give way. I have been interrupted a great deal.
We gave way on this side.
I have already given way a good many times. I must get on. It is not my fault that we are trying to discuss so much in one day, but the Opposition have chosen to spread the Debate very wide and there it is.Let me say one or two words about the generating programme. The facts are that we must expect an increase in demand each year of something like 700 to 800 megowatts. I am afraid that we shall not be able to add, on balance, to our generating capacity more than this during the coming year. In other words, the additional capacity that we instal this year will probably do no more than take care of the increased demand. There is one other factor which I should mention. It is of great importance how much a plant is out for breakdown or repair during the Winter months, and I must say that the paper with which the right hon. Gentleman is connected was very fair and reasonable, and, indeed, full of praise for the British Electricity Authority's achievement last winter in this matter, because they reduced the amount of plant out from 15 per cent. capacity that was expected to just over 11 per cent., which made a difference of 400 megowatts—an extremely valuable contribution. This may be described as a feat of the engineers, but it is a feat which could not have been achieved except under nationalisation, because the only way in which it was done was by sending round expert repair squads from one power station to another which could never have been done if we had not brought the power stations under one control. There is no doubt about that, and if hon. Members choose to ask any electricity engineers about the matter they would confirm what I say. Of course, I realise that what we are all concerned with is to get on faster with the generating programme, but we must remember some of the difficulties with which we have been faced. Most of the plant manufacturers were engaged on war work, and took some considerable time to get on to a peace-time footing. Taking the years 1945, 1946 and 1947 together, the total new plant commissioned was only 800 megowatts, not much more than the highest figure reached, namely, 759, in one year in the pre-war period of 1938. Last year there was a considerable achievement with a substantial improvement to 566 megowatts. I have no doubt we shall do a great deal better than that this year, although I am not making promises or commitments as to what we shall achieve. In the second place, one must remember that these firms were engaged on war production and took time to switch back. Then, of course, they are exporting and rightly so, because it is a very important part of our export trade and we cannot afford just to say to them, "You must stop exporting altogether." The right hon. Member for Bournemouth knows the repercussions of that will be serious, because from the point of view of exporting this capital equipment we improve the industrial output of the sterling area in particular, and indirectly help ourselves by raising the standard of production and living in those countries. The scale of our programme nevertheless is very large indeed. There are no fewer than 55 new power stations or extensions to existing power stations being constructed at the moment, and the expenditure this year on plant and buildings alone is something like £115 million, which involves half a million tons of steel, so that nobody can say we are not putting a great deal into this generating programme, although the demand is also going up very rapidly. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the allegations that generators were being made for which no building had been completed. I think he said that that was one of the—
I was merely quoting the Minister of Supply. He may have been wrong; I can well believe it.
I want to clear the matter up and give the facts. It is perfectly true in one or two instances turbo-alternators have gone ahead of building. It is a difficult thing to match precisely every bit of building that is erected with a piece of machinery. It is not a question of planning by the Government here. It is a question of taking over the plans of a great many different separate undertakings in the past. It is not at all serious, and the main bottlenecks which affect us now are not building but far more in the boiler making side than anywhere else. One firm of boiler makers has seven years' orders on its books, and another is similarly overloaded for pipe work, which is one of our special difficulties.But the whole transition from a number of undertakings to a single authority has gone very smoothly. Subject to the overriding need of getting on with the export programme, the country can be assured we shall do all we can as fast as we can in the way of new equipment. The right hon. Gentleman said how much he was in favour of the miners. If he wants to continue the friendship, to hold out the olive branch that he is offering, it is a mistake to accuse the miners of being political agitators.
I never did that.
Or to say that the coal industry was ruined by political agitators in the inter-war years.
That is more correct.
That shows no great knowledge or insight into what was really wrong with this industry in the inter-war years. If we turn, as I think we should, first of all to the results, I cannot agree with the right hon. Gentleman that those results are quite as bad as he makes out.What are the facts? Let us take 1948 since we have not had a Supply Day Debate on coal since that year ended. In that year, the increased output was nearly twice as great as in the previous years. There was an increase of 12 million tons to 209 million tons. I am speaking of the calendar year. Twelve million tons has to be compared with an increase of 7 million approximately in the two previous years.
Does that figure include opencast coal?
Yes, it covers both. The increase in deep-mined coal was about 10½ million tons and the increase in opencast coal was 1½ million tons. One must also notice that consumption rose by about 9 million tons in that same year. Nevertheless, with the help of roughly 1,000,000 tons which we took from stock we were able to export 16 million tons which, incidentally, was above what we had originally indicated to the O.E.E.C. that we thought we would be able to do that year.It is worth noting that in the three years, 1946, 1947 and 1948, deep-mined coal output has increased by 23 million tons and opencast coal by 3½ million tons, or 26½ million tons altogether. At the same time, we have increased our output per man-shift, which is the productivity index, by 11 per cent. This year we hope, taking the year as a whole—I think it is a fairly safe hope—that, first of all the European countries, we shall be back to the pre-war level for output per man-shift.
Not per year?
No, I am talking about output per man-shift.
Per year is the only safe criterion.
No, I would not agree. We need not get on to the argument about what the term "productivity" means. These figures are not relevant to productivity. It may be relevant to total production. We must note that in the same year consumption has also increased by nearly 15 million tons which is a fairly surprising and impressive increase. As a consequence, or partly as a consequence of the war, exports were still only about one-third of the pre-war level.The right hon. Gentleman made some surprising statements in his speech about the opposition which he seems to think there is on the part of the miners to the installation of new machinery. I am bound to say that I think he is on a completely wrong track. Honestly, I very rarely come across any cases of opposition to new machinery in the pits. What we find quite often, and my hon. Friends will understand this very well, is that there is sometimes an argument about new price lists as a result of new machinery being introduced. It is hardly conceivable that there could have been all this opposition if, as in fact has happened, the installation of new machinery has increased as much as it has. If there were more time I could give figures, but the Committee and the right hon. Gentleman may take my word for it that there has been a steady increase. The right hon. Gentleman need not have any anxiety about that matter. The dispute at Grimethorpe was not concerned with the introduction of machinery at all but with the length of the stint. What about the prospect for 1949? Although the 1948 figures are, in my view, quite good, it was clear to me and I think to everybody else, that we could not expect quite such favourable results in 1949, for one very obvious reason. In 1948, the extended hours were being worked. It was at the end of 1947 that the Saturday working in some districts and the extra half hour in others were introduced, and that output really began to rise rapidly. It has been estimated that as much as 7,000,000 tons was obtained in 1948 from Saturday working and the extended hours. I would not myself say that it was necessarily as high as that but it might certainly be of that order. It might be 5,000,000 tons. Clearly, we cannot get another gain of that kind this year. We may be able to sustain the figure, but we cannot look for a further increase. I did not expect that in 1949 we were going to be able to increase output as much as we had done in 1948. Indeed, as I feared, when we came to last November, the increase over the previous year which was running at about a quarter of a million tons per week, dropped to 50,000 or 100,000 tons per week. We had got to the period when we were comparing the output with the time when the extended hours were introduced. Let me give the figures for the first 17 weeks of this year. For deep-mined output, the figure is just over 2 million tons above that of last year and about 3 per cent. on the average or about 100,000 to 150,000 tons per week. It is rather better than I had at one time feared. It has come about almost wholly as a result of the increased productivity in output per man-shift. There we have an increase of 4½ per cent. which is a very good increase. On the technical side very considerable progress has been made. There was a small increase in man-power, but there has been a 2 per cent. decline in the average number of shifts worked. I do not for one moment dispute what has been said that that is the weak spot in the situation. One could put it in another way and say that there has been 2 per cent. more face workers each producing 3 per cent. more, but on average each working 2 per cent. shifts per week less. I must mention one other figure in this connection. Some of my hon. Friends may ask for the explanation of the decline in the number of shifts worked. It is not due to increased voluntary but to increased involuntary absenteeism. That is a rather worrying phenomenon. For example, if I may quote figures for face work absenteeism to which I think the right hon. Gentleman was referring, those figures showed that whereas last year voluntary absenteeism was 7.7 per cent. this year it is 7.25 per cent. Involuntary absenteeism was 6.16 per cent. whereas it is now 8.12 per cent. As I say, it is rather a worrying phenomenon and we are going into it. It is only fair to say that in voluntary absenteeism there has been an improvement. As to consumption figures in 1949, there has been an increase in the first 17 weeks by two million tons above last year. We have exported one and a half million tons more than we did last year but we have done it only by de-stocking. The prospect for the year as a whole is, I think, roughly as follows: In the Economic Survey we said that we estimated production somewhere between 215 million and 220 million tons. Consumption was put at 198 million to 200 million tons, leaving exports at 17 million to 20 million tons. I must make it clear that at present rates of production in relation to last year we are too near the bottom in that scale. We are, it is true producing at a rate just over the 215 million—getting to 216 million tons. It is clear that we shall have, unless the output trend improves, a very hard struggle both to improve the level of consumption, which we expect will take place within the country, and to export within our commitments. Therefore, although this year, on the least favourable assumption, we shall probably be producing 33 million tons above the 1945 figure—which is no mean achievement in itself and we must give those concerned some encouragement for doing it—nevertheless, it is perfectly obvious that unless we can get a further improvement during the rest of the year we shall be in difficulties, we shall certainly need all the coal we can get and, that indeed, we cannot afford not to get it. The Committee will agree with me therefore that I was justified in telling the National Union of Mineworkers, who came to see me about the problem of extended hours, that it would be disastrous for us if the extended hours system were not to be continued. I am very glad to say that, despite certain difficulties which had arisen, when they heard my explanation they very readily agreed to carry on. However, I must say that I consider that I was equally justified in insisting that the opencast programme should go on. The right hon. Member for Bournemouth talked about difficulties in selling coal. All I can say is that at the moment we have not reached that stage. We certainly need all the coal we can get and we cannot afford to give up any method of getting it. I now want to say a word or two about opencast coal. So far this year output has actually been slightly below that of last year, and that does not look too good, but closer examination dispels what might otherwise be an anxiety. For various reasons output during the first months of last year was exceptionally high and then it tailed off. I feel fairly confident that it will continue to rise steadily this year. We have put down 13 million tons as our estimate for the year, and I do not think that we shall be very much below it. It is worth referring briefly to the anthracite position. Last year the opencast output was 223,000 tons. This year we hope to get no less than 600,000 tons, and we are now producing at the rate of 16,000 tons a week. We hope to go up next month to 20,000 tons. This is a rate of 1 million tons of opencast anthracite a year. I am glad to say that this has enabled us to double our exports to Canada compared with last year, although we would certainly like them to be higher still. I hope that we shall also be able to increase our exports to other hard currency markets in Europe. I do not propose to say very much about the Select Committee's Report. For my part, I welcome the investigation they made into the whole problem. It has been a somewhat controversial affair. I know that a lot of hon. Members are very naturally troubled about what happens in their constituencies. On the other hand I have my responsibilities for coal as a whole and I think that the report and the minutes of evidence—I hope that hon. Members will read them—give an extraordinarily clear picture of how the whole operation is carried out. I would also claim, I think not unfairly, that it justifies our contract system. No serious criticisms of that emerged. It shows that there is very good co-operation between the many different people who are concerned with this, and it shows that a great many improvements have been made, for instance, in the practice of restoration. I know that some hon. Members object to opencast working but if one reads the evidence there is no doubt that that is the conclusion.
We only hope that hell is paved with opencast coal.
Even on that, the right hon. Gentleman is wrong. There is essentially very little difference in the quality of opencast coal except that it is a little more friable and a little less volatile. We are accused in some places, not by the committee, of incurring heavy losses. That is a most unfair and absurd accusation. If hon. Members will look at the table at the end of the report, they will see just how the costs of production have gone down. They have gone down by 10s. a ton in the past five or six years, and that is no mean achievement at a time when most costs have gone up substantially. Let those who accuse us of heavy losses which should not have been incurred answer these questions. Where should we be today if we were not getting the opencast coal? Which consumers should we have to deprive of the coal?
That is not the alternative.
It is the alternative. As I have tried to explain, we must have as much coal as we can produce, and therefore we cannot afford to cut down production. Anybody who says that we must cut down opencast production ought to say whether they would cut domestic coal, industrial coal, coal for the power stations or coal for export. They cannot make these accusations without putting forward their proposals.
That is not the accusation we make. It is that the costs were originally, and always have been since, much too high.
That is the kind of easy statement anybody can make. If the right hon. Gentleman has suggestions to make as to how we can reduce costs further. I shall be glad to hear them.
The right hon. Gentleman shall hear them.
It is interesting that the right hon. Gentleman refers to that. The question was asked by members of the Select Committee of a great many different witnesses who came to them, including the contractors. I think in every case the main answer which the contractors gave was, "We could reduce costs if we had a longer programme."However, we are being attacked—I wait to see what the right hon. Gentleman has to say; he had better be careful—in some quarters for having this programme. If we had not had a programme that went on until 1951 we could not have got the cost of production as low as it is now, and probably we should not be getting the coal either. We cannot expect the contractors to invest in machinery and go in for this business seriously unless they have a reasonable degree of certainty that the programme will go on for a time. We cannot have it both ways. It may be a disagreeable thing, and I appreciate that it may be tiresome for local people who are affected, but there is no doubt whatever that the opencast programme has been a blessing to the community. If we were not producing at the present high rate, right hon. Gentlemen opposite would be failing in their duty if they did not criticise the Government about it; and we know perfectly well that they would do that. I want to say a word or two about the problem of the different grades and quality of coal. Although it is clear that we shall be hard put to it to meet our over-all requirements this year, we face a particularly difficult problem in the field of what is known as large coal. There we have particular shortages in contrast to the smaller types of coal of which supplies are, relatively speaking, easier. There are two reasons for this. The first is that we are getting a decreasing proportion of large coal from deep-mined production. I suspect the reason for that to be the increased number of shots fired. We have taken steps with the Coal Board to try to put that right. Whether it is that, or machine mining, or both, it certainly is taking place, and it is, of course, fair to say that opencast production involves a rather smaller proportion of large coal than deep-mining does. The second reason for the difficulty is that there is an exceptionally strong export demand for large coal, and to a certain extent, if we want to sell our smaller coal, we have to offer some large coal too. It would not be reasonable to expect our customers to take only the smaller coal. I am sure that the right policy is not to cut down total production and to stop opencast production or anything of that kind, which would mean losing some large coal as well as some small coal, but, first of all, to change the proportions in production as far as we can in order to get more large coal relatively to small coal, and, secondly, to switch consumption from large to small coal. That is exactly what we are trying to do. In the case of opencast we have offered a quality bonus to get a higher proportion of large coal. We have done various other things with which I need not trouble the Committee, and I have already mentioned that the Coal Board are concerned over this. We have brought in the price mechanism, so far as possible, to encourage consumers to take the small instead of the large coal. Indirectly, in some advice that I gave the other day, and which I will repeat, it is a benefit to the country at the moment that people in off-peak electricity periods should use electricity rather than house coal, because electricity stations are mostly powered on small coal of which the supply is relatively plentiful. The fact remains that we shall be tight as far as large coal is concerned. We have to try to balance it out as fairly as we can between exports, the railways and the domestic consumers. However, try as we may. I am afraid the prospects for the domestic consumer cannot be bright so far as large coal is concerned. Indeed, we must admit that whereas consumption will have increased by the end of this year by about 20 million tons since 1945, the domestic consumers are getting not much, if any, more than in 1945. They are, of course, consuming a lot more gas and electricity, but they are not getting much more solid fuel. The reason is partly the shortage and partly that the need to export must be paramount. Scarcely a trade negotiation takes place in which coal is involved where it does not become one, if not the dominating factor. The negotiations turn on whether we can or cannot supply the extra coal. Naturally, as the Minister concerned, I am continually pressed to raise the amount of coal required for the various export trade negotiations. We have to recognise that in this matter it is a question of food and employment coming in advance of extra comfort from solid fuel in the heating of our homes. Of course we make relaxations wherever we can, and I am glad to say that about half a million tons of off the ration coal has been sold in the last year, and we have been able to relax restrictions on coke as well. I have spoken for a long time but it is difficult to cover such an enormous field, particularly if one has to reply from time to time to interjections, as one must. I want now to refer to the things that are said about the Coal Board: I am glad to see the right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) getting interested in the Fabian Society, and I am also glad for his sake that it has secured him an invitation from my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee). I am sure that if he will accept it, he will learn a good deal more from talking directly to the miners in her constituency than he will even from the Fabian pamphlet. I do not want to go into this matter in detail but I must say that I do not think that sending questionnaires to 88 people, of whom only 24 are working miners, out of the 700,000 people in the industry, is likely to give an accurate picture of the position. It would probably be wiser to consult a larger sample of persons. Indeed, if they had come to the miners' group in this House and had a thorough chat, we could have settled the matter quite quickly. Some of the things that are said in that pamphlet seem to me to be rather silly. For instance, I wonder whether it really is so important that every working miner should know the names and qualifications of all the members of the National Coal Board? I realise that at first sight it sounds as though it were the natural thing to do, but if one thinks about it for a moment, I wonder how many members of the population know the names and qualifications of, for instance, the Government though they certainly get more publicity than the members of the Coal Board.
Names, yes, qualifications, no.
As for the leaders of the Opposition, no one has heard of them at all, so it does not matter. However, I do not blame them, they do not get enough publicity, poor things—even the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, who does not do too badly in that way. Equally in industry I should be surprised to find that all the employees of Unilevers, for example, knew the names of the 24 directors and their qualifications, and I do not feel that is a serious thing.What really matters is what their relations are with the people immediately above them and on that, quite frankly, little light is thrown by the pamphlet. There is, of course the usual complaint from those questioned that there are too many of the old brigade there. That is a difficulty, we have always said it was a difficulty, but what can be done about it? We take over the industry, we must have men with technical qualifications—every miner in this House knows that—and we cannot displace all the men employed 6y the previous owners. And if there is not opposition to the old brigade, there is opposition to outsiders being brought in. I think that the Coal Board were absolutely right in making those appointments, but if people say, We do not want the old brigade. "We do not want outsiders," one naturally asks, "Who do you want?" The answer might be—
What about the right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken).
Not yet. When he has been down to Cannock the right hon. Gentleman might get elected, but not before. No, the obvious comment is, "We should like to see more of our own people." I am bound to say that a good deal of the actual criticism of appointments has been made about persons who were working in the pits before. We must recognise that and be frank about it. Inevitably there are jealousies in this matter. The man who sees somebody promoted whom he has known as one of his fellow workers before, does not always take to it kindly. My own feeling about all this is that it is really superficial. I do not believe it represents fundamentally the attitude of the men in the pits, and I certainly would not take it nearly so seriously as the authors of the pamphlet seem to do.
Is the Minister satisfied that the miners do not sometimes have a shutout feeling, and that there are facts relating to the industry, particularly as to the working of their pits, that they could quite legitimately know, and yet they are told, "This is none of your business," or "It is on the secret list." Is the Minister satisfied that there is a substantial reason for every piece of information to be withheld from the miners?
No, I certainly am not satisfied. What I have said so far relates simply to the question of appointments and to the persons who fill them. I will say a word about that later. I think the pamphlet is grotesquely unfair to the Coal Board, when it says that there is no evidence that the Board were taking training and education seriously, I say that the authors cannot have read the report of the National Coal Board last year or they would have been familiar with the scholarship schemes introduced by the Board, with the appenticeship of tradesmen, with the release of employees for part-time education, with visits to foreign coalfields, with Summer schools. At one point they mention the desirability of having week-end schools which were occurring in only one division—I think they were referring to the Northern division. In fact in every division, either one day or week-end schools are taking place. It was a pity they did not find out the facts.Here I come to the point to which my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock referred. I would not deny for one moment that it is most desirable that more should be done to bring the ordinary miner into the picture, for instance, when it comes to development plans. I have been round a good many coalfields and in the course of those visits I generally incidentally address conferences of managers and deputies; and one of the things I make a point of saying to them always is precisely that. One of the features of a miner is that he is interested in the development of his pit. I generally advise the managers concerned to get themselves invited to the local lodge. If there is difficulty about that I tell them to take the local village hall—and there have been cases where managers have done this. But we must remember that as yet this procedure is a little new. At first sight it seems a formidable proposition for a man who in the old days was on the other side of the fence to come along and handle the whole thing quite differently. I can assure my hon. Friend, however, that that kind of approach is continually being encouraged to the utmost by the National Coal Board. It is late for me to embark now upon the matter of consultation in the wider sense, but I will ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to speak about that. All I shall say is that in my view it is not as simple an issue as the Fabian Group seem to think. It is not simply a question of saying, "Let us all be partners in the industry together. Let us share the management decisions." The National Union of Mineworkers have, in fact, definitely declared against that conception. They have said they do not want to share the responsibility of management. They are prepared to help and to co-operate as much as they can, but they do not want to get into the position of taking over management. I have covered a very wide field but even so I have not touched on a lot of things connected with the work of the Ministry—the research work, for instance, in which very interesting developments are taking place—but I must now conclude. Before I do so, however, let me say this. In the Ministry of Fuel and Power, as in other parts of the economic work of the Government, the whole scene is really dominated by the balance of payments problem and, above all, by the dollar balance. That is obviously true of oil; it is true also of electricity, because the plant shortage there is connected as much with the need to export as with anything else; it is true in the case of coal, because all the time we must keep the domestic consumer short so that we may export more. The lesson which we as a community must all learn is that we cannot have our higher standard of living until we have set ourselves free and made ourselves independent from foreign aid in any form whatever. We have, of course, made very great progress. We started with extraordinary difficulties—we all know that—and I claim that in fuel and power we have made substantial progress after starting at an exceptionally low level in both coal and electricity. From time to time we can afford some relaxations; partly because we cannot get expansion exactly as we should like—so that we can have the lights on in Piccadilly Circus even though we would really rather have more coal in our homes—and partly for other reasons relaxations can be made. Nevertheless, basically the lesson everywhere is the same. We have made progress, but we cannot afford to sit back. To get out of the position we are now in the one thing we must have above all else is higher productivity; and to get a higher standard of living and, in addition, to get out of what we may call debt, or being under obligations to foreign countries, we need a higher productivity still. That lesson must go out from all sides of the House. If I may put it this way, patience to the consumers, who very naturally would like more petrol and coal, and encouragement; but at the same time requests to the producers to give us of their best and to help the country to get quite free and independent again.
The right hon. Gentleman has ended his speech by making the extravagant claim that his Ministry has done well. He was minded to rest a lot of his case on the fact that there had been an increase in coal production since 1945. He was very careful, however, not to compare his figures with, say, 1941, even though that year was in the middle of the war. He sought to delude his hearers by pointing out that from 1945 to 1947 and 1948 there had been an increase of so many million tons. Of course there was. But when he said, "Look at the state of the industry left to us in 1945," he had forgotten about the war. He did not seem to think that the reason why the industry was producing less than before the war had something to do with Hitler.I have never heard an answer from hon. or right hon. Gentleman opposite—perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us this, without going back into the fallacy of the increase over 1945—why it is that, in comparison with 1941, nine million tons less coal were produced in 1948; that although in 1941 there were 26,000 fewer workers, they produced nine million tons more coal. The output per man year in 1941 was 23 tons higher than in 1948. In addition, absenteeism increased from 1941 to 1948 by some 2.3 per cent. Furthermore, in 1941 there was much less mechanisation; mechanisation in all the deep mines has increased from about 66 to 80 per cent. Why does not the right hon. Gentleman say quite frankly that 1945 was a low period because of the war; that although we have improved upon that we have not got back even to 1941—much less to 1938 or 1937—in the amount of coal produced. The reason lies in the fact that the right hon. Gentleman's Ministry covers a very large slice of nationalisation. He finds it impossible by treating the figures fairly to defend the effects of nationalisation. He has found it quite impossible to point to the figures for 1948 and say how they are an improvement under nationalisation compared with a fair year of private enterprise. Under private enterprise fewer men produced more coal, whether we take figures for man-years or for absolute production.
There is a simple answer. The coal owners flogged the pit seams during the period they were in possession—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, hon. Members can say "Oh," but they should have a go at it. They left us with the thin seams. That is what the miners are working now, seams 16 or 18 inches high.
The hon. Member should go to Doncaster.
That is what they are working in the area I come from.
I have had that answer before. The only way of dealing with it is to say that the hon. Gentleman is completely incorrect. He is asking the Committee to believe that in 1945 all the large seams suddenly came to an end and the very unfortunate nationalised industry had to start working on the narrow seams, in spite of the fact that mechanisation has been increased to deal with these narrow seams. His answer simply is not believable and is, I am sorry to say, completely incorrect. Even the Minister has the grace not to advance that theory. Had he been able to do so, he would have been the first today to say, "Well, we are working under much more difficult conditions. We in nationalised industry have a very hard task. The coalowners were very clever. They calculated the reserves of the large seams so that as the day for nationalisation arrived all the large seams ran out."
If the hon. Gentleman would compare the figures of 1938 with 1913 he would find that the figures diminished every year from 1913 to 1938.
What I am saying is that the figures diminished during the war and that before the war we had enough coal. In 1938 we exported 38 million tons, which was the amount we could sell abroad. Therefore, before the war all the coal we could sell was produced. Now, under nationalisation, not enough can be produced, and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs is hampered at every turn in his dealings with foreign countries because he cannot produce the coal. The President of the Board of Trade is similarly hampered in his negotiations and the Minister of Food, besides his incompetence, is hampered by the fact that he cannot exchange coal for food. That is the result of nationalisation, and the figures prove it. I challenge the Parliamentary Secretary to take the 1941 figures and show why fewer men produced more coal with less mechanisation.
Is the hon. Member aware that the British miner is the only miner in Europe whose production has reached pre-war level.
Again it is not true. If I may be pardoned for going down a side alley, to this extent, the hon. Member will find that production in 1948 in England was 82 per cent. of what it was in 1937, while in Poland it was 109 per cent., in France 115 per cent. and in the Saar 101 percent. I shall not weary the Committee with further figures—
The hon. Member is quoting total output and not individual output per man-shift.
But that is the thing which matters. If the hon. Member ever Wants to eat some meat and has a microscope, the same applies. It is the total amount produced that matters. There is not enough meat or petrol and it is no good talking of some improvement in the production per man-shift over 1945 and saying that that is all right. I do not believe that if fewer men produced more coal in 1941, one can get any comfort whatever from the fact, if it be a fact that the figures per man-shift show an improvement in 1948. What matters is the amount of coal produced. If it be a fact that more man-shifts are worked now than in 1941 the promise of the Government that the five-day week would be made up has obviously not been fulfilled. The answer is that the man-shift production has to be improved to make it equal to what it was in a bad year, in the middle of the war, when we were at the bottom of our war fortunes.I also wish to ask the Parliamentary Secretary if he would agree that there is a considerable amount of dissatisfaction among miners about the National Coal Board. We have heard the right hon. Gentleman putting the Fabian Society into the same class as Parliamentary Private Secretaries. His description of the Fabian Society pamphlet leads one to the conclusion that it was obviously a typical piece of Socialist propaganda, inaccurate, superficial—
Untrue, as my hon. Friend suggests, but even they sometimes hit the truth and the truth was hit by the Fabian Society in their pamphlet, "Miners and the Coal Board," when they pointed out that there is a great deal of dissatisfaction among miners with the Coal Board. I should have thought that hon. Members opposite would agree that the Government are building a bureaucratic machine far removed from those who toil in the bowels of the earth. There is no doubt about that. In expressing that opinion I am not expressing it as one guilty of praising 20 years of Tory misrule, but those are the words of Alderman J. Jones at a meeting of South Wales miners at Porthcawl on 6th May. I should have thought that was some evidence that he regarded the Coal Board as a top-heavy structure which was not kept in touch with the men.Two inquiries have been demanded, one in South Wales—perhaps the Minister of Health might support that—and another in Yorkshire, for an immediate inquiry into the Coal Board. There is a resolution of the Stockton-on-Tees Labour Party saying that the Coal Board have too many posts at too high salaries and that the industry is unable to bear these high costs—
They have no pits there.
The hon. Member seems to assume that anyone who has not some pits in his constituency has no right to speak about the policy.
We are satisfied that hon. Members who do not belong to mining constituencies are quite prepared to accept any tittle tattle.
The hon. Member for Northwich (Mr. Foster) started by saying that there is dissatisfaction in the industry.
I also said there were two lots of miners, in South Wales and Yorkshire, who demanded an immediate inquiry into the industry and I quoted Alderman Jones who said this at Porthcawl. I should say that is a good deal of evidence of dissatisfaction in the industry. Then we have the Fabian Society pamphlet, which the right hon. Gentleman tried to discredit. Now I suppose it is to be the general staff of the new independent Labour Party, but until it becomes that, it is being the general staff of the Labour Party. I know the Minister of Health has the highest admiration for the Fabian Society and I am sorry he did not hear the right hon. Gentleman when he spent about 12 minutes of his speech attacking the pamphlet on the ground that it was inaccurate and superficial. [An HON. MEMBER: "The Minister of Health is here now."] Knowing the admiration of the Minister of Health for the Fabian Society I was very sorry he was not here a little time ago. He would have been very pained with his colleague.The use of statistics made by the Minister of Fuel and Power will not bear examination. For instance, he used statistics very glibly when speaking of the Clow differential and said he could not answer my right hon. Friend as to what was the saving in electricity, but he went on to say that if the Electricity Board made any profit out of the matter they would immediately return it. How can he know what profit is made unless he knows what proportion of electricity to attribute to the differential? It is very easy when speaking like that to say that two and two make five and no one notices, but that is not the way to deal with a big industry. He ought to meet the criticisms that have been put forward from this side of the Committee by taking the figures for 1941. No doubt the Parliamentary Secretary will tell him the point I made while he was absent. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman was not present then. He should take the 1941 figures and explain why, with fewer men, more coal was produced in 1941. It is not the point of view of the Opposition about opencast coal that production should be diminished. All we say is that by more efficient organisation, and by having an organisation which was in touch with the miners, the Minister would at least have a chance of increasing production. To revert to the Fabian Society, we remember how, when they were advocating nationalisation, the picture was held up of private enterprise being wasteful and of competition overlapping, and we were told that if only nationalisation and socialisation were adopted, there would be such a saving in overheads and a saving by means of stream-lined planning, that costs would go down and production would increase. It has not happened. In "Let us face the future" it was stated that under nationalisation one of the great advantages would be economies to the consumer. In none of the three sections of the nationalised industries which are covered by the Ministry of Fuel and Power has that happened. The prices of coal, gas and electricity have increased. Where, I ask the right hon. Gentleman, are the economies promised by the supporters of nationalisation?
I have heard nothing in this Debate dissimilar from any of the arguments adduced by the Opposition in former Debates on nationalised industries. Before an industry is nationalised we grow accustomed to the argument that it is making little profit and in any case the owners are running it for the benefit of the country. When it is scheduled for public ownership, private enterprise fights hard and manfully to retain it. If private enterprise cannot retain it, its supporters struggle as hard as they can to exact as much compensation as possible. After vesting day, it becomes a habit to ascribe all its ills to the wicked inefficiency of socialisation. It is the same story over and over again.Some interest appears to have been taken in the Debate in gas and electricity. I wish to direct the attention of the Committee to the problem of coal. The problems of gas and electricity will be easy of solution if the coal industry is a success. If we can secure the raw product in sufficient quantities at reasonable prices the question of its distribution and utilisation will be solved easily. The problems facing the Minister of Fuel and Power today are precisely the same problems as those which faced his predecessor. They are, to put them simply, more coal, cheaper coal, cleaner coal. In the matter of increased production, I wish to congratulate the Minister and the National Coal Board on the results which they have achieved. Despite delivery difficulties, there has been a considerable increase in mechanisation. In parenthesis, I should like to controvert what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) said regarding the opposition of miners to the introduction of new machines. I speak with the responsibility of an executive member of the National Union of Mineworkers. I do not know of any opposition in any part of the coalfield to the introduction of mechanisation. In fact, in the East Midlands district three million tons a year are at present being produced by power loader methods. That does not look as though the miners were opposing the introduction of machinery. But the programme of mechanisation must be intensified. We can never hope to restore the manpower in the pits to the pre-war proportions. Even in a period of full employment, with all its advantages and inducements, we cannot get back to our pre-war manpower level. More and more we must depend on machines to increase the output of coal. I think it quite likely that in the next few years we shall have to accommodate ourselves to a complement of something like half a million men in the industry. Increased mechanisation, therefore, will prove one of the greatest factors in securing the necessary output. Reorganisation has had its beneficial results, but output is still far below what we require for the home market and for sale abroad. It would, however, be a mistake to form a judgment on the industry, upon what has happened since 1st January, 1947. I notice that the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) is not in his place, but I know that I should carry him with me in that contention. A short time ago I paid a visit to the Conservative Political Centre, and in a lapse of extravagance I invested 3d. in a pamphlet written by the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde.
It is 2d.
Then I have been done down, but the price is given on the cover as 3d. Incidentally I have never been able to make out why these pamphlets have a red cover. It might be some indication that the hon. and gallant Member is coming over to this side of the House. On page 11 of his pamphlet, the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde writes:
I heartily agree with that submission, because no one on this side of the Committee ever pretended that the troubles of the industry would be over in the first year or even the second year of nationalisation. When the National Coal Board took over the industry, no fewer than 500 of the 1,500 pits which they took under the umbrella of nationalisation were regarded as uneconomic pits, primitive holes in the earth, with insufficient shaft capacity, inefficient haulage, and inadequate ventilation. One of my friends, who has a wealth of mining experience, visited one of these pits in Wales some time ago. Commenting upon it afterwards, he said, "It is not a pit, it is a pity." When I think of the £164 million which was paid in the global figure of compensation for this industry, I wonder whether some of those owners ought not, instead of being compensated, to have been penalised for wasting national assets. These uneconomic pits used to be described as "necessitous undertakings," and in the years 1942 to 1946 were subsidised to the extent of £27,500,000. I do not know what those pits have cost the Coal Board since they were taken over, but it must be a sizeable sum. The hon. and gallant Member for Fylde says on page 14 of his pamphlet that the industry, for the second time in 30 years, is being heavily subsidised by the consumer. On this side of the Committee we claim that the industry is not being subsidised because any losses must be made up out of subequent profits. Hon. Members opposite may not agree with that contention, but the statement by the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde does confirm that the industry has previously been subsidised. The event which he has in mind is doubtless that which happened some 24 years ago. In 1925, when the coalowners were making demands on the miners for wage reductions, they were asking the Scottish miners to accept wages of 8s. a day and Northumberland miners to accept 6s. 11d. a day. The miners naturally resisted that demand. Fortunately, the Government stepped in at that time and provided assistance to the coalowners by granting a subsidy of £25 million. Commenting on this subsidy, Mr. Lloyd George said at that time that while it was ostensibly a subvention to aid wages, it was in reality a guarantee of certain profit for owners. The Chancellor of the Exchequer at that time was the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) and he offered some advice which hon. Members opposite ought to note. On that occasion, when he was introducing the Supplementary Estimate for the £25 million subsidy, he said:"It would be unwise to discuss the present coal problem without considering what has happened during the last 35 years."
If that were true in 1925, it is a terminological inexactitude in 1949? Conditions in the early days under the National Coal Board were such that they had to keep open the pits to which I have referred. They could have cut their losses and convulsed the mining community by throwing men on to the unemployment market, but they preferred to keep these uneconomic pits open in order to maximise the output of coal Quality had to go by the board and quantity had to be considered. In those circumstances the National Coal Board were doing exactly what the right hon. Member for Woodford advocated. They were studying the convenience of the public and avoiding the suffering of the individual. There are too many of these uneconomic pits still in operation, and I hope that the Minister will encourage the National Coal Board to speed up its programme of concentration. No amount of mechanisation, no amount of reorganisation, will make some of these pits worth while keeping open. I know the difficulties of my right hon. Friend when a decision is made to close a colliery and the invidious position in which he finds himself. There are protests from all the people in the area in which the colliery is situated. The Parliamentary representative for the area is called in and offers his services; and every amateur mining engineer puts forward suggestions for extending the life of the colliery. But there can be no good reason for keeping a pit open when the output is only 18 cwts. per manshift, and when there are adjoining collieries with plenty of face room available where men can secure an output of 25 cwts. to 30 cwts. per manshift. We must abandon all these uneconomic pits as quickly as we can. It must, however, be done with as little social convulsion in the mining areas as possible, and here perhaps my right hon. Friend might confer with his colleague at the Ministry of Health to ensure that when men are transferred they will have somewhere to live. But however it is done, I urge the Minister to do it, because it will prove one of the greatest factors in reducing production costs in the industry. I noted an indication in the speech of the right hon. Member for Bournemouth that he would wish to see a reduction in wages in order to bring down the price of coal. I would emphasise that the day of cheap mines has cone. No longer can cheap coal be expected from cheap mines. Before leaving the subject of output, I want to say a word about the extension of hours. Miners are very reasonable people; they have loaned back their five-day week to the Government and the country. Last week the National Union of Mineworkers, by a card vote of 631 to 39 votes, decided to extend the hours agreement for another 12 months. That will make a substantial contribution to the output of coal this year. The two districts dissenting from that agreement are Notts and Derbyshire. These two districts, in the third quarter of 1948, made between them a profit of £2,862,433. But when miners come to work on Saturdays in these two districts, they work for 2s. 8d. less than in other parts of the coalfield. I hope the Minister will bring his influence to bear on those responsible for this anomaly, because it is one of the factors which is dissuading miners from accepting Saturday work in these two high-producing districts. In fact, a shorter Saturday in every part of the 'British collieries would be a further inducement to men working on Saturdays. Why should not the miner have the advantage of participating in his football, cricket or bowls just as any other citizen in the country? I hope the Minister will turn his attention to the points I have mentioned. With regard to the question of cleaner coal, I do not accept the figure given by the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde in the pamphlet I have mentioned. He says that five million tons of coal were lost to the country because of inferior quality. There is no official figures to support that claim. It is just a guess, and I suppose he must think his guess is as good as anybody else's. Anybody with experience in the industry knows that before the war the quality of coal was depreciating, partly because the cleanest and best seams had been worked out and partly because cleaning and washery plants were in arrears in construction. Mechanisation has increased the problem of dirty coal. When men got coal by hand they were able to separate it and throw the dirt away. It may not be generally known, but in most pits in the country there were deductions imposed on those men who sent out dirty coal. The difficulty now is that machines cannot think; neither can they separate dirt from coal underground. What comes in the way of the power loader has to come to the surface, and it must be dealt with by cleaning plants when it gets there. Instead of large coal, of which the Minister says he would prefer to see more, we are getting more small coal under mechanisation. If this small coal is to be made saleable, it must be made clean. I am interested in this for a particular reason. I congratulate the National Coal Board on beginning their export programme in the very first year of office. They are to be complimented in securing a footing in the export market on the Continent in 1947. But the difficulty now is that the United States of America, and some other countries, too, can offer washed smalls superior to the smalls we are sending out to the Continent; and we shall have difficulty in maintaining our foothold in the foreign market if we are not able to provide cleaner small coal. I hope the Minister will bring pressure to bear on his Cabinet colleagues to ensure that the necessary equipment is provided for the cleaning and washing of coal to a greater degree than at the present time. I wish to say a word about opencast production, because I represent an area which has been riddled by opencast mining as much as any part of the country. I would remind hon. Members opposite who complain about opencast production that if the advice of my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) had been accepted, the opencast mining programme need never have begun. If the men had been recalled from the Forces at the time when my hon. Friend recommended doing so, there would have been no need to begin opencast mining. I hope it is not regarded as a permanent feature in our coal production, and I hope it will be terminated as early as possible. I cannot conclude without paying a tribute to the members of the National Coal Board and the work they are doing. They are public-spirited men who have given their time, their health, their experience and their energy to the task of meeting the needs of the country's coal requirements, often under the lash of abusive criticism. They are in the unfortunate position that they cannot answer back. Their achievements in the past two years have been recognised everywhere except inside the Tory Party. Perhaps that is natural. The Tories have never accommodated themselves to the historic decision of the electorate in 1945 in mandating this Government to bring the mines under national ownership. It is a psychosis from which they will never recover. Finally, I assure my right hon. Friend that the miners are behind him and the National Coal Board in the effort to rehabilitate this great industry. The miners sometimes are in turbulent mood, as it has been said they are in Lancashire at the moment, but they have not lost faith in nationalisation. The miners have never shirked the duties and responsibilities which their calling demands. They are justly proud of their contribution towards economic recovery. The Minister and his predecessor, together with the Coal Board, have laid the foundations of a successful industry. I say to the Minister and the Coal Board, "Continue the good work. You are not building for the moment; you are building for all time.""There are issues which transcend all questions of profit and loss. There are issues besides which the sufferings of individuals and the convenience of the public cannot be allowed to count."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th August, 1925; Vol. 187, c. 1688.]
I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Clay Cross (Mr. Neal). I am not sure that he answered the most able debating speech of the hon. Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster) who compared the 1941 figures with those for 1948. When the Parliamentary Secretary replies to the Debate, I shall be most interested if he will tell us what were the actual figures of production per man hour in 1941 as compared with those for the past year. I hope that this Debate will show that we are not continually living in the past. I hope that hon. Gentlemen who represent mining constituencies, with their great knowledge of this industry, gained in some cases at the coalface, will not allow themselves to succumb to the temptation of living too much in the past, however unfortunate it may have been. Let all of us of all parties, try to face the future and try to build up this industry into a highly competitive and efficient machine which can compete upon an international basis in the markets of the world.I have no doubt that the Coal Board and the whole organisation for the getting of coal will undergo a good deal of reorganisation in the years ahead. I have no doubt that we can make our contribution if we adhere to the principle that the final control rests in the House of Commons. I understand that my hon. Friends in the Opposition, if they are returned to power, will not de-nationalise this industry. I think the term used by them is "decentralisation" or "provincialisation." I should have thought that it would prove inevitable that we should give more provincial authority in this great industry. If it be that some of these nationalisation omelettes are not to be "unscrambled," then it seems that many of the problems of the nationalised industries will go out of the sphere of party politics as has happened, for instance, in the case of such questions as the nationalisation of the water supply, and so on. I hope to see a number of provincial universities endowing chairs for the important study of what will be, in many respect, the entirely new technique which we shall have to apply in correction with some of our nationalised industries. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken), in opening the Debate, quoted the great song which Sir Harry Lauder used to sing and which was used to great effect during the war—"Keep right on to the end of the road." The right hon. Gentleman did that for an hour and ten minutes, and he was followed by the Minister, who occupied another 70 minutes. That does not give the back bencher very much opportunity to do anything but keep right on until the end of the road. I thought that the right hon. Member for Bournemouth was trying to steal the thunder from the mining M. Ps. Also he referred to the depression which is ahead. After explaining to us the various American terms, he called it a "slide." I agree with him that coal is the basis of our competitive power. Indeed he said in his peroration that the only way that we can surmount these problems in relation to our standard of living, is by higher productivity. I wish to appeal to the Minister to reconsider the question of petrol for the motorists. I appeal to him to tackle again his right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I could not help feeling when the Minister was making his speech, that he was reflecting the views of the Chancellor on the dollar question. I believe he said that the accent today in our national economy in a buyers' market is upon salesmanship, organisation and design. These factors will matter more than anything else if we are to hold our own in the export market. I believe that there has been a shift in emphasis in our national economy. I think that it would pay to give more petrol now to those motorists engaged in export and home business. I should like to see the Minister make an experiment. Despite what he said about the stock piles, I believe that if he gave extra petrol to the ordinary motorists, the man in business, the designer and so on, it would have a useful effect.
It being Seven o' Clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair, further Proceeding standing postponed until after the consideration of Private Business set down by direction of The CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS, under Standing Order No. 7.
Mr. SPEAKER resumed the Chair.
West Bromwich Corporation Bill By Order
Order for Third Reading read.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."—[ The Chairman of Ways and Means.]
I desire to voice a certain number of arguments with regard to this Bill, though I do not propose to take up very much time. The points I wish to make relate to three different types of Clauses. The first of these is Clause 86, which deals with the sterilisation of meat for feeding animals. and this Clause, as well as other Clauses on which I desire to comment, really involves the point that these matters ought to be dealt with nationally and not by a Private Bill at all. It surely should be a principle of Private Bill legislation that any subject matter which is one of national concern should not be a matter of local business. This question of the sterilisation of meat for animal feeding is a controversial subject. Sterilisation does not prevent the meat from subsequently becoming contaminated and it gives a false sense of security, because anybody in the neighbouring district which is not covered by this legislation, can sell meat unsterilised. If the matter is to be dealt with at all, it should be dealt with nationally by Statutory Instrument or legislation, and not by means of a local Bill.The next Clauses to which I want to refer are Clauses 91 to 101, which make it necessary for masseurs, chiropodists and manicurists to be licensed. Again, if it is desirable to license manicurists and to restrict their operation, it ought to be done by national legislation. The Corporation will probably get funds from the licensing of these people, hut, apart from that, I cannot see that any resulting good will come from this piecemeal type of legislation. The third Clause to which I take exception is Clause 101, which deals with the registration of entertainment proprietors. This Clause makes it compulsory on all entertainment proprietors, including theatre and cinema owners, to be registered, and it covers punch-and-judy shows, pin-table saloons and any form of amusement and entertainment. Why this particular corporation should receive these compulsory powers on this subject I quite fail to understand. They say that they want to control travelling fairs and circuses, but why should they say that? "They say—let them say." Why should the Corporation of West Bromwich want of its own volition, to control travelling fairs and circuses? It is merely a question of control for control's sake, and of making a little money by licences out of controlling other people. It is on those grounds that I venture to voice a serious objection to this Bill.
The House will agree that in the speech which he has just made, the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Challen) was endeavouring to make honest and constructive criticisms of the Bill, but it is important that the West Bromwich Corporation should secure the Third Reading of this Measure. This is the first time for 18 years that this corporation has applied to this House for special powers. The speech which we have just heard is a repetition of the remarks made on Second Reading by the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll), and, at the time when this Bill was going through its Second Reading here and was before a Select Committee of the House upstairs, these points were very adequately dealt with. However, in order that it may be placed on record for the benefit of the corporation, it ought to be explained what their point of view is in regard to the criticisms which the hon. Gentleman has made.First, in regard to the sterilisation of meat for feeding to animals, the corporation entirely agree that this ought to be a national responsibility, and we do not argue with the hon. Gentleman on that point at all. I would merely point out to him that at the moment it is not a national responsibility. The power is exercised at the moment only by the Birmingham Corporation, and the West Bromwich Corporation is anxious to have similar powers. We have no quarrel with the idea that it should be a national responsibility, but after all, local authorities have often been pioneers in ventures of this kind, and it may be that as a result of this development by Birmingham and later by West Bromwich, the sterilisation of meat for feeding animals will become a national responsibility. I therefore hope that the hon. Gentleman is really not so definite on this point as to insist that this Clause should be wiped out of the Bill, only because the matter should be dealt with nationally. The next point raised by the hon. Gentleman to which there should be an answer, concerned establishments for massage or special treatment. This is dealt with in Part VII of the Bill and the answer is that the hon. Gentleman and his supporters should realise when talking of this Clause that time has marched on since the day when massage simply meant somebody having his back rubbed by an unorthodox person. The position today is illustrated in a quotation which I would like to make from the minutes of the Select Committee:
Surely, the hon. Gentleman would agree that, in an area where there are a large number of industrial accidents of one kind and another, after which people require these various treatments, the local authority should be in a position to control anybody starting an establishment of this kind in order to make sure that it is legitimate. The third and final point concerns the question of control of entertainment proprietors. This relates to the permanent registration of proprietors in those cases where these people have established permanent forms of entertainment. I would say again to the hon. Gentleman that if he would read the minutes of the Select Committee, he would know that, in fact, the people engaged in this busi- ness are anxious that this form of control should be established. I do not want to go into the question of pin-table saloons and that sort of thing and whether they ought to be controlled, but I think these places tend towards creating a great deal of trouble for our youth. Recently, we have heard quite a lot about bottle parties, and I think we should also think about some of these so-called entertainments when they become permanent in this country. This progressive corporation are to be commended for having brought forward this very fine Bill. I support their point of view, and I trust that, in view of the explanation I have given, the hon. Member will not carry his objection to a Division."It is a question today of physio-therapy, radiant heat treatment, ultra-violet rays, chiropody and massage."
I want to make two points. The first is that I cannot see that, when this corporation takes these powers, they are really safeguarding the interests of the public, because the Bill does not make any provision for tests as regards masseurs. There are plenty of unqualified people practising in London nowadays—unqualified doctors, for instance—who do a tremendous amount of good. I cannot see what benefit it is giving to the public, to make them put their names on a register and pay, perhaps, a small fee, or how much more control the corporation will have over people who run fun fairs and pin tables. The only point we wish to make is that registration for the sake of registration, is not going to safeguard the public.There are Clauses in other Bills suggesting that people such as, for instance, window-cleaners, should register. It was pointed out that if they did, the public would derive no benefit from such registration because it would be no safeguard to them. Therefore, I hope that the hon. Member will bring these matters to the attention of the corporation. We have no objection to safeguarding the public, but, as I say, we see no object in having registration for its own sake. Having had an explanation from the hon. Gentleman, we do not wish to pursue the matter any further.
Question put, and agreed to.
Bill read the Third time, and passed.
Again considered in Committee.
[Major MILNER in the Chair]
Fuel And Power
When the Debate on this subject was interrupted, I was trying to induce the Minister of Fuel and Power to consider the suggestion that, over a period, at any rate, he should, by way of an experiment, either increase the petrol ration or remove rationing altogether. I endeavoured to show that, owing to the shift in our national economy, we should give the business community more petrol in order to enable them to carry out increased activities due to the requirements of the export trade. I was also endeavouring to show that by doing that, we should enable them to earn more dollars for the Chancellor of the Exchequer than would he required to purchase the increased petrol.Quite frankly, I was disappointed with the arguments put forward by the right hon. Gentleman in reply to the right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken). When the Minister was speaking, I had the impression that his economics and figures were dated, that they were those of the sellers' market. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will realise that the position has changed, and that our designers, salesmen, and those particularly concerned with increasing the export trade to the hard currency area, are in a monotonous groove and are considerably "browned off" because they cannot get their reasonable requirements of petrol with which to carry on their business. On the other hand, the roads of England have become almost the parallel of the railways as goods lines, so full are they of vans, lorries, trucks, buses, coaches, and so on. There we see commercial petrol being used with—should I be wrong in saying?—a certain amount of extravagance. Would the Parliamentary Secretary refute it if I were to say that it was impossible to carry out an effective check on the quantity of petrol used today by commercial vehicles, both goods and passenger carrying, and by the Forces? I agree that they are vital services, but we must remember that the shift is now away from the sellers' market. Many of the goods which those vans, lorries, trucks, etc., are carrying will, in all probability, be left on the dockside at Southampton or Calcutta because of the balance of payments, currency difficulties, because letters of credit cannot be arranged and because the export trade is falling off. I wish to see all the stimulus and help possible given to the people who really matter in this country today. If we are to narrow the dollar gap, we must help the men whose brains, knowledge, skill and designing power are going to compete with the United States of America and the other great exporting countries of the world. I feel that too much petrol is being used by goods traffic on the roads, upon which there can be no check. How many lorries does one see going along either empty or with only small loads? Is there any check on them to see whether an economic use of the petrol is being made? Owing to the shift in emphasis in the sellers' market, I say to the Parliamentary Secretary that it would be well worth trying the experiment of giving the men who have to prepare new designs and think out ways and means of increasing our export trade, more petrol, and, at the same time, introducing some sort of check on the petrol used by the Forces and for commercial requirements. I said earlier in my speech that I was disappointed with the arguments of the Minister because his figures were dated. I do not know from where he got his economics, or whether he has been in close consultation with the Chancellor of the Exchequer recently, or, again, whether this is the latest view of the Ministry of Fuel and Power. If it is, it ought to be brought up to date and the experiment I have suggested tried. When the Minister said with a flourish, that sweets had been taken off the ration, there were smiles on the faces of hon. Members behind him. But he might have quoted, with a feather in his cap, the other controls which the Government have removed and whose removal has been a pronounced success. The taking of sweets off the ration may not have been a success, but that does not mean that if we tried to deration petrol it would be a failure. For that reason, as I say, I was disappointed with the arguments which the right hon. Gentleman put forward. The right hon. Member for Bournemouth made the suggestion that some American oil companies might, perhaps, accept payment in sterling on a long-term basis. The Treasury point of view about this is probably that they do not like to have an implied conversion held over their heads; they like to meet their dollar commitments, as they arise from time to time, on a current basis. The film companies have agreed to leave a certain amount of their profits in this country to be used for the production of films. Therefore, I should have thought that the suggestion made by the right hon. Member for Bournemouth was a reasonable one. As he said, it is not a matter of trade or agreement between the two countries; it is a matter of personal initiative. I shall be interested to hear the Parliamentary Secretary's reply on this point. I shall be interested to hear whether His Majesty's Government have taken the initiative and have put the whole of this question of petrol to the American authorities in Washington and to the oil companies, asking "Would you accept payment of a greater proportion of your profits in sterling on the understanding that this money is used for building petrol cracking plants and synthetic petrol plants in this country?" Incidentally, it was the combines which prevented the building of petrol cracking plants in this country before the war. I thought the Minister's speech a little stale and a little dated, needing more of the economics of the buyers' market in it. Perhaps he has not had a chance to discuss the question with the Chancellor of the Exchequer since the right hon. and learned Gentleman's return from Italy. I appeal to the Minister to be bold about this and to make an experiment. We shall not get through this depression, through the dollar recession and the danger to our export markets, by sitting back and saying that because we tried the abolition of sweet rationing and it has been a failure, we shall not try the abolition of petrol rationing. It would be a constructive thing to do and it would help the business community of the country if we said, "We are going to give you this petrol because our life, our future, our standard of living, our raw materials, our food—everything—depends on whether you can produce more for the dollar area in order to close the gap of £360 million a year." If we make that challenge and remove petrol rationing for a period of three or six months, we shall help the country. If not, what are we going to do—sit down and wait for the depression to creep up upon us so that we can have another 1931?
Does the hon. Member suggest for one moment that that would solve our problems? I am in favour of getting more petrol; I run a car and I have to be rationed the same as everyone else. But is he trying to make this House believe that if we give petrol ad lib to everyone, it will solve our problems and that if we stop the lorries which carry the goods which have to be carried, and which sometimes have to travel empty, then we shall get out of the depression? I never heard such rubbish in my life.
Whenever a suggestion is made in this Committee the hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Shurmer) always says he has never heard such rubbish in his life. Where he makes a fundamental mistake is that he expects that every suggestion put forward is, in itself, a total answer to the problem. Of course it is not. We shall only get through this difficulty, with Marshall Aid or any other assistance we may get from the United States—if it is continued—if everybody and all parties on all sides, all sections in the country, make a national effort, everybody putting their backs into it and doing their best. This country has to find its supply of raw material from other than dollar areas. Everything helps. I say that the economics of the right hon. Gentleman are stale and outmoded. They are not up to date; they are not dealing with the situation of a buyers' market where the emphasis, if one goes to the B.I.F. or to markets abroad, is upon ingenuity, incentive, originality, design and so on.What I suggest is that the brains of the country, the people upon whom we depend today to pull us out of this situation, find considerable difficulty in obtaining enough petrol to let them get about the country freely in their vocation so that they can make their constructive contribution towards solving this problem. That is my argument. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that it will be well worthwhile taking a bold step, an experimental step, for a period of three months, or perhaps longer, and giving the business community a greater amount of petrol in their ordinary allocation instead of leaving it so that these people, upon whom we depend, have to go to work in the morning from the end of a bus queue and do the same thing at night, reaching home too tired to think about anything they can do to assist. It would be a good investment to make this experiment. It would be well worth trying. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us why this cannot be done, if it cannot be done. I listened to the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman about Anglo-Iranian and production in the sterling area, and they left me absolutely cold. My impression of the Ministry of Fuel and Power, so far as the oil problem is concerned, is that it is merely an adjunct of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's dollar-earning requirements. We shall never solve our problems that way. I believe we could buy more in the sterling area and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us that the Government have not closed their mind to a complete inquiry upon the whole subject, in the hope that we can give a greater amount of petrol to the ordinary business motorist in this country.
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Granville), but I want to say one or two things about the coal industry. I thought the right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) was not too provocative today. During his speech he said that the co-operation of this Committee, together with the co-operation of all people in the country, should be given in order to provide as much coal as possible in these very serious times.Since vesting date, I believe the position in the coal mines has been steadily improving and I have every hope that eventually nationalisation will prove a complete success. Conditions are improving and the miners appreciate that their standards of living are being raised through this Government and through the National Coal Board. I come from a mining Division in South Wales and I avail myself, whenever possible, of opportunities of visiting the collieries and the underground workings. I should very much like it if many other hon. Members from both sides of the House would visit underground workings to see for themselves the conditions under which the men have to work. When we hear right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite criticising the National Coal Board and inferring that the miners are not producing as much as they should, I would reply that I recently saw a team of colliers in one of the collieries in my Division who were regularly producing at the coalface 15 tons per manshift. The seam was undercut, but all the coal had to be hewn and filled on to the conveyors. There one saw the officials in that colliery co-operating with the workmen, understanding each other and producing the maximum possible output. There are other collieries, too, in my Division which produce comparable outputs. When one asks the reason why, the answer is that there is a complete team spirit prevailing at those collieries. Unfortunately, it does not obtain in all collieries, and I venture to suggest that that is due to the fact that the past treatment meted out to the miners, not only in South Wales, but throughout the country, has not been forgotten. Prejudices take an exceedingly long time to die. Gradually but surely we are getting over the difficulty and within a few years, in my opinion, we shall certainly see a vast improvement. There is another side of this picture to which I should like to draw the attention of the Committee, and this is not a question of production but a question of manpower wastage. We in South Wales have a very serious problem to tackle, and I believe that only the Government can solve it. It is the problem of providing suitable employment for those who have had to cease work underground because of industrial diseases or accidents. We are told there are difficulties. We appreciate what the Government have done already in South Wales to provide other industries. However, we are not satisfied that the drive which is necessary to solve the problem is being made. We have thousands of ex-miners throughout the coalfield in receipt of only unemployment benefit, and there are bad psychological effects on the populations in the towns and villages as a result of the fact that men are standing about the employment exchanges or walking the streets. This does not help the drive for new recruits for the mines. When mothers and fathers see those broken men, with no other work to do, although they are capable of performing other work, they ask themselves the question whether or not any boy of theirs should be sent down the pit. Improvements are being effected underground so far as the suppression of dust is concerned, but I am not one of those who believe that this problem has been solved. I should like to cite just a few figures to illustrate the seriousness of this question in South Wales. In 1937 the number of certificates granted for death was 56, and for disablement 239; in 1939 there were 91 death certificates and 355 disablement certificates; in 1941 the figures were 85 and 426 respectively; in 1947 they were 194 and 2,688; and in 1948 they were 255 and 3,824. We read in the Press that this very serious problem is being overcome, but one cannot very well couple such statements with the figures I have just mentioned. Certainly, improvements have been effected in the underground workings, but we cannot expect to eliminate anything like all the dust on the roadways in the coalmines. I ask hon. Members when we discuss coal—and it is a subject which is brought up in the House year after year—not to be too critical, indeed, not to be critical at all, so far as the life of the miner is concerned. We are told today by posters that a young man can obtain wages of from £7 to £8 a week. Yes, as piece-workers, but not as day wage men. The rate of the day wage man on the surface is £5, and underground the wage is £5 15s. a week, out of which the usual deductions have to be made. When we compare these wages with those being paid today in other industries, we may ask ourselves whether, even today, the miner is having a square deal, so far as wages are concerned. I listened to one hon. Member opposite asking why output was down, as compared with what it was in 1941. I would reiterate the argument of an hon. Friend of mine about the draw-out in 1940, which was one of the biggest mistakes that has been made in the mining industry. At that time thousands were drawn out of the pits and put into the Army, the Navy and Air Force, and their services could have been retained in the mines if any foresight had been used at that time. As it is, we have lost very many of those men for all time. There is one pleasing feature in the activities of the National Coal Board. There has been much criticism about the number of officials who have been put on since vesting day, but I am not too critical about that, because I do know that since vesting day a large number of officers have been engaged for the purpose of investigating questions such as roof control, dust suppression, and so on. I believe there have been good results. The yearly number of fatal accidents in the coalmines before the war, before 1938, was round about 1,000. That figure has been appreciably reduced. In 1938 the number of deaths in coalmines was 858; in 1940 it was 923; in 1944, 623; in 1947, 618; in 1948, 468. That is a new low record, and we all hope, I am sure, that the National Coal Board will be able further to reduce that number. There are still avoidable accidents. With the co-operation of both sides, I am sure that everything possible will be done still further to improve the position. I realise that there are very many other hon. Members who wish to take part in this Debate, and I shall conclude in a moment, but there is just one more point I would mention, and that is the matter of opencast coalmining. The Minister did say that if we closed opencast sites we should be deprived of coal which is urgently needed, coal which the nation must get, even though it is produced at an uneconomical price. I ask myself, if that is so, why is it that collieries are being closed down which, I submit, can produce coal at a cheaper price than opencast workings? There is a colliery in my division employing approximately 350 men, and where the output, prior to vesting day, was round about 11 cwt. or 12 cwt. per manshift. I have been told that the private owner made a profit. Since vesting day the output has been increased to about 18 cwt. per manshift, and we are informed that the colliery is now being worked at a loss. I realise that the reorganisation scheme must be proceeded with, but before any pit is closed down, in view of the Minister's statement today that it is absolutely essential for us to get as much coal as possible, an exhaustive inquiry—and I know that inquiries are being conducted by both sides of the industry—but a detailed and exhaustive inquiry should be held to ascertain why it is that these places do not pay, or why it is the output is not what it should be. There is one other question I wish to put. The policy of the Coal Board is to transfer men who were employed in the pit which has been closed down, or which is being closed down, to a neighbouring colliery. Unless sufficient pit room is made at the colliery to which they are to be transferred, I fear that it will not be possible to get as much output from the pit to which the men are transferred as was obtained from the two pits. It is obvious that day-wage men cannot be fitted in as easily as the piece workers, because the day men necessary in the pit are already available. The Minister should be satisfied, through the National Coal Board, that no pit is closed down before an exhaustive inquiry has been made into the whole of the circumstances. In conclusion, I would ask the Committee to congratulate the N.C.B. and also the miners on the tremendous effort which is being made at the collieries today to get the necessary output, without which, talk as we may about electricity, gas and petrol, this nation will not prosper as hitherto.
I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. D. Thomas), and I noted that he ended his speech by congratulating the men of the National Coal Board. I wish also to pay my tribute to the men working in the National Coal Board because they have had a great deal of criticism, and I am convinced that the vast majority of them are working to the best of their ability, and realise that it is their duty to produce as much coal as possible for the country.I suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that if nationalisation is failing, as I say it is at the moment, it is not the fault of those who are trying to run the industry. This industry was thrown at them after only three or four months' notice, and they had to organise themselves at the same time as they had to produce coal. I am convinced that the people at the divisional, the area and the pit level have all tried to increase output. I must warn the Parliamentary Secretary that I have made a careful study during the last two or three months, particularly in the Yorkshire area, of what is happening. I hope that he will consider very seriously the points which I am putting forward in a constructive spirit. It seems that nationalisation in the coal industry is failing at the moment for two reasons. One is because the coal is not being produced to the satisfaction of the consumer so far as price and quality are concerned. I listened with interest to the Minister's argument with regard to quantity and the need to export. He said that the consumer must be asked to have patience. There is no reason why the consumer should he asked to have patience when he is given bad quality coal and the prices are unnecessarily high. Another reason why I think nationalisation is failing is because I believe that the Coal Board is not carrying the imagination of the men with them. May I dwell on those two points? Why am I convinced that the Coal Board is not giving what we might call consumer satisfaction? The first point is that the consumers' councils, set up with such a flourish, are not working properly. They are too remote. If the Minister wants constructive suggestions from consumers, whether domestic or industrial, I suggest that he get down much more to local committees. Taking Sheffield as an example, it would not be beyond the bounds of possibility to set up a consumers' council to deal with Sheffield alone, and he might then get constructive suggestions from the industrial and domestic consumers of that area. Another reason why the nationalised industry is failing is over-emphasis on output. Throughout this Debate, we have been talking about output, and I suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that the propaganda of his Ministry throughout has been based on output. The result of that on the divisional, the area and pit level, has been to encourage those concerned to increase output and not to bother about the dirt in the coal or the moisture in the coal. I know of two collieries which are sending out slag with an ash content of over 10 per cent. and a moisture content of 14 per cent., making nearly 25 per cent. ash and moisture. The managers are being pushed for output, and I can understand their desire to try to increase the output figures by putting this in.
Will the hon. Gentleman explain in that analysis what was the fixed carbon content of that coal?
It was reasonably good. It is a good coking coal, but you cannot make coking coal with 10 per cent. of ash, because the ash still remains. I am making the point that the emphasis on output is spoiling quality. I will not deal with the question of price because that has already been mentioned.The second point is that the Coal Board do not carry the imagination of the men with them. My right hon. Friend dilated on that at some length. I would only point out that even with all the new machines we do not seem to be getting output. We have had a certain number of strikes. The coalface attendance in February and March of this year was 4½ shifts per week out of a possible 5½. I will say more about the five-day week in a moment. The whole tendency goes to show, I am certain, that the men do not yet feel that they are part of the industry. There are some constructive suggestions which I want to put to the Minister, and which, I think, are within his power to deal with. The first is that one area subsidising another area or one division subsidising another division is fundamentally wrong. The second point is that the five-day shift basis without increasing the stint and keeping wages at the proper level has resulted in a reduction in output. The third point is the need to decentralise internal competition down to the pit level. Those are three constructive suggestions which I put to the Parliamentary Secretary. In connection with the system of subsidising one area against another, the profits of one area being taken to make up the losses of another area, I want to cite Yorkshire and South Wales. We have not the up-to-date figures before us, but on the old figures there was a 14s. difference between the cost of producing coal in Yorkshire and the cost of producing it in South Wales. That extra 14s. is going to subsidise the weaker pits in South Wales. I am not arguing whether South Wales should be subsidised or not, but I am arguing about where that subsidy should come from. I feel that coal is a national need and there is a national duty concerning it. What is happening now? In the case of Yorkshire, about 14s. a ton is being taken to subsidise the weaker pits. If that did not happen, what would happen to the 14s. a ton, or whatever the figure may be? Half of it would go in increasing the miners' wages and the other half would go in reducing the price of coal. Therefore, these two sections, the coal consumer and the miner of Yorkshire, are being asked to subsidise the weaker pits for the benefit of the nation. That is one of the fundamental reasons why both the consumer and the miner are discontented. I suggest that it should be a national responsibility to keep the weaker divisional areas going, and we should not ask the miners of the better areas to subsidise them.
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that Yorkshire miners should have a bigger wage than miners in other districts. where perhaps the pits are working at a loss or just paying their way?
I was coming on to that. I believe that if the profits were allowed to be paid as a bonus incentive in the areas, divisions, and pits, we should get better production and greater efficiency. I see no reason why men who are prepared to do the extra work to get the extra coal should not be given the benefit for doing so. I have always opposed the idea of a national wage throughout the country; I think that it is one of our greatest difficulties at the moment. The scheme was started during the war as a wartime necessity, and I suggest that the Minister should reconsider the subsidising of the poorer areas, and should discuss it with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Until we get down to real values, so that good pits can get the benefit of having good and efficient organisation, we shall not get incentive in the industry.The second constructive point I wish to make concerns the five-day week. I have advocated the five-day week for a number of years. What happened when it was first introduced? It was interpreted by the miners' side as an increase in wages, and unfortunately a strike started at Grimethorpe. The working of the extra stint for the five-day week was fought out with the Coal Board and the Coal Board lost. The result was that the five-day week agreement, which meant an extra stint to each of those five days, in order to get the same amount of coal in five days as had formerly been got in six, merely became an increase in wages. I am not arguing whether the increase in wages was right or wrong. But if it was right, it should have been done in the proper way, as a straight increase, instead of being used to kill the principle of the five-day week. I believe that the Minister must get back to the principle of the five-day week, so long as it does not mean a reduction of the present level of miners' wages. The miners' wages must not be reduced, but we should get back to the five-day week, and there should be an increased stint. At the moment, coal-face workers are working four and a half days a week, and I should not be at all surprised, although I cannot prove it, if in the majority of cases one of those four and a half days is either Saturday or Sunday at double time. I think that is quite possible. Nevertheless, only four and a half shifts a week were being worked out of a possible five and a half in February and March, so there is a good possibility of increasing the four and a half shifts to five if a full five-day week can be instituted. However, at Grimethorpe at the present time the five-day week is taken as an increase in wages with the double time. If we are to have mechanisation we must have a five-day week and a six-day week alternately; there must be a turn-round at least once a fortnight, so that there is a day on which the miners are not trying to get coal. My third constructive suggestion is that the Minister should decentralise internal competition down to pit level. Those hon. Members who know what it is to live in a mining community, to work at a pit and to play football for the pit team, realise that the horizon of those people does not go much further than the pithead. I have spoken to a number of miners, and I am convinced that the area does not mean very much to them; the division means almost nothing at all; and the Coal Board in London is almost foreign. There will not be competitive output in the coal industry until the blue flag which now goes up at the pits, means something more than a bit of prestige to the men; and there must be something more than merely a paragraph in the newspaper saying that they have hit the target. The cost basis of the present Coal Board accounts must be reduced down to a pit basis, and if a bonus is paid the men should get it at the end of the week. By that method we shall get incentive back in the pits and greater output. To sum up, I believe that the nationalisation of the coal industry in its present set-up is failing, but I do not believe that it is failing because of any lack of effort by those who are trying to run the Coal Board or of the men working in the pits. The Minister can help in the three ways I have suggested: first, by re-organising the whole structure of subsidising the weak areas, by not asking the mining community alone to subsidise something which is really a national duty; secondly, he should re-enforce the five-day week, with a larger stint on the five days without a reduction of wages at the present level; there must be no reduction in wages, for that would obviously bring trouble; thirdly, as far as possible he should bring internal competition down to pit level. Of course, the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary are politicians, and they are swayed by the various conflicting interests of the community. That, I think, is one of the fundamental reasons why nationalisation will fail—because it is being run by politicians who have to listen to the conflicting interests of the community, and I am rather doubtful whether the Minister will be able to put into effect some of the suggestions I have made. If he will take heed now, he may be able to prevent disaster in the future, and if he will adopt some of these constructive suggestions he will go down as the best Socialist Minister of Fuel and Power we have yet had.
This Debate began with two fairly long speeches from the Front Benches, so that those of us who speak now must considerably curtail our speeches. However, I make no complaint; I recognise that those who speak from the Front Bench are expected to cover the whole area of the Debate. I was interested in the speech of the right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken), as I have been in speeches from this side of the Committee. Before the coal industry had been nationalised for three months, we were told that the system was a complete failure; even after nationalisation had run for six months it was still a failure; the hon. Member for Ecclesall (Mr. P. Roberts) now believes that the system will fail. He seems to be on the retreat: from complete failure after three months to failure after six months, there is now only a belief that the system will fail.According to the hon. Member for Ecclesall nationalisation will fail because the National Coal Board is too far away from the miners. I must remind him that the miners have never known who their employers were, save in exceptional cases. The miners have always known the managers, those who did the work about the pits; they may have seen in the colliery office certain individuals who held positions in the company, although they knew little or nothing about them; but as for those who actually owned the mines, they knew nothing at all about them. The National Coal Board is no further away from the miner working at the coal-face than was the employer before nationalisation.
I should like to cite this personal example. My great grandfather used to drive down to the pit in a trap, and he was known by almost every man at the pit; my grandfather was also well-known; and I hope that I was too.
I started in the pits under a private owner, but that day did not last very long and we began to get accustomed to the company. The private owner had disappeared long before nationalisation. As far as the Coal Board is concerned, it is not very far away from the colliery company prior to nationalisation.The hon. Member then tells us that nationalisation will fail to give the country the coal it requires. He tells us that we require bigger production and cheaper coal. That brings me to the speech of the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, because he also emphasised the need for cheaper coal. I do not think many miners have any doubts that had we not had nationalisation, and had we had a Tory Government in power, there might have been cheaper coal available today. We know what happened after the 1914–18 war. The miners are thoroughly satisfied that had the Tories been returned at the 1945 Election, the same policy would have been pursued as after the 1914–18 war, when there were savage reductions in wages and conditions which were absolutely intolerable. That persisted for years and years, with the miners helpless because throughout the length and breadth of the land there were huge armies of unemployed. The miners have not forgotten that and never will, and for that reason they will make nationalisation a success. We recognise that the Coal Board has had enormous difficulties. The hon. Member has emphasised that the Coal Board has had a terrible task. They were presented with a considerable number of collieries which were uneconomic and had to be closed down one by one or grouped in a comparatively short time. The colliery owners have even been compensated for these rotten collieries, and today the Coal Board is left with these little babies to nurse. In case some of my friends from north of the Border do not get an opportunity to take part in this Debate, I should like to direct one or two questions to the Parliamentary Secretary. He knows that in Scotland we are facing a very difficult problem, a problem which is likely to persist for a long time. In the days when we had private ownership, Lanarkshire was a great coal-producing county. It had good, rich seams of coal, and it produced the coal to build up the iron works and the other great industries in the West of Scotland, contributing no little to the welfare of Scotland. Today, the position has changed. The big, rich seams are going, if they have not almost gone, and a considerable number of collieries in Lanarkshire are in danger of closing. I know that this matter is concerning the Ministry and is likely to continue taking up their attention. The matter has been dealt with as if it were a comparatively easy problem. We have been told that although the collieries in Lanarkshire require to be closed there are other areas in Scotland developing. In the neighbouring county of Ayrshire, in the Lothians and in Fife, there are great developments going on, and we are told that all the Lanarkshire miners require to do is to transfer to these areas where they will be all right. As a matter of fact other Government Departments have been playing their part in that scheme, and I want to pay tribute to them, by providing housing accommodation for the miners who require to be transferred. New houses are being provided for those men who are willing to leave the pits in Lanarkshire and go to new collieries which are being developed in the county of Fife. I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us why it is that miners who have transferred from the two collieries which have recently been closed in Lanarkshire and have gone to Fife, are now returning to Lanarkshire. He may have information on what is the real difficulty. I do not think it is because of the housing situation. Houses are being provided for at least some of the miners transferred, but others have to put up in hostels where they cannot have their families. Perhaps he can explain why these men are returning to Lanarkshire and are going on the labour exchange instead of to the mines. This problem of closing the collieries is not a very easy one. Although these other collieries are being developed and housing accommodation is being provided, other problems are evidently arising when a colliery is closed and the men have to be scattered. I do not think the older men will go elsewhere, because they will consider that they cannot possibly adapt themselves to the new conditions. They will be disinclined to transfer to these other areas for this reason. The miners who have been accustomed to work in the old collieries, which have not been mechanised because it has not been worth while, cannot adapt themselves to the new collieries that are being rapidly mechanised. If they are not given an opportunity to carry on the work to which they are accustomed, it will be impossible to transfer them to other areas. This may be a problem that concerns the Ministry of National Insurance, the National Assistance Board or some of the other national organisations which deal with matters of this kind. At any rate, whenever a colliery has to be closed, it is the middle-aged men and perhaps the younger men who transfer to the new collieries, but the old men present a difficult problem. I hope that whatever steps are taken to close these collieries in Lanarkshire, everything possible will be done by the Ministry of Fuel and Power to deal with the problem sympathetically and efficiently. My time is very limited. I should have liked to deal with some of the problems which have been raised in the course of the Debate, but I recognise that there are others who wish to take part in the Debate. I am, however, anxious to emphasise that while some of the younger men are willing to transfer to new areas, there still remains the problem of the older men. In Fife we have been fortunate in this respect, because the older collieries were closed between the two wars. Those collieries that were worth mechanising have been mechanised, and I believe that Fife was a very highly mechanised coal field prior to nationalisation. As for the future, it seems as if it will be even more highly mechanised than it is at the moment. Large new collieries are being prepared, and it will be a very important development area in Scotland. It may be possible to get from Lanarkshire a body of men who will add considerably to the manpower in the County of Fife in order to develop the collieries which are now being prepared. Before these new collieries can be opened and developed, however, some considerable time must elapse. It is a matter not of months but of years before these collieries are able to take on many extra men. At the moment the collieries already in existence are taking on the men who are coming from Lanarkshire. We must also remember that during the war practically no development work was done. During the war it was a question of getting coal and getting it as speedily as possible. Little attention was paid to development work; that has had to be done since the miners were nationalised. The National Coal Board has had to turn its attention to developing the mines. We have had complaints from the other side of the Committee about low output and comparisons have been made year with year. It is all very well bandying these figures about, but we should keep in mind that during the whole of the war there was no development work. The National Coal Board and the Ministry of Fuel and Power have done a very good job. There is one thing about which the Opposition need have no doubt whatever, and that is that they will never get the miners of this country to go back to the system under which they worked before nationalisation.
In view of the limited time at my disposal, I cannot hope to do justice even to the single aspect of this Debate to which I wanted to devote my remarks. I had hoped to cover some of the points which the Minister made in reply to the very long speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken), but I cannot even attempt to do that. I should like to suggest, however, that the Minister does less than justice to his own sense of reality when he continues to compare the years 1947, 1948 and, indeed, 1949 with 1945. He must know as well as anybody that at the end of a long war, with all the inherent difficulties and the lack of plant and equipment in the pits, such comparison is wholly fallacious.I must say that we on this side of the Committee were very much in accord with the right hon. Gentleman during his peroration. Any sense of complacency is, I feel, deeply out of touch with reality at this moment, and I shall say no more today about the general organisation of the industry or the National Coal Board than the fact that the Paymaster-General in another place, on 26th April, seemed to indicate that the Government's view of the situation was that some very drastic change would have to be made. I want to confine myself for a few minutes to the question of opencast coal. We had the advantage in February of an Adjournment Debate initiated by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke), who dealt generally with the loss of agricultural land and the size of stocks, and in some small measure with the question of cost. Since then we have had the report of the sub-committee of the Select Committee on Estimates which has dealt more comprehensively with the whole subject. I should like to congratulate the sub-committee on the very hard work which they obviously put into this report and the way in which they tackled this problem. I must say, however, that the sub-committee were labouring under considerable difficulties. As so often happens when a political committee considers a question of this nature, they were in the difficulty of dealing with a technical matter without the necessary knowledge to bring to bear on the subject. Unless the appropriate evidence is placed before that committee, they may come to conclusions which are not necessarily justified by the situation. In the conclusions of this sub-committee there is undoubtedly a note of concern about the level of costs, and they make some fairly strong recommendations. I think that note of concern and those recommendations would have been much more drastic had the members of that sub-committee had the opportunity of considering evidence which I think would have appropriately been put in front of them. Sir Donald Ferguson described the problem of opencast coal as a civil engineering job, and it has become known as that, partly because when it was embarked upon in 1941 there was at that time no prospect of the coal industry itself taking on this work. There was a shortage of men, management and technicians and they could not undertake this additional burden. When the Ministry of Fuel and Power took over from the Ministry of Works in 1945, they were faced with something of the same situation. The necessity of undertaking the large scheme of re-organisation as recommended by the Reid Committee made it impracticable for the industry itself to take on this job. Strip-mining, as it is known in America, and opencast work in regard to gypsum, iron ore, or any other base metal is essentially a mining problem, and only when the question is approached from that aspect can a real basis of comparison of cost be achieved. There were two sources of information open to the sub-committee. There were those technicians in the country who are familiar with American strip-mining methods, who, in the unenlightened days before nationalisation, went out to America to study this very problem. I am surprised they were not called to give evidence before the sub-committee. There were also a number of coal and iron concerns who had specialised in iron ore production over a number of years and were familiar with all the problems of coal and the extraction of base metals by opencast methods. What happened? The subcommittee had three types of evidence in front of them—the Ministry of Fuel and Power, who claim to know something about coal and nothing about iron ore, a representative of the Iron and steel Board, and a representative of Stewarts and Lloyds, who claim to know something about iron ore and nothing about coal, and representatives of the civil contractors who claim to know nothing about either. The committee had to face the problem of attempting to formulate a basis on which they could evaluate the cost of production of opencast coal. It is hopeless to take a figure in isolation, and attempt to evaluate it unless there can be some basis of comparison. I wish to suggest to the Committee that there was a real basis of comparison which could have been placed before them, and which would have enabled them to come to a conclusion much more in accordance with the facts than the one they actually reached. The evidence they heard from Messrs. Stewarts and Lloyds was, in a way, of little value. What they do on marginal land in North-East Northamptonshire has little relation to what happens in opencast mining. In fact, they have only done opencast work in any considerable degree since the erection, recently, of the Corby works. There were, however, a number of concerns which had been working iron ore in very similar circumstances for upwards of 100 years—iron foundry companies of long-standing reputation, which are experts at this job. I am extremely surprised that the attention of the sub-committee was not directed to these concerns. A glance at the Third Schedule of the Iron and Steel Bill would have provided evidence of who those concerns were. What were the main considerations from a technical aspect—and I shall try to put this in lay language—with which the sub-committee were faced in attempting to form a comparison? First, there was a question of prospecting; whether it is iron ore or coal it has to be found by boring, or whatever system is applied. There are faults, washouts, dips, etc. So you start with the same problem. Next you say, "Could you find pits of reasonably the same depth?" Yes, there again you could find millions of tons of opencast coal being mined at precisely the same levels as iron ore. The next problem was the length of the face to be worked. Many opencast workings are 200 to 300 yards long, and the complaint is that the machinery has to turn round a number of times to perform its functions. Again, there are a fair number of iron ore workings which are 200 to 300 yards long and so, once again, there is the question of similarity. The next thing is the nature of the overburden, with coal usually shales, clays, gravels and such like. In iron ore more often than not there is limestone and clay. Limestone is a much more intractable material than are shales, clays and gravels. We are getting rather close now—the same size, the same depth, the same problem of prospecting and something of the same type of overburden. What is next? The condition of the structure just above the base metal itself. There is the question of getting coal clean in the one case and with iron ore there is the same problem. In iron ore there is a little more than five per cent. dirt, and there is the same problem in regard to coal. Then there is the question of restoration. Let us get this straight. In the case of the major concerns which have been working iron ore for the last 100 years, and with half a dozen of which I have been associated for the last 25 years—over 90 per cent. of their workings have been wholly restored—not roughly, but in such a way that farming can be carried out at once, and at a figure which is completely out of relation to the cost which is being incurred in this opencast work. The great majority of these iron ore fields are leased in precisely the same way as opencast coal workings and are therefore subject to all the arrangements and difficulties about which so much evidence was given in regard to opencast work. Let us come to the question of cost. The cost of getting iron ore between 50 and 80 feet deep is between 4s. and 5s. a ton, and we have to try to relate that to the figure of 25s. to 30s., which is purely the getting cost in relation to opencast coal. There is a greater density of iron ore, and so an allowance must be made. Double the initial cost. Turn the 5s. into 10s. The proportion of the depth of the seams one to the other may be as five is to eight. Add eight-fifths to the original cost, bringing the figure up to 14s. to 15s. Add something for extra care to be taken to prevent flooding—in connection with old workings—another 1s. or so, and still the figure is only in the region of 18s. to 20s. Yet in the majority of cases we are here talking about 30s. That 30s. has hardly been broken down at all. We have some figures which emerge from the sub-committee's investigation. Sir Donald Fergusson, talking about the cost of restoration of an acre of this land, says it is between £200 and £400. Believe me precisely the same problem confronts the iron ore fields with a much more intractable overburden to work with. They are doing this work, and they have done it for the last 25 or 50 years, for a figure of 3d. a ton or £125 an acre. It is precisely the same problem under precisely the same circumstances. Then the point is made that these civil contractors have to write down their machinery much more quickly,
May I interrupt the hon. and gallant Gentleman? We always listen with interest to him and I am not trying to score. I want to know if he has related the prices at different periods of time. There is a price relationship in this.
I am relating the most recent prices between one and the other. The price is the one ruling at this moment. I am sure the hon. Member will appreciate that I have gone to great lengths to get my figures as accurate as possible.On the question of writing down machinery, most of these ore pits and opencast workings are of somewhat the same dimension. It may be necessary to work out the one in two or three years as against the more leisurely eight or 10 years which the ore pit takes but machinery has to be written down over the same tonnage of material in both cases. So whether we work it out in three or 10 years does not make any difference. Therefore, it is not reasonable to say that there is a higher figure to write down in the case of the one as compared with the other. A lot was made of that point, and I do not think it was substantiated. Even if one gives a little in that direction, it is not a getting cost, it still does not bring the two into relation. Where do we get then? We find, by the only reasonably precise basis of comparison which can be made, that the two costs are out of relation one to the other. I shall not suggest to the Committee what are the fundamental reasons for that, but I would say primarily that this has been looked on as a question of muck shifting rather than mining, as was mentioned during the Committee proceedings. From the few coal sites I have seen, I do not consider that the methods are in accordance with the best mining practice. I must say once again that I cannot accept the evidence of Stewarts and Lloyds as a fair analogy. Many of the figures given during that evidence were much less precise than the ones which I am attempting to give this evening. It was possible to get precise costings and to relate one to the other, making the reasonable allowances to which I have alluded.
Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman suggest that Stewarts and Lloyds are not a reputable firm and were not capable of giving us the information which we sought when we were conducting that investigation? The conditions are vastly different between opencast coalmining and mining iron ore, judging by the evidence presented to that Committee.
I want to make this clear: Stewarts and Lloyds are a reputable firm, but they have been mining iron ore on any scale for a relatively short time and they are mining it under peculiar conditions.
They are doing it on a big scale.
That does not matter. What I am trying to evaluate is like to like, and there are iron-ore fields which have been worked by firms with far more technical experience than Stewarts and Lloyds for a long time under conditions somewhat similar to opencast coal working. From the mining aspect the problem is almost identical. The same machines are used, and to the same depths, to get something like the same metal under similar circumstances.I have discussed these matters not only with people concerned in the mining of iron ore but with many directly interested in opencast mining, and they have been prepared to agree with the majority of what I have said this evening. What I am trying to do now is to supply a reason. I say that all this problem has been dealt with as a matter of muck shifting rather than as a mining proposition and that the best mining practice has not been pursued. If I sought to approach this question from a political angle I should say that this is yet another example of a Government Department with the best of intentions embarking on an industrial enterprise without the background to enable them to do so. What does all this amount to? It is not merely a question of the taxpayers' money being wasted. It means that part of the coal being produced in this country is being produced too expensively and that everything we produce for export is thereby effected. The right hon. Gentleman himself stressed the need to emphasise not only the question of production but also the question of costs. We cannot afford to go on living in this world of make-believe any longer. Hon. Members opposite are beginning to realise that competition in Europe is growing, and growing rapidly, and that if it is a question of exporting not merely coal but all the things that coal helps us to make, we shall fail against that competition if we continue at our present level. The whole matter of opencast prodution, quite apart from anything else, should be reviewed again in the light of the evidence I have put forward this evening. If that is done—I am not trying to make a party point—it will be shown that the methods now being used can be greatly improved upon. We cannot afford to play about with a matter of an odd 5s. or 10s. as if it were of no consequence; it is of vast consequence. We cannot look upon something which could reasonably be done for 18s. but is, in fact, being done for 30s. as something which is immaterial or merely the passing of money from one set of hands to another; it is nothing of the sort. What it does is to raise and maintain the cost of this primary product at such a level that we shall be knocked out of the export market. It is for all these reasons that I urge the Government to look at this matter again.
I always listen with profound interest to the speeches of the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde (Colonel Lancaster), whose valuable knowledge of the mining industry is always recognised by us on this side of the Committee. I hope, however, that the hon. and gallant Gentleman will excuse me if I do not follow him into the ramifications of opencast mining. I listened with interest to the speech of the right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken), and when he appealed to the mining Members, building up a picture of the depression that is to come and of the necessity for bringing down mining costs, I thought I was back once again in the days when we had to face that cry in 1920 and 1925, when the philosophy of the Opposition was to meet international competition by slashing the wages of the men in the mining industry. I am very suspicious that that philosopy of the Opposition has not yet altered. I shudder to think what would be the fate of working-class people if a depression did come and the industry was in the hands of the right hon. Gentleman opposite.
I did not fire the hon. Member, the Prime Minister did.
Get up and say it.
The hon. Member has no grievance against me; I have not cut wages. I had nothing to do with his despatch from his post as Parliamentary Private Secretary.
That has nothing to do with this Debate. It is not the first time I have resigned and it is not the first time I have got the sack. Hon. Members opposite applied the means test when I was unemployed. I am trying to eradicate from the mind of the right hon. Gentleman the fallacious idea he has that miners are opposed to machinery in the pits. The rows were never about the machinery, but about the way in which the employers wanted to pay the man who worked the machine. The employer who brought the machine into the pit always considered he had a right to get more coal in order to meet the cost of the machinery.I intended to deal with the new idea of the Opposition expressed in the pamphlet by the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde in relation to their de-centralisation scheme. I have not the time to develop the argument, but apparently their view of how this nationalised coal industry should be run is to superimpose, within the nationalised structure, the private enterprise structure, which had such devastating results on the industry. To send us back to the system of districts, with healthy competition, as is suggested, would be sending us back to the dark days of depression, and that we shall oppose, if it ever comes again. It should be known that there were more than 500 pits taken from private enterprise which were losing from £2 to £7 a ton pithead price as a result of the so-called efficiency of private enterprise. The National Coal Board have had to pay for that. It ill becomes the Opposition to decry the efforts of the National Coal Board, which took over the industry with huge losses.
Is it not a fact that between two and three years before the National Coal Board took over the pits, they were run under the direction of the Ministry of Fuel and Power, who said what coal must be worked, and that the industry was not under private enterprise at all?
Under the old régime of the Ministry of Fuel and Power, the financial control of the undertakings was in the hands of the owners. That was the basic principle laid down and the argument of the hon. and gallant Member cannot hold water. All the developments of private enterprise in the war years were paid for by the Government under the Coal Charges Fund.We have to deal with the problems which private enterprise has left us and we have to face the closing of uneconomic pits and the concentration of output on the most productive pits. There is a big change for the miners in facing this problem. In the old days the employer gave 14 days' notice and, if the pit closed, the miner had no voice in the matter, but went to the labour exchange and rotted there, or was directed to some distant place and had to fend for himself. But miners today have, through their consultative committees, a voice at higher levels in discussing the question of whether these pits shall close, whether some suggestions can be made which would make the pits more productive, or whether, under a concentration scheme, output in that area could be concentrated on one shaft and one productive unit made out of three unproductive pits in the area. Therefore, we have to say to our people that the very thing which we argued in favour of nationalisation was the need to reorganise the industry because we knew the hopelessness of expecting the capital necessary to reorganise the pits of this country, to be forthcoming under private enterprise. I shall now deal for a moment or two with the Fabians, who have been making suggestions about consultative committees. Their suggestion is the outpouring of madmen. They suggest that consultative committees should take part in appointing the manager and dealing with promotions in the pit. That might be possible in a factory but it cannot be done in mining. Under the 1911 Act the manager is responsible for the safety of life and limb of the men, and the ventilation and safety arangements in the pit. We could not have divided responsibility through the consultative committee functioning in that way. No manager worth his salt would take the responsibility for what happened in the pit, if he had to accept the decision of the consultative committee in these matters. The same applies to over-men and deputies. The manager is responsible in law for the actions of those whom he employs in the mines. Therefore, that manager must be allowed to exercise the responsibility which rests upon him in the promotion of the things which are essential to the safety of the men in the pit. I wish that those who talk in this way would not take their advice from a questionnaire but from the people who know something about the problems before they issue such statements as have been issued in the pamphlet to which I am referring. That does not mean to say that the manager of a pit is not entitled to take, or should not take, into serious consideration the recommendations of the people who represent the workmen's side in the consultative committee. Many men who are members of the consultative committee can give valuable advice to a manager about the pit because of their long years of work there and consequent knowledge of the peculiarity of that mine. Managers have to be taught the new basis of nationalised industry. An example of what not to do occurred last week. A manager in one area instructed six joiners to set six pairs of gears outside the main riding shaft, and put up a notice "This is how to timber the face." That is one of the biggest insults that can be offered to the men in the pit. It is telling them that they are so ignorant of their work that someone has to give them a demonstration, a demonstration which takes no account of the geological and other difficulties of the actual conditions in the pit. That night the secretary of the lodge tore up the notice and threw it on one side. He was told by the management that he was interfering with the management of the pit. The manager in question had not gone to the consultative committee and suggested that the action he had taken ought to be taken, nor had he sought the committee's advice. That pit might have been idle had the lodge secretary not done what he did. We must tell the managers, just as we must tell the men, that this is a new machine. The manager should be told that he will be judged first upon the output which he gets, having due regard to the full safety of the men who employ him, and secondly on what is his relationship with the men who employ him in the pit. This same pamphlet says that the men are disgruntled because they see the old gang back. There is some truth in that, but it must be realised that when we nationalised the mines, we had not in our ranks men with first-class certificates. And why not? If a man wanted to be a deputy, if he had a technical bent, the first thing we ourselves used to say was, "He is just a gaffer's man." By our own actions during the war years we prevented our young lads from going out and developing their minds and getting their first-class mining certificates. Therefore we should not quibble at the old gang being back, because it is mostly due to the tactics which we ourselves adopted in the mining, districts. Now that we have a new mentality in relation to this problem, I am hoping that we shall encourage our young lads in the pit. Do not bring in too many bright boys from the colleges, but train the lads who have been in the mines from fourteen and give them every encouragement. Do not ask a lad who went on at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, and has been working till 10 o'clock, to study the next morning for any particular object without giving him some sort of recreation, which is what happens in many places. We should develop a system whereby the boy who starts as a tapper boy can develop his technical knowledge and when he is 21 can get his first-class certificate. In that way we shall get mine managers from our own ranks. They will develop their mentality and become administrators, and so we shall eliminate the old gang. I recommend the Minister of Fuel and Power to study the suggestions I have made and to ask the National Coal Board managers and men to work this machine in the light of comradeship and not as two sides at a table arguing at cross purposes and getting nowhere.
We all listen with interest to the speeches of the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) when he is talking about mining subjects. I was much interested by his last remarks. There has inevitably been an atmosphere of purge about the Chamber today. It almost reminds one of some of the Russian trials with some of the workers denouncing the intellectuals after they had been found guilty. The Minister himself launched a most vigorous and violent attack against his friends of the Fabian Society. I once thought that the mantle of the Webbs had fallen on the shoulders of the Coles; but far from it. This nice little pamphlet has not been well received.We are faced with the fact—and the problem was put very ably by my hon. Friend the Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster)—that despite the fact that there are more new machines in the pits, this industry is not producing similar quantities of deep-mined coal to those produced in 1941 or 1943. That is a matter of grave concern, not only to all hon. Members in this Committee but to the whole of the country. As we have said throughout, this is the basic problem. On it depends our foreign policy, the value of the £ and many other problems. Everything flows from the success or falure of the coal-mining industry. It is a very grave matter that our economy should be distorted, as it is being distorted today by the high price and low production of coal. The hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring talked of 1924 and 1925 and said that the only interest of the capitalist then was in the question of the competitiveness of his exports abroad. That is still precisely the problem in 1949. The sooner we realise that, to whichever party we belong, the more secure we shall become. One of the measures of our weakness at present is that our economy is being distorted throughout. A matter of important concern is the question of the use of land. We must not only consider foreign exchange. We must remember that we are carrying out opencast mining on a very large scale. It is all very well for hon. Gentlemen opposite to say that it is necessary. I agree that it is necessary unless we can get the coal elsewhere, but I suggest that with the mining force now employed, with proper organisation, incentives and management, the 724,000 miners could raise something like 215 million tons of coal. The Government are aiming at producing 202 million. One of the great dangers today is the dissipation of our remaining assets, and one of our remaining assets is land. Since the war, we have lost 50,000 acres and by 1951 we are likely to have lost 100,000. The Minister of Fuel is the most guilty party. It is almost as it was in the time of Marie Antoinette when she said, "If you cannot get bread, eat cake." We are tearing up our land in order to get coal at a fantastically uneconomic price. We are selling bunker coal in London at 90s. a ton and in New York it is being sold at 65s. a ton. That shows where the problem lies. I should like to bring home to hon. Gentlemen opposite some of the effects of opencast mining. This is not merely a question of the cost in cash, though it is costing a considerable amount. What we are finding today is that far from there being a diminution of opencast mining under nationalisation, there is an increase. Production has risen from 7 million tons in 1945 and it is expected to rise to 13 million tons this year. Instead of the whole programme of opencast mining ending a year ago, it is now to continue until 1951. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have spoken about there being no feather beds for capitalists to fall back on but the gentlemen at Hobart House are falling back very heavily on opencast mining. If they cannot raise deep-mined coal, they intend to get the coal in the fields and to a lesser extent in the forests of this country.
And the graveyards.
Let us consider what this is costing us in dollars. In the period between 1945 and 1951 it will have cost us no fewer than 32 million dollars in machinery and spare parts. Up to now it has cost us 24 million dollars, and a further 8 million dollars on machinery and other parts will be spent before 1951. Further, it has cost us 10 million dollars in petrol and oil up to now, and it will cost us another 12 million dollars for those commodities in the next three years. That is the equivalent, over the next three years, of half the supplementary ration which is issued to the people of this country in one year. Last year, the Minister said that 150,000 tons of petrol were issued to the people of this country on the supplementary ration.
I said that the increase in 1949 over 1948 was 150,000 tons.
The expenditure of petrol will be in the neighbourhood of 75,000 tons in the next three years on opencast mining operations, but in addition to all this, there is the loss of valuable agricultural land. There is talk that already the Minister has used something like 40,000 acres of agricultural land, and there is talk of developing a further 100,000 acres. Up to now, there has been no scientific research, as this report points out, carried out to investigate the loss of fertility of the soil, but statistics show that the loss is something like 50 per cent. of the soil's fertility, and when that is calculated on 100,000 acres, it means a loss of at least £15 per acre per year, which means a loss of about £1,500,000 worth of foreign exchange per year. This over 10 years—and it looks as if it will take 10 years to get that land back into fertility—will be £15 million or 60 million dollars.All this adds up to a tremendous figure, and in addition there is a loss to the taxpayer, which is very considerable and which has already run into £13 million. There are other directions in which there are losses, but I have not time to go into them. There is also the loss to the farmers and the injustice of having no compensation for the loss of fertility.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way one moment? This economic tale of woe is putting forward a fallacy. All these figures may be quite correct and I do not question them, but does the hon. Gentleman make no allowance for the gains we get from the coal itself and from the foreign exchange through exports?
Perfectly, but the volume of those gains should be met from coal mined underground. The actual gains are 12 million dollars, which are met by the import of American coal, which has been cut out. There are these other injustices, and there is also the question of machinery standing idle. I saw lately on local sites in Staffordshire the most fantastic example of tractors lying idle and unemployed from October of last year until yesterday or the day before. For seven months these tractors, for which we have to pay £1 per day, have been lying idle.It is obvious that there is something rotten in the mining industry, for which the Government must take responsibility. It is true also that there has been something rotten at the heart and root of the matter, so that decay runs right through our economy. Here we have this staggering and sharp example of the effects of the distortion of our economy by our failure to make the best use of our cheap natural resource—coal. Here we have a microcosm of the major effect of this distortion which eventually may do great damage to the whole economy of this country. I hope the Minister will take this as a lesson and not regard it as something on which he can lie back. The distortion of our economy tears up our fields in order to get the coal that ought to come from the mines.
There were three main points with which I meant to deal, but in the few minutes at my disposal I shall confine myself to one. The right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) raised what I considered a very important point. With much of his speech I disagreed, but with one part I agreed wholeheartedly. It was on the question of the utilisation of coal distillation, and what it might mean to the economy of this country. I want to ask the Minister, or the Parliamentary Secretary, if he can give me the figures of how much coal was used in coal distillation before nationalisation and how much was used during the last year. I want to find out whether there has been any development in this field, because many of us from mining areas are convinced that the time has now come for the National Coal Board to give serious consideration to this question of the better use and the better development of coal. I feel that, with the by-products which we can get from coal distillation, we could help in many ways, not only the economy of the country, but those who are disabled in the mining areas.I am a member of the Miners' Welfare Commission. At our monthly meeting held this week we were honoured to have with us the surgeons who are doing what I can only describe as marvellous work in the rehabilitation of miners. They were Sir Reginald Watson Jones, Dr. Miller of Scotland, and Dr. Nichol. I advise all hon. Members on both sides to read the published report which we were discussing at that meeting. Thanks to this work of rehabilitation, it is amazing how many people are able to return to work in the mines who, previous to rehabilitation, would have been lost to the industry completely. But, in spite of these very learned and clever men, who are doing this work without any payment, there is inevitably a number of those men who cannot return either to their previous work in the mines, or, indeed, find any work on the surface. We find that in some instances alternative work is found, but in far too many mining areas there just is not any alternative work. Rehabilitation not only helps the economy of the country; it gives back to those men who were previously on the scrap heap a feeling of hope, and a feeling that they are able to contribute to the common weal of their country. It is too bad that when these rehabilitation centres make these men fit, not, perhaps, for the mines, but for some other industry, in many instances there is no work for them to do. In our area we have discussed this matter for some time, and we are convinced that this is something for which the National Coal Board has got to take greater responsibility. The central workshops in my own village are taking on as many of these people as they possibly can, but they can touch only the fringe of them. We should like in our area, and other areas, the National Coal Board to consider the question of coal distillation and the by-products that would come from it; in other words, we should like them to provide work for their own disabled, and not do it in any spirit of charity. Miners, whether disabled or not, never want charity from the country. Provide the jobs, certainly, but, in providing them, add something to the national economy. I wish to stress that as much as possible. The only other point I wish to make is that my area is one of those affected by the closure of pits. The other Scottish Member, my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline Burghs (Mr. Watson), who spoke, raised this matter. With my close contact with the miners, I could have answered many of the questions he asked. I have made my position perfectly clear in this matter. We, as miners' representatives, cannot ask for better conditions for the miners and at the same time ask the National Coal Board to keep on uneconomic pits. What we ask for in Lanarkshire is that there should be a survey of the whole Lanarkshire coalfield by the Scottish Division of the National Coal Board and that that survey should be carried out immediately so that we should know whether there is any chance of further development in Lanarkshire before any more of our men are asked to move. The men who are being asked to move are getting the most humane treatment from the Scottish Division of the National Coal Board. I want to stress that we should like this survey to be made before any more are asked to move. In conclusion I should like to thank the right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) for giving me the opportunity to speak for these few minutes.
I am sure that hon. Members on all sides of the Committee will have been glad that the hon. Lady the Member for North Lanark (Miss Herbison) was able to get in her remarks because they were received with interest and sympathy by everyone present. Frankly, my only regret about this Debate is that it has inevitably been discursive and we have not had time to discuss many of the extremely interesting and important questions such as those raised by the hon. Lady the Member for North Lanark. As far as the Opposition are concerned I must disclaim responsibility for that. We had to put down this very wide series of Votes largely, and indeed mainly, because of the refusal of the Government, to provide a day out of their own time for the discussion of the first annual report of the National Coal Board. We are told that the second report will be issued shortly and I hope that the Minister, with his experience of today, will be able to persuade his Chief Whip, when we return in the Autumn, that, in view of the interest taken today on all sides of the Committee, we ought to have a day to discuss the question of the Coal Board's report itself. Then we should get a much better Debate.We have heard some interesting speeches, excellent ones from my side of the Committee and rather interesting ones from the hon. Member for Clay Cross (Mr. Neal)—whom I do not see in his place—and the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton), who also does not consider it worth-while to come and hear the answer to his questions. The hon. Member for Clay Cross was quite blunt in saying that he thought all uneconomic pits ought to be shut and the men moved off wholesale to other places. That, I think, was very effectively answered both by the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring and the hon. Lady the Member for North Lanark. The hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring devoted a good deal of his speech to refuting a statement which was never made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken), that miners objected to the introduction of machinery. What we say is that there has been far too great a reluctance on the part of miners, not to see machinery introduced, but to use machinery to the full when it has been introduced. That is not a statement I make on my own authority, but a statement which was made by Sir Charles Reid and also a statement to which reference is made in the first report of the National Coal Board in which they express regret that they did not get the full co-operation from the men in making full use of the very large amount of machinery that had been introduced. That is what my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth was referring to. The Minister, in a very conciliatory speech, did not tell us anything very new, but he repeated most of the old stuff which we had heard before. The one really new thing he did—and I am bound to say I was surprised by and I congratulate him upon his ingenuity—was to invent a new reason for petrol rationing. We have had innumerable reasons given from the other side of the House for a continuance of rationing. We have had it defended on the ground of military usage, the difficulty of obtaining tyres, the shortage of tankers, the lack of dollars, the air lift, the lack of refineries, the doubt of supplies being available and the requirements of civil aviation. I honestly thought that that was about as exhaustive a list as there could be, but the right hon. Gentleman has found a new reason to add to it. He says we ought to hope to see rationing continued, because if it were abolished we should suffer from uncertainty. Contrary to what he said, many people think that the time has come, or is very close, when it should be possible, if not to abolish petrol rationing completely, at all events substantially to increase the amount available to the ordinary motorist. The Parliamentary Secretary, in a speech which he made as recently as 11th May last year, said
What is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander. If, when it was a question of drastically reducing the petrol ration, it was true to say that reduction was necessary because what was happening in America was having a disproportionate effect here, then it is equally true now, or should be, to say that the converse is true. In America there has been a very substantial reduction indeed in oil consumption, and that should have a more than proportionate influence on our conditions here, and should allow us to obtain greater supplies. Of course, there is the further consideration, to which the right hon. Gentleman paid no attention at ad, although he referred to the continual shortage of dollars, which is admitted, that not only has there been a drastic reduction in the consumption of oil in the United States, but there has concurrently been a fall in price; and so for the same amount, or a less amount, of dollars it should be possible to purchase substantially greater supplies of oil than was the case only a year ago. So much has the world situation altered—and to that the right hon. Gentleman also made no reference at all—that instead, as last year, it being the case that the world—"that a very small percentage difference in American consumption has a very marked reaction on the availability of supplies for the rest of the world."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th May, 1948; Vol. 450, c. 1993.]
I have not very long.
I was only going to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he would substantiate with figures his statement about American oil consumption.
They are well known. I will come to that in one moment. A year ago it was currently supposed that demand all over the world would run in excess of supply for a considerable period, and the Parliamentary Secretary, in that Debate only. a year ago, was rash enough to commit himself to the prophecy that in 1951, even if the pipeline in Saudi Arabia had been completed, we should be short of 100 tankers. The situation has completely changed in the course of the last 12 months. In the first place, the pipeline is to be finished, not in 1951 or 1952, as the hon. Gentleman suggested, but, I understand, in 1950; and, so far from there being likely to be this world shortage of tankers, the situation is that foreign firms and British firms, and a firm in which the Government have a very considerable interest, namely Anglo-Iranian, are, in fact, busily engaged in cancelling orders for tankers. So much has the situation changed, and so greatly has the consumption and the demand in America dropped, that if the right hon. Gentleman will look at the "Economist" for last week he will see a very interesting article dealing with this particular matter.
May we not have the figures of this apparent decline in motor spirit consumption in the United States of America?
I dare say that I could find them, but I did not expect that the right hon. Gentleman, with his knowledge of the subject would query them. So greatly has the situation changed in the United States that the Americans, who had previously been providing funds for the erection of refineries not only in this country but in Europe, are now beginning to wonder whether the result of the erection of these refineries will not be adverse to their own trade. It is reported—I have not the inside information—in the Press, I imagine on good authority, that they are now reconsidering the question of how much money they will make available. My right hon. Friend asked what the position with regard to the English refineries is to be, but the right hon. Gentleman did not give an answer, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will answer that question when he replies.I now turn to the question of electricity. The right hon. Gentleman talked about targets, and gave the Committee some figures of what had actually been achieved in the way of providing new generating stations last year and this year. Will the Minister tell the Committee how far short of the target that he and his friends have published are these figures? For example, the target set for 1940 was 1,150 megawatts. The actual achievement was 566. The actual programme announced originally for 1949 was 1,600 and that was cut in the Economic Survey to 1,000. The right hon. Gentleman told us this afternoon that it will be barely more than sufficient to meet increased consumption, namely, 700. These three sets of figures show the failure of his planning. The Chancellor of the Exchequer on repeated occasions has stated, indeed with some originality and some power, that if we are to retain our efficiency and reach the necessary export target, we must have more machines. But it is no use having additional machinery unless we are certain of the necessary power to run it. It is pretty clear from what the right hon. Gentleman has said that that power is not going to be available in time. The right hon. Gentleman made no reply to the accusation about favouritism to the area boards regarding hire purchase, and I hope that we shall get a reply from the Parliamentary Secretary. He mentioned the question of the Clow surcharge and said that he could not tell us or the country how much it was going to cost the consumer. What the consumer is interested in is that, as a consumer, he has already had to pay that surcharge, while the question of whether he gets it back during the Summer is purely hypothetical. I venture to think that the consumer will have cause to realise during the Summer some of the disadvantages of nationalised electricity. I turn now to coal. The right hon. Gentleman went back to his old figures of output per manshift. That was very effectively dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster). In case anyone in the Committee did not hear my hon. Friend's speech, he said that from the point of view of the country, the consumer, our industries and exports, the question is not how much coal is produced per manshift, but how much the miner produces per annum which is important. That is the sum which adds up to the final annual total. The fact remains that the output per man this year, about which the right hon. Gentleman boasted, was 271 tons compared with 295 tons in 1941 and 300 tons before the war. In 1937 it was 304 tons, in 1938 it was 290, and in 1939 it was 302. It is quite clear that, in spite of what the right hon. Gentleman says, we are not getting the productivity per man per annum which the country is entitled to have. Also, it must not be forgotten that that is in spite of the installation of a very large quantity of additional machinery. The reason, of course, is very largely the steady increase in absenteeism. The right hon. Gentleman gave us a very interesting split for the first four months of this year as between voluntary and involuntary absenteeism, and everybody must have been struck by the very high figure for involuntary absenteeism. We should like to know what it is due to. Why has there been this increase? There was nothing in the weather last Winter to justify it. Was it due to the new National Health Insurance provisions, and possibly to some slackness in certifying by doctors? It is a very big and sudden drop which represents a definite loss, as the right hon. Gentleman was the first to admit, in total output of coal in the first four months of this year. He said that we shall be in difficulties before the year is out, but I venture to think, judging from the figures we have got and the figures he gave us, that the situation is a good deal more serious than he made out. As far as we can see, the figure for the first four months' production—and I apologise for giving figures to the Committee but I think it is necessary to bring this out—was 63 million tons; the stocks in hand at the end of four months were 10 million tons, making a total of 73 million tons. The consumption for these months was 71 million tons, leaving only two million tons in stock. The corresponding figure last year for the same four months was seven million tons. It is pretty clear, as everybody knows, that from now onwards we shall not get any very big increase in output; output always falls in the summer, and falls still more when the holidays come on. If this process which has already started continues it will mean, in effect, that the only way in which we shall be able to maintain exports at the required figure will be by a steady running down of home stocks, and unless something is done to increase output, or else to cut down the figures of exports which we have promised to the European recovery organisation, the stocks of coal this autumn, at the beginning of the winter, will have fallen to a desperately dangerous level. I do not want to be unduly pessimistic, but I do honestly say to the right hon. Gentleman that if these figures are correct he is running a considerable danger of doing, if I might coin the word, a "Shinwellism" and repeating the sort of attitude his predecessor took up in the summer months of 1946. The other point is the relationship of the men with the Board. The right hon. Gentleman may object to the smallness of the sample in the Fabian pamphlet, but at all events it corresponds with what people all over the country are saying; it corresponds, as my hon. Friend the Member for Northwich pointed out, with quotations from speeches made by responsible miners' leaders. There can be no doubt that relations with the Board have fallen far short of the promises and high hopes held out before nationalisation. If proof is wanted of that I recommend hon. Members to read the description, on pages 18, 19 and 20 of the first annual report of the Coal Board, of the Grimethorpe stint dispute. When this was issued in July, 1948, it referred to the situation at December, 1947. It was then thought, as a result of the concessions made by the Coal Board, that the miners' officials and the union would succeed in getting the men back under the new conditions. The fact remains, as I am told, that they are still on the old conditions, and the Coal Board and the union have failed completely in their attempt, which the Coal Board say was justified, to get new conditions of working the stint. That by itself is sufficient to show that the Coal Board has failed altogether. I have just been given the figures of the American consumption. American demand has dropped steadily every month, except July, in barrels: July, 85 million; August, 83 million; September, 79 million; October, 78 million; November, 75 million; December, 73 million, and January, 67 million.
Is that motor spirit?
If I might intervene, motor spirit.
I have only one more point to make and that is the influence of coal on our economy. In winding up last night the Chancellor of the Exchequer made what I thought were two incredible statements. The chief one was that profit did not matter except under capitalism. Obviously, that is not a view shared by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Fuel and Power, because this afternoon he kept on talking about profit, as did several other hon. Members on that side. The other thing that the Chancellor said was that we had to get prices down, and that one of the best and easiest ways of doing so would be to reduce profits. I prefer the views of the Parliamentary Secretary who said, speaking last year:
Personally I prefer that diagnosis and remedy to that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but it is just as well that the House and the country should realise the extent to which the price of coal has gone up since nationalisation—6s. 6d. a ton, £66 million a year. That is one of the reasons for the increased cost of living. That is one of the reasons for the increased cost of our manufactured goods. It is one of the reasons for the increased cost of electricity and gas. And it is one of the reasons for the increased cost of transport, and the big losses which the Transport Commission are making. It is perfectly clear from those figures that nationalisation has failed in two of the chief promises held out. It has failed abysmally, as far as the men are concerned, to remove frustration or to make them happy in their present job. The Coal Board has certainly failed dismally, according to all reports, to achieve satisfactory relations with the men. Above all things, nationalisation has failed to carry out the promise made in "Let us Face the Future," namely:"The aim must be to cheapen the price of coal, or else we shall find the cost of our manufactured goods for home and export beyond the reach of the purchaser abroad and we shall be on the road to ruin."
We have not seen any signs of them—"Amalgamation under public ownership will bring great economies in operation"—
No consumer in the country sees any sign of lower charges."and make it possible to modernise production methods … and lower charges"—
I know no industry and no consumers that are not suffering from the nationalisation of the coalmines."… Other industries will benefit."
It is true, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) has said, that the Debate has been discursive—it could not be otherwise in view of the ramifications of the Ministry of Fuel and Power—and I am very much afraid that in the short time that is left I shall not be able to cover the whole of the many points which have been raised, but I shall do my best.The right hon. Member for Southport, who referred to the question of oil, was handed at the last moment some figures in relation to the drop in the number of thousands of barrels of motor spirit in the United States of America; but he did not tell the Committee that that was a seasonal drop.
It is more than that.
What is important is to know the figures for the year. As the right hon. Gentleman did not know them, perhaps he will forgive me if I tell him what they are. The oil consumption in the United States in 1948 was 280 million tons, 100 million tons of which was motor spirit. According to the estimate of the Bureau of Mines made earlier this year, the total demand for 1949 will be an increase of 6 per cent. over 1948; of that increase, motor spirit will represent 7 per cent. That is the estimate of the Mines Bureau and Inter-State Commerce Commission, and they should know more about their figures than does the right hon. Gentleman. In any case—
When were those estimates made?
It does not matter when. [Interruption.] If hon. Gentlemen are going to start the game that has been accorded to winding-up speakers on this side, of making the Debate a free-for-all we can start right away. I am asked when those estimates were made, and I say that they were made by the United States Bureau—[HON. MEMBERS: "When?"]—for 1949 as compared with 1948. I have given those figures, but I am not prepared to argue American figures with hon. Gentlemen opposite who know less about them than the United States authorities.On the question of oil, my right hon. Friend was far from complacent in his speech this afternoon. He made it clear, I thought, that the dollar element arises with all oil, whether from sterling sources or from anywhere else. Do hon. Gentlemen opposite subscribe to the view that this country should close the dollar gap as soon as possible? Do they not agree that we ought to get into the position of being independent of American aid as soon as we possibly can? I think that their answer is, "Yes." In that case, why do they advocate in one quarter the abolition of petrol rationing, and in another quarter an increase in the amount given to motorists, which must cost dollars—
All petrol does not cost dollars.
All petrol has a dollar element. I am not going to argue that again. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman looks at the speech of my right hon. Friend. If we are to close the dollar gap to make this country independent of American dollars and if at the same time the Opposition are asking for the removal of petrol rationing, which would involve a dollar element whatever the source of supply, they must tell us what we must cut to that extent from dollar sources. Must it be meat, or wheat, or what do they suggest? The fact is that hon. Gentlemen opposite are very clever at getting up and saying, "We want this, and that, and the other." That is a popular cry, but they would be the last people if they were in office, even to attempt to put such a proposal into operation.The right hon. Member for Southport remarked that my right hon. Friend had told the Committee nothing about the British refinery programme. It will be within the recollection of the Committee, however, that my right hon. Friend said of the refinery programme that the figure for last year was 3½ million tons; the through-put aimed at for this year is 6 million tons, finally working up to a through-put of 20 million tons. It seemed to me that was a very reasonable programme. It would demand a great deal of steel and other equipment and a great deal of technical skill and experienced labour. It is a realisable programme and shows what are the developments in relation to refineries. The right hon. Member for Southport raised one or two points as to output per man-shift and total production per man year—
I am sorry to interrupt, but the hon. Member has not given the figure about oil refineries. We all know what the original programme was, but what we want to know is whether any change has been made in the programme as a result of the new situation in European recovery.
No; there has been no change in the programme. It remains as I have indicated and as my right hon. Friend indicated this afternoon.The right hon. Member also asked if absenteeism was due to the introduction of the new social security scheme and loose certification by doctors. I do not know; that may have some effect. I know that when the man injured at the pit was examined by the insurance doctor, he was usually given a note to get back to work much quicker than his private doctor would have told him to go back. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO.] My hon. Friends who have worked in the pits can tell hon. Members opposite more about it. I think it was true that there was always a conflict between the man's family doctor and the insurance doctor. If a man has to stay off a little longer under medical advice since the intro- duction of the scheme, so much the better for the scheme, even if it costs us coal. In regard to the extension of the B.E.A. and area boards into hire purchase systems, I would point out that many electricity undertakings always did hire purchase work before vesting day. I resent and deny the right of the Opposition to say that the Electricity Authority, in taking over these undertakings, should divest themselves of the right to carry on that type of work previously done by the undertakings. In regard to the importance of not extending credit facilities, the Electricity Authority have decided that they will only continue their hire purchase arrangements through those undertakings that carried on the work prior to vesting day; on the understanding that, generally speaking, everyone else is on the same pattern. That seems perfectly right and I hope they will go right ahead in supplying consumers with what they want at reasonable prices, and it credit terms are needed let them be given by B.E.A. or by private enterprises. Hon. Members should not worry about B.E.A. competing with private enterprise in this matter of purchase of electrical equipment. The right hon. Member for Southport wanted to know whether consumers would get back anything that the Clow surcharge contributed to the surplus that might arise on the year's working and which would go to the B.E.A. Of course consumers get the advantage. I am not admitting for a moment that the surcharge will be more profitable to the B.E.A., but if as a result there is a surplus there are no private investors to take it back in the form of interest. It is in the publicly-owned concerns and is there to cheapen the price to the consumer. Whatever surpluses there are, are there for the benefit of the consumer and the people who own the industry. That is a good principle which we learned in the "Co-op." many years ago. I wish to say something about opencast coal in reply to the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde (Colonel Lancaster). He has spoken this afternoon, as he speaks on many matters, like an expert. After listening to him this afternoon I doubt very much whether he is expert on this subject. He was not comparing like with like at all. There is no complete similarity between digging for iron ore and digging for coal. They are completely dissimilar. I thought that a good deal of what he had to say was a criticism of the particular committee which went into this matter. They will probably defend themselves in the right time and the right place. I wish to make it clear to the Committee that whereas iron-ore working very rarely goes deeper than about 80 feet, we have to go down to 180 feet for opencast.
Because that is where the seam lies. We have not yet discovered a method of lifting coal seams nearer to the surface. When we do so we will advise the hon. and gallant Gentleman.
I did not interrupt the hon. and gallant Gentleman, and if I give way it will be impossible for me to say something more about the matter. I am making a statement, and there will be plenty of opportunities, for example, on the Adjournment Motion, for the hon. and gallant Gentleman to refute it if he considers that I am wrong. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Then let us have another Supply Day to deal with this matter alone. That will be all right. As I say, there is complete dissimilarity between the two. Iron ore seams are thicker and are level, and they have not anything like the ratio of overburden, which is the costly element. The hon. and gallant Member looks astonished because he does not know anything about it.
I was at some pains to put this point into very simple language so that the hon. Gentleman could understand it. I compare precisely like with like. I took the example of 50 to 80 feet of overburden in both cases, and I explained precisely the difference, the nature of the overburden, the method being employed, the restoration of the surface—in fact the whole cost of "getting." I can assure the Parliamentary Secretary that if he will read HANSARD tomorrow, instead of making these wild statements, he will see that what I have just said is correct.
Certainly not. The hon. and gallant Member is not comparing like with like. He is assuming that coal extraction is like iron ore extraction and it is no use his saying that if opencast coal has to be won at a depth of 50 feet, that represents something similar to iron ore which is won at 50 feet, because the opencast coal is not at 50 feet but at 180 feet. That raises a wholly different conception.The hon. and gallant Member talked about restoration. To what kind of restoration does he refer? Opencast coal workings have to be restored to the satisfaction of the county agricultural executive committees; that is not the case with iron ore.
It may be rubbish in the opinion of the hon. Member, but it is a fact. If he thinks it is rubbish, let him consult his local agricultural committee. They are the people who finally decide when the land is restored. Neither my right hon. Friend nor any official of the Ministry of Fuel and Power decides that a site has been restored; the agricultural committee say when it has been restored. There is also a great difference between restoration of opencast coal sites and the method of merely digging in the overburden by ridge filling as is done in the case of iron ore workings. I say once again that the hon. Member for Fylde has really been talking this afternoon about something of which he knows nothing.
The hon. and gallant Member knows that unless the Minister gives way, he must not remain on his feet.
The Parliamentary Secretary challenged me for the second time, and it is usual that when an hon. Member is challenged, he is given an opportunity to reply.