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Industry (Decentralisation)

Volume 529: debated on Monday 21 June 1954

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asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he has considered the information relating to the coal-mining industry, a copy of which has been sent to him; and what immediate action he proposes to take to arrange for the decentralisation of this industry which is vital to the export trade and upon which many other industries depend.

As I told the House on 26th October last, the Board has issued a directive which makes it clear that its aim is to delegate authority to its divisions and areas to the fullest extent consistent with its own statutory responsibilities and it has appointed an independent committee to consider whether any more fundamental changes in its organisation are desirable.

Will the Minister make clear that as we must import about half our food and raw materials the export of coal at world competitive prices is vital to the standard of living net only of the miners, but of the whole country? Will he also remind them that in 1913 we exported 80 million tons of coal and that now we are importing coal? It is quite ridiculous.

Will the Minister also remind his hon. Friend that in 1945 we produced 176 million tons of coal, and will he also send him a copy of the Reid Report, so that the hon. Member may see how much nationalisation has saved this country?

Will my right hon. Friend tell the right hon. Gentleman opposite how much coal we produced before the war, and, also, that the nation has never yet reached the total output which it produced before the war?

Is the Minister aware that this sniping at the miners by the Government will not help us to get the increased coal production which is needed this year?

I am sure that the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) would not want to convey that impression. There has been no sniping by the Government. There may have been criticism by hon. Members, but, as the whole House knows, there has been nothing of that kind on behalf of Ministers and responsible Members of the Government. The plain fact is that the coal industry is supporting the industry of the whole country at present by the 200 million tons or so of coal which it produces every year, but, as is known in the industry as well as outside, we desperately need to have an even greater production.

We agree on the importance of increased production, but will the Minister give the Coal Board more miners, or help it to get them? Will he not tell his hon. Friends that production has been increased by 40 million tons since 1945?

It is the fact that output per man-shift at the face and overall is higher at this time than it has ever been before, but it needs to be increased even more. The Coal Board, whose primary responsibility it is, is now carrying out an energetic campaign to increase manpower in the deficiency districts, particularly the West Midlands and South Yorkshire, and the Board has been much assisted by the Government's special housing policy for miners in these areas, which we introduced soon after we came to office, and which is helping very much.